A new app will let you dive headlong into the enigma that is the Mona Lisa. Art Plunge is a virtual reality gallery that allows users to get an interior view of famous works of art, as Co.Design reports, seemingly going “inside” the frame.
Art Plunge—currently available in beta versions for Gear VR, Google Daydream, and Google Cardboard—essentially extends the frame of famous paintings to show what the scene would look like if you were actually in the room with the painter. Created by Swedish designers/developers Martin Eklund and Martin Christensen, the app adds sound and visuals so that you…
American painter Gilbert Stuart’s legacy is defined, in part, by his iconic painting of the first U.S. President, George Washington. Yet there’s more to this presidential artwork and its curious creator than meets the eye.
1. THE PAINTING IS NOT NAMED AFTER ITS SUBJECT OR ITS COMMISSIONER.
Instead, the Lansdowne Portrait is named for the Marquess of Lansdowne. Born William Petty-FitzMaurice, he was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the end of the American Revolution and the beginnings of the peace negotiations. American senator William Bingham commissioned this portrait in 1795. It was a present for the Marquis, in thanks for his support of the Jay Treaty and normalizing relations between the two countries. During that time, the newly minted United States was nearing the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which paved the way for Washington’s presidency.
The Lansdowne Portrait isn’t even his most popular portrait. That honor would go to the 1796 Athenaeum Portrait. Not only is that unfinished portrait counted as the most iconic image of Washington, but it’s also the basis of the president’s depiction on America’s dollar bill. Churning out copies of his greatest works, Stuart turned his Washington portraits into a cottage industry. He ultimately sold 130 copies of Athenaeum for $100 apiece.
3. STUART WAS A COWARDLY PATRIOT.
As the American Revolution approached, the Rhode Island-born painter fled to England to escape the conflict. There and in Ireland, he developed a reputation as a portrait artist. Stuart won praise for capturing the character of his subjects, as he did with the 1782 painting of William Grant, The Skater.
4. IT WAS A DESIRE TO PAINT WASHINGTON THAT DREW HIM BACK STATESIDE.
Well, that and mounting debt that chased him out of England and then Ireland. Stuart planned to use the education he’d acquired overseas to paint America’s political elite in the prestigious manner of European royalty. He wrote to a friend:
“When I can net a sum sufficient to take me to America, I shall be off to my native soil. There I expect to make a fortune by [portraits of] Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits, whole lengths, what will enable me to realize; and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English and Irish creditors. To Ireland and English I shall be adieu.”
Stuart returned to the U.S. in 1793. But meeting Washington was no easy task.
Reaching New York City, Stuart sought a contact that could get him closer to the president, and found Founding Father John Jay. After impressing John Jay by painting his portrait, the American statesman obliged the painter with a letter of introduction that sent Stuart to Philadelphia, which served as the country’s capital until 1800. There, the president and the portraitist would meet again and again, spawning the Lansdowne Portrait, the Athenaeum, and the Vaughan, among other works.
It’s a good bet that after you read this article, you’ll start paying more attention to background props in movies.
A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
It was Christmas Eve 2009. Gergely Barki, an art historian and researcher with the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, had settled in with his daughter Lola to watch the 1999 movie Stuart Little. As Barki’s daughter snuggled on his lap to giggle at Stuart the mouse’s onscreen antics, Barki couldn’t believe his eyes. In a scene where Stuart and his human family have a conversation in front of a fireplace, Barki recognized the painting hanging on the wall in the background. It was no ordinary set dressing—it was a lost Hungarian masterpiece that hadn’t been seen in public since 1928.
“I nearly dropped Lola from my lap,” Barki said. “It was like a miracle of Christmas for me. It seems almost impossible to find a painting hidden in a Hollywood movie.”
What Gergely Barki had recognized was artist Róbert Berény’s Sleeping Lady with Black Vase. Berény was one of “the Eight”—a group of avant-garde artists who modernized Hungary’s art movement starting in 1909. Not only was Berény an important Hungarian artist, he was also a colorful figure. In 1920, he fled Hungary after designing recruitment posters for a failed communist revolution. He was also rumored to have had affairs with actress Marlene Dietrich and Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Sleeping Lady with Black Vase was an art deco portrait of Berény’s second wife that he painted in 1926. But it had vanished. In fact, the only image of the painting that Barki had ever seen was a black-and-white photograph in a 1928 exhibition catalog. Yet he had no doubt he’d spotted the missing painting. “It was not just on screen for one second but in several scenes of the film, so I knew I was not dreaming,” he said. Barki had to track it down.
A “LITTLE” PROBLEM
The art researcher emailed Sony and Columbia Pictures, the studios that produced Stuart Little. Production executives remembered the painting, but they had no idea where it had gone after filming ended. So Barki worked his way through the list of cast and crew and emailed everyone who’d touched the…