Blurred Lines

The mere word Lolita immediately conjures unsavory images of pedophilia, incest and murder. I was surprised, then, upon reading Nabokov’s classic, to find that it was one of the best books I had ever read, but often for banal reasons.

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Renoir’s Girl with Pink Bonnet, displayed at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, which I just had the pleasure of visiting last week.

It’s often the sunlit scenes, not the sordid ones, which stick out most in my memory. Describing her tennis game:

My Lolita had a way of raising her bent left knee at the ample and springy start of the service cycle when there would develop and hang in the sun for a second a vital web of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished arm and far back-flung racket, as she smiled up with gleaming teeth at the small globe suspended so high in the zenith of the powerful and graceful cosmos she had created for the express purpose of falling upon it with a clean resounding crack of her golden whip.

He describes chess the way only a chess player could.

In my chess sessions with Gaston I saw the board as a square pool of limpid water with rare shells and stratagems rosily visible upon the smooth tessellated bottom, which to my confused adversary was all ooze and squid-cloud.

“I suppose,” he adds, “I am especially susceptible to the magic of games.”

It all sounds so natural, so reasonable. Only when the reader recalls the appalling content of some of the book’s other pages does the cruel flippancy of the author’s testament come into focus. Games? How, at a time like this, could he be talking about games? Continue reading

Sunrise at Montmajour

Today, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal: Sunset at Montmajour, thought for a century to be a fake, turns out to be a real Van Gogh!  New technology in paint analysis confirmed that the pigments used in Sunset were the same as those taken from Van Gogh’s palette in Arles, the southern-France town where the artist is believed to have painted the work.

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Alex Ruger, curator of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, presents “Sunset at Montmajour”. Note the Montmajour Abbey on the far left of the painting.

The painting had been passed from owner to owner, selling for very little each time.  It spent over 50 years lying in an attic.  It underwent several reassessments, but each concluded that Sunset was no Van Gogh.  Now, though, it’ll serve as a lead act at the prestigious Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam—one of the very museums that had called it a fake several decades earlier!  Its value hasn’t been assessed, but Sunset could be worth well over 50 million dollars.

This entire situation prompts a serious reevaluation of what creates value in art.   Continue reading