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    Retrospective: When Mona Lisa Went Back to Italy

    And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

    100 YEARS AGO

    Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503–7, oil on poplar wood. COURTESY MUSÉE DU LOUVRE, PARIS.

    Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503–7, oil on poplar wood.

    COURTESY MUSÉE DU LOUVRE, PARIS. 

    The long anticipated recovery of the now most famous painting in the world, which occurred just after the ART News had gone to press last week, has naturally been the theme of countless stories in the press, the civilized world over….

    Exhibited in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence the picture has been viewed by thousands whose eagerness to behold the familiar features of “La Giaconda” almost led to a riot the first day she was placed on view and it is now reported that Da Vinci’s heroine will be taken to Rome for exhibition there, before her return to her home in the Louvre. What will be the scenes in Paris when La Giaconda again fills her place of many years in the Louvre?

    - “The Storied Mona Lisa,” December 20, 1913

    75 YEARS AGO

    The canvas has succumbed to the literary disease of the pamphleteer, the sculpture to the wordy tendence of the boldly titled political cartoon or the verbose newspaper feuilleton. Defilement enough to make one sick – sick with fear of the disappearance of a pure art before the onslaught of Commissar – commanded and Führer-verboten tracts and posters in the guise of art!

    There is, nevertheless, a single hope from all this dry rot – a lesson for America. With one foot already in the muddy welter of propaganda disguised as art, our artists still have the concrete example before them as well as the opportunity to learn that it is far braver to paint on behalf of one’s soul than for or against anybody’s Weltanschauung. The turn from 1938 to 1939 is high time to call loudly and firmly for a national art to be judged by artistic and not ideological criteria.

    - “The Year in Art: A Review of 1938,” by Alfred M. Frankfurter, December 31, 1938

    50 YEARS AGO

    Anthony Caro, Early One Morning, 1962, painted steel. COURTESY TATE/© THE ARTIST, BARFORD SCULPTURES LTD.

    Anthony Caro, Early One Morning, 1962, painted steel.

    COURTESY TATE/© THE ARTIST, BARFORD SCULPTURES LTD. 

    “What’s to become of British sculpture?” The question vexes not only the sculptors themselves, but all those who touted them in the 1950s as the only serious rivals in world-art to the new American painting. Official policy, in particular, will have to be re-made in face of the fact that the new generation in British sculpture rejects absolutely the attitudes which brought success in the 1950s. You can go right through this new generation and not find anywhere the wounded birds, the chunky ironical naked women, the spiky revisions of the human anatomy which kept our foundries in business for a decade.

    - “Art news from London,” by John Russell, December 1963

    25 YEARS AGO

    When asked if he considers the shocking beautiful, [Mapplethorpe] balks…. “I’m not really shocked by anything.” Why these particular images? Because they were there, waiting. It was a private voyage of discovery, an experiment with the self. “I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them. I knew those people, they were willing to pose for me, and it was something that hadn’t really been captured before by a photographer of any merit.” The desire to document one’s immediate world is as old as the first photograph.

    - “Prince of Darkness, Angel of Light,” by Susan Weiley, December 1988

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