Painterly Places - The Homes of Artists

01
of 06
Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

Frida Kahlo Museum, The Blue House, in Mexico City
Casa Azul, the birth and death place of the painter Frida Kahlo, in Mexico City. Photo by Francesca Yorke / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

Time has stopped at the cobalt blue house on the corner of Allende and Londres streets near the Coyoacán village square in Mexico City. Tour these rooms and you'll see surrealist paintings by artist Freda Kahlo alongside tidy arrangements of her paints and brushes. However, during Kahlo's tumultuous life, this house was a dynamic, ever-changing space that expressed the artist's complex interactions with the world.

"Frida made the Blue House her sanctuary, transforming her childhood home into a work of art," writes Suzanne Barbezat in Frida Kahlo at Home. Packed with historic photographs and images of her work, the book describes the inspirations for Kahlo's paintings, which referenced Mexican culture and the places where she lived.
 
The Blue House, also known as La Casa Azul, was built in 1904 by Kahlo's father, a photographer with a passion for architecture. The squat, single-story building combined traditional Mexican styling with French decorations and furniture. The original floor plan, shown in Barbezat's book, reveals connected rooms opening onto a courtyard. Along the exterior, cast iron balconets (false balconies) ornamented tall French doors. Plasterwork formed decorative bands and dentil patterns along the eaves. Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in a small corner room which, according to one of her sketches, later became a studio. Her 1936 painting My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree) shows Kahlo as a fetus but also as a child towering from the courtyard of the blue house.

Shocking Blue Exterior Color:

During Kahlo's childhood, her family home was painted muted tones. The surprising cobalt blue came much later, when Kahlo and her husband, the renown muralist Diego Rivera, remodeled to accommodate their dramatic lifestyle and colorful guests. In 1937, the couple fortified the house for the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who came seeking asylum. Protective grilles (painted green) replaced the French balconets. The property expanded to include an adjacent lot, which later made room for a large garden and additional buildings.

During most of their marriage, Kahlo and Rivera used the Blue House as a temporary retreat, a workspace, and a guest house rather than a permanent residence. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera traveled through Mexico and the United States and eventually settled near the Blue House in a pair of Bauhaus-inspired house-studios designed for them by architect Juan O'Gorman. However, the narrow stairways were not practical for Kahlo, who suffered multiple physical ailments. Moreover, she found the modernist architecture with its factory-like array of steel pipes unwelcoming. She preferred the large kitchen and hospitable courtyard of her childhood home.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera—divorced and remarried—moved into the Blue House during the early 1940s. Consulting with architect Juan O'Gorman, Rivera constructed a new wing that faced Londres Street and enclosed the courtyard. Niches in a volcanic rock wall displayed ceramic vases. Kahlo's studio was relocated to a second floor room in the new wing. The Blue House became a vibrant space, exploding with the energy of folk art, large Judas figures, toy collections, embroidered cushions, decorative lacquer ware, floral displays, and brightly painted furnishings. "I had never entered such a beautiful house," one of Kahlo's students wrote. "...the flowerpots, the corridor around the patio, the sculptures by Mardonio Magaña, the pyramid in the garden, exotic plants, cacti, orchids hanging from the trees, the small fountain with fish in it...."

As Kahlo's health grew worse, she spent much of her time in a hospital room decorated to mimic the atmosphere of the Blue House. In 1954, after a lively birthday party with Diego Rivera and guests, she died at home. Four years later, the Blue House opened as the Frida Kahlo Museum. Dedicated to Kahlo's life and works, the house has become one of the most visited museums in Mexico City.

About Painterly Places:

The life of an artist is often unconventional, but an artist, specifically the painter, is a professional like other self-employed people—a freelancer or an independent contractor. The artist may have a staff, but generally works alone, creating and painting in a nearby studio—what we might call a "home office." Does the artist live like you and I do? Do artists have a special relationship with the spaces they occupy? Let's find out by examining the homes of some famous artists.

Learn More About Frida Kahlo:

  • Photo Tour: Inside Casa Azul
  • Travel Information: Discover Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City
  • Official Website: Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Frida Kahlo at Home by Suzanne Barbezat, 2016
    Buy on Amazon

Source: Frida Kahlo at Home by Suzanne Barbezat, Frances Lincoln, Quarto Publishing Group UK, 2016, pp. 136, 139

02
of 06
Olana, Hudson Valley Home of Frederic Church

Olana, Home of Frederic Church in the Hudson Valley of New York State
Olana, Home of Frederic Church in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Photo by Tony Savino / Corbis Historical / Getty Images

Olana is the grand home of landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

As a youth, Church studied painting with Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting. After marrying, Church returned to the Hudson Valley of upstate New York to settle down and raise a family. Their first home in 1861, Cosy Cottage, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt. In 1872, the family moved into a much larger home designed with the help of Calvert Vaux, an architect most famous for designing Central Park in New York City.

Frederic Church was beyond our image of the "struggling artist" by the time he moved back to the Hudson Valley. He started small with Cosy Cottage, but his travels to the Middle East in 1868 impressed what became known as Olana. Influenced by the iconic architecture of Petra and Persian ornamentation, Church no doubt knew about the Nott Memorial being built in nearby Union College and the house Samuel Clemens was building in Church's native Connecticut. The style of these three structures has been described as Gothic Revival, but the Middle Easter ornamentation demands more specificity, a Picturesque Gothic style. Even the name—Olana—draws inspiration from the ancient city of Olane, overlooking the Araxes River as Olana overlooks the Hudson River.

Olana presents stately combinations of Eastern and Western architectural design within a setting that fully expresses the interests of landscape artist Frederic Church. The home as expression of the homeowner is a familiar concept to us all. The artists' homes are no exception.

Like most of the artists' homes in this photo gallery, Olana, near Hudson, NY, is open to the public.

Learn More About Frederic Church:

  • Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail by Jennifer Raab, Yale University Press, 2015
    Buy on Amazon
  • Glories of the Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church's Views from Olana by the Olana Partnership, Cornell University Press, 2009
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: Church's World and The House, The Olana Partnership [accessed November 18, 2016]

03
of 06
Salvador Dali's Villa at Portlligat, Spain

Salvador Dali's Villa of Port Lligat in Cadaques, Spain, on the Costa Brava of the Mediterranean Sea
Salvador Dali's Villa of Port Lligat in Cadaques, Spain, on the Costa Brava of the Mediterranean Sea. Photo by Franco Origlia / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

If the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had a strange marriage in Mexico, so, too, did Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and his Russian-born wife Galarina. Late in life, Dali bought an 11th century Gothic castle (view image) as a medieval expression of "courtly love" for his wife. Dali never visited Gala at the castle unless he had a written invitation, and he moved into the Gala-Dali Castle at Púbol only after her death.

So, where did Dali live and work?

Early in his career, Salvador Dali rented a fishing hut in Port Lligat (also called Portlligat), near Figueres where he was born. Over the course of his lifetime, Dali bought the cottage, built upon the modest property, and created a working villa. The area of Costa Brava became an artist's and tourist's haven in northern Spain, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The House-Museum in Portlligat is open to the public as is Gala-Dalí Castle of Púbol, but these are not the only painterly places associated with Dali.

Dali's stomping ground near Barcelona is known as the Dalinian Triangle—on a map of Spain, the Castle at Púbol, the villa at Portlligat, and his birthplace at Figueres form a triangle. It seems to be no accident that these locations are related geometrically. The belief in sacred, mystical geometry, like architecture and geometry, is a very old idea and one that may have intrigued the artist.

Dali's wife is buried on the castle grounds while Dali is buried at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres. All three points of the Dalinian Triangle are open to the public.

04
of 06
Jackson Pollack in East Hampton, NY

Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner house and studio in East Hampton, NY
Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner house and studio in East Hampton, NY. Photo by Jason Andrew / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Like Salvador Dali's villa in Spain, the home of abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollack (1912-1956) began as a fisherman's hut. Built in 1879, this simple compound, shingled in weathered brown and grey, became the home and studio of Pollack and his wife, the modern artist Lee Krasner (1908-1984).

With financial help from New York benefactor Peggy Guggenheim, Pollack and Krasner moved out of New York City to Long Island in 1945. Their most important artwork was accomplished here, in the main house and the adjacent barn converted into a studio. Overlooking Accabonac Creek, their home was initially without plumbing or heat. As their success grew, the couple remodeled the compound to fit into the Springs of East Hampton—from the outside, the shingles added by the couple are traditional and quaint, yet paint splatters of color have been found to permeate interior spaces. Perhaps a home's exterior is not always an expression of inner self.

The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, now owned by the Stony Brook Foundation of Stony Brook University, is open to the public.

05
of 06
Andrew Wyeth's Home in Cushing, Maine

American Painter Andrew Wyeth in front of his home in Cushing, Maine
American Painter Andrew Wyeth c. 1986, in front of his home in Cushing, Maine. Photo by Ira Wyman / Sygma / Getty Images

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) is well-known in his Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania birthplace, yet it's the Maine landscapes that have become his iconic subjects.

Like many artists, Wyeth was attracted to Maine's seacoast, or, perhaps, simply attracted to Betsy. Andrew summered in Cushing with his family, as did Betsy. They met in 1939, married a year later, and continued to summer in Maine. It was Betsy who introduced the abstract realist painter to his most famous subject, Christina Olson. It was Betsy who purchased and remodeled many of the Maine properties for Andrew Wyeth. The artist's home in Cushing, Maine is a simple compound in grey—a center chimney Cape Cod style home, seemingly with additions on both gabled ends. The marshes, boats, and the Olsons were Wyeth's neighborhood subjects—the greys and browns of his paintings being reflective of a simple New England life.

Wyeth's 1948 Christina’s World forever made the Olson house a famous landmark. The Chadds Ford native is buried in Cushing, near the graves of Christina Olson and her brother. The Olson property is owned by Farnsworth Art Museum and open to the public.

06
of 06
Claude Monet in Giverny, France

Claude Monet's House And Garden In Giverny, France
Claude Monet's House And Garden In Giverny, France. Photo by Chesnot / Getty Images News / Getty Images

How is the house of French impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) like the house of American artist Andrew Wyeth? Certainly not the colors used, but the architecture of both houses have been changed by additions. Wyeth's house in Cushing, Maine, has somewhat obvious additions on each side of the Cape Cod box. Claude Monet's house in France is 130 feet long, with wider windows exposing the additions on each end. It's said that the artist lived and worked on the left side.

Monet's house at Giverny, about 50 miles northwest of Paris, may be the most famous artist home of all. Monet and his family lived here for the last 43 years of his life. The surrounding gardens became the source of many famous paintings, including the iconic water lilies. The Fondation Claude Monet museum house and gardens are open to the public in the spring and fall seasons.

Source: Claude Monet's Home in Giverny by Ariane Cauderlier at giverny.org [accessed November 19, 2016]