Artists on Artists: De Kooning on Titian

Willem de Kooning was quoted as saying:

But [Titian at ninety] kept on painting Virgins in that luminous light, like he’d just heard about them. Those guys [Titian and Michelangelo] had everything in place, the virgin and God and the technique, but they kept it up like they were still looking for something. It’s very mysterious.

Willem de Kooning was an abstract expressionist from The Netherlands and is probably best known for the Woman series. I don’t know the context of de Kooning’s comment on the High Renaissance masters as I found the quote in a book on Mark Rothko but I did, initially, agree with the assessment. The Renaissance artists painted the Virgin and angels and baby Jesus over and over and over. If they needed a break from the angels they painted the Virgin and Jesus with some saints and then went right back to the angels. However, I was only mentally referenced the works of Titian I remembered from Art History. Of course, as I have become increasingly aware of my memories breaches and various memory retrieval shortcomings I have added a stage of quick research before just spouting out crap. It seemed only fair to review the work of Titian before jumping on the de Kooning bandwagon.

Titian completed several hundred works most of which still survive including with at least one still in its original location. He did paint angels. He painted pietas, madonnas and veneres (spellcheck hates this word but it is the actual plural of Venus). He created poesie paintings (large pieces of artwork containing mythological figures and scenes from narratives about the pantheon) as well. One of these paintings, The Rape of Europa, is housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. He also created some stunning portraits. His Self-Portrait, which lives in Madrid and was painted in 1567 when the artist was approximately 79 years old, is a chiaroscuro stunner. And both portraits of Pope Paul III attributed to Titian are incredible with the earlier work containing a richness of light which makes the pope’s clothes luxurious and life-like and the second containing two grandsons making the composition much more elaborate while surprising modern day viewers who don’t expect popes to have grandsons.

A bad memory is a terrible thing. But there seemed to be a greater divide between what I found and what I remembered than I was comfortable accepting outright. Why didn’t I remember any of this from Art History? A class, I’d like to add, I’ve taken in various forms and at levels 3 times. Cue, packrat tendencies toward books. Turns out my most recent Art History book, despite being over 1000 pages, spent all of one page of text on Titian and contained a whooping 3 images. My memory worked just dandy in this case it was my Art History texts that were suspect. De Kooning, by the way, merited one paragraph and one image in my old textbook.

So, in short, Titian rocked and de Kooning needed internet access.

To view the works I’ve mentioned or for information about the artists check out the following websites:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Titian)

The National Gallery (Titian)

Museum of Modern Art (de Kooning) 

The Willem de Kooning Foundation