Rembrandt

 

(1606 – 1669) – A Dutch Master and one of the great artists of all time.
Rembrandt is so deeply mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language. Rembrandt is truly called a magician… that’s not an easy calling.
Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh (Oct. 10 1885)

Biography of Rembrandt

Rembrandt was born in Leiden in the Netherlands in 1606. It was during a period known as the ‘Dutch Golden Age’. He came from a reasonably wealth family. His father was a miller, and somehow managed to send his son to a Latin school and later the University of Leiden. His education and knowledge of scriptures later proved important when he sought to capture the essence of biblical scenes in his art.
However, Rembrandt, wasn’t inspired by studying and he left university to begin an apprenticeship as a painter in Leiden. In 1624, he spent his first period of time in Amsterdam where he was able to study under a famous painter called Pieter Lastman. With this period of apprenticeship under his belt, he returned to his home town in Leiden and set up his own independent workshop.
In 1629, Rembrandt was discovered by the statesman Constantijn Huygens, who secured for Rembrandt important commissions from the Court of the Hague. This source of commissions was important because in Holland, the Protestant reformed church did not support artists like the old Catholic church.
This was the start of Rembrandt’s successful professional career as an artist and in 1831, he moved the expanding business to the capital Amsterdam. It was here that he met and married his future wife, Saskia Van Uylenburg, who came from a wealth family and this added to Rembrandt’s income. Around this time, Rembrandt began to take on students and he became admitted to the Guild of Painters.
Unfortunately, Rembrandt’s family life was subject of many misfortunes. Three of their four children died in early infancy, and Saskia died after only ten years of marriage in 1641, aged just 30.
This personal tragedy, brought out the best of Rembrandt as a painter. His bedside paintings of his dying wife are indicative of his ability to draw out the human emotion and display Rembrandt’s profound ability to empathise with aspects of the human condition.

Rembrandt’s ‘Jewish Bride’

After a few years, Rembrandt began a relationship with Hendrickje Stoffels, his former maid. They had one daughter, but never married as Rembrandt didn’t want to miss out on his wife’s legacy (which depended on him not marrying)
At the height of his fame and wealth, Rembrandt bought an impressively large and expensive house in the Jewish quarter. He bought this on a mortgage of 13,000 Guilders. Unfortunately, Rembrandt was not good with money. He would spend his income very freely; often on other works of art and props for his paintings.
Then in the 1650s, Holland suffered a severe economic depression and many lucrative commissions dried up, leaving Rembrandt unable to meet his mortgage payments. This caused him to effectively declare bankrupt (though he did it in a way to avoid jail).
Though Rembrandt’s paintings have often sold for millions of dollars, he died penniless and the cost of his burial had to be met by his friends.
Rembrandt loved to paint alone. In fact he could not bear to be disturbed whilst painting and often would take an oath to work in pin drop silence. He said that when painting, he would not even give an audience to the first monarch of the world.
Unlike many artists of his day, Rembrandt, never visited Italy to see the work of the great Masters. He felt that everything he needed to learn from painting he could do in his own country.
Choose only one master — Nature.
– Rembrandt.
Nevertheless he was influenced by some of the trends of the day. Following the innovation of Caravaggio. Rembrandt incorporated the art of chiaroscuro – a dramatic use of lighting.
In particular Rembrandt used this technique to give great depth and emotion to the faces he painted. Rembrandt had the ability to give an impression of a thinking mind behind the face.
In a letter to Huyghens, Rembrandt explained in his art he sought to give ‘the greatest and most natural movement,’ movement can also mean ’emotion and motive.
For in these two paintings (Christ’s dead body, and Christ’s resurrection) the greatest and most natural movement has been expressed, which is also the main reason why they have taken so long to execute.
As well as producing many paintings and portraits, Rembrandt produced many etchings.

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was an artist of exceptional talent. Influenced by impressionist painters of the period, he developed t

his with his own instinctive, spontaneous style. Van Gogh became one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century and played a key role in the development of modern art.

Biography Vincent Van Gogh

He was born in Groot-Zundert, a small town in Holland in March 1853. His father was a Protestant pastor and he had three uncles who were art dealers.
His early life seems generally to be unhappy, after a period of working in his uncle’s art dealers, he became frustrated and so became a Protestant minister. He became a preacher in the poor agricultural districts of Brabant. He empathised with the poverty of the inhabitants and began to share their poverty and rough living conditions. Despite trying to live according to the gospel message of poverty, the church authorities were displeased that Van Gogh seemed to be undermining the ‘dignity of the priesthood.’ He was relieved of his post and Van Gogh turned to art. Despite always disliking any formal training, he studied art in both Brussels and Paris. He began painting seriously, and in Paris was influenced by the new impressionist painters of Monet, Renoir and others. Financially helped by his close brother Theo, Van Gogh later travelled to Arles in the south of France were he continued his painting – often outside – another feature of the impressionist movement.
When I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.
– Vincent Van Gogh
In Arles, he had a brief, if unsuccessful, period of time with the artist Gauguin. Van Gogh’s intensity and mental imbalance made him difficult to live with. At the end of the two weeks, Van Gogh approached Gauguin with a razor blade. Gauguin fled back to Paris, and Van Gogh later cut off the lower part of his ear with the blade.
This action was symptomatic of his increasing mental imbalance. He was later committed to a lunatic asylum where he would spend time on and off until his death in 1890. At the best of times, Van Gogh had an emotional intensity that flipped between madness and genius. He himself wrote:
“Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
It was during these last two years of his life, that Van Gogh was at his most productive as a painter. He developed a style of painting that was quick and rapid – leaving no time for contemplation and thought. He painted with quick movements of the brush and drew increasingly avant garde styles shapes – foreshadowing modern art and its abstract style. He felt an overwhelming need and desire to paint.
The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can’t put it off, I don’t care for anything but the work; that is to say, the pleasure in something else ceases at once and I become melancholy when I can’t go on with my work. Then I feel like a weaver who sees that his threads are tangled, and the pattern he had on the loom is gone to hell, and all his thought and exertion is lost.
– Vincent Van Gogh
In 1890, a series of bad news affected his mental equilibrium and one day in July, whilst painting, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later from his wound.

Leonardo da Vinci


Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is one of the world’s greatest thinkers, artists and philosophers. Seeking after perfection, he created rare masterpieces of art such as ‘The Mona Lisa’ and The Last Supper.’
In addition to art, Da Vinci studied all aspects of life from anatomy to mathematics and astronomy; his far-reaching investigations and discoveries sought to show an underlying unity of the universe. Da Vinci is considered to be a key person in the birth of the European Renaissance, which saw an emergence of new ideas, scientific discoveries and the creation of beautiful art.

Biography of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo was born an illegitimate son of a Florentine noble and peasant woman; he grew up in Vinci, Italy. In his formative years, he developed a love of nature and from an early age began to display his remarkable academic and artistic talents.
In 1466, he moved to Florence where he entered the workshop of Verrocchio. Initially, his formative style reflected his teacher but he soon developed an artistic sense which went far beyond his master’s rigid style. His first work of significance was the “Adoration of the Magi” commissioned by monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Although unfinished, the work was a masterpiece and introduced several new ideas. In particular, he introduced themes of movement and drama. He also pioneered the use of Chiaroscuro; this is the technique of defining forms through the contrast of light and shadow. This would be later used to great effect in the Mona Lisa.
“Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.” The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (Richter, 1888)
In 1482, Leonardo went to the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan, where he stayed for 16 years. Here he continued painting and also branched out into other interest such as engineering and anatomy.  During this period he painted the famous artworks “Madonna on the Rocks” and also “The Last Supper.”
The Last Supper has been described as one of the greatest religious paintings. With Christ at the centre of the picture, it embodies great feeling and emotion as Christ is about to announce his imminent betrayal by Judas. The painting is held at the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milan, but unfortunately over time the quality of the original painting has deteriorated, despite frequent restoration attempts.

Leonardo Da Vinci and Mona Lisa

In 1499, his patron L. Sforza was defeated by the French invasion, causing Leonardo to return to Florence. During this period, he painted the fresco of the Battle of Anghiari. This artwork was to exert tremendous influence over future artists. However, it was never completed and was later destroyed. It was also during this period that Leonardo completed The Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is one of the world’s most famous and intriguing pictures. The Mona Lisa is a portrait of a wife of a Florentine noble. For several days she came to Leonardo and sat for her portrait to be painted; however, she refused to smile. Leonardo even tried hiring musicians but to no avail. One day, just for a fleeting second, she gave a faint smile, and Leonardo was able to capture it. Her smile encapsulates a mysteriousness which is both fascinating and intriguing. Sri Chinmoy said of the Mona Lisa.
“That smile has immortalized her, immortalized the artist and immortalized the art. Artist and art have been immortalized by just a faint smile, a smile that has an enigmatic touch. Even now a soul-touch is there, and that soul-touch has conquered the heart of the world.” (1)
In the Mona Lisa, Leonardo masters the techniques of sfumato and chiaroscuro. Sfumato enables a gradual transition between colours – allowing delicate and expressive images. In the Mona Lisa, the use of chiaroscuro is evident in the contrast between her face and the dark background.
In this period Leonardo also extended his studies into engineering, science and other subjects. There seemed to be no end to his interests. He made copious notes in his complex mirror handwriting, much of which wasn’t deciphered in his lifetime. He also drew complex models of machines; in particular, he was fascinated by flight. He used to buy birds just so that he could release and enjoy watching them fly away. Da Vinci also attempted to build a flying object himself. Machines that he drew on paper, such as helicopters, would become a reality many centuries later. If his medicinal studies had been published, it would have revolutionised the science, as he was one of the first to understand the circulation of blood within the body. He also realised the earth revolved around the sun, anticipating the future work of Copernicus and Galileo.  Da Vinci was driven to contemplate all aspects of life and the world, it left him with a great love and fascination with the universe.
“Here forms, here colours, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is so marvellous a thing … Oh! marvellous, O stupendous Necessity — by thy laws thou dost compel every effect to be the direct result of its cause, by the shortest path. These are miracles…” The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Through different fields, Da Vinci sought to see an underlying unity in the universe and took an optimistic view of human potential.
“Things that are separate shall be united and acquire such virtue that they will restore to man his lost memory.”

The Vitruvian Man

This is a drawing of the proportions of man. Da Vinci used earlier work and notes by the Roman architect Vitruvius. The picture combines art, man and science – illustrating the beauty of geometrical proportions and the human form. It is symbolic of Da Vinci’s work, and the Renaissance he inspired, to combine these art forms into one diagram. In the simplicity of a line drawing, there are many different factors brought into play; it has become an iconic image.
Da Vinci fame grew during his lifetime, though he was not a wealthy man and he had to rely on the patronage of his patrons. This included powerful men, such as Cesare Borgia, who in the early 1500s demanded Da Vinci design instruments of war. Da Vinci designed a crossbow, prototype tank and ‘machine gun.’

Personal life of Da Vinci

Leonardo remained single throughout his life. He did not marry or have children. He kept his personal life private and shared few details. He was close with his pupils Salai and Melzi, but appeared to be mostly absorbed in his far-reaching investigations, work and paintings. In his day, contemporary reports indicated Da Vinci was a unique person, with a physical beauty, dignified presence and strong moral character. Da Vinci expresses his love of truth:
“To lie is so vile, that even if it were in speaking well of godly things it would take off something from God’s grace; and Truth is so excellent, that if it praises but small things they become noble.” The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
His first biographer, Giorgio Vasari, writes on the person of Da Vinci in 1550.
“..Besides a beauty of body never sufficiently extolled, there was an infinite grace in all his actions; and so great was his genius, and such its growth, that to whatever difficulties he turned his mind, he solved them with ease.” (Source text)
A notable characteristic of Da Vinci was his wide-ranging respect and reverence for truth, life and living creatures. He adopted a vegetarian diet and would buy caged birds just so he could release them. He is quoted as saying:
“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”
Between 1506-1510, Leonardo spent time in Milan working on behalf of the very generous French King Lois XII. In 1513 he travelled to the Vatican, Rome where he enjoyed the patronage of the new Medici Pope, Leo X. Here, Da Vinci worked in proximity to contemporaries such as the great Masters Michelangelo and Raphael. However, an intense rivalry soon developed between the younger Michelangelo and Da Vinci.

Religion of Da Vinci

Despite being the patron of the Pope, Da Vinci was not an orthodox Catholic. Vasari writes of Da Vinci that he was:
“cast of mind was so heretical that he did not adhere to any religion, thinking perhaps that it was better to be a philosopher than a Christian.”
Vasari removed this quote in the second edition but, from his life’s work, we can see Da Vinci valued reason and was willing to question dogma passed down through the ages. Da Vinci wrote criticisms of the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. The religious paintings of Da Vinci also indicate a religious faith expressed in a non-conformist way. His Madonna on the Rocks incorporates a Virgin Mary, not dressed regally or surrounded with a halo, but simply dressed in the surroundings of nature. Da Vinci did believe in God, but his religious sensibilities were expressed through seeing God in art, science and nature.
“We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God.” The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci was a great perfectionist – one reason why he completed so few paintings was that he never felt he had satisfactorily finished anything. He said towards the end of his life:
“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”
In 1515, Da Vinci left to settle at the castle of Cloux, near Amboise by the kind invitation of Francis I of France. Here Da Vinci, spent his remaining years, free to pursue his own studies. He died in 1519 leaving behind one of the greatest body of artistic and scientific works.

Vincent Van Gogh Biography

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.
– Vincent Van Gogh (letter to Theo, July 1882)

Paul Cezanne

“When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.”
– Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne Biography

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was born on 19 January 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, in Provence in south of France. His father was a successful banker and his father wished him to pursue a ‘respectable’ career. To please his father, between 1859 and 1861 Paul Cezanne attended the law school of the University of Aix. However, in 1861, he became disillusioned with this career path and dropped out to pursue his life’s passion – art.
With the encouragement of his great friend Emil Zola, Paul left for Paris and sought to further his artistic career. Initially his father was upset at his son’s choice of career. But, on evidence of his talent, his father later became reconciled to his choice and on the death of his father, Paul inherited a substantial sum which enabled him to pursue art without any financial worries.
In Paris, he met the Impressionist artist, Camille Pissaro. Pissaro acted as Master to the young Paul. However, over time, the student became as respected as the Master.
In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war broke out and Paul Cezanne fled with his mistress to Marseille. He was caught as a draft dodger, but, soon after, the war fortunately ended. In this period in the south of France, Paul drew an increasing number of landscapes and abandoned the dark colours which had dominated his rather somber paintings. In this period Paul Cezanne became one of the leading impressionists though his difficult personality made it hard for him to mix with many of the leading artists of the time.
His final years of his life from 1878-1905 were spent in Provence. It was here that he increasingly developed the style of his paintings and moved beyond a classic impressionist style. He used planes and blocks of colour to give a more abstracted observation of nature. It was this abstract innovation that was said to be a key element in the link between the 19th Century impressionist art and the modern art of Matisse and Picasso of the Twentieth Century.

Jan Vermeer


Jan or Johan Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch baroque painter from the ‘Golden Age of Dutch Painting’. He was obscure during his life, but in the Nineteenth Century his work was brought to light and now is regarded as one of the greatest proponents of Baroque painting – with his focus on simple portraits and household scenes.
There is not much information about Jan Vermeer’s life. He didn’t travel much outside Holland, and most of his paintings were bought by a local man.
His father was a merchant of paintings and also local inn owner. When his father died in 1652, Jan took over the business of selling paintings.
The next year in 1653 Jan married a young Catholic girl, Catherina Bolnes. A condition of the marriage was that Jan had to convert to Catholicism from his Dutch Reformed upbringing. Together they had 14 children, though 4 died before baptism.
Jan was a slow worker, producing only three paintings a year. This was partly due to his technique of granular painting. He built up layers of colour – a technique known as pointille. This enabled a depth of colour to shine through. He was meticulous in capturing the light and colour of his various subjects. Unusually, for the time, Jan often focused on simple household scenes such as The Milkmaid or the Music Lesson.
One of the most striking features of Jan Vermeer’s paintings is the radiance of light that illumines his pictures. Some art critics, such as David Hockney, have speculated that this was due to his use of a very primitive form of camera (Camera-obscura) which enabled a capture of light and exact placings.
Jan Vermeer suffered from the economic downturn which hit Holland around 1653. In 1654, his city Delft suffered a bad explosion. Though one of his most famous paintings is of Delft – choosing the half of the city not damaged.

City of Delft

More difficulties arose for the Dutch. In 1672, a sever economic depression hit – harming Jan’s art business. Holland was also invaded by French and English forces leading to panic throughout the country. Jan’s business was badly affected and perhaps as a result of the financial stress died in 1675, aged only 43.

The Girl With A Pearl Earring

A Vermeer Masterpiece, after the most recent restoration work in 1994, the subtle colours of the portrait have been brought to light. It is sometimes referred to as the “Mona Lisa” of the North.

Auguste Renoir

Along with Claude Monet and others, Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) was one of the founders of impressionism – a revolutionary new development amongst painters. He later moved on from impressionism after being deeply moved by the Italian renaissance Masters.

Biography of Auguste Renoir

Renoir was born in Limoges on 25 February 1841. His father was a tailor, and Renoir was given an apprenticeship at a porcelain painters. He then had the opportunity to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It was here that he joined Charles Gleyre’s studio and met many other young French impressionist artists.
His art was noted for its vibrant combination of colours. In classic impressionist style, he avoided rigid lines, and merged objects giving a sense of dream like consciousness. He also painted many portraits of women – often in nude. They focus not on the sexual aspect but often of everyday experiences.
Initially, the art establishment was unimpressed by the new breed of painters and the impressionists struggled to have any exhibitions. Renoir, supplemented his income by drawing more conventional portraits.
In 1881 he visited Algeria and then Italy. In Italy, he was deeply impressed by the Italian masters. After meeting Cezanne near Marseilles, Renoir sought to break away from Impressionism by developing a new structural style of his own.
Yet, he never abandoned his techniques of colour that he learnt during his impressionist period and he developed a combination of classical styles of applying paint with an impressionist perspective of colour.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century he gained increasing fame and respect. In 1892, the French state bought one of his paintings – At the Piano.
As ill-fortune would have it, his fame and greater renown also coincided with the onset of arthritis which made painting difficult and painful. But, he struggled on and continued to paint some great masterpieces.

Raphael Sanzio da Urbino

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) (1483 – April 6, 1520), was a great Italian painter. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael makes up the great trinity of the High Renaissance period. He was noted for his clarity of form and ability to convey grandeur, beauty and perfection.


Raphael was born in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marches area of Italy. His father was a court painter and Raphael followed in his father’s footsteps – gaining a wide education in the arts, literature, and social skills. This enabled Raphael to move easily amongst the higher circles of court society and this helped his career in gaining commissions. Compared to Michelangelo, Raphael was more at ease in social circles; he didn’t have the same brusqueness that got Michelangelo into trouble. His style was also considered more refined. He didn’t have the same inventive genius of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, but he had a supreme grace of painting. He concentrated on a more classical interpretation of perfection, but was still somewhat influenced by the contemporary Florence tradition.
By 1501, Raphael was held in high esteem and he gained important commissions, such as the Mond de Crucifixion in 1503.
From about 1504, Raphael lived mainly in Florence, which was a burgeoning centre of the renaissance. He became acquainted with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (whom he fell out with on numerous occasions)
Crocefissione – Raphael
In 1508, he was invited to Rome by Pope Julius II. The pope asked Raphael to paint some rooms in the Vatican. This was at the same time as Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, and although the Sistine chapel overshadowed the work of Raphael, his paintings are still considered some of the finest of European art. This work included some of masterpieces such as – The School of Athens, The Parnassus and the Disputa.

The School of Athens

The High Renaissance tribute to the ancient Greek culture. 1511
As well as being a great painter, Raphael was also a noted teacher, who could inspire his fellow pupils to greater standards. He had one of the largest art schools in Rome, with over 50 pupils. His enthusiasm and talent helped his school become a famous place of art.
As well as a painter, Raphael was also a noted architect, drawer, and with Raimondi a printmaker of his engravings.
He died in April 6 1570, aged only 37. Yet, he left behind a considerable legacy and was celebrated even during his lifetime, thousands of people attended his funeral

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Spanish painter, sculptor, ceramicist and poet. Picasso was a founder of Cubism and one of the most influential artists of the Twentieth Century. Picasso was an influential peace activist whose art touched on the horrors of war.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
– Pablo Picasso

Biography of Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881 to a conventional artistic family. From an early age, he displayed a talent for painting and began displaying his work from the age of 14. To further his artistic aspiration he left Spain for Paris where he became part of a new avant-garde movement of art.
“When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”
– Pablo Picasso
His early artistic career went through various states. One of the first stages was known as the ‘Blue Period.’ In his late-teens his paintings were dominated by different shades of dark blue; they were also often melancholic. This included a famous self-portrait where Picasso looked much older than his 20 years.
During 1904-06, Picasso entered a phase known as ‘The Rose Period’ Losing the glumness of his previous ‘Blue Period’, Picasso painted circus clowns, harlequins and people from the circus. The more cheerful and optimistic tone helped to attract an increasing number of patrons and people interested in his work. In particular, the American art collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein, and the art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.  Kahnweiler was influential in helping to put Picasso on a secure financial footing. Picasso later remarked; “What would have become of us if Kahnweiler hadn’t had a business sense?”
In 1907, Picasso continued his artistic experiments and took inspiration from African art. This led to an early form of cubism and also one of his most controversial paintings – ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ – it is a picture depicting five prostitutes in a brothel. It is an eye-catching and an original exploration of modernism in art, but when displayed in his studio the reaction from art critics was strongly negative.
In the years before the First World War, Picasso – along with artists such as Georges Braque – continued to develop a new form of painting known as ‘cubism.’ Cubism involved capturing the essence of the subject on the canvas but exaggerating certain features. The colours were invariably dull – greys, brown and neutrals.
In 1914, Picasso was living in Avignon with fellow artists. His French artist friends were called up to the army, but he was able to continue painting during the war. However, the German-born Kahnweiler was exiled from France and Picasso was left without a dealer.
In 1918, Picasso married ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Shortly after he began a fruitful relationship with the French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Rosenberg became good friends with Picasso and helped the couple settle in Paris, giving Picasso a new artistic social circle. Paris was considered an artistic hotspot of the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ attracting many innovative artists. Picasso and his wife Khokholva had a tempestuous relationship. Picasso’s bohemian nature clashed with the social graces of Khokhlova. They remained married until 1955, but Picasso had several affairs and mistresses.
In the 1920s and 30s, Picasso concentrated on more classical works of art. He became interested in depicting the human form in the style of neo-classical. To some extent, he was influenced by artists such as Renoir and Ingres, although he always retained a unique and individual expression.
Picasso had an instinctive and natural compassion for those exposed to suffering, especially if it was as a result of injustice. His natural sympathy and desire for equality led him to join the French Communist party. During the Spanish Civil War, he supported the Republicans and nursed an intense dislike of Franco and what he did to Spain.


One of Picasso’s most famous paintings was his mural of the Guernica bombing (1937). The Guernica bombing was carried out by Italian and German planes and involved the carpet bombing of civil areas. The bombing of Guernica was a significant development in modern warfare as it showed a  new capacity for extending the horrors of warfare to the civilian population. The bombing became international news through the English journalist George Steer. Picasso’s painting helped to immortalise the tragedy as a key event in the Twentieth Century.
Picasso was so enraged with Franco that he never allowed the painting to go to Spain during Franco’s lifetime. It eventually reached Spain in 1981.
Picasso was well aware of a political dimension to art.
“What do you think an artist is? …he is a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”

The Dove of Peace by Picasso

Another key painting of Picasso was his simple bird drawing a symbol of peace. Picasso donated it the Soviet-backed World Peace Congress of 1949. It was telling of a new phase in Picasso’s art – the power of simplicity. Picasso was a member of the French Communist Party until his death.
Abundant in artistic inspiration, Picasso was remarkably prolific. His total artistic work numbered close to 50,000. This included 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, and roughly 12,000. He died at the age of 91.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was the primary inspiration for the new art movement of impressionism. Along with his contemporaries, he captured the light of nature on canvass in a unique, spontaneous and vivacious style. He painted a wide range of subjects ranging from urban scenes to his own beloved formal garden. Monet strove to capture the essence of what he saw in nature, without being constrained by formal ideas of style and substance.
“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”
– Claude Monet

Biography of Claude Monet

Claude Monet was born in 14 November 1840, in Paris, France. His family soon moved to Le Havre where he grew up. His father wished him to become a grocer, but Monet’s aspirations lay in art. As he was growing up in Le Havre he developed a good reputation as a charcoal impressionist. These caricatures earned him his first income from art and encouraged him to pursue art more seriously. The money he saved from these early caricatures were to help him through difficult financial times, when his father cut him off in disappointment at his career choice.
In 1857, Monet travelled to Paris and he spent time in the Louvre. But, Monet was never satisfied with merely imitating the Old Masters, he would rather look out of a window or visit some place in nature and draw what he saw.
In 1861, Monet joined the army for a seven year stint in Algeria. But, after two years, illness enabled him to leave the army. He then tried to pursue his career in art.
In 1870, Monet married, and shortly after, the outbreak of the Franco – Prussian war encouraged him to flee to London. After a while, he spent time in Holland before returning to Paris. He settled in Paris by the river Seine, where he was in close contact with other artists of a similar outlook. These included Auguste Renoir, Sisley, Gustave and Manet.
The first ‘impressionist’ exhibition was held in April 1874; it was a contemporary critic who gave the gallery the term ‘impressionist’. The critic intended this as a criticism – the fact the paintings weren’t finished with neat lines. But, the artists took impressionism as a fitting label for the art they were pursuing.
This impressionist exhibition was a key moment in the development of modern art, it featured leading impressionists, such as Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Cézanne,  Guillaumin. It enabled these free thinking artists to break away from the conservative art world dominating the Salon de Paris. The exhibition attracted a decent attendance, though it still took time for impressionism to take off.
At the turn of the century, Monet became increasingly famous and popular as an artist. This enabled him to earn a good living. He used these funds to develop a formal garden at his property in Giverny. This proved an ideal setting for many series of paintings, such as his water lilies and bridge over a pond. For Monet, nature was a significant influence, and he spent hours absorbed in nature – especially at his garden in Giverny.
“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration. ”
– Claude Monet

Monet would later say that he may have become a painter due to the inspiration of flowers. He would also say that his greatest masterpiece was his garden.
“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
– Claude Monet
Claude Monet and the impressionist painters were particularly intrigued by the play of light and the changing colours

. Monet said of his work:
“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.”
During the First World War, he became close to George Clemanceau, the French PM . To commemorate the many Frenchmen who died in World War I, he painted a series of weeping willows out of respect for the many Frenchmen who died in the conflict.
After the war, Monet suffered a painful deterioration in his eye sight, and had to have his cataracts removed. However, despite his disability he continued to paint and continued to develop new styles and techniques.
Monet was one of the greatest modern painters. His output was prolific and he continued to develop and innovate throughout his long artistic life.
He died from lung cancer in December 1926.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, poet and architect. One of the most influential Western artists of all time.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. “
– Michelangelo

Biography of Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born on 6 March 1475, in a Florentine village called Caprese. His father was a serving magistrate of the Florentine Republic and came from an important family.
However, Michelangelo did not wish to imitate his father’s career, and was attracted by the artistic world. At the time, this was considered an inferior occupation for a family of his standing. But, aged 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, the leading fresco wall painter in Florence. Here Michelangelo learned some of the basic painting techniques, and also taught himself new skills such as sculpting.
His talents were soon noticed by one of the most powerful families in Florence – Lorezo de’ Medici. Here, at de Medici’s court, Michelangelo was able to learn from the classic Masters and he became determined to improve upon the great classics of Greek and Latin art.
Michelangelo, was born in the heart of the Renaissance movement, at exactly the right place – Florence. But, despite being at the heart of the Renaissance, Florence was undergoing tremendous political turmoil. His first patrons, the de Medici’s, lost power and Michelangelo was forced to look elsewhere for commissions. In 1496, he travelled to Rome where he began a long relationship of doing commissions for the Popes who were making St Peter’s Basilica a pinnacle of Western art. It was in 1496, that he began work on his beloved Pieta, commissioned by a French cardinal-diplomat, Jean Bilheres. The Pieta is a tender and compassionate sculpture of the Virgin Mary, nursing her crucified son – Jesus Christ. The sculpture captured so much power and tender emotion his reputation rose rapidly.
Michelangelo’s Pieta
His next most famous sculpture was his huge undertaking of a life size David. This was hewn from a huge block of marble dragged down from a nearby Florentine mine. Michelangelo created a masterpiece – a perfection of the human form – and most agreed, Michelangelo had surpassed the classic predecessors. David was put pride of place in front of the seat of Florentine government.

Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo was a contemporary of the other sublime artist of his generation – the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. However, with Michelangelo’s short temper and pride, the two had a difficult relationship. At one time, the Florentine government wanted the two genius’ of art to work side by side – each painting a side of a council chamber. But, it was not a success and neither finished.
In 1505, Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo to Rome and commissioned him in a number of projects. The first was to create a magnificent tomb. However, this ran into problems as the Pope later diverted funds to the ambitious scheme to rebuild St Peter’s. Michelangelo was quick to anger – it did not matter even if it was the Pope. But, the Pope deflected Michelangelo’s anger and through a combination of persuasion, threat and flattery, later offered Michelangelo a new commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The Creation of Adam from Sistine Chapel

This was a huge undertaking. Initially the Pope suggested scenes from the New Testament, but, Michelangelo chose the Old Testament with its great variety of characters and dramatic scenes. The project took four years to complete and involved Michelangelo working in awkward positions painting through great neck pain..
“If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius. “
– Michelangelo as quoted in Speeches & Presentations Unzipped (2007) by Lori Rozakis,

But, on completion, everyone was awestruck by the magnificence of the work. Michelangelo gained the reputation of the ‘divine Michelangelo’ – A reputation he was only too quick to encourage. Michelangelo suffered from no false modesty and always felt himself to be God’s Artist.
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
― Michelangelo
In later years, Michelangelo returned to Florence and became embroiled in politics as he helped defend the city against the attacks of the De Medici’s. When the city fell to the De Medici’s, Michelangelo feared for his life. But, his fame as the greatest artist of his generation made him too valuable to kill and he was simply given more art to work on.
In his final years, he became increasingly religious. His depth of religious feeling can be seen through his poetry and direction of his art.
The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.
– Michelangelo
Michelangelo was a unique artist who created works of such sublime beauty his reputation will always be treasured.