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Famous Artists

In this section we hope to build up a collection of information on various artists, giving biographical details and links to some of their more famous works.  All images used exist in the public domain, and comply with copyright laws.

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

David bearing the head of Goliath (1610)

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian Baroque painter. He was born in Milan in 1571 and died in 1610 in Porto Ercole. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Caravaggio fleeing a plague which was prevalent in Milan. His father died when Caravaggio was only six, and was followed by his mother in1584. After the death of his parents, Caravaggio began a four-year apprenticeship with Simone Peterzano, a Milanese painter.

Caravaggio's art had a huge influence on the Baroque style. Most of his paintings employ heavy tenebrism, which is a type of chiaroscuro with a really stark contrast between light and dark. Although chiaroscuro was used often before Caravaggio became a painter, he is accredited with making it an important stylistic element in Baroque. His paintings also employ a theater-like setting, another characteristic of Baroque art. An important aspect of his work is its distinct realism. He did all of his paintings using real people as models, often having them remain in uncomfortable positions for long hours. In fact, his art is so realistic and true to detail that on his painting The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, you can actually see the dirt on the bottom of the feet of one of the models. And in his painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, you can see the unsure expression on Judith's face, although some claim this is deliberately done because women were supposed to be portrayed as gentle at the time. His art was also considered controversial and sacrilegious by others. Despite this, he had many followers who were called 'Caravaggisti'. 

Caravaggio's personal life was believed to have been pretty turbulent. He was often arrested and imprisoned. He was known to be somewhat pugnacious and argumentative, having a difficult personality, which must have made it hard for his models. He was often caught in brawls, where he once killed a man, and in 1592, he fled to Rome. At one point he was made a knight, but eventually in late August of 1608, he was arrested for a brawl and expelled from the Order. The exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery; its cause and the precise date cannot be determined because differing reports at the time put forth many different versions. One of the theories that exists today is that he died of lead poisoning because the bones in what is considered to be his grave contained a high amount of lead salts.


Francisco Goya (1746-1828)

Charles IV of Spain and his Family by Goya (1801) 

Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes was a Spanish artist of the Romantic period. He was born in Fuendetodos, Aragon in 1746 to Jose Benito de Goya y Franque and Gracia de Lucientes y Salvador. His father was a gilder from a relatively modest family, but his mother had some claims to nobility. Goya began studying art at an early age. At age 14 he studied under Jose Luzan y Martinez and then under Anton Raphael Mengs in Madrid. In 1773 he married Josefa Bayeu.

In 1783, Goya was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Count of Floridablance. Thus began his career as court painter. He became friends with the Crown Prince Don Luis and painted his family. In 1789 he became the official court painter of Charles IV. In the years to follow he received many commissions from various members of the Spanish nobility. Goya became good friends with the Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who is believed to have commissioned Goya to paint the famous La Maja Desnuda. This was the first female nude in Western art that was not in any way mythological or allegorical. It was later followed by La Maja Vestida.

Goya's health began to deteriorate quickly soon after France declared war on Spain. It's not quite clear what his illness was, but his hearing and sense of balance worsened. His mental health also deteriorated. Despite this, some of Goya's most famous paintings depict scenes from the Peninsular War; for example the well-known painting  The Third of May 1808, which depicts the French army executing Spanish civilians who tried to stage an uprising.

As Goya's mental condition worsened, his work became more pessimistic and gloomy. His hearing grew steadily worse and he witnessed the death of the Duchess of Alba. He became more and more depressed. It is said that he bought a house and began painting on its walls. One of Goya's famous paintings, Saturn Devouring His Son was actually painted on his dining room wall. Some say that it depicts the artist’s despair over the passage of time, others the battle between youth and age. Some go as far as to suggest it shows the relationship between Goya and his son.

Francisco Goya was one of the most influential artists of the Romantic period. His works spanned many different topics and events. His style can be best described as emotional due to his messy brushstrokes and inattention to detail, especially in some of his later works. He is considered to be one of the first artists with a modern style.


Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques Louis David (1801-1805)

Jacques Louis David was a French Neoclassical artist, born in Paris in August 1748.  After his father was killed in a duel, David was sent by his mother to live with his uncles. His family wanted him to be an architect, but he himself wanted to be a painter. He studied under two artists -  Boucher, who was a Rococo artist and then Joseph-Marie Vien, a Neoclassical artist.  David had a facial tumor that made it difficult for him to talk. After winning the “Prix de Rome” David moved to Italy to study Neoclassical sculptures. When he returned to Paris, he married Marguerite Charlotte.

David was a big supporter of the French Revolution. He didn't indulge in the Rococo style and it is said that some of his most famous paintings, such as the Oath of the Horatii, actually symbolize a rallying cry to join the revolution. Even though the painting was commissioned by the monarchy, some say that he took it as an opportunity to advertise the revolution. David was also good friends with Jean-Paul Marat, a radical journalist during the French Revolution, and Robespierre, a member of the Jacobin Club. In fact, David voted in the National Convention for the execution of Louis XVI. One of David's most famous paintings, The Death of Marat, was inspired by the murder of his friend by Charlotte Corday. 

Apart from creating many historical paintings, David was also often commissioned to do portraits. His portraiture style is significantly different from his history paintings. While his historical paintings are done in a very non-personal and angular fashion, his portraits tend to be softer in style. This can be seen in his Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife.

David was imprisoned until 1795 for being a former revolutionary and a member of the Jacobins. After he was released, he became a teacher and later on, in 1804, court painter to Napoleon. After Napoleon fell, David was exiled to Brussels, where he died. He wasn't buried in France because he had voted for the execution of Louis XVI.


Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican artist born on July 6th, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico City. Her actual name was Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon. Kahlo's father was born in Germany and her mother was of indigenous Mexican and Spanish descent. When Kahlo was six, she became ill with polio, which made one of her legs thinner than the other. At the age of 18 Kahlo was a passenger on a bus that was hit by a trolley car. She suffered many injuries and had 35 surgeries after the incident.

Kahlo's career as an artist began as she was recovering from the bus accident, which provided her free time to paint. Her love for self-portraits was evident even then. She believed that it was easier to paint herself because she knew herself better than anyone. This is one of her self-portraits called Self-Portrait with Monkey. One major influence in her artwork was Mexican indigenous culture. She also used her personal experiences,such as marriage, illness and miscarriages as an inspiration for her work. Kahlo frequently painted monkeys, which are a symbol of lust in Mexican mythology. She most often painted in the styles of modern art, magic realism and surrealism, which are evident in her painting The Wounded Deer.

In 1929, Frida Khalo married Diego Rivera, who was also an artist. Kahlo was desperate for someone to pay attention to her work, and a romance between the two began after Rivera complimented Kahlo's paintings. Their relationship was troubled, and they divorced at one point, but married again. Rivera and Kahlo were both communists and became friends with Leon Trotsky, a Marxist revolutionary from the Soviet Union, after he fled to Mexico.

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954 in Coyoacan. Her death is believed to have been caused by a pulmonary embolism. She was very sick the last few years of her life. She suffered from broncho-pneumonia and one of her legs was amputated because of gangrene. All of this led to the belief that she might have died because of a morphine overdose. Kahlo's work didn't become famous until the late 1970s. Her childhood home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House), was turned into a museum after her death.


Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927)

Bathing by Kustodiev (1921)

Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev was a Russian realist artist. He was born in 1878 in Astrakhan. His father was a professor at a theological seminary, but died when Kustodiev was only two. His mother found a job playing the piano in people's homes in order to support her family. When Kustodiev was nine, an exhibition of the artworks of Surikov, Polenov, and Repin came to Astrakhan, and from that moment, he knew he wanted to be an artist. 

Kustodiev studied under many artists, including Pavel Vlasov, Ilya Repin, Dmitry Stelletsky and Vasiliy Mate at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Apart from being an artist, Kustodiev also did stage designing. He had his first exhibition in 1896. Soon after being taken into the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1909, he contracted tuberculosis of the spine. Eventually he became paraplegic, but continued to paint. 

Kustodiev has a very cheerful and bright style of painting. In spite of his illness, his work continued to be colourful and joyful. One of his most famous paintings is The Merchant's Wife at Tea, which was painted after he fell ill. Another one of his famous paintings, executed even later, in the year 1920, is Blue House. Kustodiev also did many portraits, many of them of fellow artists or poets. He also painted many self-portraits. This link is to a sketch he made of himself, simply called Self-Portrait. An additional aspect of Kustodiev's art is that he almost exclusively painted full-figured woman, as can be seen in the painting with the merchant's wife. That style is one of the things that made him so well-known. In Russia, there is a saying that can be translated as “Kustodiev's beauty”, which means a very full-figured woman. 

Boris Kustodiev died from tuberculosis in 1927 in Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg. He is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential of the Russian artists.

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