Archive for the ‘Mostly Fun’ Category

But not in my house!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

There’s a trope of art criticism that runs something like this: this work of art is okay, but I wouldn’t want it in my living room.

I’m not sure where and when this critical chestnut was first uttered, but was a little surprised to find a version of it issuing from the mouth of Paul Cézanne. It had been placed there by his dealer and biographer Ambroise Vollard, who naturally had a strong professional interest in the question of matching art to appropriate spaces.

You know, Monsieur Vollard, the grandiose (I don’t say it in bad part) grows tiresome after a while. There are mountains like that; when you stand before them you shout, “Nom de Dieu. . . .” But for every day a simple little hill does well enough. Listen, Monsieur Vollard, if the Raft of the Medusa hung in my bedroom, it would make me sick.”

In terms of size and subject matter, Cézanne recognizes Gericault’s famous 23-foot painting to be better suited to the Salon or to the Louvre than to a domestic space.  Better a simple mound than a sublime mountain–let alone Gericault’s  pyramid of traumatized survivors, all heaped up and desperately straining to catch the attention of a passing speck on the horizon.

It’s the type of disturbing subject that might inspire nausea and trouble the imagination–hence, perhaps, Cézanne refuses to put it in his bedroom, rather than some other room. Here, in his bedroom, it would best inspire restless nights and bad dreams. Here romanticism would ruin romance.

raft of the medusa in a bedroom

Folks, you are free to disagree, and if this is the image you want for your bedroom then there’s a website that can help you with that.

The but-not-in-my-house trope is very familiar and still circulates today but, Cézanne aside, I can’t recall other good examples. And my hunch is that the room in question–if one is specified–is more usually a living room.

Where and when, I wonder, did this critical cliché first emerge–this tendency to claim and cut-down a work of art by placing it in one’s own living space, at least in imagination?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this, and to enlist your help coming up with further good examples. If you have any, please send them to me ( and I’ll add them to this post. Together let us celebrate the fact that there are works of art in the world that have absolutely no right being in our domestic spaces!



Nov 10, 2016. This from Hels (

I suspect the comment “this work of art is okay, but I wouldn’t want it in my living room” is actually a polite way of saying “I don’t like the painting at all”. Romanticism was never romantic; it was always untamed, melodramatic and tragic.

Cezanne wasn’t always correct, but he was right to say that traumatised survivors, all heaped up, belonged in a public gallery with enormous walls.


Is the Picture Worth it? Cézanne’s Bathers come to London

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

About a month ago the British government temporarily barred the export of Cézanne’s Vue sur L’Estaque et le Château d’If, which had sold at Christie’s for £13.5 million.

A Cezanne getting the white glove treatment.

The Cézanne gets the white glove treatment.

That’s an enormous amount of money, even if it’s nowhere close to the highest sum ever paid for a Cézanne, either at auction or privately. That distinction belongs to one of the artist’s five paintings of card players, which in 2011 was bought by the royal family of Qatar for somewhere north of $250 million. But £13.5 million is still more money than I can easily grasp, and the possibility of the U.K. hanging on to the landscape made me think back to late 1964, and an occasion when the country did stump up an awful lot of cash for another painting by the artist–Les Grandes Baigneuses, one of his three late, great bather canvases.

nat gallery great bathers

Part One: Philip and George

Now a fixture at the National Gallery, London, the painting was bought in France after the French Minister of Affairs (none other than André Malraux) granted it an export license, a decision he would be soundly criticized for. Since the 1930s, the other two great bather paintings had been in Philadelphia–one in the Barnes Foundation, the other in the city’s Museum of Art. It’s hard not to feel a twinge of regret that none of the three remained in France.

The National Gallery’s acquisition was widely reported in the press and also featured in a short British Pathé newsreel, which you can watch here. Though you might suppose the story really involves French “patrimony,” that doesn’t stop the newsreel from using some still-familiar rhetoric about stopping the work from “going abroad.” “If we had not stepped in promptly,” the narrator explains, “the masterpiece would have gone to another country, and few of our own people would ever have seen it.”

pathe national gallerypathe the picture

Dated 1965, the newsreel was probably made quite early in that year. For, on January 8, 1965, the The Times had reported that “[f]rom today [the painting] is on exhibition in the Board Room at the National Gallery where it will remain for some months.” And it is the Board Room that features in the film. But why hang the work there rather than in one of the gallery’s usual rooms?

Upon its arrival in London, the Cézanne had been, as The Times noted, “relined and very slightly retouched along a joint in the canvas near the bottom.” This does not, however, explain the longer delay, which was essentially a response to the controversial nature of the acquisition. The purchase had occurred during a time of financial crisis in the UK, and many commentators thought that this was a poor use of money and that the work didn’t warrant the steep price tag. Outraged letters to newspapers were written, arguments for and against the acquisition exchanged. So the painting went up in the Board Room, where, The Times noted, it could be “guarded by special security precautions and protected by a transparent plastic shield, against the possibility of such attempts as were made to damage the Leonardo Cartoon when first exhibited at the gallery.” In 1962, ink had been thrown over Leonardo’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist shortly after it had been purchased for £800,000. The incident was still fresh in the memory. Might a similar, or worse fate, meet the controversial Cézanne?

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Virgin_and_Child_with_Ss_Anne_and_John_the_Baptist (446x600)

Leonardo’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist

From its title screen to its last rhetorical question, the British Pathé film fixates on the price of the Cézanne: “half a million pounds.”

pathe title

But let’s be clear. Though the painting may have cost around £500,000, it certainly did not cost the country that much. The Max Rayne Foundation generously donated half of the funds; while the National Gallery and the government each covered a quarter. Unlike The Times, the newsreel breezily avoids these important details, preferring instead to encourage the suspicion that “we” may have paid too much for work. “For the splendidly hygienic girls in the picture,” the narrator observes, slipping into full Austin Powers mode, “one feels that not even a rash man ever left home.” Still, “[i]t’s no use non-artistic persons getting hot under the collar, culture must be served!”

admiring the picture

Philip and George look at The Great Bathers

Let us now say goodbye to the two cultured gentlemen from the newsreel–“the National Gallery Director, Sir Philip Hendy, and Senior Executive Office, Mr. George Fox”–and exchange them for some less “admiring” alternatives. Say, these two blokes.

pete and dud 2

Pete and Dud in the National Gallery

Part Two: Pete and Dud

They are, of course, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and they are performing their “Pete and Dud” characters in episode four, season one of Not Only… But Also. Broadcast on the BBC on February 20, 1965, “The Art Gallery” skit is set in a mock room in The National Gallery; here we find Pete and Dud eating sandwiches and discussing a range of matters relating to art.

It’s a brilliant and hilarious sketch. Watch it here.

At one point, Pete asks Dud whether he has “seen that bloody Leonardo da Vinci cartoon?… I couldn’t see the bloody joke… D’you know how much it cost, though?… Five hundred Billion pounds… nah, not as much… hold on a moment. Three and eight…. Or somewhere between the two.” From here, it’s a natural segue to the subject of other expensive artworks and we are immediately presented with the precise scenario the British Pathé newsreel had only recently imagined: “two non-artistic persons getting hot under the collar” about the recently acquired Cézanne. The subject of the bathers comes up towards the end of the sketch, and we are given one answer to the film’s parting question: “Is the picture worth it?” Pete answers in the negative: “Another thing we’ve wasted money on is that bloody Cézanne…. Grand Bay-nures. Have you seen that load of rubbish?”

Earlier in the sketch, Pete discusses a cliché: the idea that, in a good portrait, a sitter’s eyes will seem to follow you. He then, implausibly, transfers this idea to Vernon Ward‘s pictures of ducks, which turn out to be just the kind of work Pete and Dud are sorry to see missing from the National Gallery.


Vernon Ward: “Ducks in the morning, ducks in the evening, ducks in the summertime!”

I’ll quote the part of their conversation about Ward, because later it has unexpected relevance to their discussion of Cézanne.

Pete: The thing what makes you know that Vernon Ward is a good painter…. If you look at his ducks. Have you even looked at his ducks?

Dud: Yeah.

P: …If you look at his ducks, you see the eyes follow you around the room. Have you noticed that?

D: Yeah, Pete.

P: If you see sixteen of his ducks, you see thirty-two little eyes following you around the room.

D: Nah, you only you sixteen, cos they’ve flying sideways. And you can’t see the other eye on the other side.

P: No. But you get the impression, Dud, that the other eye is craning around the beak to look at you, don’t you? That’s the sign of a good painting, Dud, if the eyes follow you around the room it’s a good painting. If they don’t, it isn’t.

Cézanne, needless to say, is not remembered for pictures of ducks. He did, however, once incorporate an image of geese, perhaps a copy of a lost painting by Pissarro, into the background of one of his impressionist period still-lifes. But the birds’ heads are cropped and kept out of the frame. How then, Pete and Dud might ask, can we tell whether it is a good painting or not?


Cezanne, Still-Life with Soup Tureen, c.1877

The problem persists when one considers, as Pete and Dud do, the Les Grandes Baigneuses with this “eye test” in mind. Unfortunately, many of the bathers in the work are facing away from us, and only about half of them reveal their (summarily described) eyes to the viewer.

pete and dud 1

Pete and Dud: Cézanne and sandwiches

Dud: …You can’t tell whether that’s a good painting or not, because you can’t see their eyes… whether they follow you around the room.

Pete: No, the sign of a good painting like that, Dud, with their backs towards you, is if the bottoms follow you around the room. If it’s a good painting, the bottoms would follow you around the room.

D: Will they?

P: Yeah.

D: So I’ll test it then.

P: You go and have a look.

D: Alright. I’ll go on up and see if they…..

P: They won’t bloody budge, I’ll tell you that mate.

D: Course I can’t look directly at it. Otherwise, you know, you’ll know I’m looking and they’d get all cagy. I’ll… it’ll be fine.

P: Are they moving, Dud?

D: I think they’re following me, Pete.

P: I don’t think they are, Dud.

D: I reckon they are, Pete.

P: No, those bottoms aren’t following you around the room: your eyes are following the bottoms around the room.

D: Same thing, innit?

P: Course it isn’t. There’s a good deal of difference between followed by a bottom and you following a bottom. Totally different!

pete and dud 5

“Ooooh! It’s flashing all over the place. It’s coming after you, Dud.”

The camera dollies towards the bathers and then, after a dissolve, the sketch concludes with a close-up of the bathers. Off screen, we hear Pete and Dud resolving to meet elsewhere in the gallery: “See yer in the Dutch masters.” In the sketch, the painting seems about as real as the “National Gallery” surrounding it. Looking a little too small and sporting a different frame from the one we see in the British Pathé newsreel, it’s presumably a photographic copy. Did Philip and George welcome the kind of attention that Pete and Dud were bringing to the National Gallery’s recent purchase? I doubt it.

Fifty years later, what would Pete and Dud make of Cézanne’s Vue sur L’Estaque et le Château d’If? They would certainly have to come up with a different sort of test to establish whether or not is a good painting, let alone worth £13.5 million. The landscape is sadly devoid of both eyes and bottoms.

L'Estaque with view of the Chateau d'If (393x500)

In a future post I’ll say more about the landscape and the chances of Britain coming up with enough money to keep it in the country.

Questions, comments, corrections? Contact me here.



13 ways of looking at Giacomo Balla’s “The Hand of the Violinist”

Monday, May 11th, 2015

In a recent exam, I asked my student to attempt to identify an unknown work of art. The work in question was an oil painting, Giacomo Balla’s Hand of the Violinist (1912)–or a slightly cropped version of it. Wouldn’t do to show the artist’s signature at the very bottom of the work!

Balla, Hand of the Violinist, 1912.

Balla, Hand of the Violinist, 1912.

I typically ask my students to make educated guesses concerning the artist, date, medium, and the “subject or type of subject matter.” Most do very well, but this time the subject matter proved much trickier than I had envisaged. Most correctly identified a violin and/or the hand of a violinist. But many did not.

Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns

Here, then, are thirteen ways of looking at Balla’s Hand of the Violinist. They range from the dead-on to the what-the-heck.

“A man playing the violin (or his arm anyways)… the violin is drawn multiple times, rising from the middle up to the left margin of the work, becoming ‘clearer’ as it does so. The hand also clears as it moves up, its fingers crisscrossing multiple times as the multiple perspectives from different moments in time overlap in his wrist.”

“The subject matter appears to be stringed instruments. A violin is either being brought up or put down. The rest of the painting emulates the vibrations of strings, almost as if there is a harp in between the viewer and the violin.”

"Almost as if there is a harp..."

“Almost as if there is a harp…”

“Looks like the subject matter is the dynamism of someone playing the guitar—the beginnings of the interest in cinema, study of motion… To be moving around this much, the upbeat music must have been what influenced him.”

“Byzantine theme.”

the-hand-of-the-violinist-1912.jpg!HD, detail 5

“Like a fiery setting sun…”

“I’m not sure about the subject matter, kind of looks like a fiery setting sun.”

“The image kind of looks like a duck flying but it definitely portrays motion.”

the-hand-of-the-violinist-1912.jpg!HD, detail 3

“Kind of looks like a duck”

“When I first look at it, it looks like an abstract painting. Then I squint I can see there are dogs lined up on the track as they are [illegible] to race. Some have their heads down and some have their heads up. The gold makes it hard to tell what’s happening in the foreground.”

“Subject matter is difficult–maybe it is a dog of some sort or a farming field.”

“It appears to show someone working in a field—perhaps a farmer of some sort.”

A figure running diagonally?

A figure running diagonally?

“This unknown seems to test the boundaries of time in space by depicting what looks to be a figure running diagonally from the top left to bottom right.”

“A war piece; I say this because the picture looks as if it’s a struggle between some people which puts me at a mind of war.”

“You can see in the painting what seems to be praying hands and what seems to be people dancing within the background. The hands also seem to be reaching for something, so instead of praying, they’re grasping for the dancing figure infused into the painting.”

“It is of folded and unfolded hands, unfolding”


So what do you see in Balla’s painting? Click here to comment.

The Ins and Outs of Banksy and Cezanne

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

No sooner do I blog about Cézanne’s letters than a certain street artist–Banksy by name–quotes from these very letters on his new website: By the looks of it, the site will cover his shenanigans in New York, where he will be for the next month. The street, the caption for the main image informs us, is in play. I’ll return to that image later.

banksyny page, with Cezanne quote circled.

Banksy announces his main theme at the top of the website: “better out than in.” It’s an expressionist’s manifesto (don’t bottle it up!) and a phrase I’ve always associated with belching. But it could also easily extend to other bodily acts. In a recent Los Angeles piece, Banksy links it to puking and gives the “out,” the floral vomit, a sculptural dimension.

Banksy, Better out than in, 2013

Banksy, Better out than in, 2013

Bansky’s “out” is also, of course, the art of the street, rather than the “in” of the studio (and by extension, the gallery and the museum). This brings us nicely to the quote he takes from Cézanne’s letters, where “outside” means landscape painting:

Cezanne quote from

Cézanne quote from

Banksy finds some kinship with the Nineteenth Century and a kind of historical justification for street art, but only by cheekily ripping the quote out of context. That’s part of the fun.

Scholastic aside: he uses the version of the quote given in John Rewald’s edition of the letters, rather than the one in Alex Danchev’s just-published version. (Heavens forbid that we might struggle with Cézanne’s French.) Here is the quote in a fuller context, as it appears in Danchev’s translation: “You know, all the paintings done indoors, in the studio, will never be as good as the things done outdoors. In showing outdoor scenes, the contrast between the figures and the ground are astonishing, and the landscape is magnificent. I see some superb things, and I must resolve to paint only out of doors.”*

Cézanne wrote the letter to Emile Zola and it’s dated 19 October 1866, which makes it a very early declaration of plein-air principles. The letter includes a number of pencil sketches of paintings Cézanne was then working on. One of the paintings, he explains, features two of their friends, “Marion and Valabregue leaving for the motif (a landscape of course).” Reproduced below is an oil sketch Cézanne made of the same subject.

Marion and Valabregue setting out for the motif, oil study

Cézanne: Marion and Valabregue setting out for the motif, oil study

Cézanne creates an origin story for landscape painting–the companionable departure of the well-equipped artists, the search for the motif, and the anticipated conversion of nature into paintings.

Banksy, too, makes his own kind of origin myth and one that likewise involves an act of male camaraderie, albeit now with a touch of illegality added. An old-timey street urchin helps his partner in crime reach for some incongruously modern equipment. We imagine the activation of the can and this spray will serve as the final proof of the adage. For, from the point of view of the street artist, aerosolized pigment is also “better out than in.”

Banksy, The Street is in Play

Banksy, The Street is in Play

*Mais, vois-tu, tous les tableaux faits à l’intérieur, dans l’atelier, ne vaudront jamais les choses faites en plein air. En représentant des scènes du dehors, les oppositions des figures sur les terrains sont étonnantes, et le paysage est magnifique. Je vois des choses superbes, et il faut que je me résolve à ne faire que des choses en plein air.

Dictionary of Received Ideas (arty edition)

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

I’ve always enjoyed Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idées reçues, his inventory of bromides, clichés, and platitudes. (Would listing things in groups of three qualify?!)

Below, I’ve excerpted most of the entries of relevance to the visual arts, and have added some images and links. The translation is by Jacques Barzun and I recommend the larger book, which you can buy here.


ALABASTER. Its use is to describe the most beautiful parts of a woman’s body.

AMPHITHEATER. You will know of only one, that of the Beaux-Arts School.

ANGEL. Eminently suitable for love and literature.

ANTIQUES. Always modern fakes.


ARCHITECTS. All idiots: they always forget to put in the stairs.


ARCHITECTURE. There are but four architectural orders. Forgetting, of course, the Egyptian, Cyclopean, Assyrian, Hindoo, Chinese, Gothic, Romanesque, etc.

ART. Shortest path to the poorhouse. What use is it since machinery can make things better and quicker?

ARTISTS. All charlatans. Praise their disinterestedness (old-fashioned). Express surprise that they dress like everyone else (old-fashioned). They earn huge sums and squander them. Often asked to dine out. Woman artist necessarily a whore. What artists do cannot be called work.

BASILICA. Grandiose synonym for church. Always: “an impressive basilica.”


BLACK AS. Follow invariably with “your hat” or “pitch.” As for “jet black,” what is jet?

BRONZE. Metal of the classic centuries.

CABINET MAKER. Craftsman who works mostly in mahogany.

CATHOLICISM. Has had a good influence on art.

CENSORSHIP. “Say what you will, it’s a good thing.”

CHIAROSCURO. Meaning unknown.

COUNTERFEITERS. Always work below ground.

CRIMSON. Nobler word than red.

Daumier, The Influential Critic at the Salon

Daumier, The Influential Critic at the Salon

CRITIC. Always “eminent.” Supposed to know everything, read everything, see everything. When you dislike him, call him a Zoilus, a eunuch.

CRUCIFIX. Looks well above a bedstead–or the guillotine.

Signature of Queen Elizabeth I

Signature of Queen Elizabeth I

CURLICUES (AROUND A SIGNATURE). The more complicated, the more beautiful.

DAGUERREOTYPE. Will replace painting. (See PHOTOGRAPHY.)

DELFT. More swank than “china.”

DOLMEN. Has to do with the old Gauls. Stone used for human sacrifice. Found only in Brittany. Knowledge ends there.

Dome of the Invalides, Paris

Dome of the Invalides, Paris

DOME. Tower with an architectural shape. Express surprise that it stays up. Two can be named: the Dome of the Invalides; that of St. Peter’s in Rome.

DRAWING (art of). “Consists of three things: line, stippling and fine stippling. There is, in addition, the masterstroke; but the masterstroke can only by given by the master” (Christophe).

DUPUYTREN. Famous for his salve and his museum.

ECLECTICISM. Thunder against as being an immoral philosophy.

ENAMEL. The secret of this art is lost.

ERECTION. Said only of monuments.

Etruscan Vase, British Museum

Etruscan Vase, British Museum

ETRUSCAN. All antique vases are Etruscan.

EUNUCH. Never can have children… Fulminate against the castrati singers of the Sistine Chapel.

FACADE (OF BUILDINGS). Great men look well when sculptured in front of.

david's figleaf

Figleaf for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s copy of Michelangelo’s David

FIGLEAF. Emblem of virility in the art of sculpture.

FOREHEAD. Wide and bald, a sign of genius, or of self-confidence.


Raphael, La Fornarina

FORNARINA. She was a beautiful woman. That is all you need to know.

FOSSIL. A proof of the Flood. A joke in good taste when alluding to a member of the Academy.

FRESCO PAINTING. No longer done.

GENIUS. No point admiring–it’s a neurosis.

gobelins tapestry

Gobelins tapestry

GOBELINS. A tapestry of this kind is an amazing piece of work, it takes fifty years to make. On seeing it, exclaim: “It is more beautiful than a painting!” The workman does not even know what he is about.

GOTHIC. Architectural style which inspires religious feeling to a greater degree than others.

HANDWRITING. A neat hand leads to the top. Undecipherable: a sign of deep science, e.g. doctors’ prescriptions.

Welsh bard saved as jpg

HARP. Gives out celestial harmonies. In engravings, is only played next to ruins or on the edge of a torrent. Shows off the arm and hand.

HIEROGLYPHICS. Language of the ancient Egyptians, invented by the priests to conceal their shameful secrets. “Just think! There are people who understand hieroglyphics! But after all, the whole thing may be a hoax…”

IDEALISM. The best of all philosophic systems.

IMAGINATION. Always “lively.” Be on guard against it. When lacking in oneself, attack it in others. To write a novel, all you need is imagination.

IMPRESARIO. Artist’s word meaning Manager. Always preceded by “clever.”

INCRUSTATION. Applies only to mother-of-pearl.

INDIA-RUBBER. Made of horse’s scrotum.


INSCRIPTION. Always “cuneiform.”

INSPIRATION (POETIC). Brought on by: a sight of the sea, love, women, etc.

IVORY. Refers only to teeth.

JAPAN. Everything there is made of China.

JASPER. All vases in museums are made of jasper.

KALEIDOSCOPE. Used only to describe picture exhibitions.

KEEPSAKE. Only to be found on every drawing-room table.

Courbet, View of Ornans

Courbet, View of Ornans

LANDSCAPES (ON CANVAS). Always so much spinach.

LOCKET. Must contain a lock of hair or a photograph.

LUXURY. The downfall of great states.


Made of Parian marble: The Nike of Samothrace

MARBLE. Every statue is made of Parian marble.

MODELLING. In front of a statue, say: “The modelling is not without charm.”

MOSAIC. The secret of the art is lost.

Versailles. Recalls the days of the nation’s history. A splendid idea of Louis Philippe’s.
The Louvre. To be avoided by young ladies.
Dupuytren. Recommended for young men.

NATURE. How beautiful is Nature! Repeat every time you are in the country.

Ingres, Grande Odalisque

Ingres, Grande Odalisque

ODALISQUES. All women in the Orient are odalisques.

ORIENTALIST. Far-flung traveler.

ORIGINAL. Make fun of everything that is original, hate it, beat it down, annihilate it if you can.

PAINTING ON GLASS. The secret of the art is lost.

PALM TREE. Supplies local colour.

Nadar, Portrait of Flaubert

Nadar, Portrait of Flaubert

PHOTOGRAPHY. Will make painting obsolete. (See DAGUERREOTYPE.)

PRIESTLY CALLING. “Art, medicine, etc. are so many priestly callings.”

PYRAMID. Useless edifice.

Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa

Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa

RAFT. Always “of the Medusa.”

RUINS. Induce reverie; make a landscape poetic.

SALON. To write up the Salon is a good beginning in literature; it allows a man to cut a figure.

SCENERY (STAGE). Isn’t real painting. The only skill required is to splash paint on the cloth and smear it with a broom–distance and lighting do the rest.

Vasari, Apelles and the Cobbler

Vasari, Apelles and the Cobbler

SHOEMAKER. Let the shoemaker stick to his last.

STARK. Whatever is antique is stark, and whatever is stark is antique. Bear this firmly in mind when buying antiques.

WHITEWASH (ON CHURCH WALLS). Thunder against. This aesthetic anger is most becoming.

WINDMILL. Looks well in a landscape.

Art History T-Shirt Woot (Redux)!

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

I started the 2012-13 academic year blogging about my so-called art history wardrobe, and thought I’d return to the topic for my last post of the year.

At some point since that first post, made its entire back catalogue available online. That’s over 2,100 t-shirts designs, most of which can be printed to order.

Here, then, are all the ones with conspicuous art historical themes or styles. Clicking on to the picture will take you to the online catalog. As you will see, Leonardo, Art Nouveau (the Mucha-esque) and Escher seem to be perennial favourites, closely followed by Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Munch.

Have fun looking at them, and please use the comments section to share links to any other art history t-shirts that are out there.

Ancient and Medieval

tgentry: Druid Leap Year


Lucky1988: Ancient Egyptian Plumber


Ian Leino: If You Want to Destroy My Chainmail


High Renaissance

tgentry: Who Is That Bearded Vigilante?!?


kdeuce: To the Top in the Style of Da Vinci


Spiritgreen: You Can’t Catch Me


ramyb: Leonardo


David Creighton-Pester (a.k.a. WonderingBert): Monalisaur


Robert Gould: Divine Connection


Valorandvellum: Shh, The Rat Is Our Patron



Vinicius Carvus: The Anatomy Lesson


tgentry: Plumber in the Style of Rembrandt



rglee129: The Sleep of Reason


Radscoolian: Pip-squeak


Van Gogh

theinfinityloop: Vincent’s Alternative


artguyaaron: ASCII Night



Jonah Block: The Ice Scream


walmazan: The Mrowr


Art Nouveau (and the Mucha-esque)

Radscoolian: Mort-vivant



Patrickspens: Yggdrasil Tree


DianaSprinkle: Cat Nouveau


colinvh: Cranes Nouveau


ramyb: Fox Nouveau


The Escheresque

Chucklenorris: Immortal Falls


fofmock: Some Game Involving Falling Blocks in the Style of M. C. Escher


tgentry: M. C. Escher: Space Planner for Hire


walmazan: Fly Away


ORabbit: Platonic Love


Miscellaneous 20th Century

Dave Graff: Cubism


Robbie Lee: Blue (Never)Nude


klswoot: (W)Right Angle Neutrality


Paul Burgess: Popstical lllusion


wirdou: That’s No Moon (lights on)

wirdou: That’s No Moon (lights off)


Terry Peppers: Starcheology


[Legal disclaimer: The fact that I did not receive payment from shirt.woot for featuring their t-shirts in this post, as well as in the earlier post, does not guarantee that I will refuse any free shirts that they happen to send in my direction.]

Note to Lord Byron*

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Goya, Daumier, Cezanne? Look:
Those apples Auden left? I took.


*”To me Art’s subject is the human clay, / And landscape but a background to a torso; / All Cézanne’s apples I would give away / For one small Goya or a Daumier.” (W. H. Auden: Letter to Lord Byron, 1937)

Art History T-Shirt Woot!

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Aaaagggghh! The new school year beckons and life will soon become a lot more hectic. It’s time to look at calendars, devise courses, write syllabi, and plan one’s autumn art history wardrobe!

Those who know me will have no trouble identifying this last item as the odd one out. I’m a reliably disheveled looking professor: I don’t care much about what I wear; my beard is not so much a beard as the absence of a shaving regime; and I generally try to extend the time between my haircuts far beyond the culturally suggested period of six weeks.

Fortunately I work in an art department and we have a relaxed dress code–if, indeed, there is a dress code at all. Nobody’s told me. But this semester, I thought I’d plan my wardrobe or, to put it more modestly and accurately, I thought I’d go online and buy a few new t-shirts, each featuring an art history theme. So over I surfed to and, before long, I had found three candidates.


ASCII Night by artguyaaron

One shirt featured a binary-code version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.


Leonardo by ramyb

Another riffed on the Leonardo-as-ninja-turtle theme, showing him busily working on a Vitruvian turtle. (Pedantic critique: would Leonardo really have used an easel to make his drawing? And shouldn’t our Leoturtle be using his left flipper, not his right? It’s enough to drive an art historian mad!)


The Mrowr by walmazan

Finally, there was a weird version of Munch’s The Scream, featuring cats chasing a tantalizingly out-of-reach morsel (identified by the designer as a “grilled beef patty”). I like the title of this shirt: not The Scream or The Cry, but The MrowrJames Joyce would have approved.

Reader, I bought all three.

Admittedly three t-shirts do not a wardrobe make. Still, I’m looking forward to donning these shirts for those when days I’m teaching related portions of my art history survey class. They’ll be talking points for both me and the students. And at least for a moment, part of my outfit will be somewhat coordinated with something else: the image on the screen.

[Legal disclaimer: The fact that I did not receive payment from shirt.woot for featuring their t-shirts in this post does not guarantee that I will refuse any free shirts that they happen to send in my direction.]


Yours Truly

Spidey’s (Art History) Sense

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

It was the fourth and last exam of the semester, so I was surprised to find a new (yet strangely familiar!) name on an answer sheet.

Mr Parker ignored the first half of the test (multiple choice questions) but felt strangely attracted to section three, the unknowns. For he, too, has a secret identity! But rather than guess who had made the images, he opted to draw them. Quite sensitively, I might add.

To unmask these super artists yourself, click here and here.

For the final section of the exam, the comparison essay, Mr. Parker called in a more physically imposing friend to help him out. “Spidey take test? Hulk take test, too!”

Alas, FERPA regulations forbid me from disclosing whether the exam passed or failed. But I can say that this professor is regularly amused by his classroom comics.

Art History Bacon

Friday, March 9th, 2012
From Vampires to Vincent Van Gogh, eternal life to still-life. People and/or cultural objects form the connections.













The vampire (1) enjoys eternal life and eternal popularity—thanks most recently to the Twilight series of novels and films (2). Robert Pattinson, one of the stars of the films, now appears in Bel Ami (3), an adaptation of the 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant (4). Vincent van Gogh (5), an enthusiastic reader of Maupassant, included Bel Ami in his Still-Life with Plaster Statuette (1887), which was painted a decade before Bram Stoke published Dracula (1).

1. “Castle Dracula,” illustration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)
2. Twilight publicity poster (1998)
3. Bel Ami publicity poster (2012)
4. Photograph of Guy de Maupassant (Undated, New York Public Libraries)
5. Self-Portrait, Vincent Van Gogh (1889, Musée d’Orsay)
6. Still-Life with Plaster Statuette, Rose, and Two Novels, Van Gogh (1887, Kröller-Müller Museum)