When Napoleon left France for Elba, his supporters wore violets as a secret sign of their allegiance. This 1815 colour print by Jean-Dominique Etienne Canu, Le Secret du Caporal La Violette, conceals images of the exiled emperor, his wife, and his son. Where are they?
On the pale yellow sands
Where the Unicorn stands
And the Eggs are preparing for Tea
On the pale yellow sands
There’s a pair of Clasped Hands
And an Eyeball entangled with string
And a Bicycle Seat
And a Plate of Raw Meat
And a Thing that is hardly a Thing.
On the pale yellow sands
That has nothing to do with the case.
On the pale yellow sands
There’s a Dorian Mode
And a Temple all covered with Lace
And a Gothic Erection of Urgent Demands
On the Patience of You and of Me.
– Lord Berners
In the minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the orchestra plays the same passage forward, then backward.
When Will Shortz challenged listeners to submit word-level palindromes to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday in 1997, Roxanne Abrams offered the poignant Good little student does plan future, but future plan does student little good.
And Connecticut’s Oxoboxo River offers a four-way palindrome — it reads the same forward and backward both on the page and in a mirror placed horizontally above it.
Trompe l’oeil master John Haberle’s 1895 work The Slate induced more than one viewer to reach for the chalk. But the whole image — slate, frame, pencil, string, and erasure — was painted in oils. Haberle intended it to be hung without a separate frame in order to complete the illusion.
Haberle specialized in such playful trickery. “The spectator is very apt to doubt the assertion that the work has been accomplished with brush and oil colors alone until he has been permitted to gaze at the production through a magnifying glass which brings out in bold relief the fact that the statement is indisputable,” wrote the Boston Post of a Haberle exhibition the following year. “[O]ne man who is known beyond the limits of Boston as an art critic was heard to say ‘If I had not seen it through a very powerful microscope, I should have refused to believe it to be a genuine painting without witnessing the artist actually at work on the subject.”
To create the conceptual artwork Vertical Earth Kilometer, Walter De Maria drilled a hole in the Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany, and inserted a brass rod 1 kilometer long.
The rod exists underground, but only its top, a coin of brass 5 centimeters wide, is visible. Is art still art if it can’t be experienced by the senses?
- AWE and WONDER are synonyms, but AWFUL and WONDERFUL are antonyms.
- The Czech word for guest is host.
- Abraham Lincoln is in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
- Ravel described Boléro as “a piece for orchestra without music.”
- “In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.” — Coleridge
In 2004, Livermore, Calif., paid Miami artist Maria Alquilar $40,000 to create a ceramic mural outside its new library. Its pride was short-lived: The mural misspelled the names of 10 of the 175 historical figures it honored:
Vincent Van Gough
German chemist Otto Beckmann’s name was spelled Beckman, and Italian sculptor Luca Della Robbia’s name was spelled Luca Della Robia.
“The most egregious is Einstein,” library director Susan Gallinger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s the worst one.” Livermore is home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Unfortunately, California state law bars the city from removing or changing public art without the creator’s consent, so the city council had to pay Alquilar an additional $6,000 to correct the errors.
The artist was unapologetic. “The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake’s concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words,” she told the Associated Press. “In their mind, the words register correctly.”
Born in Texarkana in 1912, Conlon Nancarrow had no access to technology that could realize the music in his head. He studied music briefly and played trumpet in venues ranging from beer halls to cruise ships, but he found himself frustrated working with human musicians. In 1940 he withdrew to Mexico City, where, working in almost complete isolation, he began composing pieces for player piano.
This expedient was “a tremendous amount of work, punching all those holes by hand, one by one, hundreds and thousands of them,” but it enabled him finally to hear his music. “I’d never heard it played. Some composers are pianists and can at least play their music on piano, but I couldn’t do even that, because I am not a pianist.”
Freed from the constraints imposed by human performers, Nancarrow’s style developed a dizzying speed, staggeringly complexity, and a bewildering density of ideas. “Nancarrow’s complete works could be heard in seven hours,” wrote composer Kyle Gann, “but within half that time the listener would be as exhausted as though he had consumed Mahler’s ten symphonies in a gulp.”
Gyorgy Ligeti discovered some piano pieces in a Paris record store in 1980 and became an early champion, calling the composer “the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives.” Subsequent admirers included John Cage (“Conlon’s music has such an outrageous, original character that it is literally shocking”) and Frank Zappa (“The stuff is fantastic … You’ve got to hear it. It’ll kill you”).
Nancarrow became a MacArthur fellow in 1982 and returned to writing for live ensembles, finding that the standard of musicianship had improved enormously during his 40-year exile. “Of course it’s pleasing,” he told the New York Times in 1987. “I mean, all those years I had been working now have some point. There are so many artists and writers who are doing something they think is worthwhile, and it turns out to be junk. I thought that maybe mine was the same thing, but now I see it wasn’t.”
This is charming — an inventory of “all the properties for my Lord Admiral’s men,” taken by theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe on March 10, 1598:
Item: 1 rock, 1 cage, 1 Hell-mouth
Item: 1 tomb of Guido, 1 tomb of Dido, 1 bedstead
Item: 8 lances, 1 pair of stairs for Phaeton
Item: 2 steeples, and 1 chime of bells, and 1 beacon
Item: 1 globe, and 1 golden sceptre; 3 clubs
Item: 2 marchpanes, and the city of Rome
Item: 1 golden fleece; 2 rackets; 1 bay-tree
Item: 1 wooden canopy; old Mahomet’s head
Item: 1 lion skin; 1 bear’s skin; and Phaeton’s limbs, and Phaeton chariot; and Argus’ head
Item: Neptune fork and garland
Item: 8 vizards; Tamburlaine bridle; 1 wooden mattock
Item: Cupid’s bow and quiver; the cloth of the sun and moon
Item: 1 boar’s head and Cerberus’ three heads
Item: 1 caduceus; 2 moss banks, and 1 snake
Item: 2 fans of feathers; Belin Dun’s stable; 1 tree of golden apples; Tantalus’ tree; 9 iron targets
Item: 1 Mercury’s wings; Tasso picture; 1 helmet with dragon; 1 shield with 3 lions; 1 elm bowl
Item: 1 lion; 2 lion heads; 1 great horse with his legs; 1 sackbut
Item: 1 black dog
Item: 1 cauldron for the Jew
Much of what we know about the business of Elizabethan theater comes from a book of accounts that Henslowe kept around the turn of the 17th century. He never mentions Shakespeare directly, but his theaters competed with the Globe.
Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz, by composer John Stump, includes the directions “Add bicycle,” “Duck,” and “Cool timpani with small fan.” The piece fills a single page.
To perform Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett you’ll need four helicopters and a string quartet. A moderator introduces the musicians, each of whom boards a helicopter, and the four perform the piece while circling the auditorium at a distance of 6 kilometers. The audience watches and listens via audio and video monitors. At the end, the helicopters land and the musicians re-enter the hall to the sound of slowing rotor blades.
Marc-André Hamelin composed Circus Galop for player piano — it’s impossible for a human to play, as up to 21 notes are struck simultaneously.
- Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
- GRAVITATIONAL LENS = STELLAR NAVIGATION
- 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
- Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
- “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler
Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.
Expression markings used by Australian composer Percy Grainger:
- “Louden lots”
- “Soften bit by bit”
- “Lower notes of woggle well to the fore”
- “Like a shriek”
- “Very rhythmic and jimp”
- “Hold until blown”
- “Easygoingly but very clingingly”
Musical directions in Erik Satie’s piano works:
- “Wonder about yourself”
- “Provide yourself with shrewdness”
- “Alone, for one moment”
- “Open the head”
- “In a very particular way”
- “Light as an egg”
- “Like a nightingale with a toothache”
- “Moderately, I insist”
- “A little bit warm”
- “Very Turkish”
One of Satie’s directions — “Very lost” — might have been unnecessary.
“The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.’” — Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music, 1939
The Ferrari 250 GTO has been called the top sports car of all time. Only 39 were manufactured, so they sell for as much as $35 million among collectors.
Chris Smart of Bishopstoke, Hampshire, couldn’t afford to buy one …
… so he painted one on his garage door.
For the Festival of World Cultures in August 2008, street painter Edgar Mueller transformed the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, into an ice-age crevasse.
“Beside the personal messages, questions and sometimes answers in my paintings I’m questioning the experienced daily perception of people by changing the appearance of public places,” he says.
Dutch engineer Theo Jansen builds complex walking sculptures from PVC pipe and turns them loose on the beaches of the Netherlands, where they have been evolving (with his help) for 20 years.
“Over time,” he says, “these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water, and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”
“I’ve seen a lot of mechanical sculpture, and Jansen’s animari are the finest I’ve seen by far in the ‘low-tech clockwork’ mechanism category,” robotic designer Carl Pisaturo told Wired in 2005. “These are amazing creations, and the simplicity of the technology and the fact that they are wind-powered only makes their poetic motions more impressive.”
Near a streetcorner in Winslow, Ariz., trompe l’oeil artist John Pugh has painted six windows. On an upper sill perches an eagle, and in the lower windows is reflected a girl in a flatbed Ford — presumably slowing down.
In 1980 Pugh received a commission from his alma mater, California State University, Chico, to paint a mural on the side of Taylor Hall. Shortly after its completion, a woman who worked across the street called the administration to ask when the wall would be repaired.
With his mural Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life at San Jose’s Cafe Espresso, Pugh created a convincing extension of the restaurant’s interior. Everything within the brick proscenium — the alcove, sculpture, painting, stairway, cat, and woman — was painted by hand.
After the mural was completed in February 1997, a male patron tried to introduce himself to the woman and complained to a manager that she was giving him the “silent treatment.”
When did Shakespeare’s plays come into existence? We tend to think they appeared when he conceived them.
But if God is omniscient, then he has perfect knowledge of the future. Before the creation, he knew that Shakespeare would compose the plays, and he knew the full text of each one.
“A consequence of the view that God knows everything about the future is that all compositions existed before creation,” writes philosopher Richard R. La Croix.
In this sense, “the coming into existence of any composition is an event which occurs prior to the events that cause it to occur” — and, in each case, an effect precedes its cause.
Nearly 3 million years ago, an ancestor of modern humans picked this pebble out of a slow-flowing stream in southern Africa and carried it at least 4 kilometers to a cave, where it was discovered by Wilfred Eizman in 1925.
Why would the creature have done this? Possibly because it recognized a face in the natural markings on the pebble’s surface. If so, this is the earliest evidence of an aesthetic sense in human heritage.
John Haberle’s 1889 trompe l’oeil masterpiece U.S.A. was such a faithful representation of a U.S. greenback that one could read the ironic government warning on the bill:
“Counterfeiting, or altering this note, or passing any counterfeit or alteration of it, or having in possession any false or counterfeit plate or impression of it, or any paper made in imitation of the paper on which it is printed, is punishable by $5000 fine or 15 years at hard labor or both.”
More than one viewer took it for an actual bill. When the painting was installed at the Art Institute of Chicago, the art critic of The Chicago Inter-Ocean objected: “There is a fraud hanging on the Institute walls. … It is that alleged still life by Haberle [in which] a $1 bill and the fragments of a $10 note have been pasted on canvas. … That the management of the Art Institute should hang this kind of ‘art’ even though it were genuine, is to be regretted, but to lend itself to such a fraud … is shameful.”
Haberle immediately took a train to Chicago and stood by while experts scrutinized the work through lenses, rubbed off paint, and declared it a genuine work of imitative art. The critic issued a public apology, acknowledging that others, including “Eastman Johnson, the dean of American figure and genre painters”, had also been taken in by Haberle’s works.
What’s unusual about this 1649 engraving by Claude Mellan, Sudarium of Saint Veronica?
The image is produced by one continuous spiraling line starting at the tip of Jesus’ nose.
Winston Churchill faced an awkward moment in 1954, when Parliament unveiled a portrait on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The ceremony took place before a crowded Westminster Hall, and no one present, one observer said, “will forget the idiosyncratic nonsound with which a thousand people stopped breathing when the canvas was revealed.”
The painting, by Graham Sutherland, was a decidedly modern take on the octogenarian statesman. “Its chief defect was that it looked unfinished in as much as his feet were concealed in a carpet that seemed to have sprouted a dun-coloured grass,” wrote Studio editor G.S. Whittet. “The artist had obviously been unhappy about them and they had been painted over since it would have been impossible to ‘cut off’ his legs below the knees without radically altering the proportions and placing of the picture on the canvas.”
One MP called the portrait “a study in lumbago,” and Lord Hailsham said it was “disgusting, ill-mannered, terrible.” Churchill accepted the gift with a measured good humor, but privately he muttered, “It makes me look half-witted, which I ain’t.” After the unveiling, the painting was never seen again — shortly before Churchill’s death, his wife had it cut up and burned.
This is Grandma’s Hearthstone, an 1890 canvas by the trompe l’oeil master John Haberle. The 96″ x 66″ painting was so realistic that the proprietors of Churchill’s Saloon in Detroit decided to try an experiment.
“The location of the picture adds to the realistic effect,” explained the Detroit Tribune. “It is arranged at a dark end of the room, with electric light turned upon it in such a manner that upon entering the place it seems as if there really were an old-fashioned fire place there and the light was the reflection of the fire.”
Did it work? “The best critic upon the picture was the house cat. When the picture was first placed in position the cat came up from the cellar and started across the room. … The cat noticed the light of the blazing fire and went over to examine it. After critically scrutinizing the new affair she curled herself up before it and began to snooze completely illusionized.”
Whether that’s true is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it says more about the cat than about Haberle.
(“It Fooled the Cat,” New Haven Evening Leader, June 10, 1893, quoted in James W. Cook, The Arts of Deception: Playing With Fraud in the Age of Barnum, 2001.)
Muralist Richard Haas had a romantic notion in 1975 — he proposed painting the shadows of vanished Manhattan architectural landmarks on the city’s modern buildings.
Above, the Singer building, built in 1908 and destroyed in 1967, was briefly the world’s tallest; Haas would have restored its shadow near its former site at 149 Broadway.
He also proposed restoring the shadows of St. John’s Church, on Varick Street below Canal, and the tower of Madison Square Garden, which once stood on the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue.
Alas, the project never went forward.