The Just Judges

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The Ghent altarpiece is 20-panel allegorical polyptych by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, a masterpiece of 15th-century art.

In April 1934, a thief stole the lower left panel and demanded a ransom of 1 million Belgian francs.

Seven months later, Flemish broker Arsène Goedertier collapsed after a speech at a political rally. He managed to say that he knew where the stolen panel was hidden, but he died before he could communicate the secret.

In Goedertier’s home police found abundant evidence that he had sent the ransom note, but there was no sign of the missing panel, only a record that it was “in a place where neither I nor anyone else can recover it without drawing attention.”

It remains missing to this day.

Immortalized

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Ambassador Richard Washburn Child once dined with Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

After dinner, the president said he had something to show him. He led Child to one of the smaller rooms in the mansion, opened the door, and turned on the light.

“On the opposite wall hung a portrait of himself,” Child later recalled. “I thought it so very bad I could think of nothing to say.”

For a long moment the two men stood on the threshold. Then Coolidge snapped off the light and closed the door.

“So do I,” he said.

Double Takes

A Yorkshire police constable sent this image to the Strand in 1907: “This photograph of dog and puppies was about to be thrown away as a failure, when on turning the picture sideways it was found that the dog’s body has the appearance of a man’s head”:

http://books.google.com/books?id=67UvAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&rview=1&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

This undated photo seems to reveal the image of a bearded Jesus:

double takes - jesus image

And Bohemian artist Wenzel Hollar etched Landschafts-Kopf in the 17th century:

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Is it a portrait or a landscape?

Furioso

Common dismissals of the works of great composers by the critics of their day, from Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective (1965):

  • “Barbarous”: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Varèse, Wagner
  • “Bizarre”: Beethoven, Berlioz, Bloch, Chopin, Liszt
  • “Crude”: Beethoven, Berlioz, Miszt, Moussorgsky, Schumann
  • “Dull”: Beethoven, Brahms, Gershwin, Liszt, Schumann, Scriabin, Strauss, Stravinsky
  • “Hideous”: Berlioz, Bloch, Bruckner, Harris, D’Indy, Liszt, Moussorgsky, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, Schoenberg, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Varèse, Wagner
  • “Monstrous”: Beethoven, Bloch, Krenek, Liszt, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, Shostakovitch, Wagner
  • “Painful”: Bizet, Franck, D’Indy, Wagner
  • “Perverse”: Berg, Chopin, Prokofiev, Strauss, Stravinsky
  • “Rambling”: Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Schoenberg, Wagner
  • “Repulsive”: Beethoven, Berg, Berlioz,Bizet, Prokofiev, Ravel
  • “Vulgar”: Beethoven, Berlioz, Gershwin, Liszt, Shostakovitch, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky

Highlights of selected reviews:

  • “This is advanced cat music.” — Heinrich Dorn, Aus Meinem Leben, Berlin, 1870, of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde
  • “I can compare Le Carneval Romain by Berlioz to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus.” — George Templeton Strong’s diary, Dec. 15, 1866
  • “A blood-curdling nightmare.” — Boston Herald, Feb. 23, 1896, of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel
  • “A farrago of circus tunes.” — E. Chapman, Tempo, September 1946, of Shostakovitch’s ninth symphony
  • “A bomb in a poultry-yard.” — Louis Elson, Boston Daily Advertiser, Dec. 19, 1914, of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces
  • “The upsetting of twenty thousand coal-scuttles.” — Henry Labouchère, Truth, London, Feb. 12, 1885, of Liszt’s symphony to Dante’s Divina Commedia
  • “A horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy.” — Boston Evening Transcript, Oct. 24, 1892, of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony
  • “A catastrophe in a boiler factory.” — Olin Downes, New York Times, Dec. 17, 1924, of Varèse’s Hyperprism
  • “A cat with catarrh.” — Boston Evening Transcript, April 17, 1913, of Webern’s Six Orchestral Pieces

Writing in the New York Evening Post of March 2, 1925, Ernest Newman declared that Edgard Varèse’s Intérales “sounded a good deal like a combination of early morning in the Mott Haven freight yards, feeding time at the zoo and a Sixth Avenue trolley rounding a curve, with an intoxicated woodpecker throw in for good measure.”

First Impressions

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Of the Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876, critic Albert Wolff wrote in Le Figaro: “Five or six lunatics, one of them a woman — a collection of unfortunates tainted by the folly of ambition — have met here to exhibit their works. … What a terrifying spectacle is this of human vanity stretched to the verge of dementia. Someone should tell M. Pissarro forcibly that trees are never violet, that the sky is never the colour of fresh butter, that nowhere on earth are things to be seen as he paints them. …”

When J.L. Gérôme was conducting President Loubet around the exhibitions at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, he stopped him at the door of the Impressionist room, saying, “Arrêtez, Monsieur le Président, c’est ici le déshonneur de la France!”

Push and Pull

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In short, there appears to be something paradoxical about the horror genre. It obviously attracts consumers; but it seems to do so by means of the expressly repulsive. Furthermore, the horror genre gives every evidence of being pleasurable to its audience, but it does so by means of trafficking in the very sorts of things that cause disquiet, distress, and displeasure. So different ways of clarifying the question ‘Why horror?’ are to ask: ‘Why are horror audiences attracted by what, typically (in everyday life), should (and would) repel them?,’ or ‘How can horror audiences find pleasure in what by nature is distressful and unpleasant?’

— Noël Carroll, “Why Horror?” in Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley, eds., Arguing About Art, 1995

Urban Contemporary

http://www.scribd.com/doc/21788347/Martin-Gardner-Time-Travel-and-Other-Mathematical-Bewilderments

In 1939, Heitor Villa-Lobos composed a piano piece by superimposing the New York skyline on a piece of graph paper.

Five years later he used a similar method to compose his sixth symphony, finding a melodic line in the mountain peaks of his native Brazil.

Who’s Who?

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Picasso said of his portrait of Gertrude Stein, “Everybody thinks that the portrait is not like her, but never mind, in the end she will look like the portrait.”

An old epigram runs: “It sounds like paradox — and yet ’tis true, You’re like your picture, though it’s not like you.”