Politicians who paint

Adolf Hitler

You read correctly – Adolph Hitler was a painter. After writing a blog about Winston Churchill’s mastery of painting, I was curious to know if other politicians painted too. I was floored to learn Hitler had an early start as an amateur artist.

That career never evolved, of course. Presumably this was because he was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

Nevertheless, he painted hundreds of paintings and postcards. If I understand correctly, he sold a number of paintings to a store owner by the name of Samuel Morgenstern. Morgenstern, in turn, sold the paintings and kept a database of the clients who bought them – most were Jewish!

In doing the research, I found a thread on Quora that asks if Hitler’s art is good. There are a lot of interesting comments. My favorite is, “His art is curiously and unsettlingly powerless.”

Jimmy Carter

On the other end of the spectrum – Jimmy Carter, the much-loved former President and philanthropist, is a painter too. He took it up after leaving the White House.

He has no grand illusions with regard to his talent which is essentially “adept”. However, his paintings sell for thousands.

Live Oak at Sunrise, featured here, sold for $250,000. Profits from sales of his work go to the Carter Center, which works towards the alleviation of homelessness, hunger, and disease.

By the way, in researching his art, I also discovered he wrote poetry. Here’s an excerpt of one he wrote about his wife. I love it:

She’d smile,
and birds would feel that they no longer had to sing,
or it maybe I failed to hear their song.

Didn’t think I could love him more.

George Bush

Bush too took up oil painting after his time in the White House. Apparently, he was inspired by Churchill’s essay on painting as a pastime.

He was discovered as an artist in the most new-fashioned way – he was hacked and some of his paintings were made public.

He’s since published, called “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors”, which showcases his paintings of world leaders. The proceeds go to a non-profit that helps veterans and their families.

Churchill the Impressionist.

I follow The Crown. In doing so, I learned that Winston Churchill painted. Curious, I looked into some of his work. He was quite an Impressionist and his works were really vibrant. He began late in life, too – at forty.

However, he made up for it by creating over 500 oil paintings in the 48 years. He exhibited in France and at the Royal Academy in London, often using pseudonyms.

Though his artwork now sells for over a million dollars, he himself never made money on his work. He always gave his paintings away.

Winter sunshine, Chartwell – 1925

This bright, colorful depiction of his Kentish home is one of Churchill’s earlier paintings. It won him first prize at an amateur exhibition.

In fact, on its reverse, there’s a handwritten note that says it was awarded to him by Oswald Birley (a painter), Sir Joseph Duveen (an art dealer) and Kenneth Clark (art historian), which I find pretty interesting!


Sunset over the Atlas Mountains – 1935

Churchill’s balcony at the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech overlooked this gorgeous scene. Churchill loved it so much that he not only painted it, he invited President Roosevelt to travel with him to Marrakech so he too could experience the view.

On a separate note, Churchill bestowed another painting, Marrakech, to President Truman in 1951.

Goldfish pool at Chartwell – 1962

There was a tender scene on the Crown that mentions this pool. That’s what made me so curious about Churchill’s artwork.

Though this piece has the vibrancy characteristic of Churchill’s work, what I find intriguing is that it’s almost an abstract. It also seems to be viewed from right in the water itself.

This, by the way, is one of Churchill’s last paintings. He died about three years later.

his painting is unusual in zooming right into the water itself taking in the luscious foliage along the water side. It is an exemplary essay in tonality and near-abstraction, combining multiple hues of greens and browns to striking effect with the golden orfe brought to life through vivid flashes of orange impasto.

An introduction to Cubism

Picasso & Braque by Lee Miller

In my recent blogs, I showcased a few collages by Picasso and Braque. In doing so, I realized that, while they’re known to have pioneered Cubism, not everyone knows that there are actually two types of Cubism.

Truthfully, I didn’t know myself. I’m self-taught with no formal schooling. So, I’m always learning and that’s why my blogs are basic summaries, not in-depth analyses.

Hope you enjoy this one.

About Cubism

Cubism deconstructed objects, landscapes and people into geometric shapes with different viewpoints.This was revolutionary at that time – the early 1900’s – because even semi-representational work adhered to rules of perspective.

Analytical Cubism

Braque’s Glass on a Table

This was the infancy of Cubism. It was a phase that ran around 1907 to 1912 and was still mostly adopted by Picasso and Braque.

This type of cubism used a mostly dark colours and overlapping layers. It was simple in terms of shapes, but carefully analyzed and planned.

Artists would study a subject and disassemble it into blocks. Then they’d look at the blocks from different angles. Finally, they’d reconstruct the subject by painting its “blocks” from multiple viewpoints.

Synthetic Cubism

Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar & Newspaper


This was the second stage of the movement and it’s when collage entered into the fray – or, for that matter, the works looked like collages.

That’s because, during this phase, the emphasis was more on the assembly than the analysis.

Artists continued the technique of deconstruction and construction. However, they began using paper, newspapers and other materials to represent the different blocks and give greater dimension to the overall artwork.

It was around this time that brighter colors and more playfulness were introduced into their artwork.


A bit about Picasso’s collages.

I mentioned the influence Braque had on collage in my previous blog. Picasso, who worked closely with Braque, also took it up around the same time. In fact, it’s a tossup in terms of who was first.

What we do know is that using tangible materials to create third dimensions afforded Picasso a great deal of freedom, which he used enthusiastically.

Newspaper cuttings, parts of musical instruments, music score, tobacco boxes, fabrics, metal – he loved to experiment!

Here are three of his famous “pieced together” pieces:

Still Life with Chair Caning – 1912

Though Picasso experimented with materials prior to this piece, it’s considered his first true work of collage fine art.

What’s most creative here is that Picasso used a piece of oilcloth printed with a cane chair pattern, as well as thick textured rope as a frame. In doing so, he creates reality without using the kind of illusionism used throughout art’s history. In fact, it challenges the false sense of reality that traditional artists created.

This was revolutionary at the time.

Three letters above the cloth are torn from the word “journal” which, along with the pipe, glass, lemon, oyster, suggest a café setting.

Guitar, Sheet music and Wine glass – 1912

Here Picasso assembled newspaper, sheet music, colored paper, paper, and hand-painted faux bois paper, charcoal, and gouache over wallpaper on paperboard.

Each piece of paper is one discrete element within the whole. Together, they represent a guitar hanging on a wall. …

You may not see the shape of the guitar immediately because, in fact, it’s been suggested through the use of negative space.

Look at the white circle first. It’s the sound hole. Once you see that, you can perceive the guitar more easily.

Maquette for Guitar – 1912

Picasso’s experiments with collage inspired him to innovate with sculptures as well.
Maquette for Guitar is a three-dimensional collaged sculpture made up of cardboard, paper, string, and wire, which are folded, threaded, and glued together.
Picasso managed to take the Cubist approach of presented a number of perspectives and geometric form into a three-dimensional medium. Plus he did so using non-traditional art materials.
It’s just such a brilliant and complex piece!

By the way, when Braque and Picasso began incorporating industrially-produced objects (“low” commercial culture) into the realm of fine art (“high” culture), it was both revolutionary and excitingly defiant.

George Braque’s Collages

A friend sent me a beautiful card made up of collage. It made me think of George Braque whose collages I find compelling.

Born in 1882, Braque was a French draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. He was also a painter and collagist. He and Picasso worked closely together and actually legitimized the genre. The method evolved from their Cubist approach (innovative at that time).

Here are a couple of Braque’s collages, as well as one painting that I added because I just love it so much.

By the way, Picasso too was a collagist and I’ll follow up with a blog about his works as well.

Fruit Dish and Glass – 1912

This was one of Braque’s first collages. It’s likely the most famous and first Cubist collage. To achieve it, he attached pieces of wallpaper to a charcoal drawing.

This work came about after Braque had noticed the faux bois wallpaper displayed in a shop window.

This collage marked a turning point in Cubism.

Aria de Bach -1913

Braque loved the work of Bach and even created this homage to him. If I understand correctly, some of Braque’s other works also include Bach’s initials.

Interestingly, his initials form a four note musical motif in German (B-flat, A, C, B-natural), which many composers -notably Bach – have used in their music,.

Art historians have actually made comparisons between Bach’s use of interdependent, and simultaneously independent, harmonies in his compositions – and Braque’s angles and perspectives.

When you listen to Bach’s fugues, you can feel the parallel between his approach and that of Braque’s.

Though guitars, mandolins and other instruments appear in his works, Braque was a musical painter the canvas.

The Violin and Candlestick – 1910

Though not a collage, it’s one of my favorite paintings of his so why not showcase it!

This still life uses oil painted on canvas. Though it’s monochromatic, he manages to make it so colorful!

He fragmented and compressed the objects then reconstructed them in multiple point-perspectives.

Some of the objects, like the violin and candle, are clear and darker, thus attracting the eye. However, the violin is placed on the left side which compels us to take in the different parts of the painting. It’s just such a masterful way of giving the eye a place to go and then wander.

A line going for a walk, Paul Klee.

That’s a quote from Paul Klee. Though it’s his description of drawing, it’s actually a perfect account of how he painted.

Highways and Byways

Klee was a Swiss-born painter born in 1879 and died in 1940. He was innovative and experimental, leaving behind a diverse body of work. His style was influenced by Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism, but it always remained highly individual.

He was also fascinated by color and wrote about it extensively. The Paul Klee Notebooks is a collection of his essays on modern art, as well as his lectures at the Bauhaus school where he taught.

Bauhaus, by the way, was a German art school famous for its approach to design, not to mention its faculty – Joseph Albers and Kadinsky among them.

Klee’s work was an inspiration to a number of modern artists, including students of the New York School, which was not so much a school, but a group of influential artists in the 50’s and 60’s.

Klee himself took inspiration from music. He saw analogies between music and visual art, and often played violin as a warm-up to painting.  He was also inspired by children’s drawings because of their unaffected quality and freedom.

Senecio – 1922

A portrait of an old man in the Cubism style, Senecio is a joyful assemblage of simple shapes and deep, warm colors.

It has a childlike quality with its one brow raised and the other in the shape of a triangle. The portrait is also (appropriately) called Head of a Man Going Senile.

Insula Dulcamara – 1938

This is one of Klee’s largest paintings, 34 3/5 × 69 3/10 in. It’s filled with delicate colors in contrast with bold dark symbols and shapes.

Klee used newsprint stretched on jute which he painted with oils and colored paste.

Cat and Bird – 1928

Klee liked to use line, shape, and color for their own sake rather than to portray something visible. In doing so, he was able to create images that had more to do with thought than what was perceived.

This painting is a great example of that.

The bird appears to be flying inside the cat’s mind because, of course, it is on the cat’s mind. Great touch – the cat’s nose has a little heart shape. This implies the cat’s desire!

A rare Friday December 15th.

December 15 is the 349th day of the year (350th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 16 days remaining until the end of the year. This date is slightly more likely to fall on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday (58 in 400 years each) than on Sunday or Monday (57), and slightly less likely to occur on a Wednesday or Friday (56).

It’s rare that December 15th falls on a Friday. It only happens 56 times every 400 years according to…ummm…something I read.

Anyway, the rare quality of this day has inspired me to write about Nazca drawings (or lines).

The lines are in southern Peru just over 200 miles southeast of Lima, near the town of Nasca. They boast over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures, 70 animal shapes (birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys) and plant designs – some up to 1,200 feet long (as large as the Empire State building).

They were likely created by the Nazca culture between 500 BC and 500 AD. The lines are actually called geoglyphs, which are produced by removing rocks and earth to create a “negative” image.

Because the location’s isolation and dry, windless climate is pretty stable, the distinct white lines are relatively unchanged. However, interestingly, they can only be seen from the high surrounding foothills and from planes.

This boggles the mind. Imagine being able to create something so complex – but you can only see your work from above? I can’t even imagine that. The lines are a mystery to many and have been depicted in various movies Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, among them.

On a final note, they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The art of dance.

On this day in 1977, Saturday Night Fever opened at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. We have it to thank for platform shoes and satin pants (ugh), not to mention a dance craze that electrified clubs the world over.

To celebrate, the theme today is “dance” and we’ll look back over three famous paintings that capture the subject beautifully.

Sargent – El Jaleo (1882)

John Singer Sargent is an American born painter who produced portraits during late 1800’s and early 1900’s. El Jaleo is a large painting over 7 feet by 11 feet, but it’s the actual scene that gives it such awesome presence.

Here the energy and passion of a Spanish dancer is captured in dazzling light thanks to moody silhouettes and stark contrasts. It’s truly magnificent.

Matisse – Danse (1910)

Matisse was a leading figure in Modern Art and is known for amazing use of color. This painting, with its strong contrast of warm red and cool green complimentary colors, is a good example.

Matisse was fascinated with primitive art and we see that, not only in the style of painting, but also in the dance and the nudes themselves. There’s a lack of formality and decorum. Rather there’s a natural freedom.

Degas – Ballet Rehearsal on Stage (1874)

No dance theme is complete without mention of Degas. Though he painted a number of subjects, he’s best known for his stunning ballet series.

This one is my favorite. The detail is masterful – you can practically feel the fabric of the skirts and the graceful rhythm of the dancers.



It’s Helen Frankenthaler’s birthday!

Helen Frankenthaler
Abstract Expressionist artist

It’s Helen Frankenthaler’s birthday today!

Born December 12, 1928. Died December 27, 2011, she was a major player in Abstract Expressionism. Even more so, Frankenthaler’s soak and stain technique gave rise to Color Field painting.

I didn’t realize her birthday was today when posted about her yesterday on Facebook. I did the post because Meriam Webster had declared “feminism”the word of the year and I thought I’d honor it by featuring Frankenthaler.

However, I forgot she was someone who refused to discuss gender and its role in her art.

“What has made it work, or what makes certain paintings successful or not, has to do with my being a painter and a thinking, feeling person, more than my sex, color, height, origin.”  Helen Frankenthaler

Today, I’ll make up for the feminist association I made yesterday, by simply paying tribute to the beauty she created. Essentially, she celebrated color for its own sake.

Circus Landscape

This is one of my favorite paintings of hers. It’s one big (44 in by 40), colorful, captivating mass of energy!

Even though it isn’t a landscape in a traditional sense, this abstract still suggests the mood, depth and abundance you’d associate with a sprawling, healthy terrain.

In fact, you’ll see reality in a number of her abstracts. This could be why many of her works resonate with people who don’t always “get” abstract.


Provincetown is an acrylic painting, a medium sh began using later in her career (as I’ve done).

Though she discovered and finessed her soak and stain technique with oil and turpentine, she later recreated it with acrylic.

You can see here why she was so influential in Color Field painting.

That’s it for now!