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14 Things To Know About Velázquez's Las Meninas

At first glance, Diego Velázquez's 1656 painting Las Meninas might seem like just another ensemble portrait. But then, your eye snags on some curious detail. Soon you can't look away, locked into uncovering  clues that have long fascinated and frustrated art historians. Let's dig into the mystery. 

1. Las Meninas could be called a royal portrait ... 

At its center is Infanta Margarita Teresa, who would mature into titles like Holy Roman Empress, Archduchess consort of Austria, and Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia. Her reign lasted from 1666 to 1673, when she died at age 21. Though she'd be the subject of many portraits—including several more from VelázquezLas Meninas is the most famous. 

2. ... But really, it's more of a mash-up. 

Portraits are traditionally formal, showing their subjects isolated. But here, the Maids of Honour for which the painting is named surround the young princess, as does as band of fellow servants. Las Meninas is a behind-the-scenes look at the Spanish court. This day-in-the-life perspective is often associated with genre painting; through this marriage of setting and subject, Velázquez created a genre-bending masterpiece. 

3. The King and Queen are cleverly included. 

Above the princess's head, you'll notice a dark wooden frame. Within it, two figures can be seen. These are her father and mother, King Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria

4. Velázquez makes a cameo of his own. 

Even though he was first painter to the king, it was still a bold move for Velázquez to paint himself into Las Meninas, which turned a royal commission into a self-portrait. But that’s him on the left with brush in hand. Earlier this year, the BBC called this inclusion "the world's first photobomb," even though the painting predated photography by almost 175 years. 

5. Only one person in the painting remains unidentified. 

On top of the king, queen, princess, and painter, the painting features the queen's chamberlain, Don José Nieto Velázquez (possibly related to the painter), who can be spotted on the stairs. The ladies in waiting doting on Margaret Theresa are doña María Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor (on the left) and doña Isabel de Velasco (on the right). Over the latter's shoulder peeks doña Marcela de Ulloa, the little princess's appointed chaperone, who converses with a bodyguard whose name is lost to history (but some modern scholars believe it might be Diego Ruiz de Azcona). In the right corner are Maria Barbola and Nicolas Pertusato, who are most often identified as the "dwarfs" at court. The mastiff's name is also unknown. 

6. There’s a mystery surrounding what Velázquez is painting. 

One of the biggest questions about Las Meninas centers on the canvas that faces away from the viewer. Some scholars think the framed image of the king and queen in the background is not a portrait, but a mirror reflecting the royalty standing before the princess and the painter—just out of frame—posing to be immortalized in oil paints. 

Another theory posits that the royal pair's position is not in line with the gaze of Velázquez, and so they could not be his subject. Perhaps this regal couple has joined their daughter in admiring the process of the painter, as Velázquez seems to hope Las Meninas's audience will. Or maybe the princess and the painter are looking at a large mirror, which allows him to depict the girl while her attentive entourage keeps her in good spirits. 

7. Las Meninas gives its audience access to the king's point of view ... 

Whether the king is watching or posing, these theories posit Velázquez intentionally framed the painting so that its audience would be looking from the viewpoint of the royalty reflected in that mirror. Basically, by looking at this painting, you are in the shoes of the 17th century ruler of Spain

8. ... And not many had the chance to experience that in the king's lifetime. 

Philip IV kept Las Meninas hanging in his private study, where few outsiders had the pleasure of enjoying its brilliance. 

9. The painting was posthumously altered under royal command. 

While Philip IV had showered Velázquez with honors while the artist lived, the king delivered his most lasting tribute after the painter’s death. In 1660, one year after Velázquez was inducted into the Catholic organization the Order of Santiago, the painter died. In his honor, the king commanded the order's insignia be added to the chest of Velázquez's Las Meninas figure. Some historians even claim it was the king himself who painted on this final touch. 

10. It's enormous. 

Las Meninas measures in at roughly 10.5 feet by 9 feet. 

11. Las Meninas went straight from royal hands to the national museum. 

The Museo de Prado opened in 1819 with the stated purpose of showing the world the value and glory of its nation's art. The museum’s initial collection came straight from the Royal Crown's coffers, and since Velázquez had been the curator of the king's art collection during his life, many of his own works made the cut. Yet Las Meninas is Prado's shining jewel, and, along with Goya’s The Third of May 1808, one of the most famous works in its collection. For this reason, the painting is never loaned out. 

12. Its name was changed at some point. 

The first mention of the painting being called Las Meninas was found in a Museo del Prado 1843 catalogue. In a 1666 inventory, it was referred to as Retrato de la señora emperatriz con sus damas y una enana (Portrait of the Empress with her Ladies and a Dwarf). Then, after a fire in 1734, it was called La familia del Señor rey Phelipe Quarto and was referred to as La Familia until the final name change.

13. Las Meninas made Velázquez famous over 150 years after his death. 

The investment in El Prado paid off and made Spanish art all the rage in 19th century Europe. It also launched awareness of Velázquez's talents outside of the Spanish court. With his works accessible to the public, Velázquez inspired a new generation of painters including French realist painter Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, and American Tonalism founder James Abbott Whistler. 

14. The UK has its own version of the painting. 

The Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset boasts a smaller version of the painting that’s wrapped in nearly as much mystery as the famed canvas. The mystery hinges on who painted this replica and when. Some scholars have argued that the Dorset painting was the work of Velázquez himself and speculated that the smaller piece may have been a model for the Prado’s iconic treasure. Others argue that the canvas is more likely a slightly later copy by an artist who was uniquely equipped to mimic Velázquez's style: His son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, who succeeded Velázquez as Spain’s royal painter.

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15 Things You Should Know About Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s enchanting floral still lifes are now a deeply ingrained part of American culture—so much so that they often eclipse her other colorful accomplishments. For a more complete portrait of the artist, who was born 130 years ago today, brush up on these 15 little-known facts about her.

1. FLOWER PAINTINGS MAKE UP A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF O'KEEFFE'S BODY OF WORK.

Though O'Keeffe is most famous for her lovingly rendered close-ups of flowers—like Black Iris and Oriental Poppies—these make up just about 200 of her 2000-plus paintings. The rest primarily depict landscapes, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones.

2. SHE REJECTED SEXUAL INTERPRETATIONS OF HER PAINTINGS.

For decades, critics assumed that O'Keeffe's flowers were intended as homages—or at the very least, allusions—to the female form. But in 1943, she insisted that they had it all wrong, saying, “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” So there.

3. SHE WAS NOT A NATIVE OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

O'Keeffe was actually born on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She'd go on to live in Chicago; New York City; New York’s Lake George; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Amarillo, Texas. She first visited New Mexico in 1917, and as she grew older, her trips there became more and more frequent. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently.

4. HER FAVORITE STUDIO WAS THE BACKSEAT OF A MODEL-A FORD.

In an interview with C-SPAN, Carolyn Kastner, curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, explained how the artist customized her car for this use: "She would remove the driver's seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger car, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford."

Painting inside the car allowed O'Keeffe to stay out of the unrelenting desert sun, where she painted many of her later works. The Model-A also provided a barrier from the bees that would gather as the day wore on.

5. O'KEEFFE ALSO PAINTED SKYSCRAPERS.

While nature was her main source of inspiration, the time she spent in 1920s Manhattan spurred the creation of surreal efforts like New York With Moon, City Night and The Shelton with Sunspots.

6. O'KEEFFE IMMERSED HERSELF IN NATURE ...

While in New Mexico O’Keeffe spent summers and falls at her Ghost Ranch, putting up with the region's hottest, most stifling days in order to capture its most vivid colors. (The rest of the year she stayed at her second home, located in the small town of Abiquiu.) When she wasn't painting in her Model-A, O'Keeffe often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her.

7. …WHATEVER THE WEATHER.

The artist would rig up tents from tarps, contend with unrelenting downpours, and paint with gloves on when it got too cold. She went camping well into her 70s and enjoyed a well-documented rafting trip with photographer Todd Webb at age 74. Her camping equipment is occasionally exhibited at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

8. SHE MARRIED THE MAN BEHIND HER FIRST GALLERY SHOW.

"At last, a woman on paper!" That’s what modernist photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz cried when he first saw O'Keeffe's abstract charcoal drawings. He was so enthusiastic about this series of sketches that he put them on display—before consulting their creator.

When O'Keeffe arrived at his gallery, she wasn't pleased, and brusquely introduced herself: "I am Georgia O'Keeffe and you will have to take these pictures down." Despite their rocky beginnings, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe quickly made amends, and went on to become partners in art and in life.

9. O'KEEFFE AND STIEGLITZ WROTE 25,000 PAGES OF LOVE LETTERS TO EACH OTHER.

When the pair met in 1916, he was famous and married; she was unknown and 23 years his junior. All the same, they began writing to each other often (sometimes two or three times a day) and at length (as many as 40 pages at a time). These preserved writings chart the progression of their romance—from flirtation to affair to their marriage in 1924—and even document their marital struggles.

10. SHE SERVED AS A MUSE TO OTHER ARTISTS.

Thanks in part to Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Stieglitz made O'Keeffe the subject of a long-term series of portraits meant to capture individuals as they aged, and she made for a striking model. Though he died in 1946, the project lived on as other photographers sought out O'Keeffe in order to capture the beloved artist against the harsh New Mexican landscapes she loved so dearly.

O'Keeffe later wrote:

When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn't matter—Stieglitz photographed her then.

11. SHE QUIT PAINTING THREE TIMES.

The first break spanned several years (the exact number is a matter of debate), when O'Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.

In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O'Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977's Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.

12. AFTER GOING BLIND, SHE TURNED TO SCULPTING.


By Alfred Stieglitz - Phillips, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although her vision eventually made painting impossible, O'Keeffe's desire to create was not squelched. She memorably declared, "I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.” O'Keeffe began experimenting with clay sculpting in her late 80s, and continued with it into her 96th year.

13. SHE'S THE MOTHER OF AMERICAN MODERNISM.

Searching for what she called “the Great American Thing,” O'Keeffe was part of the Stieglitz Circle, which included such lauded early modernists as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. By the mid-1920s, she had become the first female painter to gain acclaim alongside her male contemporaries in New York's cutthroat art world. Her distinctive way of rendering nature in shapes and forms that made them seem simultaneously familiar and new earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the form.

14. SHE BLAZED NEW TRAILS FOR FEMALE ARTISTS.

In 1946, O’Keeffe became the first woman to earn a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four years later, a Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibit introduced her work to a new generation. Fifteen years after that, O'Keeffe was included in the inaugural slate of artists chosen to receive the newly founded National Medal of Arts for her contribution to American culture.

15. SHE WASN'T FEARLESS, BUT SHE REJECTED FEAR.

O'Keeffe was purported to have said, "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

Original image
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11 Fascinating Facts About Claude Monet
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Oscar-Claude Monet is beloved for his series of oil paintings depicting water lilies, serene gardens, and Japanese footbridges. The French painter manipulated light and shadow to portray landscapes in a groundbreaking way, upending the traditional art scene in the late 19th century. In honor of his birthday, here are 11 things you might not know about the father of French Impressionism.

1. HIS ARTISTIC TALENT WAS EVIDENT AT AN EARLY AGE.

Born in Paris in 1840, Monet began drawing as a young boy, sketching his teachers and neighbors. He attended a school of the arts and, as a young teenager, sold his charcoal caricatures of local figures. He also learned about oil painting and en plein air (outdoors) painting, which later became a hallmark of his style. Monet’s mother encouraged his artistic talent, but his father, who owned a grocery store, wanted him to focus on the grocery business. After his mother died in 1857, Monet left home to live with his aunt and, against his father’s wishes, study art.

2. HE SERVED AS A SOLDIER IN ALGERIA.

In 1861, Monet was drafted into the army. Forced to join the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry, he left Paris for Algeria, a territory that was then controlled by France. Monet's father offered to pay for his son’s discharge if he would promise to give up painting, but Monet refused to abandon art. After serving one year of his seven-year military commitment, Monet got sick with typhoid fever. His aunt paid to get him released from the army, and she enrolled him in art school in Paris.

3. HE WAS SO FRUSTRATED WITH LIFE THAT HE JUMPED INTO THE SEINE.

In his late 20s, Monet was frustrated with the Académie, France’s art establishment. He hated creating formulaic artwork, copying the art that hung in the Louvre, and painting scenes from ancient Greek and Roman myths. Although he tried to get his paintings into the Académie’s art exhibits, his art was almost always rejected. Depressed and struggling to support himself and his family financially, Monet jumped off a bridge in 1868. He survived his fall into the Seine and began spending time with other artists who also felt frustrated by the Académie’s restrictions.

4. RENOIR CREATED A META PAINTING OF HIM.


Renoir's "Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil." Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

In 1873, Monet was spending his summer in a rented home in Argenteuil, a suburb of Paris. His friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Monet to spend time together and paint outdoors. The two men connected over their mutual dislike of the traditional style of the Académie. During his visit, Renoir painted Monet painting in his garden, creating a painting within a painting. The painting, straightforwardly called Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, depicts Monet standing outside as he paints flowers.

5. HE INDIRECTLY HELPED COIN THE TERM "IMPRESSIONISM."

Monet created a community with other frustrated artists, a group that included Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne. The group, which called itself The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc., organized an exhibition in 1874. The exhibition included groundbreaking artwork featuring bright, vivid colors and loose, seemingly spontaneous brushwork. After a critic compared one of Monet’s paintings—"Impression, Sunrise"—to an unfinished sketch (or "impression"), the term "Impressionists" caught on to describe the artists who displayed these radically different, new paintings.

6. HIS SECOND WIFE WAS IRRATIONALLY JEALOUS OF HIS FIRST WIFE.

Monet frequently painted his first wife, Camille Doncieux, who worked as a model and had been in a relationship with the artist since the mid 1860s (they married in 1870). The couple had two sons, but Camille died, perhaps of uterine cancer, in 1879. Alice Hoschedé, the wife of a businessman and art collector, had been living with the Monets after her husband went bankrupt, and Monet may have started an affair with her while Camille was still alive. After Camille's death, Hoschedé jealously destroyed all of her letters and photographs. Despite this, Hoschedé (along with her six children) lived with Monet and his two kids, and the couple married in 1892 after Hoschedé’s husband died. (Fun fact: One of Hoschedé’s daughters later married one of Monet’s sons, so the step-siblings became husband and wife.)

7. HE IMPORTED HIS WATER LILIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

From 1883 until his death in 1926, Monet lived in Giverny, a village in northern France. Over the years, he hired gardeners to plant everything from poppies to apple trees in his garden, turning it into a beautiful, tranquil place for him to paint. Finally wealthy from sales of his paintings, Monet invested serious money into his garden. He put a Japanese footbridge across his pond, which he famously painted, and he imported water lilies from Egypt and South America. Although the local city council told him to remove the foreign plants so they wouldn’t poison the water, Monet didn’t listen. For the last 25 years of his life, he painted the water lilies in a series of paintings that showcased the plants in varying light and textures.

8. HE PAID A GARDENER TO DUST HIS WATER LILIES.

As Monet’s garden expanded, he hired six full-time employees to tend to it. One gardener’s job was to paddle a boat onto the pond each morning, washing and dusting each lily pad. Once the lilies were clean, Monet began painting them, trying to capture what he saw as the light reflected off the water.

9. HIS CRITICS MOCKED HIS VISION PROBLEMS.


Getty Images

Around 1908 when he was in his late 60s, Monet began having trouble with his vision. Diagnosed with cataracts in 1912, he later described his inability to see the full color spectrum: "Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate or lower tones escaped me." When he became legally blind in 1922, he continued painting by memorizing the locations of different colors of paint on his palette. Monet delayed getting risky cataract surgery until 1923, and critics mocked him for his blurry paintings, suggesting that his Impressionist style was due to his failing vision rather than his artistic brilliance. After two cataract surgeries, Monet wore tinted glasses to correct his distorted color perception and may have been able to see ultraviolet light.

10. IN 2015, THE WORLD DISCOVERED A NEW MONET PASTEL.

In 2015, an art dealer in London discovered an unknown Monet pastel that had been hidden behind another Monet drawing that he had bought at a 2014 auction in Paris. The pastel depicts the lighthouse and jetty in Le Havre, the port in France where Monet lived as a child. Art scholars authenticated the pastel as an authentic Monet artwork and dated it to 1868, around the time he jumped into the Seine.

11. TOURISTS CAN VISIT HIS HOME AND GARDENS.


MIGUEL MEDINA // AFP // Getty Images

In 1926, Monet died of lung cancer. Starting in 1980, his former home in Giverny has been open to tourists to see his gardens, woodcut prints, and mementos. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit Giverny to walk through the artist’s famous garden and refurbished home. Besides looking at a variety of flowers and trees, visitors can also see Monet’s bedroom, studio, and blue sitting-room.

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