Known to history as “Whistler’s Mother”, after the painting she was the subject of, Anna Matilda (née McNeill) Whistler was 76 when she died. It had been nearly ten years since she sat for her son James, becoming the subject of his eponymous and best-known painting – which was actually titled “Arrangement in Grey & Black No.1” by her son.
Ironically, for such a quintessentially American painting, it was painted while she and her son were both living in England. Anna Whistler later died, still in England, and was buried in Hastings Cemetery.
A painter of the Post-Impressionist school, whose work was largely in the Naive or Primitivist manners, Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was born in 1944. A self-taught painter, his works were not respected during his lifetime – indeed, they were often derided for what was seen as a ‘childish’ style.
However, after his death, he became noted as an influence on many of the painters who followed him, notably the Surrealist school and Pablo Picasso, and his work was re-evaluated and its merit seen (too late to do Rousseau any good). His influence continues undimmed even today – one of his paintings was recently the inspiration for certain elements of the animated film ‘Madagascar’.
Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, was 75 when he died, and still refused to have a telephone in his laboratory. He regarded his most famous – and most transformative – invention as a nuisance and a distraction from his serious work. The telephone itself had arisen out of Bell’s true interests in acoustics, which grew out of his work as a teacher for the deaf: he had wanted to invent a device that would make it possible for the deaf to hear, the fact that he may well have stolen the idea from Elisha Gray notwithstanding.
The telephone is merely his best known invention – Bell held the patent for that, but also for 17 other inventions (some of them held in common with other, but most in his own right). Bell’s death was the result of complications arising from his diabetes. He left behind a legacy that has, over the course of less than 150 years and with many followers building on his work, transformed the world beyond recognition. One wonders what he’d think of the iPhone.
The man who basically invented the modern science fiction novel (Jules Verne himself insisted that this was the case), one of the earliest people to worry about what we now call ‘peak oil’ and a designer of wargames in his idler moments, Herbert George Wells is one of the people who created the Twentieth Century. His death, at the age of eighty, was not especially marked by a British establishment that found his views on politics and religion an embarassment.
Wells was the writer of, among others, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. His work as a writer of science fiction, as an historian and as a journalist, is among the most influential in human history – among other things, he is the inventor of almost every basic modern science fiction device except for alternate universes.
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Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
Albert Camus was not an existentialist. He’d have been the first one to tell you that. He was mates with quite a few members of that tribe, but he never considered himself one of their number. Nevertheless, his works – especially “The Stranger”,”The Plague” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” – are often considered to parts of the existentialist canon (insofar as such a thing can be considered to exist).
Camus was only 46 when he died, in an unfortunate car accident that also claimed the life of his publisher, Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car at the time. His death was a great loss to the development of philosophy in the twentieth century.
Henry Luce was an American magazine publisher, who rose to be a magnate in his industry and was called, with very little hyperbole, “the most influential private citizen in the America of his day”. Luce was a staunch patriot who predicted that the United States would achieve world hegemony. It was he who coined the phrase “the American Century” (by which he meant the 20th century) in 1941.
He launched and closely supervised a stable of magazines that transformed both journalism and the reading habits of millions of Americans. Including his radio projects and newsreels, Luce’s corporation was the first truly multimedia endeavour.
Among his stable were such iconic magazines as Fortune (which reported on national and international business); Life (a picture magazine of politics, culture, and society); Time (which summarized and commented on the week’s news and famously selected an annual ‘person of the year’); and Sports Illustrated (which explored the world of sports and famously published an annual ‘swimsuit edition’).
The first President of Vietnam, who died on the 24th anniversary of his accession to that role, Ho Chi Minh is best known in the west as the leader of North Vietnam during the early parts of the Vietnam War. In particular, he was responsible for the move away from traditional military engagements towards the guerilla tactics that eventually (as he predicted) wore the US down.
Ho Chi Minh was 79 years old when he died, and had lived through French, Japanese and then French occupation again in his life. He was a staunch communist, abandoning his birth name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung in token of his ideals, and a firm believer in an independent Vietnam.
After his death, his body was embalmed, and has been on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi ever since, even though his will requested that he be cremated.
In his last years, Picasso’s productivity dropped off from the manic peaks of his youth. To be fair, he was in his nineties by then, and in all his decades, had created more than 50,000 works of art ranging from sculptures to sketches, in addition the paintings he was most famous for. He had certainly earned a quiet retirement, and he seemed for the most part content with his lot, if disappointed by his exile from his native Spain.
His last sketch, entitled “Couple” shows that although he may have slowed down with age, he has lost none of his skill or talent. His last painting had been created some years earlier, but showed a similar spirit. Picasso would die only a little later in that same year, during a dinner party with some friends. His last words were “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”