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Wonderfully weird stories of Iconic paintings and the artists behind them

Salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

The persistence of memory is probably the most iconic of Dali’s surreal paintings. It sold for $550 million at auction, which was not a bad profit margin for the museum that originally acquired the painting for a mere $250 in 1913.  Salvador Dali was an eccentric character, which is hardly surprising given he’d been raised to believe he was the reincarnation of his older, deceased brother. He continued to believe this into adulthood, which understandably had a bizarre impact him.  He was also said to be a fascist and Nazi sympathizer, once famously stating ‘I often dreamed about Hitler as other men dreamed about women’’ adding further credence to his odd reputation, He even included Hitler in some of his artwork. (He clearly had a ‘thing’ for weird moustaches)

The persistence of memory - Dali -

Mona Lisa,
Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503
Did you know that Pablo Picasso briefly spent time in jail as he was a suspect in the 1911 robbery of the Mona Lisa?  It turns out the actual thief was an employee at the Louvre who kept her in his apartment for two years before getting caught trying to flog her in Florence.  It was her theft that catapulted her onto the world’s stage; everyone was so overjoyed by her return that it really captured the world’s attention.


Mona Lisa Wall Art -

The French government now owns the painting but previous owners include Francois I, Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte, who reportedly kept her in his boudoir. (My sincere apologies for putting Napoleon-in-his-boudoir into your mind’s eye) Finally, the Mona Lisa is so awesome that you can even write to her! She has her own PO Box and receives a fair amount of love letters and fan mail, oddly.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what she’s worth because she’s priceless.

500 years later and Leonardo Da Vinci remains one of the world’s best-known artists. He wasn’t only an accomplished painter, he was actually pretty awesome at just about anything he turned his hand to, which is why ‘Polymath’ is so often used to describe him. He was in fact so interesting and so brilliant that people truly believed he was one of God’s chosen children. Not a bad way to be remembered. He spent the latter years of his life as a companion to the King of France, who it is said, never tired of listening to Leonardo ponder life, science, art and physics.

The Starry Night
Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

A Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh - Free US Shipping |

Believe it or not, this is the view from Van Goh’s Sanatorium where he, understandably, committed himself after chopping off part of his ear. There are lots of stories about why he did it, my favorite (Perhaps ‘favorite’ isn’t the best word, given the circumstances) is that it occurred after a brawl with a fellow artist in and around 1888, he then apparently and most bizarrely gave it to a prostitute as a token of his affections. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as she unwrapped her ‘gift’ watching the anticipation of opening a present turn to full-blown horror at the sight of his bloody lobe. I imagine, initially, that she wouldn’t have realized what it was but that it would have slowly dawned on her when she looked up from her gruesome gift to her wacky wooer to see his bloody ear and head bandage; I like to imagine it was about this time when she realized her suitor was bestowing his mutilated body part unto her - and they say romance is dead. Anyway, without that incident, we would not have this masterpiece, or a lot of his work actually.  A tortured-artist is a cliché but totally apt in this case as the year he spent in the asylum was one of the most creative years of his career.


 The Kiss, 

Gustav Klimt, 1907–1908

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Despite both of the subjects in the embrace being fully clothed, this painting was considered to be pornographic....honestly. Such were the attitudes in an ultra-conservative post-Victorian era.  Despite that fact, however, this painting was sold to a Vienna museum for 25,000 crowns, which would be the equivalent $240,000 – a staggering amount of money back then.

Thankfully The Kiss survived the scourge of Nazi’s who spitefully ruined a number of Klimt’s pieces before pulling-out of Vienna towards the end of WWII

Pablo Picasso, 1937


Guernica, Pablo Picasso -
The painting takes its name from the town that is its subject. Located in the Basque country it was a suspected location of resistance fighters during the Spanish Civil War. The town was utterly annihilated, but thanks to the holiday season and many of the men who were off fighting the war, it was not as deadly as it could have been. Sadly those who were left behind were the wives and children and as you can see depicted, it was understood they suffered gruesomely. Understandably distraught by these events Picasso poured his emotions onto his canvas and created this huge abstract painting as a political statement bringing the world's attention to this event.

During the German occupation, Picasso resided in Paris.  Allegedly, while in his apartment and seeing the painting a German soldier asked him ‘’Did you do that?’’ to which Picasso replied, ‘’No, you did.’’

The Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo, 1473-1483 

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Michelangelo was hesitant to start work on the Sistine Chapel because he regarded himself as a sculptor. It was Pope Julius II who asked him to complete the work, even though he was currently working on sculpting the Pope’s tomb. The Pope wanted him to interrupt that project to start on the ceiling fresco, unbeknownst at the time that it would become one of the most important works-of-art in history and would ultimately consume Michelangelo’s life for the next four years.  (The tomb, however, had many other interruptions and ended up taking him 40 years!) Because the Sistine Chapel was covered in scaffolding for the entire four years, Michelangelo only got to see his work in its entirety at the grand unveiling.

There's no denying they were utterly brilliant; but what a bunch of oddballs and misfits they were too! But I have to admit, I really love their strange stories.