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John Carter


Paralyzed in a fall in 1836, John Carter discovered a talent for art, holding a brush in his teeth and working in bed. The figures below are after Albrecht Dürer.


See also No Handicap, Sarah Biffen, and Prince Randian.



The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows.

“The Tomb and Shade of Washington”


See also The General’s Ghost.

A Risky Compliment


In Vertumnus, Giuseppe Arcimboldo portrayed his patron Rudolf II as the Roman god of growth and change. Fortunately, Rudolf appreciated the metaphor and awarded Arcimboldo one of his highest orders.

See also Renaissance Surrealism and The Librarian.



One candidate for the world’s shortest play is The Exile, by Tristan Bernard.

The curtain rises on a mountaineer in a remote cabin. An exile knocks on the door.

EXILE: Whoever you are, have pity on a hunted man. There is a price on my head.


The curtain falls.

But shorter still may be Samuel Beckett’s 1969 play Breath, which lasts 35 seconds. As we view a bare, litter-strewn stage, we hear a baby’s cry, a person inhaling once and then exhaling, and then another cry. At the play’s West End debut, one audience member said, “I just want to put on record that I thought the whole evening was completely bogus and pretentious.”

(Thanks, Adam.)



The great thing about Gustave Verbeek’s comic strips is that when you reach the end of a page, you can invert it to see the story continue.

He created 64 such comics for the New York Herald between 1903 and 1905.


Lie Down

the isle of dogs

The Isle of Dogs. An 18th-century engraving.


the puzzled fox

This 1872 Currier and Ives print is titled The Puzzled Fox: Find the Horse, Lamb, Wild Boar, Men’s and Women’s Faces. There are eight human and animal faces hidden in the scene. Can you find them?

Ironically, the birds that are visible have now disappeared — they’re passenger pigeons.

Oil Money


Most expensive paintings (sale prices expressed in dollars and adjusted for inflation):

  1. No. 5, 1948, Jackson Pollock: $142.7 million (2006)
  2. Woman III, Willem de Kooning: $140.2 million (2006)
  3. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt: $137.6 million (2006)
  4. Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Vincent van Gogh: $129.7 million (1990)
  5. Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre, Pierre-Auguste Renoir: $122.8 million (1990)
  6. Garçon à la pipe, Pablo Picasso: $113.4 million (2004)
  7. Irises, Vincent van Gogh: $97.5 million (1987)
  8. Dora Maar au Chat, Pablo Picasso: $97.0 million (2006)
  9. Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe, Vincent van Gogh: $90.1 million (1998)
  10. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, Gustav Klimt: $89.1 million (2006)

Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito bought both #4 and #5 in 1990 and then announced he would have them burned during his cremation. Perhaps fortunately, he later ran into financial difficulties and was forced to sell them.

The General’s Ghost

the general's ghost


Someone once asked Jean Cocteau, “Suppose your house were on fire and you could remove only one thing. What would you take?”

Cocteau considered, then said, “I would take the fire.”

Veiled Symbolism


Finland’s national painting is Hugo Simberg’s The Wounded Angel.

Simberg refused to explain its meaning … but it was his favorite work.

The Two Cultures


James McNeill Whistler failed his West Point chemistry exam.

“If silicon had been a gas,” he said later, “I should have been a major general.”

What’s In a Name?



Before conductors used batons, they kept time by banging a long staff against the floor. In January 1687, Jean-Baptiste Lully was conducting a Te Deum in this way when he struck his toe. The wound turned gangrenous, the gangrene spread — and he died.

The “Cat Raphael”


Born in Bern in 1768, the autistic Gottfried Mind could barely write his name, but on seeing a cat in a painting by his drawing-master, he immediately said, “That is no cat!” The master asked whether he thought he could do better, and Mind produced a drawing so good that the master copied it.

Thereafter Mind worked surrounded by cats, painting them with a remarkable eye for their individual character and occasionally carving them from chestnuts for sport. In the work of other artists it’s said that he liked nothing but the lions of Rubens, Rembrandt, and Paulus Potter, and he looked down even on celebrated cats by Cornelius Vischer and Wenzel Hollar.

“First and last,” said Goethe, “what is demanded of genius is love of truth.”

See Other Canvas

Picasso’s full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso.

“Dürer in the Forest”

Etching by Hungarian artist István Orosz.

Oscar Wilde said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”


“See what will happen if you don’t stop biting your fingernails?” — Will Rogers, to his niece on seeing the Venus de Milo

Shades of Gray


An optical illusion. Squares A and B are the same color.

“The Librarian”


Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s caricature of Rudolf II’s historiographer and librarian, Wolfgang Lazio (1514-1565) — a collector of coins and a lover of books.

Fleeting Beauty


“All Is Vanity” (1892), by the American illustrator C. Allan Gilbert.

Back up to get the full effect.

All Art Is Theft


Irish astronomer William Parsons might have been surprised to see van Gogh’s The Starry Night appear in 1889.

He had drawn this sketch of the Whirlpool Galaxy 44 years earlier:


Carceri d’Invenzione


Artist Giovanni Piranesi spent his days making etchings of Roman ruins, but apparently he had a darker side. In the mid-1700s he published 14 prints of “imaginary prisons” — hellish vaults, machines and staircases taken from no earthly subject.

It’s not known for certain what inspired them. Coleridge told Thomas De Quincy they record Piranesi’s visions during a fever.