Only scratches remain on the white walls where the four Impressionist masterpieces once hung. No metal detectors, no armed guards, no cameras were in sight Tuesday, underscoring just how vulnerable many of Europe’s small museums are to thieves enticed by soaring art prices.
The robbers who carried out one of Europe’s most dramatic art heists are likely criminals with no art expertise or understanding of how difficult it is to sell such famous paintings, experts said Tuesday. The stolen works by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet are worth $163.2 million.
Karl-Heinz Kind, an art theft expert at Interpol, said part of the problem is the appeal of museums like the E.G. Buehrle Collection, with its accessibility and atmosphere encouraging reflection and appreciation.
“A museum or a church is not made to be a prison,” Kind said in a telephone interview from Lyon, France, where Interpol has its headquarters.
“You can imagine screening luggage or clothes under machines, or X-raying them. You could imagine in churches or cathedrals to put the statues of saints behind iron bars. That would certainly increase security. But is it really the purpose of a museum?”
Marco Cortesi of the Zurich police noted the robbery Sunday took less than three minutes, carried out by gunmen in ski masks who burst into the museum just before closing time. While one trained a pistol on museum personnel ordered to lie on the floor, two others collected the paintings and sped off with them.
“In Europe we just didn’t have to plan for such an attack on a museum,” Cortesi said.
The Buehrle’s security included burglar alarms to protect against break-ins during the night and an alarm system that sounded at the police station if a picture was moved. But that was clearly not enough.
“The museum has state-of-the-art security against theft, but not against armed robbery,” said museum director Lukas Gloor as he showed reporters the collection, one of Europe’s finest for 19th century and 20th century art.
Gloor said the museum was reconsidering its security, including limiting visits to groups by prior arrangement. But he said he feared going too far.
“I see the intimate character that we used to have in this house threatened,” he said.
But no matter what measures the museum imposes, it will probably be easier for criminal to target art than to hold up a bank, which is “better protected, with guards carrying guns, than a small museum would be,” said Kind.
Experts dismissed any suggestion the robbers knew what they were doing, saying they appeared to be opportunists looking for easy pickings and unaware it is virtually impossible to sell such famous works.
Kind referred to some of the biggest art heists in recent years, such as the robbery of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and “Madonna” from the Munch Museum in Norway in 2004, and a Leonardo da Vinci painting from a castle in Scotland in 2003. Those works were recovered.
“The robbers were successful in the first part of their job: to get possession of the paintings or the other works of art,” he said. “But they faced enormous — and perhaps unexpected — difficulties in realizing the second part: making money out of it.”
“As a consequence, they had to make repeated contacts to prospective buyers. And that is, of course, more chances for the police to get in. All these cases have been solved because of that. Because they did not find a buyer, they ended up with police,” he said.
The Art Loss Register, which maintains the world’s largest database on stolen, missing and looted art, has recovered over $300 million worth of stolen works since it began in 1991. Julian Radcliffe, the founder and chairman, said most thieves either try to negotiate a ransom or attempt to resell the art, which often gets them caught.
The image of a wealthy collector with an underground gallery full of stolen art is only “a figment of the imagination of film directors,” Radcliffe said.
Most recoveries by the Art Loss Register have involved underworld criminal activity where the art was exchanged for drugs or money, he said.
By the time someone attempts to sell stolen art, it has often passed through many hands, sometimes over many years, he said. In some situations, a work is recovered when the owner dies and his or her children check in with dealers to see whether it is worth anything.
Kind said criminals rarely know the value of the art they steal, underscoring their ignorance by rolling up canvases together, smashing frames or otherwise damaging the pieces.
Gloor said the thieves on Sunday went straight to the Grand Hall containing some of the collection’s most valuable paintings.
They grabbed the first four they came to — apparently all they could carry. While those included the museum’s prize, Paul Cezanne’s “Boy in the Red Waistcoat,” worth $90 million, they left behind the second-most-valuable painting in the room — Cezanne’s “Self Portrait with Palette,” insured for $80 million.
The other stolen works were Claude Monet’s “Poppy field at Vetheuil,” Edgar Degas'”Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter,” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Blooming Chestnut Branches.”
Cortesi said police have received a number of tips, but so far had no concrete leads. Authorities have yet to solve a smaller theft last week of two Picassos from nearby Pfaeffikon, and were investigating if the incidents were connected.
The FBI estimates the stolen art market at $6 billion annually, and Interpol has about 30,000 pieces of stolen art in its database. While only a fraction of that is ever recovered, such thefts are rare because of intense police investigations and the difficulty of selling the works.
Here are the top seven movies on art and artists, my pick of course, although I would have some difficulty where to put Pollock and Frida, as I think I may have been a little tight. They probably belong a lot further up. I do also like ‘Girl with the Pearl Earing’ but I think that is more for Scarlett Johansson. LOL!
1. The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
Elliot Wilhelm, the author of Videohound’s Guide to World Cinema, calls this film “the product of a brilliant smart-ass.” I am inclined to agree. It is visually stunning in that kind of Merchant-Ivory way, except that it has a slightly off-color look to it, much like director Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover; it is beautiful but somehow sinister and has the look of decay about it. It’s hard to pin down. The film is a puzzle of sorts, but you don’t realize until about two-thirds of the way through that you’re watching a mystery. As viewers, we are in much the same boat as the protagonist, an artist played by Anthony Higgins who is hired to draw several commemorative pictures of the estate of a rich woman for her husband, who is more interested in his land and his horses than he is in his wife. We just don’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.
We get an early inkling that this isn’t your standard costume drama fare. Higgins initially refuses to do the drawings, and a series of deftly edited scenes shows us the process by which Janet Suzman, the matriarch of the estate, and her daughter Anne-Louise Lambert convince him to change his mind. He agrees after the proposal of the titular contract; he is to draw twelve pictures, and Suzman is to submit to his sexual desires. The family lawyer, a real sleazeball played by Neil Cunningham, draws up the contract to make it official.
Higgins travels to the estate, from which the patriarch has recently left for a journey to France. He is a meticulous jerk; he insists that people and livestock be moved around at his behest, and he takes his time drawing. He’s a good artist, though, as Suzman reluctantly admits as he ravishes her daily. Meanwhile, there crops up some question as to where the patriarch really is: did he travel to France, or has he been murdered? Higgins scoffs at the idea, until the scheming daughter points out incriminating elements of his very drawings that, collectively, don’t really add up to anything but look like they do. In the meantime, Higgins draws his pictures, insults the impotent German wife of Lambert, played by Hugh Fraser, and unwittingly becomes more and more involved in a murder plot that may or may not be real.
That’s the maddening joy of this film: you don’t really know whether there’s anything sinister going on or not. The way the film looks and feels suggests much more than the “clues” that supposedly implicate Higgins in the murder that may have occurred. As I said, there’s something sinister about the saturated colors, stately pacing, and ever-moving camera that Greenaway uses to bring to life this rotting estate. The thing is, you want there to be something going on, because Higgins is such a perfect ass that you wish he was guilty of something. His dialog is full of subtle and not-so-subtle barbs that imply that he thinks he’s the only worthy person around; the way he abuses Suzman and, later, Lambert is a perfect gauge of his character. In the end, you find yourself rooting for his downfall, for whatever reason the other characters can find.
2. Lust for Life
Despite its somewhat lurid title, “Lust for Life” is a strong and absorbing film biography of nineteenth-century Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. While the movie is typically melodramatic, as most biopics are, it is seldom less than engaging.
MGM spared little expense in bringing author Irwin Stone’s popular book to the screen in 1956, hiring the best director (Vincente Minnelli), producer (John Houseman), composer (Miklos Rozsa), and stars (Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn) they could get; filming in CinemaScope, color, and stereo; and going on location in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands for ultimate authenticity.
At first glance, it may seem odd to a modern moviegoer that the studio chose Vincente Minnelli to direct; after all, he is probably best known for his sparkling musicals–“Meet Me in St. Louis,” “An American in Paris,” “The Band Wagon,” “Brigadoon,” “Kismet,” “Gigi.” But we may forget that he also did serious dramas–“Madame Bovary,” “The Clock,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Tea and Sympathy,” “Some Came Running.” Likewise, we may think of Kirk Douglas in his prime as simply a stalwart leading man, the swaggering hero of things like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “The Indian Fighter,” “Ulysses,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “The Vikings,” and “Spartacus.” Again, we may forget his equally effective if less-dashing dramatic roles in “Out of the Past,” “Young Man With a Horn,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Paths of Glory,” “Lonely Are the Brave,” and “Seven Days in May,” to name but a few.
In any case, Douglas got one of his best roles in “Lust for Life” and sank his teeth into it, earning an Oscar nomination and winning a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Circle Award in the process. Douglas even bore a striking resemblance to the real-life artist, which, along with the location shooting and a plentitude of van Gogh’s paintings on display, lends the film an added verisimilitude.
The film is also remarkably accurate in its depiction of van Gogh’s short life; well, accurate for a film biography, anyway. It takes up at the point where the artist is trying to decide what to do with himself. Having gone to divinity school but been turned down for a privileged ministerial position, and wanting very much to please his pastor father, van Gogh accepted a post in a poor coal-mining town. There, trying desperately to help his parishioners, he became appalled by the terrible working conditions under which he found the miners laboring. Worse, he found the attitudes of his fellow Christian evangelists hypocritical for their not caring much for the plight of the poor. Van Gogh wanted “to bring something to the world,” but clearly he did not find it in the ministry and so renounced the cloth for the brush, much to his father’s dismay.
The film concentrates mainly on the last decade of the artist’s life, from about 1880 to his death in 1890, the brief period during which van Gogh found his artistic calling, cut off part of his ear, and produced the bulk of his creative output. Ironically, the man never sold a painting until his last year, living off the support of his brother Theo (James Donald), an art dealer in Paris, to keep feed, clothed, and housed; yet today van Gogh is considered one of the greatest of post-Impressionest painters and an important influence on the twentieth-century Expressionist movement.
Minnelli, always the celluloid stylist, attempts to convey in each scene a sense of what van Gogh the artist felt and saw, the director creating color schemes, tones, and lighting effects that reflect the man’s paintings. Combine this technique with Douglas’s raw energy and his passionate, sometimes over-the-top performance, and you get what at the very least makes for a fascinating movie.
Then, too, there is Anthony Quinn as van Gogh’s friend and fellow artist, the temperamental Paul Gauguin. What with Quinn putting in a big, brawling, flamboyant portrayal of an artist every bit as volatile as van Gogh, you’d think that all the parts would be clicking and you’d get a dream of a picture. Yet the movie never quite comes together the way the sum of its parts would suggest.
Perhaps the movie never fully gels because both Douglas and Quinn are much too bigger-than-life in their roles. Perhaps it’s because Minnelli is too concerned with local color, historical accuracy, and Hollywood censorship. Perhaps it’s because Norman Corwin’s adaptation of Irwin Stone’s book is too literal and too literate to come fully alive. Or perhaps it’s because Miklos Rozsa’s musical score, evocative though it may be, is too grandiose and overwrought for its subject matter.
While “Lust for Life” attempts to show us the loneliness and unfulfilled longing of the quintessential tortured artist, the movie never touches the viewer the way it might. It is beautiful to look at, to be sure, and the performances are strongly impassioned; yet in the end we are left with the feeling that we have just experienced another good film biography, not a stirring human drama in the sense of an “Amadeus.” The movie, attractive as it may be, never “breaks through the iron wall” between what is felt and what is expressed, the very wall that van Gogh himself strove to overcome.
Oh, well; “Lust for Life” is still a fairly true account of the artist’s life, and as such continues to entertain and enlighten, even if it doesn’t entirely uplift.
3. The Pillow Book
The Pillow Book is a Peter Greenaway (Drowning by Numbers, Prospero’s Books) mesmerizing visual experience that touches base with spiritual and erotic themes.
Calligraphy is one subject that few movies have used as a theme; but, Greenaway, true to his reputation as a filmmaker with an outrageous streak in him, continues to make outlandish films that have a certain perversity. Here he starts off filming in black-and-white the childhood experiences of Nagiko (Wu), who wonderously listens to the stories being read by her aunt (Yoshida) from a 1,000-year text based on the work of Sei Shonagon, a courtesan. This spellbinding journal of sayings on the subjects of the flesh and literature, makes up “The Pillow Book.” The idea of that book is that the texts of those two subjects (sex & art) should fuse together as one, with there being no difference between literature and beauty in their union. Pillow Book is an individual’s diary of observations and a presentment of an interesting list of things the diarist jots down.
Nagiko’s father (Ogata), whom she idolizes, is a master calligrapher who paints her face with characters to celebrate her birthdays. He tells her: “If God approved of his creation, he will bring the clay model he created to life by signing his name to it.” This seems to tickle the little girl’s fancy so much so that when we next see her as a young woman in Technicolor, we realize that she has developed a fetish for having her skin written on — equating her lovers with how good a calligrapher they are.
After marrying in a traditional Japanese ceremony to someone she knows cannot please her who is forced on her through an arranged marriage by her father’s publisher (Yoshi Oida), she will leave this husband whom she cannot relate with and move to Hong Kong. Once there she will take odd-jobs, until becoming a fashion model and then a writer on flesh. She will not communicate with her father from abroad after witnessing her father’s boss, the publisher, force her father to have anal sex with him, which he does in order to have his books published.
The film concentrates on Nagiko having her lovers write over her nude body, but she is becoming increasingly frustrated in finding the lover who is the perfect combination of lover and calligrapher. Nagiko will meet a young English translator she falls for even though she considers him a scribbler, Jerome (Ewan). To solve her dilemma of being with someone who is not a calligrapher, she writes on Jerome’s skin after he offers her his body.
Jerome crushes Nagiko’s spirit by having a homosexual relationship with the same publisher who destroyed her husband financially, blackmailed her father, and now has soiled the one she loves. Nagiko thought that she could use him to get vengeance on the publisher but when he goes naked before the publisher and the publisher reads The Book of a Lover that she wrote on him, this act makes her jealousy rage and she spurns Jerome.
The plot turns surprising simple as revenge becomes the motive for Nagiko, and this offbeat film will remain interesting mostly through its striking visualizations.
The stunning visualizations range from ones of comedy to ones of sensuality to ones of gross cruelty. An example of comedy would be in The Third Book of Impotence. The male model Nagiko has written her book on is running naked through the crowded streets of Hong Kong.
By writing her own pillow book, that will include thirteen editions, Nagiko will tell her life story. The last one is called The Book of the Dead, and is an example of how pitiless is her retribution.
The fun is in the silliness of the story’s subject matter as juxtaposed against the solemnity of the books being written on skin. In the background there are either somber religious chants or the same pop tune being played over and over. The repeating of the childhood story, the constant flashbacks to Nagiko’s childhood, where she is repeatedly told that the diary being read to her is by a woman who has the same name she has, gives the film a stylish depth and a feeling that something overwhelming is happening.
Greenaway tells a seductive tale by utilizing Nagiko’s predilection for body art to flesh out her character. She is really the only one in the film that we see developing. Her seventh book, The Book of a Seducer, was very similar to a Confucius book. She writes on a man’s bald head, “An itch to read, a scratch to understand.” Her ninth, The Book of Secrets, she has her words written on a man’s tongue. There seems to be a determined effort to be witty, even if the humor is not scaled to what the story is saying.
The result is a startling film with gorgeous photogenic shots, superimpositions, amazing computer graphics, a splash of intriguing gold and red color patterns, but with everything ending up so perverse and lost in a melodramatic intimacy that even the scenes that do mean something still seem to be too absurd to really mean much. But the film did have plenty of fire, hatred, passion, jealousy, and mystery. For those who like to see a film that is both unique and unforgettable: this one’s pure Greenaway.
‘Pollock’ portrait of the artist as a difficult man
By Margaret McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It is common to speculate that Jackson Pollock’s restless, raging genius drove him to the excesses that ultimately killed him.
An active alcoholic for most of his adult life, he died at age 44 in a drunken-driving accident in which a passenger also perished. He cheated on his ferociously loyal wife, abused his friends, alienated admirers and savaged other artists.
He was, as the arresting film Pollock reveals, a difficult and dangerous man. Director and star Ed Harris exposes the artist’s flaws with unstinting honesty (and with painstaking style). Yet in his fierce and melancholy portrait, he suggests that art was not the man’s downfall, but the source of the only salvation he ever found.
The film is drawn from the biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith as adapted by screenwriters Barbara Turner and Susan Emshwiller. It is peppered with outrageous behavior, as in the case when Pollock relieved himself in the fireplace at the elegant home of arts patron Peggy Guggenheim (played by Mr. Harris’ wife, Amy Madigan).
However, the story pays as much attention to Pollock’s drive to blast through the conventions of modern art to find a new vocabulary of abstraction. In time — during hard-won periods of sobriety — he made a radical breakthrough that became his signature technique, painting without touching brush to canvas, creating lines by drizzling and spilling pigment.
His work was (and still is, by some) dismissed as mere splatters, an interpretation he rejects explicitly in Pollock. “I don’t use the accident,” he said, “because I deny the accident.”
Mr. Harris dives deep into the this damaged soul and emerges with a gutsy, focused performance that reinforces the star’s reputation for breathtaking clarity and truth.
Marcia Gay Harden matches his level of work in the painful role of Pollock’s wife, artist Lee Krasner.
If ever there were an artist to prove that the art is bigger than the artist, it was Jackson Pollock. Like him, this film embraces pain and chaos and self-loathing and returns beauty.
Artemisia Gentileschi (Valentina Cervi) was a rare thing in 17th century Rome: a woman painter. Her father, the great Ozario Gentileschi (visit your local art museum; I would guess that they have at least one of his religious-themed paintings), breaks the unspoken rules against women painting by letting her study with him. She soon outstrips what he can teach her, and he practically bullies the art academy to admit her. Agostino Tassi (Miki Manojlovic), a radical, younger artist who does the unimaginable (like painting outdoor scenes outside) is intrigued both artistically and sexually by the impetuous Artemisia, who shows him her drawings of the male nude (it was forbidden at the time for women to draw men nude, but she convinced a local boy to pose for her in exchange for a kiss). The two begin a professional relationship under the supervision of one of Gentileschi’s servant girls, who is supposed to keep him from compromising the integrity of the young girl.
Things get rough when their undeniable attraction leads to a sexual relationship. At first they get away with it, but these things never last, and Gentileschi (played by Michel Serrault) finds out. He has no choice but to bring charges of rape against the other painter because, in the social climate of 17th century Rome, there is no way any respectable man will ever marry Artemisia if it was thought that she willingly lost her virginity before marriage. The problem is, the girl is madly in love with her teacher, and she complicates proceedings by refusing to lie.
The film is based on the life of the real Artemisia Gentileschi, who was among the first known female painters in the Western World. She is probably best known for her varying versions of “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” and art critics say that her work, although it is very much a product of its time, reflects a unique female perspective. The film assures us that she was the first woman painter in history to be commissioned for her work, but this is a typical Western attitude, in that it conveniently forgets the history of any other part of the world except Europe. What about in Japan or China, or maybe Africa or Latin America? It was only a minor flub, though. The film does a pretty good job of both recreating the world of 17th century art and of avoiding too much historical anachronism. You don’t hear the characters uttering late 20th century dialog, which is always an easy pitfall in historical films.
Apparently, the MPAA originally gave this film the dreaded NC-17 rating, but, surprisingly, it was overturned in favor of the R the film deserved. I say surprisingly not because the film deserved an NC-17, but because that board of censors and nipple-counters is not known for reconsidering its decisions. Watching the film, I can’t see a single thing about it that made it deserve an NC-17. It contains no more nudity or sex than your typical suspense thriller in the US. Maybe it’s the foreign language that made it seem more “dangerous” to the conservative mothers and priests on the ratings board.
There’s also the historical problem: this film takes what was almost certainly a rape and turns it into a romance. I’m all for female empowerment, but I think this is sending the wrong message.
6. Camille Claudel
Isabelle Adjani is nominated for a best actress Oscar for her riveting performance in “Camille Claudel,” which single-handedly lifts the film out of the tortured-artist cliches in which it threatens to become mired.
The title character was a famous sculptor in Paris during the end of the 19th century who, according to the film, was so obsessed with mentor/lover Auguste Rodin (Gerard Depardieu) that she gradually went mad while still turning out incredible work — all this while dealing with a mindset that decreed women could not be as accomplished as men in the world of art. “Camille Claudel” is many things, from fairly typical movie biography to critical examination of a particular historical period to portrait of an obsessed woman. In fact, Claudel had two obsessions, her art and Rodin, and they could not be reconciled. As shown here, Rodin was alternately jealous and in awe of her talent, and Claudel eventually became unjustifiably paranoid that he was trying to destroy that talent.
Most of the film is told from Claudel’s point of view, though it occasionally shifts to Rodin’s during the film’s first half — the richer portion of this 2 1/2-hour film. And through her eyes we see the frustration she projects toward a God who would bless her with great talent and then place her in a world that rejects it. We first meet Claudel in the throes of her initial obsession. Her brother is sent out in the middle of the night by their frantic mother to find Camille. Meanwhile, Camille is ripping wet clay from the walls of a ditch at a construction site and stuffing it into a small valise. She races to her studio and as the morning light begins to pour into the room she molds the clay with a passionate fever.
Her initial meetings with Rodin, who first comes to quickly look at her work, then hires her as an apprentice, frustrate Claudel because he doesn’t acknowledge or seem to recognize her talent.
Finally, when, in a fit of frustration, she leaves his employ, Rodin comes to her. They see they are kindred spirits, but it isn’t until later, when she seduces him by modeling for him, that they become lovers.
Some time later, when Claudel strikes out on her own and gains a measure of recognition, she gradually descends into madness. Was that seed of insanity always there? Or is it the result of being unable to have both artistic success and Rodin? That’s never satisfactorily explained, but it does lead to an ironic and very sad denouement.
This is a cursory description of the plot, to be sure, since most of the texture is layered in nuance. The artistic talent of the principal subjects is superficially portrayed, character development being the film’s primary focus.
And that is the key to “Camille Claudel,” with Isabel Adjani simply stunning as she portrays her character’s gradual disintegration. Gerard Depardieu is also excellent, but this is clearly Adjani’s film, and she runs with it.
“Camille Claudel” is rated R for nudity, mostly models posing for the sculptured pieces by Claudel and Rodin, along with a couple of sex scenes, some violence and a single spoken profanity.
Well-acted, visually impressive film with an Oscar-nominated central performance from Hayek.
By all accounts, it has taken Salma Hayek over ten years to get this film produced, during which time she has seen off challenges from both Jennifer Lopez and Madonna. Hayek apparently felt that the Mexican, mono-browed bisexual surrealist painter was the role she was born to play and she fought passionately to get it made.
Her choice of director was also a shrewd one, because Julie Taymor’s visual style ensures the film is never less than sumptuous to look at, even if the script occasionally feels a little flat.
The film is pretty much a straightforward biopic, in the form of flashbacks from Kahlo’s deathbed. It covers the period of her life from the 1920s, when, as a young girl she first met womanising muralist Diego Riviera (Alfred Molina, excellent), through her crippling trolley accident in 1925, to her emergence as an artist and her tempestuous love-life, including marriage to Riviera and affairs with the likes of Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) and photographer Tina Modotti (Ashley Judd).
Hayek is excellent as Kahlo, although you occasionally wonder if she isn’t entirely too gorgeous for the role – she somehow even manages to make a full body-cast look sexy. (You can’t, however, say the same for the trademark moustache and monobrow combo).
There’s also great support from Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush and Valeria Golino (as Riviera’s wife), as well as a host of cameos from the likes of Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas (as David Alfaro Siqueiros) and Hayek’s real-life partner Edward Norton as Nelson Rockefeller. (Norton also did an uncredited last-minute rewrite).
Colour, Noise And A Little Too Much Happiness
The direction is extremely impressive throughout – Taymor (Titus) uses a variety of animation techniques and 3D effects to literally bring the paintings to life. Similarly, the horrific trolley crash sequence is filmed in an unusual way, ending as a riot of colours and noise.
Criticisms of the film have so far focussed on the fact that Frida seems ‘too happy’, implying that Hayek has somehow failed to capture her pain. (Hayek counters that she was more interested in showing her strength). However, one thing is certain – the film isn’t especially deep and you come away from wishing they had delved a bit harder.
That said, there are no shortage of Shallow And Obvious Reasons to see the film – aside from the various nude scenes, the bit where Salma performs a risqué tango with Ashley Judd will almost certainly guarantee it a shelf life on DVD.
In short, this is beautifully shot, well acted and worth seeing, if perhaps, ultimately, a little shallow. Though, never forget, it could have been Madonna in the title role, so thank heaven for small mercies
Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter whose formal distortions and humanistic concerns made him a major pioneer of twentieth-century expressionism, an artistic movement that emphasized expression of the artist’s experience. I find his artwork fascinating and particularly mesmerizing. I was once asked to paint a reproduction and as someone who normally paint abstract expressionist, found this challenging but thoroughly enjoyable.
Here is my repro
Born on March 30, 1853, at Groot-Zundert in the province of Brabant, Holland, Vincent Willem Van Gogh was the son of a Protestant minister, Theodorus Van Gogh. Exactly a year before his birth, his mother, Cornelia, gave birth to an infant, also named Vincent, who was stillborn, or dead upon birth. His grieving parents buried the child and set up a tombstone to mark the grave. As a result, Vincent Van Gogh grew up near the haunting sight of a grave with his own name upon it. His mother later gave birth to Theo, his younger brother, and three younger sisters. Not much is known about Van Gogh’s earlier education, but he did receive some encouragement from his mother to draw and paint. As a teenager he drew and painted regularly.
Starry Night, oil on canvas
Van Gogh’s uncle was a partner in Goupil and Company, art dealers. Vincent entered the firm at the age of sixteen and remained there for six years. He served the firm first in The Hague, the political seat of the Netherlands, and then in London, England, where he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, who rejected him. Later he worked for Goupil’s branch in Paris, France.
Because of Van Gogh’s unpleasant attitude, Goupil dismissed him in 1876. That year he returned to England, worked at a small school at Ramsgate, and did some preaching. In early 1877 he clerked in a bookshop in Dordrecht. Then, convinced that the ministry ought to be his calling, he joined a religious seminary in Brussels, Belgium. He left three months later to become an evangelist (a preacher) in a poor mining section of Belgium, the Borinage. Van Gogh exhibited the necessary dedication, even giving away his clothes, but his odd behavior kept the miners at a distance. Once again, in July 1879, he found himself dismissed from a job. This period was a dark one for Van Gogh. He wished to give himself to others but was constantly being rejected.
The Artist’s Bedroom
In 1880, after much soul searching, Van Gogh decided to devote his life to art, a profession he accepted as a spiritual calling. When in London he had visited museums, and he had drawn a little while in the Borinage. In October 1880 he attended an art school in Brussels, where he studied the basics of perspective (representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface) and anatomy (the human body). From April to December 1881 he stayed with his parents, who were then in Etten, and continued to work on his art. At this time, too, he studied at the academic art school at The Hague, where his cousin Anton Mauve taught.
During Van Gogh’s Dutch period (1880–1886) he created works in which his overriding concerns for his fellow man were growing. His subjects were poor people, miners, peasants, and inhabitants of almshouses, or houses for the poor. Among his favorite painters at this time were Jean François Millet (1814–1875), Rembrandt (1606–1669), and Honoré Daumier (1808–1879). Complementing Van Gogh’s dreary subject matter of this time were his colors, dark brownish and greenish shades. The masterpiece of Van Gogh’s Dutch period is the Potato Eaters (1885), a night scene in which peasants sit at their meal around a table.
Fishing in Spring, Pont de Clichy
Van Gogh decided to go to Paris in early 1886, partially because he was drawn to the simple and artistic life of the French city. His younger brother, Theo, was living in Paris, where he directed a small gallery maintained by Goupil and Company. Theo had supported Vincent financially and emotionally from the time he decided to become a painter, and would continue to do so throughout his life. The letters between the brothers are among the most moving documents in all the history of Western art. Vincent shared Theo’s apartment and studied at an art school run by the traditional painter Fernand Cormon, where he met Émile Bernard (1868–1941) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), who became his friends.
Self Portrait 1889
By now Van Gogh was largely under the influence of the impressionists, a style of painting where the artist concentrates on the immediate impression of a scene by the use of light and color. Especially influenced by Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), Van Gogh was persuaded to give up the gloomy tones of his Dutch period for bright, high-keyed colors. Also, his subject matter changed from the world of peasants to a typically impressionistic subject matter, such as cafés and cityscapes around Montmartre, an area of northern Paris. He also copied Japanese prints. While subjects and handling were obviously taken from impressionism, there frequently could be detected a certain sad quality, as in a scene of Montmartre (1886), where pedestrians are pushed to the outer sides of an open square.
Stay at Arles
Longing for a place of light and warmth, and tired of being entirely financially dependent on Theo, Van Gogh left for Arles in southern France in February 1888. The pleasant country about Arles and the warmth of the place restored Van Gogh to health. In his fifteen months there he painted over two hundred pictures. At this time he applied color in simplified, highly dense masses, his drawing became more energetic and confused than ever before, and objects seemed to radiate a light of their own without giving off shadows. During this period he also turned to painting portraits and executed several self-portraits. Among the masterpieces of his Arles period are the Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries (June 1888); the Night Café (September); and the Artist’s Bedroom at Arles (October).
Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries
At Arles Van Gogh suffered fainting spells and seizures (involuntary muscle spasms). The local population began to turn against him as well. Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), responding to his invitation, visited him in October 1888, but the two men quarreled violently. Gauguin left for Paris. Van Gogh, in a fit of remorse and anger, cut off his ear. On May 9, 1889, he asked to be admitted to the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de Provence, a hospital for the mentally ill.
Production at Saint-Rémy
In the year Van Gogh spent at the asylum he worked as much as he had at Arles, producing 150 paintings and hundreds of drawings. Van Gogh suffered several attacks but was completely peaceful in between. At this time he received his first critical praise (a good review), an article by the writer Albert Aurier.
During Van Gogh’s stay at Saint-Rémy, his art changed markedly. His colors lost the intensity of the Arles period: yellows became coppers; reds verged toward brownish tones. His lines became restless. He applied the paint more violently with thicker impasto, the application of thick layers. Van Gogh was drawn to objects in nature under stress: whirling suns, twisted cypress trees, and surging mountains. In Starry Night (1889) the whole world seems engulfed by circular movements.
Van Gogh went to Paris on May 17, 1890, to visit his brother. On the advice of Pissarro, Theo had Vincent go to Auvers, just outside Paris, to submit to the care of Dr. Paul Gachet, an amateur painter and a friend of Pissarro and Paul Cézanne (1839–1906).
Last year at Auvers
Van Gogh arrived at Auvers on May 21, 1890. He painted a portrait of Dr. Gachet and portraits of his daughters, as well as the Church of Auvers. The blue of the Auvers period was not the full blue of Arles but a more mysterious, flickering blue. In his last painting, the Cornfield with Crows, Van Gogh showed a topsy-turvy world. The spectator himself becomes the object of perspective, and it is toward him that the crows appear to be flying.
At first Van Gogh felt relieved at Auvers, but toward the end of June he experienced fits of temper and often quarreled with Gachet. On July 27, 1890, he shot himself in a lonely field and died the morning of July 29, 1890.
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