The Importance of Art

There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.

– Georges Braque

Like all things in life, this painting has a story. Several years ago, I was staying at Doris Day’s famous dog friendly hotel in Carmel, The Cypress Inn, with my husband, Marshall, and Texas Pekepoos, Biff and Joey. While strolling Ocean Avenue, I saw dozens of paintings through the gleaming, spotless windows of the village’s vast array of art galleries. Although much of the artwork was of high quality, none of it made me pause. Then I saw a painting in a window that literally stopped me in my tracks.

I left my three companions outside and immediately sought out the gallery’s owner. German by birth and passionate about art, Eva Hart and her husband had recently opened an art gallery in Carmel. The couple enlisted Eva’s brother to scour Europe and Russia for provocative pieces to sell in their new gallery.  As I studied the other paintings, I could see that the siblings had a good eye for art – all the work was compelling. But only the painting in the window instantly captivated me. Yet, I had no idea why.

The lady with the downcast eyes
The lady with the downcast eyes

Irina Korsakova

Eva told me the painting was created by figurative artist Irina Korsakova, who was born in Moscow in 1960. Her compositions at that time primarily featured Russian diplomats and their wives and children in period dress of the 18th Century.

Irina Korsakova – Art Works – YouTube

Her 18th century dress
Her 18th century dress

I couldn’t afford to purchase the piece myself, but I still hated to pass up such an exquisite painting. Then I thought about my clients whose remodel I had just completed in Marin County. I typically didn’t present artwork to clients, as its attraction depends on the eye and response of the viewer. But I decided to make an exception, knowing my clients didn’t have the time or interest to search for paintings.

My Client Loved It

Eva brought the piece to the residence the following week to present it herself.  The two of us met at my clients’ recently finished European country style home on a four-acre estate in Ross, an upscale town north of San Francisco. With her effusive passion for art, Eva did a spectacular job presenting the painting to my client, whose husband couldn’t join us that morning.

It looked fabulous over the elegant white marble fireplace in the living room flanked by cranberry and charcoal colored French toile window treatments.  My client loved it. We left the painting in place for the couple to view together. Later that day, I got a call. “Linda, he hates the painting,” my client said.

The red toy horse
The red toy horse

Woman with Horse

Disappointed, I retrieved the 4’ x 4’ canvas in my SUV the next afternoon. When I arrived home, Marshall asked how it went, and I told him. He promptly walked out the front door and returned with the painting in his arms. We hung the beautiful artwork over the fireplace in our tiny cottage in San Rafael above the funky old recycled mantel I had found at a salvage yard. It looked spectacular. We decided in that moment we would figure out a way to buy it.

Woman with Horse has since made the move with us to our 1928 Spanish Revival home by the San Francisco Bay. In fact, a reader who remembered the painting from a 2007 issue of our newsletter featuring the Clorinda Avenue cottage recently requested to see it again. So here it is, complete with close-ups and master shots, as they say in Hollywood, from both of the cottage’s living rooms.

Woman with Horse by Irina Korsakova
Woman with Horse by Irina Korsakova

We Still Love the Painting

We still love the painting, and always enjoy our guests’ reactions when they see the mysterious lady in the opulent white dress and black hat gazing down at the tiny red toy horse in her gloved hand. The painting has appeared in our newsletters, magazine articles and my book, Architectural Interiors, and has elicited many comments from readers over the years. In fact, one client who’s a talented artist painted a copy of it for her own home.

I feel that art is one of the greatest expressions of the human spirit. A home is not complete without it. I believe oils, watercolors, monoprints, numbered prints, photographs or posters all qualify as art. Sculpture, textiles, ceramics and crafts of all kinds do as well.

We hung the beautiful painting over our fireplace
We hung the beautiful painting over our fireplace

How about the art you have in your home? Do you have pieces you love, that provoke memories or a feeling in time? Do you find the colors, shapes, textures, contrast or composition pleasing to your eye? Does it fill your home with beauty? Or, like Woman with Horse did for me, does it evoke something you have no words for, but you bought it because you fell in love with it? In the words of Jean Cocteau, “Art is the marriage of the conscious and unconscious.”  It bestows endless beauty upon our lives.

I’ll close as I began –  Art is important!

Art can make a room light up with beauty
Art can make a room light up with beauty

In the love of art,

Toby and Linda Applewhite
Mom thinks I'm a piece of art even when I'm upside down
Mom thinks I'm a piece of art even when I'm upside down
Showing 10 comments
  • Marsha Butler

    Love this

  • Liz

    This topic is a quintessential one for the human psyche and soul. I worked at a college in So Cal and was seated at a table with several science instructors who expressed what a useless budget line the art department was and who needs art? Arts feed us in a spiritual way. Since your business is interiors I can’t imagine what their homes might look like – do they have bare, blank walls? I bet not. If anything we could use more humanizing. Humans have a need to create. Personally I see the hand of God in all of the arts. I get weepy in museums. And, I very much like your painting. You have an excellent eye.

  • Jean Bennett

    I think the painting was always meant to be in your home, it’s gorgeous and it looks like it belongs there, I’m so happy for you that you own it now 🙂 I have always been an art lover, even as a young child, I use to draw pictures all the time. I have been conjuring up some ideas for some paintings that I would like to do for our new kitchen reno which BTW, should be happening soon! 🙂 I will keep you updated on the progress! 🙂 P.S. I might even paint a portrait of Toby <3

  • Lynn

    Linda, I love the story of this painting and how it was meant for you! It looks perfect in your home and seems to resonate with all the colors that you love – sometimes, a beautiful object just calls our name, doesn’t it? I was walking through my husband’s basement studio today – amid the drums and guitars and keyboards, every wall is covered with photos, posters, and prints that he collected and placed there – it is a joyful space. The rest of our house is filled with art collected on our travels or gifts from friends – silk prints from Thailand and Korea, molas from Panama, clay figures from central America, handmade instruments from Turkey, black fired pots from New Mexico, inlaid music boxes from Italy, baskets made by my mother, oil paintings and photos by me – the list goes on and on. To your point, the energy imbued by artists into their creations are carried somehow into a home and make it come alive in a new way. I will be thinking of your essay as I wonder through my house again and appreciate the creative contributions of all of these artists, known and unknown.

  • Judith Jones, Boise, ID

    Hi Linda, The room you designed around the painting is Fabulous with charm,
    texture and of course Color! Wow! I absolutely loved your story about the painting.
    Thank you for sharing it. And… husband was Marshall too. Plus first-born grandson was Marshall. Both awesome. Thank you for your newsletters – they
    are a gift.

  • Marla patterson

    Oh Linda. This is to die for!! I have noticed this grand painting in other photos of your room as well as the piece over the buffet. I love the story about Marshall and I think I just love Marshall. He read your soul. Marla

  • Norma


    Love this piece of art. The colors, subject and it looks wonderful in your home.

    You will enjoy this for many years.

    Art does make a home.

    Thanks for allowing us to enjoy it with you.

  • Deborah Healy

    Oh I love seeing this painting, (a copy of which I started to paint several years ago…) yet to be finished. Seeing it again inspires me to finish it. xoxox

  • Sandiv

    Great Post Linda!

    I love to do paint for myself (not a great artist but can draw a little). Painting speaks Everything. Keep up the great work Linda 🙂

  • Joan von Weien

    Linda, I have enjoyed your book, posts on your clients’ changes in their decor and most recently your newsletters!

    I did wonder about the wonderful lady over the fireplace on Clorinda! Thanks for telling us the story. When I was very young, living in San Francisco, I HAD to have a block print at night from a Japanese artist. I bought it on installments, and still love it today.

    I rotate my art through my home, and discover new aspects….

    Your sharing is an art!

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black, white, gray with colorLinda Applewhite Design