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A brief historical overview of some of the worlds great masters.
LEONARDO DA VINCI, (1452-1519)
Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest inventor-scientist of recorded history. His genius was unbounded by time and technology, and was driven by his insatiable curiosity, and his intuitive sense of the laws of nature.
Da Vinci was dedicated to discovery of truth and the mysteries of nature, and his insightful contributions to science and technology were legendary. As the archetypical Renaissance man, Leonardo helped set an ignorant and superstitous world on a course of reason, science, learning, and tolerance. He was an internationally renowned inventor, scientists, engineer, architect, painter, sculptor, musician, mathematician, anatomist, astronomer, geologists, biologist, and philosopher in his time.
Born in 1452 as an illegitimate son of Ser piero da Vinci, da Vinci was sent to Florence in his teens to apprentice as a painter under Andrea del Verrocchio. He quickly developed his own artistic style which was unique and contrary to tradition, even going so far as to devised his own special formula of paint. His style was characterized by diffuse shadows and subtle hues and marked the beginning of the High Renaissance period. Like many great original efforts, da Vinci's artistic style was largely unpopular for the next quarter century.
Later Da Vinci became the court artist for the duke of Milan. Throughout his life he also served various other roles, including civil engineer and architect (designing mechanical structures such as bridges and aqueducts), and military planner and weapons designer (designing rudimentary tanks, catapults, machine guns, and even navel weapons).
Da Vinci's creative, analytic, and visionary inventiveness has yet to be matched. Leonardo's greatest feat was in the diversity of his study and achievements. The varied and wide ranging fields he mastered and the volume of original thought he contributed mark him as one of the most tremendously extraordinary men born in his century.
SALVADOR DALI, (1904-1989)
Salvador Dali was born in Figueres on May 11, 1904. He spent his childhood between the small agricultural town of Figueres, Spain, sixteen miles from the French border and the family's summer home in the coastal fishing village of Cadaques where his parents built his first studio. As an adult, he made his home with his wife Gala in nearby Port Lligat.
In 1917 Dali started to visit the School of Art and in 1925 he attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, and in the same year held his first one-man show in Barcelona while he was in conflicts with his teachers. He became internationally known when three of his paintings, were shown in the third annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1928. The following year Dali held his first one-man show in Paris and he joined the Paris Surrealist Group, led by former Dadaist, Andre Breton, after passing through phases of Cubism, Futurism and Metaphysical painting.
In the same year, Gala went into his life when visited him in Cadaques with her husband, poet Paul Eluard. Dali soon became a leader of the Surrealist Movement as he took over the Surrealist theory of automatism but transformed it into a more positive method, which he named `critical paranoia'. He described his pictures as `hand-painted dream photographs' and had certain favorite and recurring images, such as watches bent and flowing as if made from melting wax ‘The Persistence of Memory’, 1931. In 1937, Dali visited Italy and adopted a more traditional style. This together with his political views (he was a supporter of General Franco) has led him into a clash with the Surrealists and he expelled from the Surrealist movement.
In 1940, Dali and Gala moved to the USA, and since that time he devoted himself largely to self-publicity. The museum of Modern Art in New York gave Dali his first major retrospective exhibit in 1941. This was followed in 1942 by the publication of Dali's autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. In 1974 Dali opened the Teatro Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain. This was followed by retrospectives in Paris and London at the end of the decade. After the death of his wife, Gala, in 1982, Dali's health began to fail, and he spent the rest his life in seclusion until he died on January 23, 1989 in Figueres.
CLAUDE MONET, (1840-1926)
Though Edouard Manet may be considered the father of impressionism, it is Claude Monet who's name is synonymous with the style. Although his work showed great diversity and genius, he never wavered from ideals of the impressionistic design. In fact the name "impressionism" came from one of his paintings, Impression: Sunrise (Musée Marmottan, Paris; 1872)
Monet was born and grew up in Le Havre, on the coast of France. His first art was in the form of caricature, but he then switched to landscapes by his early mentor and teacher Eugene Boudin. From this teaching, Monet derived his lifelong tendency to paint out of doors, thus capturing the lights and shadows that defined his work. In 1859, he moved to Paris to study at the Atelier Suisse and while there, formed a friendship with Camille Pissarro, starting a trend for him to befriend some of the great contemporary painters of his day. He learned much from these associations and it reflected in his work. His life also revolved around war as he joined the military and was stationed in Algiers. Later during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 to 1871, he had to take refuge in England to continue his work.
Monet was given to extremes in his methods of achieving the exact effects in his paintings that he wished to express. It is said that once when creating a landscape, he would not paint even the leaves in the background unless the outside light had turned to his exact specifications. In another story concerning one of his earlier works, Women in the Garden (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; 1866-67). The painting stands about ten and half feet high and to enable him to paint all of it outside he had workers dig a trench in the garden so that the canvas could be raised or lowered by pulleys to the height he required.
During his life he traveled greatly and so his work includes subjects in various countries and areas of France and elsewhere. His time in England during the Franco-Prussian War allowed him to create some memorable works of art depicting areas around the Thames and some London parks.
Monet did not find acclaim and wealth to later in his life and at times suffered through extreme poverty. Success also allowed him some degree of freedom in his work. Much of his later work centered around a series of pictures in which he painted the same subject at different times of the day in different lights Haystacks or Grainstacks (1890-91) and Rouen Cathedral (1891-95) are some of the best known works of this time.
In his final years he found himself troubled by failing eyesight, but he painted until the end of his life. During his life, he amassed a great body of work and his paintings can be found in many of the major galleries of the world.
VINCENT VAN GOGH, (1853-1890)
Vincent Van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, Netherlands on March 30th 1853. He was the son of Dutch pastor Theodorus Van Gogh. Van Gogh's birth came exactly one year to the very day his mother gave birth to a first, stillborn child ironically also named Vincent. Over the years there has been much speculation about Van Gogh suffering psychological trauma as a result of being a "replacement child". After all, he did have a dead brother with the same name and birth date.
In 1869 Vincent Van Gogh joined Goupil & Company, a firm of art dealers in The Hague. The Van Gogh family had been associated with the art world for a long time. Two of Vincent's uncles were art dealers. His younger brother, Theo, worked as an art dealer and eventually had an enormous influence on Vincent's career as an artist.
Vincent was relatively successful as an art dealer. In 1873 he was transferred to the London branch. During his stay, he visited the many art galleries and museums and became a great admirer of British engravers whose works illustrated such magazines as "The Graphic". These illustrations inspired and influenced Van Gogh in his later life as an artist.
In May of 1875 Van Gogh was transferred to the Paris branch. By then, he was no longer happy dealing in paintings and left Goupil and Company. In March 1876, he decided to return to England, since the two years he spent there had been very happy and rewarding.
In April, Vincent Van Gogh began teaching at Rev. William P. Stokes' school. He taught twenty four boys aged ten to fourteen. Van Gogh enjoyed teaching so much that he began teaching at another school for boys; one lead by Rev. T. Slade Jones. During his time off, Van Gogh visited many art galleries and admired many great art works. He also devoted himself to Bible study in which he spent many hours reading the Book of God. This was a time of religious transformation for Van Gogh. Although he was raised in a religious family, it was during this time in his life that he considered devoting his life to the Church.
In 1879, Vincent failed to qualify for the mission school after a three month trial period. He soon made arrangements with the Church to begin a trial period preaching in one of the most inhospitable regions in Western Europe, the coal mining district of The Borinage, Belgium.
That year, Van Gogh began his duties preaching to the coal miners and their families in the mining village. Van Gogh felt an emotional attachment to the miners. He was sympathetic about their dreadful working conditions and tried to ease their burden. His desire to help would reach a fanatical level when Van Gogh began to give away most of his food and clothing to the poor under his care. Despite his intentions, the Church disapproved of Van Gogh's acts and let him go in July. Refusing to leave the area, Van Gogh moved to an adjacent village, and lived there in poverty. For the next year Van Gogh struggled to live from day to day. Then, one day Van Gogh felt a strong urge to visit the home of Jules Breton, a French painter he greatly admired. With only ten francs in his pocket he walked 70 kilometers to Courrières, France, to see Breton. Upon his arrival, Van Gogh was too timid to knock so he turned around and headed back home.
Distraught and disappointed, Van Gogh began to draw the miners and their families, penciling their harsh living and working conditions into a permanent record. It was during this time that Van Gogh's life headed down the path of an artist.