Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

Unknown Artist  Pastel  pre-1910

My original intention for the post today was to be about Archduke Ferdinand, who was assassinated on this day in 1914.  But when I found this beautiful pastel portrait of his wife, Sophia, Duchess of Hohenberg, who also lost her life at the hands of the assassin on that day, I knew I would need to rethink my plan.

Sophie was born a Czech countess in a Bohemian noble family.  She was a lady-in-waiting for Archduchess Isabella.  It is most likely at court where she and Franz Ferdinand met.  They shared correspondence while he suffered from tuberculosis.  It is generally believed they were deeply in love, and he refused to think of marrying anyone else.

Franz Ferdinand was actually third in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne.  After the unexpected suicide of his cousin, Crown Prince Rudulf, then the death of his father, he became the heir apparent.  I will note that the emperor had daughters, but they were not eligible to inherit the throne.  Instead, it would go to his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, who he didn’t particularly care for.

Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were at first not permitted to marry.  She was only a countess, and didn’t posses the correct royal blood.  In the eyes of the emperor, it was out of the question.  She was not fit to be an archduchess or empress, and no children of hers should ever inherit the throne.

In 1900 the emperor finally allowed a marriage, but it would be only a morganatic marriage.  This meant not only could Sophie never be empress and her children never be heirs, she suffered a good deal of humiliation.  All princesses and countesses in Austria and Hungary held a higher position in court.

Sophie was not allowed to make public appearances with her husband.  She could not ride in an open carriage with him.  She was not even allowed to sit next to him at the theater.  Because of the restrictions, many other heads of state did not interact with the couple.  The protocol was just too messy.

In June  of 1914, Archduke Ferdinand was invited by the Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina to view the troops on maneuvers.  Since he was asked as the military commander, not as a royal, the specifics of their marriage and Sophie’s royal standing did not apply.  It was one of the very few times in their 14 year marriage Sophie was allowed to ride in the carriage with her husband.

As I mentioned at the top, this was meant to be about the assassination of the Archduke which led to the outbreak of World War I.  It was going to be a statement about the organization the Black Hand and its attempt at unification by means of terrorism and assassination.  It was going to focus on the Young Bosnia movement, misguided, funded, and trained by the Black Hand, which led to the assassination and consequently to WWI.

However, one portrait changed my focus.  It is instead the story of star-crossed love.  A bit cliché, I’ll admit, but pretty accurate in this case.  I have no doubt that on that day of all days, she was meant to be in that car with her husband, by his side, his equal.

Others in the car reported that while Archduke Ferdinand suffered a gunshot wound to the jugular, he said, “Sophie dear!  Don’t die!  Stay alive for our children!”  When asked of his own wound he said “it is nothing.”

Sophie died in the car.  Archduke Ferdinand shortly after.

Due to Sophie’s status, she was not allowed to be buried in the Imperial Crypt.  At a funeral for the immediate family only, her casket was set lower than her husband’s and was treated merely as that of a lady-in-waiting.  The  bodies were then transported to Artstetten Castle where they could be entombed side by side, finally on the same level.

This pastel portrait also hangs at Artstetten Castle.  I found very little information about it other than a visitor took a photo of it in the castle and that it dates before 1910. No artist name is given.

I think it’s just such a soft, lovely portrait that is really indicative of the turn of the century.  I can imagine her playing tennis or caring for her three children.  Her face is pleasant, with just a tiny hint of an upturned smile.

Unlike most royal portraits, Sophie wears no crown or tiara,  no diamond necklace or brooch.  Only small, circular earrings adorn her ears.  Yet no bitterness shows on her face, just a young woman in a beautiful pastel portrait.

So on this day we remember that the actions of a small group of men can have a profound impact on the world.  One act can plummet the world into war.  But we also remember that the actions and opinions of one person can also have a profound impact.  Her Highness Sophie of Hohenberg may not have changed the world, but she was never given the chance.

Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Be open-minded.  The person you may find undeserving may just be the person that can make an impact on the world.





Can’t Get Enough


Cbabi Bayoc  Acyrlic  2012

For this Father’s Day I want to introduce you to one of my very favorite local artists, Chabi Bayoc.  I’ve been a fan of his for several years, starting when I worked at Blick Art Materials in Clayton, MO.  Not only is he an amazing artist, he’s just a nice guy.  And you know what, when you work retail, just a person being nice can make all the difference in your day.

In 2012, Cbabi Bayoc made a New Year’s resolution to paint a father figure every single day for a full year.  His project, entitled 365 Days with Dad, produced wonderful representations of dads with babies, children, adults, and teenagers doing everything from sleeping, playing, kissing and singing.  Every single one is a happy moment, and they’re all beautiful.

I had such a hard time choosing one, but there is something about this baby that I just had to share.  I love how the facial features are so geometric, and that’s picked up in the background design.  The texture of the father’s beard just makes you want to reach out and touch it.  And the black outline around both figures just makes everything pop.

You can see all 365 paintings here:   365 Days With Dad.  You can also read an interesting article from St. Louis Public Radio here:  Public Radio.  Cbabi also has a book featuring several of the paintings you can pick up here: When I Become a Dad

I just can’t NOT add this painting too.  This one is entitled Urban Nature Walk.                                                                                                      Happy Father’s Day!  

urban nature walk cbabi

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Olga Shvartsur  Watercolor and Colored Pencil 2016

June 16 is the day on which we celebrate one of our most beloved captains, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  Traditionally, Captain Picard Day is celebrated more as a children’s holiday. School children across the galaxy are encouraged to create portraits and sculptures in the likeness of Captain Picard.  As such, it is also seen as one of the great art holidays of the year.

Captain Picard was born in Labarre, France and went on to have a long and distinguished career in the Federation.  After his stint as the First Officer of the USS Stargazer he became Captain of the USS Enterprise-D.  He was also a POW survivor of Borg assimilation.  His Federation honors and awards are numerous.

An amateur archaeologist, an avid reader, an equestrian, flute player, and a diplomat, Captain Picard is a well-rounded role model for children of all ages.  He was married for 35 years to his wife Eline and had two sons and a grandchild on Kataan, which was only an astonishingly short 25 minutes on the Enterprise.

Olga Shvartsur is a Seattle-based artist best known for her portraiture in graphite.  She has recently started using watercolor and colored pencil, which are the mediums of this piece.  You can see a lot more of her work on her etsy site here:  OlechkaDesign

There are a lot of portraits of Captain Picard out there, so it was hard to choose one.  I really like the way she used the colored pencils to get the detail of his skin and face, but uses watercolor on the uniform and the starry background.  It’s such a great likeness of him.

So enjoy a cup of Earl Grey, hot.  Read some Shakespeare.  And of course, do what should be done on Captain Picard Day, create a likeness of our favorite Captain of your own.  Make it so.


The Vienna Portrait

Michael Sittow  Oil  1500-1505

There are few subjects I can talk about more than Henry VIII and his wives.  I’m pretty convinced I’m probably the premiere expert in at least a six block radius.  Of course, I have no way to prove this.  It’s probably better that way.

Generally, this portrait is considered to be Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII.   Today is the anniversary of their marriage.  The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, THAT Ferdinand and Isabella), she with betrothed to Prince Arthur at the age of three.

What most people don’t realize, is although she was a princess of Spain, Aragon, and Castile, she also had a strong claim to the English throne in her own right.  Some historians would suggest she actually had a better claim than either of her husbands or her father-in-law, Henry VII.  Her ancestry  goes back to John of Gaunt, the Plantagenet Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III.

If you take even a short look through her ancestry you’ll see that her heritage is more British, and certainly more royal, than practically anyone in history.  And although popular culture likes to portray her as dark complected with black hair, she actually had a very Anglican appearance with a pale complexion and red hair.  Yep, red hair.

She was married to Prince Arthur at 16 years old for less than six months before his death.  Both succumbing to a sickness shortly after they wed, the marriage was never consummated.  She became a pawn between her father, King of Castile, and her former father-in-law, King Henry VII of England.

Catherine was raised to be a queen.  She was well-educated and extremely smart.  She would not be played.  To support herself and her ladies-in-waiting she became the official Spanish ambassador to England.  She was the first female ambassador in all of Europe.

After several years of limbo between the two fathers, everything changed when Henry VII died suddenly.  There are many conflicting opinions as to Henry’s opinion of Catherine before their marriage, but he married her immediately after he became king.  That was this day, June 11, 1509.

I happen to be of the opinion that Henry was quite fond of Catherine at this point.  They had known each other well during his most formative years.  I believe he felt a sense of protectiveness for his brother’s young widow, but also respected her lineage and intelligence.

Like I said, I could yap about this for days.  I’ll save some for another day and choose to just remember the happy occasion of their wedding today.  Happy anniversary King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon!

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

640px-Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_--_1884_-_Google_Art_ProjectGeorges-Pierre Seurat  Oil  1884-1886

I hope everyone is taking the day off today to celebrate the anniversary of the release of one of the greatest movies of all time (well, at least for everyone in my age bracket) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986.  There’s so much to say about Ferris, but really the best thing I can say is just watch the movie.  Again. And again.  If you haven’t seen it in a while, I suspect a rewatch will do you some good.  As I’ve been saying a lot lately, perspective.

Like so many people, one of my favorite scenes is the museum visit to the Art Institute of Chicago.  I’m relatively sure every 30 and 40 something that has ever visited has imitated Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron mimicking the Rodin statue.  And I, as so many others, made a point to kiss in front of the Chagall windows.

But while Sloane and Ferris share their kiss in front of the American Windows, Cameron is studying Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  For me, through the beginning of the movie Cameron is just whiney and annoying.  But as Cameron stares at the painting the viewer starts to understand him more.  He’s not just a killjoy full of teen angst, there are deeper, darker feelings at work inside him.

There is terror in his eyes.  We get even more of a glimpse in the pool scene (another favorite).  But I won’t spoil it in case you’re the last person on earth who hasn’t seen it.

John Hughes really explains the significance of this painting to Cameron well in his commentary for the 1999 release.  There’s no need for me to try to explain his words.  Just watch this little segment here:  John Hughes Commentary.  Also, the Smithsonian has an interesting commentary on this moment as well.  Here is a link to that article:  Smithsonian.

Although many people know Seurat as a Neo-Impressionist Pointillist, many don’t realize he’s also the father of chromoluminarism.  Just like tiny colored dots make up the picture  on a TV screen, Seurat and other Divisionists separated their colors and placed them next to each other.  So basically, your eyes actually combine the colors optically to make them appear the desired color, not the painter.  If you watch the clip in the link mentioned above you can see what I mean, as there is an extreme close up of the painting.

Probably because I’ve seen the movie so many times, I naturally look directly to the mother and child in the center.  But actually, there are a lot of really interesting things in this painting.  Did you notice the monkey on a leash?  How about the guy that appears to be playing a trombone backwards?  I’ve tried to find some explanation for that guy, but no luck.  It’s just a fun painting to explore.

In the words of the infamous Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”






Thomas Allen Pauly  Oil  2014

On this day in 1973 Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes, clinching the Triple Crown.  He broke records in each of the events– the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, which still remain unbroken.  He was the first winner of the coveted trophy since Citation in 1948.  There have only been three winners since–Seattle Slew in 1977, Affirmed in 1978, and American Pharoah in 2015.

Secretariat was only allowed to race through his third year.  During his career he went 16 for 21 with four more top three finishes.  He then went into race retirement and began his career as a stud.  He was the proud grandpa of Seattle Slew, another triple crown winner.  (Yes, I tend to anthropomorphize.)  He also had several successful daughters and was an ancestor to American Pharoah.

After his death in 1989, he received the great honor of being buried at his home farm in Kentucky.  He’s considered not only one of the greatest race horses of all time, but is even considered one of the greatest athletes of all time.  ESPN even listed him at 35 in the 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century.

Thomas Allen Pauly is the premiere American equine artist.   The Chicago native fell into the career after painting a friend’s horse after a win.  You can learn more about him and watch a video here:  Thomas Allen Pauly.

I think the beauty of this painting is really the beauty of Secretariat. He’s strong and muscular.  His coat is shiny and lustrous.  The detail in the mane and tail border photo realism.  He’s just a great looking horse.





Moments of War

Mariusz Kosik  Digital Painting  21st Century

Today we remember D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by the Allied Forces in 1944.  There is so much information to learn about D-Day, I won’t even bother to delve into it.  There are thousands of books that will be much more informative than I could ever be.

However, I will say that I find the logistics behind D-Day fascinating.  The engineering feats that had to be accomplished just to get the guys to the beaches as safely as possible are really incredible.  Here is a really short list of some interesting innovations: D-Day Innovations.

Mariusz Kosik is a Polish artist that specializes in military battle art.  He’s also a historian and strives for complete historical accuracy.  This endears him to me, as historical inaccuracy drives me nuts.  He has even done illustrations for Osprey Publishing, the premiere military history book publisher.

Honestly, I had some difficulty finding out information about the artist in English.  I believe a lot was lost in translation.  But I really didn’t need to read Polish to see just how amazing he is.  I strongly suggest you check out the artist’s webpage at Mariusz Kozik.  He has some amazing oil and digital paintings with an incredible amount of detail.

My favorite part of this digital painting is actually the Czech Hedgehogs.  Those are the big X type things you see in the water.  These were huge obstacles placed in the water by the Germans made to slow down or destroy boats coming to shore.  They were designed to be concealed underwater during high tide, as it was believed that would be the only time anyone would attempt an invasion.  They were wrong, the invasion began three hours after low tide.

Check out this cool article about the science behind the landing here:  Science.

Thank you to everyone that stormed those beaches on that day, not just Americans, but the Canadians and British as well.  We also remember the brave men and women of the French Resistance, as well as those of all nationalities that supported the cause.  And of course, we remember the Army and Navy nurses, many arriving as early as D+4.



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