Karel Appel

1962, oil on canvas, 45” X 35”

It looks like scribble scrabble, I know. And to be honest, it’s not a favorite of mine. But it’s been a good conversation piece (What is that?!) and a good investment, doubling in value since I bought it years ago.

The artist is Karel Appel, a Dutch painter and sculptor who cofounded a “school” of northern European expressionists called COBRA. (An acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam)

Appel (you can pronounce it like apple in English since it means apple in Dutch) attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam from 1940 to 1943, moved to Paris in 1950 and then to New York City in the 1960s and then lived in Italy and Switzerland later.

The COBRA movement was, like Expressionism generally, a reaction against the “sterile academicism” of traditional art at the time. Its style was influenced by folk art, naïve art, l’art brut (Jean Dubuffet) but most importantly (in my view) children’s art. In America artists doing this sort of thing were called action painters.

I have other works by Appel that I like a bit better. Like this one they are characterized by a thick layering of pigment, rushed, almost violent brushwork and a childlike figuration, but they are a bit less gloomy than this one. But those are later works, which don’t fetch the prices that painting in the 1950s and 1960s get. Also this one is registered in the Archive of the Karel Appel foundation, which makes the provenance impeccable.

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Francisco Zúñiga

Francisco Zúñiga is one of the most well known Latin American artists.  He creates larger than life size bronze sculptures of indigenous women walking, talking, working and wondering.  He was born in Costa Rica but moved to Mexico when he was in his 20s.  He also creates smaller sculptures in stone, bronze, marble and wood.

The prices of his works range from more than a hundred thousand dollars to $15,000 to $35,000 for bronzes (3 to 5 editions) to as little as $10,000 to $15,000 for works such as this one — a small ( 6”x6”x4”) but unique terra cotta beauty sculpted in 1951 that is priced at $15,000.

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Denis Nuñez

Denis Nuñez is one of the my favorite of the contemporary artists in Managua, Nicaragua.  Sometimes he paints the natural world with birds or bugs emerging from bright and broken backgrounds.  But more often he paints humanity’s vices and frailties but with an undeniable love of the subject. This work is from the early 1990s when his palette was predominately earth tones and his figures were usually posed and outlined in black. A winner of numerous awards and collected by many Central American museums and connoisseurs, he is lately getting much deserved international recognition. The price range for his work ranges from as little as $750 for a small gauche to more than $20,000 for larger oil paintings of this earlier vintage. I expect them to appreciate significantly over the coming years.

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A Visual History

Market Street, San Francisco after the earthquake, 1906.

Filming the MGM Logo

Nightwitches – Female Russian bombers who bombed Germany during WW2. They had old, noisy planes & the engines used to conk out halfway through their missions, so they had to climb out on the wings mid-flight to restart the props. To stop Germans from hearing them & starting up the anti aircraft guns, theyd climb to a certain height, coast down to German positions, drop their bombs, restart their engines in midair & get the hell out of dodge. Their leader flew 200+ missions & was never captured.

In 1911, Bobby Leach survived a plunge over Niagara Falls in a steel barrel. Fourteen years later, in New Zealand , he slipped on an orange peel and died.

Cyclists ride in the first running of the Tour de France, in 1903.

Caroline Otero, courtesan, the most sought after woman in all of Europe . She associated herself with the likes of Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Kings of Serbia, and Kings of Spain as well as Russian Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas, the Duke of Westminster and writer Gabriele DAnnunzio. Six men reportedly committed suicide after their love affairs with Otero ended. Two men fought a duel over her. She was famed for her voluptuous breasts.


Click here for more great historical photos.



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Mother & Child

Mother & Child 1977

Reynaldo Fonseca (b.1925, Brazil)

Oil on canvas, 29″ x 23″

I may have as many as 1,000 works in my art collection. This is one of my favorites.

As you can see it’s a painting of a mother and child. The mother holds the child in one arm, fist clenched and looks beyond a bird that is perched on her finger. The child seems to be looking shyly to the side. The different visual references give the portrait drama.

How did the bird get there?

What is she looking at?

What is her child looking at?

The figures themselves are statuesque rather than naturalistic. The figures stand in front of some sort of wall or wooden frame on which the artist has signed and dated the painting.

This gives the representation a modern, metta-painting sense. It is as if the artist is challenging you to decide where the painting begins and ends. The positioning of the figures in the foreground and the landscape in the background also remind me of the classicism of the Mona Lisa. I like these contrasts of the old and new.

Other painters I admire, such as Balthus and Ceracchini, compose their figures in a similar manner.

“Scena Campestre” – Gisberto Ceracchini


Beyond all that I like the muted colors, the orange garment on the child, the bland brown of her shirt and the grey blue in the background.



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Baie de VilleFranche-sur-mer

Baie de VilleFranche-sur-mer,
JEAN DUFY  1888 – 1964
Signed Jean Dufy (lower center)
Watercolor on paper, 19″ x 24″

I’m not a huge fan of Jean Dufy but I own three of his works. I’m hoping I can explain why I like this piece.

There is something in this watercolor that has always made a strong impression on me. It is difficult to describe. On one level, it is a impressionistic seascape. At tropical beach. A palm tree in the foreground. A sailboat in the middle ground. An outcropping of land in the distance. It looks very much like the view I have from my house in Nicaragua.

At some other level it seems very sad to me, almost painful. These suited vacationers, looking at the sailboat from behind a balustrade — they seem less enchanted than wistful. As if their imagined experience has been less than fulfilled. I have no idea whether Dufy had this thought in mind when he rendered this painting but I am still astonished that it can have this affect on me. It is something about the muted colors and the washed out white space. Of course I also imagine that it is Dufy himself in the foreground painting this sad scene.

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by Gisberto Ceracchini (Italian 1899-1982)
Oil on canvas, 44″ x 65″

This is one of my favorite paintings. It hangs in the entry room to my art gallery. It is also one of the few paintings in my gallery that is not from Latin America.

I fell in love with Ceracchini when I saw several of his larger paintings in the MACRO (Museo d’Arte Contemporanea). Several years later I was walking by a small art gallery (a gallery of real art) on a little street not far from the Spanish steps when I saw this piece in the front window. After validating the provenance I bought it the next day.

There are so many things I like about this painting. I like the scene itself. I like the way the background is painted. But what I like best is something I’d like to call its’ “sculptural effect”. The figures look like they are statues, frozen in time. One of my favorite painters, Balthus, does the same thing with his figures and it is beautiful. I’ve included a smaller copy of his so you can see what I mean.

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Untitled (Face)

Untitled (Face), 1970
by Karel Appel (Dutch 1921-2006)
oil on panel, 40″x 28″

I know, this looks like something a four-year old might do.

It is actually a painting by Karel Appel, one of the best known of a small group of “action” painters that formed an association after WWII called CoBrA. (Stands for the cities the founders came from: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam).

The idea was to paint like a child might: with expression and without restraint. They favored exuberant colors for the most part, although some of their most beautiful pieces were not so.

I own several Appels. This is the first one I bought. It was painted in 1970. His earlier paintings (of which I have two) are more valuable because they were closer to the CoBrA period. But this one has appreciated very nicely. Looking at it makes me happy — because the image is childlike and because I know it is worth a lot more than I paid for it!

Key collections are:

The Cobra Museum for Modern Art, Amstelveen Netherlands

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Tate gallery, London

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Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric”

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric”
57 1/8″ x 59″, oil on canvas
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

In the late 1800s, fin-de-siécle artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec gives us a peek under the skirts of Parisian culture.  Born a French blue blood, Lautrec went into self-imposed exile from high society. The reason? Embarrassment over his deformed legs, the result of an accident in his youth.  His primary subjects were actors, acrobats, entertainers, and prostitutes. He portrayed them with masklike features, harsh lighting, and decadent colors in hectic environments.  Lautrec’s most original contribution was the creation of a new type of art form: using lithography for the publicity poster.

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilperic” was painted in 1885/86.  Marcelle was the star of this play about a Spanish princess dancing in the court of the king, Chilperic. (In the painting, he is seated to her left.)  It was performed under newly installed harsh electric lights.  Lautrec visited the show 20 times to make his preliminary sketches.  He was in love with Marcelle and offered the finished painting to her. She refused it. It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art.

Mark Ford remarks, “There is something about Lautrec’s work that reminds me of paintings by Francisco Toledo, the greatest living artist of Mexico.   (He was born in 1940 and is still working.) It is something about the odd choice of colors, the subjects, and the brushwork.

“You can’t call these paintings beautiful in any conventional sense, but they have two qualities that make paintings valuable. They have a sort of instant appeal to the eye. Not pretty, but intriguing. You feel drawn into them. And then, when you look at them, you realize how complex they are. You wonder what possessed the painter. You have the sense that he is in some way disturbed by what he sees and manages to convey that feeling to you.”

Untitled [Flying Fish], Mixed media on paper, 10 ⅝” x 10″

Like Lautrec, Toledo uses an abstracted line and unnatural colors, and he gives us a glimpse of the risque. Hybrid creatures, partly playful and sometimes monstrous, speak to us of the idiosyncrasies of life. His art shows the connection of both human beings and the animal world to the natural world.

Toledo’s erotic and surreal watercolors, prints, assemblages, and drawings are quintessential examples of Mexican Magical Realism, an art form based on the folkloric traditions that he grew up with. He still lives in his hometown of Oaxaca, where he has established several libraries and schools for the arts.

Untitled [Cat], Mixed media on paper, 9 ¾ ” x 13″

The paintings of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec sell for millions of dollars. Smaller works and graphics go for several hundred thousand dollars each.  Francisco Toledo’s larger paintings sell for up to $500,000; smaller originals are available for about $20,000.


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Mesa Ocre con 3 Objetos

Mesa Ocre con 3 Objetos
Alejandro Aróstegui (1935 – )
Mixed media & collage on canvas, 61” x 61″

Alejandro Aróstegui is, without a doubt, one of the great political activists of all time in the Nicaraguan art world. For decades, he has used crushed cans and other “found” objects as the focus of his imagery. (They can be seen in many of his works in private and public collections.) He used trash in his art long before the trend for recycling existed — not as endorsement for “being green,” but to express indignation.

Mark Ford and I consider Aróstegui to be the most important of the Nicaraguan artists.
He was instrumental in the formation of the Praxis group in Managua at the beginning of the modern art movement in Nicaragua, and was its leading visual artist. He studied architecture at the University of Tulane in New Orleans and art at the Ringling School of Art, as well as in Florence and Paris.

What Mark likes about this painting is the feeling it evokes — which is difficult to describe because it is complex and almost contradictory.

Serenity is one emotion. The other is some sort of aesthetic irritation. The serenity comes from the blue sky and mountains, conventional elements in landscape painting. Here, they are painted as flat surfaces, yet some sense of perspective is suggested by the shading — especially in the primary field, which presents both the mountains in the distance and the desert in the foreground. The aesthetic irritation comes from that contrasted with how soothing the colors are.

But that is only half the painting. The other half is a still life showing a legless table that seems to be floating in air. On top of the table are three objects that seem to be both flat and three-dimensional. They seem flat because they are flattened metal objects. At the same time, they have three-dimensional qualities because of their shape and color and also because they cast shadows on the table surface.

Cenar, 2011, 19” x 30”

The contradictions give Aróstegui’s paintings a complexity that is hard to ignore. On an academic level, you might say that he achieves that here by combining select elements of three very distinct genres: landscape, still life, and surrealism.

Aróstegui still paints in his pristine studio in Managua, Nicaragua. I like that he creates only a few paintings each year. They sell before the paint dries at still reasonable prices. His work is occasionally available on the secondary market.

Las formas a la luz de la luna, 2011, 16” x 13”

Suzanne Snider

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