By Chet Yarbrough
By Kathleen Krull
Narrated by John C. Brown, Melissa Hughes
This is a brief introduction to a number of extraordinary artists, several well-known and a few rarely heard of. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Warhol, Rembrandt, Chagall, Rivera, O’Keefe, Matisse, and van Gogh are recognized by most people who have a passing interest in art.
But, few art history dabblers have heard of William H. Johnson, Mary Cassatt, Sofonisba Anguissola, Maria Kahlo, Katsushika Hokusai, or Kathe Kollwitz.
At best, “Lives of the Artists-Masterpieces, Messes” will broaden a dilettante’s interest in visual art and make a reader look up some of their work. Kathleen Krull barely touches the lives she writes about but when one sees the work of the artists she chooses, her choices of subject make the book worth reading.
William H. Johnson is not a household name but he was a relatively successful black artist in the 1940s and 50s. He was never a great financial success but he created some remarkable folk art that is on display at the Smithsonian.
Mary Cassatt is an American painter that became friends with Edgar Degas while living most of her life in France. France in the mid-19th century was a hot-bed of impressionist art.
Cassatt confronted the male bastion of patronizing American art teachers and was rejected as a student. She began studying old masters on her own and left for Paris in the 1860s, She became a copyist at the Louvre. Cassatt confronted some of the same patronizing attitudes of male artists in France, but had a break through opportunity with her first Paris Salon selection in 1868, “A Mandoline Player”.
She became known as an Impressionist in the 1870s with paintings like “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair”.
It is interesting to find discrimination against women artists had been challenged earlier in art history by Sononisba Anguissola. Anguissola became a well-known portrait artist in the 16th century. Anguissola’s self-portrait seems to show her teacher, Bernardino Campi, as a patronizing mentor, exuding male superiority. In any case, she became a successful portrait artist that painted queens and became a member of the court of Spain.
The evocative work of Kathe Kollwitz reminds one of the ugliness, and pain of war. Kollwitz lived through WWI and the beginnings of WWII as a German resident. She was a painter, printmaker and sculptor.
The name Katsushika Hokusai may seem obscure but when a picture of his iconic work is seen, hardly anyone will be surprised or confused by the author’s choice. One of the reasons Hokusai’s name is not well-known is that he changed it at least 30 times.
Frida Kahlo is a lesser known Mexican painter; in part, because she worked with, and later married, the famous muralist, Diego Rivera. Both Kahlo and Rivera were active communists that met, and for a short time, lived with Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico in 1940. It is presumed that the assassination was ordered by Joseph Stalin.
Kathleen Krull proves how little one knows of the lives of artists and their art work. As Plato wrote of Socrates, “I know something that I know nothing.”