Jan. 12 is the birthday of a sophisticated Euro-American painter who could find a beautiful play of light even in a pile of gators.

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Sargent, “Muddy Alligators,” 1917. Worcester Museum of Art. Wikiart copy of image in public domain.

Few artists can capture light as did John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). You can feel the warmth of the sun in some of his paintings. The one below has rescued me from many a chilly day in Washington, D.C.

Dec. 31 is the birthday of an artist who repeatedly painted women captivated by books. It’s a relevant theme for pandemic life, in which reading has been a refuge for many of us.

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Henri Matisse (1869–1954) often captured his models as if they were unaware of his presence. Over and over, Matisse painted women who appear to be sunk into the worlds created by the authors of good books.

He did this even before he evolved into the Matisse known so well by many art lovers. Would you have guessed the 1895 painting below was done by Matisse? The same Matisse was a leader in the early 20th experiments with bold colors and exuberant brushwork known as Fauvism?

Dec. 18 is the birthday of a painter who instructed us on how to read his vibrant abstract works.

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Klee, “White Blossom in the Garden,” Guggenheim Museum. 1920. Wikimedia copy of image in public domain.

Paul Klee (1897–1940) explored shapes and geometry in his paintings as did the famous leaders of a movement in art called Cubism. But Klee’s works somehow remain emotional even when abstract, a trait not seen in all Cubist works.

Compare Pablo Picasso’s 1914 Cubist painting, “Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Vieux Marc,” seen below on the left, with one of Klee’s most important works, “Temple Gardens.” (His last name Klee is pronounced Clay.)

Dec. 12 is the birthday of an artist whose iconic painting, “The Scream,” overshadowed a career in which he excelled in depicting dark and tragic moments of life.

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Munch, “Anxiety,” 1894. Munch Museum, Oslo. Norway. Wikimedia copy of image in public domain.

Edvard Munch (1863–1944) excelled at painting anxiety, the subject of the work seen above.

The Norwegian artist is best known for “The Scream,” seen below, which has been borrowed for products including plastic vases, socks, phone cases and, in recent times, neck gaiters and face masks.

Dec. 8 is the birthday of an artist whose studies of Italian, French and Spanish paintings evolved into a mural style that is seen as distinctly Mexican.

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Rivera, “Portrait of Adolfo Best Maguard,” 1913. Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), Mexico City, Mexico

What do we see in the 1913 painting? We have Mexican artist Adolfo Best Maugard (1891–1964) depicted as the epitome of a Parisian dandy. He radiates elegance. It even appears that the iconic ferris wheel of the Belle Époque — Grande Roue de Paris — spins on the tip of his gloved hand.

Nov. 27 is the birthday of a textile magnate who plotted how to build and display an impressive collection of modern art. Then came the Bolsheviks.

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Valentin Serov, Portrait of Morozov, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. 1910. Wikiart copy of image in public domain.

Ivan Morozov (1871–1921) seems to have accepted that the Russian Revolution took his wealth and his home. What he could not bear was the loss of his art collection.

In 1918, a Russian sculptor Sergey Konenkov appeared at Morozov’s mansion in Moscow in his new capacity as a Bolshevik official, according to a biography by Natalya Semenova. (There is a link at the end of this essay to a bibliography of sources used in my research.) Konenkov, who knew Morozov, presented him with what’s called a ‘preservation order,’ essentially taking the mansion and its collection.

Nov. 24 is the birthday of a painter who borrowed techniques from Japanese artists to portray scenes of French women expanding their role in public life.

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Toulouse-Lautrec, “Gueule de Bois / La Buveuse/The Hangover,” c. 1887–1889. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest from the Collection of Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906, image is in public domain.

The title given to this painting by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) seems wrong to me. It’s commonly called “The Hangover,” which seems to miss the small revolutionary acts we may be witnessing here.

Toulouse-Lautrec shows us a young woman who has the freedom and funds to sit by herself and work through her thoughts over a glass of wine at a cafe. The woman shown here is Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938). She appears to me to be in a pensive mood.

I admit I bring to this interpretation my admiration for Valadon’s determination and grit. The child of a poor unmarried woman, Valadon found a way to become a successful painter, an occupation largely (but not exclusively) limited to men of the middle class even in France’s Belle Époque (c. …

Nov. 1 is the birthday of a painter of America’s Gilded Age (1870s-1900) who showed women of his time ready to claim their space in society.

William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) paid homage to one of his fellow portraitists in his painting “The Lady in Black,” but did so in a way that brought honor — and not infamy— to the subject.

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John Singer Sargent, “Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau),” 1883–4. Chase, “The Lady in Black,” 1888. Both works owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images in the public domain.

The painting on the left is John Singer Sargent’s Madame X, a beautiful and unforgettable image. This painting shocked Parisian art circles on its debut. The portrait initially showed its subject, the Louisiana-born wife of a banker, with one of her straps slipping on her shoulders. Sargent later painted the strap back in place, attempting to soothe ill feelings after the outrage this work cause.

Madame X’s head is turned to put on display her lovely neck. But she is posed in an odd and uncomfortable way, seemingly leaning on the table for balance, with a tight corset emphasizing her figure. Still, Madame X is magnificent. She is compelling. But let’s face it. …

Oct. 26 is the birthday of a Russian artist who dared to show the grim toll of battles. He also traveled widely, visiting Central Asia, the Middle East, the United States, India and Japan.

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Vereshchagin, “Taj Mahal Mausoleum, Agra. Undated,” Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Image in public domain.

“Painter, Solider, Traveler” is the English title of a book of autobiographical sketches from Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904).

I found electronic copies of this book on archive.org while trying to confirm this quote, which is widely attributed to Vereshchagin:

“I loved the sun all my life, and wanted to paint sunshine. When I happened to see warfare and say what I thought about it, I rejoiced that I would be able to devote myself to the sun once again. But the fury of war continued to pursue me.”

That does sound like something Vereshchagin would have said, although I have not yet found the source for it. Below are excerpts of a description Vereshchagin wrote for an 1888 American Art Association exhibition of his work. …

Oct. 10 is the birthday of an American artist whose vibrant paintings can give us a welcome little escape from the stresses of pandemic life.

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Prendergast, “The Grand Canal, Venice,” c. 1898–9. Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection,

Paintings done by Maurice Prendergast (1858–1924) often remind me of a scene in the movie “Mary Poppins.” In it, Mary Poppins, Bert and the Banks children jump through a sidewalk chalk drawing into a more colorful and joyous scene.


Kerry Dooley Young

Journalist fascinated by art, history, medicine, politics and food. Has visited museums on six continents, eaten in more than 50 nations. Knows FDA, Congress.

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