Watercolors as photography, the would-be Vermeer, Ridge Running, and Charles Darwin: newsletter, April 19, 2016

April 22, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,826) on Friday, April 19, 2019.


The scenes of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris this week shocked and appalled anyone with any sensitivity to art. To see such an architectural work of art consumed by flames provoked disbelief and despair. This great building had stood for centuries against weather and the monsters and monstrosities of war. No one believed that it could be taken down so easily and quickly.

The burning of the cathedral led me to WatercolourWorld.org, a site I had been meaning to introduce you to for several weeks (I do so in more detail below), where I found many pre-20th century watercolors of Notre Dame. Shown here is just one.

I promised more poetry/painting videos last week, but none came to fruition this week as I had hoped. I’m still working on a couple, so maybe next week they will be ready.

Meanwhile, I hope that you have had a great week and are beginning a wonderful weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,841 subscribers and had a 31.3 percent open rate; 12 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Han van Meegeren: His Vermeers fooled everyone (part 2)

Last week we introduced you to Han van Meegeren, the Dutch artist who, before World War II, passed some of his paintings off as newly discovered works by the famed Johannes Vermeer.

In May 1945 Dutch artist Han Van Meegeren found himself on top of the world. The war was over, the Nazis were gone, and he was a rich and famous man. He was, however, about to take a steep tumble.

It started with a visit to his studio by members of the Allied Art Commission who were trying to track down the original owners of a painting by Johannes Vermeer titled Supper at Emmaus. It had been found in the collection of Hermann Göring, and because the Nazis kept very good records, Van Meegeren’s name appeared as one of the subsequent owners — the one who had sold it to Göring.

Who was the original owner? they asked. Van Meegeren refused to say.

He did so for a very good reason. The painting was a forgery, one that Van Meegeren had painted himself, had passed off as a genuine Vermeer in the 1930s, and had made a ton of money from when it was certified as the real thing by Abraham Bredius, a leading art historian of the day. After his “success” at convincing viewers that Supper at Emmaus was genuine, Van Meegeren painted six other “Vermeers” and became fabulously wealthy.

Despite the efforts of the Dutch to protect their artwork from the Germans, Supper at Emmaus ended up in the Göring collection and was exhibited prominently. Now it was coming back home, and Van Meergeren had a dilemma — a potentially deadly one. When he refused to reveal the owner of the painting, he was arrested and charged with collaboration and treason. A conviction would probably mean execution.

After six weeks in prison, Van Meegeren confessed. He was a forger, not a finder of long-forgotten masterpieces.

But, by that time, no one believed him. They thought he was confessing just to save his own skin. In an attempt to convince people of his confession, Van Meegeren invited reporters to watch him paint a “Vermeer.” The demonstration was convincing, and the charges against him switched from treason to fraud.

At his trial, in yet another twist of this twisted tale, some of the art experts who had originally certified his paintings as genuine, testified that they still believed they were correct and that Van Meegeren was lying. Still, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail. He was freed and was living at home awaiting the sentence to begin when he had a heart attack on Nov. 12, 1947. The next month, he died.

Frank Wynne, the author of I Was Vermeer: The Legend of the Forger Who Swindled the Nazis, says that Van Meeregen taught the art world a valuable less: doubt.

Han van Meegeren’s greatest gift to the art world is doubt. If forgers throughout the ages have taught us anything, it is to re-examine why we love what we love, to overcome our obsession with simple authenticity and appreciate the work for itself. Is a minor Rothko truly worth more than the finest Ellsworth Kelly? Are we captivated by the serenity and light of a Corot watercolour, or simply the signature? https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3654259/Th…

You can explore more of the Van Meegeren story beginning at this website devoted to his life and work.

Above: Han Van Meegeren (from a photo taken at his trial), watercolor

Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia

My good friend Chris Wohlwend, an award-winning big-city journalist, has just published a memoir of his life growing up in Knoxville titled Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia.

I had the privilege of helping Chris get this thing into print and ebook form, so I can tell you that it is an interesting, humorous, and engaging book to read. I have known Chris since our undergraduate days in the late 1960s at the University of Tennessee. I worked on the student daily, the UT Daily Beacon, and later at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the city’s afternoon newspaper, while Chris was on the copydesk of the  Knoxville Journal, the morning newspaper at the time.

This volume of Ridge Running tells many tales of those years in the newspaper business when the menagerie of characters included boxers, bettors, moonshiners, preachers, Playboy playmates, and even a president (of the United States). Chris tells it all with verve, wit, and wisdom.

Chris left Knoxville in 1972 for the greener journalistic pastures of places like Louisville, Charlotte, Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami. He has returned to Knoxville but still travels hither and yon to write an occasional article for the New York Times.

Take a look at Ridge Running. You’ll like what you see.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

WatercolourWorld.org: watercolors as the pre-20th century photography

How can we know what something or some location looked like 200 or 300 years ago?

If some master painter depicted someone or something, and it hung in a museum, gallery, or collection, that would be one means. Usually, these works were done in oil and took much time and training to complete. Consequently, they are relatively rare.

A much more commonly used medium was watercolor, and for every oil painting that made it to a museum wall, there are thousands of watercolors — completed often by amateurs and hobbyists — that were stuck in boxes and drawers and attics. These paintings often depict scenes and places with great accuracy, and while many have been discarded and destroyed, many others still exist and remain undiscovered.

That’s where WatercolourWorld.org comes in.

This website is treating 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century watercolors as the equivalent of the photography of that day, and it is trying to collect, digitize, and present as many watercolors — many heretofore unknown — as it can find. The site describes itself in this way:

Before the invention of the camera, people used watercolours to document the world. Over the centuries, painters – both professional and amateur – created hundreds of thousands of images recording life as they witnessed it. Every one of these paintings has a story to tell, but many are hidden away in archives, albums and store rooms, too fragile to display. The Watercolour World exists to bring them back into view.
We are creating a free online database of documentary watercolours painted before 1900. For the first time, you can explore these fascinating visual records on a world map, search for topics that are important to you, and compare watercolours from multiple collections in one place. We hope that this project will not simply preserve the watercolour record but revive it, sparking new conversations and revelations. By making history visible to more people, we can deepen our understanding of the world.
We are a UK-based charity, but the project is truly global. We work with private and public collections from around the world to locate and publish their images, many of which have never been photographed before.There are thousands of watercolours still to add. If you think you can contribute, let us know.

The site is beautiful and fascinating. It is searchable in many ways, and you can easily find yourself going from one topic or place or another, seeing what those of a previous century saw. Just out of curiosity, I did a search of Knoxville, Tennessee, and found this beautiful 1871 painting by Harry Fenn that I had never seen before.

At the top of the newsletter: Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Thomas Shotter Boys, 1831-1845

Charles Darwin and his way of thinking

Charles Darwin achieved the most important breakthrough in the annals of scientific thinking with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. But Darwin did not see himself as a great intellect or even a particularly clever person.

His self-awareness was not the product of humility, as Shane Parrish points out in a short but insightful article on his blog Farnham Street. Rather, it came from a devotion to understanding reality.

He had possibly the most valuable trait in any sort of thinker: A passionate interest in understanding reality and putting it in useful order in his head. This “Reality Orientation” is hard to measure and certainly does not show up on IQ tests, but probably determines, to some extent, success in life.

Parrish highlights Darwin’s way of looking at the world, his method of knowledge acquisition, and his attitude toward himself as the reasons for his ability to achieve the scientific breakthrough of natural selection.

Darwin, with a passion that was extraordinary, sought information that would challenge his beliefs and impressions. He welcomed evidence that would change his mind or refine his beliefs.

Parrish’s article takes about six minutes to read and is well worth it. If you read it, you’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Loch Lomond, Scotland

Best quote of the week:

Good fiction creates empathy. A novel takes you somewhere and asks you to look through the eyes of another person, to live another life. Barbara Kingsolver, novelist, essayist, and poet (1955- ) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The would-be Vermeer, fountain pens, and the sad end of a great writer: newsletter, April 12, 2019








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