Friday, July 20, 2012

Odalisque with Red Face

There is a Sufi saying that “The channel doesn’t drink.” If we take “channel” to mean “museum authorities” and the implied “water” to mean “art,” the saying applies to an amusing story I saw in today’s New York Times. Evidently museum managers don’t bother looking, never mind looking closely, at their own holdings. The story? A painting by Henri Matisse at the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas had been stolen—but the theft had not been noticed: someone had replaced it with a fake. The Museum only noticed the theft when a gallery owner in Miami notified the management that the painting, “Odalisque in Red Pants,” had been offered him for sale. Now, at last, Caracas looked at the painting hanging in its museum and, sure enough! — That was back in 2002. But how long had the fake hung there already? Huh? Dunno.

Matisse rather liked painting “Odalisque.” There is another topless painting of her, her bottom covered by a mere wraith of a skirt, which also shows that back then not all women shaved under their arms. And Matisse also painted her in red pants but wearing a blue top. Now, mind you, a picture like that—and there are lots of copies on the web for the pruriently searching—would not exactly arouse the art-critical faculties in viewers. They’d have plenty of other things to stare at. The painting has now been recovered in an FBI sting operation at last, hence the news coverage.

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