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The Eccentrics

Of course everyone expects artists to be eccentric, it comes with the instruction manual, but there are some eccentricities that have to be shared. Rembrandt developed an affection for a monkey and kept it in his studio. Not only that, when commissioned to paint a family portrait for a wealthy merchant he included the primate in the picture. Not surprisingly the buyer pointed out that he had not asked for the monkey to be immortalised with his loved ones. In reply, Rembrandt told him that the monkey was going nowhere. The upshot? The buyer refused the painting and Rembrandt kept the monkey.

And then there was Fra Filippo Lippi, who declared his unwavering love of the church whilst enjoying numerous love affairs with nearby nuns. He was eventually imprisoned by the Pope in order to keep him at the easel and away from the bedroom - at least until he had completed the Papal commission.

In England, William Blake was a known aesthete, a man who found inspiration in the paranormal and the occult. Aside from sunbathing naked with his wife in their garden, Blake painted 'Portrait of a Flea' (see attached) and declared that he had enjoyed many conversations with the insect, who apparently had some perceptive arthropodal insights.

Some eccentric artists gravitated to the dark side. Gericault, committed to his monumental painting 'The Raft of the Medusa' wanted the doomed figures on the raft to be realistic, in life and in death. His dedication led him to close up his studio for four months whilst he painted, and in that time he accumulated body parts from the Paris morgue - legs, arms, heads and torsos were studied, their decay recorded and reproduced on canvas. Dying of tuberculous, and desperate to complete his masterpiece, Gericault lived and slept with the dead, dying months after the work was completed.

Stubbs also dissected bodies, but his were those of horses, their cadavers suspended in monumental studio frames so that he might study their anatomy. His studio was in a farm and a mile away from other humans, luckily as the stench was unbearable. Although others kept their distance, Stubbs had a wife who lived with him happily. It is recorded that the lady had no sense of smell.

Of course some of the sitters veered on the eccentric side too, the infamous courtesan Kitty Fisher astonishing Casanova by eating a slice of bread with a twenty pound note in it. The artist Reynolds adored her, but it was down to Zeuxis in Ancient Greece to display a truly eccentric approach when he was commissioned to create the perfect Venus. Having scoured the country for the ideal woman he was close to despair before finally selecting five different women. He then painted the arms of one, the hair of another, the eyes of the third, etc. piecing them together in a pulchritudinous jigsaw that met with rapturous approval.

The list goes on....


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