Obscure & Interesting Facts about Famous Artists
It's human nature to want to know more about the lives of the men and women who created our most cherished works of art. You can't help but gaze at Van Gogh's Starry Night and wonder about the mind and heart of the man whose hand created such a magnificent depiction of the night sky. Studying Monet's Water Lilies might make you wonder how the artist himself viewed his surroundings.
Let's take a look at some of the more interesting tidbits you probably didn't know about several famous artists.
1. Colors in Vincent Van Gogh's Paintings are WRONG
We all know about the ear, and the mental illness, but what you may not know is that one of Van Gogh's most distinctive colors - the vibrant yellow of his Sunflowers and the sunny shades of his Bedroom at Arles - doesn't look the same as it once did. Van Gogh mixed his chrome yellow pigment with white to brighten his paintings' hues, and over time and with exposure to light, the cheerful yellows have darkened to brown. Though his masterpieces sell for millions upon millions of dollars, this is one instance when a print may be better than the original!
2. Claude Monet Painted Almost Completely Blind
The famous French Impressionist is known for his ethereal paintings of natural beauty. A lover of flowers and gardens, Monet designed his garden at Giverny himself, but several of his most famous works - among them Water Lilies - was painted while Monet suffered from cataracts. In fact, when he painted that iconic work, he could hardly see and relied heavily on his memory. Monet eventually had surgery, and at the time of his death, he was repainting many of the works he created while his cataracts affected his vision.
3. Pablo Picasso was an Art Thief!
Perhaps no artist enjoyed as much success in his lifetime as Pablo Picasso, so it's interesting to learn that not only did the artist have stolen artwork in his possession, but he also based one of his most famous paintings on those stolen pieces. An acquaintance of Picasso's stole some ancient Iberian sculptures from the Louvre in Paris. After Picasso came into possession of the pieces, he used the prized sculptures as inspiration for three of the faces in his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The three figures on the left of the painting were based on the stolen sculptures, while the figures on the right were inspired by art Picasso had collected in Africa.
4. Pierre-Auguste Renoir Couldn't Hold a Paintbrush
A contemporary of Monet's and equally well known for his Impressionist paintings, Renoir suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Toward the end of his life, Renoir had to be carried to his easel and couldn't hold a paintbrush with his crippled fingers. A helper would wedge a brush between the master's fingers or even strap the brush to Renoir's hand, and Renoir painted right up until his death. Two Young Girls at the Piano, painted in 1892, was begun just at the onset of Renoir's painful disease.
5. Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe Didn't Like Each Other's Art
The famed landscape photographer, Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe , widely known for her expressive paintings of flowers, were friends and traveling companions. What's interesting, though, is that neither one particularly admired the other's work. O'Keeffe thought Adams didn't focus as much on the craft of fine photography as he should have, while Adams claimed not to fully understand all of O'Keeffe paintings.
6. Norman Rockwell Suffered from Depression
We know Rockwell best for his depictions of small town America - intimate, often humorous images of mothers, fathers, teachers, and children in everyday scenes. His iconic covers of the Saturday Evening Post are genuine American treasures. It's surprising to learn that Rockwell suffered for much of his life from depression and anxiety. Both he - and incidentally his wife - were treated at a psychiatric facility in rural Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Much of Rockwell's income from his art was used to defray the costs of psychiatric treatment. Though Americans cherish works like Rockwell's Doctor and the Doll, few of us realize the struggles Rockwell faced.
7. Salvador Dali, The Infamous Dine and Dash Master
A Catalan native like Miro, Dali courted the limelight for his entire career. Unbelievably prolific, Dali produced more than 1500 paintings, as well as a number of pieces in other media. Dali was flamboyant and carefully cultivated his fame. Once he became famous, Dali was known for running up enormous bills at expensive restaurants. His trademark ploy was to write a personal check for the bill when it arrived, but before the waiter could take the check, Dali would flip the check over and scribble a drawing on the back. Dali knew the restaurateur would keep the original work of art, rather than cashing the check. The artist managed to wiggle out of paying a number of pricy restaurant bills by simply creating an impromptu work of art.
We each interact with art in our own way. Whether you want a print that cheers you up or one that makes you think, a fuller understanding of the artist's circumstances can deepen our experience. Knowing that Norman Rockwell suffered from depression, for example, can make you look a little closer at his work. You might discover small details that reveal a little more cynicism than you realize.
Seeing Mondrian's cheerfully colored Broadway Boogie Woogie in the context of its inspiration affords us a chance to think about the interplay of painting and music, and even of physical landscape and its effect on the painter's approach to a canvas.
First and foremost, we choose art we like. Art that calls to us and makes us feel. Learning more about great works of art simply fleshes the experience out.