You can talk about world art for hours and write thousands of books. Behind the name of each artist is a difficult life, behind every canvas – the voice of time, behind every stroke – the desire to express something more.
USA Art News chose five paintings, which did not leave you indifferent. They refer to different periods and currents in art. From the article, you will find out where Van Gogh wrote: “Starry Night”, how the idea of “Black Square” appeared and what the decoration of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” actually is.
“Starry Night”, 1889
The Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh was a subtle and withdrawn child from childhood. In his youth, he spent seven years evaluating and selling paintings at his uncle’s farm, where he discovered a passion for painting. But commerce and art were incompatible for him. Being the son of a priest, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps: three times he tried to get a theological education, but an acute sense of beauty and justice did not allow him to get along with people.
Having suffered another failure, Van Gogh focused on creativity and decided to create with Paul Gauguin his studio. But the regular conflicts between Vincent’s sensitive and cruel reality finally brought him out of balance: in 1889 the artist went to a psychiatric hospital. There he lived for a year and painted most of his paintings. A few months after leaving the hospital Van Gogh, according to the basic version, committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver.
In May 1889, during a regular discussion with Gauguin, Van Gogh suddenly became furious and attacked a friend with a razor in his hands. It was not entirely clear what had happened, but later that night Vincent cut off his earlobe. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Arles, where a month after the incident, the artist painted “Starry Night”. Although Van Gogh depicted a view from the hospital, most of the exhibition was fictional: he could only see the wheat field and the sky.
Van Gogh was a post-impressionist. Artists in this direction sought to move away from the exact representation of objects and from the Impressionist fixation of the moment. For them, the first task was to show fundamental meanings using color and forms. Accuracy in depicting real objects was no longer necessary either – the main thing was to express the idea.
In the case of the painting “Starry Night,” Van Gogh himself did not explain his idea. Art historians believe that the huge vortex stars refer to religious feelings: thoughts about the end of existence, about eternity. It is important to note that the picture was painted on the eve of an acute attack of Van Gogh in July 1889: perhaps he was creating in a state of heightened perception.
Although the painting became one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, he called it “failure” in correspondence with the artist Emil Bernard. Van Gogh tried to paint from nature and avoid such abstract elements as the swirls of light from the stars.
The brightest star in the painting, located to the right of the cypresses, is Venus, which, according to researchers, was indeed such at that time in Provence.
“Black Square”, 1915
Kazimir Malevich was born in Kyiv, was a Polish man by birth. He was fond of drawing when he was a child, he painted his first large-scale picture at the age of 16. Twice he tried to enter the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture and twice received a refusal.
Malevich created a unique direction in abstractionism – Suprematism. He was engaged in the development of the theoretical basis of this trend, wrote philosophical works, taught painting.
The idea of the work and Suprematism as a whole arose in December 1913. Then Kazimir Malevich painted scenery sketches for a futuristic opera, where he depicted a black square as the opposite of the solar circle. Later, Malevich painted the “Black Square” in 1915, along with other paintings for the futuristic exhibition. The artist himself dated the work in 1913 and called it “the main suprematism element”. The date of creation of the canvas he considered the year of his invention.
The simplicity of the image reflected the essence of the painting – “Black Square” meant a new milestone in painting, the starting point, “zero forms”. Along with this painting, Malevich wrote also “Black Circle” and “Black Cross”, which also formed the basis of the suprematist system.
Suprematism developed from abstractionism and was an attempt to move away from the subject matter definitively. In Malevich’s opinion, drawing from nature is as primitive as rock painting.
Suprematism sought to equalize the artist and nature – they do not copy but create from scratch. The main tools of the artist were only color and the simplest geometric figures.
In addition to the original “Black Square” in 1915 were written three more author’s repetitions of the painting. The original canvas is still kept to this day in the Tretyakov Gallery.
In 2015, scientists found and deciphered the inscription on the painting “Black Square”. It sounds like this: “Battle of the Negroes in a dark cave”. The inscription is supposedly hastily made by Malevich himself and refers to the black canvas by the artist Alphonse Alle, “Battle of the Negroes in the cave at night”, 1882.
“Girl with peaches”, 1887
Valentin Serov was born in St Petersburg to an intelligent family of composers. From a young age, he showed a talent for drawing. Serov’s first teacher was Ilya Repin, who noted in his student a great passion for painting.
Serov, a skilled portraitist, was painted by Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov, Ilya Repin, Nicholas Leskov, Emperor Alexander III and his family and Nicholas II. Until his last years of life, Serov taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture and was a board member of the Tretyakov Gallery.
Serov painted “The Girl with Peaches” at the Mamontov estate, where he often visited: his mother took him there for the first time at the age of 10. For many years, the artist regularly stayed there and was a close family friend. The painting was painted from the eleven-year-old Vera Mamontova, the daughter of the owner. That day all the guests had lunch and left the dining room, leaving Vera and Serov alone. Vera excitedly told something to the artist, with whom they were good friends. Valentine, being a sensitive painter, caught the children’s immediacy of Faith and asked her to pose for ten sessions.
As a result, Serov wrote the work for over a month. “All I achieved was the freshness, the special freshness that you always feel in nature and do not see in the paintings. I wrote more than a month and exhausted her, poor, to death, it is very much wanted to keep the freshness of the painting at full completion – that’s how the old masters” – said later the artist about the period.
The portraits of Serov belong to Russian Impressionism. This style is inspired by the flourishing French impressionism of that period, characterized by the dynamism and incompleteness of the drawing as if made “on the fly”.
However, Russian Impressionism reflected national features: dimensionality and meaningfulness – our village was inferior to the European pace of life. Vera Mamontova in the portrait sits relaxed at the table – only the blush on her cheeks reminds of the girl’s agility.
The tablecloth, with which the table is set in the painting, will later also become known: all visitors to the Mamontov estate painted on it chalk, and Vera later embroidered on these traces. The tablecloth became a unique collection of autographs of the Mamontovs’ art circle.
Artist Mikhail Nesterov loved “The Girl with Peaches” by Serov and called portraits of Repin and Vasnetsov “lifeless” in comparison with it. He believed that in Paris, the picture will make Serov famous, but “we have so far such a phenomenon is unthinkable: taken for a madman and removed from the exhibition – so new and original” – so he expressed in his letters to his sister.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665
Jan Vermeer was born and lived all his life in the Netherlands. He belongs to the “golden age” of Dutch painting and is on a par with Rembrandt. Little is known about the life of the artist, it is clear only that he had a good school of painting: at 21 he was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke, which was impossible without six years of serious training with a recognized painter. Later, Vermeer twice held the post of head of the guild.
The artist achieved success in life, had authority, and sold his paintings for a considerable sum. Wrote the portraitist no more than two works a year. At the moment we know about 34 original paintings.
The story of the painting “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” is shrouded in mystery. The date of the painting is supposedly given since Vermeer himself did not put it. Researchers still do not know who is depicted in the picture: one of the theories of Jan Vermeer depicted his daughter Mary, who was then about 12 years old. This theory is supported by a surprisingly direct and bold look of the girl as if she was close to the artist.
According to another version, the girl in the portrait is not a specific person, but a free work of the artist, or “touch” – an anonymous portrait fantasy. This theory is confirmed by the inventories of the property after the death of Vermeer, which indicate “two thrones in the Turkish style” – it may well be an intricate turban on the head of a girl.
The painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a Baroque one. This is evidenced by the juiciness, saturation of colours, and contrast that gives the portrait a convexity. The artist masterfully depicted the light on the skin, emphasizing it with a contrasting dark background. Naturally, there are highlights in the eyes and on the lips of a girl who looks as if somewhere behind the back of the viewer.
Artists at that time did not give names to their paintings – they were invented by employees who made up inventories of property. The painting was called “Girl in a Turban” and “Girl’s Face”, and only before the exhibition in Washington in 1995 the employees of the Mauritzhuis Museum came up with a modern version.
A serious discussion took place about the earring itself, namely its “pearliness”. Many researchers paid attention to the too large size of the stone, as well as the bright glare in its lower part. Nowadays, scientists tend to believe that the decoration was not made of pearls, but of glass covered with a mat layer. Large pearls were rare and could only be allowed by the rich, so from Venice, costume jewelry was supplied.
The Persistence of Memory, 1931
The canvas was painted by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. He was eccentric and eye-catching since childhood. In 85 years he created about 1500 works, including surrealistic paintings, illustrations, sculptures.
Salvador Dali was known in his lifetime. He wrote several autobiographical books, scripts, designed the Chupa-Chups logo, worked with Walt Disney on the cartoon Destino, and was involved in the creation of films by Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchcock. Dali also created 44 bronze statues at his home in Port Ligat. The artist was inspired mainly by his dreams, self-examination, and Freud’s theories.
“Memory Constancy” is a small canvas that Salvador Dali created in just a couple of hours while his wife Gala was at the cinema with friends. The artist himself didn’t go referring to the migraine. Originally Dali wrote Cape Creus, but that day he looked at the painting and realized that the canvas is missing some idea, meaning. He fell asleep and before him appeared the image of a soft clock flowing down from a branch of dried-up olive. Dali himself says that the images of “flowing clock” he was guided by a soft cheese Camembert, which they had dinner the night before.
The small painting was very personal to the artist. Later, Dali recalled, as shown by her Gala: “I watched her look at the picture and how it affects her face charming surprise. That’s how I made sure that the image has an effect, for Gala is never wrong.”
“Memory permanence” refers to surrealism. The soft clock expresses the basic thought that illuminated Dali – the idea of the relativity of time and its non-linearity. The clocks flow in different directions, showing how easy it is to go back in time or influence the future. The artist was aware of the fragility and artificiality of the usual understanding of time, as evidenced by the “hard” clock depicted, eaten by ants, which symbolizes the limb, mortality, decay.
However, the concept of time is not completely destroyed – this is confirmed by the images of an egg lying on the shore, as well as a mirror as if uniting the sea and the sky. In the eyes of the artist, time is controversial and relative, but it can still exist and create a canvas of peace.
Salvador Dali himself gave only two comments on the painting: that on the softness of the clock, he thought about the Camembert, and that when writing he thought about the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus and his statement, “Everything changes, everything flows.
A few days after writing it bought the American Julian Levy, assuring Dali that the “Constancy of Memory” will not bring commercial success and will simply hang at his home.