Circus Manager with a Circus Girl, George Rouault, 1941. Oil on canvas, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection (1998), Metropolitan Museum of Art, European Modern Paintings.

Matisse was as reluctant as most painters to try to express what any given work signified in words; but he made an exception that autumn when Rouault, who had finally obtained a permit to return to Paris, sent his daughter over to Cimiez with the only picture he had managed to produce in the Midi, a tragic canvas painted with infinite delicacy in a gamut of bruised blues. ‘The subject is The Circus Girl and the Manager, seated opposite one another like a lamb confronting a tiger…It is powerfully and poignantly expressive, it is—the entire picture is—a portrait of Rouault,’ Matisse wrote to [his son] Pierre (he added that the painting disturbed him so much he had to keep it shut up in a cupboard). Rouault’s daughter spent two hours at Cimiez pouring over her family’s complaints and grievances to Matisse, who recognized the situation only too well, and tried to get her to see that inner fires consumed her father, whose glaring faults were inseparable from his great strengths. Afterwards, he told Pierre there was no real difference between his case and Rouault’s:

A man who makes pictures like the one we are looking at is an unhappy creature, tormented day and night. He relieves himself of his passion in his pictures, but also in spite of himself on the people around him. That is what normal people never understand. They want to enjoy the artists’ products— as one might enjoy cows’ milk— but they can’t put up with the inconvenience, the mud and the flies.

~ From Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954 , by Hilary Spurling

[Thanks, Mark!]

Smooth Neck of the Moon

“Cotopaxi is a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located about 17 miles south of Quito, Ecuador, South America…

Cotopaxi means Smooth Neck of the Moon, and was honored as a sacred mountain by local Andean peoples, even prior to the beginning of Inca domination in the 15th century. It was worshiped as rain sender, that served as the guarantor of the land's fertility, and at the same time its summit was revered as a place where gods lived.

In Carib Cotopaxi means King Of Death. In Cayapa it means Burning Collar, and in Quechua it means Mass of Fire.”

~ From “Cotopaxi,” Wikipedia

Night time lapse movie of the Cotopaxi Volcano by Stéphane Guisard.


Two paintings of Cotopaxi Volcano by Frederic Edwin Church:

Smithsonian Museum 1855

“On his first visit to Ecuador, the artist waited an entire day near the hacienda pictured here, hoping that the clouds would part to reveal the peak. American critics complained that Church's paintings of the volcano did not capture the soft atmospheric haze that they were used to seeing in landscapes. Those who had never traveled to the high country of the Andes did not understand that in the thin, clear air, Cotopaxi's icy flanks gleamed just as Church had painted them.”

~ From Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Detroit Institute of Arts


Seeing the Other Side of Things


René Magritte wrote, "To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature. People are quite willing to use objects without looking for any symbolic intention in them, but when they look at paintings, they can't find any use for them. So they hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of the quandary, and because they don't understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting. They want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void. People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

"To the extent that my pictures have any value," [Magritte] once said, lobbing a grenade at the experts and explainers, "they do not lend themselves to analysis." He quoted Victor Hugo, "We never see but one side of things." And to this he added, "it's precisely this 'other side' that I'm trying to express."

From "The Artist Who Was Master of the Double Take," by Bennett Schiff, Smithsonian Magazine (September 1992)

Painting Has Its Own Inadequacy

The Secretary of State, Luc Tuymans (2005) “What you can do with painting is make a more understated type of imagery that approaches an idea from a different angle. It's another medium, in another timescale. And that produces a cognitive image which is sort of branded in the brain. It has something to do with the idea of remembering the imagery but it's also to do with reconstructing the memory, because memory is something that is completely inadequate. That is where painting also comes in because it has its own inadequacy in that it is never complete.”

~ Luc Tuymans, “Q & A,” CNN, October 18, 2006

What We Don’t Do

Alan Bean

“My life for the last twenty-eight years is tied up with this like it was for eighteen years being an astronaut or eight years before that being a Navy pilot. I believe in doing what you can, cause I’ll be gone in another ten or fifteen years. Your listeners need to think about this, they’re only going to be here once. Sometimes we think there’s other people around that will make up for what we don’t do. Sure they can.  They can mow a lawn. They can drive a car. They can take a job and write an article or something. But they cannot do what’s in the heart of each of your listeners. And if they don’t do it, it will never be done again until time ends. Who knows when that is?”

~ Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, from “Moon Artist,” PRI’s The World, July 8, 2009.

That’s How It Felt to Walk on the Moon, painting by Alan Bean