Random links: bismuth crystals, paper bags, dick pics, and more

Bismuth crystals in my rock collection. Photo credit Amy M Lavine 2016.
Bismuth crystals in my rock collection. Photo credit Amy M Lavine 2016.

What’s the deal with bismuth crystals?

The humble, ubiquitous, and utterly useful paper bag owes its existence to Margaret Knight, one of the most successful female inventors of the nineteenth century.

This is cute! A Wikimedia Commons category for families of painters.

Not so cute: An art history retrospective of depictions of mental illness and those suffering from it.

Related: The history of fecal matter and other excreta as fine art materials.

Related: Unsolicited dick pics as fine art.

Oh how I love The Toast: “According to Bruegel, ‘being dead’ means hanging out with your skeleton pals and tormenting the living — which is a way better afterlife than the current alternates.”


On the difference between real art and mere decoration, at least legally speaking

The Ninth Circuit ruled last week in Cheffins v. Stewart that a replica of a 16th century Spanish galleon was not a “work of visual art” protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). Rather, the replica was basically just a school bus with very elaborate ship decorations, and its utilitarian nature made it merely “applied art,” which is not protected by VARA.

A photo of La Contessa from the Friends of La Contessa Facebook page.


The replica—named La Contessa—was created by Simon Cheffins and Gregory Jones and was displayed at several Burning Man festivals in the early 2000s. It was built using a school bus as its foundation, with various ship elements added around this frame, and Burning Man participants used it both for gatherings and for transportation on the playa. After the 2005 Burning Man festival, Cheffins and Jones received permission to store La Contessa on property located in Nevada. The property owner’s life estate terminated shortly thereafter, however, and the land was transferred to the defendant, Michael Stewart, who burned La Contessa down in December 2006 so that it could be removed from the property.

Cheffins and Jones sued Stewart under the Visual Artists Rights Act, which allows artists to protect their artworks from being destroyed, but the Ninth Circuit found that La Contessa was “applied art” and therefore wasn’t covered by the law, which only protects “works of visual art.” So-called “applied art,” the court explained, has been defined to include objects like La Contessa that consist of “two-and three-dimensional ornamentation or decoration that is affixed to otherwise utilitarian objects.” The line between “real art” and “applied art” may seem thin, but the court also explained that the focus should be on “whether the object in question originally was—and continues to be—utilitarian in nature…. “applied art” would not include a piece of art whose function is purely aesthetic or a utilitarian object which is so transformed through the addition of artistic elements that its utilitarian functions cease.”

amy m lavine artist attorneyAmy M Lavine is an attorney and artist based in Hudson, NY. To contact her about this article or any other art law issues, send her a message at amy_lavine@hotmail.com.

The sexy and bizarre art history behind Ingres’ three-armed woman

In the midst of planning some figure drawing classes, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately researching art history nudes. Mostly this is a fairly tasteful and predictable task, but then the other day, seemingly out of nowhere, I found this image:

What is this woman doing with three arms!?

I spend a lot of time looking through images, but I’d never seen this Femme aux trois bras before. I was truly surprised, especially considering that she was painted by Ingres, whose work I’m very familiar with, and not some obscure artist that hardly anyone remembers. I was also delighted though, because there’s something strange and whimsical about this image, and because it offers a rare glimpse into the story and process behind a rather famous painting, Le bain turc.

This Victorian erotica was apparently based on the story of a Turkish harem with 200 nude women.

Ingres began Le bain turc around 1850, although his original commission to the prince Napolean fell through, as did his second attempt to sell the painting to a Russian prince. By the time he finally finished the painting more than a decade later, he’d apparently decided to go with the version of the arm stretched upward and wrapped around the lady’s head, which is interesting because, based on the study, it seems that the arm was first intended to be held in her lap.

Another, more typical study for Le bain turc.

Le bain turc was apparently just too sexy for the times. While Ingres eventually found a buyer with a secret collection of erotic paintings, the artwork was more publicly denounced as a “cake full of maggots” by the artist Paul Claudel. The Louvre even refused to take it as a donation–not once, but twice–before finally accepting it in 1911.

FullSizeRenderAmy Lavine is the owner of a Sketch, an art supply and framing shop in Hudson, NY. She’s also an attorney and the author of dozens of legal articles and academic texts. You can contact Amy at amy_lavine@hotmail.com.

Let’s talk about sunsets in art

There’s a reason why the Hudson River School artists were obsessed with sunsets, and it’s because sunsets in the Hudson Valley are freaking incredible. Some of my favorite sunsets in art are relatively simple sketches and studies done by Frederic Edwin Church, like this one:

Frederic Edwin Church, Drawing, Sunset at Hudson, New York, c. 1860 (Cooper Hewitt)

Yup. That’s basically the view from my roof:

26915772250_93baedd7fe_oAdmittedly my photograph isn’t that amazing, but at least I’m not trying to write poetry about it.

Here’s another incredible sunset sketch from Frederic Edwin Church. It’s a strange and unusual gem among his many sunsets, and you kinda have to wonder what inspired him to paint it in such a modern, graphic style.

Drawing, 1917-4-1261, 186070
Frederic Edwin Church, Drawing, Landscape at Sunset, c. 1860-1870 (Cooper Hewitt)

Anyway, sunsets in art are kinda fascinating for more than just their good looks. For instance, particularly impressive years for sunsets in art have been identified by cross-referencing the dates of volcanic eruptions, which increase atmospheric aerosols and particulates and tend to cause especially vivid sunsets. This kind of analysis has been used to study historic atmospheric conditions and climate change, and its also been relied by art historians. It’s been theorized, for example, that Edvard Munch’s The Scream was actually inspired by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, even though he painted the iconic work nearly 10 years later.

The fiery sunset Edvard Munch put in the background of the Scream was probably inspired by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

We may not have definitive proof, but Munch’s own explanation of the painting also seems to support the Krakatoa theory: “I was walking along the road with two friends—then the Sun set—all at once the sky became blood red—and I felt overcome with melancholy. I stood still and leaned against the railing, dead tired—clouds like blood and tongues of fire hung above the blue-black fjord and the city. My friends went on, and I stood alone, trembling with anxiety. I felt a great, unending scream piercing through nature.”

Cover-up framing

I just finished reframing an old print that unfortunately had some water damage, visible in the photo below as a thin streak running down the left side and rippling along the bottom edge.

amymlavine-waterdamage1Discoloration caused by water damage usually pervades the entire sheet and can’t simply be erased or removed by scraping away surface staining. Bleaching is an option, but the risk of increasing the damage often outweighs the possibility of removing the stain. In a lot of cases, water damage can simply be covered up or camouflaged, however. This piece is a great example, as just adding a mat covered up almost all of the visible damage. I was able to hide the discoloration just a little bit more by applying some pastel dust very precisely with a very small brush.

Here’s a close up of the top left corner, before and after:

amymlavine-waterdamge-beforeafter The new mat brightened the piece up considerably in addition to hiding the water damage, and it’s a big improvement conservation-wise over the original framing, which had the print pressed right up against the glass. If water gets into the frame again, the mat will now provide some protection and help prevent the artwork from incurring more damage.

amymlavine-waterdamagefinalArtwork tends to be a fragile thing. Even pieces that are well cared-for often start to show signs of damage as they age, whether through the natural degradation of materials, environmental damage, or though unexpected physical trauma. As a framer, my foremost goal is always to preserve and protect artwork from these dangers, but as in this case, framing can have a secondary purpose of covering up preexisting damage and improving its overall appearance.

amymlavine 2016nThis post was written by Amy M. Lavine, the owner and resident framer at Sketch Art Supplies in Hudson, NY. If you have questions about framing or artwork conservation, feel free to email Amy at sketchhudson@gmail.com or call the shop at 518-828-9573.

Links: who says art is only for humans?

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The monkey-painter (1833).

Some links documenting various intersections between art and the animal kingdom:

  • These flies make art with their puke.
  • The American Society for Microbiology sponsored a petri dish art competition last year, and some clever scientists coaxed their microbes to make a passable reproduction of van Gogh’s Starry Night.
  • That time in the 1960s when a journalist passed off a chimpanzee’s paintings as the work of a new “avante-garde” artist and even managed to sell some of the artwork to an unwitting collector.
  • A polar bear at an Australian zoo was given some paints to play with a few months ago, but his art mostly wasn’t very good.
  • On Carl Struwe and the fine art of diatom photography.
  • Ernst Haeckel’s embryo drawings are iconic, but when they were first published they were denounced as fabricated evidence for the existence of evolution, and allegations of fraud have persisted since then.
  • Giraffes in art and illustration.
  • Red is almost universally considered a color of dominance and sexual prowess, and it certainly is among birds. New research shows that the gene for red coloration in canaries and finches also makes red birds better at processing dietary toxins.
  • Octopus ink lasts a really, really long time.

FullSizeRender-7This delightful link list was posted by Amy M. Lavine on May 23, 2016.

Links to amuse: fancy dice, the obsolescence of skill, and art history video games

I'm a big fan of nonstandard dice. Photo credit Amy M. Lavine 2016 (Flickr).
I’m a big fan of nonstandard dice. Photo credit Amy M. Lavine 2016 (Flickr).

It makes me very happy to learn that the Dice Lab exists, and that they’ve created a 120-sided die, otherwise known as a disdyakis triacontahedron. Because I read about this in a New Yorker article, I also learned that that 12-sided dice were popular among sixteenth-century fortune-tellers and that a 20-sided Roman die fetched nearly $18,000 at auction in 2003.

Competitive rock paper scissors is apparently a thing now, which pretty much defies any real distinction between games of chance and games of skill. Experts on the game claim that it does actually require skill, since humans are very bad at making random throws and players with more practice can exploit this weakness in their opponents.

You probably won’t become a chess grandmaster unless you learned the game as a toddler.

A new video game is based on the mathematics behind Islamic geometric patterns and it’s both educational and quite beautiful. Another new video game and rather genius portmanteau combines Mondrian paintings and Pong to create MondriPong.

Balloons were invented in 1824, but it wasn’t until the 1930s or 1940s that people figured out how to make balloon animals.

amymlavine silly eyesPosted by Amy M. Lavine on May 18, 2016.


ALL OF MY OTHER SOCIAL MEDIAS, in case you were curious:

  • CLAWMARKS. What started as a small collection of vintage images (mostly dogs and cats wearing silly outfits) has grown into something that I’m really proud of.  CLAWMARKS  is now my primary image reference library, and it’s a pretty stellar collection of scientific illustration, fine art, and other bizarre ephemera that I’ve found over the years. It’s mostly public domain too.
  • MY OTHER BLOG. Tumblr’s great, but you can only post 10 images at a time, so when I’ve collected a larger grouping of images I post them on my other blog, often with some background info. Some recent posts, for example, focused on marbled paper patterns, palm reading illustrations, and different types of color charts.
  • SKETCH Hudson. Oy, if only I had the same motivation to work on my business website as I have to mess around on tumblr… The best place to find news and general information about SKETCH is usually on Facebook.
  • FLICKR. One of the coolest things about running an art supply store is documenting all the stuff I sell, like pencils that write in rainbow colors, lapis lazuli gemstones, and so many different kinds of paint. That’s not even taking into account the things people bring me to frame and the random doodles that seem to collect on my desk. I keep photos of all of this stuff over on my flickr page.
  • SKETCHY AMY. I started using Pinterest recently and it’s taken my image hoarding to a whole new level. I probably need professional help. I probably should also change my username to something that’s not “SketchyAmy”….
  • PROFESSIONAL AMY. Oh hey, my life isn’t ALL fun and games. I’m also an academic attorney with dozens of published articles and speaking credits. My full CV is available at Linkedin and you can download some of my legal articles at SSRN.

Last but not least…

  • OH SNAP! I’m not sharing my snapchat alias out in the open, but I will take the opportunity to share this snap of me and my cat:amymlavine catface

Assorted links: Dali, marbled paper, and art history cat toys

Just one example of marbled paper patterns.

Feast your eyes on this collection of marbled papers (there’s also a part two!).

Famous artworks, translated into digital color palettes.

Salvador Dali’s favorite color was Naples yellow, “because it’s the color of proteins as well as the dominant color in certain chemical mixtures of cardinal importance for painting.” Dali would have turned 112 today.

You can now buy a Mona Lisa scratching post for your cat, for a cool $200 that is.

The Art Institute of Chicago commissioned a full-scale reproduction of van Gogh’s second Bedroom painting to accompany a recent exhibit, and they rented out the space on Airbnb. So far it’s gotten unanimously raving reviews from the guests.

Check out the Gluten Free Museum, which reimagines famous paintings sans wheat and bread. The results are a sad and hilarious commentary on the modern zeitgeist.

amymlavine 2016Posted by Amy M. Lavine on May 11, 2016.


Art history links: da Vinci’s love life & lost masterpiece, hell, and French whores in art

amymlavine whistler drawing framed
I framed a Whistler drawing recently! Photo credit Amy M Lavine 2016.
  • An Italian art historian is trying to revive an old theory that the Mona Lisa was actually a portrait of da Vinci’s apprentice and young male lover. Meanwhile, real estate agents are sticking to the story that the famous portrait is of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a silk merchant, because her 16th century Tuscan villa is now on the market for $11.3 million.
  • Leonardo’s love life and its impact on the luxury villa market may be fascinating topics for some people. But thankfully other people are more interested in all the ridiculously genius things da Vinci did, like, you know, inventing modern cartography.
  • While we’re on the topic of da Vinci: it’s been assumed for centuries that his mural in the Palazzo Vecchio was destroyed when the building was remodeled in 1563, but it’s possible that the mural was left intact and hidden behind a second wall. Scientists tried to confirm this theory by running an endoscope through small holes drilled in the wall, but their efforts were shut down in 2012 before they could get any useful data.
amymlavine clawmarks hand design
Hands on my mind. Image via Clawmarks.
  • After writing a post about palmistry diagrams and occult imagery a few weeks ago I’ve continued to be enchanted by hands in art (see, e.g., my mushrooming Pinterest board on the subject). So it was a lovely surprise to stumble upon this discussion of hands in 16th and 17th century portrait miniatures.
  • How Hieronymus Bosch’s vision of hell became the world’s most famous depiction of the underworld.
  • A long-lost Caravaggio painting of Judith beheading Holofernes was found last year in a leaky attic in Toulouse.
  • Many famous Renaissance paintings owe their names to art historians rather than their painters, including Botticelli’s La Primavera (which had several previous names), and the Mona Lisa. How do art historians figure out what to call these paintings? It’s based on provenance and other evidence but mostly informal.
  • Prostitution in nineteenth century French art.
  • Beauty tips you can learn from art history.

amymlavine pink marble portraitPosted by Amy M Lavine on May 6, 2015.