Gauguin’s teeth found in well

Gauguin’s teeth found in well

Bovril jar, perfume and morphine also discovered

LONDON. An archaeological dig on the remote Marquesan island of Hiva Oa has uncovered the secrets of the water well used by Paul Gauguin. The buried objects range from a New Zealand beer bottle to four human teeth.

Gauguin lived in the village of Atuona from 1901 until his death two years later. He built his own Maori-style hut, “la Maison du Jouir” (house of pleasure), and dug a well just outside. The Marquesans did not use wells, but springs, and after Gauguin died it was filled with rubbish from his home.

The results of the excavation are revealed in the inaugural issue of Van Gogh Studies, an annual scholarly review from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, out this month. The essay, by Gauguin specialist Caroline Boyle-Turner, is the first report in English on the 2000 dig (a few other details emerged earlier in specialist publications).

Objects from Gauguin’s time were found around 2.7 metres below ground level. There was a Bovril jar from England, and various liquor bottles. Five broken pieces of hand-decorated plate made in Quimper presumably date from when Gauguin was painting in Brittany.

Broken perfume bottles were found, embossed “France”. Dr Boyle-Turner notes that “a way to please women in Polynesia was to offer them perfume”.

Artistic materials found included three chunks of orange and ochre minerals, still smelling of linseed oil, suggesting that Gauguin made his own paint. A broken coconut shell with pigments was probably used as a palette.

Gauguin is likely to have suffered from syphilis, and had serious eczema. A buried syringe and two ampoules which had contained morphine were presumably for pain relief. The four teeth show signs of severe decay, suggesting they are European (the Marquesans did not eat sugar). They are likely to be Gauguin’s, and he may have had them extracted and then saved them.

The finds from the well now belong to the municipality of Atuona, which bought the site and erected a replica of Gauguin’s Maison du Jouir in 2003.


Jackson Pollock – Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952


Blue Poles Number 11

Painted relatively late in Jackson Pollock’s career, this painting conveys the unique skill that Pollock had by now achieved with his infamous ‘drip’ technique. Executed on unstretched canvas laid flat on the floor, both the artist’s dripping, splashing and pouring of paint onto the work’s surface and the scale of the painting itself, clearly reveals the highly physical aspect of Pollock’s technique. It could equally be regarded as a performance. Pollock believed that his abandonment of traditional painting tools (he preferred to use sticks, cooking basters or pour directly from the paint can) and the paintings he produced reflected the realms of unconscious experience but also responded to contemporary life. As he stated: “The modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any past culture”.

In marked contrast to the artist’s classic works of 1947–50, the electric colours of Blue Poles in no way reflect the palette of nature as earlier paintings had done. Blue Poles is for Pollock an ambitious transitional work where not only colour, but the artist’s handling of composition, mark a conscious move away from previous work. While in many ways continuing his now trademark ‘all-over’ composition, Pollock pushed his endeavours in abstraction further by introducing the bold presence of the eight blue ‘poles’ that intersect the canvas. Pollock uses the prominent slashes of Blue Poles to reintroduce the conventional notion of figure and ground into his work, but without making any concession to traditional concepts of perspective. In Blue Poles, the ‘figure’ is, quite radically, the abstract mark.

Since its controversial purchase by the Australian National Gallery (now National Gallery of Australia), Canberra in 1973, Blue Poles has assumed an iconic place in recent Australian history. Contemporary debates surrounding the painting at the time of its acquisition extended far beyond discussions relating to its artistic merit and position in Pollock’s career. Given the work’s enormous price tag – then a world record for a work by a twentieth-century artist – Blue Poles came to embody, almost by default, a number of issues particularly relevant to Australia. These included the role of art and politics, the validity and global impact of the Abstract Expressionism, as well as questions surrounding the purchase of the painting as a signifier (for Whitlam’s Labor Government) of modern nationhood.

Now a much-lauded and internationally celebrated work, first-hand experience of Pollock’s mesmerising and complex painting serves to reinforce the enormity of the artist’s impact on twentieth century art. While initially ridiculed by the American press in 1949 as ‘Jack the Dripper’, Jackson Pollock is now recognised as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Jackson Pollock 1912-1956

With his cowboy persona, characteristically casual attire and appearance in the widely-circulated Life magazine, Jackson Pollock was the first American artist to capture the popular imagination. Brought to worldwide fame after his death in a car crash in 1956, Pollock’s life and art came to be seen to capture both the possibilities and perils of postwar American society. While Jackson Pollock’s untimely death, and the almost mystical intrigue of his abstract paintings, have served to emphasise both the ‘romance’ and ‘heroism’ of the artist’s public persona, Pollock’s achievements as a painter cannot be overshadowed. His friend and patron, the artist Alfonso Ossorio said of Pollock’s career: “Here I saw a man who had both broken all the traditions of the past and unified them, who had gone beyond cubism, beyond Picasso and surrealism, beyond everything that had happened in art … his work expressed both action and contemplation”.

Jackson Pollock was born in the United States in Cody, Wyoming on 28 January 1912. He was the youngest of five brothers, born into a farming family that struggled financially and moved a number of times during the young boy’s life. After some early art training in Riverside, California and Los Angeles, in 1930 Pollock enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City under the tuition of the figurative painter Thomas Hart Benton. It was during the early 1930s that Pollock first encountered the work of Mexican mural painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose work was to prove an early influence on his own art. After a period of depression in the late 1930s, during which very little painting took place, Pollock commenced Jungian analysis. He returned to painting with renewed vigour in 1940.

Fellow abstract artist Lee Krasner (who Pollock first met in 1936 and married in 1945) was central to Pollock’s life and instrumental in the subsequent development of his career. Another influential contact was with Peggy Guggenheim, a wealthy art collector who was to become one of the most significant early supporters and promoters of Pollock’s work. Pollock first exhibited at Guggenheim’s ‘Art of this Century’ gallery in 1942.

In 1945 Pollock and Krasner moved from New York to The Springs in East Hampton, Long Island. Pollock initially established his studio in an upstairs bedroom before relocating it to the barn. This move to the Hamptons was to herald a period of relative stability and great creativity in Pollock’s life.

While continuing to produce monumental paintings such as Blue Poles during the early 1950s, Pollock became increasingly despondent about his work and by 1956, the year of his death, had not painted for more than twelve months.

Gunpowder artist blazes a trail for Asian market


November 27, 2007



Drawing for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation

A set of 14 abstract paintings made using gunpowder have become the most expensive works of contemporary Asian art to be sold at auction.

An unidentified Asian art investor paid $9.5 million (£4.5 million) for the works, Set of 14 Drawings for Asia-Pacific Cooperation, by the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Such was the interest in the sale of contemporary Asian art in Hong Kong on Sunday that many buyers had to stand at the Christie’s auction. More than 100 online buyers were in a queue while telephone bids came in on 50 lines.

Christie’s said it was pleased, but not surprised, by the interest. Jonathan Stone, the international business director for Asian art at the auction house, said that the first day of the five-day autumn sales had achieved remarkable prices. Christie’s took in $107 million on the day, more than four times its estimate, with buyers from India, China, Europe and the United States.

Mr Cai, from southeastern China, is based in New York. Mr Stone said: “He’s very highly respected. It was a great work – rare, in good condition. There is a huge amount of worldwide interest in works of this strength.”

Mr Cai’s previous main work sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong last month for $2.6 million. The screens sold yesterday, in gunpowder and ink, went for double their estimated value of between $3.5 million and $4.6 million, making Mr Cai the costliest contemporary Chinese artist.

Mr Stone told The Times: “Contemporary Chinese art is a window into the changes in China in the past couple of decades, showing the country through the prism of the artist’s eye.”

Chinese buyers are starting to join the rush by Western collectors to purchase contemporary works, in a trend that has sent prices in China skyrocketing in the past two years.

Jim Rosenquist

Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1933, He now lives and works in Aripeka, Florida, and New York City Jim Rosenquist had an itinerant childhood. An only child, he moved with his family frequently throughout the Midwest. His parents shared with him their interest in airplanes and things mechanical. In junior high school Rosenquist took art classes, and he won a scholarship to attend Saturday classes at the Minneapolis School of Art. After high school he enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s art program, studying with Cameron Booth. During the summer he worked for a contractor in Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, painting signs and bulk storage tanks.

“President Elect” (1960-61)

In 1954 Rosenquist painted his first billboard for General Outdoor Advertising in Minneapolis. A year later, on scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, Rosenquist studied with Edwin Dickinson, Will Barnet, Morris Kantor, George Grosz, and Vaclav Vytacil. In 1957 Rosenquist joined the sign painters union and in 1958 went to work for Art Kraft Strauss Company painting billboards. He also worked on window displays for Bonwit Teller and Tiffany & Company.

He married the textile designer Mary Lou Adams. During the election he produced the picture President Elect in which John F. Kennedy’s face is combined in a kind of collage with sex and automobile imagery. His first one-man exhibition in the Green Gallery, in 1962, was sold out. In 1963 he worked on several sculptures, had a number of exhibitions at the Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, showed his work at the Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, and taught at Yale University. In 1965 he began to work with lithographs.

In the same year he made the 26 meter-wide picture F-111, which was shown at the Jewish Museum, New York, at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and in other European cities. It is one of his most important works. The spatial organization of the composition into layers suggests the interrelationship of contemporary historical symbols and signs of affluence and military hardware, a vision of American culture expressing the proximity of euphoria and catastrophe. In 1967 he moved to East Hampton.

Untitled 2000

In 1968 he was given his first retrospective by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. In 1969 he turned his attention to experimenting with film techniques. In 1970 he went to Cologne for the opening of his exhibition at the Galerie Rolf Ricke. During the public protest against the Vietnam War he was briefly detained in Washington. During the same year he had comprehensive retrospectives at the Wallraf-Richards Museum, Cologne, and the Whitney Museum, New York.

In 1974 and 1975, he lobbied the U.S. Senate on the legal rights of artists. He became separated from his wife and designed his own house with an open-air studio at Indian Bay, Aripeka, Florida. In 1978 F-111 was exhibited in the International Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In his work of the late seventies and eighties, e.g. 4 “New Clear Women,” images of women are confronted with machine aesthetics, usually in large oblong compositions. The themes of these dynamic compositions also include fire, progress and war machinery which he shows in rotating pictorial narratives. Between 1985 and 1987 Rosenquist’s entire development as an artist was shown in a comprehensive retrospective at six American museums.

The Stars and Stripes at the Speed of Light

By 1960 Rosenquist had set aside enough of his commercial earnings to allow him to spend a year painting in his studio. He moved to Coentles Slip, where he shared a loft with Charles Hinman.  Rosenquist had tentatively explored the use of commercial methods and materials in his studio work of the late 1950s, but after his move to the Slip, he left behind both the abstract expressionist and figurative modes he had employed in his early work.  He developed the montage like arrangement of deliberately fragmented images from popular culture inconsistently scaled and enigmatically juxtaposed; that characterized the monumental paintings of his mature style.

Rosenquist had his first one-man exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York in 1962, and every painting was sold. In 1963 he completed a mural for the New York World’s Fair, and Art in, America selected him as “Young Talent Painter” of the year. Two years later the artist finished painting the monumental, highly publicized F- I I 1, which toured Europe during the 1960s and has been considered an important expression of the anti Vietnam War movement. During the 1970s he became active in issues of artists’ rights legislation. In 1976 Rosenquist built his house and studio in Aripeka, Florida.

Since the early 1960s Rosenquist has worked extensively at numerous printmaking workshops in addition to Graphic studio, including Aeropress, Gemini G.E.L., Petersburg Press, Styria Studios, Tyler Graphics, Ltd., and Universal Limited Art Editions. Among Rosenquist’s honors is the World Print Award, which he received in 1983 from the World Print Council at the San Francisco Museum of Modem Art.


In 2003 the Solomon R. Guggenbeim Museum in New York had a retrospective of Rosenquist works starting in 1950. In 2004 the exhibition goes to Spain’s Guggeheim Bilbao.

As art dealer Richard Feigen says, “James Rosenquist may be the world’s most important living artist.”

Guernica painting

Guernica painting

Guernica painting

Guernica: Testimony of War

It is modern art’s most powerful antiwar statement… created by the twentieth century’s most well-known and least understood artist. But the mural called Guernica is not at all what Pablo Picasso has in mind when he agrees to paint the centerpiece for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair.

Pablo Picasso
For three months, Picasso has been searching for inspiration for the mural, but the artist is in a sullen mood, frustrated by a decade of turmoil in his personal life and dissatisfaction with his work. The politics of his native homeland are also troubling him, as a brutal civil war ravages Spain. Republican forces, loyal to the newly elected government, are under attack from a fascist coup led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Franco promises prosperity and stability to the people of Spain. Yet he delivers only death and destruction.

more about the Spanish Civil War
Hoping for a bold visual protest to Franco’s treachery from Spain’s most eminent artist, colleagues and representatives of the democratic government have come to Picasso’s home in Paris to ask him to paint the mural. Though his sympathies clearly lie with the new Republic, Picasso generally avoids politics – and disdains overtly political art.
The official theme of the Paris Exposition is a celebration of modern technology. Organizers hope this vision of a bright future will jolt the nations out of the economic depression and social unrest of the thirties.
As plans unfold, much excitement is generated by the Aeronautics Pavilion, featuring the latest advances in aircraft design and engineering. Who would suspect that this dramatic progress would bring about such dire consequences?

On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler’s burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.
By May 1st, news of the massacre at Guernica reaches Paris, where more than a million protesters flood the streets to voice their outrage in the largest May Day demonstration the city has ever seen. Eyewitness reports fill the front pages of Paris papers. Picasso is stunned by the stark black and white photographs. Appalled and enraged, Picasso rushes through the crowded streets to his studio, where he quickly sketches the first images for the mural he will call Guernica. His search for inspiration is over.
From the beginning, Picasso chooses not to represent the horror of Guernica in realist or romantic terms. Key figures – a woman with outstretched arms, a bull, an agonized horse – are refined in sketch after sketch, then transferred to the capacious canvas, which he also reworks several times. “A painting is not thought out and settled in advance,” said Picasso. “While it is being done, it changes as one’s thoughts change. And when it’s finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.”

Three months later, Guernica is delivered to the Spanish Pavilion, where the Paris Exposition is already in progress. Located out of the way, and grouped with the pavilions of smaller countries some distance from the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish Pavilion stood in the shadow of Albert Speer’s monolith to Nazi Germany. The Spanish Pavilion’s main attraction, Picasso’s Guernica, is a sober reminder of the tragic events in Spain.
Initial reaction to the painting is overwhelmingly critical. The German fair guide calls Guernica “a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted.” It dismisses the mural as the dream of a madman. Even the Soviets, who had sided with the Spanish government against Franco, react coolly. They favor more overt imagery, believing that only more realistic art can have political or social consequence. Yet Picasso’s tour de force would become one of this century’s most unsettling indictments of war.
After the Fair, Guernica tours Europe and Northern America to raise consciousness about the threat of fascism. From the beginning of World War II until 1981, Guernica is housed in its temporary home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, though it makes frequent trips abroad to such places as Munich, Cologne, Stockholm, and even Sao Palo in Brazil. The one place it does not go is Spain. Although Picasso had always intended for the mural to be owned by the Spanish people, he refuses to allow it to travel to Spain until the country enjoys “public liberties and democratic institutions.”
Speculations as to the exact meaning of the jumble of tortured images are as numerous and varied as the people who have viewed the painting. There is no doubt that Guernica challenges our notions of warfare as heroic and exposes it as a brutal act of self-destruction. But it is a hallmark of Picasso’s art that any symbol can hold many, often contradictory meanings, and the precise significance of the imagery in Guernica remains ambiguous. When asked to explain his symbolism, Picasso remarked, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”
In 1973, Pablo Picasso, the most influential artist of the twentieth century, dies at the age of ninety-two. And when Franco dies in 1975, Spain moves closer to its dream of democracy. On the centenary of Picasso’s birth, October 25th, 1981, Spain’s new Republic carries out the best commemoration possible: the return of Guernica to Picasso’s native soil in a testimony of national reconciliation. In its final journey, Picasso’s apocalyptic vision has served as a banner for a nation on its path toward freedom and democracy.

Now showcased at the Reina Sofía, Spain’s national museum of modern art, Guernica is acclaimed as an artistic masterpiece, taking its rightful place among the great Spanish treasures of El Greco, Goya and Velazquez. “A lot of people recognize the painting,” says art historian Patricia Failing. “They may not even know that it’s a Picasso, but they recognize the image. It’s a kind of icon.”

“One reason Guernica is considered a treasure in terms of art history is that it seemed to provide a bridge between what were considered by some to be antithetical poles: the idea of making an effective political statement and an effective artistic statement at the same time. And this is certainly one of the achievements of the Guernica project, that it was a third space between those two antithetical poles.”

“A lot of artists, who looked up to Picasso as the exemplar of Modernist practice in painting, were interested very much in being Modernists on the one hand, and still very concerned about larger political events and the larger political arena in which they could act as artists. You can find many attempts to bring these two concerns together into the same body of work, to be really expressive and exploratory in formal terms and still be able to make a very heartfelt political statement. And to find that the great master of Modernism was able to accomplish this goal somehow – the mere fact that this kind of resolution might be possible – is what had such an enormous effect on artists in the twentieth century.”

Guernica betrays the stereotype of the Modern as the incredibly new and the incredibly, let’s say, divorced from tradition, from academic practice. Because it’s a painting that you don’t necessarily associate with Modernism, and yet it makes an extremely important and extremely evocative Modernist statement at the same time. It did something that an academic painter would have loved to do, which is to take a very traditional theme and make it modern and make it relevant to a new time and a new audience and a new sensibility. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

  Guernica on display at MOMA  

“There was, of course, a great deal of argument about whether or not it was really as effective a political statement as it could have been if it had been more accessible, if it had been more traditional. And also whether it was really the strongest artistic statement it could have been if it weren’t so tied up with a specific political agenda.”

“When the painting was on tour around the world, there was a great deal of interest on the part of Communist Party members and Communist intellectuals about whether or not this painting would be able to communicate with anybody of the proletarian or worker class. And so you find that there was a lot of testimony collected over the years from people of the working class who saw Guernica. And they responded to it very powerfully, found that they were really just awestruck by this particular painting. It did seem to have an effect on people who you wouldn’t think very likely to react in a positive way to this kind of elitist painting.”

“The controversy about whether or not this particular painting could really be an effective political tool never leaves the painting. Picasso himself later on said that painting is not for decorating apartments; it has a much broader social importance. And I think partly the tour was about finding confirmation of that belief.”

Picasso's sketch - composition 1

The first composition for the mural — drawn the very day word of the bombing reached Picasso in Paris — introduced characters that had recurred in the artist’s previous work. Picasso shaped and reshaped these figures over the next weeks in a series of preliminary sketches. He brought out the vulnerability of the bull and the agony of the horse. He drew screaming women and children, perhaps inspired by his fear that harm might come to his own baby daughter. He seemed haunted by the many faces of anguish.

colored sketch with human hair

“Many of the drawings are much more expressive than the final painting,” says art historian Tomas Llorens. “But that is inevitable because Guernica was conceived as a very public image. And some of the meanings and emotions that you can convey on a piece of paper cannot be conveyed in a mural that is seven meters wide. For instance, in one of the drawings there is hair — perhaps the hair of Dora Maar — pasted in a kind of collage. So, you would lose that meaning in a large public mural. But in a sense the energy, the emotional energy that comes from those experiments, is not lost. Picasso was always synthesizing in each image a lot of different possibilities.”

On May 11th, just fifteen days after the bombing, Picasso stretched a canvas for the mural. It stood eleven-and-a-half feet tall by almost twenty-six feet wide – so large, he had to brace it at a slant to fit under the ceiling of his studio. He then began to lay out the images in full scale – a woman wailing over her dead child… a warrior clutching a shattered sword as his horse drops in torment to its knees… a jumble of bodies lying trampled on the ground — all part of Picasso’s vision of the holocaust at Guernica.

Consequences of War by Rubens

According to art historian, Patricia Failing, “Picasso was very properly trained in the grand tradition of painting, allegorical painting about universal themes: the horrors of war, the massacres of the innocents. Characters that typically appear in these paintings reappear in Picasso’s paintings as well. There’s usually quite clearly a suffering woman, someone who’s screaming, a woman with a child who’s been injured, or may even be dead. And to see that Picasso was able to take that traditional academic motif and actually rework it and make it relevant again to this particular time and this particular circumstance, I think is really one of his great achievements in this painting.”

With Picasso as he painted was his latest lover, Dora Maar, a young photographer who also became his collaborator. Dora’s photographs of the work in progress documented Picasso’s creative process and his struggle between political imagery and artistic merit.

Guernica - State I

As the focal point of the painting, Picasso initially drew a boldly raised arm and clenched fist, the familiar salute of the Spanish Republican forces. But the artist was dissatisfied with the obvious symbolism. Over the next several days, he created a more hopeful message of victory, the raised fist clutching stalks of grain in front of a blazing sun. Still, Picasso’s artistic sensibility was in conflict with the political sentiment of the canvas. “The stand of Picasso was quite clear,” says Llorens. “A work of art, in order to be really effective in political terms, has to work first of all as a work of art.”

Pablo Picasso painting

A week later, the arm was completely painted over. But the center of the painting had lost its focus. To solve the problem, Picasso moved the body of the bull near to the woman and child, lifting the head of the horse to a place of prominence and making the spear more obvious. No longer was the battle between the horse and bull of the ring. Clearly, the mortal wound was caused by an act of man.

Picasso’s inventiveness took him in many directions. He added color, pattern and texture with scraps of wallpaper; he gave the weeping woman a blood-red tear. Later, Picasso removed all color. Earlier in his career, in his Blue Period, Picasso learned that using a monochromatic palette could produce powerful imagery. He suppressed color because he felt color would distract from the impact of the painting. “There was certainly a long tradition that equated line with intellect and color with emotion,” adds Failing. “And so, to not bring in the whole element of color and its associations with emotion and the sensual, in a way makes it a tour-de-force on another level.”

Picasso sketch of hand - for Guernica

Picasso then sketched possibilities for the warrior. Not the heroic figure of patriotic fantasy — lifeless, broken, weapons shattered — the warrior in Guernica is no match for the engines of modern warfare. “It’s not the clenched fist with the upright arm at the end that becomes such a moving part of the picture, but the outstretched hands with the kind of flayed fingers and the deeply crossed palm,” explains Failing.

lightbulb detail from Guernica

As Guernica neared completion, Picasso added a single image of twentieth century technology. According to Llorens: “In Spanish, an electric bulb is called ‘bombia,’ and ‘bombia’ is like the diminutive of ‘bomb.’ So, ‘bomba-bombia’ is a verbal poetic metaphor for the terrifying power of technology to destroy us.”

Shortly after, although he was not at all certain the mural was complete, Picasso delivered Guernica to the Spanish Pavilion.