Saturday, January 9, 2021

Famous Capricorns Throughout History

Famous Capricorn Painters

Self-Portrait (1885)
Paul Cezanne

In June of last year, I posted Art of the Zodiac & Artists' Astrological Signs. We learned that three of my favorite artists -- Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and John Singer Sargent -- were Capricorns like me. Since the Tropical Zodiac for Capricorn runs thru 21 January, this is a good time to post about famous Capricorns. 

Here's Paul Cezanne looking like he's painting outside in his bathrobe (un peignoir) and jammies. There is some criticism of this self-portrait for being informal and unfinished.

White Roses and Cherries (1865)
Henri Fantin-Latour

Matisse has been well-covered in many of my other posts, so I am adding Capricorn painter Henri Fantin-Latour. His floral paintings have been used in my lesson plans about Manet, along with other paintings of peonies by Monet. Here is the one I show students alongside Manet's Peonies for a discussion of similarities and differences.

Capri Girl
(Among the Olive Trees, Capri)
(1879) John Singer Sargent

Capri Girl is perhaps my all-time favorite painting by John Singer Sargent. I saw it in-person with my daughter and we both had to stop and stare at it for a while. Rosina Ferrara was one of Sargent's frequent models for several of his paintings.

Capricorn -- The Sea Goat

Something I never knew about the symbology of Capricorn is that it is the Sea Goat, meaning that it is an aquatic animal that is half goat (~Alpine Ibex) and half fish. Here is a cropped photo from Getty Images of a herd of Ibexes by the sea. Maybe their back legs become tails when they get wet. Ha!

Austria, Carinthia, View of Alpine Ibex

Historic Capricorns -- In the News, Portraits,
Literature & Illustrations, Music

A year ago, I posted about Math and Science in Art highlighting an enlargement project from Glenridge Elementary School honoring Capricorn, Martin Luther King Jr. The same picture appears in My First Year of Blogging: Teaching Art, Travels, and Observations, an August 2020 post that also included Capricorn, Elvis Presley. My classroom enlarged a black-and-white poster of Elvis that subsequently appeared on a Valentine's Day bulletin board.

Photo by Ollie Atkins,
Nixon's Chief Photographer

Elvis Presley famously visited the White House in December 1970 during the presidency of Richard Nixon, coincidentally also a Capricorn. Nixon is joined by fellow Capricorn U.S. Presidents Millard Filmore, Andrew Johnson, and Woodrow Wilson, each with a mixed legacy.

The movie, Elvis & Nixon, was later released in 2016. An obscure movie...Can you name the actors?

Portrait of Newton at 46 (1689),
by Godfrey Kneller

Astronomer Sir Isaac Newton was a Capricorn, along with other scientists, including George Washington Carver, Isaac Asimov, Benjamin Franklin, and modern-day Stephen Hawking. I recently watched part of the ("Descent") episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Lt. Commander Data plays poker on the holodeck with holographic representations of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein (a Pisces).

Duplessis' Franklin
Trumball's Hamilton

Portraits of Capricorns Ben Franklin ($100) and Alexander Hamilton ($10) appear on our U.S. currency. I posted about their Portrait Artists Duplessis and Trumball, respectively, who were responsible for the images used.

Edgar Allan Poe published his short story The Oval Portrait (originally titled Life in Death) in 1842 & again in 1845, perhaps inspiring Oscar Wilde's 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Poe was a Capricorn whose horror story was about an artist who was painting his wife's portrait not noticing her failing health. I was unable to discover the artist who drew the first of many illustrations of this story.

I wonder if you're aware that Capricorn author J.R.R. Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame) was also an accomplished artist and illustrator. Here's one of his drawings from The Hobbit.

The final Capricorn I'd like to mention is the famous rock star (musical artist), David Bowie. While in Dublin, Ireland in June 2017, my daughter and I passed by a shop window with the likeness of Bowie from his 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. Had to take a picture since we were visiting one of his haunts just 6 months after his death. I hadn't ever noticed Bowie's unusual eyes before, one blue and one green. If you look closely, the green eye has a permanently enlarged pupil resulting from being punched by one of his friends during a fight.

Image from Aladdin Sane Album 1973,
Graphic designer, Celia Philo &
Photographer Brian Duffy

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Master Artists -- Inspired Late Bloomers and Resilient, Active Seniors

Now that I'm retired and in my 60s, I have begun to rejuvenate my career by turning my attention to artful endeavors. For Christmas this year I got a portable easel and plan to do some Plein-air painting when the weather turns warmer. In honor of my own birthday, here are some of my favorite artists whose careers lasted well past retirement age (if that's a thing).

Thunderstorm (1948), Grandma Moses

Perhaps the most famous late bloomer was American Folk Artist, Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses (1860-1961), although I am less familiar with her actual work. She began her career painting in her late seventies and continued painting and exhibiting her work until the ripe old age of 101. Originally, her work was needlework pictures of life on the farm until arthritis made her try painting. Also known as a primitive artist her work lacked perspective and proportion.

Many of the great master artists I've blogged about lived well into their 70s, 80s, and 90s, remaining artistically active into their old age. Some of their best and most recognizable works came out of a desire to continue making art even as their ability to see or hold a paintbrush diminished. I particularly admire Henri Matisse for his innovative use of paper cutouts in his later Fauvist compositions.

Self-Portrait Between the
Clock and the Bed
Edvard Munch (at ~78)

Chardin (Cover)

Author, Thomas Dormandy wrote Old Masters: Great Artists in Old Age, including such well-known artists as Matisse and Monet (1840-1926). The book depicts Chardin (1699-1779) on the front and Munch (1863-1944) on the back cover.

Self-Portrait in the Garden, Ekely (1942), Munch

I prefer his later incognito self-portrait (a landscape) to his Van Gogh-like bedroom scene (above). I know it's weird that I'm comparing Munch to Van Gogh, but the use of yellow and blue is at least reminiscent of Van Gogh's bedroom. I also find it amusing that Munch is standing rather straight and his head is aligned with the face of the grandfather clock. His bed looks like a hospital bed; no surprise since he painted a lot of people on their deathbeds.

I recently watched a series of YouTube videos about Monet with my daughter. For my birthday, we intend to participate in a virtual tour of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. We also watched the 2017 animated movie, Loving Vincent, in which the young son of a postmaster delivers a letter from Van Gogh (addressed to his now-dead brother Theo) to his friend, Dr. Paul Gachet. During his travels, he investigates the circumstances of Vincent's death. The present-day images are in color using backgrounds painted in Van Gogh's style, while the flashback scenes are in black-and-white. I highly recommend watching this wonderful film with its 65,000 frames.

Some artists who died young, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, never experienced old age, though their lives were full of struggle -- mental illness for Van Gogh and alcoholism for Pollock. 

Rembrandt Self-Portrait (1669)

Rembrandt struggled with poverty throughout his life, resorting to painting over 75 self-portraits, including in 1669 at age 63 just prior to his death. 

Taken from the Hindustan Times,
Illustrated by Biswajit Debnath

Edouard Manet only lived to be 51. Renoir made it to 78. Several octogenarian artists -- Degas (83), Matisse (84), Bellini and Monet (86), Titian (88), and Michelangelo (89) -- created art up until their deaths. Incredibly, Picasso (91), Bourgeois, and O'Keeffe (98) remained active in their nineties.

Dancers (1900), Edgar Degas

At the age of 50, Edgar Degas abandoned his typical subjects to study the female figure and painted primarily nudes and ballet dancers until 1912, when his studio was disbanded just 5 years prior to his death. His later works included sculpture and pastel paintings. The underpainting of his Dancers gives it a creepy, almost voyeuristic quality, though the colors blend well into the composition.

Apollo (1953), Henri Matisse

I consider myself lucky to have visited the Matisse Museum in Nice, France in 2011. While on our Baltics cruise in June 2017, we also visited the Moderna Museet in Stockholm Sweden. The star of the show was this large composition by Henri Matisse using his famous cutout shapes, created one year prior to his death.

Nymphéas et Pont Japonais
(1920-24) Monet
The Japanese Bridge
(1896), Monet
You're likely familiar with his Water Lilies series, a subject which appeared in 250 paintings for the last 30 years of Monet's life. Compare his earlier paintings of the Japanese bridge with his final versions painted a few years before his death.

Monet's eyesight was nearly gone but he still managed to leave a lasting impression.

The Beyond (1972), Georgia O'Keeffe

Let's end this post with a look at two of the final works of Georgia O'Keeffe. Although she died in 1986, her final unassisted work was in 1972 when she was going blind due to macular degeneration.

Sky Above Clouds (1965), O'Keeffe

She painted other scenes I'll call, skyscapes, like this one in 1965. I wonder how many other artists are inspired by flights on an airplane like Ms. O'Keeffe upon her return to New Mexico from her world travels.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas in Art

Santa (1940), Sundblom

Probably the best-known image of our modern-day Santa Claus is from the series of Coca-Cola ads painted by the Michigan-born artist, Haddon Sundblom. These iconic images appeared in the Saturday Evening Post from 1931-64. His Santa was inspired by Clement Moore's famous 1923 poem, A Vist From St. Nicholas or T'was the Night Before Christmas.

Courtesy of the National Endowment for the
Humanities and the Library of Congress

American story writer, Washington Irving, most famous for his The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, may have inspired Clement Moore's poem. His four Christmas essays, written in 1809 and illustrated by Cecil Aldin, showed his preoccupation with St, Nicholas. See How Washington Irving Shaped Christmas in America.

Courtesy of the National Endowment for the
Humanities and the Library of Congress

Published n 1843, Charles DickensA Christmas Carol was illustrated by John Leech, who contributed eight illustrations (four woodcuts and four hand-colored etchings). The theatrical and film adaptations of this classic tale are too many to mention. However, I must watch the 1988 version, Scrooged, starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, whenever it is being aired.

Ghost of Christmas Present
(1843) John Leech

Who can forget John Leech's Ghost of Christmas Present from Dickens' 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol? I'm pretty sure that the ghost represents England's, Father Christmas. While his coat is colored green, even in A Muppet Christmas Carol, this early larger-than-life image of St. Nick eventually ages as the tale goes on making him become more like the jolly old elf he has morphed into today.

Courtesy of the Sartle Blog
Besides 'Sunny' Sundblom (1931-64), cartoonist Thomas Nast (1863), Swedish artist Georg Van Rosen (1883), and painter Norman Rockwell (1922) also contributed to the persona of our Santa Claus figure in the United States and abroad. Some say that English artist, Reginald Birch (1906) deserves the credit for Santa's red getup. There was also a Santa Claus Silent Movie created in 1898 by George Albert Smith. But maybe Japan came up with the red-suited guy first in 1914.

You can read more about the Art History of Santa Claus in the Sartle blog.

From Leydecker's Santas

Our modern-day Santa Claus was popularized as early as 1918 in illustrations by J.C. Leyendecker in the Saturday Evening Post. Notice the addition of the army boots and halo (depicting St. Nicholas).

Giving Santa His Seat (1955), Richard Sargent
from the Saturday Evening Post

This final image by Richard Sargent reminds me of when my Mom would dress us up in full-on snowsuits and take us shopping with her during the holidays. I remember my younger brother's pantleg got stuck in an escalator one year while we were at one of the New Jersey department stores. I'm sure the memory is much more traumatic for him!

Everyone looks so tired; especially the boy's mother. I imagine my Mom was equally exhausted after shopping with three boys.

This week she would have been 100 yrs old! I dedicate this final 2020 post to her memory.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Combining Hobbies -- Collecting and Miniature Photography

John Wayne Jigsaw Puzzle

Collecting Our Favorite Things

Do you have a hobby or a passion for collecting your favorite things? Maybe you like to read or watch old movies and have amassed your own library. My wife has a huge collection of DVDs that includes entire sets of movies from actors like John Wayne. My older brother collects baseball memorabilia and devotes an entire room of his house to display it.


I seem to have acquired a significant collection of MLB bobbleheads; I even have my own personal mini-me (too narcissistic?) that my family gifted me one Christmas. I also have a miniature bobblehead of oil painting instructor, Bob Ross. My office also houses my baseball ( cap collection and lots of art supplies and art textbooks for teaching my various art lessons.

Does anyone remember the 2018 film, Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell, about a man who becomes a heroic World War II fighter pilot and meticulously creates and photographs a Belgian town using posed realistic dolls and other miniatures? A rather creepy love story. Anyway...


Recently, a 12-yr-old autistic boy from Woodinville, WA was featured on KOMO’s Eric’s Heroes. His name is Anthony Ryan Schmidt and he collects all kinds of model cars. He has been photographing them from his iPhone and placing them outside making them appear to be full-scale. 

Small Cars, Big Inspiration

He’s even published a coffee table book and a 2021 Calendar of his amazing images. He is both an artist and a savant when it comes to miniature photography & automotive knowledge.

He's been consulted by forensic teams and successfully helped them solve unsolved crimes. Amazing!

I've managed to save my childhood collection of Matchbox cars in the original 1968 case. I was keeping them in the event I ever had grandchildren. So far, that hasn't happened, and I'm not sure they'd be worth anything much if I were to sell them now. So they sit gathering dust in a closet. Their scale would be too small to photograph!

One of my work colleagues likes to travel the world and photograph spectacular scenery. This is a long exposure landscape photo from Iceland taken by my friend, Jennifer.

Her husband, Ronnie poses his GI Joe figures and other miniatures on-location where he and Jennifer vacation.

Steel Brigade
Arctic Experts
In his world, rocks become mountains and puddles become lakes. He's found a way to creatively combine his collecting, travel, and photography into a leisure pastime he and his wife can enjoy together. Check out his Instagram page @mephistojoe9.

The Future Duke of Wellington
(1808), Richard Cosway

Historically, particularly in the Renaissance (16th and 17th Century), portrait artists painted miniature likenesses on materials such as ivory for jewelry. So, rather than turning collections into photographic art, these artists created wearable (and collectible) art from their painted portraits. They were primarily English artists such as Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Isaac Oliver (1565-1617), John Smart (1741-1811), and Richard Cosway (1742-1821). Cosway's wife, Maria was also an Italian-born painter and close friend of Thomas Jefferson.

Earlier this year, the Beinart Gallery in Melbourne, Australia hosted an exhibit dedicated to the tiny works of 30 artists from around the world. Check out this Miniature Art Show.

Photo from Gallery 1957, Joana Choumali

Although this is not an example of miniature art, I have to show the work of Joana Choumali, a visual artist/photographer based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. She embroiders directly on top of her photographs using brightly colored thread. I've never seen such imaginative, creative use of multi-media. Beautiful! I guess you could say that this is like painting with thread or creating a tapestry from a photograph. It's maybe a stretch for this topic, but embroidery can be considered a hobby, and this stitchery is definitely tedious and on a small, delicate scale.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Artwork That Celebrates or Memorializes

Minion Santa for Jacob

During this time of quarantine, lots of people have been using Art as a way of coping with isolation and connecting with others. My last interview subject, artist and friend Patricia J. Moss, said it best when she wrote:
"It is the creativity of expression that drives connection with others. 
In turn that connection allows us to grow, expanding our perspectives, feeding our souls, and inspiring our spirits."

I want to start off this post with a pop-up Christmas card that I made for an ailing little boy named Jacob. I really hope that he received it and that it brought him joy.

A message from Bristol, England

Millions of people have been artfully creating cards and posters to celebrate healthcare workers, first responders, and caretakers of the sick during this pandemic. When I walk around my neighborhood, I see lots of signs, in windows using rainbows as symbols of hope, drawn by children who want to express their own messages to passersby. It's therapeutic for the kids and makes us smile during an otherwise sad time period.

Card by Karynne Patterson

My own grown daughter creates handmade birthday cards that celebrate her co-workers by using whatever scrap paper and markers are available in her office. I feel like she is channeling French artist, Henri Matisse, who in his later years used paper cutouts in his artwork. When my daughter was in elementary school, we did an art project that required tracing a shape from a Matisse work and incorporating it in a composition. Maybe that inspired my daughter to do art as an adult. Now, I'm sure she's too busy at work to carry on this office birthday tradition! And working from home to boot!!

Recently, you may have heard of the passing of longtime Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek. I've been faithfully watching his program for years and am trying not to miss any of these final Jeopardy episodes that Alex taped as recently as 29 October! I'm seeing lots of portraits memorializing him all over the Internet. This one is from a tribute by Canadian Geographic.

I also found this pair of artworks on My Modern Met memorializing Trebek in Black-and-white and color.

You can play Artist Jeopardy in one of my posts. I love the show so much that I created my own Jeopardy games for teaching art docents at Green River Community College, for a team project in my Project Management Master's Program at City University, and for my parents to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

Who can forget the hilarious Celebrity Jeopardy tribute to a tormented and mustached Alex Trebek portrayed by SNL's Will Ferrel (and Darrell Hammond as Connery)? With the recent passing of James Bond actor Sean Connery, it may be in bad taste, though I wonder how it had been received by both. Apparently, there was also a Jeopardy spoof involving the now late Burt Reynolds.

Sean Connery (2015), Lovering
I am in awe of Scottish artist, Paul Lovering's watercolor portrait of Sean Connery. It is contemplative and peaceful. Lovering's celebrity portraits are indeed amazing! I also saw a photograph of Connery by Annie Leibovitz in 2017 while visiting the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. 

My favorite Bond is Sean Connery and my favorite of his seven Bond films is Goldfinger. My favorite scene is from his final unauthorized Never Say Never Again where he fires a miniature rocket grenade from a fountain pen (supplied by Q but not yet perfected) at the evil Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), the delayed explosion leaving only her smoldering shoes.

You may also visit my post about Landmarks in James Bond Movies.

Self-Portrait After the Spanish Flu (1919), Munch

Recall that I visited the Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway in June 2019 during our Baltics cruise. There, I saw lots of depressing paintings of people who are sick or dying, including a self-portrait of Munch after the Spanish Flu (epidemic 1918-20). He survived until his death in 1944.

Even the choice of colors -- teals and mustardy golds -- along with the drippy washes and brushstrokes and exhausted expression make for overall sadness and despair. His use of contrasting colors is very effective.

Guernica, 2020, Tony Aguero
I also found a painting inspired by Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937), painted by Tony Aguero, an interdisciplinary artist based in Portland, OR, originally from Costa Rica. This 2020 painting reflects the struggle with the current pandemic after Picasso's work depicting the tragedies of war.

In other posts from this year, I highlighted some great sculptures used as memorials to local heroes, famous authors, or historic cultural, religious, or military figures. See Sculpture -- Another Dimension of Art, my Art of the Pacific Northwest Series, and my Baltics series.

Our world is experiencing a very trying pandemic while producing some amazing art. Unfortunately, it has also been a period of civil unrest often accompanied by violent acts that devastate longstanding monuments that had for years celebrated people's lives and their contributions. It saddens me to think of the art that is being destroyed given how long and how many great works have survived and the effort to maintain, restore, and preserve them for generations to come.