Mutts of the Masters

Breakup of the Boating Party from Michael Patrick’s book Mutts of the Masters

When some friends gave me the 1996 book Mutts of the Masters by Michael Patrick, I thought it was just an overview of famous paintings that include dogs, such as the Phillips’s masterpiece by Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party. But as I flipped through the pages, the truth was exposed–Renoir’s real painting features another, much bigger dog with the title Breakup of the Boat Party.



Pas De Deux from Michael Patrick’s from Mutts of the Masters

Okay, the book is a satire (and a very amusing one at that) of historical art treasures overrun by dogs (and the occasional cat). Another Phillips masterpiece, Edgar Degas’s Dancers at the Barre, is also featured, only in this version titled Pas De Deuxa froofy French poodle dances (or otherwise conducts her business) in the lower right corner.

Van Gogh: The Life

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

This is the succinct title of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography of the iconic Dutchman (Random House, 2011). The title is the only thing succinct about this thoroughly detailed and well-researched 953-page tome. Unlike generations of publications probing the artist’s posthumous fame, what artistic movement he should be associated with, and his work’s meaning, The Life focuses on Vincent van Gogh’s life and times.

Naifeh and Smith, acclaimed for their 1991 biography about Jackson Pollock, have again produced a myth-busting account of an artist who lived hard, died young, and suffered for his art. Readers suffer with him as the biography so completely documents van Gogh’s many disappointments and the guilt and remorse he felt towards his family. The authors demonstrate greatest empathy for van Gogh’s family, especially his younger brother Theo. They make the case that without Theo’s ongoing financial and emotional support and his strategic position as a mainstream art dealer, we would almost certainly not know of van Gogh’s art today.

The following adjectives describe Vincent’s behavior: mad, depressed, delusional, defensive, paranoid, envious, bizarre, isolated. The authors, like Vincent’s family, seem driven to their wits’ end by him, writing: “But Vincent could not be satisfied. Every attempt at appeasement was met with greater and greater provocation as he focused the anger of a lifetime on his captive captors (his parents). He saw only criticism in their gifts . . . and condescending indulgence in their courtesies.” Continue reading “Van Gogh: The Life” »

Seeing in a New Way

Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Lotte Franzos, 1909

Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Lotte Franzos, 1909. Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 31 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1941.

When Lotte Franzos came to see her portrait by Oskar Kokoschka, the artist said “ Your portrait shocked you; I saw that. Do you think the human being stops at the neck in the effect it  has on me? . . . ”

Do you want to know more about what motivated Kokoschka to paint Lotte Franzos the way he did?

A compelling and perceptive view on just that question is in a new book by Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, titled The Age of Insight : The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in  Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present.

The Age of Insight book cover

The Age of Insight book cover

Kandel views art through multiple, powerful lenses:  turn-of-the-century Vienna’s cultural mores and psychological insights. Looking back to the early 20th century, Kandel cites the proximity of the Vienna Medical Museum, the Sigmund Freud Museum (in Freud’s former apartment), and the Upper Belvedere museum, which houses a renowned collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. The Vienna School of Medicine in 1900 led the way to discovering what was beneath the surface of the body just as Freud probed the unconscious. These scientific and psychological explorations were reflected in art. Kandel’s argument absorbs even later discoveries in cognitive science. He writes, “In art, as in science . . . reductionism does not trivialize our perception—of color, light, and perspective—but allows us to see each of these components in a new way.”

Lisa Leinberger, Volunteer Coordinator