It seems at times that all kinds of odd characteristics and behaviour go with the job of being an artist…
French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) was working on a group of winter landscapes.
The pictures were set in very beautiful and spectacular mountainous countryside and featured an oak tree and a river.
Things were not going well at all…
Claude had fallen behind with his painting schedule.
While he was struggling with the changes in the weather, spring had crept up on him and covered the oak tree with leaves.
The bare tree was to have been the main feature in many of the winter landscapes.
So, Claude went to see the local mayor and asked permission to remove the leaves from the tree…
Two men from the local village came with ladders and spent the next two days removing all the leaves from the tree.
A 98-year-old man described seeing Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) when the artist came to paint in the countryside around his home:
“I used to see him on his knees, holding his hands up to his eyes.
Then he would sway from side to side, tilting his head from one side to the other.”
Vincent would work on a picture, wearing only his underwear and a straw hat and smoking a pipe.
He would sit staring at the picture for a bit, then leap at it, as if he were going to attack it.
Then he would paint two or three quick strokes and sit down again.
Vincent lived and worked in the middle of one huge disgusting and chaotic grotty mess.
He often borrowed his brother Theo’s best clothes then leave them lying around his studio all jumbled up with dirty brushes and wet canvases.
He used Theo’s clean socks to wipe his brushes on.
Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959) was a British artist who painted lots of scenes from the Bible set in his home village of Cookham and portraying the ordinary people of his own time as the main characters.
He used toilet rolls as sketch pads.
He was fond of pushing a pram (baby buggy) around, containing his bouncing brushes and colours and easel and canvases, which he was transporting to his favourite painting spots.
Stan found the pram’s folding hood particularly useful for protecting his precious paintings from sudden showers of rain.
18th century portrait painter, Thomas Gainsborough painted with brushes that were six feet long, as he liked to stand at the same distance from his canvases as he was standing from his model to ensure absolute accuracy in perspective and proportion.
When he wasn’t doing portraits, Thomas painted marvellous landscapes, but rather than go out to Nature, he brought Nature into his studio – sometimes bringing whole tree branches or farm animals into his workroom.
Forget about a community spirit amongst artists…
Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906): “A thousand artists should be killed every year!”
Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka (1898 – 1980) thought it quite a good idea to burn down the Louvre to get rid of all the old art in the world.
Tamara and her group of fellow Futurists gathered in a cafe to plot the destruction of the Louvre and only the disaster of having their car, intended for use in the arson, towed away for being illegally parked, saved the Louvre for posterity.
Francis Bacon was very fond of black hair and white teeth, so he regularly coloured his hair with black boot polish and whitened his teeth with toilet cleaner.
The English landscape painter, Joseph Turner, would put in bids for his own pictures at auctions in order to bump up the price.
If anyone tried to watch him when he was painting, he immediately covered up his work so that his techniques could not be copied.
He once had himself lashed to a mast of a ship during a really fierce storm at sea, so that he could carry on sketching the terrible weather conditions without being swept overboard.
Artists have strong ideas about what they wish to achieve and the way they will set about it.
Being a free spirit – sticking to your ideas, come what may – and not following the crowd, even if it means that you are thought of as odd or different by the rest of society, is perhaps an essential part of being an artist.
But where is the line between madness and genius to be drawn?