Monthly Archives: March 2014

Never sold a painting in his lifetime

A bittersweet record of artistic genius and unlived dreams.

Given my soft spot for the sketchbooks of famous artists and private notebooks of great creators, I was delighted to discover that, unbeknownst to most, Vincent van Gogh kept one. In an 1882 letter to his brother Theo, he wrote: “My sketchbook shows that I try to catch things ‘in the act.’” This private record of the artist’s genius, however, has remained obscured from public view. Thankfully, Molly Oldfield brings this hidden gem to light in The Secret Museum (public library) — the same magnificent tome that gave us the surprisingly dark story of how the Nobel Prize was born — which culls sixty never-before-seen “treasures too precious to display” from the archives and secret storage locations of some of the world’s top cultural institutions.

At Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, Oldfield finds the artist’s seven surviving sketchbooks, only four with their original cover, meticulously stored in the prints and drawings archive. The early sketchbooks bespeak Van Gogh’s religious upbringing and how he transformed that spiritual intensity into a creative practice. Oldfield writes:

Van Gogh had been all set for a deeply religious life but, aged 26, he transferred his religious zeal to art. He decided to become an artist instead, as he felt he wanted to leave “a certain souvenir” to humankind “in the form of drawings or paintings, not made to comply with this or that school but to express genuine human feeling.”

He moved to a rural town called Nuenen to live with his parents and begin learning his craft.

The first sketchbook

Leafing through countless pages of his sketchbooks, Oldfield reflects on this record of the artist’s creative journey and the bittersweet memento the sketchbook provides:

The first sketchbook has a royal blue, marbled inside cover and an empty pocket at the back. The first image he sketched in it was a church in Nuenen. He later painted this church in View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen.

‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ by Vincent van Gogh, 1882

Curiously, the two paintings once hung in the Amsterdam museum but were stolen in 2002. It remains unknown where they are or who took them, and the pencil sketch from Van Gogh’s notebook endures as the only trace of the missing masterpieces.

‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen’ by Vincent van Gogh, 1884

The remaining pages of the first notebook are filled with drawings of people and places, capturing rural life in Nuenen. The second sketchbook, with a black cover, continues with glimpses of Nuenen, then turns to Antwerp, where Van Gogh moved in November of 1885. It was there he developed his passion for Japanese woodblock prints. Soon, however, the artist — who had been sustaining himself primarily on bread, coffee and absinthe — fell ill and moved to Paris to live with his brother, beginning his third sketchbook — a rectangular giant compared to his previous pocket-sized books lined in linen — which he filled with drawings of Parisian people and museum sculptures, as well as the female nudes who posed for him. Oldfield marvels:

In one pencil sketch, I recognized the windmill at Montmartre — a rural village at the time — which appears in lots of his paintings. Also in this book are sketches of flowers, Theo van Gogh’s laundry list and a letter from Vincent to Theo written in chalk. There is only one stray sheet, which the artist tore out in order to write a note to his brother announcing his arrival in the city.

Still enchanted by the countryside, however, Van Gogh left Paris in 1888 and settled in Arles in the south of France. There, she met a thirteen-year-old girl named Jeanne Calment, who sold the artist colored pencils at her uncle’s shop. She described Van Gogh as “dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable.” (Curiously, Jeanne outlived the artist by more than a century and died in 1997 at the age of 122.) Disagreeable as he might have been, however, Van Gogh felt lonely and aspired to create an artist colony in Arles. Eventually, Paul Gauguin joined him and the two artists lived together in the famed Yellow House, with a painting of sunflowers gracing Gauguin’s room.

Van Gogh’s sunflower sketches from the final sketchbook

It was only in the final sketchbook — an elegant one with a linen jacket and a tie to keep it closed — that Van Gogh sketched the first versions of his iconic series Sunflowers. Oldfield laments:

Having never sold a painting in his life, at that moment, Van Gogh would never have conceived of a time when his sunflowers would be instantly recognized across the planet.

Van Gogh’s artistic dream, however, soon became a nightmare. Residents of Arles petitioned that he be evicted from the Yellow House on account of his madness and he soon moved into an asylum, where he continued to paint. In May of 1890, he left the clinic and move to the Auvers-sur-Oise commune in northwestern France to be close to his physician and his brother. Two months later, he shot himself, believing he was a failure and leaving behind his final sketchbook as the forlorn ghost of his unlived dream. Oldfield ponders:

There are two sketches of sunflowers in the final book. One shows 16 sunflowers in a vase; the other 12 stems in a vase. The drawings match up with two paintings that belong to the Van Gogh Museum; they have the same number of flowers in the vases. Perhaps he was sketching and remembering happier times.

I wonder, if he had known what would become of his paintings, would he have shot himself? And, if he had not, what other paintings might he have produced?

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Scout nonconformity

On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 children’s classic “Harriet the Spy,” Anna Holmes compares the book’s protagonist to Scout Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and explores how these characters taught young girls to celebrate nonconformity: http://nyr.kr/P5YlIr

“In 1960, more women than ever were marrying, and at younger ages; it’s possible that Fitzhugh and Lee, whose protagonists are considered by biographers and scholars to be their alter egos, were registering their protest against the ubiquity of marriage and subtly agitating for female independence.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” directed by Robert Mulligan; 1962. Courtesy Silver Screen Collection/Getty.

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Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has been observed since in the early 1900’s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

1908
Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

1911
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events. 1911 also saw women’s ‘Bread and Roses’ campaign.

1913-1914
On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913 following discussions, International Women’s Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity

1917
On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was 8 March.

1918 – 1999
Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as ‘International Women’s Year’ by the United Nations. Women’s organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women’s advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.

2000 and beyond
IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation.

Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

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Indiegogo Outpost – crowdfunding web link

Indiegogo To Add Option For Companies To Embed Crowdfunding Campaigns On Own Websites

There is no shortage of crowdfunding websites out there, vying to help you raise cash for your big idea but the two highest profile outfits remain Kickstarter and Indiegogo — the former having the reputation of the 800 pound gorilla in the crowdfunding room.

According to research, Kickstarter was responsible for raising around 6x more successful funding than Indiegogo (Indiegogo did dispute that research, however).

Whatever the truth, the perception remains that Indiegogo plays second fiddle to Kickstarter. Which gives it all the more reason to broaden out its feature-set to crank up its appeal. Case in point: it’s announced a plan to extended its reach with the launch of a tool, called Indiegogo Outpost, that will let companies run Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns as embeds on their own websites.

What’s the point of that? It says the idea is to allow companies with large followings/powerful existing brands of their own to leverage the traffic and energy that’s directed at their own website.

“We’re always looking for new ways to help Indiegogo campaigns directly engage with audiences who are likely to support them,” said Slava Rubin, Indiegogo co-founder and CEO, in a statement coming on the planned launch.

Outpost campaigns won’t be exclusively out on a limb. They will also get a mirrored campaign on Indiegogo’s website so the company running an Outpost campaign still gets to tap into its nine million monthly unique visitors — in a ‘have your cake & eat it’ type scenario.

Beyond that, the tool also, of course, adds another string to Indiegogo’s bow in the feature-set competition with Kickstarter.

Indiegogo said Outpost campaigns will be able to use its own campaign analytics tools, or integrate third party tools such as Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, Mixpanel or Facebook retargeting if they prefer.

They can also still be included in Indiegogo’s own marketing channels. And Outposters will get support from Indiegogo in the form of access to its educational resources, Trust and Safety team, and Customer Happiness team.

The Outpost tool is due to launch in the first quarter of this year. There will be no setup fees for activating Outpost — which Indiegogo said uses the same HTML and JavaScript embedding technologies that products such as Google Maps, Facebook commenting, and Google Analytics use to enhance external websites.

One potential risk associated with extending the reach of crowdfunding off of a central hub website is that scammers might seek to take advantage to run bogus crowdfunding campaigns which aren’t in any way affiliated with Indiegogo. Of course such campaigns wouldn’t have any mirror on the main Indiegogo website — so that’s one way for future crowdfunders to verify that an Indiegogo Outpost campaign is bona fide.