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An Art Historian Considers the Art of the Steal – Publishers Weekly

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When Cynthia Saltzman was given access to the Louvre galleries after regular closing hours, the curator was flummoxed that she wasn’t interested in the Mona Lisa. She wasn’t. The painting she had come to see, Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, is displayed directly opposite Leonardo da Vinci’s masterwork and is at the center of Saltzman’s latest book, Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast (FSG, May). The story of the painting captures history, art, commerce, politics, and Napoleon, who had Wedding Feast at Cana ripped from the wall of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice in 1797, where it had hung for over 200 years.

While fighting the Austrian Empire, Napoleon looted Italian art with abandon to fill the Louvre, a royal palace that Louis XVI had begun to convert to a museum housing the royal art collection. The French Revolution precipitated its opening to the public. As Saltzman notes, “Napoleon was in his 20s, an upstart from Corsica, determined to make his reputation.”

As a Harvard undergraduate, Saltzman switched her major from architecture to art history after taking over for the graduating art critic at the Harvard Crimson. Her change in majors, she recalls, was part of fulfilling her destiny, as someone who as a child in New York City was frequently “dragged to the Met.”

Initially Saltzman didn’t intend Plunder to be a book about one painting. “But I wanted to understand the significance of Venice’s loss and how important this painting was to France,” she says. “It influenced the impressionists, the post-impressionists, and van Gogh, who wrote about it. It’s arguably one of the most important works of art, always regarded as fabulous, and I particularly loved it.”

For Wedding Feast at Cana, Veronese used the most expensive paints to depict a banquet from the Bible set on a terrace in his contemporary 16th-century Venice, with some 130 figures in lavish costumes. “I went to Venice many times in the course of writing this book,” Saltzman says, “and every time I came away more aware of how amazing the Venetians were—how in the 16th century they created these masterpieces with brush, canvas, and paint.”

Plunder picks up themes in Saltzman’s previous two books, 1998’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece and 2008’s Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures. “I write about art,” she explains, “but I’m particularly interested in writing about the transfer of art—how it’s part of cultural and financial history.”

The contract for Plunder was signed with Jonathan Galassi at FSG for U.S. and Canadian rights in 2012 on the basis of a proposal. Thames & Hudson will publish it simultaneously in the U.K. But Saltzman says she had been thinking about writing it since the late 1990s—“thinking about how to write it, it’s such a big story”—and had discussed the project early on with Melanie Jackson at the Melanie Jackson Agency, her agent for over 25 years.

“I discuss everything with Melanie,” Saltzman says. “She’s a great reader. I sent her the first draft in summer 2018. There were many drafts. There are always many drafts.”

Galassi tells me he has been obsessed with Napoleon since he was a kid. “Napoleon used art as part of his politics, his grandiosity,” he notes. “Also, what’s fascinating is, how do you get a painting that size [it measures 22’ × 32’, the largest painting in the Louvre] from Italy to France? It’s incredible—so difficult not to damage it.” And actually, according to Saltzman, though the French were forced to return the art Napoleon had stolen from Italy after he was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, the general secretary of the Louvre, Athanase Lavallée, balked at giving back the Veronese, which he insisted would be destroyed if it were moved.

“Cynthia’s book brings a piece of history very much alive,” Galassi says. He has seen Wedding Feast at Cana in the Louvre as well as the digital life-size reproduction of the painting in the refectory of the monastery in Venice. “The original location, in the dining room, gave the painting extra meaning,” he says, “because it depicts a feast. Being in the same room at the Louvre with the Mona Lisa, it gets short shrift.”

Since Galassi counts Saltzman as an old friend (as he does Jackson), he asked FSG executive editor Ileene Smith to edit Plunder. “Jonathan knew I was drawn to books about art and history with an interesting moral component,” Smith says. “Also, I had acquired and edited Philip Dwyer’s multivolume biography of Napoleon for Yale University Press. I read closely—as a lay reader, of course. And Cynthia was quite a scrupulous reader of her own prose in any event. At first she may have been a bit apprehensive—we did not know each other. But she had to have sensed my excitement about her book. Plunder is a feat of research and storytelling on a heroic scale.”

The publication date is May 11 for the 336-page hardcover, which includes eight color images as well as 32 in black and white.

Galassi says he expects “a good readership,” adding, “There’s a fascination with art, and the writing is accessible and fun. There’s also the enduring fascination with Napoleon. Was he a genius? Or a monster? This book for me is like candy. Napoleon was not a normal person: he’s Trump with talent!”

A version of this article appeared in the 02/08/2021 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: The Art of the Steal

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New art installation illuminates downtown Vancouver (PHOTOS/VIDEOS) | Curated – Daily Hive

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Please note: As recommended by BC’s provincial health officials, gatherings of any kind and unessential travel in the province is not recommended at this time. Please adhere to COVID-19 health and safety measures, including proper physical distancing and frequent hand washing, and wearing a mask or face-covering in public indoor and retail spaces. If you are sick, please stay home. 


A new art installation is lighting up downtown Vancouver in an effort to lift the city’s spirits.

Called BRIGHT Downtown, photos from the show’s inaugural night show bold animations dancing across the façade of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

Put on by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), the show explores “how art is intrinsically interwoven into every step of the human experience.”

The free instillation will run nightly until March 12, and can be seen from “šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square,” also known as the North Plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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Art gallery launches #myessential community mural project – Woodstock Sentinel Review

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What is essential to you?

Answers to this question by local youth – in the form of drawings and photographs – will guide a #myessential community mural project that will be created by Durham artist JP Morel inside Owen Sound’s Tom Thomson Art Gallery.

“We’ve really only been using this word ‘essential’ because we’re hearing about it in news and such and we’ve been told what’s been essential during this global pandemic,” said Heather McLeese, curator of public projects and education.

“And now we’re flipping that and asking people – what has been essential to them and their experience and what’s really gotten them through this difficult time of living through a global pandemic?”

Morel, a visual artist who has created several outdoor murals in Durham, said she plans to be at the gallery each weekday over the next two weeks to paint the #myessential mural on the walls in The Jennings David Young gallery space.

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It will be her largest mural to date.

“The kids provide the content, which are the images, and I would say the artist’s job is to answer that question – how does it come together?” said Morel, a youth workshop leader.

“That has to do with sitting with the ideas and absorbing them and stewing on them. There’s technical things; I’ll be dealing with composition and I’ve got a colour palette, so I’m concerned with all of those artistic questions. But I do want to really stay faithful to their images. I’m really interested in their images because it does lend their voices to the mural.”

The mural is one component of the community art project #myessential, which officially launched Saturday with the reopening of the gallery, following the recent provincial lockdown. It will run until May 1.

Also part of the project is an invitation to gallery visitors and others to share their answers to the #myessential question.

“I want it to be a project that really has a ripple effect through the community,” McLeese said.

Morel is no stranger to the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. In 2017, the visual artist worked with the gallery on a large-scale mural project involving high school students.

She applied last year to participate in the gallery’s upcoming community artist spotlight, which provides local artists with a chance to display their work in the atrium on a rotating monthly basis.

She said she proposed in her application creating a mural with community input.

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But McLeese said the spotlight series was put on hold due to the lockdown.

While the gallery was closed, staff came up with the #myessential project idea and decided Morel would be the “perfect artist” to lead it.

To kick off the project, Morel led a series of virtual drawing classes last week with Jenn Klemm’s Grade 9 art class at Owen Sound District Secondary School. The 25 students submitted a combined 100 drawings, each answering the #myessential question.

“How JP is translating the mural in this space is through three different vantages – what has been essential in the past, what is essential now and what will be essential in the future?” McLeese said.

“The drawings the students did are really timely. There’s everything from Netflix to cell phones to family members to music to things that have really gotten these kids through a weird time.”

McLeese said John Fearnall’s photography class at OSDSS will be taking on the project this week by responding to the same question, but through digital images.

The gallery will show the students’ photographs on monitors in the #myessential space.

There’s also a table set up with pencils and paper, so visitors can contribute to the project. People can also participate on social media by answering the question in any form – a drawing, poem or photograph, for example – and using the myessential hashtag.

“I think it’s a question that everyone should be thinking about and perhaps haven’t really taken the time to think about what has been vital to them through COVID-19. I think it’s important to really reflect on those things that have been making the days go by and us adapting to this new normal of living,” McLeese said.

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“It’s been so refreshing and invigorating having youth answer this question, but it’s something that our whole community can answer and really get something from. I think it will be a wonderful experience to welcome people back into the art gallery, asking them that question about what has been essential to them through this pandemic.”

Along with the #myessential project, the new exhibition David Beirk: A Sanctuary for Thought also launched Saturday. It features art from the gallery’s collection – some of which has never been presented publicly before – that highlight the late painter’s “anxieties over a threatened ecological landscape and the erosion of beauty, humanism and morality in art,” the gallery says.

The popular exhibition Group of Seven: The View from Here, which showcases the gallery’s collection of Group of Seven works, will also continue.

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Art Fx #10: "Spring Melt" by Janine Marson – Huntsville Doppler – Huntsville Doppler

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Art Fx is a year-long series on Huntsville Doppler featuring Huntsville-area visual artists.

“Spring Melt” is a framed original oil on birch board measuring 8″ x 10″ and is painting #7 from Janine Marson’s Rural Roots Collection, for which she created 50 paintings to honour her roots at Oxtongue.

“Spring Melt” was painted on location at Boyne Creek in Dwight during the spring melt. “The deep mysterious blues contrasted beautifully with the bright white snow and caught my eye enough to want to paint it,” said Janine. “I pulled off to the side of the road and grabbed my trusty paint box to head down closer to the water to sit and paint. I’ve seen this annual melt year after year and it always cheers me up to see the melting ice and trickling waters usher in the promise of spring.

“Next time you drive out towards Dwight, take a peek on your right hand side and you may just catch a glimpse of this ray of hope.”

“Spring Melt” is painting #7 from Janine Marson’s Rural Roots Collection. It is available for $375. (supplied)

About the artist:

Janine Marson is a seasoned artist with a B.A. Fine Art from the University of Guelph and a Diploma of Art and Design from Georgian College. Her art career spans over 30 years creating works of art in all media. Janine shares her wealth of knowledge with students at the Haliburton School of Art and Design and out of her own studio in Huntsville. She created a wildly successful exhibition in 2017 of 100 paintings to honour the 100-year anniversary of Tom Thomson’s death. It was followed by another series called Rural Roots, 50 oil paintings that honoured her roots at Oxtongue, which was revealed June 29, 2019 at the Oxtongue Craft Cabin and Gallery. In 2020 Janine exhibited in the group show LANDED: a Gallery Exhibition Celebrating the Land with her colleagues at The Barn, Hillside.

Janine’s studio is at 2-6 West St. N. in Huntsville. Connect with her at 705.789.6843, online at
janinemarson.com, or on the following social media channels: Facebook @JanineMarsonArt, Instagram @janinemarson, Twitter @throughtomseyes, and LinkedIn @janinemarson.

See more local art in Doppler’s Art Fx series here.

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