Vincent van Gogh

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Our friend and celebrated watercolorist, Spike Ress, commemorates the 164th anniversary of the birth of a very fine artist who is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic paintings. 

Today is the birthday of Vincent van Gogh. He was born March 30, 1853 and lived until July 29, 1890.

Vincent was a major Post-Impressionist painter, a Dutch artist whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His output included portraits, self portraits, landscapes and still lifes.

Van Gogh drew as a child but did not paint until his late twenties; he completed many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints.

Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers. He traveled between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England at Isleworth and Ramsgate. He was deeply religious as a younger man and aspired to be a pastor. From 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community.

In March 1886 he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His paintings grew brighter in color and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.

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After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 from what was beleived to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Suicide by gun has long been a part of the myth of the tortured artist that cloaks van Gogh. Biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith note that there are issues with that hypothesis — like the angle of the shot, the disappearance of the gun and other evidence, and the long hike that the wounded van Gogh would have had to make to return to his lodgings. As Naifeh and Smith tell it, a rowdy teenager named René Secrétan, who liked to dress up in a cowboy costume he’d bought after seeing Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, was probably the source of the gun which was sold or lent to him.

The extent to which Van Gogh’s mental health affected his painting has been widely debated by art historians. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, his late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, completely in control, and according to art critic Robert Hughes, “longing for concision and grace.”

The most comprehensive primary source for the understanding of Van Gogh as an artist and as a man is the collection of letters between him and his younger brother, art dealer Theo van Gogh. They lay the foundation for most of what is known about his thoughts and beliefs.

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Banksy by Dominic Baker

Artist and regular Aestheticons’ contributor, Dominic Baker, looks at the work of Banksy who challenges, amuses and views the “purpose” of Art thus: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” 

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Where do I begin to describe one of the most influential artists of our generation? Unless you have no discernible interest in popular culture, you will certainly have found yourself looking at one of Banksy’ many sensationalist works.

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His mission is to shock and awe. To make you consider your surroundings, open your eyes to the many ways that capitalism, war, censorship and systems of control oppress you. To turn taste on its head. Banksy is massively relevant, shocking and uses a brand new format that took traditional graffiti art by storm.

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The cardboard stencil known as the ‘throw up’. It is quick to spray, accurate and detailed. His modus allows him to hit several spots in one night and do small eye catching pieces in very public places that are unavailable to others. Thus he avoids capture and has remained largely anonymous to this day.

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Originating from Bristol in the early 1990’s, most early work was freehand. Known for  its massive graff scene and underground music with a subversive  anti-culture bubbling just under the surface. Banksy was heavily influenced by the graffiti artist and rapper, Robert “3D” del Naja and Grant Marshall who went on to form  Massive Attack with Tricky and others.

Banksy met the photographer Steve Lazarides who sold some of his works eventually becoming his agent. He travelled all over the UK, but especially London, to deliver his politically charged messages.

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In the early 2000’s he started to do exhibitions: 2002 – Existencilism in Los Angeles, 2003 – Turf Wars in London – where he gave a very rare interview. In 2005, he went to Palestine and did some iconic work on the infamous Israeli West Bank Wall.

2006 saw an exhibition called Barely Legal which featured a famously painted with Indian motifs and very much alive elephant thereby courting controversy with animal rights activists.

2009 saw Banksy’s biggest exhibition to date, at the Bristol Museum featuring over 100 works, which proved hugely popular. Banksy and Lazarides also parted company in 2009.

In 2010, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop‘ was aired at Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival in Utah and went on to be nominated for an Oscar.

2015 saw the opening of ‘Dismaland‘ a bemusement park – a none too subtle dig at Disneyland – in collaboration with other iconic artists including Damien Hurst and Jenny Holzer. Everything was supposed to be disappointing, dull, darkly humorous with digs at capitalism and the pro-environmental lobby, even the staff were told to be sullen and uncooperative!

This Behemoth of a social and cultural icon who so cleverly reflects on social ethics, will, I believe, be studied by art student in years to come. He will be as revered and revolutionary in 100 years time as Salvador Dali, Matisse & Picasso were to their era.

Banksy is still out there challenging the status quo, still ‘flipping the bird’ to the authorities and pushing the malleable boundaries in taste. Much of his artwork is now sold for millions and not covered over, which some have said has killed the underground scene.

For now, we pay our respects to the world’s most successful living and still anonymous artist, Banksy.

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Norman Rockwell – “Triple Self-Portrait”

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Many years ago, an Art Dealer friend of mine, gave me some sensible advice. “Buy what you really like, but you cannot go wrong with a self portrait.” Whilst I suspect many will challenge this it does give the amateur collector a good maxim.

Norman Rockwell (1898 to 1978) is probably best remembered for his realist and superbly observational works of American culture, particularly those carried on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post Magazine that he worked for over fifty years. For me, perhaps the most iconic and finest examples of which, is “Triple Self-Portrait” painted in 1960.

Whilst for many the self-portrait has been considered a means of immortality an assertion of success, perhaps an arrogance, but this painting captures a whimsical, cartoon-like quality. At the same time, in an act of deference, onto Rockwell’s easel are pinned photos of leading self-portraits by Dürer (a leading analysts of the self-portrait), Rembrandt, Picasso and Van Gogh.

Perhaps the most unsettling element of the portrait is the blanks eyes in the mirror of the glasses worn by the reflected Rockwell. It has been suggested that in this way the artist purposefully denied the viewer access to his soul.

“Triple Self-Portrait” became Rockwell’s 308th (out of a total 322) cover of The Saturday Evening Post on February 13, 1960.

In 1969, Rockwell was instrumental in establishing The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge (Massachusetts USA) his home town until his death in 1978.

 

 

 

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”

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One of my favorite, and I would argue, one of the most iconic paintings of the Twentieth century is Edward Hopper’s 1942 realist painting “Nighthawks”. The depiction of late night patrons at a downtown diner poses more questions than it answers.

Hopper’s inspiration for “Nighthawks” is thought to have come from a variety of sources including the location being a Greenwich Village (New York) restaurant – possibly off Greenwich Avenue – a Manhattan neighbourhood where Hopper lived and worked.

Hopper was a great admirer of Ernest Hemingway and his work may also have been inspirational. The author’s short story, “The Killers”, published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1927, focused on the predatory nature of a pair of violent youngsters approaching adulthood, who enter a restaurant looking for a boxer they are determined to kill.

Shortly after “Nighthawks” was completed in January 1942 and after a brief gallery appearance it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000 and it has remained in the Institute’s collection ever since.

Hopper, who was born in July 1882 and died in 1967, was an introvert who preferred his art to speak for itself. He is reported as having said “The whole answer is there on the canvas.”

This hugely well known painting has become itself both parodied and praised in many art forms including other paintings, cartoons, films and music. For me, Tom Waits’s 1975 album, “Nighthawks at the Diner” with its humorous tales of city dwellers is a classic and reverential homage.

Paul Jackson Pollock by Spike Ress

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It’s a pleasure, following my post on the Guggenheim Museum – Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to feature another piece from Spike Ress – our Utah based watercolorist colleague who is painting some beautiful landscapes featuring some very big skies. Over to Spike for his study of the life and  work of the iconic artist, Paul Jackson Pollack, written to commemorate the anniversary of his birth.

Paul Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956)

Today is the birthday of Paul Jackson Pollock. He was born January 28, 1912 and only lived until August 11, 1956. Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He was well known for his unique style of drip painting.

Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, the youngest of five sons. His father, LeRoy Pollock was a farmer and later a land surveyor for the government, moving for different jobs. Jackson grew up in Arizona and Chico, California. While living in Echo Park, California he enrolled at Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School from which he was expelled.

In 1930, following his older brother Charles Pollock, Jackson moved to New York City where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton’s rural American subject matter had little influence on Pollock’s work, but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were more lasting.

From 1938 to 1942, during the Great Depression, Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project.

Trying to deal with his alcoholism, from 1938 through 1941 Pollock underwent Jungian psychotherapy with Dr. Joseph Henderson and later with Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo in 1941-1942. Henderson engaged him through his art, encouraging Pollock to make drawings. Jungian concepts and archetypes were expressed in his paintings. Recently historians have hypothesized that Pollock might have had bipolar disorder.

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Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936 at an experimental workshop in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques on canvases of the early 1940s,

During his lifetime Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, a major artist of his generation. Known to be reclusive, he had a volatile personality and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. In 1945 he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy.

Pollock died at the age of 44 in a single-car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol.

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In December 1956, only 4 months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. A larger, more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held again at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Pollock’s work was honoured in 1998 and 1999 with retrospective exhibitions at both MoMA and at The Tate in London.

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Dr Seuss

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I know very few parents who, when reading their child’s favourite “Dr Seuss” story, have resisted the temptation to give their version of the voice of The Cat in The Hat, The Grinch or The Lorax. My kids – or should that be my – favourites  “Green Eggs and Ham” (published in August 1960) – and the voice of “Sam-I-Am” – has also ticked the right boxes with loads of other families, because as of 2001 it was the fourth best-selling English-language children’s book of all time!

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So who is the author and illustrator responsible for these iconic, wry, whymsical and much loved books?

Today, March 2nd, is the anniversary of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904, in Springfield (Mass. USA), who’s better known to generations of story-time devotees by his pen-name of “Dr Seuss”. During his long career he published 48 books which have sold in excess of 200 million copies and have been translated into over 20 languages.

Geisel adopted his pen-name,”Dr. Seuss” – his Mother’s maiden name – whilst at University. He attended Dartmouth College – who’s School of Medicine now bears his name. He left Oxford University in 1927 finding work as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair and Life magazines and as a commercial artist in New York’s advertising business.

In 1937 he wrote and illustrated his first children’s book “Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”. These were followed The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960). In his later years he also tackled more serious issues, such as the environment, with “Lorax” published in 1971.

He won many awards for his work including a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and three Oscars in the 1950’s.

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In America, March 2, has been adopted as the annual National Read Across America Day, and in the UK, by coincidence, today (in 2017) is World Book Day – being the first Thursday in March – I wonder how many tall, red and white hats will be making they way to and from schools today?

In 1948 Geisel and his first wife Helen, settled in San Diego’s beautiful seaside community of La Jolla (California, USA), died on September 24, 1991, aged 87. Sadly, Dr Seuss himself never became a father.

Why not enjoy Dr Seuss with your entire family with this amazing collection of the Dr Seuss books – please click the link following the image

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A Classic Case Of Dr Seuss

POST SCRIPT On 2nd March 2021 the Dr Seuss’ literary executor removed six books from their catalogue over their racist content. See here a piece from Rolling Stone Dr Seuss Enterprises removes six books

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Images courtesy of The Dr Seuss Estate

Grant Wood – “American Gothic”

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I am delighted to introduce a US based artist, Spike Ress, as a guest-writer for Aestheticons.com.

Spike has kindly agreed to allow us to run a series of his posts that largely coincide with the birthdays of the artists featured. I hope you will enjoy Spike’s first post – here it is celebrating the life and work of Grant Wood.

Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)

Today is the birthday of Grant Wood. Wood was born February 13, 1891 and lived until February 12, 1942.

Grant Wood was an American painter born four miles east of Anamosa, Iowa. He is best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest, particularly the painting American Gothic, an iconic image of the 20th century – the original model’s are seen below.

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After high school Wood enrolled in an art school in Minneapolis in 1910 and in 1913 was enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1920 to 1928, he made four trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of painting, especially Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, but it was the work of the 15th-century Flemish artist Jan van Eyck that most influenced him.

Wood was an active painter from an extremely young age until his death in 1942, and although he is best known for his paintings, he worked in a large number of media including lithography, ink, charcoal, ceramics, metal, wood and found objects.

Throughout his life he hired out his talents to many Iowa-based businesses as a steady source of income. This included painting advertisements, sketching rooms of a mortuary house for promotional flyers and, in one case, designing the corn-themed decor (including chandelier) for the dining room of a hotel. He returned to Cedar Rapids to teach Junior High students after serving in the army as a camouflage painter.

Wood is associated with the American movement of Regionalism that was primarily situated in the Midwest and advanced figurative painting of rural American themes in an aggressive rejection of European abstraction. In 1932, Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony near his hometown to help artists get through the Great Depression.

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“All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow, so I went back to Iowa” – Grant Wood

 

Volkswagen Kombi

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No, you are definitely not sitting in traffic on the ring road around your local city, in your head, if you are over 40, there’s a Beachboys track playing, surfboards are stacked on the roof – having received a fresh waxing from Dr Zog’s – you can see the shimmering ocean ahead and your straight toothed friends are lounging on the vinyl seats behind you. If you are under 40, you are listening to some cool hip hop-raggae crossover, your tanned shoulders are graced by you sun bleached locks that blend seamlessly with your companion in her El Niño bikini.

So hand’s up who’s daydreaming? I am for sure …. Where in the World could you be? Santa Cruz (California (USA)), Tarifa, (Cadiz (Spain) or Surfers Paradise (The Gold Coast, Queensland (Aus)) – any of these and several thousands more. See our earlier post here – Morey Boogie boards

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And what are you at the helm of? A iconic Volkswagen Kombi (or “Bus” (USA) or “Camper” or “Campervan” (UK)), of course!

Ben Pon, a Dutch importer of Volkswagens, visited the Wolfsburg factory in 1946 and was inspired by quality of the VW stock and, in 1947, produced a sketch – see below – of a van which he shared with Volkswagen. Early prototypes were produced but had very poor wind drag figures but splitting the screen improved this somewhat and validated the reason to commence production.

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Introduced in 1949, the Kombi was an air-cooled rear engined van then known as the “Volkswagen Type 2”, the Beetle having been Type 1 – another passion of ours – see our earlier post here. Volkswagen Beetle – an icon re-imagined.

The standard Type 2 Kombi was built between March 1950 to then end of 1967 but a number of variants, including increasingly larger engines – between 1.1 litres up to 1.6 litres, were introduced including single-cab pickups and ambulances. The early T2 (later called the T1) model production was continued in Brazil until 1975, long after production ceased in Hanover in 1967.

Originally classified by the number of windows the Kombi vehicle had such as 21, 23 plus a panoramic roof of eight windows. Subsequently, international numbering has been based on the version from T2, T3, T4, T5 and T6 – which was launched in 2015.

The first sixty years of VW T1 to T3 history are shown in the following image:

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The height of the Kombi’s popularity was its role in the Hippy subculture movement of the 1960’s when version were heavily painted often by hand in psychodelic spirals, flowers  etc. Check out our earlier post on the Summer of Love – click here – Peace Sign and The Summer of Love

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The Type 2S introduced in 1968 heavily modified the earlier vehicle. After production of the T2 ceased in Europe it was produced in Brazil – at the Anchieta plant at Sao Bernardo do Campo (Sao Paulo, Brazil) – until December 31, 2013, due to the introduction of more stringent safety regulations in the country.

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There was a final production run of 1200 vehicles called “the Last Edition” see below that celebrated 56 years of Kombi production in Brazil. I have seen these final vans available on legitimate websites – imported as is – into the UK for around £42,000.

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So, for those of you who want to relive an epic era in a new version of a classic and iconic vehicle – your dream is complete. In addition, there are several businesses around the world who maintain and rebuild original Kombis whether for sale or for hire. Indeed, I know of one intrepid soul who rented with friends a Kombi for Glastonbury. A perfect temporary home and respite from the Somerset mud!

For all you young and old hippies – the perfect desk-top dreamer is this fantastic scale model of a 1976 Hippie image clad T2 – get one here by clicking below the image:

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PremiumX 1:43 Scale “Hippie 1976 Volkswagen T2 Kombi” Model Car

Shout out about your poassion with these VW Camper retro style T shirts – click the link below the image

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Mens VW Campervan Camper Retro camp Van Volkswagen Top T-shirt NEW S-XXL (Medium, Black)

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Mens VW Campervan T25 Camper Retro camp Van Volkswagen Top T-shirt NEW S-XXL (X-Large, Indigo)

Saving for your next surf adventure – why not get this wonderful VW Campervan Money box? Click on the link below the image

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VW Collection by Brisa VW T1 Flowers Money Bank

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Images with grateful thanks – Volkswagen AG

Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits

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It’s 1979 and I’m on the Night Ferry, an overnight sleeper-train running between London’s Victoria Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord. Cue the accordion soundtrack, the slight hint of Channel No 5 and certainly the distinctive aroma of a Disque Blue. Where else could we possibly be? Ah…Paris!

 

The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (literally “Sleeping Cars”) maintained twelve carriages that were custom designed to fit the smaller gauge of the British railway network. The service departed daily from Victoria – from platform 2 to Gare du Nord, starting on 5th October 1936 and discontinued in 1980 – using the same rolling stock throughout.

 

Prior to Eurostar it was the only non-stop way to get from London to Paris by boat train. The carriages were loaded onto “train-ferries” for the cross channel section of the journey and at Dunkerque the carriages were off-loaded for the onward journey to Paris.

 

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The luxurious Wagons-Lits was founded in 1872 by Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers, who had seen the Pullman night carriages operating whilst on a trip to the United States in the late 1860’s. He imported the idea into Europe. Wagon-Lits quickly established itself as the premier provider and operator of European railway sleepers and dining cars. They only provided the carriages and relied upon the domestic or state-wide operators for the locomotives that pulled them.

The journey that I would have loved to taken would have been on The Côte d’Azur Pullman Express which ran from December 1929 until May 1939. The service was operated by Wagons-Lits and the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (known as the PLM). The train was scheduled to leave Paris at 08:50,  stopping  at Dijon, Lyon and Marseilles and making further stops at the resort towns along the French Riviera including, Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, Nice and Menton  reaching its final destination, Ventimiglia (Italy). The entire journey took 15 hours and 10 minutes.

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Accompanying the promotion for this new service many iconic travel posters were commissioned including in 1929, the Pierre Fix-Masseau piece – shown as our featured image.

Pierre’s father, Pierre Félix Masseau, was, until 1935, the director of the École Nationale d’Art Décoratif  (“Art Deco”) in Limoges. The inevitable result was that, Pierre’s poster work – and that of his many poster-art contemporaries, Roger Broders, Cassandre and Paul Colin – was heavily influenced by Art Deco, a successor to and reaction against Art Nouveau.

Art Deco was above all associated with both luxury and modernity; it combined very expensive materials and exquisite craftsmanship realised in modernistic forms – hence its use in these seductive travel posters.

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These wonderful posters were designed to lure inquisitive travellers into sampling the delights of the then modern European and luxurious railway system, to holiday in alluring destinations of snow and beach but, above all, they are the most remarkable examples of stylised commercial art. Our continued fascination with these fine works has resulted in their comparative scarcity and justifiable value.

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Image Credits – With thanks to SNCF, Wagon-Lits and the estate of Pierre Fix-Masseau