Archive for November 8th, 2021

The Last Paintings

artists-last-works-Stuart davis 1964

Stuart Davis — Fin ,1964

We had dinner with our good friends last night and somehow the conversation came around to the idea of me painting until the last moment of my life. No retirement here, I guess. We agreed that my final painting should have a big slash of paint, most likely red,  going down through it, made while I slump to the ground for the last time.

I suggested that maybe I paint one now just to insure that I am not caught off guard. Death can sneak up on you sometimes and foil your best laid plans. 

Of course, that was all in fun but it made me think about the final paintings of well known artists. There are plenty of great examples. Some are complete and well known pieces by these artists in their final days. For example, Claude Monet‘s last work was the completion of his massive multipart mural the Grande Decoration. An epic and fitting way to finish to his painting life. Or you can look to the final painting Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, which may be the best known of his works. Or there’s Paul Klee and his The Last Still Life, which was titled by his son after his death.

My favorite final painting is the one shown here at the top, Fin, from Stuart Davis. On a June night in 1964, after watching a French movie on TV that concluded with the word “fin” (which means “the end” in French), he added the word on the painting on his easel before going to bed. He suffered a stroke that very night and died in the ambulance while on the way to a NYC hospital. It truly was the last painting for him. Fin.

Both Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo painted watermelons the subject of their final paintings. This is fitting because the watermelon is a symbol associated with the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In Rivera’s case, he didn’t want to paint it but did so at the insistence of a collector. Maybe he knew it would be his last painting?

There are some final paintings that are unfinished, the process cut short by death. I don’t believe Keith Haring‘s final piece, Unfinished Painting from 1990, shown below, falls in this category. I think it was meant to appear unfinished as a statement on the lives, his included, being cut short by AIDS at that time.

A favorite of mine from the unfinished last paintings is The Bride from Gustav Klimt, shown below, mainly because it reveals an interesting part of his process which was that he would paint his figures as completed nudes before painting on their clothing. I don’t know if that was simply part of his process or part of his deeper sexual obsessions. Either way, it’s kind of interesting.

There are plenty of other examples and there will be plenty more in the future, I am sure. Artists don’t really ever retire, after all.

Now, I have to go. There’s an unfinished painting waiting for me put a red slash through it…


artists-last-works- monet The Grandes Décorations 1920 26

Claude Monet- The Grandes Decorations mural

artists-last-works-haring 1990 Unfinished Painting

Keith haring- Unfinished Painting 1990

artists-last-works-Klee the last still life 1940

Paul Klee- The Last Still Life, 1940

adorn the bride with veil and wreath by Klimt.jpg

Gustav Klimt- The Bride, 1918

artists-last-worksKahlo Viva La Vida

Frida Kahlo — Viva La Vida, 1954

artists-last-works-Rivera The Watermelons 1957

Diego Rivera– The Watermelons, 1957

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