Van Gogh, his sisters and the NFTs

I missed Van Gogh’s birthday last month, again. I meant to post these links earlier.

Warrior artistDublin Review of Books
Anyone who dips into Van Gogh’s letters will be struck by how much and how widely he read. He devoured and used books up as he did the people around him, though he never used people in a malicious way. It was just that few could match or live up to his passionate intensity. As Mariella Guzzoni, an independent scholar and art curator, writes: “It should be said . . . that though Vincent cherished books, he was not a book collector. More precisely, he was a book-user. For him, it was not important to physically possess books, but to make them his own.”

There’s more to his story than just him, though.

The woman who made Vincent van GoghThe New York Times
Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.

The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. Her full story has only recently been uncovered. It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.

It’s a fascinating read, his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger was remarkable. Here’s a photo of her from around 1909.

And there were other important women in his life too.

The fascinating lives of Vincent van Gogh’s three sistersHyperallergic
Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. The book draws you in with stories about the siblings’ pursuits of jobs, love, and artistic curiosities, as well as lush portrayals of each family home.

How Van Gogh paid for his mentally ill sister’s care decades after his deathThe Guardian
Vincent van Gogh remained penniless throughout his tragic life, which ended in suicide shortly after a stay in a mental asylum. Yet two decades later, paintings he had given to his sister were sold to pay for her stay in a psychiatric hospital, commanding such high prices that the proceeds funded years of treatment, according to letters published in a new book.

Willemien, the youngest of Van Gogh’s three sisters, shared his love of art and literature and, like him, struggled with her mental health. While Van Gogh was committed to an asylum after cutting off part of his ear and giving it to a prostitute in a fit of madness, his sister was institutionalised for almost 40 years until her death in 1941.

In 1909, the oldest sister, Anna, wrote of selling a picture that he had given Willemien, enabling her to pay for medical costs: “I remember when Wil got the painting from Vincent, but what a figure! Who would have thought that Vincent would contribute to Wil’s upkeep in this way?”

Speaking of selling Van Goghs, here’s a very realistic/utterly fake portrait of him by the ‘post photographer’ Bas Uterwijk that’s for sale.

I’ve shared a link to his AI-generated portraits before, but now several are for sale as—yes, you’ve guessed it—NFTs. (He’s not the only one, of course.)

I’m still struggling with all this, to be honest. Am I right in thinking that I can spend 20 Tezos (about £100) on something that’s exactly the same as the 1620×2048 .png file I can download if I right-click on the image on the webpage?

Another new world: NFTs aren’t just for cats anymore. What do they mean for digital art?Rhizome
The NFT boom has been a kind of revelation. It should always be the case that artists can keep the wolves from the door and have their creative labors validated, even when the result is a digital file, but the market has never really supported this; the idea that it’s even possible feels revolutionary.

At the same time, the NFT backlash has been furious. Highly visible NFT evangelists make unrealistic claims to be freeing artists from the problems of institutional gatekeepers, but there are clearly still problematic dynamics of race, class, power, and gender that shape these markets too, and artists still find themselves partly reliant on social media platforms and traditional institutions to build audiences and accrue value for their work.

As we’ve already seen, none of this is straightforward.

NFTs are shaking up the art world. They may be warming the planet, tooThe New York Times
“The numbers are just crushing,” he said from his studio in Pfarrwerfen, Austria, announcing that he was canceling his plans, one of a growing number of artists who are swearing off NFTs, despite the sky-high sums some have fetched at auctions. “As much as it hurts financially and mentally, I can’t.”

It wasn’t meant to be like this, obviously. Here’s Anil Dash, the man behind the technology.

NFTs weren’t supposed to end like thisThe Atlantic
The idea behind NFTs was, and is, profound. Technology should be enabling artists to exercise control over their work, to more easily sell it, to more strongly protect against others appropriating it without permission. By devising the technology specifically for artistic use, McCoy and I hoped we might prevent it from becoming yet another method of exploiting creative professionals. But nothing went the way it was supposed to. Our dream of empowering artists hasn’t yet come true, but it has yielded a lot of commercially exploitable hype.

It seems to me that the broken art market is still far from being fixed. I wonder what the folks at Sedition make of all this.

Van Gogh’s ongoing troubles

Remember that stolen Van Gogh painting? Photos of it turned up a few weeks ago. I wonder if there’s been any further news.

Images of a stolen van Gogh give experts hope it can be recoveredThe New York Times
A private art detective investigating the case said he was sent the images of the work, which was taken from a Dutch museum in March.

The painting is shown between a copy of The New York Times, which featured an article on the theft, and a copy of a biography of a man who had previously stolen van Goghs – The New York Times

Dutch art detective says he has ‘proof of life’ of stolen Van Gogh paintingThe Guardian
They have been passed to the police after being obtained by Arthur Brand, a renowned art detective. Brand told Agence France-Presse that the photographs had been “circulating in mafia circles” and had been handed to him by a source he declined to identify.

Then there’s this odd story about (another) one of his selfies.

Self-portrait or portrait of Theo?Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh specialists from the museum recently returned to study the two portraits afresh. A publication on photographs of Vincent and Theo contained new insights regarding the likenesses and differences between the physical appearance of the two brothers. Some researchers had also harboured prolonged doubts about the identification made in 2011.

Left: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1887. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887 – Van Gogh Museum

The resulting discussion made it clear that, based on all sources and arguments, it was not possible to determine with certainty which of the brothers is depicted on the portrait that was identified as being of Theo van Gogh in 2011. The decision has therefore been taken to use the title Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh for this painting from now on.

Perhaps this might help.

Here’s how 20 famous historical and fictional figures ‘really’ looked likedeMilked
Bas Uterwijk is a Dutch photographer and digital artist who likes to show how famous historical and fictional figures ‘really’ looked like in his realistic digital portraits.

Vincent van Gogh – Bas Uterwijk

He’s not the only one using ‘deep learning’ networks to understand more about Van Gogh and his work.

MIT CSAIL develops AI to show how artists created their famous paintingsdesignboom
You mightn’t have thought that Vincent van Gogh and artificial intelligence go hand-in-hand, but thanks to a system developed by researchers at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), we can now see his painting technique like never before. The system, called ‘Timecraft’, takes the image of a finished painting and analyzes how it was likely to have been originally created. The resulting time-lapse videos provide an amazing insight into renowned works from famous artists such as Cezanne and van Gogh.

But let’s not forget what brought us all here in the first place, some incredible imagery.

Getting inside Van Gogh: A new blockbuster show in Paris in photosForbes
The digital art museum L’Atelier des Lumières brings Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings to life, projecting them on the walls, ceilings and floors of a former foundry, accompanied by music and immersing visitors in the chromatic splendor of the artist’s pictorial world. […]

The first digital art center in Paris, established in a restored 19th-century foundry, the Atelier des Lumières creates monumental digital exhibitions that surround visitors with the pictorial world of the greatest artists.

Wandering through Vincent Van Gogh’s Iris

Van Gogh, Starry NightAtelier des Lumières
The new digital exhibition in the Atelier des Lumières immerses visitors in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), a genius who was not recognised during his lifetime and who transformed painting. Projected on all the surface of the Atelier, this new visual and musical production retraces the intense life of the artist, who, during the last ten years of his life, painted more than 2,000 pictures, which are now in collections around the world.

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