The Hat Makes the Man“, 1920,  Max Ernst

Images of things seen push around and populate the crevices of my brain.  Or maybe not the images themselves; the feelings experienced when seeing images is what lurks there.  In the example above, finding the image again and presenting it here was a surprise.  It looked unexpected, but was the one.  An artist takes away what she needs and flings away the rest.  Steal the core of the thing and push on.  “You take it, it’s yours”, Picasso said.

Why do I think of this famous image?  It has to do with the way aluminum tumblers are piled up on my fireplace.  They are not all the same size or color or style, but they are cylinders, irregular, unstable.  They have potential energy, but happily, they do not fall.


All things are connected: from Max Ernst and Surrealism to my sister to my husband to my father to men in hats to my St. Louis childhood and then back to art like a cat who chases her own tail.  Inside that circle is my reality.

“Hats are chick-magnets”, said my stepson.  He is right.  He learned that from his dad.  I love his hats and caps.  In St. Louis this weekend, we went to Levine Hats.  Glenn had spoken of this place, and I wanted to see it.  Glenn wanted a hat.

The place is a hundred years old.  The pattern and organization there is stunning.  That is what art IS,  bygawd, pattern and organization.

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Did not expect the hovering hats when I walked in.  Or the beautiful armature.  It was magic.

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British royalty?

1-levine 2Straw caps.

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Upstairs, better deals.


And a closer examination of the shelving structure.  Common string stretched in diagonals between parallel lines, letting the hats breathe and making them seem to hover in space.

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This color is a neutral, try it with anything.


For use on March 17, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the back.

On both levels of the building, one can see the original metal pressed ceiling.  Long ago, felt hats were actually made here.  Now they are only modified when sold.


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Love this misalignment of shapes which approaches the Ernst image.  They are only similar in that there are hats present, but the variety of sizes of shapes between the hats feels familiar.

When I showed the pictures on my camera to sister Nancy, she recognized Levine’s immediately.  Said she had been there when small with our dad; the business had been almost fifty years old then.  I missed out on what would have been an important early experience for me.  Always keep your eyes open.


A new evocative collection for Glenn and me, we bought our second “ghost” last weekend.  The vendor is a friend and wanted to simply give the thing to us, but that would have diminished its value.  We had to pay him something.

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We value what others do not.  Perfection?  No.  Complete, complex?  No.  Less is more.  Does it express a time period?  Has it been used, loved?  More a simple mass than anything else, this piece expresses the 1930s, with speed, and the art deco aesthetic very simply.

We have been talking for a year about this topic and how and why “the oval” was used in automobile and truck design in the thirties and the forties.  It makes one think of Eadweard Muybridge and time/motion photography.  And the Futurists in painting and sculpture.


Muybridge did his work first.  In the 1880s he photographed animals and humans in motion, and described movement that could not be isolated by the human eye.  He composed movement as a series of “parts” of a movement, something that could not have been understood without photography.  A whole new idea.  And when there is a new technology, artists want to use it or define it.  The Futurists wanted to capture this motion somehow and place it on a picture plane (which today to us seems odd).


Futurism emerged in Italy early in the twentieth century, although Malevich, above, was Russian.  It dealt with contemporary ideas of the future, and emphasized speed and motion with the new ideas of the automobile and the airplane.  In their images, one can see the influence of a movement in parts, or cells, kind of layered, one cell upon another.

This leads us into the discussion between Glenn and me.  Is an oval meant to be a moving circle?  The Art Deco Society of Palm Beach states that “technology allowed for construction to be built with rounded corners.  In the 30s and 40s, the design of trains, airplanes, ships and automobiles influenced architecture.  Rounded corners made buildings look sleek and fast”.  That was their goal, the new modern “fast”, made up by images of isolated movement.

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Look at this truck and the fenders housing the circle of the wheels.  Were these housings for the tires expanded into ovals, in other words, a repeated circle to express speed?  The fenders could certainly have been concentric circles over the wheels, and have been in other years of truck design.  Was the circle repeated in metal the way the Futurists would do, only not in separate cells, yielding the oval shape?

Autorennen im Grunewald, Berlin

Look at this old German photo found in Wikimedia!  I rest my case.

It seems like a no-brainer to me, but my research is not deep.  Harry?


But I have just finished a book on Caravaggio, one of many many that have been published about this very eccentric individual, and so much good stuff was missing.  One might argue that Jonathan Harr‘s book, “The Lost Painting” is about the search for a painting rather than the painting itself.  Or the artist.

And it had two endings.  Like “Lincoln”.  Less would be more.

Heard about this book in a feature on NPR, while laying tile on my pool deck.  Changed up for a minute, walked into the office and ordered it for 75 cents on Ebay.  Feeling oh so twenty first century, I went back to my work.  Then realized that if I had a Kindle, I would be reading now.  But not for 75 cents.  Modern as I can afford to be, this is fine.

Even an educated person with the least acquaintance with understanding art would know of Ervin Panofsky.  To someone who was interested in Northern Renaissance art, he was royalty.  His most famous article put forth his ideas on the iconography of “The Arnolfini Double Portrait“, a work of art that every student has confronted.


This work by Van Eyck is more known than any by Caravaggio, because it is the go-to example when teaching about “iconography” in a basic art history class.  It is just so perfect for the concept.

Panofsky’s work is huge.  In the book, “The Lost Painting”, the title a perfect description of the content of the book, his second wife, Gerda Panofsky-Soergel is mentioned many times, referred to as the “German woman” who was allowed to visit an archive, but never connected with this icon of art history.


The painting above, “The Taking of Christ” was the goal of Gerda’s research and why she was looking in the archive, but she never landed the home run.  She was just a player in the search.  In the book, she was allowed in the private archive, probably because of her name, where others had continually been denied.  Down the line in the search, our art historian heroine, Francesca,  was also allowed into the archive because she found a personal connection with the family.   Same with Gerda.  She was REALLY connected.  She had the famous name, but this was never mentioned.

Within the narrative of the very interesting search for a lost painting by Caravaggio, a brief history of the life of the man is sketched out.  He was wild, in favor and out of favor with art lovers because of his compositional tactics.  Really a street brawler, he used his friends as models, and they were street people themselves.  More than once a painting of his was rejected by those who commissioned it because the model for the Madonna was a famous prostitute.  Would mean nothing to us now, but to the contemporary Catholic church, it was a very bad idea.

He painted like a miracle, his work purchased by those at the highest levels, but he needed protection by them because of his personality.  His face was mutilated once, and he was forced to leave Rome, where any citizen would be allowed to perform the service to the city of killing him.  His life was just so schizo.

Something that Caravaggio did that students always like is that he included self-portraits in many of his works.


Above is a self portrait of Caravaggio as Goliath’s head (only).


And a younger Caravaggio as Bacchus, the god of wine.

But what I love about Caravaggio is his predisposition for unusual compositions.  He kind of hides his wackiness in full view if one chooses to see it.  He makes jokes and uses humanity to populate sacred compositions.


This Roman soldier has such a great ass, eh?  One can hardly get beyond it!  Why is it bathed in light as are Christ’s hands, or Judas kissing Christ’s face, or St. John’s anguish?  Or the Caravaggio self-portrait in the upper right?

conversion of st paul

But this example has to be the best in category.  In a “Conversion of St. Paul“, in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (1601), the bee-hind of a horse is a major player in the composition.  Who else would do this but Caravaggio?

We had just seen this painting before Glenn took a major sky dive over the handlebars of a Segway out in the piazza.  Was kind of a Caravaggio moment in itself!


Due to popular demand, here is our recently identified odalisque.  Marta sent it to me after reading the first post about her mother.  She assumed this image, done in 1946, was probably of the cheesecake variety.

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Oh no!  The position of Marta’s mom is purely art historical, absent some shape in the upper right to draw the viewer’s eye away, but briefly, from the figure.  The line of red fringe on the pillow in the center of the image helps some.

odalisque-courtat gold

The oriental rug and brass pitcher above suggest the “East”, and that the woman may be part of a harem (when artists began to use this motif as an excuse to paint a nude woman, it was understood that the woman was of low morals).  This work has a nice opposition element in the upper left of a musician, which fills the compositional need but also suggests low morals as we all know what music does to people!


Simply with the head wrap, the artist suggests that this woman is a member of a harem.  Notice that the counterpoint to the strong line of the figure here is a window lightening up the composition and subtly drawing the eye away from the left side.  Any kind of shape can do this balancing act for a composition.  The single red rose may symbolize love, as it did in Roman times.

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Moving into the Twentieth century, consider the envelope being pushed!  If this is a “reclining nude” enough for your definition, we see my outlaw, clothing symbolizing pure sex, with a counterpoint of the ironing board at the upper left.  This makes me think of an episode of “Mad Men” we viewed last night.  Jackie during the day, Marilyn at night!

Gracie looking over shoulder

Walking further into the bizarro world, we see Gracie, the late love of another outlaw, displaying what she knows about the motif of the odalisque.  Her seductive stare is so memorable.

odalisque_1843 corot

Corot’s odalisque above is more simply rendered, like that of Marta’s mom.  And her position is close to Gracie’s.  I find it interesting that he felt the need to fill that empty space that usually has a correspondent with words—Marietta____Roma.  It works!