Desper ately Youthful artists That died intheir itwenties
Just how many artists’ lives were cut short before they attained their full potential? How have our museums and personal collections been diminished by these musicians’ premature departure? Did each make his or her highest contribution despite the brevity of the days? For many unfortunate artists, the answer to this last question has to be, regretfully, no.
Just inside the main entrance of St. Petersburg’s Repin Institute is a marble wall where the titles of student artists killed in action are recorded in gold lettering. The entire course of 1942 was delivered to the front , barely armed and with little military Greater than half came home living. Additionally, the grand stairs at the older Leningrad Art Union was lined with countless photographs of young artists that died in service to the Motherland during the Great Patriotic War (World War II). Socialist Realism specialist Dr. Vern G. Swanson recalls:
Every time that I visited this wall I’d choke up at the immensity of the reduction. Some of these were great artists, and it chills and saddens one to think of those young people never living out the full degree of their artistic capacity. I wished to see every artist’s face and listen to their names one more time. As painful as it had been, I just didn’t want them forgotten.
The cruelty of all unfulflled artistic potential could be glimpsed in the United States, also. However, upon reading his birth and death dates on the adjacent wall label, I marveled that he had only lived to be 29 before perishing abruptly of heart failure. At this time, the majority of us have done precious little to be remembered, but here was an artist already buried by then.
Throughout over a decade of study, my father, Vern Swanson, also I’ve discovered hundreds of similar individuals who died in an age when most performers are still growing. Nonetheless, many have left a lasting, albeit truncated, heritage through their art. They were definitely not late bloomers, but instead precocious talents who died before reaching the age of 30. Many accomplished this feat by being born to artistic families where relatives ofered them their frst tutelage. This gave them a much-needed head start to achieve excellence in the brief time allotted to them.
Yet this wasn’t accurate in every case. Some artists displayed their gifts without familial precedent, fueled only by their drive to learn and their magnificent genius.
Once we think of artists dying early, we’ve been conditioned to anticipate that a Vincent van Gogh narrative that reads something like that:”A dazzling yet drugor alcohol-dependent artist meets with conflicts and disappointment with mental health problems. Ultimately, the artist is not able to cope and takes his or her life” This perception has been reinforced by other fgures, particularly Modernists such as Richard Gerstl (1883–1908), that chased and disemboweled himself before a mirror, and Jeanne Hébuterne (1898–1920), who jumped out a window following the death of her lover Amedeo Modigliani.
Likewise, in popular culture that the term”27 Club” has been used to recognize the phenomenon of actors, musicians, and visual artists who died at the age of 27, often from alcohol and drug misuse. In reality, throughout history, much more fne artists have expired not in 27 but at 28 or 29, and their early deaths scarcely had related to suicide or substance abuse. Of the artists featured in the book my dad and I’ve just published, suicide accounts for just 10 deaths (roughly nine per cent ) and overdoses that a further two.
By and large, being an artist was a relatively safe profession. The vast majority, notably realist artists, lived to, or beyond, the standard life expectancies of their day. When they died young, it was generally of causes typical of their region. For instance, once the bubonic plague ravaged Seville at 1649, killing a third of its inhabitants, in addition, it took the gifted still life painter Juan de Zurbarán (1620–1649), son of the renowned Francisco de Zurbarán.
Generally speaking, artists did not expire for career-specifc reasons, with the potential exception being the happening of Rome. Unfortunately, the Eternal City and its environs saw the passing of no fewer than 20 artists in our book, seven of whom were Prix de Rome winners. While”Rome” cannot necessarily be thought of as a cause of death, poisonous travel and unsanitary conditions made some artists’ remain there ironically short. Here are a few stirring examples.
WAR AND DISEASE
The enticement of war and patriotic duty led some hot-blooded artists, such as Frédéric Bazille (1841– 1870), to volunteer. Despite protestations from his buddies Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he enlisted in the Franco-Prussian War. His death was regarded as a waste by Renoir, who bitterly recalled that,”He hadn’t expired romantically, galloping over a Delacroix battlefeld; however pitifully,during the retreat, on a muddy street at Beaune la Rolande.” 1 Bazille’s delightfully sensitive signature, observation, and vibrant use of color have ensured that his continuing popularity, yet death horribly diminished the size of his oeuvre.
Likewise, the painter of sumptuous exoticism Henri Regnault (1843–1871) died at just 27 throughout the Prussians’ siege of Paris. As a Prix de Rome winner he had been exempted from military service, but he wanted to help defend his country’s capital. Every time a general retreat was sounded, Regnault remained back into fre his last bullet but rather fell with a Prussian bullet to his left temple. The next day that his bereft fancée hunted one of the dead till she found his corpse. Regnault paid the ultimate price for”Vive la France” however, given the quality of his art, one wishes he had not. His enormous Salomé, today in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was a massive success at the 1870 Paris Salon and indications in the masterworks he could yet have produced.
A lot more artists have lost their lives to the microscopic germ called Mycobacterium tuberculosis than to the bullet. Frequently called TB or ingestion, this can be an airborne wasting disease that has long plagued the world. Highly contagious, it spread quickly through the confned distances of artists’ studios. Regrettably, before the invention of antibiotics, retrieval was infrequent. In the briefest of professions, he attracted to Russian landscape painting a poetry and naturalism never noticed before. Repin called him the”boy magician” and painter Nikolai Ge lyrically suggested that Vasilyev had”found for us the skies.” Really, his captivating landscape Wet Meadow (1872) shows well his enchanting vision of Romantic nature that deeply afected the Russian college. For his health, Vasilyev has been arranged to leave St. Petersburg for the warmer weather of the Crimea peninsula, in which he slowly withered.
The wealth and high social position of Ukrainian-French artist Marie Bashkirtsef (1858–1884) couldn’t save her from TB either. Her intense desire to attain fame rather than, in her own words,”To die like a dog, like a hundred thousand women whose names are scarcely engraved upon their own tombstones,” is detailed in the 20,000 journal pages she penned. Frustrated, Bashkirtsef wrote,”I have spent years, working ten hours a day, to get what? The understanding of all I’ve to learn from my art, and a fatal disease!” Bashkirtsef’s most famous painting, The Meeting, was exhibited in the 1884 Paris Salon. Even though it was praised by the critics, she had been”humiliated” it won no awards, and yet it endures as her tremendous farewell to the Salon. Fittingly, Bashkirtsef’s fnal words were”Life was so amazing after all,” after which she died at only 25. As one biographer noteshe exercised”that an infuence from all proportion to his short life.” 2 Based on London’s National Gallery, Bonington has been”one of the most important artists of the early nineteenth century, essential to the understanding of British and French art of the Romantic period.” 3 He started his experimentations in watercolors and then oils into both amazing efect, as his oil research View near Rouen (c. 1825) demonstrates. Following his death, Bonington’s reputation continued to grow and lots of artists in both England and France imitated his personality. Contemporary critic Théophile Gautier asserted,”The revolution proceeded from Bonington as the literary revolution jumped from Shakespeare.”
Bonington was swept away by tuberculosis, as was Dutch Golden Age animal painter Paulus Potter (c. 1625–1654), who deeply changed the ways in which animals are portrayed in Western art through his radically realistic fashion. His life-size masterpiece, The Young Bull (1647), was painted when Potter was just 21, and its”living image” of plantation life created cattle painting essential in Holland for another three centuries. Regrettably, tuberculosis not only ended lifestyles, in addition, it made artists increasingly less productive as its death march progressed. What would Potter have accomplished if he’d avoided its shackles?
Although no single disorder claimed as many artists’ lifestyles as tuberculosis, infectious diseases like cholera, dysentery, infuenza, pneumonia, and typhoid fever have jointly taken almost as many. Because of Pierino’s consummate ability, several of his sculptures have at different times been misattributed to Michelangelo. Giorgio Vasari explained Pierino thus:”His genius was honored by all, being much more perfect than would have been expected in one so young, and it was possible to grow even more and also to eventually become more, and equal to that of another man in his art.” 4
What exactly do we provide for Rembrandt’s pupil Willem Drost (1633– 1659)? He died of pneumonia at 25, yet he’d mastered the mild of Northern artwork along with the soft atmosphere of Italian art, as found in his allegory Flora (c. 1657), which communicates the golden infuences of the Venetian master Titian. Drost’s existence in important museum collections and his high auction prices attest to his continuing signifcance, but his canvases are few.
Unfortunately, we do not always know how an artist died. Occasionally the causes are disguised on purpose. This was the situation with Britain’s Christopher Wood (1901–1930), that pulled himself under a train. This occasion was, however, reported as an accident to match his mother’s wishes. In other cases, adequate records, signs, or postmortems are simply unavailable. An enigmatic vagabond, Ruess researched the High Sierras, California’s shore, and remote wilderness areas in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado — automatically alone. His strong linoleum prints like Granite Towers (c. 1933), and his watercolors of stark Western landscapes, demonstrate that Ruess had abundant talent and a exceptional vision. He had been seen with two burros on the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail in Utah’s Escalante National Monument. Those hoofed companions were found later at Davis Gulch along the Escalante River, but Ruess had vanished. His remains were never found. Some say he fell out of a clif, or pitched in a fash food, or was robbed and murdered.
Ultimately the wanderer lifestyle that enhanced Ruess’s artistry became his undoing.
Undoubtedly, the most infuential artist shot in his 20s was that the Italian painter Masaccio (1401–1428), who died suddenly in Rome of unknown causes. According to legend he was poisoned by a jealous rival painter, although some suspect he died of the plague. Vasari believed Masaccio that the best painter of his generation and wrote that the most celebrated Florentine musicians studied his frescos to be able”to learn and to grasp the precepts and the rules for work.” This really is a remarkable observation since Masaccio’s career ran all of six years. He truly transformed the direction of Italian art, for the frst time introducing it at a more logical, natural, and humanist way. Masaccio was one of the frst to master linear view and dramatic chiaroscuro we associate with all the Italian Renaissance, as seen in his fresco masterpiece in Florence’s Brancacci Chapel, The Tribute Money (1425).
In Bologna, the Baroque painter Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was at frst reluctantly tutored by her own dad in artwork. By 16, nevertheless, she had taken over his studio and workshop, and then she went on to teach at least 12 women students in art. Indeed, Sirani’s atelier was the frst to encourage professionally targeted females toward painting careers, not only fnishing-school-style drawing classes. From the time of her early death she’d painted over 200 pictures, for that she achieved fame, including Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1658). When Sirani died suddenly at 27, her estranged dad charged her maid poisoning his daughter’s meals out of jealousy. The modern scholar Carlo Malvasia believed her father was to blame for conducting of her suitors and thus causing her to die of lovesickness. Remaining suspicious, local authorities had her remains exhumed along with the autopsy discovered she had really died of a perforated stomach ulcer.
Each of these talented individuals were really”gone soon.” They didn’t have enough time to wear out or rust out. For many artists, ancient death imbued their legacies with enigma and poignancy, yet for most, death wasn’t a fantastic career move. Some had”said” all they wanted to, but most still had masterpieces left within them. Mankind might have used their collective genius to enliven our spirits and inspire our culture. We truly mourn this loss of contributions to our culture.
But let’s shut on a more optimistic note. Historian B. H. Roberts rightly emphasized the bittersweet nature of young musicians’ passing:”It’s sad for friends to a part, but there’s some grand in being accepted while there is yet some electricity in life.” 5 As Hippocrates wrote, initially in Greek, Ars longa, vita brevis (Art is long, life is short).