Thursday, September 18, 2008

Painting by Hugo Chávez president of Venezuela sells at Auction

A canvas painted by Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, when he was in prison after his failed 1992 coup attempt has sold at auction for $255,000. Photograph: Reuters

"The mill of the gods grinds slowly!"

It was painted by a young army officer languishing in jail and it conjures loneliness and yearning: a full moon seen through the bars of cell. A message written in red letters beneath the portrait says: "The mill of the gods grinds slowly!"

Sixteen years later it seems the mill was not so slow in effecting dramatic change. The artist, Hugo Chávez, is the president of Venezuela and the painting has just sold for $255,0000 to help fund his socialist revolution.

Three Venezuelan businessmen paid the sum at an auction last week, surpassing all expectations for the picture, titled The Yare Moon, which opened bidding at $14,000.

The money will go to the PSUV, a socialist party that is carrying the president's banner in municipal and regional elections next month on the eve of the anniversary of Chávez's 10th year in power. He did the painting during a two-year jail sentence for leading a coup attempt in 1992, a military fiasco which nevertheless paved his path to electoral victory.

Hiroshima Bravo, a congresswoman and "chavista" loyalist, said she was surprised by the price but considered the painting a symbolic part of Venezuelan history.

Nelson Mandela's paintings of landscapes glimpsed through jail bars also fetched high prices, though subsequently doubts were raised about their authenticity.

Chávez's artistic credentials are not in question. As a boy in Sabaneta, a dusty, poor town in the plains, he used to paint friends, animals and landscapes. As a military cadet he drew caricatures of his comrades for their graduating yearbook.

Asked last year why he wanted to abolish term limits so he could run indefinitely - he has spoken of ruling until 2025 - the president said his revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist. Giving the brush to someone else was risky, "because they could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting".

Three other World leaders were noted painters: Hitler, Churchill & Eisenhower

An article in Newsweek : The Art of Politics What happens when world leaders get creative. Hint: it isn't always pretty.

"Churchill bonded over painting with the American general, later president, Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower's tastes ran to plashing streams, dilapidated barns and birch-studded snowscapes in a style that might be called Greeting Card Pastoral. (In fact, when a small collection of his works was marketed as Christmas-gift prints, the publisher was Hallmark.) He was appropriately modest about his oeuvre, which he described as "daubs." Churchill, a far more accomplished and ambitious artist, was well aware of his amateur status, in comparison, say, to his hero Cézanne. "When I get to heaven," he once remarked, "I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject." But Hitler for many years regarded himself as an artist by profession. An authorized book of his watercolors referred to him in 1937 as "at once the First Fuehrer and the First Artist of our Reich."

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