10 Senior Citizens Who Made Great Art
By Clay Wirestone
It's not just young whippersnappers who pop out classics! Sometimes it takes a lifetime of experience to produce works of art. These famed senior citizen artists, musicians, writers and otherwise creative dynamos didn’t let a few gray hairs stop them. Indeed, for several, success didn’t arrive at all until their later years.
1. Claude Monet
Impressionist painter and water-lily fancier Claude Monet produced some his most famous work in his 70s and beyond. Yet his paintings also changed during this time, with a notable shift toward darker and more intense colors. This was partially explained by cataracts (after Monet had an operation to remove them in his 80s, he destroyed some canvases, possibly because he saw colors more accurately).
2. Henry Roth
Author Henry Roth wrote Call It Sleep in 1934 at the tender age of 28—and then fell silent for 60 years. The novel was rediscovered in the 1960s, but Roth was nowhere to be found. He finally re-emerged with an acclaimed sequence of novels, called Mercy of a Rude Stream, in 1994. He died a year later.
3. Elliott Carter
Composer Elliott Carter worked until his death last year at the age of 103. His beguiling Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei, one of his most-praised creations, was finished when he was 88. He wrote his first opera at 89. One of his last substantial compositions, "Three Explorations," premiered in 2011 and was inspired by T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
4. Anna Moses
In her late 70s, farm wife Anna Moses found it increasingly difficult to keep up with her embroidery. Arthritis made the fine stitching difficult, so at the suggestion of her sister, she turned to painting. Her folk-art, “outsider” canvases became massively successful, and “Grandma Moses” became a cultural icon during her own life. She died in 1961 at the age of 101, having painted up to her last birthday.
5. Mary Wesley
English novelist Mary Wesley came from an aristocratic family, and her life was full of rebellion, left-wing politics and troubled relationships. But she didn’t start to write seriously until she was in her 60s, and her first book, Joining the Queue, didn’t appear until 1983, when she was 70. She became a best-selling author, writing 10 more books distinguished by their depiction of class relations in Britain—and their frank sex scenes. “The young always think that they invented sex and somehow hold full literary rights on the subject,” she said.
6. Frank Lloyd Wright
Iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright kept evolving throughout his long career; the bulgy form of the Guggenheim Museum is a great example of his late style. While conceived during the 1940s, the building didn’t go up until 1959. Wright kept a firm hold on the construction until his death the same year—he was 91.
7. Robertson Davies
Canadian author, playwright, teacher, and newspaperman Robertson Davies didn’t really hit his groove as a novelist until he retired. Stepping down from his posts as professor and master at Massey College in Toronto in 1981, he promptly published The Rebel Angels. He was 68, and it became his most-loved book. But Davies kept publishing; his name was floated as a potential recipient for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993 (Toni Morrison won instead). He died in 1995, at work on yet another novel.
8. Manoel de Oliveira
Born on the same day as Elliott Carter, Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira is still ticking. Now 104 years old, his latest film, Gebo and the Shadow, came out last year. Although de Oliveira made his first film in 1931, he didn’t finish his second until 1963. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that he started turning out a movie a year.
9. Jean Rhys
A troubled talent, Jean Rhys spent much of her life bouncing between various men and enduring intense poverty. She published on occasion, but the troubled circumstances of her life seemed overwhelming. That is, until she was rediscovered and her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (a takeoff on Jane Eyre) was published. She was 76. Widespread acclaim followed, along with its nastier cousin, celebrity. Her response was simple: “It has come too late.”
10. Quentin Crisp
If Quentin Crisp made a masterpiece, it was likely his own life. The subject of Sting’s song “An Englishman in New York," the outspokenly flamboyant bon vivant published The Naked Civil Servant in 1968. He was 59. A TV adaptation starring John Hurt followed in 1975, and Crisp decided to ride his fame to America. He immigrated to New York City at the age of 72, writing books and making TV and movie appearances until his death at the age of 90.