Of Billionaires and Fashion Models

Orazio Gentileschi (Italian, 1563 – 1639)
Danaë and the Shower of Gold, 1621 to 1623, Oil on canvas
161.5 × 227.1 cm (63 9/16 × 89 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

You may have heard about how Zeus would fall in love with mortal women and transform himself into various disguises to have his way with them. In all, there were approximately twenty, ranging from Alcmene to Thyia. The one I found most interesting was Danaë, daughter and onlyc hild of the King of Argos, Acrisius. The story is as follows, according to Wikipedia:

Disappointed by his lack of male heirs, King Acrisius asked the oracle of Delphi if this would change. The oracle announced to him that he would never have a son, but his daughter would, and that he would be killed by his daughter’s son. At the time, Danae was childless and, meaning to keep her so, King Acrisius shut her up in a bronze chamber to be constructed under the court of his palace (other versions say she was imprisoned in a tall brass tower with a single richly adorned chamber, but with no doors or windows, just a sky-light as the source of light and air). She was buried in this tomb, never to see the light again. However, Zeus, the king of the gods, desired her, and came to her in the form of golden rain which streamed in through the roof of the subterranean chamber and down into her womb. Soon after, their child Perseus was born.

But then, isn’t that the way that all ugly billionaires woo fashion models (including our current President)?

The painting by Orazio Gentileschi is a recent acquisition of the Getty Center which I saw a couple of weeks ago. I like the way that the gold is shown as a shower of gold coins, which appears to be quite acceptable to the young lady.

Me and Anne Thistlewaite, Countess of Chesterfield

Thomas Gainsborough’s “Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield” (1777-1778)

First, leave the portrait subject out of the painting and notice the quick brush strokes that form the tree, the stone wall, the landscape to the right, and the dark background. Now put in their midst this serene, quite beautiful, long-necked beauty that is Anne Thistlewaite, Countess of Chesterfield. It always amazes me to see women in paintings from other times that make my heart flutter. And it is most particularly the English protraitists of the 18th century that succeed the most in making me feel this way.

When I go to the Huntington Museum in San Marino, there is a large two-story gallery devoted solely to English paintings. So many of the women portrayed are so ethereal that I am in transports of admiration. I can almost begin to understand the way the French were in awe of English milords and miladies.


The Italian Comedians

Antoine Watteau’s “The Italian Comedians” at the Getty Center

I have always loved the paintings of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), especially his “The Embarkation for Cythera” (1717) at the Louvre in Paris, which says everything one can say about young love. At the Getty Center, there are two other Watteaus that I rather like. The one illustrated above is called “The Italian Comedians.” It shows a troupe of commedia dell’arte that have just given a performance. I keep thinking of Shakespeare’s couplet from Act V of The Tempest:

As you from crimes would pardoned be
Let your indulgence set me free.

According to the description provided by the Getty Center:

Five comedians have just finished their performance in a verdant park on the outskirts of Paris and look expectantly at their audience. Pierrot, the clown in a baggy white suit, is already holding his hat in his hand, hoping that a few coins might be thrown into it.

Flanking Pierrot are four other performers dressed as characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte, which enjoyed great popularity in 18th-century Paris. Brighella wears a splendid greenish-gold suit and shoulder cape trimmed with black stripes. Mezzetin strums a few chords on his guitar, while Harlequin in a black mask with its horsehair eyebrows and moustache peers over his shoulder. A mock Spanish costume of black velvet with a white ruff identifies the figure on the far right as Scaramouche.

The actors penetrate our world with an intense humanity and vivid reality, far removed from the theatrical artifice and caprice of the stage they have just left.

There is that momentary feeling of. “Well, what do you think of it, guys?” It lasts but an instant. Either the audience will cheer and toss coins and huzzahs in appreciation—or not! The key thing is that Watteau has shown us an instant in time, as if we were the audience privileged to view the comedy.

My Favorite Watteau: “The Embarkation for Cythera”

There is a lot to be said for going back to the same museum a couple times a year and seeing what has changed in my own perception of the paintings. Yesterday, I still loved Dosso Dossi’s portrait of Saint George after he has killed the dragon and Antonio da Correggio’s head of Christ—about both of which I have written in the past. “The Italian Comedians” is relatively new to the Getty, having been purchased in 2011-2012 from Hazlett, Gooden & Fox Ltd in London.



Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2

David Hockney’s Image of the Pearblossom Highway in L.A.’s Antelope Valley

One of my favorite parts of Los Angeles County is the remote Antelope Valley, which hugs the north edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Pearblossom Highway (California Route 138) connects the Antelope Valley Freeway to Victorville, enroute to Las Vegas or Northern Arizona. I may not be known as a devotee of modern art, but I love David Hockney’s photo collage, described as “Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2,” which actually does capture the elusive light of the desert and the eerie Joshua Tree cacti (Yucca brevifolia) lining the highway.

One of my favorite L.A. parks is in this area, the Devil’s Punchbowl County Park, which sits at the junction of several earthquake faults, most notably the San Andreas. In fact, many of the more interesting geological features were sculpted by the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake’s Richter 7.9 forces.

The Getty Museum South Pavilion

Martine and I had lunch at the museum’s café and split up as we pursued our separate interests, coming together at 4:30 pm in the bookstore. Every time I visit an art museum like the Getty, I get ideas for several posts; so you may hear more about my visit in the coming week.

The Apocalypse of Pop Culture?

Game Boy

Lately, I have seen a number of paintings by Filip Hodas, a self-proclaimed 3-D artist from the Czech Republic. The illustrations shown here can be described under the heading of the Apocalypse of Pop Culture. Not all his work is on this theme, but the images that startled me definitely were. (You can see more of his work by clicking here.)

It is somewhat appropriate that the images of much-loved pop icons in the process of falling into disrepair and ruin comes from a resident of Prague. The Czechs, like the Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans were essentially trashed under the postwar Russian occupation. So now, as the West begins its own decline, why should our icons escape the wrecking ball of history?

McDonald’s Happy Meal

I particularly love the McDonald’s Happy Meal box, turned into a kind of rural slum dwelling. One can almost expect to see an American Hansel and Gretel wending their way to this sagging ruin.

Allow me to leave you with one final Hodas image, that of a wrecked and graffiti-covered Pac Man:

Pac Man

Notice the THX graffiti.

Near Is Far and Far Is Near

Patrick Hughes and One of His Reverspectives

I have always loved optical illusions. There is one British painter named Patrick Hughes whose entire work concentrates on what he calls Reverspectives. These are paintings that when viewed by still photography are flat, but are not originally created so. (See the above illustration, and then the one below.) I suggest you take a look at the artist’s own website or this Futility Closet posting.

A Still Photograph View of a Similar Painting

It never fails to amuse me how something so simple as perspective could be put on its end and played with. Take a look at his work and let me know what you think.

The Surrealist Lett

“Palacios en Bria”

I owe my acquaintance with the work of Oscar Agustin Alejandro Schulz Solari (better known as Xul Solar) to Jorge Luis Borges. Now why would I accept the artistic judgment of a blind man? Fortunately, Xul Solar’s association with Borges goes back to the early 20th century, when the writer still had his sight. In fact, the painter is referenced by name in one of his greatest stories—“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” On page 23 of the Grove Press edition, we find:

The moon rose over the sea would be written hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö, or, to put it in order: upward beyond the constant flow there was moondling. (Xul Solar translates it succinctly: upward, beyond the onstreaming it mooned.)

Also, Xul Solar illustrated three of Borges’s earlier works: El tamaño de mi esperanza (1926), El idioma de los argentinos (1928), and Un modelo para la muerte (1946). The latter was co-authored by another mutual friend, Adolfo Bioy-Casares.

In Buenos Aires, on Laprida, there is a museum dedicated to Xul Solar, situated in his former home. On my last trip to Argentina, I had the good fortune to visit it. When next I go to Argentina—and I dearly hope I can—I intend to visit it again.


What I like most about Xul Solar’s work is its depiction of strangely beautiful and bizarre places. I do not recall many (if any) portraits, but I do remember his many landscapes and cityscapes.

Xul Solar is not widely known outside of Argentina, though I think he is one of the world’s greatest surrealist painters. The painter was born in Latvia in 1887 and died in 1963, just as his friend Jorge’s vision went into an irreparable decline.