Recent links of note:

“How to be an Aristotelian”
John Sellars, Antigone

“Aristotle is the single most important human being ever to have lived,” begins John Sellars in an article on the philosopher’s legacy for Antigone. To support such a bold claim, Sellars investigates Aristotle’s scientific and philosophical achievements while asking what it means to be Aristotelian. The philosopher understood things in terms of their function, or ergon. That function for human beings, for our souls, Aristotle posited, is to reason and think, to cultivate a spirit of inquiry in an attempt to understand our place in the world around us. It is this function of inquiry that makes us human, much like how the eye’s ability to see is what makes it an eye, posits Sellars. Aristotle began his first line of his Metaphysics: “All human beings by nature desire to know.” All knowledge flows from this maxim, and for this, Aristotle can reasonably be described as the most important person in history. 

“The Luminous Look of Jean Honoré Fragonard”
Willard Spiegelman, The Wall Street Journal

In this week’s masterpiece column in The Wall Street Journal, Willard Spiegelman examines the legacy of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) as a painter who rejected “academic solemnity in favor of a lively, liberated style.” Spiegelman focuses on a painting by Fragonard that he encountered on a recent visit to the Louvre, Portrait of a Young Artist. Charles-Paul-Jérôme Bréa (ca. 1769). In the portrait, we see Bréa at a desk before a dark background, his left arm at a right angle clutching a regal-red leather portfolio as he glances up towards the sky in hopes of inspiration. “Stationary,” Spiegelman writes, Bréa appears “on the verge of energetic movement”—an unusual form of portraiture for the time. This work, along with others by Fragonard, demonstrates the artist’s preference to paint for private collectors, a divergence from the standards that eighteenth-century painters seeking royal commissions would have had to follow. With his unconventional subject matter and technique of swift, broad brush strokes, Fragonard achieved a sense of artistic freedom that came to influence the Impressionists of the following century. 

“How Munch’s friend hid a masterpiece in a Norwegian barn to foil the Nazis”
Dalya Alberge, The Guardian

In 1906, the avant-garde Berlin theater director Max Reinhardt commissioned Edvard Munch to design the sets for his productions of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Ghosts. Munch’s Dance on the Beach (1906–07), a thirteen-foot-long panel depicting a gathering of faceless figures representative of his preferred themes of love, life, and death, formed part of the frieze that surrounded the upper level of the performance hall. In 1912, Curt Glaser, the director of the Berlin State Art Library and a personal friend and devout collector of the artist, acquired the panel; in 1934, the Nazis forced him to sell it, reports Dalya Alberge for The Guardian. Fortunately, Thomas Olsen, a fellow Norwegian and supporter of Munch, acquired the panel months later. But with the impending Nazi invasion of Scandinavia, Olsen hid this work and about thirty others by Munch (including a version of The Scream) in a barn deep in the Norwegian forest. The descendants of both Olsen and Glaser have agreed to share the proceeds from the panel’s forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, and with such a remarkable story, expectations for the sale are high. 

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