Art News Headlines: July 2, 2011

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World, (1948), Tempera on gessoed panel, 32.5″ x 47.75 “(Museum of Modern Art)

A weather-beaten farmhouse in Maine, featured in the backdrop of one of the most famous paintings from the 20th Century, is now officially a national landmark. The Olson House in Cushing where Andrew Wyeth painted Christina’s World was one of 14 landmarks to receive the designation from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar this week. Wyeth, who lived in Pennsylvania, spent 30 summers in Maine, and used the farm as a backdrop for his 1948 painting of Christina Olson, who suffered from polio and was unable to walk, crawling through a field toward the farm. The Olson House is where Wyeth, who died in 2009 at age 91, developed a friendship with Christina and her husband Alvaro Olson, spanning 30 years. Wyeth’s gravestone is near the property. Christina’s World is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Art continues to be made more accessible to the public via the World Wide Web, this time as London’s BBC, in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF), announces the launch of a project entitled Your Paintings. Designed to create a complete catalogue of every oil painting in the national collection, the pieces are featured on a website where users are allowed to “tag” each piece, according to their respective subject or medium, allowing for a more viral search method. In total, the national collection amounts to around 200,000 works, held in 3,000 galleries, museums, libraries and public institutions all over the country, making it one of the largest and most diverse collections of art in the world. The first phase of Your Paintings went live a few days ago, featuring over 60,000 paintings by 15,000 artists. The online catalogue will highlight paintings by well known and lesser-known artists, as well as collectors, historians, and celebrities. Your Paintings can be accessed here.

Francis Bacon, Study for Potrait, 1953 (detail)

Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait surprised everyone when it became the second most valuable piece to be sold at a post-War and contemporary art sale at Christie’s in London on Wednesday, when it was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder. The highest selling work in this category is Triptych, also by Bacon, which sold for £26.3 million in February 2008. Study for a Portrait had been expected to fetch somewhere in the region of £11 million, but instead reached £17,961,250. The painting was completed in 1953 when, following the death of the artist’s former nanny and companion Jessie Lightfoot, he spent a great deal of time in his studio, and painted a series of large moody works. Apparently moodiness was the key, as this particular time in Bacon’s life is thought to be one of his most inventive and prolific periods. Despite the fanfare, experts are unsure as to the identity of the subject in the painting—it bears resemblance to everyone from Velazquez’s portrait of Philip IV of Spain to Bacon’s lover at the time, Peter Lacy.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery marks the 100th birthday of 40th President Ronald Reagan with an exhibition chronicling Reagan’s early years in Illinois, his acting and political career, and finally his presidency from 1981 through 1989. Reagan’s warm manner and cheerful smile were hallmarks of a personality that fascinated Americans, but it was his perseverance to the ideas of a limited government and a free-market economy that won him votes. “One Life: Ronald Reagan” opened yesterday, and will be shown through May 28, 2012. National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan commented, “This ‘One Life’ exhibition acknowledges the long and remarkable career of an American leader whose life spanned nearly the entire 20th century. Ronald Reagan played a key role in many aspects of American public life.” Most of the exhibition showcases the President’s political career, but a 1985 portrait by Andy Warhol is included, mixing Reagan’s personality, political stance, and near-spotless public image.

In other art news, Huguette Clark, the Montana copper mining heiress who died in New York last month at 104, has surprisingly left most of her $400 million fortune to the arts. According to her will, Clark left a prized Claude Monet water-lily painting not seen by the public since 1925 to Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art. Manhattan prosecutors continue to investigate how Clark’s finances were handled while she spent the last two decades of her life in a hospital, a virtual recluse. Before that, she lived in the largest apartment on Fifth Avenue. The daughter of one-time U.S. Sen. William A. Clark also left instructions for the creation of a new art foundation “for the primary purpose of fostering and promoting the arts” in her 21,000-square-foot mansion called Bellosguardo, on a 24-acre oceanfront property in Santa Barbara, California, which she had not visited since her mother died in 1963. Most of the paintings from her Fifth Avenue apartment in New York will go to this foundation, including works by Renoir, John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase. None of Clark’s family members are to inherit a penny—but the art world isn’t complaining.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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