Society loves artists—or at least, it loves the myth of the artist. And over the years, no end of unexpected items have found themselves named after our creative heroes—and not just museums and paint sets either!
Sometimes, the resulting tribute is perfectly fitting as a way to amplify an artist’s creative vision. Other times, well, let’s just say that the next time your company does an arty rebrand, be sure to call an art historian…
Here are the stories of 14 items with artist namesakes, ranked from most to least appropriate.
Mount Ansel Adams / Ansel Adams Wilderness
Named After: Ansel Adams (1902–1984), American photographer
The Story: Unofficially, this 11,760-foot peak has been called “Mount Ansel Adams” since 1934, when Adams and his wife summited it with a Sierra Club party, which collectively agreed around the campfire that it should be known as “Mount Ansel Adams” (the photographer himself called it the “Tower in Lyell Fork.”) The surrounding 109,500-acre area of California’s Sierra Nevada would also eventually be christened the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The US Geological Survey doesn’t allow the naming of geographical features after living people, so neither officially took his name until the one year anniversary of Adams’s death, in 1985.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? This terrain is the site of Ansel Adams’s most famous images, and he had a personal connection: 10/10
Named After: Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), French rococo painter
The Story: Eugène Fuchs debuted his perfume company in 1926, in the first flush of the French Riviera’s commercialization, to sell French perfume to tourists. He named it Fragonard, after the painter, who was born in the town of Grasse, where the company is based and remains one of the three big parfumeries. The name was also meant as a tribute “to the refinement of 18th-century arts.” Today, Fragonard sells cosmetics, soaps, and more, as well as operating the Musée du Parfum Fragonard in Paris, which “welcomes both amateur perfume lovers and connoisseurs.”
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Fragonard was a painter of seductive decadence. This seems on brand: 9/10
Salvador Dalí Desert
Named After: Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), Spanish Surrealist painter
The Story: Information is scarce about when or how this barren region within the Southwest Highlands of Bolivia came to be known as the Salvador Dalí Desert or the Valle de Salvador Dalí (Salvador Dalí Valley). As to why, however, that’s clear: Its dream-like barrenness resembles the settings of many of Dalí’s paintings, and features like the Árbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) look exactly like the enigmatic forms poking up in well-known works like Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (1936).
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Dalí was never shy about self-promotion and the fact that his images are so famous that they have touched a landscape on the other side of the earth would surely have delighted him: 8/10
Named After: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), American painter
The Story: In 2006, Columbia earth scientist Mark Norell and his graduate student Sterling Nesbitt discovered a new species of dinosaur: “a six-foot-long, two-legged dinosaur… a distant cousin of today’s alligators and crocodiles.” It is described as having “large eyes, a beak, walk[ing] on two feet and had small hands.” They dubbed the beast “Effigia okeeffeae,” with “effigia” meaning “ghost” and “okeeffeae” referring to the famous painter of the American Southwest, whose home was near the site where it was found.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? The Effigia okeeffeae combined aspects of different species, as did the painter, who combined abstraction and figuration. Most importantly, though, O’Keeffe is well associated with images of enigmatic animal skulls in the desert, so it fits: 8/10
Picasa, the photo-sharing application
Named After: Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Spanish Cubist painter and sculptor
The Story: To be precise, the name “Picasa” blends three references, making it a veritable Cubist mash-up: the last name of the most famous painter of the 20th century; the phrase “mi casa”; and the word “pic,” as an abbreviation of picture. (Google officially killed of Picasa in 2016 in favor of Google Photos.)
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Picasa was an extraordinarily versatile service that was ultimately superseded by the more “cross-platform” Google Photos—just as Picasso was a protean artist who looks very traditional in today’s post-medium condition. (Food for thought: Does that make Flickr the Matisse of photo applications?): 7/10
Ai Weiwei Star
Named After: Ai Weiwei (b. 1957), Chinese contemporary artist
The Story: According to Jing Daily, Canadian astronomer Yang Guangyu successfully applied to have Asteroid 83598, which he had discovered in 2001 at Arizona’s Desert Eagle Observatory, renamed “Ai Weiwei Star” back in 2010. Though the naming coincided with Ai’s house arrest, Yang said it was not a political statement. Instead, he stressed Ai’s achievement in co-designing Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium. On hearing the news, the artist said he hoped to “take a look at it someday.”
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Ai Weiwei got his start in an art group literally called the Stars. And he is nothing if not mercurial: 7/10
Andy Warhol Bridge
Named After: Andy Warhol (1928–1987), American Pop artist
The Story: Pittsburgh renamed the city’s Seventh Street Bridge for Andy Warhol back in 2005, on the 10th anniversary of the nearby Andy Warhol Museum.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? It’s not exactly glamorous and doesn’t exactly scream Pop. But in a way, wouldn’t Andy have loved something so boring and everyday? And, after all, the young Andrew Warhola did walk these very streets with his mother: 6/10
Paul Gauguin Cruises
Named After: Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), French Post-Impressionist painter
The Story: Fancy a luxury cruise in French Polynesia aboard the M/S Paul Gauguin? Claiming to be the leader in Polynesian cruise-ship tourism, it boasts 24-hour on-board room service, exclusive entertainment opportunities, and Polynesian entertainment troupes known as Les Gauguins & Les Gauguines.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? That’s a tough one. Gauguin did more than anyone to fix the allure of the South Seas in the public mind—cloaking the actual terrors that French colonialism had wrought in Tahiti. In a certain way, then, selling tourists with his name makes sense. But should there be a Paul Gauguin Cruise in 2019, given that his legacy is, among many other things, romanticizing his dalliances with very, very young Tahitian girls?: 5/10
Manet Hospitality Services
Named After: Édouard Manet (1863–1883), French modernist painter
The Story: This Italian startup is offering a small Android tablet that aims to replace current hotel phones with something that meets the expectations of the smartphone generation. Presumably in a reference to its namesake, Manet boasts that its mission is “Shifting Hospitality from Realism to Impressionism.”
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Manet was known for being cosmopolitan and sociable, so it kind of fits. But while it is certainly impressive to frame your business around Manet’s role as the bridge between Realism and Impressionism, the slogan “Shifting Hospitality from Realism to Impressionism” also sounds a bit as if the company is encouraging hotels to just… guess how many towels you need?: 4/10
Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream Liqueur
Named After: Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), Dutch Golden Age painter
The Story: Beside a picture of Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream Liqueur boasts that it trades in the “Art of Indulgence” via its blend of “real Dutch Chocolate, cream, and vodka.” An admiring reviewer once described it as “like chocolate milk almost, but with 17% alc./vol.”
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? The connection between the lucid longing of Vermeer’s great paintings and drinking alcoholic chocolate milk is wishful at best… (And here is the place where we will also mention that another liqueur supposedly named after an artist, Frangelico, appears to have been named after an 18th-century monk unrelated to the Renaissance artist): 4/10
Renoir, the consulting group
Named After: Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), French Impressionist painter
The Story: Somewhat inexplicably, from both the points of view of art history and national origins, the UK-based consultants launched in the ‘90s with a domestic arm called “Rembrandt” and an international division called “Renoir.” As their international business grew, the French painter’s identity seized control, and the company became Renoir Consulting Group, which today boasts that it employs some 400 people on six continents, advising firms like Dakota Gas and San Francisco Medical Center.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? If you are boasting of giving clear advice, do you really want to name yourself after an “Impressionist”? And if your mission is helping companies rationalize operations and tighten the relentless grip of capital, do you really want to be associated with an artist best known for his images of idleness and pleasure?: 4/10
Leonardo, the weapons company
Named After: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Italian Renaissance polymath
The Story: In 2017, Rome-based aerospace and defence firm Finmeccanica officially changed its name to Leonardo, touting the rebrand as embracing “the very modern name of Leonardo da Vinci, innovator in his times and recognised as universal symbol of genius and creativity applied to all fields of inquiry.” It makes such delightful products as the “Black Scorpion” miniature torpedo and the “HITFIST” gun turret.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? Leonardo the Artist was interested in all things, and that included various machines of war. But he is also a symbol of humanism, and there are few things less humanist than a modern weapons contractor (Leonardo the Company’s attempt to parlay its name change into art sponsorships has been relentlessly controversial): 3/10
“Arbus,” the sweater pattern
Named After: Diane Arbus (1923–1971), American photographer
The Story: The pattern was concocted by knitter Bristol Ivy in her book Knitting Outside the Box, and christened “Arbus” after the American photographer. “In Arbus, I wanted to see if it was possible to create graphic intersections of stripes that also served to help shape the sweater,” Ivy has written. Other patterns are named for other female creative figures, like Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska and artist Loïs Mailou Jones. (It is, it seems, unrelated to the “Arbus Sweater” from M.M. LaFleur, a brand which also features a line of clothing named after female artists like the “O’Keeffe Sweater,” the “Ono Cardigan,” and the “Graham Kimono.”)
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? The pattern looks very cozy! But that’s the thing: Diane Arbus is pretty much known for pushing herself, and her viewers, out of their comfort zone, so: 2/10
Rembrandt, the tooth-whitening toothpaste
Named After: Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), Dutch Old Master painter
The Story: Owned by Johnson & Johnson, this is a line of toothpastes that pioneered the “tooth-whitening” category.
How Appropriate to Artist’s Legacy? When you think of Rembrandt, the first thing that comes to mind is bright, clear whites, right?
NO!! You think of the Night Watch, a painting most famous for pulling off the painterly feat of centering its focus on a HUGE BLACK MASS!
You think of his soul-baring self-portraits showing the burning gaze of relentless self scrutiny!
You DO NOT think dental care: 1/10
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