The Easel

16th April 2019

Rubens had it all — fame, fortune, good looks. But you can’t hate him.

Rubens was successful, hugely so. Flaws that might make him more human are hard to spot. His work is dubbed “cinematic”, a la Spielberg. Is that so bad? Rubens is “almost always not just successful, but also almost comically successful, with a virtuoso energy that overwhelms suspicion.” Plausibly the greatest court painter of his age. More images are here.

Hirshhorn Extends Charline von Heyl’s Critically Acclaimed Exhibition

Von Heyl is very specific – her paintings do not carry narrative, in the classical sense. Each work is an object, “a new image that stands for itself as fact.” The months it takes to finish a work are spent “finding ways to lure the eye into the picture.” Von Heyl thinks that when she gets it right, her paintings have “liveliness … something that seduces more than it angers”.

The radical prints of Edvard Munch: ‘New ways to express moods and emotions’

Munch painted The Scream in 1893. Nothing happened. In 1895, he made a black and white lithograph of the same image – it established his reputation. His “utterly dynamic” printmaking was both popular and influential, especially among Germany’s Expressionists. “One really can’t talk of Munch’s greatness without considering the prints alongside the paintings.”

The Historical Expression of Chinese Art

Political approval is having a strong influence on contemporary Chinese art. Museums lean toward academic, historical shows to avoid official displeasure. Artists are similarly inclined. Among a current show of “old master” artists, contemporary means classical subjects, like landscapes, and historical scripts, approached in fresh ways. Great art, just wary great art.

Renaissance Man: Giovanni Battista Moroni

Moroni was a big talent in a small town. The era’s famous names – Titian, Bronzino – competed for clients in glamourous Venice. Moroni enjoyed a quieter regional market where he could get away with painting what he saw, rather than glossy fictions. His naturalistic portraits, not especially celebrated at the time, now look like a “remarkable achievement.” A video (4 min) is here.

Talent and Tragedy

Urban turmoil in Germany and Austria led artists to seek inspiration from within. Then, the horrors of WW1 created a new imperative – to objectively depict the crumbing Weimar republic. The self-portraits from these two periods are among the most memorable of 20th century art, from introspective Schiele to Beckmann’s dark realism. Unsettled faces, as far as the eye can see.

The Enduring Legacy of Joseph Duveen, America’s First Mega-Dealer

Duveen wasn’t the world’s greatest art dealer just because of expertise in art. He had abundant other talents including deal-making (including of the shady kind) and knowing who owned what. His dealings still underpin many major public collections – Washington’s National Gallery alone has 2464 of his pieces. Nearly a century later Duveen influence on art in the US is “nearly impossible to overstate”.


Thomas Demand may not be a name you are familiar with. He makes paper-based models and then takes photographs of them. These slightly strange creations have made him a major art world star. Next week Morgan Meis explains what all the fuss is about.

9th April 2019

Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable

On paper, Holzer’s early text-based art is so neat and aesthetic. Projected onto buildings or in illuminated signs, it has even more impact. Holzer tried hard to be clichéd in order to “catch people who were in a hurry”. Recently she has made works using redacted security documents: “the person redacting should have been a Russian Suprematist … the blocks were just so”.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Chronicler of the Belle Epoque

A wonderful phrase describes Toulouse-Lautrec – “argonaut of the boulevards”. Celebrities, cabaret lowlife, the street – that was his milieu. Toulouse-Lautrec’s eye for the characteristic gesture and instinct for attention-grabbing colour brought instant success. His work resonates still with today’s celebrity obsession. “One of the creators of modernism itself”.

Sean Scully’s Figurative Leap

Scully’s childhood encompassed poverty and homelessness. Becoming a father has impacted him greatly, happily, and in unexpected ways.  In Scully’s art, figurative paintings featuring his son are suddenly emerging alongside his renowned abstractions. “Staying with what is safe is not attractive. [I]f you take enormous risks it can go wrong. But if you don’t it will go wrong anyway”.

Offensive or important? Debate flares anew over SF school mural depicting slavery

There are calls for the removal from a San Francisco school of a 1930’s mural depicting slaves and a slain Native American. Some see it as “traumatic” and/or glorifying oppression. Others argue that it portrays, without approval, those violent parts of American history – it is “a historic mural by a renowned artist”. The school head says “I do understand the sensitivity about it being art. It’s difficult”.

10 things to know about KAWS

Lately, KAWS has been selling for millions at auction. His paintings and sculptures of cartoonish figures are attention-grabbing and Instagram-friendly – perhaps he is the next Basquiat or Haring.  Naysayers think this is absurd. His early street art had vitality, but endless repetition since shows up the real issue – the “sheer conceptual bankruptcy of KAWS work.”

Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light @ the National Gallery

Popular in his native Madrid, Sorolla is elsewhere obscure. One critic praises his “Impressionist effervescence” and immense skill in depicting light.  However, key works, from the 1890’s, when Impressionism was no longer new, were essentially traditional. [He represented] “everything modern painting set out to overthrow.” Sorolla aspired to be Goya’s heir. He was not.

Home Is Where the Irony Is

Sultan was adept at all forms of photography but is celebrated for Pictures From Home, a decade-long study of his retired parents. Using both staged and spontaneous images, he created a narrative about family and suburban life. “Photography is instrumental in creating family not only as a memento, … but also a kind of mythology.” More images are here.