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Thursday, 05 December 2013


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I suppose paying $14,165,000 for a book is now considered philanthropy.

The idea that "Vermeer was the first photographer" has gained some traction since Steadman's book was published in 2001, as this article (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/11/vermeer-secret-tool-mirrors-lenses) shows.

Supposedly Rockwell was paid $3500 for the painting in 1951. In today's dollars, that would be over $32,000. I don't know of any cover art getting that kind of money today, do you?

I'm still trying to get over Andreas Gursky's "Rhine River" which sold for $4.3 million. On TOP (no pun intended) of that it was a "C" print mounted under Plexiglas! YIKES.
Thank goodness, Peter Turnley's book was affordable through TOP.
My two pesos.

I'm having a hard enough time grasping the fact that modest 1960s tract homes have started selling for well over a million dollars here in Silicon Valley. Now someone has paid $46 million for a picture? That money could have been used for so much more! But, since no one is telling me how to spend my money, I won't lecture others on how to spend theirs.

You and David Hockney, Mike. He too is damned sure about Vermeer. You're both out there...where you need to be!

About your Vermeer idea I think David Hockney may very well agree with you.

$46 million is only 42000 bitcoins.

Do I know you?
Have we met?
This is also how I have Norman Rockwell work framed and displayed.
And to cap it all, Girl With a Pearl Earring is my favorite painting.

When I first glimpsed this giant piece by Jules Bastien-Lepage at the Met


I thought it might be a photoshop collage of photographed and painted imagery. Nope, it's an astonishing 19th century oil painting.

You must have seen this, I suppose:


I'm never quite sure what this sort of stuff is supposed to prove, but I'm looking forward to seeing yet another film you'll never get to see in Waukesha.


Mike, do you know about the controversial Hockney-Falco thesis about the great masters? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockney%E2%80%93Falco_thesis

Vermeer may have used a camera obscura and mirrors, but then again, he may not have. The counter argument is that painters who worked in the full light of art history have done just as well, technically, simply with pencils and oil paints. (Google Edmund Tarbell or William MacGregor Paxton.) The thing that makes Hockney and Steadman and others think that optical aids were used are certain effects that tend to be generated by lenses rather than by eyes. What none of these discussions mentions is that the painters may well have *wearing* the optics -- eyeglasses got to Europe no later than the late 13th Century, and their sale was common in Venice by 1300. Vermeer was painting 350 years after that. If you wear eyeglasses while you're working on the computer, you can see some of these effects by looking at the edges of the screen, moving only your eyes and not the glasses. Also, by the time Vermeer was painting, perspective was extremely advanced and routinely taught in art workshops. The thing that *really* distinguished Vermeer was his talent; think about "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and setting that shot up with a MF Leica and lights. It'd still be tough; and the toughest part would be having the talent to *think* of it. In any case, I don't really care. I do value the paintings.

As for Rockwell, he was an absolutely terrific painter who was unfortunate enough to be caught in the modernist hurricane. I don't particularly like his paintings, because I have that modernist sensibility which is mostly affected by irony and skepticism, with which Rockwell did not deal, except very gently. But, I have the book that you link to, and it's very interesting both for people interested in painting and those interested in photography. Rockwell was doing things with cameras in the 30s and 40s that would have made him a "famous, hot photographer" in the 90s -- setting up entire scenes, as in motion pictures, and photographing them. Jeff Wall, eat your heart out. The book is really good at showing that. Funny story: Rockwell once need a nude model (which didn't bother him -- he went to art school) but it terribly bothered his photographer, who could hardly operate his equipment when the time came. The photo equipment.

One of the biggest purveyors of game-used memorabilia, Brandon Steiner, is already making big money and has even bigger plans. “My goal is to sell $100 million of dirt.
[ ... ]
The dirt from places like Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park sells encapsulated on plaques with photos for $69, or sprinkled over glue in cases with autographed baseballs for $130.

Used Yankee Stadium base pads (used for one inning) go for $6,000.

Re: "Vermeer's camera". This is well worth reading.


Sort of related is this story about a Hopper painting that just sold for a similar amount.
Read the comments if you dare, meaning don't read them.

Okay now, you see, your comment about Vermeer is exactly why I keep reading and why I give you a few bucks every month. For the same reason that "Vermeer was the first photographer" is why Brunelleschi is one of my heroes.

Vermeer was the first photographer?
Caravaggio would like a word with you, and you really don't want to mess with Caravaggio (or pick up his bar tab. He's something of a badass from what I hear,)

Does anyone know how much the magazine paid Norman Rockwell for his cover painting? and if ownership of the original artwork was retained by Rockwell or it went to the magazine along with the reproduction rights?

Actually, besides the use of a camera obscura (another earlier candidate I think is Holbein), I think you are on to something, Mike. Not so out there. Thinking about it, Vermeer had something of a photographer's eye, and some of his compositions have that aspect to them, an offhanded immediacy that lends intimacy and slightly collapses aesthetic distance. Contrast with his contemporaries, especially ter Borch (whom I've grown to prefer in a lot of ways. Much more consistent than Vermeer imo). Almost all other Dutch genre painters, even in the humblest scenes, tend towards a certain other quality of resolution that is more "of painting". Thanks for the thought, Mike. Your musings are a reason I check the site every day.

When it comes to Photshoppers before Photoshop, I have to disagree. I think the prize belongs to Jerry Uelsmann, considering his huge output of fantastic, convincingly real-but-unreal photographs way back in the 1960's.

His achievements are all the more impressive realizing he had only ordinary darkroom tools to work with and only sheer genius can account for his ability to make so many amazing, and paradoxically credible images. Even today, his work remains strongly influential.

Several years ago I heard him speak about his work. Interestingly, he remarked he'd given up offering workshops teaching his techniques. His reason was the advent of digital tools like Photoshop made it trivial to produce "Uelsmann-like" morphs--no point showing how to do it the old way.

More than anyone I know of, Uelsmann invented "Photoshopping" long before computers could do it. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if indeed Uelsmann's work was a major inspiration for authoring Photshop in the first place.

That Vanity Fair article is really interesting (Thanks Tony Boughen for linking) but also telling in more ways than one. To quote "...said Walter Liedtke, ....'but I do oppose drastic devaluations of the role of art.'"

Ahhh. So what does that mean? The use of optical devices to allow the artist to better realize the brilliance of his vision is a "devaluation"? Onnce again "Art-World", me thinks you have met your enemy, and it is you.

Caravaggio not only used projection, but likely also used photosensitive compounds (firefly carcasses) to temporarily fix an image to be painted. (He seems to have died from something far more mundane than his swaggering image would suggest - lead poisoning from his materials.)

I have asserted that color photography begins with Vermeer since the 1970's & have some SX-70 portraits I made then to prove it. One of the photographic "properties" of his paintings is the strong sense of The Frame & the implied space beyond it (Velazquez' Las Meninas is oft cited for that same property.)

I think Hockney & others' assertions about the use of optics in painting is as self-evident as the theory of tectonic plates is after looking at a map of the globe...it doesn't need "proof", just a glance will do.

Rockwell was the lovable, popular version of Thomas Hart Benton.... Just a few weeks before this painting sold I got the Ron Schick book "Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera" and it shows how the American Icons were assembled - utterly fascinating (as mentioned above).

Students of America, indeed (thinkin' Hopper too).

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