Inspired by Simon Schama's series The Power of Art, I've decided
to post a few pieces of art that have been a part of my life and that
have been important to me as a human being.
I don't have any children. But I do have two nephews. So maybe somewhere
down the road they will be able to look at this and get something out of it.
I do have my dog Baron who is like a child to me, but I'm afraid that
his version of art is more of a Dadaist one.
Leonardo DaVinci — Madonna of the Rocks (1486)
When I was in 9th grade I watched a series on Leonardo, one
of those long series that is half documentary and half re-
enactment. Afterward, I got some books and began looking at
his art. Across the years, the Madonna of the Rocks became
my favorite. I love the moody background, which sets off the
subjects so well.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir — Portrait of Madame Henriot (1876)
When I was in high school they had a bunch of art books in
the music library next to the orchestra room — don't ask me
why. I started taking some of them home. Renoir is very easy
to like. And I fell in love with this painting at first sight.
Madame Henriot just seems to float on the canvas.
It is said that Renoir was in love with her. And I think it
shows. Unfortunately the story has a sad ending — she was
killed in a fire a short while after he painted her. It is
said that Renior ran into the burning building, or at least
attempted to, to try to save her.
John Singer Sargent — Madame X (1884)
In 1978 I attended a large exhibition of Sargent's works at the
Indianapolis Museum of Art. Sargent's realism really appealed to
me. Over the next few decades I would look at his paintings in
books at the library and in bookstores. I particularly like his
use of solid color space to balance out elements in the painting.
Since a few years ago, Sargent has gone down a bit in my estimation
for various reasons that I won't go into here. But he was a signi-
ficant part of my art background, so it is fitting that I still
And by the way, my favorite Sargent painting is a portrait that
currently hangs in a mansion in Kentucky. But I've been unable to
find an image of it. And there are numerous other portraits that
I like better than Madame X.
Marcel Duchamp — The Bride Stripped Bare By Her
Bachelors, Even (1923) (a.k.a. The Large Glass)
In 1980 I was living in an apartment in Indianapolis that was
one block from the I.U.P.U.I. art school. They had a really nice
library there, and even though I couldn't check out any books not
being a student I would go there on my days off and use it as a
kind of reading room. Browsing among the books one afternoon I
came across a small book on Marcel Duchamp. It was my first
introduction to Duchamp and my first real introduction to Dadaism.
I became fascinated with The Large Glass over the following years.
I find it fascinating from an imaginative point of view, and from
a technical point of view it is just so innovative in its use of
When the bottom pane of The Large Glass became cracked in
transport, Duchamp was thrilled, considering that to be the
perfect finishing touch to the work. Which I think is a very
good lesson about life.
Michelangelo Buonarroti — Staircase at the Medici Library (1530)
Architecture or not, I have to include this one. Even with
all of the other great works by Michelangelo, this staircase
is my favorite work. I guess I must have a bit of the engineer
It is said that Michelangelo designed the length of each step
so that you have to take two small steps or one very big one
to get to the next step. It was supposedly a metaphor for the
acquisition of knowledge — we progress by tiny steps or,
occasionally, we take one great leap. I think Michelangelo took
about three great leaps during his career.
Salvador Dali — The Discovery of America by
Christopher Columbus (1959)
It has always been Dali's later works that have intrigued
me the most, not the earlier "limp clock" period. This work
is technically beautiful, but at the same time there is
something of the Apocalyptic vision about it; not the
discovery of a new world, but the decimation of one. It
reminds me of the statement of Christopher Columbus himself,
writing in a letter "We found people without number. But
nothing of importance."
In the late 80s I read Dali's autobiography. Let's just
say that he was a very strange person. Sigmund Freud once
told him he was "a fanatic." Dali, of course, took it as
John William Waterhouse — Ophelia (1894)
I love Waterhouse's use of myth, legend, and literature.
Technically, I think he is one of the finest in history.
I have a print of this particular Ophelia on my wall. The
detail in her wrist is so exquisite that you can almost see
a pulse flowing through it. It's just a drop dead beautiful
Auguste Rodin — Gates of Hell (1917)
I put this one in last, out of sequence, out of time.
There is no doubt that Gates of Hell is Auguste Rodin's
greatest work. All else he did was like a study for this
monumental sculpture. Ironically, Gates of Hell was unfinished
at his death. Several copper castings of the original plaster
were made in subsequent years. These all ended up in several
places in Europe, and the oxidation eventually turned the copper
In the early 80s a rich philanthropist contacted the Rodin
estate about making new casts. These new casts were to be made
of bronze according to Rodin's original intention. The estate
agreed, and the casts were made. If I am not mistaken three
bronzes were eventually cast. One of these ended up at the
Stanford University Rodin Garden — this is the one in the
photo shown above. I believe the other one ended up in Southern
California. I don't know where the third one went, but I think
it might have stayed in Paris.
On its way to California, the new bronze Gates of Hell made a few
stops in a few cities. One of those cities was Dallas, in 1983,
where I was living at the time. I decided to go see it.
I had lunch with a girlfriend of mine downtown and then walked
the short distance to the Dallas Museum of Art. I walked down
the street and took a right at the corner wall of the Sculpture
garden. I walked down the block, and as I reached the end of the
wall the sculpture suddenly appeared. "Oh my god" I said aloud.
Due to the size of the sculpture (about 14 foot high) they didn't
put it in the sculpture garden, but at a slant in the small plaza
right outside the main entrance to the museum. I walked to the
corner and doubled back so that I could approach the sculpture
from straight-on. I walked slowly. Appropriately, it was hot as
Hell, too — about 100 Fahrenheit. I stopped about fifteen feet
in front of the immense, 3-ton work and looked at it. In spite of
the heat and the sun, light almost seemed to sink into the sculpture.
It was new bronze, almost black.
It is difficult to describe my emotions. I studied the different
groups composing the sculpture. Eventually I went up and felt it,
running my fingertips quickly over it. It was hot, of course. My
fingers didn't stay on it for very long. Then I went back to my
original position and spent some more time looking at it. Rodin
realized his intent in this work fully: It truly does convey Dante,
"I am the way to the City of Woe,
I am the way to a forgotten people."
It was the most intense art experience of my life. Gates of Hell is an
amazing work, one that was perhaps lost in a century devoted to
the new and the modern. But given the horrors that were to come
about in the 20th century, I sometimes wonder if it might not
have been the most reflective work of all.