BBC Video’s excellent seven-disc set The Private Life of a Masterpiece reveals the fascinating, histrionic, and downright wacky goings-on behind 22 iconic artworks. Take our museum tour.
A SUNDAY ON LA GRANDE JATTE — 1884 GEORGES SEURAT
The 70-square-foot canvas shows 48 people, 8 boats, 3 dogs, and 1 monkey. Some say Seurat added the simian to signify sexual desire since La Grande Jatte was a famous haunt for prostitutes and their johns.
THE LAST SUPPER LEONARDO DA VINCI (1498)
This mural has survived at least 11 botched spruce-ups, including being covered in animal glue and warmed by hot rollers. One restorer even turned the apostle Thomas’ hand into a bread roll.
THE KISS GUSTAV KLIMT (1908)
Klimt liked to work while wearing his favorite blue robe with nothing underneath, and kept a bevy of scantily clad redheads milling about, ready to satisfy his needs. When he wanted a respite from The Kiss, he sketched the girls; by the time he finished, he had a collection of over 100 nudes in addition to the painting.
THE SCREAM EDVARD MUNCH (1893)
The lettering in the sky reads, ”This can only have been painted by a madman” in Norwegian. Scholars still don’t know if this was scribbled by Munch — who got the idea while having an anxiety attack and eventually created 105 versions of The Scream — or by an angry art lover.
THE SUNFLOWERS VINCENT VAN GOGH (1888)
In 1924, the National Gallery of London paid the widow of Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, £1,325 for this, the seventh and most famous of van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. (There are 11 in total.) The museum has since made more than £2 million selling Sunflowers-themed postcards and tea towels alone.