SAINT-GAUDENS PORTRAITS

by Honey Heyer   
September 1998

 

A recent gift to the MAG American collection is a pair of bronze relief portraits of Hettie Evarts Beaman (1852-1917) and Charles Coatsworth Beaman Jr. (1840-1900) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. They were given by Mary Ellen Shumway Gaylord, the Beamans’ great-granddaughter, who inherited them from her parents, Hettie and F. Ritter Shumway, well-known Rochester philanthropists.

 

Saint-Gaudens was the most prominent American sculptor in the latter half of the nineteenth century. During that period of great prosperity and national aspiration, he produced public memorials which transmitted both the vitality and personality of his subjects.  Most famous of his works are the statues of Admiral David Farragut and the equestrian sculpture of General Sherman in New York City, the Shaw Memorial in Boston, the standing Abraham Lincoln and the seated Lincoln, both for Chicago, and the haunting Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

 

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1848.  His father, a French shoemaker, and his Irish mother immigrated to New York City when Augustus was an infant.  Apprenticed to a French cameo cutter at age fourteen, he attended night classes at Cooper Union and later studied at the National Academy of Design.  At nineteen he went to Paris, supporting himself as a cameo cutter, and was accepted at the École des Beaux-Arts.  When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, he left for Rome and found work there in a studio, gradually gaining experience and skill.    

 

Some of Saint Gaudens's favorite works were the bas-relief portraits commissioned by friends and notables of the time—a type descended from Renaissance and Baroque models derived from Greek and Roman precedents. The Gallery's newly-conserved bronze portrait of Charles Coatsworth Beaman, Jr. (94.51) in profile, a half-length standing figure from the right side, hand in his pocket, conveys the confidence and presence of the serious but affable lawyer.  The inscription "Charles Coatsworth Beaman by his friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens" is at the base of the work and the year 1894 in Roman numerals at the top. 

 

The portrait of Hettie Evarts Beaman (94.50), age 48, is a left-side profile as she sits in a Windsor chair, her hands folded together in an air of repose and gentle dignity. This shallower relief carving has the quality of drawing, and the bronze surface a greenish patina.  A small  wreath  of  ivy  leaves surrounds her name in the background space, and an inscription, "Cornish, New Hampshire, 1900," followed by a monogram, is at the top.

 

Saint-Gaudens first met Hettie Evarts and her father William in 1872 in the sculptor's studio in Rome.  There they commissioned a marble bust of Evarts, a distinguished New York City lawyer and later U.S. Senator. In 1874 Saint-Gaudens returned to America, where the vitality and sensitivity of his work were acclaimed.  By 1881 he was recognized as one of the great American sculptors.

 

In 1885 his friend Charles Beaman, now married to Hettie Evarts, persuaded Saint-Gaudens to spend summers renting property from him in Cornish, New Hampshire, as a retreat from the heat and congestion of New York City.  Cornish became the locus of a lively artistic and literary community centered around Saint-Gaudens.  This "circle of friends" expanded over the years and included Thomas Dewing, George de Forrest Brush, Frederick MacMonnies, Kenyon Cox, Daniel French, Charles Platt, Stephen Parrish, father of Maxfield Parrish, and scores of others. (Maxfield Parrish was to arrive later.)  The Beamans lived and entertained at their home, Blow-Me-Down Farm, and their granddaughter Hettie Beaman Lakin Shumway (named after her grandmother) was born there.

 

When Saint-Gaudens finally bought his property from Beaman in 1891, he named it Aspet, after his father's birthplace in France.  As purchase price Beaman asked $2500 and the bas-relief portrait now in MAG's collection. Saint-Gaudens' colleague, architect Stanford White, helped plan renovations of the property,

 

Active almost until his death, Saint-Gaudens spent summers in Cornish and the rest of the year on 36th Street in New York City.  He died at Cornish in 1907.  Casts of his works are preserved at Aspet, now the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Site.

                                           

On a local note, Saint-Gaudens originated the design for the caryatids at the Albright Museum (now Albright-Knox) in Buffalo, providing variations in hands or drapery of the models. Though he did not live to complete the Buffalo work, sculptor Frances Grimes, who had been his assistant in Cornish, completed the commission from his sketches.

 

Sources: Homer Saint-Gaudens, editor: The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Vol.II; Shirley Good Ramsey, catalog editor: A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin; Louise Tharp, Saint-Gaudens and the Gilded Era.


BENTON AND BOOMTOWN

by Joan K. Yanni    

October 1998

 

Everyone knows about Thomas Hart Benton's Boomtown (51.1). It's a favorite of kids who come to tour the Gallery. Even grown-ups like it. It is one of the most requested and reproduced paintings in our collection, and is pictured in middle and high school textbooks as well as in histories of art. So what's it all about?

 

Benton was in Borger, Texas, in 1927—a town in the Texas panhandle where oil had been discovered. Men flocked there to make their fortunes and return home rich, they hoped. There were no wives nor children nor picket fences in Borger—just men fighting to gain wealth, and ladies of questionable repute hoping to share some of it. Benton had an apartment on the second floor of the Dilley Building there, and the action in the painting is presented from that angle.

 

Undulating forms of people and cars contrast with the sharp verticals of the telegraph poles and derricks. A train rushes across the horizon, and black smoke moves dramatically out of the picture. The smoke comes from a carbon mill; its diagonal adds to the energy of the scene. Bright colors and swift brush strokes create further excitement. Benton considered Boomtown one of his best works and used elements such as the smoke, derricks and oil wells in some later paintings and murals.

 

Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri, in 1889. He grew up in a political family, the son of a US Congressman and grandnephew of a famous senator. Throughout his youth he listened to and took part in discussions of issues shaping the Midwest. Art was part of his early life, too. He took classes at the Chicago Art Institute and drew cartoons for a local newspaper when he was 17, then went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. He became interested for a time in cubism and abstract expressionism, but the paintings of El Greco, with their distortions of the human figure, were more of an influence on his style.

 

He returned to the United States in 1912 and settled in New York.  Here he participated in the 1916 Forum Exhibition of American Painting. One of his paintings in the show was completely abstract, but for Benton, abstraction was merely an exercise on the way to mastering representational painting. He had already decided to create rugged, naturalistic art based on his rural background.  In 1926,  in order to support himself and his wife, Rita, he began to teach at the Art Students League where he became the mentor of Jackson Pollock.

 

Benton painted his first mural cycle, Modern America, for the New School of Social Research, NYC, in 1931. The mural, whose heroic figures and swirling color brought optimism to a land recovering from the Depression, was acclaimed. He went on to paint murals for the Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut, and the Whitney Museum. During the '30s he was one of the most influential and popular painters of Regionalism, along with John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood.

                                                                   

Benton was the champion of realistic painting, never hesitating to attack the flattened, abstract style that he had abandoned. His pronouncements on the subject as well as his political views brought him into contention with abstract painter Stuart Davis (MAG's Garage Lights), and in 1933, their quarrel—nationalism vs. internationalism—appeared in print in the magazine Art Digest. Time magazine had printed an article eulogizing Benton and the Regionalists. Davis, in an article in Art Front, put down all the Regionalists for their "contempt for the foreign artist and his influence," and for painting "Civil War architecture…and Mother Nature acting tough in Kansas." He particularly attacked Benton, going so far as to accuse him of racist bigotry for his "gross caricatures of Negroes."

 

Benton did not choose to attack Davis, but answered 10 questions put to him by Art Digest.  Avoiding personalities, his answers were lengthy and philosophical, and he concluded that the future of American art lay in the Middle West, "since it is less weighted with intellectual concepts of meaning, purpose, and rational progression."

 

Benton returned to the Midwest in the mid-1930s to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute. He continued to paint—smaller pictures of rural life as well as murals at the state capitol and at the Truman Memorial Library. (Truman had called him "the best damn painter in America.") His last work, a mural on The Sources of Country Music, for the Country Music Foundation, Nashville, was completed only hours before his death in 1975 in Kansas City.

 

Sources: Henry Adams: Thomas Hart Benton, An American Original, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1989; The Art Digest, February 15, March 1, March 15, April 1, 1935; curatorial files.


VICKREY'S HALLOWEEN MASK

by Libby Clay

November 1998

 

Robert Vickrey's tempera on panel painting, Halloween Mask (79.60), is a natural to use in the inquiry method of touring.  Questions arise as soon as you begin to look at it, for it has real mystery about it.  We see a boy wearing a half mask that seems to resemble a bird's beak.  Look again.  How old is this boy? He has the torso of a ten- or twelve-year-old, yet his hands and feet seem almost man-sized.  And the mask...what is that peculiar membrane in the eye section...with the human eye just peeping through it?  Is the boy becoming bird or bird becoming boy?  What is that eerie hawklike shadow behind the boy?

 

A gift of longtime Gallery friend Earl Kage, Vickrey's photorealistic painting can be found in the twentieth century gallery.  It was painted in 1953, when the artist's career was just beginning. Photorealism was not the "in" thing in the 1950s, for those were the years of Abstract Expressionism and The New York School.  The Regionalists were out...the Romantics were out...but Robert Vickrey managed to survive in a hostile environment.  He persisted in keeping his eyes open when the majority of the art world was severing contact with reality.

 

Children are among Vickrey's most frequent subjects, for the practical reason that "I've had a lot of children." (He and his wife, Marjorie, have two sons and two daughters.) He says, "In my work they represent the rebels, the loners, the free spirits who fight against the crass, materialistic things the grown-ups stand for...and which children eventually become." Several of his paintings show young girls blowing soap bubbles, and the evanescence of the bubbles reminds us of how swiftly childhood passes.

 

Vickrey's favorite medium, tempera on board, is a very old and very demanding one, harking back to Giotto.  He uses powdered pigment to which water has been added to form a smooth paste.  The paint will not stick on the panel without a binder, and the binder in tempera is egg yolk mixed with water. Now—what to do with all those egg whites?  Andrew Wyeth solved the problem by pouring them in his dog's food.  Vickrey tried this with his dog, and the result was "the longest and dirtiest look ever exchanged between beast and man."

 

A story that students on tour might appreciate is that once Vickrey was painting a portrait in a less-than-fastidious New York apartment.  For a short while after it is applied, the tempera medium is edible, and when

 

Vickrey returned one morning to finish a partially painted portrait, cockroaches had eaten half the face away.

             

You may be more familiar with Robert Vickrey than you know.  Between 1957 and 1968 he painted some 75 covers for Time magazine.  He painted such notables as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Patricia Nixon. (He turned down an opportunity to paint Vice President Nixon, thinking there was no future there.) His last Time cover was for the wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. He used photographs, but since he didn't have a photograph of them together, he had to guess who was taller.  He guessed wrong, but explained his error by saying that they were on steps, and Onassis was on a higher one.

 

In his studio, because he sometimes had to work very quickly, he often felt that the picture he was working on was not his best work, and he avoided signing it.  But he found that if he didn't sign it Time would print his name in clear block letters on the white margin of the cover.  He took to signing his name in the lower left corner, where it would be hidden by the address label.

 

Vickrey now summers on Cape Cod, in Orleans.  Last July he made the news when three of his paintings were stolen from Munson Gallery in Chatham.  The bold thief had talked with the gallery owners about the paintings just before he stole them.  He was apprehended after selling one to a gallery in Manlius, New York, and the paintings were returned safely.

 

Connections with Halloween Mask are nearby.  To the left is Reginald Marsh's Ice Cream Cones (45.70).  Vickrey studied with Marsh.  You can see the Joseph Albers across the way.  Albers came to the Yale School of Fine Arts while Vickrey was a student, bringing his color theories and influencing Minimalism and Op Art painting for years to come. Abstract Expressionism in our collection is just around the corner with the Frankenthaler, the Vicente and others.

 

"I paint all my pictures in my head," Vickrey has said.  "Most of them are dreamscapes more than anything else...dreams are sharp and vivid... everything that happens seems plausible at the time." Perhaps this is the secret of Halloween Mask.

 

Sources: Curatorial files; The Journal of the American Medical Association, October 8, 1993; and The Cape Codder, September 28, 1998.


SCHREYER: THE CHIEF AND HIS ESCORT

by Joan K. Yanni
December 1998—January 1999

 

Adolf Schreyer's The Chief and His Escort (18.7) was painted for a nineteenth-century world fascinated by the Near East and Orientalism. Europe was concerned not with the Orient, but with the Islamic world, the Arab countries of North Africa, Turkey, and Persia.

 

The French were the first to become interested in these lands. France had military and political commitments in North Africa, and Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798 and the colonization of Algeria beginning in 1830 fanned the flame of imagination. For Orientalist art was not a scholarly view of the cultures of the Near East, but the European artist's depiction of unfamiliar lands.  Paintings were exotic and exciting views of Bedouins riding through the desert, sensuous slave markets and harem scenes, and glorious sunsets on the Nile. 

 

Though not all Orientalist painters traveled to the Near East, some, like Delacroix and Gérôme, did.  And the coming of photography in 1839 brought authentic pictures back to the continent, where artists could use them to bring accuracy to their works. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) whose The Death of Sardanapalus startled France in 1827, was the most notable Orientalist painter in the first half of the century. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), the other great nineteenth-century artist to work in the genre (The Turkish Bath and Great Odalisque) provided a cool, linear alterative to the tumult and color of Delacroix.

 

Adolf Schreyer was not a Frenchman but a German, born to wealthy parents in 1828 at Frankfort-on-Main. He first studied at the Städel Art Institute under artist Jakob Becker, a noted painter of landscapes and genre works. Schreyer soon moved to the Academy in Düsseldorf, which at that time attracted artists from all over Europe and the United States. He went on to travel all over Europe during the 1840s and 1850s.

 

In 1854 Schreyer was in the Crimean Peninsula working as a field artist with a regiment formed by Prince von Thurn und Taxis. Here he sketched the Crimean War, made famous by Florence Nightingale and Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade." At the conclusion of the campaign he visited Syria, Egypt, and Algiers, where he discovered the exotic subject matter that became the theme of many of his later paintings. He immersed himself in the life there, mastering several Arab dialects.  In 1862 he settled in Paris and developed a style which reflected his knowledge of Delacroix and Eugène Fromentin (1822-1876). The influence of Delacroix can be seen in The Chief and His Escort, with its proud, flowing-robed Arabs and magnificent horses.

       

His picturesque and dramatic North African scenes brought Schreyer immediate fame and success, both in popular and artistic circles. Wealthy American patrons clamored for his works; thus his paintings are in the collections of many American museums as well as those of Germany and England.

 

With the onset of the Franco-Prussian War Schreyer returned to Germany and settled in Cronberg, a summer resort and artists' colony. He was named court painter to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and painted until his death in 1899.

 

Schreyer is considered an important forerunner of Realism and Impressionism in Germany. His paintings are rich in color and texture; his flowing brush work borders on the Impressionistic.

 

********

 

Any mention of Orientalism must include Gérôme's Interior of a Mosque (57.18), a painting quite different from the Schreyer. One of the most revered academic painters of the nineteenth century, Gérôme (1824-1904) painted in a precise, detailed and realistic style. Like Schreyer, he traveled extensively in the Near East. Orientalist subjects became an important part of his works, varying from ruins of ancient civilizations to quiet genre scenes. Some of his paintings were made from sketches made in situ, but many more show Parisian models in costumes and props the artist brought back from his travels. Yet he researched subjects carefully, sometimes using photographs for his data. Though undocumented, The Interior of a Mosque was probably taken from an anonymous photograph of the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo, which shows identical vaulting and columns.  As noted in Memorial Art Gallery: An Introduction to the Collection, Gérôme also accurately recorded "the gestures and position of the Moslems' prayer cycle" with "all stages of their devotions from the upright recitation of vows to the final prostration before God. Even the precise placement of their hands and feet during prayer has been carefully observed."

 

Though public interest in Orientalism had faded by the end of the century, the Near East still attracted the eye of Impressionists such as Matisse and Renoir. Gradually artists sought places more exotic or found pictures to paint in their own lands.

 

Sources: Donald Rosenthal: Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting, Memorial Art Gallery, 1982; Susan Dodge Peters, ed., Introduction to the Collection, 1988; curatorial files.


PETERS: MEMORIAL BRIDGE

by Joan K. Yanni

February 1999

 

Most docents know and appreciate Memorial Bridge (81.56). But not all who use the painting on tours are familiar with the artist who painted it.

 

Carl W. Peters (1897-1980) was from the Rochester area—Fairport, to be exact—and spent most of his life here and in New England.  He loved the snowy winters in western New York and summers near the sea in Gloucester and Rockport, Massachusetts. His love of nature and color dominates his paintings.

 

Peters, the son of German immigrant parents, was born on a small ten-acre farm in Fairport. He was graduated from the Mechanics Art Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) in the 1920s, studied at the National Academy of Design Summer School in Woodstock, New York, and trained with Charles Rosen, Harry Leith-Rose and John F. Carlson.  Carlson probably had the greatest influence on him.

 

In the 1930s and early 40s, he painted a series of murals, some for the WPA. (The Works Progress Administration was a government agency, created during the Depression, that put thousands of unemployed artists to work.) Some of his murals can still be seen in Rochester: The History of the Lake Ontario Region (WPA, 1940), Charlotte Junior-Senior High School; Settling of Genesee Valley (WPA 1938), Wilson Magnet High School; From Painting Men to Modern Lives (WPA 1937), Madison High School (soon to be moved to the South Wedge Middle School); and Tribute to Devotion, Rochester Academy of Medicine (1941).

 

In 1948, on a trip to the Rockport artists' colony to paint and teach, he met and married Blanche Peaslee, a North Shore native.  Though the two loved New England, Peters was drawn back to his home in Fairport and the house he had built, with his father's help, when he was 18. Thereafter the couple divided the year between Massachusetts and New York. Usually he painted four days a week and taught for three—in Fairport during the fall and winter, and in the Peters' Rockport home, Blue Gate Studio, during the spring and summer. He was a beloved and talented teacher. One of his students observed, "Even if I never paint, (after his instruction) I'll go through life seeing things I never saw before."

 

Always shy and reluctant to engage in self-promotion, Peters nevertheless won acclaim from fellow artists as well as critics.  He called oils and watercolors "the only true media," and scorned acrylics.  A dedicated naturalist, he painted his surroundings realistically and honestly.  He was known to spend hours outside in knee-deep snow, wearing huge gloves or mittens to warm his hands, as he worked to capture the colors of snow on his canvas. He believed in "emotional painting—in getting excited by what you see. Talent is really the ability to get excited."

 

Peters' style shows some influence of American Impressionism, but is more realistic.  His brush stroke varies from broad sweeps of color to short flecks of paint. He was able to capture the subtle colors of winter as well as vivid sunlight and sea. He believed in working and struggling to create a picture. "Struggle is good...you're trying to learn, and that's when you really paint." 

 

Peters won many awards during his career, including three prestigious Hallgarten prizes, presented by the National Academy of Design in New York to American-born artists under the age of 35. Among his many professional associations were the Rochester Art Club, the American Watercolor Society, the Rockport Art Association, and the Buffalo Society of Artists. He died in Fairport at the age of 83.

 

The National Academy of Design, New York; The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Art Institute of Chicago; and the American Watercolor Society, New York, have exhibited his work. His painting Little Valley has been acquired by the National Museum of American Art in Washington, and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, has recorded his paintings, murals and sketches on microfilm. A catalogue raisonné was published this year by the University of Rochester.

 

MAG acquired Peters' Memorial Bridge in 1981. It pictures the Veteran's Memorial Bridge under construction, with men working on scaffolding and white smoke rising vertically on the canvas. The bridge, which crosses the Genesee River at St. Paul Street near the traffic circle, was built during the Depression to provide work for the unemployed in the Rochester area. It opened in December, 1931.

 

Memorial Bridge can be compared with Crawford's Whitestone Bridge (51.2), Lie's Morning on the River (13.6), or Twachtman's The White Bridge (16.9).  It can also be used on the Genesee Journey tour or on any Rochester-related tour.

 

Sources: Curatorial files; CWA Library artist file.


HER HILLS OF HOME

by Libby Clay
 
March 1999

 

Anna Mary Robertson Moses' hills of home are in Washington County, New York, near the Vermont and Massachusetts borders.  Coincidentally, a number of her limner predecessors also hailed from this "border country."  Perhaps the beauty of the area was especially conducive to artistic expression.

 

"Grandma" Moses was born on September 7, 1860, one of ten children in a farming family.  Her education was scanty, just a few years in a one-room schoolhouse.  When she was twelve she began working as a hired girl on neighboring farms.  She supported herself this way for fifteen years, and, in 1887, married the hired hand on one of the farms, Thomas Salmon Moses.

 

The newlyweds first made their home in Virginia, working various farms.  They had ten children, five of whom survived.  After eighteen years, the "hills of home" beckoned, and they moved back to New York state, to a dairy farm in Eagle Bridge, thirty miles from Albany.  They worked the farm until Thomas's death in 1927.

 

The children took over the running of the farm, and it was then that Grandma Moses' second career began.  At last she had leisure time.  At first she created pictures in embroidery, but by her seventies her arthritic hands made this too difficult.  She took up painting.  "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens," she wrote in her memoir, for idle hands were unthinkable to her.

 

At first she copied her bucolic scenes from Currier and Ives-type prints and postcards.  While she continued to use such images as source material, over the years her own broad, quilt-like arrangement of landscape elements developed.

 

She had an extraordinary gift for visualizing the past, and her memories served her well.  "I like pretty things the best," she said.  "What's the use of painting a picture if it isn't something nice?  I like to paint old-timey things, historical landmarks of long ago..." Thanksgiving Days, first snows, and seasonal activities were the pretty things she chose.

                                                             

Grandma Moses was "discovered" by a New York collector, Louis Caldor.  In 1938 he saw her paintings displayed in the window of a drug store in

 

Hoosick Falls.  He bought her best works (priced between three dollars and five dollars) and begged her to produce more.  He showed them to New York galleries, but there was little interest.  For one thing, her age made it unlikely that she would produce many more paintings—or so the dealers reasoned.  Eventually an Austrian art dealer, Otto Kallir, was intrigued by her "astonishing mastery" of landscape and gave her a one-person show called "What a Farm Wife Painted."  The year was 1940 and she was eighty years old.  A late bloomer!  Only three paintings sold, and prices ranged from twenty to two hundred fifty dollars; but her career was launched, and she lived to paint for 21 more years.

 

Anna Mary Robertson Moses' recollections and recreations of idyllic nineteenth-century country life appealed to a war-weary and disenchanted America.  Like Currier and Ives prints, her work told of an earlier golden age of peace and agricultural prosperity.    

 

The media, too, made her a star. She was everyone's perfect grandma and made wonderful copy. Newspapers, radio, television and many reproductions of her work on greeting cards and posters made "Grandma Moses" a household name. Gimbels department store in New York City centered a Thanksgiving festival around her work and persuaded her to give a public talk in the city.  Her sincerity and forthrightness charmed the jaded press corps. She appeared on the covers of Time and Life, met President Truman.  Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, declared "Grandma Moses Day" on her 100th birthday.  Today, adult visitors to MAG invariably pause to enjoy My Hills of Home (53.3).  They recognize her work and smile.

 

She died in 1961 and completed twenty-five paintings in her 101st year!  She had lived a lifetime doing the impossible.  "I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it.  I was happy and contented.  I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life had offered.  And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."

 

Sources: "Grandma Was a Painter," Ken Johnson, New York Alive, July/August 1989, and curatorial files.


FRITS THAULOW IN A NEW LIGHT

(Editor's Note: The following was excerpted from material researched by Thea Tweet for a Viewpoints lecture on Thaulow.)

April 1999

 

Docents revisiting the 19th-century gallery with its revealing new lights might be interested in using the painting The Stream (73.151), by Johan Frederick (Frits) Thaulow (1847-1906), as a pivotal point for re-examining the works there.

 

It is best to begin a study of the painting by reading the article by Candace Adelson, curator of European art, in Vols. 17-19 of Porticus.  She relates why George Eastman chose a Thaulow rather than a Turner for his personal collection.

 

Then examine this painting by the Norwegian ex-patriot artist who, by 1895, the date of our painting, was working far more frequently in his adopted country, France, than in his native country. 

 

Thaulow had spent considerable time examining Dutch painting of the 1600s and the Spanish baroque. He had studied for two winters with painter J. F. Gude, where he learned the romantic realism sometimes seen in his work. He was the first of his generation of Norwegian painters to arrive in Paris, at a time when the French realist painters of 1830-1900 were working.  But he also adopted elements of Impressionism. 

 

Compare The Stream with The Washerwomen (37.2), by Léon Augustin L'Hermitte. L'Hermitte's work represents a typical French academic painting; Thaulow has moved beyond realism. It is not unusual to see a Thaulow painting in which the foreground is rendered impressionistically and the middle and background realistically.

 

Thaulow was a plein air painter, just like his friend, Claude Monet. Both Thaulow and Monet painted in Normandy—Monet on the coast, Thaulow on a quiet river near Dieppe. (The Stream was painted there.) Monet's coastline is stormy.  Thaulow's weather is placid, tranquil, more in keeping with his temperament. He said of himself, "I am more drawn to the gentle and harmonic than to the vigorous."

 

It is interesting to note that Thaulow had urged Monet to paint in Norway, and Monet finally went there in the winter of 1895, to visit his stepson who had located there. But Monet found the climate too difficult. The temperature was 20 degrees below zero when he arrived, and his painting was impeded by the excess of light on the white snow.  Not too surprisingly, Monet never returned to Norway. One Norwegian winter was enough for him!  When the snow scenes of Monet and Thaulow are compared, it is as one would expect.  In his color palette Monet used a great deal of blue and lavender. His painting of Sandvika looks as though it had been done in a blizzard. Thaulow's paintings, even of snow scenes, often have a golden glow.

 

Thaulow was enormously sensitive to color. His preference for a warm color palette is consistent throughout his career. In his winter scenes he particularly loved the combination of red, white and black that he could achieve, for example, by painting a red building contrasted with white snow and dark water. He disliked the works of contemporary Norwegian painters whom he found obsessive in their use of blue and green, colors which he thought gave a forbidding atmosphere to their winter landscapes.  Though many of his countrymen in the 1890s were drawn to mood landscapes, Thaulow stayed with the sun.

 

Thaulow's handling of the water in The Stream and in many other of his paintings is similar to that of the French Impressionists. He knew water intimately.  A great boatsman, he took his own boat to Sweden, and he spent the summer of 1883 living on it in the Oslo fiord.  He made several trips to Venice to paint the water there. When he was urged by his French dealer to concentrate his paintings on water scenes, he refused to accept that limitation, and continued to paint what he saw as he saw it. He knew how to make an ordinary subject extraordinary, yet his work has an intimate character.

 

Unfortunately, Thaulow's career was cut short by diabetes, although he painted productively right until the end, leaving a total of some 1200 works. He never kept a register, and most of the paintings are undated.

 

Today Thaulow is considered one of the pivotal figures on the European art scene at the close of the 19th century.  His painting is ideally placed and now brilliantly lit in the 19th century gallery.

 

 

The Memorial Art Gallery has in its collection a painting by another great friend of Thaulow: Morning on the River (13.5), by Jonas Lie. Although Lie was Norwegian by birth, he did the greater part of his paintings in New York City and the Adirondacks.  Stylistically he is of a similar bent to Thaulow.

 

Source: Gunnarson, Torsten, Nordic Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century, Yale University Press, 1998.
 


STROZZI'S TWO MUSICIANS

by Joan K. Yanni
May 1999

                                         

Baroque art is a contrast to the contained, intellectual art of the Renaissance. It is characterized by vitality and passion, movement and energy. Sharp diagonals cut across paintings, and the artist sets his subjects at the front of the canvas, inviting the viewer into his picture. As Baroque architecture uses twisted columns, convoluted scrolls and elaborate decoration, and Baroque sculptures spiral toward the sky (see MAG's Rape of Proserpine (68.2) after Bernini). Baroque painting uses vivid color, strong emotion and passion, and sharp contrasts of light and dark.

 

The Gallery's Two Musicians (53.8) by Bernardo Strozzi is an excellent example of Baroque painting. Two men look out of the large canvas at the viewer: a young, ingenuous boy ready to play a violin and an older, bearded man tuning his lute.  They are leaning over a parapet, on which rests a shawm, an early wind instrument of the oboe class. They could be master and student, a contrast between idealistic youth and experienced old age. They seem to extend out of the painting toward the onlooker, and the gnarled, veined hand of the older man looks real enough to grasp as, foreshortened, it comes forward out of the picture frame.  A curving, golden shawl—a Baroque trick—leads us into the picture.  With his rich colors and fluid brush, Strozzi invites us to touch the hands and marvel at the sheen of the fabric. The musicians' faces glow with light against the dark background of the painting.

 

Musicians were a favorite subject of Strozzi's, and a popular one as well. Sixteen versions of this composition survive; MAG's is considered by some Baroque experts to be the first and finest of the group.  A version of the painting in the private collection of the Duke of Devonshire was for years listed as a Caravaggio before being attributed to Strozzi.

 

Bernardo Strozzi was one of the most influential Italian painters of the early 17th century. He was born in Genoa around 1581 and trained as a painter with the Sienese master Pietro Sorri. In 1599 he entered the Capuchin monastery in Genoa, and some of his paintings of St. Francis, painted in dark, mono-chromatic browns with the saint emerging from a dark background, date from this period.

 

In 1610 he was granted permission to leave the monastery temporarily to support his ailing, widowed mother and unmarried sister. He became a secular priest and was able to continue painting. 

 

Strozzi was influenced by many painters working in Genoa, from Tuscan mannerists to Milanese masters. His works also show the influence of Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and his pupil Anthony van Dyck, who had both worked in Genoa. (See Van Dyck, Portrait of an Italian Nobleman (68.100); Rubens, The Reconciliation of King Henry III and Henry of Navarre (44.24); and Studio of Rubens, Odysseus and Nausicaa (61.27) in the same gallery.)

 

Around 1620 Strozzi began to employ a more lively naturalism, perhaps influenced by Caravaggio. His realistic figures and use of chiaroscuro reflect the works of the flamboyant painter—Strozzi may have encountered Caravaggio's work on a visit to Rome around 1615—but Strozzi's figures are crowded into a more confined space, and color is as important as chiaroscuro in his painting.  His Calling of St. Matthew, resembling Caravaggio's own version of the subject, and Adoration of the Shepherds show this influence. In his last ten years in Genoa Strozzi became a portraitist of merit and also painted frescoes, but few survive. Best preserved are three works in the Palazzo Centurione at Sampierdarena.

 

In 1631, since Strozzi's mother had died and his sister had married, the Capuchins demanded that Strozzi return to the monastery. Some biographies report that he was granted a dispensation and allowed to go to Venice, others simply say he fled Genoa for Venice. In any case, his standing in the secular church was not impaired, since he was known in Venice as "Il prete Genovese" (The Genoese priest) and he was made a monsignor in 1635. In Venice he became one of that city's leading portrait painters, receiving commissions from the Doge—the city's chief magistrate—and other prominent nobles.

 

Strozzi had arrived in Venice at an opportune time. Painting in that city at the beginning of the seventeenth century was in a decline after the great work of Titian and Tintoretto. In Genoa Strozzi had studied the Venetian masters; in Venice he brought his study to fruition with works of vibrant and intense color, powerful modeling of human bodies, and a sense of humanity. Influenced by the work of Veronese and Domenico Feti, he was able to revitalize Venetian painting, to rekindle the creative spirit there. In the last thirteen years of his life in Venice he produced some of his most outstanding work. He died there in 1644.

 

Sources: Michael Milkovich, Bernardo Strozzi, Paintings and Drawings, 1967; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Three Baroque Masters: Strozzi, Crespi, Piazzetta, 1944; curatorial files.

 


SCULPTORS ROGERS AND RIMMER

by Joan K. Yanni
June, July, August 1999

 

(Editor's Note: Information on William Rimmer and Randolph Rogers was researched by docent Annette Satloff. Since the sculptures described are all in the same area of the Gallery, I have condensed the material for use on a tour. Note that accession numbers ending in "L" are loans, not part of the MAG collection.)

 

Did you realize that both Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (93.24) and The Last Shot (11.82L) were created by the same sculptor?

 

RANDOLPH ROGERS was born in Waterloo, NY, in 1825, and as a young man traveled to Italy for instruction in the techniques of sculpture. In 1948 he moved to Florence to study with noted sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini. Thereafter he lived most of his life in Rome, returning to America only periodically.  Most of his commissions came from Americans visiting him in his Italian studio.

 

Rogers modeled all of his sculptures first in clay, then cast them in plaster.  After these models were made, the works were cut from marble by stonecutters or cast in bronze in the artist's studio. His works reflect his classical training.

 

Rogers modeled Nydia, his most famous sculpture, when he was thirty. About one hundred replicas of the sculpture exist. His source was Edward Bulwer-Lytton's popular novel The Last Days of Pompeii, written in 1832-33 about the eruption of Vesuvius. Studying Nydia's face—her closed eyes, her hand cupped to her ear, and her staff—tour groups can guess that she is blind. In the novel, she guides two companions to the seashore to escape, avoiding the masses of ruin in her path, only to lose track of her friends.

 

Nydia was a reflection of Victorian taste, a pathetic figure tugging at heartstrings—symbolizing the virtues of feminine sacrifice and endurance. The fallen capital at her feet is the only indication of doomed Pompeii.

 

The Last Shot (11.87L), (called The Last Arrow in some versions) was the final piece Rogers worked on. Ours, loaned by the Metropolitan Museum, was cast in 1880. The sculpture was originally made with an arrow set into the bowstring.  Our arrow is lost, but two other cast pieces, with the arrow, survive. Beneath the horse lies a wounded Indian in a pose recalling the classical sculpture The Dying Gaul.  Rogers' facility with bronze is apparent in his depiction of movement, his gestural details and facial expressions.  The terror expressed by the horse, his rearing motion, flailing tail and tilted head, rank this work among the finest American animal sculptures. Rogers died in 1892.

                                                                            

WILLIAM RIMMER (1816-1879) was one of the most remarkable figures in American art—a powerful draughtsman, a learned anatomist, a great teacher, a highly imaginative painter, and a gifted sculptor. Yet his work is seldom seen and his name little known.  Self-taught, he was more learned in the anatomy of men and animals than any American until Eakins.

 

Rimmer believed that he was the son of a man who, by rights, was King of France.  He thought his father, Thomas Rimmer, was the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This was the key to his eccentricity, arrogance, and even his superior education. Rimmer was entirely self-taught as a physician, a situation legal in the early 19th century. Around 1855, after practicing for some ten years, Rimmer was issued a formal license by the Suffolk Medical Society and was hereafter known as Dr. Rimmer.  He became increasingly skillful in manipulating the human body in sculpture, and loved to show it at the point of collapse or the peak of extreme tension.

 

The Falling Gladiator was begun in February, 1861, and finished in June that same year. Rimmer spent some 200 hours on the figure, working in an unheated basement in East Milton, MA, and using only his own body as a model. He piled up raw clay, hacking into it and working from the outside in, as in marble.  After the clay form was made, the piece was cast in plaster. The Gladiator remained in this form until 1906, when Daniel Chester French, a student and friend, organized a committee to have two copies cast in bronze.

 

The figure of the nude, helmeted athlete is shown as having received a staggering blow to the head, causing one arm to be thrown up, the other bent behind, the hand clasping a shattered blade. The right side of the body strains upward, countered by the compressed and falling left. It is Rimmer's masterpiece; he never carved anything before or after on the same scale.

 

Following the completion of The Falling Gladiator, Rimmer began to lecture at Lowell Institute in Boston.  His was the first art instruction of his time based on the human figure.

 

In addition to The Falling Gladiator, only two of Rimmer's sculptures have been cast in bronze: Dying Centaur (1871 plaster, 1907 bronze) and Fighting Lions (1871 plaster, 1907 bronze.) His monument to Alexander Hamilton, cut out of a solid block of granite, is currently located on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston.

 

Sources: Curatorial notes from MAG and Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers, Millard F. Jr.: Randolph Rogers, American Sculptor in Rome; Kirstein, Lincoln: William Rimmer, 1816-1879. 

 


RECENT PURCHASES: RESIKA AND WELLIVER

by Joan K. Yanni

September 1999

 

Last spring MAG’s Gallery Council voted to present a contemporary landscape painting to the Gallery in honor of the Council’s 60th anniversary.  Two possible choices were displayed in our 20th century gallery, and Council members voted on their choice.  The winner was Paul Resika’s Boats—Blue Square (99.41).  The second painting, Dead Pine (99.40), by Neil Welliver, was deemed too good to pass up and was purchased with funds from the Council, Averell Council, and MAG art funds.

 

PAUL RESIKA summers in Provincetown and paints the color and light that permeate the Cape. The vivid blue of our painting- -sky and sea become one- -stops the viewer in his tracks, and the black, green and red boats suspended on the canvas seem to become three-dimensional as one gazes at the picture.  The triangle above the boats—a sail?—adds a surprising see-through element to the otherwise solid shapes. 

 

Born in New York City in 1928, Resika had his first studio on the top floor of his father’s electrical motor shop.  His mother, an art lover, encouraged him to “use color like Rubens,” and at 12 he began to study art with Sol Wilson, a family friend.  Another family friend introduced him to Hans Hofmann.  With Hofmann he learned to capture color, light and movement on the surface of a painting.

 

Resika had his first one-man show when he was only 19; it consisted of work the critics called “semi- abstract,” abstract with recognizable shapes.  Resika did not consider abstraction a complete lack of representation, but a purification of matter though choice, a selection of details, which clarify the essence. 

 

In 1950 he left New York for Europe—Rome and Venice particularly captivated him.  In Venice he studied at the Academy, discovering the colors of Titian and the water and atmosphere of Canaletto. 

 

Returning to the US in 1954 he found that pop art and minimalism had overtaken abstract expressionism.  Resika did not succumb to the new movements. In the mid ‘60s he moved to Wellfleet on Cape Cod, married there, and began to paint the Cape.  His merging of sea, sky and land often makes Provincetown seem like Venice, floating on canvas. Resika prefers to paint calm, unruffled, reflective waters.  His colors have a Fauvist intensity, lighting up dark spaces.  In some recent paintings he has turned to night scenes, but even in these the moody blue and purple shadows merely accent the bright hues of his subject.

 

Critic Clement Greenberg said of him, “The trouble with you, Resika, is that you have to make things beautiful.  You’re afraid to make an ugly painting.”  Resika likes to say that  he  wants  to  capture  the  feel,  color  and  symbol   of    nature, not an exact reproduction.  His vivid, painterly canvases testify to his success.
 

NEIL WELLIVER has been called one of the best landscape painters in America.  Art historian Frank Goodyear, Jr., writes that "America has not seen a native landscape painter of the genius of Neil Welliver since Frederic Church."

 

Welliver was born in Millville, Pennsylvania, in 1929.  Painting interested him even as a child, and he went on to earn a BFA from the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and an MFA from the Yale School of Art.  He later taught at both institutions.  His studies at Yale with Josef Albers gave him a firm grasp of color relations and led to his use of the square in his works, rather than the horizontal rectangles usually seen in landscapes.  He first painted abstracts, then turned to figures, often nudes, in a forest setting.  Later works omit the human and depict only the natural world that he knew intimately.

 

In the early '60s Welliver bought a farm in Lincolnville, Maine, and became part of a circle of realist Maine painters including Fairfield Porter, Alex Katz, and Rackstraw Downes.  Welliver's landscapes spring from his abstract expressionist roots.  They are large, filled with intense color and texture.  He paints the Maine forests and waters in different seasons and various conditions of light, manipulating his colors to present his own view of nature.  His pictures are crowded, yet every detail is clear.  The grey and brown trees in MAG's painting create verticality, while sharp, blue shadows cut diagonally across the canvas and small, green shoots rise from the white snow.

 

Welliver's approach to painting is organized, methodical.  He first paints a sketch of his subject outdoors, sometimes walking for miles, even in snow, to find the scene he wants.  Back in his studio, he draws a large cartoon outline of his picture on a huge sheet of paper.  Next he traces the lines of the cartoon with a serrated wheel that puts small holes in the paper.  He tapes this perforated paper over a primed canvas and taps through the holes with a bag of charcoal dust to transfer the image onto the canvas.  He begins to paint in the upper left hand corner of the canvas and executes a finished painting left to right, top to bottom.  When a Welliver landscape is half finished, the top half is a completed oil painting and the bottom is white canvas with faint outlines. Once an area is painted, he never goes back to rework it.  When he gets to the bottom of the canvas, he signs his name in the lower right corner and stops.

 

Sources: Paul Resika, Recent Paintings, October 2 - November 1997, Hackett-Freedman Gailery, San Francisco, 1997;  Provinectown Pier Paintings: Paul Resika, High Head Press, North Truro, MA, 1994; Neil Welliver Paintings, 1966-1980, Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, 1981; Neil Welliver and the Healing Landscape, Edgar Allen Beem, Brennan University Gallerys, 1996.

 


SOROLLA'S PAINTING OF LIGHT

by Joan K. Yanni 
October 1999

 

Oxen on the Beach (14.8) is on view again!  The changes in the late 19th-century gallery have not only produced a lovely golden glow in the room, but have brought back some works not seen recently. The masterful painting by the Spaniard Joachim Sorolla y Bastida is one of these.  (Call him "So-roy-a.")

 

Sorolla (1863-1923) was acclaimed in his day as Spain's most important painter, and, abroad, as the Spanish Sargent.  He was influenced by the French Impressionists, but he adapted their style to suit his own.  Oxen on the Beach is a light-infused canvas with loose, flowing brush strokes, but the strokes are wide and curving rather than short, staccato points of color.  Like the Impressionists, he created line and contour through manipulation of color.  Our painting captures the look and feel of bright sun on water and sand.  The oxen first catch our eye, then we see that they are straining to pull in a boat.  A man sits atop one of the beasts while another guides the vessel.  The billowing white canvas and the crest of a wave near the horizon tell us that the day is windy.  Two other boats can be seen in the background, as well as a figure crouched on the beach.  The brush strokes look freshly painted, as though the artist had just finished his work.

 

Sorolla was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1863.  After his parents died in a cholera epidemic, he and his sister were adopted by an aunt and her husband, who raised them.  Sorolla was not much interested in school work, but by the age of 15 he was a full-time student at the Oscula de Belles Artes in Valencia.

 

He first visited Madrid in 1881 for the Exposicion Nacional de Belles Artes, and there was captivated by the works of Velazquez and Ribera in the Prado.  Velazquez's treatment of light and the vigorous brushstrokes of Ribera particularly fascinated him.  He won a scholarship to study in Italy in 1885 and the following year spent time in Paris. 

 

Sorolla's paintings up to this point had been realistic interpretations of historical themes, but the stay in Paris changed his art.  An exhibition of the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage and Adolphe Menzel, whose work depicted scenes of everyday life, inspired him to sketch and paint the streets, cafés and people of Paris.  He began to paint en plein air, spending full days in the hot sun in order to capture the intoxicating beauty of nature, concentrating on the presentation of light. He became one of the first Spaniards to paint landscapes and genre scenes.

 

His first significant international success came in 1900 when he was awarded the top medal at the Exposition Universelle for Sad Inheritance.  Upon seeing the painting, Monet is said to have exclaimed, "...and above all else, there is a joyousness of light."

 

In 1906 Sorolla was invited to exhibit at the Georges Petit Galeric in Paris, which also handled Monet, Renoir, and Degas.  His one-man show was acclaimed by the critics, and he became a friend of Sargent and got to know both Monet and Renoir.  His admiration for Sargent prompted him to adopt animated, swirling brush strokes.  He later described his uninhibited, painterly applying of paint as "making love."  Each painting shows the movement of his arm as he created his works.  Often edges are left rough for maximum drama.  Those who watched him paint said that his pace was “demoniacal.”  He went on to exhibit in Berlin, Cologne, and, in 1908, at the Grafton Galleries in London, where the Impressionists and Cézanne had exhibited a few years before.  At the London show, he met the American collector Archer Huntington, who proposed that he exhibit at the Hispanic Society of America in New York the following year.  His American debut in 1909 was a complete success. 

 

When Sorolla's work was exhibited in New York, over 160,000 people lined up to see it.  He attracted similar crowds in Boston and Buffalo.  He became known for his mastery of light and vivid color, and for his pictures of sun-soaked beaches, whether in Valencia or on the Atlantic coast. 

 

In 1911, now known internationally, he was commissioned to paint a series of scenes for the library at the Hispanic Society.  He worked on these pictures until 1919, using a folkloric approach and recording the costumes and occupations of people from the various regions of Spain.  Sorolla came to feel that art should deal with the beautiful rather than the sad and ugly.  He said that his best works speak of the sun, the interaction of the sun's rays and physical activity.

 

Sorolla's output was prolific, but his painting ceased when he was stricken with paralysis in 1920. His last works are marked by greater intimacy and focus on detail, a common theme being his own garden.  He died in 1923.

 

 Source: Curatorial files.

 


THE FORGOTTEN WATTS

by Joan K. Yanni

 November 1999

 

George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) was a giant in his time. Critic John Ruskin called him a genius, his Victorian public held him in awe. His allegorical paintings hung in their own gallery at the National Gallery of British Art (now the Tate) until the 1930s. Yet today he is almost unknown.

 

MAG owns two paintings by Watts: Youth in the Toils of Love (77.36) and The First Whisper of Love (68.61) now on view in the late nineteenth-century Gallery. Both paintings are allegories; part of a series Watts began as The House of Life, a history of mankind, but which he never completed. In The First Whisper of Love, a mischievous Cupid whispers into the ear of a young man holding a spear, ready to go hunting. A few words from the God of Love, and the youth is sure to forget about the hunt and fall in love with a beautiful maiden.

 

The youth in the painting is close to the picture plane; his head, eyes half closed, seems to melt into the floral background. Watts's brushstrokes are heavy. He is known to have worked on his canvases intermittently over long periods of time, so that the exact dates of his paintings are hard to establish. Ours is dated 1860-62.

 

Watts was born in London to relative poverty.  His father was an unsuccessful piano manufacturer forced to become a piano tuner.  Watts studied informally for a short time in the studio of the sculptor William Behnes, where he drew from casts.  He developed a facility as a portrait draughtsman, and from the age of 16 supported himself. He entered the Royal Academy School in 1835, but attended few classes, saying that "the only teachers were the Elgin marbles."

 

Though largely untrained, Watts was industrious and determined, rising at dawn and spending all his daylight hours working. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 and thereafter continued to submit literary subjects, history paintings, and portraits for exhibition. He visited Italy from 1843 to 1847, studying fresco technique and painting large canvases depicting scenes from Romantic literature.

 

Whether he was in Italy or London, friends and patrons took care of Watts's needs. After his return to London in 1851, he moved in with Henry Thoby Primsep and his wife Sara as a permanent house guest in Little Holland House, Kensington. Sara was said to observe, "He came to stay three days; he stayed thirty years." (Actually, it was only 24!)

 

The social circle in Kensington included Tennyson, William Morris, several Pre-Raphaelites, and almost everyone of importance. With these contacts, Watts began to paint a series of noted individuals of the time. He painted about 300 portraits, including personalities from Garibaldi to William Morris and the poets Tennyson and Browning.

 

In 1865 Watts met the patron Charles Rickards who began to buy his non-narrative symbolic paintings. It wasn't until 1877, with the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition, that this area of his work was revealed to a large, admiring audience. Stylistically these works (including the Eve and Cain series and Time, Death and Judgment) show his study of classical forms and love of vibrant color. 

 

In the late 1860s Watts turned to sculpture. He was able to capture unusual freedom of movement as well as expression in marble. In 1870 he received a commission from Hugh Lupus Grosvenor for an equestrian statue of his ancestor Hugh Lupus. Its success inspired Watts to create the monumental statue, Physical Energy, which he worked on until the end of his life. Here the exaggerated strength and dynamism of both horse and naked rider express the energy Watts thought to be characteristic of his age.  He also executed a colossal statue of Tennyson for the city of Lincoln in 1903.

 

Watts's growing stature and reputation were heightened by exhibitions in England, New York and on the Continent, and he presented paintings to museums in the USA, Canada and France. He donated a series of portraits to the National Portrait Gallery in 1895, where many are still on view, and 23 allegorical paintings to the National Gallery of British Art. Though he twice refused the title of baronet, he accepted the new Order of Merit in 1902.

 

At the age of 69 he married Mary Fraser Tytler and they eventually settled in Compton, Surrey. In 1903, the year before Watts died, Mrs. Watts guided construction of an art gallery on their property as a shrine to her husband's art. It still stands today. She also designed and decorated an Art Nouveau Mortuary Chapel dedicated to him. Watts died in 1904, having lived a long, industrious, and successful life.  His work is uneven, but at its best it qualifies him as one of the masters of British art.

 

The painting's oak frame, designed by Watts, is thinly gilded so that the grain of wood shows through. This type of frame gained popularity and came to be known as the "Watts" frame.

 

Source: Curatorial files, CWA Library.

 


NARCISSE DIAZ AND THE BARBIZONS

by Joan K. Yanni

 December 1999—January 2000

 

A quick look at either of his paintings in the 19th-century gallery will tell you that Narcisse Diaz (de la Pena) was a Barbizon painter. The Forest of Fontainebleau (51.41) shows the interior of a dense forest, with a small stream.  A patch of bright sky breaks through the trees at the left center of the picture, its light falling on the tree trunks.  A peasant woman carrying a large bundle comes through the trees.  In the smaller A Forest Scene (55.7), dense foliage again fills the picture, with only a small clearing in the center where the figure of a woman can barely be seen.  The colors are earth tones and dark greens; the brush strokes are rough and painterly.

 

Diaz (1807-1876) was the son of Spanish parents who had moved to France, probably for political reasons.  They died when he was quite young, and he was taken in by a pastor living near Paris.  At 15 he began working first as a printer, then as a decorator in Arsene Gillet's porcelain factory.  Here he met Gillet's nephew, Jules Dupré, and was introduced to painting.  He is thought to have taken lessons from Lille artist François Souchon, and he undoubtedly copied works by Prud'hon and Corregio in the Louvre and later used their figures in his paintings.  He was also influenced by Delacroix and the Romantics, and early in his career painted some Orientalist scenes.

 

Diaz entered four landscapes in the Salon in 1831, but they were rejected.  He did, however, have a painting shown in a supplement to the Salon catalogue.  In 1834 his work was accepted by the Salon, and the critic Gabriel Laviron named him among the new artists worthy of note.  In subsequent exhibitions his sources included mythology and literature, with landscapes used as backgrounds for narrative paintings.

 

Around 1835 he began to paint regularly in the Forest of Fontainebleau, near Barbizon, though he did not live there throughout the year as some of his friends did.  In his representations of nature he used the somber tones of Dutch 17th-century landscapes, combining them with chiaroscuro effects of light filtering though the trees.  Minutely detailed studies were probably painted on the spot, then used as guides to finishing paintings in his studio.  The fact that he often used the formula of trees surrounding a glen with a brilliant light in the center suggests that he painted from memory or sketches as well as on site.

 

Financial and popular successes were important for Diaz, and they arrived early.  By 1845, perhaps because he painted subjects that the 19th-century public liked, he had active   followers  and   numerous  commissions.   He still painted part of the time at Fontainebleau, however, and through his financial success was able to help his needy friends.Theodore Rousseau, Constant Troyon and Jean-François Millet all benefited from his popularity.

 

In 1848 he obtained a first-class medal at the Salon; in 1849 he was elected a member of the jury; and in 1851 he received the Legion d'honneur.  He remained a popular if not always a critical success, regarded as a master landscapist who understood the lure of nature. 

 

THE BARBIZON SCHOOL included an informal group of painters associated with the Forest of Fontainebleau, near Paris, and especially with the village of Barbizon.  They were a recognizable school from the early 1830s to the 1870s.  The main members of the group were Diaz, Dupré, Rousseau, Troyon and Millet.

 

Though mainly concerned with landscape, they presented the lyrical, pristine side of nature rather than the classical themes of Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin.  The typical Barbizon work is humble and unpretentious, a realistic landscape or peasant scene.  At times the style and composition of the Barbizon artists is so close that it would be easy to confuse the authorship of the paintings. 

 

Today the best known, and least typical, of' the Barbizon school is Millet, who arrived late but became a permanent member of the group.  He concentrated on peasant life and labor, and painted scenes that glorified the humble country folk.  Charles-François Daubigny is considered one of the group, though he often painted the Oise River rather then Fontainebleau.  Camille Corot is described as related to the Barbizon school, but his works are mainly in the classical tradition, with interest in architecture.  Works by Daubigny (NearAndressy, 78.7), Rousseau (Wooded Landscape, 39.14),  Corot (Clearing in the Woods, 38.8) and Dupré (The Fisherman, 59.90) are on view in MAG's yellow 19th-century room.

 

Because their work did not change drastically over the years, the Barbizons have been treated as merely a bridge between classical landscape painting of the late 18th century and the Impressionists.  However, they were the first French landscape painters to focus on the lyrical appreciation of nature, romantic in their outlook and use of a free, painterly technique.  Their legacy is plein-air painting, which was adopted by the Impressionists.  The American Hudson River School was also influenced by their subject and method.  

 

Source: Curatorial files, Grove Dictionary of Art.

 


JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY:THE PUBLIC RELATIONS ARTIST

by Libby Clay

 February 2000

 

We are privileged indeed to have Copley's magnificent portrait of Margaret Kemble Gage, on loan from the Timken Art Gallery in San Diego.  It is stunning.  Mrs. Gage is exquisite as she gazes to her right, apparently lost in her own thoughts. The folds of her brilliant red taffeta caftan capture our attention, and we marvel at Copley's skill in describing textures so deftly that we can feel them with our eyes.  We, in our time, have the impression that we are observing a beautiful woman in a private moment.

 

In late Colonial America, this portrait would have a good deal more to say to the viewer about Mrs. Gage.  She and Copley conferred in New York before her sittings, (she ordered several portraits), so it was not at all a random moment he captured.  She wanted a certain persona presented to those who would be viewing her portrait by the Boston artist, and Copley knew exactly how to present this persona in paint.  The class-conscious, anglophilic society to which she belonged would judge Margaret Kemble Gage's character and social position by this portrait, and Copley, whose step-father had taught classes in social graces in Boston, knew well how gentlefolk should be portrayed.  He himself aspired to be accepted as a gentleman, and he railed against the fact that artists of his time were mostly considered artisans, people who worked with their hands.

 

Together they concocted a little scenario for her.  She would be shown in Turkish attire, at home, on a stylish American sofa.  Things Turkish were all the rage in Britain, and she was an elite Englishwoman by marriage.  The Colonies were still too Puritanical for the masquerades so popular on the continent, but in Copley's painting she could "play-act" and be a genteel, though still provocative, harem girl. She is uncorseted, but there are glimpses of a proper chemise showing through.  A filmy turban-like scarf covers her head loosely, allowing appreciation of her glossy brown hair.  There is a languid sexuality in her dreamy eyes, but it is all very proper, for she also projects an aura of inner peace, confidence and grace.  An eighteenth-century viewer would "read" Mrs. Gage through her portrait as being wealthy, privileged, her own person and a gentlewoman who was well aware of what was going on in England—the colonial role-model.  Pose and props orchestrated the desired effect of a woman of character.

 

Besides props, which may or may not have been fictitious, what other visual clues were employed to indicate character and class?  After all, this was a face-to-face society that monitored and kept track.  Corpulence was good.  Copley often opened coats to show girth, for only the wealthy could afford enough rich food to produce fat.  Meals were often in the English style, and the American colonies were the largest market in the world for imported English foods.

 

Comportment mattered.  Clients wanted to be pictured as they thought English aristocrats behaved.  Copley's portraits for the most part reflect an idealized code of conduct.  Despite the frequent awkward anatomy, a result of Copley's being self-taught, bodies are presented in a composed and controlled way, leaning gracefully instead of sprawling, radiating ease and serenity, and most important, conveying the idea that they had time for leisure.

 

Copley had other devices to send subliminal messages.  For instance, he often showed women holding blossoms or bouquets.  The sitter's horticultural expertise might be shown by having her hold a branch cut at a precise angle to suggest grafting—that she was cultivating her orchards scientifically. The viewer would conclude that the woman had discipline and thus character.  A woman did not merely grow flowers, she raised them as she did her children.

 

Animals, too, sent a message.  All the dogs pictured by Copley are house pets, objects of affection.  He shows no laboring or sporting animals.  King Charles spaniels, imported from England, were considered high status symbols. English law restricted ownership of these dogs, along with hounds and greyhounds, to the aristocracy; but this restriction did not apply to the colonies.

 

Women and young girls were often shown with exotic birds, usually parrots or hummingbirds.  These indicated class privilege, because they had to be imported from South America or the Caribbean. Boys of privilege were more often shown with squirrels, as Copley showed his half brother, Henry Pelham.  The rationale here was that, unlike domesticated pets, wild animals were brought into a civilized state through training.  This in turn, according to the popular theory of John Locke, improved the trainer.  The squirrels were held in check with training collars and chains, which also alluded to the restraints put on children, who should not be allowed to grow up wild, but should be nurtured and protected.  A child comes into the world a “tabula rasa” and must be cultivated.

 

It was all about "personhood," and Copley was a master of it.  He was the ultimate PR painter.  It is interesting that in his portraits of Paul Revere and Nathaniel Hurd, both skilled artists in their own medias, Copley paints them in shirts with no ruffles at the wrist—and ruffles were the mark of a gentlemen.  However, in his family portrait, painted later when he had relocated to England, he depicts himself in a ruffled shirt. The message is in the media.

 

Sources: Paul Staiti, "Character and Class: The Portraits of John Singleton Copley" in the anthology Reading American Art, Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy, Editors. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1996.

 


ALBERS AND THE SQUARE
by Joan K. Yanni
March 2000

 
How many squares are there in the Albers painting in the 20th-century American gallery?  Can you remember without checking? This painting, simple as it looks, represents an important influence in American art.
 
Homage to the Square: Soft Resonance (67.27) is made up of four superimposed colored squares.  The bright yellow central square is surrounded by pale lime green—or does the yellow spill out and reflect in the green?  Around the green is a field of gray—or gray green?  And around the gray is a thin border of white. The painting is one of a series of almost 1000 paintings and prints created by Albers to illustrate the interaction of colors.  According to the artist, each painting is "a  stage on which colors play as actors influencing each other…" The paintings are an intellectual and experimental approach to art.
 
Josef Albers (1888-1976) was born in Bottrop, Germany, in the industrial Ruhr district.  He studied at the Royal Art School in Berlin, the School of Applied Art in Essen, the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and, in 1920, attended the preliminary course at the newly-formed Bauhaus in Weimar. He soon began teaching the foundation course at the Bauhaus—a course dealing with the attributes of space, light, color and their interactions, both in the art of the past and the abstract art of the 20th century.  Through research for this course, and an early apprenticeship in a stained glass workshop, Albers developed his lifelong interest in problems of light and color. At the Bauhaus he also designed furniture, stained glass, metalwork and typography.
  
The Bauhaus, founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, was the revolutionary merger of an art academy and an arts and crafts school, with an emphasis on functionalism. It was based on the principle that good design must pass the test of both aesthetic standards and sound engineering. Classes were offered in crafts and commercial and industrial design as well as in sculpture, painting and architecture.  The Bauhaus was based on the teaching of 19th-century English designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that no distinction should be made between fine arts and practical crafts, and that modern art and architecture must be responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world. The Bauhaus style was marked by absence of ornament and ostentation.
 
Albers was the longest-serving member of the Bauhaus when it was closed under pressure from the Nazis in 1933. That same year, he and his wife Anni, a Bauhaus fiber artist and printmaker, were asked to teach art at the newly formed Black Mountain College in North Carolina.  He was the first  of the  Bauhaus teachers—who included Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Lionel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer and Mies van der Rohe—to leave Germany for the United States.


Albers and his wife remained at Black Mountain College until 1949, when he left to become head of the department of art at Yale University.  His classes and his paintings had a pronounced effect on younger artists, who increasingly used optical effects and bold color in their works.  He had become one of the best-known and most influential art teachers in the USA.
 
In the Homages, Albers focuses on the characteristics of color and its changing character in different light and in relation to other colors; the ability of two colors to seem three; and the ability of juxtaposed colors to suggest space, as one seems to move forward, the other back.
 
Albers painted his squares in a precise arrangement, always working on the rough side of wood fiberboard panels, primed with at least six coats of white liquitex. Under a careful arrangement of fluorescent lights (warm/cool/warm/cool over one work table and warm/warm/cool/cool over another) he worked on each painting in alternate light conditions, applying unmixed paint straight out of the tube with a palette knife, often starting with the center square and working outwards.  Despite their seemingly mechanical execution, these paintings remain mysterious and varied in mood and color.
 
Like Mondrian, Albers was one of the founders of that school of modern painting concerned with geometric abstraction, color-field, and optical art, demonstrating that through association, colors are modified in the viewer's eye.  His scientific theories and rational approach to teaching and art have almost obscured the fact that he has created many works of art—prints as well as paintings—that are valuable for their beauty alone.
 
On his retirement from Yale in 1958, he continued to live near New Haven and to paint, exhibit, write, lecture and work on large commissioned sculptures for architectural settings, such as the Pan Am and Time-Life Buildings in New York City. All of his work emphasizes simple geometry and technical proficiency.
 
In addition to Homage to the Square: Soft Resonance, MAG owns prints by Albers.  In October an exhibition of prints by both Josef and Anni Albers, part of a promised gift from the collection of Gallery friend Anne-Marie Logan and her late husband Robert, UR '50, will be on view in the Lockhart Gallery.  Two of these are trial proofs dedicated by Albers to Mrs. Logan when they worked together at Yale.
 
Source: Grove Dictionary of Art, Encarta Encyclopedia, curatorial files.
 


DEWING’S WOMEN OF MYSTERY

by Joan K Yanni

April 2000

 

Thomas Wilmer Dewing is known for his paintings of fragile, enigmatic women, either seated in sparse interiors, lost in thought, or wandering over soft green fields. The Gallery's Portrait in a Brown Dress (57.79) is a lovely example of his work.

 

The slender, elegant woman in the painting sits in a straight wooden chair and holds a book. She is dreaming, not reading, however; her eyes are focused on something far away. There is no depth in the painting. Its background, no doubt the interior of a room, is a subdued gray green, immediately behind the figure. There is nothing to give any clue to the woman's station in life except the beautifully draped, lace trimmed gown, cut to reveal her long, graceful neck. Though the title is Portrait in a Brown Dress, the dress is more an orange-toned burnt sienna, with a thin wash of gray-blue. It is one of Dewing's tonality pictures, with diffuse lighting and a limited palette.

 

Dewing was born in Boston in 1851. Since his family had only a modest income, he had little formal education. At an early age he was apprenticed in a lithography shop and soon became a remarkable draftsman. In his twenties he took drawing lessons from William Rimmer (The Falling Gladiator), who taught drawing and anatomy lessons in Boston's Studio Building and at the Lowell Institute.

 

In 1876 Dewing went to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian. There he learned the academic techniques that govern his work. The Julian offered students virtually the same curriculum as the Ecole des Beaux Arts, without the stiff entrance requirements. Dewing's teachers were Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger, famous in their day as molders of American talent.

 

Soon after his return to New York in 1878, his work began to attract attention. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design and with the Academy of American Artists. In 1881 he began teaching at the Art Students League, and married Maria Oakey, a flower painter, who provided the landscapes in several of his paintings.

 

He began to paint his cool, detached women around 1990. The quiet, yet tense aura of these women is said to recall the women of Vermeer, who Dewing admired, in attitude if not technique. Dewing also became adept with pastel and silverpoint, producing figure studies and nudes of extraordinary beauty.

 

In 1898 he was a founder-member of the Ten American Painters, a group who had become dissatisfied with the aesthetic aims and exhibition policies of the academies. Among the members of The Ten were John Twachtman, Edmund Tarbell, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf and J. Alden Weir and, later, William Merritt Chase. The group exhibited together for almost 20 years.

 

In 1890 Dewing met his patron, industrialist Charles Lang Freer, at the Players Club, a meeting place in New York City for rising young artists, business men and patrons of the arts. Freer financed Dewing's studies and travels abroad, and ultimately his apprenticeship with James McNeil Whistler. Dewing's spare use of paint and little color resemble Whistler's technique.

 

In 1885 Dewing's friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens bought some land from New York lawyer Charles S. Beaman and moved to Cornish, NH. (See article on Saint-Gaudens on p. 165). Dewing joined him there a year later, buying a farmhouse near the Beaman family. Dewing later painted portraits of Beaman and his wife Hettie, as Saint-Gaudens had created MAG's relief sculptures of them.

 

Architect Stanford White was a member of both the Players Club and the Cornish colony, and a good friend of Dewing. White designed frames for many of Dewing's paintings, including Portrait in a Brown Dress. Frame expert Bill Adair, when he visited Rochester, noted that conservation of our frame left it shinier than it had been originally. The grill work was filled in, whereas at first metal mesh was laid on top of a gold base.

 

Dewing enjoyed considerable success in his career. After the Armory Show of 1913, his paintings fell out of fashion as audiences looked for bright colors and abstraction in art. After 1920 he painted very little and spent his last years at his home in Cornish. He died in 1938.

 

The Cornish Art Colony: Cornish, a small New Hampshire town located along the Connecticut River, became a popular haven for artists and literary figures in the late 1800s. Much of their work pictured the lush Cornish landscape and featured the prominent Mt. Ascutney. The group who worked there became known as the Cornish Art Colony.

 

The settling of the colony is credited to New York lawyer Charles C. Beaman, who bought up farmland in Cornish and encouraged friends to join him for summers there.

 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, lured by the prospect of beautiful, private, and inexpensive property, was probably the first to spend summers there in 1885. The following year Thomas W. Dewing arrived, then Stephen Parrish, Frederick Mac Monnies, Daniel French, George deForest Brush, and Charles A. Platt. Later, Maxfield Parrish built himself a house and studio near Cornish. Ultimately over 100 members of America's artistic, literary and political circles made the area their home between 1885 and 1930. Today the scenic area continues to attract artists.

 

Sources: Curatorial files, Grove Dictionary of Art Encarta Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Dictionary of American Art.

 


THE UNUSUAL ART OF CHUCK CLOSE

by Libby Clay

May 2000

 

Keith II (83.31), by Chuck Close, has been delighting Gallery visitors from the first day of its installation.  People have been sighted peering at the work up close, then backing across the room to see how Keith comes more into focus, revealing more and more detail.  Invariably there are smiles as the transformation occurs.

 

Close has been categorized as a "hyper-realist."  He works from photographs, usually of family or friends.  He changes the size of the photography, divides it into squares or grids, and then translates each grid of the photograph onto a canvas upon which he has penciled a matching grid.  Painstakingly he applies the paint, square by square. Then his work is often reproduced in a series of prints.

 

The hyper-realism results from the enlargement of the photograph and from the nature of photography itself.  Since the camera picks up a wealth of details, Close long ago decided to use photography of heads only.  Thus he reduced the content of what he had to transfer to canvas. 

 

As the artist began to work with larger and larger photographs, the details also became larger, until every eyelash, every freckle, every pore became visible, unedited, in the painting.  Close's paintings often reveal the limitations of the photographic medium, i.e., the nose may be in focus while the eyes are not.  The result is a large portrait (translated from an enlarged photograph) that appears "more real than real," more realistic than the human eye can actually perceive.

 

Charles Close was born in 1949 near Tacoma, Washington.  As a child with undiagnosed serious learning disabilities, he received comments like "dumb”, “lazy”, and “mind wanders" on his report card.  Studying was an ordeal, but he figured out a way to concentrate.  "I filled the bathtub to the brim with hot water.  A board across the tub held my book.  I would shine a spotlight on it.  The rest of the bathroom was dark.  Sitting in the hot water, I would read each page of the book five times out loud so I could hear it.  If I stayed up half the night…I could learn.  The next morning I could spit back just enough information to get by on the test."

 

Art was the medium through which he could excel, and he spent hours by himself, drawing.  It was the first thing he was good at, and it made him feel special.  Against the odds, he attended the University of Washington and the Yale University School of Art.  He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Europe and then taught art at the University of Massachusetts. 

 

Close decided to give up teaching to devote all his time to being an artist.  With his wife Leslie, a sculptor, he moved to New York City to a huge, unheated loft in SoHo.  It was at this time that he decided to concentrate on heads—giant heads, "because that is the first thing that most people look at when meeting someone."

 

Although Chuck Close has stayed with painting heads, he has experimented with new ways of painting them, for he feels that the greatest enemy for an aratist is “repeating yourself once you get good at it.”

 

In the 1960s he worked in black and white.  In the early

1970s he began to photograph friends in color.  Since color images are made up of three primary hues—red, blue and yellow—he had the photographs separated into these three colors before he began to paint.  It was slow and painstaking, because each painting was painted three times, one color on top of another.  It often took over a year to finish one painting.  The canvasses were so large that he built a desk and chair on the prongs of a forklift (which he called "Big Joe") so that he could raise or lower himself to reach the whole canvas.

 

In 1988 "the event" happened. Close suffered a rare spinal artery collapse, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.  His career seemed finished.  But with the same tenacity he showed as a youngster, he spent months in rehabilitation and eventually gained partial use of his arms.  Today, seated in his wheelchair, he paints with a brush strapped to his hand.  His little squares have become bursts of color, and there is a new vibrancy to his art.  He is celebrating being "back to work."

 

Source: Edward Lucie-Smith, "Chuck Close Up Close" in Art Now.

 


THE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA PURCHASE

by Joan K. Yanni

 June, July, August 2000

 

The close friendship between two men of influence brought the core of MAG's American collection to Rochester in one incredible purchase.

 

In the mid 1940s, in celebration of its 175th year, the Encyclopedia Britannica began to buy art by 20th-century Americans.  The plan was to use the paintings as illustrations for Britannica publications and to exhibit them throughout the country so that Americans would have the opportunity to get acquainted with their own art.  By 1945 the collection included over 100 paintings.

 

After five years of touring its art, Britannica decided to break up the collection, keeping the major portion for Encyclopedia Britannica Films, Inc., the classroom-film subsidiary of the company. The balance of the collection was to be retained by Senator William Benton, of Connecticut, formerly executive director of the Britannica.

 

Benton was a close friend of Alan Valentine, president of the University of Rochester, and he knew that Rochester's art museum was looking for good art that it could afford to buy.  No doubt thinking this a worthy cause as well as a way to disseminate the art, Benton gave Valentine and the university "top preference in the disposition of the entire collection."

 

The Memorial Art Gallery, through the University, requested 18 paintings. Two of these, Dove's Cars in a Sleet Storm and Kuhn's Clown, were missing—lost in transit to the Southwest. Of the other sixteen requested, Britannica offered eight at one-half the figure paid for them, provided the university agreed to take all eight. This was done to avoid drawn-out negotiations, picture by picture. If Rochester purchased the eight, Benton offered still other works at half the purchase price, and a third group at the full price the Britannica had paid.

 

An amazing offer!  Gallery director Gertrude Herdle Moore, with the help of the Marion Stratton Gould fund, was able to purchase the initial eight, which included Chinese Restaurant, and six additional works, including Boomtown!  And the Gallery, always lean in pocket, was permitted to pay in two installments, October of 1950 and February 1951, stretching payments out over two fiscal years!

 

Not that there weren't some glitches.  Marsden Hartley's End of Storm had been part of the deal, but Mrs. Benton decided that she couldn't part with it, and so the painting was left hanging over the Bentons' mantel.  The Metropolitan Museum wanted to buy Stuart Davis's Garage Lights at a high price—-indeed it was on loan to the Met—but MAG refused to give it up. The Dove and Kuhn were recovered and became part of the sale.  The group of paintings represented all important art movements of the first half of the century.

 

The complete purchase included the following:

 

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Boomtown (51.1): Everyone knows Boomtown, MAG's most borrowed painting.  Regionalist Benton here paints a scene of Borger, Texas, in his undulating curves and high color. (See "About Gallery Art," October 1999.)

 

Ralston Crawford (1906-1978), Whitestone Bridge (51.2): A painting by precisionist Crawford, who uses an extreme form of linear perspective combined with flat, two-dimensional color areas.  His  nod to  urrealism  can be seen  in the cloud  at the  upper  right of the canvas. The bridge of this painting , built to ease traffic at the 1939 World's Fair, connects New York City and Long Island.                      

of the canvas..                      

 

Stuart Davis (1880-1946), Landscape with Garage Lights (51.3): This painting of Gloucester, MA, is an arrangement of recognizable objects woven into bright designs. Davis's syncopated forms translate his love for jazz onto canvas. He is the inventor of America's cubism.

 

Arthur G. Dove (1880-1946), Cars in Sleet Storm (51.4): Born in Canandaigua, Dove began his career doing illustrations for magazines. He soon moved into abstraction, often picturing the natural world in evocative compositions of curved, wavy lines in a palate of warm earth colors.

 

William Gropper (1897-1977), The Opposition (51.5): A work in which social realist Gropper shows his contempt for ineffective and indifferent bureaucrats, as well as the dangers of the political demagogue, whether in Congress or the city council.

 

George Grosz (1893-1959), The Wanderer (51.6): A painting suggesting the plight of the artist, in mortal danger from the Nazis, fleeing the destruction in Europe.

 

Robert Gwathmey (1903 -1988), Non-Fiction (51.7): Pictures the artist's concern with injustice and racial oppression in the South.

 

Walt Kuhn (1880-1949), Clown (51.8): A portrait which reveals a man's soul. Kuhn is known for his pictures of clowns, acrobats, and exotic dancers, usually in stage dress and make-up. MAG's clown is in white-face, but his feelings are not disguised.

 

George Luks (1867-1933), London Bus Driver (51.9): A painting by the boastful Luks, one of The Eight, who painted drunks, derelicts, and urchins in the world around him. London Cabby is evidence that he made at least one trip to London.

 

John Marin (1870-1953), Marin Island (51.10): The world is in motion in this watercolor. Sky, sea, mountain and plain are the subject of Marin's abstract, personal nature studies, often views of the Maine Coast. Critics have proclaimed him the greatest watercolorist of his time.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Jawbone and Fungus (51.11 a): A picture probably painted in New Mexico.  O'Keeffe's work ranges from pure abstraction to detailed realism. Her desert paintings involve simplified forms set against vast color spaces.

 

John Sloan, (1871-1951), Chinese Restaurant 51.12): A work well known to docents. Another member of The Eight, Sloan painted both city scenes and figure studies.  He was a talented etcher as well as a painter and a popular teacher.

 

Max Weber (1881-1961), Discourse (51.13): A painting of three top-hatted Hebrew scholars in earnest discussion.  Weber came to America from Russia at age ten. He first painted abstractly, then went to figurative art with lush color and an inventive, sketchy line. He was a sculptor as well as a painter.

 

Karl Zerbe, (1903-1972), Troupers (51.14): In this painting, Zerbe pictures the human comedy, shown as clown, fool, crook and tramp. It is painted in encaustic, an ancient technique in which beeswax is used as binding medium for pigment.

 

Source: Curatorial files, EP Dutton, Encyclopedia of American Art.


MAG’S SURPRISING HORSE

by Joan K. Yanni

September 2000

 

MAG has a horse!  A beautiful, graceful animal is now grazing near the driveway leading from University Avenue to the main door.  Go closer to look at it. It is made of tree limbs and driftwood—or is it?  Would the Gallery administration put a fragile sculpture out where the winter snow and summer rain could get at it?  Of course not!  This is a trompe l'oeil sculpture.  Though it's hard to believe, it's made of cast bronze.

 

The larger-than-life horse is the creation of artist Deborah Butterfield, who named it Wailana (2000.18)It weighs almost a ton, and because of its top-heavy construction, Larry Fischbach and the facilities crew needed ingenuity to anchor it in place.  First, a concrete foundation was laid in the ground about ten feet down.  Four steel posts, which would eventually hold the legs of the horse at ground level, were embedded in the concrete.  The ends of the posts, carefully placed to line up with the horse's legs, were fixed in steel plates with holders for the legs.  The horse was raised with a crane, lowered into the holders, and bolted.  It comes to MAG through the Clara and Edwin Strasenburgh fund.

 

Artist Deborah Butterfield was born in San Diego, California, in 1949.  Always captivated by horses, she took riding lessons at a young age and considered a career as a veterinarian.  Eventually the lure of the visual arts won out.  She studied art at the University of California, Davis, where she received her BA and MFA. She bought her first horse and worked on a thoroughbred farm while still a student.  Soon her love of horses and her art background merged, and she began to create three-dimensional horses.

 

As a visiting lecturer and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the mid-70s, her interpretations of horses were huge plaster mares, mainly representational.  A move to teach sculpture at Montana State University, Bozeman, gave her the space to raise, train and ride her own animals as well as create them in sculpture.

 

Butterfield's work has evolved greatly over the years, yet it has always shown empathy between artist and horse that is transmitted from the art to the viewer.  From early plaster sculptures she went on to a series of horses made of sticks and mud, abstract sketches around a wire armature.  She presented the horse as inseparable from its environment.  Gradually, influenced by the early junk automobile sculptures of John Chamberlain, she began welding discarded industrial materials and car parts—from junkyards, dumps, or barns—into horses.  Finally she began casting her horses in bronze, whether they were originally made of trees and driftwood or discarded metal junk.

 

How does she do it?  She works directly with her materials, without making sketches or maquettes, until her horse is complete.   She then sends the work to a foundry,  where it is cast in sections and a patina applied.  Last, all bronze sections are welded into the original whole.  The welding is done so superbly that it is invisible.

 

The horses of George Stubbs or the powerful equestrian statues in parks never interested Butterfield.  Her horses have a distinct feminine quality.  They convey “pro-creation and nurturing rather than destruction and demolition.” They have personalities of their own.  Some stand, others recline.  Though horses usually sleep while standing (Their legs lock into position and they sleep with their nose nearly touching the ground), they also lie down if they feel safe.  Hers are self-assured enough to repose on the floor.  "My horses lie down ... because they feel secure and confident in their environment.  They feel safe," she says.

 

In Montana, her love for horses brought still another dimension to her life.  She has become actively involved in dressage, the art of exhibition riding or horsemanship in which horse and rider work together to perform specific tasks.  The horse is controlled by very slight movements of the rider.  For her, this is a perfect illustration of communication between man and animal.  "While horses are not intelligent at doing things that people do or that dogs do,” she says, “ they are very intelligent at doing things that horses do, and I'm interested in what that has to teach me." Through dressage, she sees that each animal, like each human, is different.  It's like continually “dancing with a new partner.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of ...it."

 

Her fascination with the horse, animate or inanimate, remains constant.  She sculpts only horses, yet she has challenged herself not to repeat her work, but to bring new materials and perspectives to her art.  She is interested in using objects that had another life and transforming them into something new.  She continues to spend time in scrap yards and on beaches as she looks for objects whose lines appeal to her.  She gives her sculpture a sense of energy, a magnetism that captures the onlooker and urges him to keep looking and wondering.

 

Butterfield produces only six to ten of her horses a year, some small, others life-size.  Some have been placed in cities as public art and many are in the permanent collections of the nation's finest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the UCLA Sculpture Garden.  The Thorpe Gallery in New York City recently had an exhibition of her work.

 

Butterfield is married to artist John Buck, an Iowa native who is a sculptor-printmaker, and they have two sons.

 

Sources: "Deborah Butterfield Sculpture 1980-1992," Madison Art Center, 1994; "Deborah Butterfield, Derby Horse," Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; ASU Art Museum web site, Butterfield page; information from Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco.


A DE CHIRICO STILL LIFE

by Joan K. Yanni

 October 2000

  

MAG has only one work by Georgio de Chirico, but it is an unusual one. Florentine Still Life (64.47) is one of the few still lifes that the artist painted, and it combines an unsettling surrealism with a classical arrangement.

 

The picture is balanced, with still life elements framed by a curtain on the left and an adjacent building on the right.  A glass of wine surrounded by apples, bananas and leaves seems to be resting on a creased cloth draped over a wide marble windowsill.  Through the window a bright blue sky and luminous white clouds light up a nearby building.

 

But looking more closely, one can see some peculiar elements.  The fruit at the front of the painting seems over ripe, a contrast to the fresh, clear sky. The leaves in the picture are strangely lighted; the light is coming from behind, through the window, yet it shines on the foreground of the painting, leaving the area nearest the window dark. And just where is the glass of wine resting?  It is precariously tilted, standing above the other elements in the painting and silhouetted against the sky. These are enigmatic elements characteristic of the artist’s work.

 

Giorgio de Chirico (jor-joe dā-kee-ree-ko) was born in Greece in 1888, the son of a Sicilian railway engineer. He studied in Athens and Munich before moving to Italy. By 1910 he was living in Florence, where he began painting a unique series of dramatic, dreamlike landscapes in which unseen objects cast long, sinister and illogical shadows onto empty city spaces—all set against bright, clear background light reminiscent of the light of southern Italy. Moving to Paris, he soon gained the admiration of Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, with his ambiguous, ominous scenes of deserted piazzas with classical statues, dark arcades, and small, isolated figures threatened by oppressive architecture.  Apollinaire declared him "the most astonishing painter of the younger generation."

 

After a period of inactivity due to illness, de Chirico began to paint new works in which locomotives often appeared, or were suggested by smoke.  These were followed by a “tower series,” which peaked in the astounding Nostalgia of the Infinite, in which a giant, mysterious structure towers threateningly over two tiny, silhouetted figures.  Next came a group of works juxtaposing classical statuary with out-of-scale familiar objects such as huge artichokes and giant fruits. He also continued to paint his earlier dreamlike, ominous cityscapes. 

 

After 1914 de Chirico embarked on a series of paintings in which inanimate objects seemed to take on a sinister, spectral character. He also began to paint his famous mannequins—armless tailor’s dummies with smooth, featureless faces that sometimes bore the symbols of infinity in place of eyes.  Often the mannequins held ancient temples in their laps.                                                                      

 

When World War I began, de Chirico returned to Italy in 1915 and was mobilized into the army. Soon his health broke down, and he was sent to a convalescent hospital near Ferrara, where he painted what is now called  his “metaphysical interiors,” rooms filled with engineers’ drawing instruments, maps, and, strangely, huge replicas of the rolls and biscuits he saw in the Jewish bakeries in Ferrara.

 

Carlo Carrà, the Italian Futurist painter, was a patient at the same hospital and the two became friends.  Together they founded the magazine Pittura metafisica (Metaphysical Painting). The two eventually went their separate ways, but several of their metaphysical paintings attracted the attention of future Surrealists such as Max Ernst and René Margritte.

 

Surrealism in art, in which imagery is based on fantasy and the world of dreams, grew out of a French literary movement founded during the 1920s. The term “surrealist” had been coined by Apollinaire in 1917, but the artistic movement came into being only after the French poet André Breton published the first surrealistic manifesto, Manifeste du surrealismé in 1924. Breton was an admirer of Sigmund Freud and his concept of the subconscious.  Surrealism became one of the leading influences of the 20th century, eventually including painters such as Yves Tangy, Jean Arp, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Marcel Decamp, Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti.

 

De Chirico had his first postwar show in Rome in 1919. It was a failure, with only one painting, a nonmetaphysical work, sold.  Soon after, his painting began to change.  He turned to copying Old Masters in the museums.  An academic quality began to appear in his pictures, and his subjects became myths and legends.  Ironically, just at the time that his early paintings were being hailed by Breton and the Surrealists, his work was in the process of losing the qualities of enigma that had made him a proto-Surrealist.

 

Breton encouraged the first exhibition of Surrealist paintings in Paris in 1925.  De Chirico, who had returned to Paris and was welcomed by the Surrealists, took part in the exhibit, along with Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray.  But when the Surrealists urged him to return to his pre-war style, he angrily refused to do so.  Increasingly bitter relations resulted.  The Surrealists attacked him, and he, in turn, denounced the entire field of modern art, including his own previous work

 

De Chirico returned to Italy where he continued to paint uninspired pictures.  He also designed theatrical costumes and scenery.  He died in 1978.  Although he painted throughout his life, his finest works were produced before 1925.  He is considered one of the outstanding Italian painters of the century.

 

Sources: Tomkins, Calvin and Editors of Time-Life books, The World of Marcel Duchamp, 1982; Susan Dodge Peters, ed., Memorial Art Gallery, An Introduction to the Collection, 1988; Grolier Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica.


TALES OF THE ERIE CANAL

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2000     

 

The "Upstate Views" installed in the corridor near the Green Room, and the 175th anniversary of the Erie Canal prompted a look at the history of the Canal.  There are many facts and some fun tales that would be helpful in guiding school tours.

 

The canal was planned as a waterway to link the Great Lakes with the Eastern seaboard by connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River. But the idea received little popular support. Failing to get federal funding, the canal advocates proposed that the state of New York finance the canal. This proposal, rather than taxes or health care, became the principal issue in the gubernatorial contest of 1817, with De Witt Clinton the pro-canal candidate. Clinton was elected, and work on the canal began on July 4, 1817.

 

The digging began in Rome, NY, since the area there was fairly level and the first leg of the project could be finished without major problems. After that, ingenuity and determination were needed, not only to cut through the solid rock and wilderness of western New York, but also to develop a cement that would harden under water. Locks as high as five stories were built despite a lack of trained engineers.   Construction was completed in 1825, and on October 26 of that year the canal boat Seneca Chief set out from Buffalo to New York City.  It arrived on November 4, greeted by cheering crowds. The dumping of a barrel of Lake Erie Water into the Atlantic completed the trip.

 

The canal was 363 miles long with 83 locks, and in its original form was 40 feet wide on the surface, 28 feet at the bottom, and 4 feet deep. New York State had paid $7,000,000 for it, but by 1836 tolls had more than recouped the money. The original canal was replaced by the larger New York State Barge Canal in 1918—a project that enlarged the canal to 123 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

 

Before the canal was built, all goods had been carried over rough roads in wagons pulled by horses. The cost of shipping a ton of goods was $100. A canal boat, drawn by horses and limited by law to a speed of four miles an hour, could make the trip in five or six days. Charges were $6 a ton.  Heavy loads such as sandstone and iron, which had been too much for wagons, could now be carried by canal boats. Western settlers could order fragile materials such as glass and pottery, which were safer on boats than being bounced around on a wagon.  Farmers could now get their fresh produce to city markets.

 

Lumber shipped by canal created a building boom in New York City, and because of increased trade it surpassed Boston and Philadelphia as the leading commercial center in the nation. Rochester, whose biggest export was flour, became a boomtown when it began shipping goods to eastern and western markets. Towns sprang up along the canal and taverns were built. 

 

Cabins of freight boats varied, but all were compact, similar to today's trailers, and provided living quarters for the owner or operator of the boat and his family.  The sleeping quarters, called the cuddy, used built-in bunks. The kitchen had a table, stove, dishes and cooking utensils.  Some cabins had hinged shelves instead of tables to save space. 

 

Passenger boats, called packets, became popular because they provided smoother riding than stage coaches. Sitting on deck while the boat glided through picturesque country was delightful, except for having to duck whenever the boat passed under the many bridges along the way.  Many European immigrants on their way to settle in the West traveled by canal boat, changing in Buffalo to a Great Lakes boat. Some canal boats began to take passengers as well as freight; the passengers stayed in the front of the boat and traveled more cheaply than on the packet.

 

At night, the lounge of the packet was divided by a heavy curtain into ladies and gentlemen's quarters, and narrow shelves or hammocks in three tiers were placed around the cabin or unfolded from the wall.  Often the cabin was over-crowded, and sleepers dozed on tables and the floor.   In the early days of the canal, horses were used to draw freight boats, and teams were hired and changed every few miles.  Later mules were found to be more suitable, and boats often had two teams of their own; one rode in the front cabin and rested while the other pulled.  The packet boats, however, always used horses, which were faster.

 

To serve travelers, taverns sprang up in towns where the boats stopped. Here fireplaces and sometimes a cast-iron stove provided heat.  Rooms were lighted by candles or whale-oil lamps. For teamsters and "canallers" with limited means, "Canallers' Rests" provided much cheaper accommodations: they could be had for as low as five cents a night.  A circular-shaped bunk could hold twelve men, placed like the spikes of a wheel. They slept with their feet toward the large center pole and their heads along the outside edge.

 

Things were never dull on the canal.  Locks, especially, caused problems. If there was a line-up of boats at a lock and an impatient captain arrived, he might challenge the boat at the head of the line. Crews would fight it out on shore to see which boat would go through first.  Many imaginative captains hired prize-fighters as crew.

 

In its infancy, the Canal was considered a modern and daring way of travel.  Later the train and the automobile took over travel and shipping. Even most waterborne freight traffic between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic were using the St. Lawrence Seaway.  But the Erie Canal still beckons to travelers, and optimists say it is increasing its business each year.

 

Sources: Democrat and Chronicle, September 10, 2000; curatorial files; Encarta Encyclopedia.


FORAIN, PAINTER AND PRINTMAKER

by Joan K. Yanni

December 2000—January 2001

 

It is hard to believe, when looking at the painting At Court (Au Tribunal) by Jean Louis Forain (54.1), that the artist once exhibited with the Impressionists and was a follower and friend of Degas.  This work is from a period in the artist’s life when he had abandoned scenes of gaiety and high living and turned to bringing the plight of the poor to the attention of the public.  Little known in the United States, Forain is highly regarded in France as an illustrator, printmaker and cartoonist as well as a painter.

 

At Court presents a woman and two children standing before a judge, anxiously waiting for his decision.  We assume that the woman is a widow because she is wearing black.  The judge leans forward, gesturing with his left hand.  Is the trio being sent away, with no help for their misery?  Or is Forain a cynical Frenchman who believes that they are frauds, feigning poverty to gain monetary aid?  Forain's life and art suggest that it is the former.

 

The painting is monochromatic, made up of mostly browns and black, so dark that we can barely see the spectators in the background and a uniformed officer of the court standing behind the judge.  A hint of red in the clothing of one spectator—or perhaps a woman waiting her turn before the judge—relieves the dark palette.  A touch of red is repeated in the hat of the bailiff and in the onlookers at top right.  The faces of the main characters stand out against the dark of the rest of the composition.  The mood of the picture is somber, depressing.  The artist is commiserating with those he considered to be treated unjustly by a prejudiced, hypocritical, self-centered society.

 

Forain (1852-1931) was born in Rheims in sight of the famous cathedral. His father was a house painter, and the family moved to Paris so that their son would have a chance to study and improve his social standing.  When he chose to study art, his parents were understandably disappointed.  The sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was his first teacher. Carpeaux had seen the teen-ager copying Old Masters at the Louvre and invited him to work at his studio.  When this relationship ended, André Gill befriended Forain, now living in poverty, and taught him to paint.  This was the extent of Forain's training.  He learned most by copying museum masterpieces, with a particular love for Hals and Rembrandt, whose sharp dark/light contrasts he adopted.  While drawing at the Bibliothèque Nationale, he chanced upon a portfolio of Goya and was both astonished and delighted.  This was what he wanted to be able to do.  He bought a notebook and began to sketch everything and everyone in the streets of Paris.  His avid sketching was interrupted only when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870 and he was recruited.

 

It is not clear when Forain met Degas, but the artist became Forain's mentor and life-long friend.  Through Degas, Forain met Manet and joined in meetings of the Impressionists.   Forain had always been interested in the life around him.  The Impressionists appealed to him because they, too,               painted  scenes  of  everyday life—people,  landscapes,  or a combination of both.  In addition, the Impressionists were interested in something new: the behavior of sunlight and its resulting shadows.  Fascinated, Forain lightened his palette and began to use short brush strokes and complementary color juxtapositions.

 

His earliest known paintings date from about 1872.  He was particularly successful in painting Parisian women and backstage scenes at the Opéra and the Folies-Bergère as well as the racetrack.  In 1879 he was invited by Degas to join the fourth Impressionist exhibition, and he exhibited with the group three more times.

 

Forain began printmaking in the mid 1870s.  His first etchings (1875-1890) were backstage views and cafés, similar to his paintings.  His first published drawing appeared on the cover of Le Scapin in 1876, and by 1887 he was working regularly for Le Courrier français in the manner of Honoré Daumier.  His drawings for this publication became so popular that the public looked daily for his witty, biting cartoons. “Have you seen the latest Forain?" they would ask.  He also began drawing intermittently for Le Figaro, a relationship that lasted over thirty years.  In 1892 his fame was assured when 250 of his caricatures were published under the title La Comédie parisienne.

 

After 1900 Forain's painting style changed, both in technique and subject matter.  He began to paint biblical and courtroom scenes, and, in 1915, scenes inspired by World War 1. Among his most moving religious pictures are the oil painting The Prodigal Son and a series of etchings on the same subject. His court scenes contrast the vulnerability of the defendant with the indifference or histrionics of the lawyers.  His colors became somber, his figures solid, in keeping with his themes.

 

In 1910 a retrospective of over 400 of his works was displayed at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs.  The exhibit revealed the scope of his work and established him as a major artist.

 

In February 1915, at 62, Forain joined the camouflage corps and later became a correspondent for Le Figaro, covering all phases of World War I with satirical images of the futility of war.  His palette later brightened again and his figures became fluid and less solid.  Though he continued with religious and legal subjects, he also returned to the theme of the dance and the jazz rhythms of the café.

 

By the end of his career, Forain was President of the Societie Nationale des Beaux-Arts, member of the Academie Française and Commandant of the Legion d’Honneur. Degas, Manet and Cézanne admired his work, and a generation of social realists was influenced by his satiric pictorial censure of injustice, greed, lust, and the horrors of war.

 

Sources: Lillian Browse, Forain the Painter, Elek Books, Ltd., London, 1978; Grove Dictionary of Art; curatorial files.

 


THE THREATENING WAVES

by Joan K. Yanni

February 2001

 

Exorcism of the Waves (52.2) is the noisiest painting in the Gallery.  The crashing of waves, the sound of thunder and lightning, the screams of men struggling to escape the oncoming water, the incantations and prayers of the monks—these sounds all add to the scene of a violent nature and the futile struggle of overpowered man.  Magnasco, the artist, shows us the sinking boat, a body in the foreground floating on the water, a half-naked man struggling to get out of the sea, carrying what appears to be a bundle of clothes and belongings, and two monks, one holding a raised cross, the other kneeling, head to the ground, beseeching heaven for help. It is a violent, powerful, emotional painting.

 

Here Renaissance serenity and balance are gone. The painting is unusually violent even for its time. Quick, staccato brush strokes fly over the canvas, creating the tumultuous waves that hurl themselves on the shore, enveloping the men and boat below.  Can the monks do anything to rescue the helpless fishermen? One of them is attempting to exorcise the waves.

 

The dictionary defines exorcism as the expulsion of evil spirits from persons or places by adulations, prayers and ceremonies. All religions recognize the battle between good and evil. Peoples of the ancient world believed in the power of spirits and that a person could be taken over by an evil spirit. They depended on potions, spells and chanting—and sometimes the help of ancestor spirits—to expel this evil, sometimes called the devil. In some passages in the New Testament Jesus is described as expelling evil from those possessed. The recent film The Exorcist presented a sensational story of possession by the devil.  In today's Catholic Church, if exorcisms are performed at all, they are performed by priests with permission of a bishop. Does modern man believe in the devil?  In evil, yes; in the devil, perhaps.  Can the devil take over nature as well as man? People of Magnasco's time believed that it was possible.  In this painting, the artist presents evil through tumultuous waves, and shows a monk, through prayers and his cross, attempting to dispel the evil and return calm and peace to the sea. Does he succeed? What do you think?

 

Alessandro Magnasco (Mun yas ko) was born in Genoa in 1667.  Some biographies say he studied with his father Stephano, a painter; others say his father died when Alessandro was a small child. Whatever the truth, he went to Milan while in his teens and entered the workshop of Flippo Abbiati.  His early works were influenced by the dramatic art of 17th- century Lombardy with pronounced contrasts of light and dark. In his early work he specialized as a "figurista," creating small human figures to be inserted in landscapes or architectural settings of other painters. He also began collaborating with landscape painter Antonio Francesco Peruzzini and other specialist painters. Not until the 1720s did he begin to create the landscapes and ruins that provide the setting for his figures.  However, even in his early paintings one can see the quick brush strokes and darting flashes of light that define his work.                                                          

                                                                           

From about 1703 to 1709 Magnasco was in Florence, where he and Peruzzini worked for Grand Prince Ferdinand de' Medici and his court. The court culture and the Medici collections of art introduced Magnasco to a variety of subjects and styles, and he began to experiment with a wide range of themes. He found inspiration in prints and enjoyed the ironic genre paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists.  The humorous Hunting Scene, a painting of the artist and his friend Sebastiano Ricci on a hunting expedition with Ferdinand de' Medici and his court, (now at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, CT) was no doubt influenced by the Dutch.  Many of his works from this period are in the Uffizi and Pitti in Florence.

 

Magnasco returned to Milan around 1707 where he worked for the Lombard aristocracy and continued to collaborate with Peruzzini.  He also experimented with new subject matter.  His clients now included aristocratic and progressive families around Milan, and his works suggest a participation in their intellectual debates. Protests against corruption in the monastic orders, religious intolerance and social prejudice—ideas of the Enlightenment in France and northern Europe—began to show themselves in his work. He painted Satire of the Nobleman in Poverty and The Synagogue at this time.

 

He returned to Genoa in 1735, and remained there until his death fourteen years later.  MAG's Exorcism of the Waves was painted there. His work shows contact with the Genoese school in which his father had trained, in its rhythmic brushwork and flowing drapery and gestures.  Yet Magnasco continues to avoid the bright, softly glowing colors of Genoa.  His swiftly executed brush strokes are filled with tension, and there is no serenity in his subjects.  His paintings illustrate, particularly in his final years, his deeply felt moral judgments against the errors of his time, as in the Arrival and Torture of the Prisoners and The Embarkation of the Galley Slaves in Genoa Harbor.  In Entertainment in a d' Albaro Garden, he rejects Rococo frivolity, showing the petty and futile life of an aristocratic family. His Sacrilegious Theft, completed in 1731, depicts the Virgin putting to flight thieves who had broken into a church by night, and seems to anticipate Goya's frightening skeletons and macabre atmosphere.  In his final years, Magnasco's rapid brushstrokes continued, but now suggested fleeting effects of light and dissolving solid forms, as in Supper at Emmaus. He died in 1749.

 

Magnasco was quite successful in his lifetime, as indicated by the large number of works by pupils and copyists that imitate his paintings.  He was forgotten during the 19th century, but rediscovered in the early years of the 20th century by Benno Geiger, who compiled a catalogue of his works.

 

Sources: Grove Dictionary of Art, curatorial files.

 


THE INDEPENDENT MILTON AVERY

by Joan K. Yanni

March 2001

 

The realists said he was too abstract; the abstractionists thought he was too realistic. His independent vision and vibrant colors became the bridge between the Social Realists and the Color Field painters.  Milton Avery’s refusal to conform made him unique in the art world of his time.

 

Avery (1889-1965) was born in Altmar, New York, near Lake Ontario, the youngest of four children born to a tanner and his wife. The family moved to a town outside of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1898, and Avery lived and worked in that area until he moved to New York City at the age of 35. His interest in the art world was accidental. He went to work as a factory hand at the age of 16, and moved from job to job in East Hartford factories.  An ad in a magazine promising that one could make money by lettering caught his eye, and he decided to try it. The lettering class was at the Connecticut League of Art Students, and it was cancelled a month after Avery enrolled.  In place of the lettering class, the League’s founder talked Avery into shifting to a life-drawing class for the remainder of the term, and he was hooked.  He began going to the league for classes in the evening after work.  By the time he was 26 he was listed in the Hartford City Directory in 1911 as an artist.

 

But art did not support the family.  His father and older bother had died and Milton became the only male adult in an extended family of 11. To continue with his art studies, he worked nights so that he could attend classes at the School of the Art Society in Hartford during the day. He also managed to spend summers in Gloucester where he sketched.

 

The turning point in his life came during a visit to Gloucester in 1924, when he met Sally Michel, a young art student .He moved to New York City to be near her, and they were married in 1926.   The marriage was an ideal one. Sally decided from the beginning to support them both so that Milton could spend all his time painting.  She became a freelance illustrator, then got a job illustrating the weekly “Child and Parent” column in the New York Times Magazine. Since she worked mainly at home and could do her work during their summer travels, she and Milton were together almost every day of their lives. Their daughter March was born in 1932.

 

Their days revolved around art. Milton would get up every morning, look through his summer sketches, decided what he wanted to paint, put up a gessoed canvas and begin. If he did not find anything inspiring in his drawings, he would do a self-portrait. Unlike those of some artists, his self-portraits were unpretentious and whimsical rather than narcissistic. 

 

Their social life, too, revolved around artists.  Milton had met Mark Rothko when they both exhibited in a city-sponsored Opportunity Gallery exhibit, and Mark had introduced him to Adolph Gottleib and Barnett Newman. The artists would get together for dinner at Avery’s, then discuss the latest work they were doing.  It is noted that Avery said little during their conversations—he was a quiet man, preferring to listen rather than talk.

 

Avery’s training was in academic art, but when he saw an exhibit  of  Matisse’s  work  in New York City, he was drawn to it. By 1930 the influence of Matisse could be seen in his flattened forms and clear, bright color.

 

The 1930s were trying times for the Averys.  In 1935 Milton had been asked to join the prestigious Valentine Gallery, and his work was exhibited there. Though Dr. Albert Barnes purchased one of his paintings, Avery sold little. Academics found him too modern, and the avant-garde now considered Cubism to be the cutting-edge in art.  Avery persisted in painting lyrical images, delicate yet powerful arrangements of flat color shapes. Although his paintings always involved a recognizable subject, they were highly abstract in impact. The subject was never dominant; the painting was about color relationships. He parted from the Valentine Gallery in 1943, and the Gallery sold its inventory of 35 of Avery’s paintings to collector Roy Neuberger, who donated Haircut by the Sea (63.21) to MAG.

 

The Phillips Memorial Art Gallery in Washington organized Avery’s first one-man show at a museum in 1944. He had become a bolder colorist, eliminating the last traces of naturalism in favor of simple shapes and color that was often independent of the subject matter.  He thinned his pigments to the consistency of watercolors, so that color lay on the canvas as a transparent veil that floated over the surface.  It was this effect that members of the Color Field school—Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and others—admired.

 

In 1949 Avery had a major heart attack. He emerged from the hospital weakened but determined to continue his art. For two years he created monotypes, which must be done quickly, with little detail.  These prints are remarkable in themselves, but their effects could be seen in the even simpler forms and fluency of color in Avery’s work. His dealer at the time, Paul Rosenberg, severed their relationship and sold Avery’s remaining paintings in a package deal—again to collector Neuberger.  (Many of these pictures as well as those sold by the Valentine Gallery are now in the collection of the Neuberger Museum at the State University of New York in Purchase.)

 

Abstract Expressionism became the vogue in the 1950s, but Avery again ignored the trend of the decade and went on to paint some of his finest pictures. He significantly enlarged his paintings, and his forms became more abstract, yet more universal.  His pictures were built around color rather than form, and the color acquired a vibrancy not seen before. In 1957 the critic Clement Greenberg wrote an article praising him, and the Whitney mounted a retrospective of his work in 1960; but still widespread acclaim failed to come. He suffered another heart attack in 1964 and died in 1965.

 

Mark Rothko spoke at his memorial service, acknowledging the debt that he and his generation owed to the “sheer loveliness” of Avery’s work. Younger painters, such as Helen Frankenthaler, acknowledge a comparable debt. Today Avery is being honored as an American master, a color poet.

 

Sources: Curatorial files, Hilton Kramer, “Milton Avery,” New York Times Magazine, August 24, 1982.


A BELOVED ALTARPIECE
by Joan K. Yanni

 April 2001 
 

MAG’s 14th-century Florentine altarpiece, Madonna and Child with SS .Francis of Assisi, John the Baptist, Peter and Dominic (57.4) is the jewel of the Renaissance room. It is remarkable for both its beauty and its history.

 

The painting first came to Rochester in 1957, in an exhibit called Signed in Paint. It was one of the most significant—and certainly the most popular—work in the exhibit, and the Gallery consequently acquired it through the Marion Stratton Gould Fund.  The altarpiece combined the monumental style of Giotto’s figures with a deeply religious theme, the result of the black plague that decimated Europe in 1348.

 

Scholars at first attributed the panel to Nardo di Cione (active 1345-1366).  Nardo was one of two artist brothers of Andrea Orcagna, Florence’s outstanding painter, sculptor and architect in the second half of the 14th century. (Jacopo was the other.) Nardo is known to have provided the setting for Orcagna’s powerful altarpiece in the Strozzi chapel in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. But later experts argued that MAG’s panel, though it employs figures similar to Nardo’s, does not have the brush work, modeling or color sense of that painter. Thus the altarpiece is now labeled School of Nardo.

 

The five-paneled altarpiece still boasts its hand-carved, gold-tooled frame with arches framing each figure.  It is painted in tempera—powdered layers of pigment mixed with egg yolk as a binder—on a wood panel whose surface has been built up with layers of finely mixed gesso. Since egg tempera dries quickly and firmly (remember the remains of eggs left on a breakfast plate?), the altarpiece reveals the short, unblended brushstrokes usual in this medium. Painted in warm tones of red, yellow, gray and green with accents of black and white, it glows with warmth against a rich, patterned gold background.

 

The undercoat of green paint, called terra verde, which was used for shadows and modeling of features and which often can be seen through the warm flesh colors of a painting, here remains behind the figures’ faces and cannot be seen. The background of the panel is made of gold leaf, still in good condition after more than 600 years. Traces of red clay, or bole, used as an adhesive base for the gold leaf, can be seen if one looks carefully. (See article on del Biondo’s Crucifixion, page 11 in the “About Gallery Art” notebook for a description of this technique.)

 

The half-length figures in the polyptych (diptych: two paneled; triptych: three paneled; polyptych: many paneled) completely fill the space that they occupy.  In the center panel, the Madonna (not to be confused with a rock star of the present era), holds the child Jesus, who in turn holds a scroll inscribed “Ego Sum,” the beginning of the Latin inscription “I am the Light of the world.”  On our left, John the Baptist, the first of the New Testament prophets, with his long hair and animal skin garment, holds a cross made of sticks, and a banner reading “Ecce Agnus Dei,” again Latin, “Behold the Lamb of God. ” John points toward his scroll and at the same time to the Christ Child in the center panel. On our right, St.  Peter, with his short white beard, prominently displays the key to the kingdom of heaven, given to him when he was named the Church’s first leader. Peter’s left hand, which is respectfully covered, holds the Bible.

 

The last two panels on either side of the Madonna show St. Francis of Assisi, wearing a knotted rope around the waist of his gray robe (often the robe is brown), shows his stigmata, or wounds of Christ. These five wounds, in the hands, feet and side, were suffered by Jesus during the Crucifixion and are said to appear miraculously on the body of one who leads an exceptionally holy life. (Today we see figures of Francis in his other role as protector of the environment, feeding the birds and animals, often in a garden setting.)  The last panel on our right shows St. Dominic, dressed in black and white, the garb of the Dominicans, and holding the lily of Purity. The Franciscans and Dominicans were the most important mendicant (begging) orders of the time, and lived on the alms donated by their followers. The Dominicans were known for their preaching, the Franciscans for their work among the poor. It is unusual for both saints to be found on the same altarpiece; usually only one or the other is there.

 

The provenance of the altarpiece is a fascinating story. It was formerly in the famous collection of Marcel von Nemes in Munich. In 1931 Dr. Paul Drey purchased it from a von Nemes sale, but soon after its purchase it was confiscated by the Nazis. Miraculously found in Germany after World War II, the panel was returned through restitution proceedings to the Drey Gallery. Gertrude Herdle Moore, MAG Gallery director at the time, purchased it from the Drey Gallery in New York. In a letter to Mrs. Moore dated March 8, 1957, Dr. Drey says “I do not know what happened to the painting after the Nazis took over, but anyhow when the war was over, the Nardo was found at one of the Collecting Points in Germany.  Through restitution proceedings it was given back to the rightful owners.”  Despite what must have been haphazard and perilous handling during the war years, the panel is in good physical shape today.

 

It is interesting for students on tours to find the figures in the altarpiece in other places in the galleries. A wonderfully carved wood figure of St. Peter holding his key is in the Northern Renaissance room, and Peter can also be seen in the Doubting Thomas Console in the Fountain Court. John the Baptist is depicted in the painting Madonna and Child Enthroned between Six Saints and Angels. The Madonna and Child are in many paintings, but how different the squirming child in the El Greco picture is from the loving mother and child in the Del Garbo—or the stiff, aloof posture of the two figures in the altarpiece. More examples can be found.

Sources: Curatorial files; Gallery Notes, April-May 1957; Susan Dodge Peters, ed., Memorial Art Gallery: An Introduction to the Collection.

Note: Director Grant Holcomb and his wife Siobhan were married in front of the altarpiece in 1997.

 


DATING AN ANCIENT CHINESE URN

by Joan K. Yanni
May 2001  

The Chinese funerary urn (99.56) in the New Acquisitions Gallery is made of earthenware with painted designs. Its broad shoulders, small loop handles, and narrow flat bottom is typical of the Banshan type of ceramic ware encountered in the western central part of Gansu province.  It dates from 2500-1700 BC.


According to the label, Neolithic Yang-shao ceramic ware was usually made by molding built-up coils of earthenware and finishing the work on a hand-turned wheel. Pieces such as  this jar were fired at a temperature between 760 and 1020 degrees centigrade. The banded and crosshatched decoration was made by pressing a variety of materials, such as cord or textile, into the clay and then brushing on red and black pigments.  Many urns such as this were discovered in burial sites during the early 1900s and were probably used for the storage of grain or cereals.

 

Before its acquisition by the Gallery, this funerary urn underwent thermoluminescent testing, a process that determines the authenticity of the object by providing an accurate range of dates for the ceramic’s last firing.

 

Arthur Tweet, husband of docent Thea Tweet, has graciously agreed to describe the process of thermo-luminescent dating. Dr. Tweet is a Xerox retiree who received his PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin. His explanation is as follows:


Thermoluminescence dating is a process for determining the age of an object by measuring the amount of light given off by a small sample of the object when it is heated under carefully controlled conditions in the laboratory.  The process is used in archaeology for dating artifacts made of ceramic or glass. 


The process is based on the idea that when radiation from radioactive elements or from cosmic rays interact with any object, they transfer some of their energy to the material the object is made of.  If the material is ceramic, some of the transferred energy will be stored in it.  The longer the object is exposed to the radiation, the more energy will be stored—the ceramic becomes a sort of energy bucket that fills up at a certain rate.  More time spent catching the radiation means more stored energy.


If a sample of material is taken from the object and heated in a chamber, some of that stored energy will be released from the sample in the form of light whose very feeble glow can be detected by sensitive instruments.  The amount of light emitted by the sample is proportional to the  amount of  energy stored, and therefore, to the length of time the object—a ceramic pot for example—was exposed to radiation after it was made.                                                                               


However, the radiation can come from several sources:
 

         1.   Radioactive elements of various kinds in the     pot itself,
 

2.   Radioactivity in the soil or other environment where the pot has lain, and
 

3.   Cosmic rays, whose effect on the pot is dependent on how much earth has covered it,   and for how long.
 

So in order to find out when the pot was made, we must take into consideration what the pot is made of, whether soil and other objects in its environment are also sources of radiation, and whether it has been underground in a tomb or lying on the surface exposed to cosmic radiation.


Because all these factors determine how much light is given off by the sample when it is heated in the lab, it is necessary to calibrate the measurement.  An example may make this point clear.
 

A pot is found in a Middle Minoan tomb on Crete, and it is clear from other evidence that it was made within a few years of when the tomb (whose date is known from other evidence) was established.  The thermoluminescence of this pot is then measured and recorded.  From this measurement we know that a pot of the same date as our pot, made in the same way, of the same material, and kept in similar surroundings for the same length of time, will emit the same amount of light when heated in the same way in the laboratory. 

Hence, if we ever find another pot just like our calibration sample, we can be confident that when it is heated, it will give off the same amount of light if it is the same age.


Furthermore, if it gives off twice as much light, we will be tempted to believe that the newly-discovered pot is twice as old.  However, the skeptic will say, “Not so fast! You can say that your new find is very old only if it satisfies all the conditions (is made of the same material, was stored in the same environment, etc.) as your calibration sample.”

 

These conditions are usually hard to know for sure, and so there is considerable uncertainty about most thermo -luminescence dating.  For this reason conservative users of the technique will usually give a date within a rage of +/- 100 – 300 years for archaeological finds.


THE FASCINATION OF EGYPT
by Joan K. Yanni

June, July, August 2001

 

The excitement around MAG’s newly acquired coffin (2000.11.1-2), one of the most significant acquisitions in the Gallery’s history, grows with each tour and each visitor.  School children love to look at it and adults are fascinated by it (though only the inner coffin is in display currently, the outer coffin will emerge in October 2003). Where does it fit into the history of Egypt?

 

The origin of Egyptian civilization cannot be established with certainty, but Egypt’s recorded history spans more than 3000 years. People began settling on the banks of the Nile, the longest river in the world, prior to 3100 BC.  They developed agriculture, a written language and a calendar containing 365 days that would forecast the flooding of the Nile.

 

Egyptologists divide this long history into several periods, the most important of which are the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The great age of pyramid building took place in Egypt’s Old Kingdom, (2686-2181 BC). The step pyramid in Sakkara, and the pyramids of Giza were created at this time, as was the Great Sphinx. MAG's granite figure of Ny-user-ra (ca. 2450-2350 BC) dates from this period, as does the Egyptian relief from the tomb of Metetu (2450-2350 BC).

 

The Middle Kingdom, 1991 to 1786 BC, was notable mainly for unification of the country and regrowth of Egypt’s influence, which had waned because of political disunity in the years after the Old Kingdom. The New Kingdom (1552 to 1070 BC) brought the high point of Egyptian power and prosperity.  An extensive building of temples at Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel took place, and the building of royal burial tombs near Thebes in the Valley of the Kings began. Egypt captured lands from the Sudan to Syria to the Euphrates River and became the world’s first empire. MAG’s relief of Maya (42.55) was created at this time, around 1300 BC.  Maya was overseer of the Royal Treasury under three pharaohs including the boy king Tutankhamun.

 

The downfall of Egypt came between 1080 BC and 30 BC.  Weak kings ruled the country and the priests gained power. The nation was captured by the Persians in 525 BC, then by the Macedonians under Alexander the Great in 332 BC. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy became Egypt’s ruler.  His dynasty lasted for 300 years, until the death of his descendant Cleopatra in 30 BC. (Cleopatra had married the Roman Marc Anthony and they ruled Egypt jointly.  She committed suicide after Anthony, defeated by Octavius, killed himself—see our painting of Cleopatra by Duvivier—and Rome took over Egypt.) Many of the artifacts in MAG’s Ancient Gallery, such as the canopic jars (664-525 BC) and the limestone Lid of the Sarcophagus of Ta-khonsu-iy (332-32 BC), both on loan from the Metropolitan Museum, came from this later period.

********

 

The Egyptian gods and goddesses are complicated. Most have more than one name and their importance varies according to the region in which they are worshipped.  As one tale goes, at first only the ocean existed.  Then Ra, the sun, came out of an egg (or a flower) that appeared on the surface of the water.  Ra had four children, the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut. Shu and Tefnut became the atmosphere. They stood upon Geb, who became the earth, and raised up Nut, who became the sky. Geb and Nut later had two sons, Set (or Seth) and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and Nepthys.  Osiris, assisted by his sister/wife Isis, succeeded Ra as king of the earth, though Ra still ruled over all.  Set, however, hated his brother and killed him, cutting his body into 14 pieces and scattering them over the earth. Isis searched for and found all the body parts (some accounts say all but the genitals) and reburied them. (In another myth the god Anubis helped Isis embalm Osiris’s restored body and so became the god of embalming.) The power of Isis resurrected Osiris, who became king of the nether world, the land of the dead.  Horus, who was the son of Osiris and Isis, later defeated Set in a great battle and became king of the earth.                             

 

Often the gods were represented with human torsos and human or animal heads.  Ra, for example, had the head of a hawk and the hawk was sacred to him because of its swift flight across the sky.  Horus was a falcon or a male figure with a falcon’s head. Hathor, goddess of love and laughter, had the head of a cow, which was sacred to her. Anubis had the head of a jackal because of the jackals which ravaged desert graves, Bastet, goddess of music and dance, was a woman with a cat’s head. Nut, goddess of the sky, is a female figure arched over Shu; and Thoth, moon god and god of wisdom, was ibis-headed.  Ptah, patron of artists and metal workers, was given a human head, but was occasionally represented as a bull.  Gods were also represented by symbols, such as the sun disk and hawk wings, which were worn on the pharaoh’s headdress. Early Egyptian kings claimed divine ancestry, and pharaohs were worshipped as sons of Ra.

 

MAG’s coffin of Pa-debehu-Aset (PA-deb-uh-HOO-AH-set) is made of wood, polychromed and gilded. It is from the Ptolemaic period, 332-30 BC, and the deceased, though not a pharaoh, had to have been wealthy to commission two coffins. His name, meaning “the one who was a request from Isis,” appears more than a dozen times on both coffins. The face of the coffin is gilded, with eyes inlaid with stones and shell, and lines around the eyes and chin inlaid with deep blue glass.

 

The front of the coffin has a broad collar, consisting of seven bands of decoration, ending on each shoulder in two falcon heads, each surmounted by a sun disk with a uraeus, or serpent.  Facing the falcon head is a large winged uraeus, bearing a royal crown, with its wings extended in a gesture of protection. On the chest below the broad collar is a figure of the goddess Nut, a sun disk on her head.  She kneels with her wings outstretched, protecting the corpse. The text around her is a promise to protect the owner of the coffin against all evil. All figures emphasize protection and rebirth.

 

In the register below, the god Anubis attends to the body, which is resting on a lion-headed couch.  Three goddesses stand behind him, identified as Isis, Selket, and one whose name is not legible. On the feet of the coffin, Anubis is shown in mirror image resting on shrines.  Above Anubis are two wedjat-eyes, powerful symbols of rebirth. They refer to the sacred eye of Horus, whose eye was torn out in battle and then restored by Thoth, god of wisdom and magic.

 

Other facts of interest: Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered only after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 by one of Napoleon’s soldiers. On the stone the same words were written in three scripts, hieroglyphics, demotic (the simpler alphabet used by the Egyptian people, based on hieroglyphics) and Greek. Knowledge of Greek led to translation of the others.

 

Because the Egyptians believed in life after death, the body was preserved by drying it out through mummification. The organs were removed to prevent rotting of the corpse.  The brain was pulled out through the nose with a hook (as any third grader can testify), and the lungs, liver, stomach and intestines were put in canopic jars. Only the heart was left in the body. The Egyptians believed that after death, the god Osiris and forty-two judges weighed the dead person’s heart on a scale and balanced it against a feather to see if it was heavy with sin. If the heart was found to be pure, its owner gained admittance to a rewarding afterlife.

 Sources: Morley, Jacqueline, An Egyptian Pyramid; Odijk, Pamela, The Egyptians; Funk and Wagnall Encyclopedia, curatorial files.


MARSH’S ICE CREAM CONES
by Libby Clay

September 2001
 

Before the summer of 2001 ends, treat yourself to MAG’s Ice Cream Cones, courtesy of the artist Reginald Marsh (1898-1945).  Center stage, four “Coney Island cuties” indulge themselves against the backdrop of the beach crowd.

 

The painting elicits some questions. Shouldn’t a beach scene be bright with vibrant colors? (Think of William Glackens’s Renoir-esque palette in Beach at Blue Point.) Here, Marsh’s work has a muted quality, as if the sun has been filtered through an amber lens. The colors please, but they seem to deny the gaiety and fun of an outing away from the steaming city.  “Furniture polish hues,” one critic called them.

 

And what about those gals?  Their sensuality is slyly mimicked by the shape of the cones they are holding.  Why have they really come to the beach?  Why are they posed, frieze-like, as if they were muses from a classical painting?  Marsh, a keen observer and recorder of American life of his time, found Coney Island a favorite source, and presumably these young ladies caught his eye. Now they intrigue us.

 

Reginald Marsh, born in Paris and educated at Yale, loved and chose to live in New York City. Like his Ashcan School mentors, Sloan and Luks, he felt that the vitality of America was in her cities.  He savored all that New York had to offer…her art galleries, her museums, her essence, her people.  He haunted Coney Island and roamed the Bowery.  Sketchbook in hand, he found his ideal subject matter in the sensuous and the seamy.  The people recorded in his drawings represented types that might be found in the compositions of great masters like Rubens or Michelangelo.

 

Marsh could be called a Renaissance man; in his too-short life (he died at 47), he was a magazine illustrator, a newspaper cartoonist, a war correspondent, a teacher, a printmaker, a portraitist, and a painter of murals. (As part of the arts project of the WPA he did a major mural for the Customs House in Manhattan.) His first New York job was on the Daily News where he “made about 4000 drawings in three years.”  Since the job required only one day a week of his time, he began to study painting at the Art Students League with John Sloan and later with Kenneth Hayes Miller.

 

His heart was with draftsmanship, however, and he never did learn to like painting in oils.  He did execute creditable watercolors, mostly teaching himself. It was his friend Thomas Hart Benton who introduced Marsh to the egg tempera medium—egg yolk and powdered color on a gesso ground   (Ice  Cream  Cones  is   egg tempera on board.) Marsh found egg a fine vehicle for a draftsman, for it preserves the luminosity and clarity of a drawing, yet the greasy quality of the yolk gives an oily effect.  It also dries instantly, making it easy to superimpose brushstrokes.  See if you can find the hatching he applied after Ice Cream Cones dried.

 

Other friends introduced Marsh to “Chinese ink, Winsor Newton ‘cake’colors and Whatman paper.” He found these materials inexpensive, no trouble (as opposed to oil painting) and very permanent.  He executed a number of drawings that were exhibited at the Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery in New York, the gallery from which Ice Cream Cones was purchased by Mrs. James Sibley Watson, Jr. (Hildegarde Lasell Watson.)

 

Reginald Marsh, though a favorite illustrator for such publications as Vanity Fair, Life and Harper’s Bazaar, was not fully appreciated in his time. Some critics said he was a chronicler, a recorder rather than a great creator. “These pictures are nicely executed and have humor,” one said, “but they do not rise…beyond themselves…and become more than what they represent.” Marsh, however, felt art should be able to be recognized and understood by the man on the street, particularly 14th Street, and that that man should be its subject. He eschewed the new modernism that was coming to America from Paris.

 

Marsh revered traditional composition and technique.  He studied the works of the masters assiduously.  Consummate draftsman that he was, he advised aspiring artists to learn to draw heads from da Vinci, bodies from Michelangelo and Dürer, and to learn everything else from Rubens. It is ironic that he taught himself by turning back to the greats, only to have his art criticized as being pedestrian.  Perhaps it was his subject matter that failed to win him the appreciation that finally came posthumously.

 

Ten years after his death, Newsweek has this to say about Marsh:

 

World War II eclipsed him and his generation, except for a few tough survivors.  Regionalism gave way to internationalism. Abstraction overwhelmed the exhausted high-mindedness of social realism.  Now in this cool new-minted age, when sign language is the artistic mode and rhetoric is considered emotional prostitution, how does Marsh look? The answer is a big surprise. Marsh, with his sweet-faced, large-thighed floozies walking innocent as cows through the asphalt jungle, looks good.

Source: Curatorial files, particularly the research paper of Susan J. Pollock.


MAG’s MOSAIC WITH THE HEAD OF TETHYS
by Libby Clay

October 2001
      

Docents traveling to Maryland in November will have an opportunity to see some of the mosaics and artifacts from Tethys’ old neighborhood. The Baltimore Museum of Art is the last venue for the exhibition “Antioch: The Lost Ancient City.”  Complete with a full-scale model of a Roman triclinium, or dining room, the exhibition helps us to imagine MAG’s 3rd century AD Tethys (42.2) in her original setting.  Antioch was a wealthy jewel in the crown of Hellenistic Rome, and the living was not only easy, it was sumptuous and hedonistic.  Daphne, a residential suburb and Tethys’ home town, was the Newport of Antioch, where the rich retreated to escape the heat of the city.

 

Antioch-on-the-Orontes ranked with Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople as one of the four great cities of the Roman and early Christian world.  It was favored by economic and strategic advantages, fertile soil and a temperate climate. Today it is called Antakya and is located in the Hatay province of southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. The catalog of the exhibit describes it as “A modest Turkish town,” its former glory vanished.  Natural disasters, Bubonic plague and Persian and Arab conquests beset Antioch and it went from riches to rags.

 

An archeological search for ancient Antioch was launched in the 1930s. Participating members of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch represented the Louvre, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Worcester Art Museum, Princeton University and, later, Harvard University and its affiliate, Dumbarton Oaks.  The committee expected to excavate ancient buildings, but these eluded them because the city was buried in many layers of silt.  Instead, a great harvest of mosaics from private houses was found, thus revealing more about Antioch’s elite than about its public and religious life.

 

From Porticus, Vol. V, we learn that while many of the Antioch mosaics, some 300 of them, were found through systemic exploration, MAG’s Tethys panel was a chance find.  Plowing and winter rains had eroded ancient terraces, and the building from which she came was discovered, though not fully excavated. The publication contains a photograph of Tethys in situ.

 

Mosaics were a status symbol in the Roman Empire.  They showed that the owner had wealth and taste.  Complex figural scenes (often mythological events) were reserved for rooms in which ancient viewers would be stationary. Dining couches would have been placed over the geometric area of the mosaics.  Figural scenes in corridors were simple.  They were meant to facilitate, not arrest, movement.  More often corridors contained geometric designs.  Figural mosaics marked doorways and linked two architectural spaces, as was Tethys’ function.    Mosaics   were   often   re-worked,   to bring something considered old-fashioned up to date. 

 

Floors were often raised to facilitate heating the room with hot air from an adjacent furnace.

 

Mosaics did not originate with the Romans, although they reached their apogee under them.  Mosaics of crushed shells decorated ziggurat columns as early as 3100 BCE.  In the fifth century BCE the Greeks used pebbles, gathered from beaches, to create designs.  Later, in Hellenistic times, the pebbles were carefully trimmed and juxtaposed, leaving no cement showing.  Mosaics in their true form were invented in Carthage.

 

Workshops developed a method for cutting stone tesserae. Artisans cut thin slabs with wire and abrasives, then shaped the tesserae with hammer and chisel for the spaces they were to fill.  They used local materials whenever possible: white limestone, gray shale and red tile being very common.  The burning of stones helped increase the variety of colors.  Marble was picked up from marble-masons’ yards.  Most mosaics were worked on the spot; but figural mosaics were often created in workshops rather than on site.  They were bedded in a foundation of marble or terra cotta and the finished assemblage (the Emblema) was then laid into a geometrically decorated floor mosaic of much coarser consistency.

 

According to Vitruvius, the first stage for laying a mosaic was to prepare the foundation.  He advocated several carefully graded levels of pebbles and crushed brick bonded with mortar, to the thickness of two feet.  Most mosaicists were content with shallower bases.  The main outlines of the design were either scored onto the surface of the foundation mortar or painted on it.  Then the cubes were laid on a thin bed of fresh mortar and pressed down so the mortar rose up to fill all the spaces.  After the cubes had been laid in the mortar, the finished mosaic would have been grouted to fill any remaining cracks, sanded to a flat surface, and polished, ready for the owner to admire.

 

The unevenness of shape and size of the tesserae in MAG’s panel reveal they were all made by hand.  Notice how carefully they have been shaped to give form and dimension to Tethys' face, especially on the left, shaded side.  The stones of the eyebrows are very small, as are those forming the gold lines of her wings.  Squinting brings out the shapes formed by the tesserae of her face.  Kneel and view the mosaic at eye level and note the gradation of tesserae.  See if you can tell if Tethys was made in a workshop or on site.

 

FYI: Antony and Cleopatra were married in Antioch in 37-36 BCE, and Antioch was the base for St. Paul’s missionary journeys ca. 47 CE.

 

Sources: Christine Kondoleon, catalog, “Antioch: The Lost Ancient City”; John. Dobbins, “Mosaics from Antioch,” Porticus, Vol. V; Anthony King, “Archaeology of Ancient Rome”; Docent files.


BOUTELLE’S WORRIED HUNTER

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2001
 

The Indian Hunter (84.47), by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, is a landscape painting with a message. It tells the story of the “noble savage” watching his treasured wilderness disappear.

 

Boutelle, though little known today, was quite successful in his time. He was born in Troy, New York, in 1820, at a time when the Erie Canal held the attention of the young nation. His family obviously admired New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, who was instrumental in having the canal built, since they named their son after him.

 

This was a time of change for the country.  The canal brought excitement and expectation as well as some apprehension. The first leg of the canal, between Rome and Utica, New York, had been opened in 1817, bringing an ease of transportation but cutting deeply into the wilderness revered by most of the country.

 

The romantic stories of Washington Irving, and especially James Fenimore Cooper ‘s Leatherstocking Tales, such as The Last of the Mohicans, had brought the struggle of the American Indian to keep his land to the attention of the nation. The Hudson River School of painters had begun to exhibit their pictures of a lush, untouched landscape, almost religious in their  feeling. Since Americans had no cathedrals to paint as European painters had, the wilderness, which was unknown in Europe, became the American cathedral.  It was in this atmosphere that Boutelle grew up.

 

As an artist, Boutelle was self-educated.  At an early age, however, he came under the influence of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. His first picture was painted in 1839 when he was 19. As he continued to paint, he found patronage in New York City and maintained a studio there from 1846 through the 1850s. He regularly exhibited at the prestigious National Academy of Design.

 

Landscapes were popular, and his sales gave him funds to go on sketching trips up and down the Hudson River, the Catskills, New Jersey and the Susquehanna.  Like Cole and most of the Hudson River painters, he then took his sketches into his studio to paint. 

 

Many of his works were purchased by the Art Union, an organization that was in existence in New York from 1839-1853.  The Art Union bought paintings, exhibited them to the public, and then sold the works on a lottery system. The Art Union also occasionally commissioned prints to be made from paintings, and distributed these to the membership as a whole. Thus paintings had wide distribution.  Boutelle’s works, which were mostly the popular landscapes, benefited greatly from this exposure. By 1839 he had settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he continued to paint until his death in 1884.

 

1846. The painting shows the influence of Cole in its depiction of the land. It is not a specific New York State view, but a romantic, imaginary site which includes the treasured wilderness and the enigmatic Native American. It produces a sensitive, sympathetic social commentary as well as a striking scene.

 

The painting is composed of two parts: a dark, lush forest and a light blue area. The Indian hunter is on the lower right, leaning against a rock. He holds a tomahawk in his left hand, and a bow and quiver of arrows are strapped to his back.  His face is sad, pensive.  Why?  What is he thinking?  Does he know what is going to happen to him and his fellows? 

 

Are there any animals in the picture?  Birds?  The gnarled tree trunks and stumps are beautifully painted in lush greens and browns.  There is a stream in the picture, and on the left, a path or steps going down into a valley below. A light coming from the left falls across the painting, illuminating the part of the canvas in which the Indian is standing.  The trees on a hill in the background form a clear diagonal in the painting.

 

On the left are a light blue sky and a valley. Can the Indian see the valley? What is happening there? Look closely and you  can see a clearing in the distance, with small houses and the spire of a church—one of the first buildings to go up in a new settlement. The settlers are here to stay, and they threaten the Indian’s hunting grounds which he uses for food and shelter.

 

When the painting was first displayed, it was described in the catalogue by the following poem by a Miss Eliza Cook: 

Oh! Why does the white man follow my path,

Like the hound on the tiger’s track?

Does the flush on my dark cheek waken his wrath?

Does he covet the bow of my back?

He  has rivers and seas, where the billows and   breeze

Bear riches for him alone;

And the sons of the wood never plunge in the flood

Which the white man calls his own.

Then, why should he come to the streams where none

But the red skin dare to swim?

Why, why should he wrong the hunter, one

Who never did harm to him?

 

Though the poem is overly sentimental and saccharine, the painting is an example of the concerns of America’s first landscape painters.  It is also an important part of the Genesee Journey tour.

 

Source: Curatorial files, particularly essays by Patricia Junker, Susan Nurse, and E.J. Searl.


TYCHE THE PROTECTRESS

by Sydney Greaves
December 2001—January 2002
 

Although she survives as only a rather beaten fragment, the beautiful marble head of Tyche of Antioch (49.73) still has a great deal to say to us.  She has been dated to the 1st-4th century AD, and so is most likely a Roman copy.  The original Greek statue may have dated from the 4th century BC, as Tyche’s calm, placid features have been compared with the works of great Late Classical sculptor Praxiteles, creator of the famous Apollo Belvedere in Rome.


The copying of Greek works by Ancient Rome warrants a brief mention here.  Many (but not all!) of the most famous sculptures of ancient Greece are known to us today only through Roman copies, often identified by descriptions left by ancient writers.  The Romans had a great admiration for all things Greek.  Augustus bragged that he had found Rome a city of brick and left her a city of marble, like Athens.  Rome stripped Athens and the other great city-states of Greece of their marble statuary and brought them back to an admiring Roman citizenry.  If Romans could not have authentic Greek statuary, they paid artisans to copy known works.  In fact, our modern notion of the pure white marble statuary of Ancient Greece comes actually from the Romans, who preferred their marble au naturale, as opposed to the Greek penchant for painting statues in vibrant, sometimes shocking color.  Much Greek statuary was actually bronze, which the Romans translated into marble, with sometimes awkward additions of struts and other structures to support the significant weight of marble.


Tyche
(TIE-kee) in Greek translates to fortune, destiny, or chance, different from our idea of fate, perceived as outcome that is already determined and unable to be changed by us.  The Greek idea is more akin to luck, good or bad, but hopefully good; hence the sculpted “lady luck” that we see here. The ancient Greeks personified Tyche as a minor goddess, certainly not one of the Olympian Twelve. * She is described by Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, as revered particularly in Smyrna as early as the mid-6th century BC.  Her attributes at this time included the polos hat (a cylindrical grain measuring cup) and a cornucopia, or horn of Amalthia, proving her associations with plentiful food and bountiful harvests.  Most often she appeared on coins minted by individual cities, simultaneously acting as a demonstration of that city’s prosperity and a “good luck charm” to assure that same prosperity. By the 4th century BC, Tyche’s attributes expanded to include a sheaf of grain (prosperity), a palm frond (victory), a ship’s rudder (control of destiny), and an orb or wheel (instability or unpredictability), and the mural crown (city walls) as seen on our fragment.


Tyche’s
importance increased during the Hellenistic period, the period to which this statue fragment dates, when she  became  revered  as a  special  patron  of  cities.     This   is significant because of the Greeks’ active colonization at this time  in  new  areas  of the known world, opened  up  by  the conquests of Alexander the Great. Alexander, recognizing the importance of holding this empire together, founded numerous cities (often called Alexandria), populating them with Greek soldier/citizens and their Greek cultural practices.  This served to unify the empire through hellenization; hence, the Hellenistic Period. Like the cities of mainland Greece, these new cities desired the protection and common religious focus of a patron god or goddess (like Athena in Athens or Zeus in Olympia).  Tyche came to fill that role for these colonies, and indeed came to act as a personification not only of good fortune and destiny, but also of the city itself.


Perhaps the most famous of all the images of Tyche is that created for the city of Antioch, a Greek city founded in modern Syria around 300 BC by Seleukos, a Syrian contemporary of Alexander the Great.  Seleukos rose through the ranks under Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedon, and then under Alexander himself, who appointed him governor of Babylon.  Following Alexander’s death, Seleukos expanded his influence, founded his own cities, and commissioned the “well known” Eutychides of Sicyon (a pupil of Lyssipos, a renowned sculptor of the second half of the 4th century BC) to sculpt a statue of Tyche to stand in the city of Antioch as patron goddess.  This famous image came to set the standard for city patron goddess statues: mural crown, sheaf of wheat, seated on the mountain (Mount Silpion, above Antioch) with the river (Orontes) at her feet.  The over-life-size bronze statue sat in majesty under a four-pillared canopy at the city center, with a large altar for sacrifices.  This famous statue, now lost, has been described by numerous writers, and copied by artists in smaller scale.  The most well known image of Tyche of Antioch, now in the Vatican, is identified as a small (3 feet high) marble Roman copy of the original.


Although a minor goddess, Tyche’s rise in prominence signaled many of the world changes brought about by the influence of the Olympian gods in the face of increased power and significance of the individual, the chaos of warfare, sudden reversals of fortune, and the multicultural aspect of cities and colonies. All these gave Tyche, in her role as the spirit of the city, a new life and significance.  This idea is most perfectly expressed in modern times by our own Statue of Liberty: a symbol recognized all over the world for freedom and justice, and personifying the good fortune and patriotic spirit of the citizens of the United States.


*The major gods that resided on Mt. Olympus: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Hades, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Dionysus.

Source; Ferguson, John, Religions of Roman Empire; Gardner, P., NewChapters in Greek Art.


JACOB LAWRENCE, VISUAL HISTORIAN

by Joan K. Yanni

February 2002 

 

The month of February, Black History Month, is an appropriate time to highlight Jacob Lawrence, whom director Grant Holcomb calls “the visual historian of the African American Experience.”

 

Lawrence, who died in 2000 at the age of 82, visited MAG in 1991with his wife, Gwen, also a painter, for the opening of the exhibit, Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of Narrative Paintings. He was in Rochester again in 1994 to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Rochester. To honor the event, his 22 serigraph (silk screen) prints picturing The Legend of John Brown were on view in the Lockhart Gallery.

 

MAG owns 26 works by Lawrence, including two paintings and the 22 prints in the John Brown series. Both paintings, Summer Street Scene in Harlem (91.5), painted in 1948, and Gamblers (74.1), a 1954 work, are on view in the 20th century American gallery. Both are painted in tempera on board. The works are very different, one teeming with life and color, the other somber and foreboding.

 

Summer Street Scene presents a crowded Harlem street.  One can almost hear the shouts and laughter of the children as they climb over a homemade go-cart. One boy is at the wheel and five others are hanging on the top and side of the car. They are in front of a cart from which ices are sold, with a man hunched over the top of the cart digging in the shaved ice to loosen it. A yellow-orange towel hangs over his arm, and bottles of orange, red and green syrup (orange, strawberry, cherry and lime?) with paper cups stacked on their necks, wait to be poured over the ice.  The large, white wheel of the cart can be seen at the right of the painting. Though the picture is flat, with most of the activity in the front picture plane, the background is filled with passers-by. Can you see the man with the crutch, the boy licking his cone, men in straw hats, and the window of a house? All are presented in bright blocks of color: oranges, reds, blues, greens. The vivid hues make the heat of the day seem to radiate from the canvas. The painting is filled with dynamic color and rhythmic shapes.

 

The mood of Gamblers is far different. It is painted in grays, blacks and browns, relieved only by the blue-green shawl of the central woman, the bright playing cards, and small red or white flowers in the buttonholes of the tall standing figures. The setting is ominous, threatening. Five figures—four men and a woman—sit hunched over a table, playing cards. Four giant, menacing figures stand over them, as if monitoring the activity. The scene looks like a stage setting, with a screen behind the figures. The figures are flat, lacking dimension. Light comes from behind or above the backdrop, creating a pattern of triangular shapes, light and dark. The zigzag shapes are repeated in the alternating of seated and standing figures. A vine reaching from the figure on the far left to the far right unifies the composition. What is at stake in the card game? The work is unsettling, mysterious.

 

Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City in 1917. His parents separated in 1924 and his mother eventually moved the family to Harlem. Despite the Depression and meager family income, Lawrence had access to an after-school program that provided him with an opportunity to meet Black artist Charles Alston and later Augusta Savage. He honed his craft in Harlem workshops and studios. In 1936 he won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York City. He later taught painting at Pratt Institute, NYC, from 1958 to 1965, and from 1970 taught at the University of Washington in Seattle.

 

Lawrence was always interested in patterns and color. The patterns in fire escapes and nearby buildings fascinated him when he was a child. Later, like the Ashcan painters before him, he found stimulation in an environment that many would consider bleak and depressing. In 1942, when he was 25, he broke the art world’s color barrier when he became the first African American to be represented by a Manhattan gallery.

 

Most of his work concerns Black culture and experience. In 1937 he began painting biographical panels commemorating important episodes in African-American history, including his portraits of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. In these panels he was able to capture the spirit of each of his subjects by choosing a theme or idea and developing it through specific scenes or incidents. He went on in 1941-42 to paint the 60 panels of The Migration Series, describing the mass migration of African Americans to urban centers in the North. He worked in tempera, watercolor or gouache. His figures are stylized, forming strong, flat patterns. Their naïve figuration enhances their visual and emotional impact.

 

In his narrative paintings, he is said to have painted one color at a time. Artist Romare Bearden and art historian Harry Henderson observed that he might be working on thirty paintings in his studio, with only the blue finished in each. He would then put in all the greens, then reds, and so on. When he completed the last color in the last panel, the series would be complete.

 

Though narrative paintings went out of vogue in the ‘40s with the coming of abstract expressionism, Lawrence never changed his style. His unique, simplified forms derive from a variety of traditions, including cubism and expressionism. An exhibit of his work, Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence opened at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC last year and will be traveling to museums across the country until 2003. It will be at the Detroit Institute of Arts from February 24 to May 19, 2002. A 6-foot x 36-foot mosaic mural of his New York in Transit was unveiled at the Times Square station in NYC in October.

 

Source: Curatorial files; “Real Life, True Color The Art of Jacob Lawrence,” Crisis, July-August 2001.


THE MULTI-TALENTED NOGUCHI

by Joan K. Yanni

March 2002
 

Editor’s note: It is rumored that when Calligraphics arrived at MAG in 1960, some eager unpackers began removing the rope fiber that bound the characters to the brass rod. Luckily some curators stopped the action.

 

We have new information about MAG's elegant Calligraphics (60.2) by Isamu Noguchi.  We now know that the characters in the piece have a meaning: they signify "Japan”.

 

The work consists of a brass rod with two separate cast iron forms bound to it with fiber rope and mounted on a wood base.  It was formerly thought that the two forms were simply design elements inspired by the artist's study in China and his fascination with ancient Chinese symbolic script.

 

Last fall, however, two visitors from Japan who were visiting the Gallery told docent Thea Tweet that the symbols were not Chinese but Japanese, and signified "Japan."  Exhibition assistant Chiyo Ucyama, who is a native Japanese speaker, agreed that the visitors were right.  The top character (ni) means "the sun," and the lower one (hon) is "the origin," which can be interpreted as "the rising." The rising sun is the symbol of Japan.  Noguchi's cast iron forms suggest abstract versions of those characters.

 

Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi's life was a mix of Eastern and Western influences. He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to American writer Leonie Gilmour and Japanese poet Yone Noguchi. Isamu spent his early years in Japan before being sent to the United States to become a student at the Interlaken School in Indiana. Soon after his arrival in Indian Interlaken was closed, but the school’s founder, Dr. Edward Rumley, found him a place to live until he graduated from high school.  Rumley also arranged an apprenticeship with Gutson Borglum, designer of the sculptures at Mt. Rushmore.  Borglum was less than encouraging about Noguchi’s artistic talent, so Isamu enrolled in pre-med studies at Columbia University.

 

He began his classes at Columbia in 1922, and soon after, his mother moved to New York.  She encouraged him to take an evening sculpture class at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School.  The head of the school was impressed with Noguchi's talent, and after three months gave him his first exhibition. Noguchi left Columbia to devote himself to sculpture. In 1927 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for travel to Paris and the Far East.

 

His first work had been figurative, but an exhibition of the work of Brancusi changed his focus.  In Paris he met Brancusi and worked as his assistant for a few months, then set up a studio in Montparnasse, where he began to create sculpture in stone and wood.

 

He returned to New York in 1929 and had his first one-man exhibit of his Paris abstractions at the Eugene Schoen Gallery.  No works were sold, so he began to support himself by making portrait heads. By the early '30s be had enough money to travel back to the Far East where he studied Chinese brush drawing, Japanese pottery making, and the art of Zen gardens.  His interests were unlimited.  Noguchi became a friend of architect/engineer R. Buckminster Fuller, and, encouraged by Fuller, he began to design public areas combining art and architectural space.

 

His first fountain was built for the Ford Building at the 1939 World's Fair, and the same year he won the national commission to decorate the Associated Press building in Rockefeller City with a huge─10-ton─relief of stainless steel.  Major recognition came in 1946 when be was invited to show in MOMA's exhibit of Fourteen Americans. His boundless and eclectic energy kept him in the forefront of the art and design world.

 

Despite New York colleagues who disapproved of any mixture of art and commercial projects, Noguchi wanted to assimilate art into                              everyday life. He designed furniture and lamps and completed numerous public commissions.  Especially popular were his round paper lamps, which he called "illuminated sculpture."

 

He designed numerous playground spaces for New York City, but Robert Moses, then City Parks Commissioner, vetoed all.  In the '40s he began to produce set designs for modern dancer Martha Graham, then for Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine, an involvement with the theater that lasted into the’60s. He paved the way for the many inter-art collaborations that took place later in the century. Despite New York colleagues who disapproved of any mixture of art and commercial projects, Noguchi wanted to assimilate art into

 

His first plaza was realized in 1961 for the First National City Bank in Fort Worth, TX. His garden for the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University (1960-64) blended sculptures of a pyramid, circle and cube in a white marble garden space.  Though placed on the stark, hard surface of the marble, his forms remain sensuous and poetic.

 

Between 1973 and '78 he designed the Philip A. Hart Plaza in Detroit, a large civic plaza that remains one of his most impressive works. Terraced downward towards the river, it centers on a gigantic, twisted steel pylon and a circular fountain that combines a play of fights and water jets—a remarkable combination of sculpture, architecture, and landscaping.

 

Other Noguchi environmental constructions include a sunken garden for the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, NYC (1964), and his first playground, created in Japan at "Children's Land' near Tokyo (1966). While designing sculptural gardens and public plazas, he continued making independent sculptures, such as the 24-foot high Red Cube (1968), standing in front of what used to be the Marine Midland Building in NYC, and the towering, 101-foot Bolt of Lighting, Memorial to Ben Franklin in Philadelphia, which was designed in the '30s but not installed until 1984. In 1968 he had his first American retrospective at the Whitney Museum.

 

Among his best-known international works are the gardens for UNESCO in Paris (1958), the Billy Rose Art Garden in Jerusalem (1965), and two peace bridges in Hiroshima (1952).  Closer to home is the Storm King Art Center of Mountainville, NY (1977). On view here is Momo Taro, the gigantic stone representation of the peach boy legend (Momotaro). (See About Gallery Art, page 149.)

 

Perhaps Noguchi's greatest personal satisfaction was the opening of part of his studio on Long Island City (Queens) NY in 1985 as The Noguchi Garden Museum. Tbc museum contains more than 250 stone, wood and clay pieces as well as dance sets and documentation of his gardens and playgrounds. (The building will be closed until the spring of 2003 for renovation, but changing exhibitions of Noguchi's works can be seen in a temporary space at 36-01 43 rd Avenue, Long Island City.) Noguchi has worked in every medium—stone, marble and wood. All his works blend oriental respect for materials with the spare sophistication of Western art.

 

Noguchi's energy and creativity continued into the '80s, with an airport sculpture and a master plan for a 400-acre park, both in Japan. He received the National Medal of Arts m Washington, DC in 1987. Still working, he died in New York City in 1988 at the age of 84.

 

Sources: Curatorial files; Bruce Altshuler, Isamu Noguchi, Abbeville Press, NY, 1994; Grove Dictionary of Art, 1994; Brown et al, American Art, Harry N. Abrams, 1979.

 


ART IS BLOOMING IN THE LOCKHART GALLERY

by Libby Clay

April 2002

 

We have had hints of the coming spring, in the yellowing of the willows, the peeping through of crocuses and scilla and in the honking of V-formation geese.  For reinforcement, spend a few minutes in the Lockhart Gallery, where spring, and even summer, has already arrived.  Thanks to the sponsorship of The Council, we have a beautiful garden that we don’t even have to tend.

 

Pick yourself a bouquet.  The kimono-clad woman in Spring (76.22), painted by Charles Webster Hawthorne, greets us as we enter, and offers us freshly picked daffodils and narcissus.  Perhaps this painting reminded George Eastman of his own garden, for it is from his collection.

 

If you prefer, let yourself enter the woodland setting of M. Wendy Gwirtzman’s Spring.  Stand back a bit and let the rhythms of the tulips and the rocks soothe you.  The fir tree in the left background invites you to go deeper into the woods to savor the solitude.

 

Do you smell roses?  It must be coming from Jeanne Lindsay’s Rose Garden next door.  You are suddenly immersed in roses, with thorns so benign that you can gather an armful of fragrance without being pricked.  Both Jeanne and Wendy are dear friends of the Gallery, and the sharing of their talents has helped many a would-be artist create their own gardens.

 

By the way, species of roses have been in cultivation for more than 3000 years in gardens in China, Persia, Egypt and the Greek Islands.  They have been used as food, medicine, decoration and perfume.  Queen Elizabeth I took the Tudor rose as her personal emblem and the Empress Josephine had 250 varieties at Malmaison.  Ninety percent of our cultivated roses are of foreign origin, and even the so-called wild roses are escapees from early gardens.

 

The iris garden is located at the back of the gallery.  Lowell Nesbitt’s lithograph, Iris (75.259), is startlingly realistic, and is from his series of over 400 flower subjects.  Nesbitt, born in Baltimore, is known as a photo realist, and he intends the viewer to see a monumental flower with an impersonal eye.

 

To the left is Elmer Macrae’s Purple Iris (77.144), a lovely watercolor painted in 1916.  His iris spring sunward with great energy.  In Greek mythology, Iris was the messenger of the gods, appearing to mortals in the form of a rainbow.

 

Macrae studied with John Twachtman at the Art Students League and later succeeded him as leader of the artists’ colony centered at the Holley House in Cos Cob, Connecticut.  Cos Cob became one of the leading centers of American Impressionism. Ironically, MacRae was later one of the principal organizers of the 1913 Armory show, which diverted attention from the Impressionists to more modern art movements.

 

Karl Schrag, master printmaker and painter, explores the mysterious quality of nature with his Iris, Pale Sea and Sky (71.49) in gouache on paper.  His velvety iris have been plucked and confined to a vase, while the sea rolls free in the background.  We are invited to daydream about vacation days to come.

 

Iris, also known as “flags,” were favorites of American colonists.  Thomas Jefferson once requested that his sister send him some by mule from Monticello to his Lynchburg residence.

 

Flowers are also represented here in two media unusual for the Gallery.  One, a lacy valentine, shows meticulous work with scissors and glue, as well as a keen eye for design.  The faint fold-marks hint that someone once received (and kept) this special gift.  Next to it hangs a “painting” done in needlework. A background of black flannel is a perfect stage for the profusion of flowers executed in both needlepoint and crewel embroidery.  Look closely at the number of tiny French knots that form the centers of the blooms, and imagine the number of hours it must have taken to create this.

 

Agnes Jeffrey’s Flowers in a Vase (87.40), from circa 1850, was also featured in the 1994 “Art in Bloom.” It shows an old-fashioned bouquet gracefully arranged in a cornucopia-shaped pressed glass vase, and is in the tradition of botanical illustration. Miss Jeffrey, born in Edinburgh, first studied there and in London, and by the 1830s had developed a remarkable proficiency.  In 1838 she sailed for America and, via the Erie Canal, joined her brother in Canandaigua.  She made her living teaching art in Canandaigua and later Rochester.  One of her pupils was the great benefactress of the Memorial Art Gallery, Emily Sibley Watson.

 

Helen Wolcott Hooker was another Rochester flower painter.  She would have had no trouble finding inspiration for her Basket of Flowers (44.74), for her father, Henry E. Hooker, operated a nursery in Rochester.  She may have executed some of the sketches for the catalog furnished by the nursery.

 

At one time, the Hooker land extended along East Avenue from Goodman to Oxford Street, all the way back to what is now Monroe Avenue.  Imagine 40,000 roses blooming on East Avenue! Henry Hooker laid out and planted numerous streets on his property, notably Brighton Street, which he lined with cut-leafed birch trees.  He also planted the famous magnolias on Oxford Street.

 

Marie Via collected the quotations which enhance the walls of this exhibition. One, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, seems particularly apt. “The earth laughs in flowers.”  Enjoy the Lockhart!

 

Sources: Material was liberally borrowed, with permission, from wall signage by Marie Via and Libby Clay for the May 1994 “Art in Bloom.” Information about individual flowers was supplied by Joan Baden, also in 1994.


CORNELL’S BOXES

by Joan K. Yanni

May 2002

 

Is it a game played with sliding balls? A shadow box with personal memorabilia? A mysterious reference to the universe?  Joseph Cornell’s The Admiral’s Game (98.77) looks simple at first glance, but with further examination gets more and more enigmatic.

 

The Gallery’s The Admiral’s Game is a glass-covered box 12” high, 18” wide, and 4” deep.  It contains two parallel metal rods about one-third of the way from the top with two white balls resembling ping pong balls resting on them.  A smaller red ball lies on the floor of the box. These elements are set against a background of a large compass rose surrounded by what looks like the night sky. But what does it all mean? Each viewer will have his own answer.

 

A textbook on American Art calls Cornell a unique and mysterious sculptor who created box constructions “which deserve to be placed in the highest level of contemporary American creation.”  Such an artist deserves more study.

 

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was born in Nyack, New York, and moved to Queens in 1921 where he was employed by a textile firm. He lived there with his mother and invalid brother for the rest of his life.  He had no formal art training, but he explored the city’s museums, theatres, second hand shops and bookstores and began collecting old books, engravings, and objects from past eras that interested him. 

 

He was always fascinated by astronomy. As a child he wondered about the patterns in the night sky.  As an adult he was an avid stargazer who read histories of astronomy and constellation mythology, subscribed to Scientific American, visited the Hayden Planetarium and was a subscriber to the planetarium’s Sky Reporter. In the bookstores he frequented, he sought out antique maps and early astronomy texts with illustrations. He stored all of his discoveries in shoeboxes in his basement, carefully labeling them so that, even though they were crammed full with continuing purchases, he could find what he wanted. Most of these found their way into his shadow boxes.

 

In 1931, while browsing around the city, he saw examples of Surrealistic art at the newly opened Julien Levy Gallery, and was captivated by it.  He became a frequent visitor to the gallery, where he met other artists and probably encountered Max Ernst’s book of juxtaposed engravings, La Femme 100 Têtes.  Ernst’s unrelated images taken from books of old engravings inspired Cornell to begin making collages from the materials he had been collecting.  Some of his collages were included by Levy in his Surrealism exhibit in January, 1932, the first show of Surrealism in New York.  Levy gave Cornell his first one-man show in November of the same year. It included the first of his shadow boxes—found boxes, round or rectangular, containing engravings and objects. One of the boxes in the show, Jouet surréaliste, contained small toys with the addition of collage elements, suggesting a relationship between art and play. This idea continues in his later works. During the next few years Cornell continued to create his boxes and even learned woodworking techniques from a neighbor so he could build his own containers.

 

One of Cornell’s early hand-made box assemblages, Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) was included in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, organized by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., at MOMA in 1936.  The work uses the elements of much of Cornell’s work: a series of compartments containing objects and engraved images: four cylindrical weights, an egg in a wine glass, a clay pipe, a cast of a child’s head, and a map of the moon. All are unified by visual associations: the pipe can be used for making soap bubbles, a relationship to childhood, hence the child’s head.  Round bubbles relate to the lunar map and the circular forms of the egg, the moon, and even the head.

 

Around 1934 Cornell found a job designing textiles for a textile studio in New York and worked there until 1940. During this time he became interested in filmmaking.  He made his first film in 1939, Rose Hobart, a drastically edited version of an early film called East of Borneo, in which the actress Rose Hobart had starred.  He cut the film, rearranging parts, breaking up transitions from one scene to another, and destroying the narrative sequence. Thus he created a startling new work from the placid, run-of-the-mill original. The film was shown at the Levy Gallery.

 

Such unexpected combinations found throughout Cornell’s work are also found in Surrealist art, but Cornell did not want to be considered part of the Surrealist movement. He was not interested in psychology, the subconscious or erotic themes. His art was unique and independent.

 

In 1940 Cornell left his job in tapestry design and devoted himself fully to his art, though he undertook some freelance work illustrating and designing layouts for magazines such as Vogue and House and Garden. He began to produce thematic series, further soap bubble sets and a pharmacy series. Birds, particularly cockatoos, owls and parrots, recurred in his works

 

In the 1950s Cornell resumed filmmaking, this time using a cameraman rather than found footage, but he continued to make his boxes. In the mid 60s, because of declining health and grief caused by the deaths of his brother and mother, he produced few boxes, though he continued to make collages. A special room at the Metropolitan was devoted to his work in 1970. Because he had an ongoing affection for children, the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture organized an exhibit of his work in late 1972 dedicated to the children of lower Manhattan. He died in December 1972. Though his work is unique, Cornell influenced artists such as Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

 

Sources: Brown, Milton et al, American Art, Prentice Hall, Inc, 1979; Godine, David R. 200 Years of American Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1976; Encyclopedia of American Art. E.P.Dutton, 1981; The Grove Encycloopedia of Art, 1998; Whitney Museum, Joseph Cornell: Cosmic Travels, 1995; curatorial files.


ROCHESTER BUILDS A CAMPUS, WATSON'S BUILD AN ART GALLERY

by Susan Nurse

June, July, August 2002
 

Rochester’s Riley Road became University Avenue when the University of Rochester established its campus there between Prince and Goodman Streets.  From 1850 to 1861 classes of higher education had been held in the United States Hotel on West Main Street. (The building is still standing, and MAG’s Cigar Store Indian once stood in front of it.) In 1850 the university employed eight teachers, had 65 students, and the tuition was $30 a year.

 

The acquiring of land and the erection of Anderson Hall in 1861 (look behind the Gallery for the large building with a mansard roof) represented a commitment to an actual university.  Named for the first president, this building housed classrooms and offices.  Other buildings followed.  In 1874 Hiram Sibley, local founder of Western Union, presented the University with a library, which was named Sibley Hall in his honor.  His gift was given on the condition that the library be open to all Rochester citizens. Though this building was demolished in 1960, the statues that were in its niches are now on the River campus, next to Rush Rhees library.

 

During the 1880s there was growing agitation to admit women to the University.  In 1881 Lewis Henry Morgan, a lifelong advocate of higher education for women, bequeathed his residuary estate for a Morgan’s Women’s Educational Fund. The University agreed that, if $50,000 could be raised to cover the cost of accommodating a limited number of women, they would be admitted. Helen B.  Montgomery, first female NY State regent, raised $40,000 for the “Women’s Dowry” of 1900. Susan B. Anthony led the campaign for the remaining $10,000, of which she contributed $2,000 (her life insurance, later returned). The goal was reached when the Rev. William C. and Mary T. L Gannett contributed $4,000, Susan’s sister contributed $2,000, and a friend gave another $2000. By 1901, 33 women were attending classes in Anderson Hall. (In 1914 the first social building for women was built across from the campus and named in honor of Anthony. It is now part of the Visual Studies Workshop.)

 

George Eastman gave funds for the 1904 Eastman Laboratory on Prince Street, facing away from the Gallery. The laboratory housed physics and biology classes.  In 1905 Andrew Carnegie donated $100,000 for an applied science building with the stipulation that it not be built until an endowment of equal amount was raised. The Carnegie Building opened in 1911. It is behind the Gallery, near Goodman Street.

 

In the 1920s Eastman was persuaded to donate funds for a medical school, a donation which precipitated a move by the University to a bigger, more expandable site.  A curve in the Genesee River seemed a perfect spot, but it was occupied by Oak Hill Country Club. The golf club agreed to move to Pittsford, and construction of a new University of Rochester campus began in December 1927. The men moved to their new campus in 1930, and the Prince Street site became the women’s campus. It was 1955 before the women joined the men on the River campus.

 

James Cutler, a local architect and inventor of the Cutler mail chute, bequeathed his large residuary estate to the University. Because he had been an advocate of higher education for women, the trustees decided to use his bequest to erect a women’s student union. The men’s alumni gymnasium building was torn down and Cutler Union was put up in its place. It opened in 1933, with meeting rooms, cafeteria, auditorium/ballroom, and a YWCA room, where girls could stay overnight, if needed, for $1.00. And since Cutler had favored Collegiate Gothic style, Cutler Union was built in that style to honor him.                                                                        


From its beginning, the Memorial Art Gallery was an integral part of the Prince Street campus.  Funds for construction of a fine arts building for Rochester were donated by Mrs. James Sibley Watson as a memorial to her son, James G. Averell. (Look for the J.G.A. on

the original building.) Averell was a promising architect until his untimely death in 1904. The original building was designed by John Gade, the husband of Mrs. Sibley’s niece, of the firm of Foster, Gade and Graham. The building was completed by 1913.  Its design resembles the Morgan Library in NYC, and some of the details of the Malatesta mausoleum in Rimini, one of Averell’s favorite buildings, were incorporated on the MAG façade.

 

The classical symmetry of Renaissance architecture can be seen in the design of the building. Details include four carved circles that frame portraits of Raphael, Michelangelo, Bramante and Leonardo. In large, carved squares are representations of the fine arts: painting, sculpture, architecture, and music.  In the barrel arch over the door, Dutch muralist Frode Rambush painted an interpretation of the zodiac, a common Renaissance decorative motif.  Look also for Wisdom, Inspiration, and Time surrounding the MAG initials carved in the tympanum above the door.

 

There were four rooms for exhibitions in the 1913 building: the present Egyptian room, the Northern Renaissance room, the Renaissance Room (called the Hall of Casts), and the present Asian Gallery.  As the collection grew, the original Gallery proved inadequate, and in 1926 Mr. and Mrs. Watson provided additional funds for expansion.  This expansion, designed by Lawrence Grant White of McKim, Mead and White, resulted in the Fountain Court and adjoining galleries. Offices, storage, an auditorium and a library were housed in the basement.

 

The next addition came in 1966.  Carl F.W. Kaelber, Jr., of the local firm of Waasdorp, Northrup and Kaelber, had finalized a plan for a sleek, modern, low addition of limestone to blend with the original building. The addition brought a 300-seat auditorium, new office space, and large open exhibition spaces. Landscape architect Fletcher Steele was asked to design an allée of trees to visually connect the original gallery and Cutler Union. The Creative Workshop, a studio art school for children and adults, was opened in the basement of the Cutler Union building. The museum entrance was relocated at the back of the new addition, at street level to provide access for the handicapped.

 

In 1987 the firm of Handler and Grosso joined the Gallery to Cutler Union, and the museum now occupied an entire block. This new addition moved the entrance back to the University Avenue side, with a modern simplification of the original entrance, and it oriented the new entrance to Steele’s allée.  The addition was low, so as not to overwhelm the buildings it was connecting. The result was the Vanden Brul sculpture pavilion. The upper floors of Cutler were converted into departmental offices, while the first floor parlors and auditorium were retained.

 

The next chapter in the Gallery’s growth has yet to be written, since more space is needed for all departments as well as the library and the Creative Workshop. Stay tuned.

 

Susan Nurse is the Gallery’s Visual Resources Coordinator. Docent Betsy Brayer, author of MAGnum Opus, has also provided information for this article.


A LIFE TOO SHORT: GEORGE BELLOWS

by Joan K. Yanni

September 2002 
 

A strikingly beautiful portrait, installed during the summer in the 20th-century gallery, demands that we stop and look.  It is Anne in White by George Bellows, on long-term loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.  A lovely, golden-haired young girl in a white dress sits on a rocking chair and gazes pensively out of the picture.  A large black hat dangles from her left hand, and she holds a colorful round fan on her lap.  To her left is a dark drapery, punctuated by swatches of color; to her right a view of the Catskills can be seen through the window. The arresting portrait is a fascinating complement to Bellows’s Evening Group, from the MAG collection, which hangs across from it.

 

Evening Group (47.13) pictures the Bellows family enjoying their rented summer house on Monhegan Island, halfway up the Maine coast. The artist’s wife Emma sits on a chair on top of a hill with their daughter Anne (the girl in the portrait) sitting on the grass at her feet.  The artist walks up the hill towards them, a cat in his arms.  To the right of the painting are two unidentified children, probably neighbors.  At the bottom of the hill, behind the house, wash is hanging out to dry. Is that a woman putting the clothes on the line?  It is hard to tell.  Boats, two in full sail, and a canoe can be seen in the harbor.  The composition forms an equilateral triangle, with the higher sail at the tip, Anne and her mother at the bottom left angle, and the other children at the right. Bellows is at the center of the triangle. The sun is stetting, and the sails stand out against the water and sky. (In addition to the painting, MAG owns Study for Evening Group (93.23), a pencil, charcoal and black crayon drawing.

 

Both these paintings are a contrast to the works for which the artist is best known to the public.  Bellows (1882-1925) was a prolific painter and lithographer.  He was a member of the Ashcan School.  Although not one of The Eight, he did show his work at the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910. He was known for his scenes of the New York City streets—crowded sidewalks, ragged children, and, particularly, pictures of prizefights, such as Both Members of the Club, Stag at Sharkey’s, and Dempsey and Firpo.  (Prize fights were illegal in NYC, but were permitted in private clubs, such as Sharkey’s.) In each of these he captures the savagery and drama of the fight ring.

 

George Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of an architect and building contractor.  He said that he grew up among Methodists and Republicans, but his mind was always open to new ideas in religion and politics as well as art.  He seemed to have in innate talent for both drawing and athletics.  At first athletics seemed to win out, for he left the university to play semi-professional baseball.  Then he sold a few drawings and decided to pursue art.

 

In 1904 he entered the New York School of Art, where William Merritt Chase was the director.  Robert Henri was his teacher, and Henri and Bellows began what was to be a lifelong friendship. By 1905 Bellows had opened his own studio.

       

By 1908 both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum had purchased one of  Bellows’s  paintings; a year later, at 27, he was the youngest member ever elected to the National Academy of Design. He was one of the organizers as well as an exhibitor in the 1913 Armory Show, which introduced the new “radical” European art to America. Bellows was fascinated by this art and found it stimulating, but he continued to paint in his own way.

 

In 1910 he married Emma Louise Story and moved into a brownstone house at 146 East 19th Street, which remained his home until his death.  Here his two daughters were born and most of his work was done in a studio in the house.  Wherever he was, he painted.  He and his family spent summers in Maine, in Woodstock, NY, in California and Santa Fe, retuning again and again to Woodstock. He captured it all in paint.

 

In 1916 Bellows began to make lithographs.  He chose this medium rather than etching because it gave him the sweep and spontaneity of drawing, which he loved.  When Bolton Brown (See About Gallery Art, p. 15) became his printer, his lithographs assumed new tone and depth.  Brown could reproduce in print after print the exact values of the originals.  Brown’s control over the finished print gave Bellows new freedom to refine and enrich the values in his drawings.  (MAG own seven Bellows lithographs, including Stag at Sharkey’s and Dempsey and Firpo, which was printed by Brown.)

 

Bellows was always a precise draughtsman, and careful composition can be seen in his work.  His pictures were built on a geometrical framework, which he had learned from a course in “Dynamic Symmetry” taught by Jay Hambridge.  He was always willing to experiment.  He used a palette knife as well as a brush to get the effect he wanted.  In his drawings he used crayon along with pencil and ink wash.

 

Though many artists of his day sought success by traveling to Europe, Bellows never went abroad.  Often regarded as the most American of artists, he represented the American temperament of the day—restless, vigorous, adventurous,  spontaneous.  He found his subjects in American scenes and subjects.  He particularly liked Woodstock, in the Catskills.  He build a home here, and between 1920 and 1924 was working for nearly six months out of the year in his Woodstock studio.  Anne in White was painted during the first summer that the family lived here.  Both the critics and the public consistently admired his work.  He was only 43 when he died in New York of a ruptured appendix.

 

The Gallery is planning an exhibit of the later works of Bellows, scheduled to open in April 2003.  Leaving for the Country: George Bellows at Woodstock will include Anne in White, Evening Group, and Autumn Brook, a Bellows painting recently acquired by the Gallery.

 

Sources: Eggers, George W., George Bellows, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 1931; catalog for George Bellows, Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, Gallery of Modern Art, New York City, 1966; Encyclopedia of American Art, E. P Dutton, NY  1981; curatorial files.


GEORGE ROMNEY, MASTER PORTRAITIST

by Joan K. Yanni

October 2002  
 

Editor’s note: When frame expert Bill Adair examined MAG’s frames in 1999, he noted that the lavish golden frame on the Maitland portrait is probably original.

 

Why do museums, including MAG, display unfinished paintings? To show the way an artist thinks and works. The Gallery’s unfinished portrait of Nathaniel Hurd by Copley is familiar to everyone, especially now that it is the focus of the Gill Discovery Room installation.  MAG has another interesting portrait that is unfinished: George Romney’s Portrait of Lady Maitland (77.2) on view in the 18th-century European gallery. A second Romney portrait, Portrait of Colonel James Clitherow (76.24), hangs nearby in the same gallery.

 

Lady Maitland reveals Romney’s working method.  He first sketched out his composition; next, he concentrated on the face of the sitter. Then he began adding background around the head, looking for the color that would be most effective. Here, a dark, rich brown predominates, though the extreme left side and lower left corner of the painting remain unfinished. The face of the sitter, a three-quarter view, is apparently complete. Her upper body, shoulders and hair are sketched lightly.  Finished or not, the painting shows a lovely, spirited woman with the beginnings of a smile—and a sense of humor? The sitter is Eleanor Todd, who became Lady Maitland after she married James, Viscount Maitland, Eighth Earl of Lauderdale. Romney also painted a full-length portrait of her.

 

George Romney (1734-1802) is considered one of the great 18th-century English portrait painters. The Grove Encyclopedia of Art ranks him third after Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, though followers of Sir Henry Raeburn might object to this rating.  Thanks to George Eastman, who collected 18th-century English portraits as well as Old Masters, MAG owns these Romneys as well as Portrait of Miss Hoare by Reynolds (77.1), Man with Book Seated in a Landscape by Gainsborough (75.115) and two Raeburns: Mrs. Johnson of Straiton (78.6) and Portrait of General Hay MacDowell (68.102).  (In her MAGnum Opus, page 84, Betsy Brayer reports that Eastman kept paintings “on approval” for months and sometimes longer before deciding whether he liked them. The MacDowell portrait was sent back to the dealer as a reject until Eastman found that he missed it and ordered it returned.)

 

Romney was born in Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire. Until he was 21 he worked for his father, a cabinetmaker. In 1755 he was apprenticed to the itinerant British portrait painter Christopher Steele. With some income from the apprenticeship, he married in 1756 and set up a portrait studio in Kendall in 1757. We know that his fee at the time was two guineas for a three-quarter-length portrait and six for a full-length one, but little work from these years survives.

 

In 1762 Romney went to London and set up a studio, leaving his wife and family in Kendall.  He became popular almost immediately for his historical subjects and flattering portraits of British society. His first exhibited painting was The Death of General Wolfe, now lost, which was judged second at the  Society of Arts exhibit in 1763.  In late August, 1764, he set  out for Paris with a friend. They stayed six weeks, visiting palaces, churches and art collections, but .Romney was unimpressed by the contemporary French art that he saw. Instead, he admired the art of the time of Louis XIV, calling it  “very great.” 

 

By the mid eighteenth century, it had become part of an artist’s education to go to Italy, and in March 1773 Romney left with Osias Humphrey, a painter of miniatures, for the continent. Despite leaving a busy, lucrative practice, he stayed away for two years. In Italy he made careful studies of antique busts and Old Masters, particularly Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian.

 

 Back in England, only a year after his return, his practice was again a staggering success, and his paintings showed a new depth of feeling, though line rather than color dominated his works. By 1786 he had three to six sittings a day, and one or more on a Sunday.  His price, lower than that of either Reynolds or Gainsborough, may have attracted sitters.  He charged 20 guineas for a three-quarter-length portrait, while Gainsborough’s price was 30 and Reynolds’s 50 guineas. His works pleased, too, because he concentrated on surface qualities of skin, hair and fabric, subordinating character to elegant patterns and flattering compositions.

 

Despite this success (at times he rivaled Reynolds in popularity), Romney was still eager to become a history painter. One of the models for historical scenes was Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, whom he met in 1781. Ultimately he painted her almost fifty times, in many roles, and sketched her even more. Lady Hamilton as Psyche, Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante, and Lady Hamilton at the Spinning Wheel—even a portrait of Lady Hamilton as Joan of Arc appeared on canvas. He became enchanted, even obsessed, with her; yet most of the pictures of; her were painted from memory.

 

Romney never became a member of the Royal Academy, and though he knew many of his fellow artists, his friendships were in literary and philosophical circles. He was by nature introspective and moody, and in the late 1780s his health began to deteriorate. In 1790, however, he traveled to Paris, met Greuze and David, and again began to think of history painting. He began project after project, but his desire to paint more serious subjects resulted in thousands of drawings but few paintings.

 

The deaths of Gainsborough in 1788 and of Reynolds in 1792 spurred him on to more projects, and he began to plan a Birth of Man series. But again his health failed and the number of unfinished paintings increased until a stroke virtually forced him to stop painting. Though his reputation faded almost immediately after his death in 1802, his paintings are now in most major museums.

 

Sources: Betsy Brayer, MAGnum Opus, Encarta Encyclopedia, Grove Dictionary of Art, curatorial files.


THE UNKNOWN MONTICELLI

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2002
 

Unknown by most students of art and ignored by countless art historians, Adolphe-Joseph-Thomas Monticelli (1824–1886) is nevertheless an important bridge between the Romantics and the Impressionists.  His vibrant colors evolved from his admiration for the work of Delacroix, and his lush, impasto brushwork became an inspiration for van Gogh.

 

The Gallery’s painting by Monticelli, Harvest Festival (51.32), was completed toward the end of the artist’s life in 1883. Form and color seem to blend together in this picture of seven reclining women, their skirts making splashes of red, yellow and blue against the golden hills in the background. A man holding what appears to be a large bundle can be made out standing to their left, while silhouetted against the sky, a second man, on horseback with a riderless white horse at his side, watches them from behind. A man with a plough working behind two oxen seems to melt into the background of green grasses and brown earth, while a rider–on a bicycle?–emerges from the foliage on our right.

 

Monticelli was born in 1824 to Italian parents in Marseilles and spent most of his life there. His early years had been spent in happy freedom on a farm, and when he was finally sent to school his studies were a disaster.  He had always shown an aptitude for art, however, so his father reluctantly sent him to art school. But even art studies were not to his liking. Feeling his independence curbed by teachers in Marseilles, he traveled to Paris where he spent his days copying Old Masters at the Louvre.  He remained in Paris for two years, returning to Marseilles with an enthusiasm for the brilliant color that he saw in Venetian Renaissance painters, in the paintings of Watteau, and in the works of his older contemporary Delacroix.

 

By now he was a competent artist, but had yet to find his own style. He produced countless works, and he painted everything:  portraits, landscapes, seascapes, historical and genre scenes, even frescoes. He traveled and painted throughout southern and central France before returning to Paris in 1856.  Back in Paris he rented a studio close to the quarters occupied by the Barbizon landscape painter Narcisse Diaz, and the two became friends. They went on painting expeditions in the Forest of Fontainbleau together, where Diaz became his advisor as well as his companion. Diaz suggested that Monticelli avoid artificial arrangements and instead choose subjects from nature more suited to his skills. Diaz also encouraged him to use shorter, more spontaneous brush strokes and to liberate his sense of lavish color and texture.

 

In Paris Monticelli did not mix in artistic circles, did not show at the Salon, did not participate in exhibitions. He knew of the work of the Impressionists, but he had already experimented with the subdued colors and short brush strokes that they were using, so was not impressed by their work. He did mix in Parisian life, however.   It was the time of the Second Empire,  and interest in Rococo,  ballet,  opera

  

and the theatre was at its height. Monticelli began to specialize in theatrical, brightly colored paintings of festive galas, showing elegantly dressed women and gentlemen enjoying festivities in the outdoors. The Empress Eugenie and her court were especially fascinating to him, and he undertook with pride a commission to paint four large panels for Eugenie’s rooms at the Tuileries. Other commissions came to him through dealers, and success was his for a time, but his art was stagnant.

 

The unexpected death of his father in 1868 brought him back to Marseilles where he went through a religious “awakening” and for a time thought of becoming a monk. He painted a large altarpiece for the church in Allauch, and perhaps realized that his mission in life was to paint rather than pray.  He returned to Paris once more, this time avoiding Parisian frivolity and living in a room in an eastern suburb of the city, completely absorbed in his work, and visiting Paris only to sell his pictures to dealers.

 

The Franco-Prussian War prompted his return to Marseilles, where he remained for the rest of his life and developed his mature style. He and Cézanne, whom he had known since the 1860s, often painted together around Aix and l’Estaque.  Although Monticelli made his living by painting portraits and still lifes that had to please the public, he was able to experiment with landscapes, using jewel-like colors and thicker textures.

 

His work was unique, with brilliant colors and impasto sometimes over half an inch high.  Instead of using a palette knife, he cut his brushes in half, leaving stiff bristles to apply paint and giving his works a quality of abstraction. He painted on panels of walnut or acacia, sometimes letting the wood show through for special effect. Local collectors and critics began to say that he was insane. Monticelli took criticism in stride and told friends that it would take 50 years for people to understand his work.

 

His mother’s death in 1883 was a shock from which he never recovered. His health declined and he began to drink heavily. He stubbornly continued to paint, though his best work was over. He died in 1886 after suffering a stroke.

 

Sometime in 1886 Vincent van Gogh discovered some of Monticelli’s works and began to model his own impasto technique and brilliant colors after it. Van Gogh always acknowledged his indebtedness to the Marseille painter, and, though always short of funds, he bought some of Monticelli’s paintings for his personal collection. In 1890 van Gogh and his brother Theo funded the publication of the first book about Monticelli, written by Paul Guignol, who had been a lifelong friend.

 

Sources:  Arthur Toothe & Sons, Ltd. London: A J.T. Monticelli; Paul Rosenberg & Company, Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Adolphe Monticelli, Grove Dictionary of Art; curatorial files.

 

N.B.: The frame on the painting was made especially for it by the Carrig-Rohane frame shop in Boston and dated 1928.  Honey was used as one of the ingredients to achieve the stippled gesso effect.


SHIPS BY BARD

by Joan K. Yanni

December 2002—January 2003
 

The portrait of a Hudson River steamboat now hangs to the right of the sofa in the American Folk Art/Decorative Arts gallery. The steamship, the James Fisk, Jr., a double-ended ferryboat with a side paddlewheel, is typical of the steamers that sailed the Hudson River and Long Island Sound in the 19th and 20th centuries. Steamship James Fisk Jr. (65.60) was painted by American James Bard in 1870.

 

 The painting, oil on board, presents the port side of the white ship in careful detail. She is a proud ship, showing her patriotism through the colorful American flags flying from every part of her deck. Like other of Bard’s paintings, it is drawn to scale and so accurate that it is said shipbuilders could rebuild their boats by studying a work such as this. The ship in the background is the Bristol. Railroad magnate Jim Fisk, a powerful financier whose colorful life ended in a scandalous shooting, owned both ships. But that is a different story. 

 

Before Robert Fulton’s Claremont made its trip up the Hudson in 1807, quiet, graceful sailing ships provided the means of travel over water and the inspiration for artists. The new steamships, with noisy engines, billowing smoke and splashing paddle wheels. changed the sound and look of the river forever.  The Hudson became one of the major arteries of the new country, carrying goods between Albany and New York City, taking the latest fashions up river, and lumber and farm produce down.  More important, the steamboats made travel easier, and passengers rather than goods became the ship owners’ main concern.

 

Two artists who specialized in painting these vessels were James and John Bard, twin brothers born in New York City in 1815. Self-taught, they painted their first picture when they were 12, and for years they worked in close collaboration. Both frequently used the signature J. Bard, or J & J Bard, and it is difficult to tell who painted a particular work. It is thought that James probably supplied the drawings and John the color, figures and backgrounds, though this is pure supposition. The last paintings jointly signed were dated 1849. Apparently the brothers went in separate ways after that date, and John died in 1856.

 

Paintings signed by James alone appeared from 1850 on. As shipbuilding increased, so did the demand for ship paintings. James painted Reindeer, then the fastest ship on the Hudson, in 1850.   A year later owner Thomas Collyer commissioned him to paint the Henry Clay, which had succeeded Reindeer as fastest and most popular. James was now painting most of the important boats launched, and he maintained a clientele of the important steamboat owners, captains, and leading shipbuilders of the time, both on the River and on Long Island Sound. He made drawings of every steamboat built around the port of New York.  No other painter of ships was as esteemed by the shipbuilding gentry as was Bard.

 

An American primitive painter, Bard was not concerned with competing with the academic artists of his time. He wanted   only   to   present   the   ships   he  was  painting   as  realistically as possible, and he painted them in minute detail.

 

He seems to have begun each work with a sketch of the ship’s hull up to the main deck, choosing whatever length suited his paper or the client’s specifications.  Then he divided the length of the main deck into equal sections, based on the actual length of the vessel. (In many of his drawings his measuring marks can be seen.)  Having carefully worked up his drawing on paper, he would submit it to his client for corrections, if any.  Once approval was given, he would proceed with the painting of the final work.

 

Apparently he did his coloring in the studio rather than from real life, for his drawings include color notes arrowed in to the actual objects to be colored. Sometimes he would write a separate paragraph for his own guidance, such as the following from the drawing of the towboat Eliza Hancox:  “The deck rail is flesh couler , the Fender or guard is Indian red. Blinds in Pilate House yellow.  Wheil (wheel) tops yellow, upper deck yellow. Working Beam is oak.”

 

Generally Bard finished his work in oil on canvas, though sometimes he would color the preliminary drawing with tempera or watercolors; some have been colored faintly with crayon. As many as 450 of his works are known to be in museums or privately owned.

 

The characteristics of a Bard painting are so definite that even an unsigned work can be easily recognized.  He showed his subjects broadside, on the port side, to avoid painting any but the simplest perspective. A Bard hallmark is the unusual, almost bubbly, stippling of the water at the ship’s bow. Undefined trees and hills, occasionally dotted with two-dimensional houses, make up the setting of the picture.  Nearly all buildings are the same size, no matter how far away they seem to be.  It seems as though he deliberately created neutral backgrounds so that his ships would stand out in the composition.

 

When he introduced figures into his canvases, they were often strange characters in high silk hats and long black coats, men with short legs and long bodies who look uncomfortable and out of place on shipboard. In his later paintings he avoided showing people, often only a man at the wheel. Occasionally he omitted even the pilot, showing a vessel apparently guiding itself.

 

Bard lived until 1897. His last painting was a portrait of the ship Saugerties, done in 1890 and signed “J. Bard N. Y. 75 years.”  Painting ships was not a lucrative business. Despite his large body of work, his last years were lean ones during which he survived only through the help of his daughter, a seamstress. His legacy was a maritime history, an incomparable pictorial record of the imagination and skill of shipbuilders and of Hudson River shipping in the 19th century.

 

Sources: Jean Lipman and Tom Armstrong, eds, American Folk Painters of Three Centuries, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980; curatorial files.


THE FASCINATING GEORGE LUKS

by Joan K. Yanni

February 2003 
 

Drinker, braggart, teller of tall tales, George Luks was the colorful bad boy of The Eight. But in his paintings he captured the pain and the joy of the streets, presenting his characters with a realistic but always sympathetic eye.

 

Luks was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1866, the son of a physician and his wife, both of whom were amateur painters. His early years were spent in Shenandoah, a small coal-mining town in eastern Pennsylvania, and he moved to Philadelphia in 1883. It is often hard to separate fact from fiction in details of his life, since his stories varied, but he insisted that he and his brother performed in vaudeville in the early Philadelphia years, in a Laurel and Hardy type comedy act, for George was short and stocky, his brother tall and thin.

 

His art training apparently began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There are no records of the years he attended the school, but he reported to a former curator there that Thomas Anshutz, who taught at the Academy and was the successor of Thomas Eakins, was the best teacher he ever had. Around 1885 he went to Europe, attending the Dusseldorf Academy in Germany and later studying intermittently in Paris and London.  MAG’s London Cabby (51.9) was painted in 1889 on one of his London trips.

 

The record is clear that in 1894 Luks became an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Press, where he met Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens and Everett Shinn.  Late in 1895 he went to Cuba to cover the Cuban uprising against Spain for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. He sent back drawings that  were made a safe distance from the action—supposedly in a bar where he listened to stories of action at the front—and when the Bulletin terminated him, he joined the staff of the New York World.

 

At the World he found his true calling.  Luks was a superb draughtsman, and the World had just lost the artist who had been drawing the comic strip The Yellow Kid to a rival paper. Luks was assigned to continue the strip. For several years he worked as a cartoonist, also drawing Hogan’s Alley and McFadden’s Flats. The work appealed to his lazy side, too, for he could produce a lively, readable strip in half the time it would have taken most artists.

 

In 1897 his friends Glackens and Shinn joined him on the World.  Glackens, though working as an illustrator, had decided on a career as a painter, and he encouraged Luks to paint. Luks made amazing progress, filling sketchbooks with studies of colorful characters from the world of social outcasts—dockworkers, slum children, and derelicts.  Soon he was turning out dark, strongly brushed canvases similar to those of Glackens and Henri but more brutally realistic than theirs.  He was influenced more by Frans Hals and the 17th- century Dutch painters than by his friends and contemporaries. He claimed that “There are only two great artists in the world: Frans Hals and little old George Luks.”  Did he really believe it?  Probably not, but it was a good way to raise hackles.

 

Luks and his friends exhibited at the National Art Club in 1904, an exhibit that clearly showed Luks’s powerful realism.  Some of the strongest work of his career was painted during this time: The Spielers, two young girls in dowdy clothes dancing joyfully together; The Wrestlers, a painting in which the two contestants show the pain and determination of the sport; Hester Street, with its pushcarts and vendors. He was driven by a deep-seated urge to present the people of the streets in paint.  MAG’s Boy with Dice (74.104) is the picture of a young boy, probably homeless, in shabby clothes, a cigarette between his lips, a die in his hand and a shoeshine box on his back. Yet the boy is strangely appealing; he elicits compassion rather than condemnation.

 

By the time The Eight (Henri, Luks, Glackens, Shinn, Sloan, Davies, Lawson, and Prendergast) exhibited in 1908, Luks was one of the most powerful realists of the group, yet always sympathetic to his sitters. He boasted, as usual: “I can paint with a shoestring dipped in pitch and lard…Guts! Guts! Life! Life! That’s my technique.”  Shoestring or not, Luks was equally adept in watercolor and in oils. The accuracy in his work is perhaps a carryover from his days as a newspaper artist.

 

In 1910 he had his first one-man show, and in 1913 he sent paintings and drawings to the Armory Show—the exhibit that shocked America and American artists with European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism, techniques they had neither seen nor imagined. Americans who sought recognition for their own work were overshadowed by the foreign section.  Art in America was never the same.

 

After the Armory Show, though not necessarily because of it, Luks’s art moved into a more colorful and more solid phase, varied in mood and expression. Around 1925 he went back to his beginnings in the coal regions for a time and painted watercolors of miners’ shacks and oils such as The Miner, a large study of a seated, brooding worker signed  “George Luks, Pottsville, Pa.,” now in the National Gallery. He also created a large mural of a legend, Necho Allen Discovering Coal, which was the highlight of the largest—and one of the only—hotels in the town. During this period a wealthy art lover and landowner, who sold mining land to coal companies, supported him. In the coal region Luks continued to boast and brawl.  Usually he would start a barroom argument and, when all the members at the bar had loudly joined in, he would disappear and let the fighting go on without him. Claims that he had been a boxer who fought under the names of “Chicago Whitey”and “Lusty Luks” deceived nobody.

 

Luks taught for several years at the Art Students League, then founded his own school where he worked alongside loyal students who delighted in the “rowdy oldster.” Throughout his life he found people in all walks of life to whom he was attracted and who were fascinated by him.  He had an uncommon interest in people of all ages and situations.     

 

Brawling finally caught up with him. His beaten body was discovered one morning in 1933 in a New York City doorway, a tragic end to a uniquely talented American artist.

 

 Source: Perlman, Bennard, The Immortal Eight; curatorial files.


LOUISE NEVELSON, INNOVATOR

by Libby Clay

March 2003
 

Memories of the artist Louise Nevelson (1900-1988) conjure up a woman with exotic eye make-up and scarf-wrapped head who created distinctive assemblages, painted black, white or gold. Dawn’s Landscape XL, an anonymous loan, is painted white, a treatment Nevelson associated with stillness, as at daybreak.  Each of the many pieces of wood in her “boxes” was chosen by her to relate to the piece next to it.  When composing a sculpture she worked at a feverish pace, lest she lose her instinctive relationship with the wood—scavenged from the streets, lumber yards and furniture factories.  She “knew” where each scrap should go, and eating and sleeping were put off until she had completed a work. 

 

At the age of four and a half, Louise Berliawsky emigrated from Russia to Rockland, Maine, with her mother, sister, and brother.  Her father had preceded them and had set up a lumber yard from which he built houses. She followed the process of his building their own house, learning from him about different woods and techniques.  Once the house was built, Louise’s favorite chore was rearranging furniture. Spatial relationships fascinated her.

 

She always knew she was an artist.  She drew constantly and was so good that her high school art teacher did not believe, at first, that her work was her own.  The teacher was so impressed by Louise’s talent that she gave her private lessons and encouraged her to attend an art school in a nearby town.

 

After graduation from high school Louise met Charles Nevelson, a young man from New York whose family had a shipping business in Rockland. Nevelson wooed and won the beautiful dark-eyed young girl and they married.  In New York, a city she loved more than anywhere else, Louise studied music, drama and dance.  She also began afternoon classes at the Art Students League.  Eventually a son, Myron, called “Mike,” was born. Although she was devoted to Mike, her marriage did not last.  Her artistic self always dominated her domestic self.

 

Her mother, herself unhappily married and unfulfilled, urged Louise to leave Mike with her in Maine and go to Munich to study with Hans Hofmann. This was 1931. Hofmann, Louise had been told, was the one person who could teach her to understand cubism and the works of Picasso and Matisse.  Indeed, her drawings at this time, stressing line, were very much like Matisse. Hofmann stressed the mysterious quality of creation itself, the intuitive aspect of art, and this was the relationship Louise would have with her sculptures.  Hofmann’s “push-pull” theory proposed that shadow was as valid as light, and this light/shadow relationship would be the reason she eventually painted her sculptures.

 

Back in New York in the mid-1930s, Nevelson was stimulated by the artistic community and continued to produce drawings and paintings, but not yet sculpture. She knew John Flannagan, with whose wife she studied dancing. The popular Diego Rivera was in New York, painting the Rockefeller murals. He and his wife Frieda Kahlo were charming hosts to many artists, and Rivera was a “soft touch” for money for poorer colleagues. An evening’s entertainment might be a group of these artists creating a painting on a restaurant tablecloth with wine, colored sugar, salt—whatever was available 

  

Nevelson soon began to turn to sculpture, which she considered a form of drawing.  At first she worked in clay, but that became more and more expensive.  After World War II, there was a great surge of renovation and remodeling, and New York streets were a repository for discarded bits of architectural material, furniture, and odd bits of wood.  She became an inveterate scavenger, hauling as much home as she could.  One day she found a number of liquor crates, and these became the genesis of her assemblages; she filled them with carefully selected, related pieces of wood.  Eventually she got the idea of dipping the pieces in matte black paint before placing them in the boxes. This way she could see their form. She called them “table-top landscapes.”                                                          

                                                          

The artist’s 30th Street home, all four floors of it, was filled with pieces of neatly stacked wood, her raw materials, and completed works. Sometimes she would save a piece of wood for years, until the time when it would be “just right” for one of her sculptures. Eventually, to make room, she got rid of all her furniture save her bed, bedding and a red refrigerator.

 

She had this to say about her work: “When I pick up a piece to put in a piece, it’s living and waiting for that piece. You don’t just break a thing and put it in… That’s why I pick up old wood that had a life, that cars have gone over and the nails have been crushed…you’re taking a discarded, beat-up piece that was no use to anyone and you place it in a position where it goes to beautiful places…museums, libraries, universities, big private houses…those old pieces of wood have a history and drama.”

 

Louise Nevelson was unique.  She was an artist to the core. She saw, thought and felt as an artist. Even her dress declared that.  She wore no make-up save three pairs of false eyelashes glued together.  She felt naked without them. She wore beautiful scarves on her head and chose combinations of clothing that mixed both fabrics and time periods, but it worked for her. She was very feminine, yet it never occurred to her that she might not be accepted in the male-dominated art world of her time.

 

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Just as the contents of Nevelson’s sculptures relate to each other, so does Dawn’s Landscape XL relate to other art in the gallery.  First, there is Hans Hofmann’s Ruby Gold as an example of an early influence that later translated into the shadow of her boxes.  Across from it are Ilya Bolotowsky’s Untitled (Relational Painting), David Smith’s Big Diamond and Alexander Calder’s Untitled Mobile.  These all contain shapes that relate to each other.  John Flannagan’s Fawn is an example of the use of another kind of found material, and O’Keeffe’s Jawbone and Fungus translates found objects into painting.  On the other side of the gallery is Lionel Feininger’s Zirchow VI, an example of cubism. There, too, is Joseph Cornell’s The Admiral’s Game. (See Joan Yanni’s article in the May 2002 Newsletter.)  Peto’s Articles Hung on a Door is an example of things that had former life, just as Nevelson’s wood had. Finally, as you stand in front of Dawn’s Landscape XL, look at the shadows the pieces create.  Look at the depth the shadows create. Would you have lit this piece differently?  At what height would you hang it in your home? Would you want to dust it?

 

Source: Dawns + Dusks, Louise Nevelson; taped conversations with Diana MacKown, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1976.


MARSDEN HARTLEY, “MAINEIAC”

by Joan K. Yanni

April 2003 

 

Marsden Hartley, who painted MAG’s Waterfall, Morse Pond (65.57), was a talented, restless intellectual who was interested in everything.  His first paintings were pictures of the Maine landscape, some impressionistic in style, others in flattened shapes and distorted color.  He went to Europe and tested all the “isms” of modern art, then came full circle and, at the end of his life, was again painting the mystery and beauty of his beloved Maine.

 

He was born Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine, in 1877, the youngest and only son among nine children of English immigrants.  His mother died when he was eight, his father remarried, and the family moved to Cleveland, where Hartley won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art.  An avid reader and poet as well as a painter, he loved the writings of Emerson and Whitman and the mystical paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder. He moved to New York City in 1899, studied at the (William Merritt) Chase School and the National Academy of Design and adopted his stepmother’s maiden name, Marsden.

 

His roots in Maine provided continuity in his life. After art school he began painting in Maine where he produced a series of romantic and somewhat mysterious landscapes.  When the young painter returned to New York City, Arthur B. Davies and Alfred Steiglitz noted his obvious talent. Steiglitz gave him his first one-man show at the 291 Gallery, where Hartley discovered the work of Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne, whose work Stieglitz was showing at 291.

 

Always exploring new ideas, Hartley tried his hand at Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Fauvism and was successful at all of it. Steiglitz encouraged him to go to Europe, and he left for Paris in 1912. Here he experimented with Cubism and Dada. Again his talent and intellectual curiosity captured attention, and he was invited to become a member of Gertrude Stein’s circle, where modern writers and artists assembled to exchange ideas. 

 

He moved to Germany in 1913, where he became something of a celebrity and was befriended by Kandinsky and Franz Marc; Marc invited him to join the Expressionists in an exhibit of Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group

 

 Berlin liberated Hartley, and he did some of his best work there. A closet homosexual at a time when even the word wasn’t spoken in polite society, he fell in love with Karl von Freyburg, a German soldier, and showed his elation by painting Cubist works made up of German helmets, flags and military symbols in vivid colors and sensuous paint. Unfortunately, his happiness did not last; von Freyburg was killed early in the war and Hartley was despondent. His bright Cubist paintings continued, but in memory of von Freyburg he added the initials KvF and an iron cross, given posthumously to his lover, in his paintings.  Politics and war forced Hartley to return to New York City in 1915.


Back home, though his work was still acclaimed, he was not
the celebrity that he had been in Berlin.  His paintings were

seen to be pro-German in an America that was getting ready to enter the war. His work had become truly non-objective and geometric—work that was not understood or appreciated. He was about ten years head of his time. He felt alone and unpopular. He began to wander, artistically and geographically, for the next twenty years. He went to Mexico, the Bavarian Alps, back to Maine.  He produced Cubist still lifes, Cézannesque landscapes, and blocky forms outlined in black, reminiscent of the paintings of Max Beckmann.

 

Hartley finally decided to settle in Maine in the late 1930s; he was back home. He had been criticized for spending years in Europe and producing French and German scenes. Now he decided to promote the place he loved: Maine. Though the exhibitions of his Maine paintings at 291 did not win the acclaim he sought, he continued to paint New England people and places. Regionalism, a movement that extols the beauty of the American land and rural subjects, had become popular in the 1920s and ‘30s with the paintings of Benton, Curry and Wood. Hartley made Maine his region: “I wish to declare myself the painter from Maine,” he said. “I’m a Maineiac.”

 

He painted expressive, contemplative seascapes, images of the rocky Maine coast, the deep woods, Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest elevation, and Maine people—fishermen, hunters and robust young construction workers. His style had become strong and direct, with blocky, powerful forms in glowing colors—tangible greens, browns and rusts contrasted with light blues and whites of the sky and water.  The paintings of his last years are some of his best, with dense color, swift brush strokes and an emotional impact. Though he was alone and  almost penniless, he was at last able to stop seeking new styles and to paint the vigorous landscapes conveying his strong feelings for nature.

 

MAG’s painting is from these last years. A rushing waterfall cascades over rocks and fallen logs. Autumn leaves in deep oranges, reds and browns are divided by the white cascading waterfall. A narrow band of blue sky at the top of the painting presents a contrast to the dark leaves. The images in the painting are arranged in a strong pyramid.

 

Art historian Margaret MacDougall (daughter of Rochestarian Peggy Post) made a trip last year (11/02) to look for Hartley’s Morse Pond. After some difficulty with pronunciation (natives say “Moss Pond”) and in finding a native old enough to remember the exact location, she found the pond and the waterfall, still exactly as Hartley had painted it. It is located near Bingham, an hour north of Skowhegan. She photographed it in the same spot where Hartley had stood to paint it. Read her description and see the photograph on the MAG website: http://mag.rochester.edu

 

Sources: Peter Schjeldahl, “The Searcher,” in The New Yorker, February 3, 2003, review of Hartley retrospective at Wadsworth Atheneum, 1/17-4/13 2003; curatorial files.


LIONEL FEININGER’S CUBISM

by Joan K. Yanni

 May 2003
 

Zirchow VI (46.38) is again on view.  The cubist painting by Lyonel Feininger has been installed in the 20th-century gallery near the auditorium corridor.

 

The painting is not the static cubism we often associate with Braque or Picasso, but a dynamic study in tones of green accented by black, beige and gray architectural facades, arranged so that the eye travels upward to a brick-red spire of a gothic church tower. The work gives the impression of diagonal forms in space—sharp, precise angles and flat planes which fit together to present Zirchow, a medieval German town. Alois J. Schardt, Feininger’s biographer, has called the contrast between the prismatic green forms at the bottom of the painting and the thrusting red tower “a symbol of man’s striving toward security and freedom.”

 

Feininger (1871-1956) was born in New York to a father who was a professional violinist and a mother who was a concert pianist.  He was trained as a violinist, and as a teenager went to Germany to study music. Once in Hamburg, however, he enrolled in a drawing class that awakened an interest in art and led to further classes at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. He did not completely abandon music, however, and throughout his life he composed and played. 

 

From 1893 to 1907 he was a prominent illustrator and satirical cartoonist for German periodicals.  His work also appeared in the United States, first for Harpers Round Table then in the comic strips “The Kin-der-Kids” and “Wee Willie Winkie’s World" for the Chicago Sunday Tribune. He developed a flat, decorative style that he carried over to his early paintings.

 

Feininger spent two years in Paris in the early 1900s and became acquainted with avant-garde painters Jules Pascin and Robert Delauney. In 1907 he began serious painting, and even though he returned to Germany, his work reflected the influences of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and particularly Delauney.

Most of his early oil paintings are street scenes with numerous figures that combine a sensitive use of line and shape with the bold colors favored by the Fauves and his fellow Berlin Secessionists.

 

He was first introduced to Cubism at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911. Their method of overlaying planes and echoing forms fascinated him, though he concentrated on landscapes rather than interiors. Back in Germany he joined with major German Expressionist groups including Die Brucke and Der Blaue Reiter with whom he exhibited in 1913.

 

By then his work had developed into cubist fragmentation, but he broke up surfaces more dynamically and less analytically than many of the early cubists. He experimented with light, space and color, sometimes picturing movement through sequences of planes as was done by the Futurists.  (Remember Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash?)

  

In 1918 he began working with woodcuts, a medium he was to use for some of his most spontaneous and delightful work.  Around this time he met Walter Gropius, the architect who established the Bauhaus, the center for design studies, in Weimar. Gropius asked Feininger to join the faculty and to head its first printmaking shop. Feininger’s prints, especially woodcuts, enhanced many Bauhaus publications. Here Feininger’s skills as a painter evolved, and his landscapes often featured architectural motifs. Feininger remained with the school as instructor and later as artist-in-residence until it was closed by the Nazis in 1933.

 

By 1921 he had begun to paint monumental canvases of soaring steeples and expansive seascapes in which natural forms dissolved into planes of light; his style combined expressionism and cubism. In 1924, with Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky, Feininger joined the Blue Four, which made its debut at the Charles Daniel Gallery in New York. Their work was exhibited widely. Feininger’s change from teacher to artist-in-residence at the Bauhaus gave him more time to paint, and important recognition in the United States came when he was included in MOMA’s Paintings by 19 Living Americans in 1929. During the next years he was honored by major exhibitions in New York and in Germany. Some of his works at this time reflected his continuing love for music; indeed, he composed 13 fugues for organ during these years.

 

His paintings in the mid-1930s had begun to show an unsettling depression, attributable to the spread of Fascism over Europe. His successes in Germany were ended when the Nazis displayed his and other modern art in a show of “degenerates”.and banned them from museums. Some of Feininger’s paintings, including Zirchow VI, were sold at auction in Zurich.

 

In 1936 Feininger left Germany and began teaching at Mills College in California, then resettled permanently in New York City.  But except for doing murals for two buildings at the World’s Fair in 1938, he did not paint again for two years.

 

Transplanting himself at 66 had not been easy, but during the 1940s and early 50s he had a burst of creative energy.  The rough texture and subdued color of his late German work had carried over into his first American paintings, but he began to personalize the energy and forms of his adopted city, as in Manhattan I. Encouraged by Kurt Valentin and by major prizes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Worcester Museum of Art in Massachusetts, his confidence gradually returned. His early, superimposed planes were replaced by freely applied color areas, spontaneous, darting lines, and a radiance of color.  In 1945 he accepted his former Bauhaus colleague Josef Albers’s invitation to serve as guest instructor at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. Late in his career he was elected president of the Federation of American Painters and Sculptors and honored with membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in New York City in 1956.

 

Source: Curatorial files, Grove Encyclopedia of Art, Encyclopedia of American Art.


MARK TOBEYS WHITE WRITING

by Joan K. Yanni

June, July, August 2003
 

Mark Tobey’s Prairie Red (69.43) is a somewhat mysterious painting, having little to do with prairies or with red—though there are some red tones in the background and in the curved calligraphic-like brush strokes on its surface. At first glance the painting seems flat; but as we look, the surface comes forward and the background recedes, as though the curved lines are floating above dark space. The calligraphic “white writing” created by Tobey gives the work an oriental feeling.

The work was painted in 1965 in tempera on paper.

 

Mark Tobey was born in Centerville, Wisconsin, in 1890, and grew up in various towns in the Midwest. His only formal art training was at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he went on weekends while he was in high school. The family moved to Chicago in 1909, where, because of his father’s illness, Tobey had to give up his studies and find work. His interest in art continued, and even when not taking classes, he frequented the Art Institute, where he was especially attracted to Italian Renaissance paintings and to the works of Hals, Sargent and Sorolla y Bastida. 

 

In 1911 he moved to New York where he worked as a fashion illustrator for McCall’s Magazine. He returned to Chicago in 1913, still working as a fashion illustrator but developing a reputation for portrait drawings in charcoal. Though he was talented enough to show his portraits in a one-man exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery in New York, he did not decide immediately to pursue an artistic career, but began working as an interior decorator.

 

In 1918 he converted to the Bahá’i faith, which teaches the unity of all religions and the spiritual bond between nature, art, science and personal life. It promotes the abolition of racial and religious prejudices, the equality of sexes, and universal education, as well as the progressive revelation of God through a series of prophets. Bahá’i had a deep and permanent effect on him.

 

Tobey moved to Seattle in 1922, where he taught at the Cornish School, experimented with the overlapping technique of Cubism, and met the Chinese painter Deng Kui, who taught him the rudiments of Chinese calligraphy. Dissatisfied with his work and looking for new challenges, he traveled to Europe, visiting the Louvre and meeting Gertrude Stein and her circle.

 

During 1931-38, after the onset of the Depression threatened his teaching job in Seattle, he took a position as resident artist at Dartington Hall, a progressive school in Devonshire, England. Here he met literary figures such as Aldous Huxley and Rabindranath Tagore who furthered his interest in Asian art, literature and mysticism. While at Dartington he regularly traveled to Asia and the near East, studying Persian drawing and further investigating calligraphy with Deng Kui in Shanghai. His travels included a stay at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Kyoto.
                                      

His work up to this point had been figurative, but as early as 1935 he began making paintings consisting of an intricate series of white, curving lines with flashes of color showing through. With a painting entitled Broadway (1936) he began to abandon both the use of traditional perspective as well as the multiple perspectives of Cubism. Broadway creates the illusion of space and lights flashing at night in Manhattan’s theater district through quick, mostly white, brush strokes over a dark, multi-colored background. He had begun to create a world of space through the movement of linear and circular lines over a dark, abstract background. His “white writing,” though derived from calligraphy, was used as a decorative part of his paintings rather than a representation of actual symbols.

 

Throughout the 1940s he developed his “white writing” in such works as Red Man, White Man, Black Man and E Pluribus Unum, both designed to show the unity among individuals in keeping with the Bahá’i tenets. The “white writing” in the paintings seems to connect the barely perceptible human figures in parts of the canvas.

 

Tobey’s use of an overall calligraphy anticipated American abstract expressionism and no doubt influenced Jackson Pollock, who almost certainly had seen Tobey’s all-over coverage of his canvases, although Tobey painted while Pollock poured. Though he interacted with members of the New York School, Tobey remained an individualist with personal vision and oriental mysticism inherent in his work.

 

After continuous travel between New York, Seattle and Europe, in 1960 Tobey decided to settle in Basel, Switzerland, where he remained until his death. His later career was built on dynamic light, space, and motion. In response to museum pressure, he increased the size of his paintings, but his style remained constant.

 

Toward the end of his life, Tobey won international acclaim for his work.  He became the first American since James McNeill Whistler to win the Painting Prize at the Venice Biennale, an award he won in 1959. In 1961 he had a retrospective showing at the Louvre, an extraordinary tribute to a living artist. These achievements were followed by a major exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1962 and in 1974 another major show at the National Gallery in Washington. He died in Basel in 1976.

 

Tobey said of his work, “My sources of inspiration have gone from those of my native Middle West to those of microscopic worlds.” He also pointed out that from the study of calligraphy he discovered an “impulse that has opened out new horizons for my work. Now I could paint the turmoil and tumult of the great cities, the intertwining of the lights and the streams of people caught up in the mesh of their net.”

  

Source: Curatorial files, Grove Dictionary of Art, E, P. Dutton, publisher, Encyclopedia of American Art.


FREILICHER’S LANDSCAPE

by Cynthia Goldstein

September 2003

 

A lovely landscape seen through a window? Look again—and again. Oh, it’s a painting of a painting! Leaning against a yellow wall is a large painting. Broad areas of violet, blue, green and gold represent sky, sea, grass, trees.  All is calm. It is summer. In the foreground, echoing the shapes and colors of the landscape, is a table holding a plant. This is the world of Jane Freilicher. The painting is View over Mecox (Yellow Wall) (99.1).

 

Born in Brooklyn in 1924, daughter of a linguist father and a pianist mother, Freilicher never strayed far from her roots.  She earned her Bachelor of Art degree from Brooklyn College and an MA from Teachers’ College at Columbia University.

 

In addition to her academic studies, she studied with Hans Hofmann.  About her experience with the painter she said, “I never think of Hofmann’s famous ‘push-pull’ consciously, but I always have a sense of the surface of the painting as something alive and vibrant.”  Despite experimenting with abstract expressionism, Freilicher remained figurative in her work. “In the ‘50s,” she said, “there was a lot of pressure to be abstract—it was the thing to be, and there were a lot of people who thought it was a cop-out or a weakness not to paint abstractly…But I felt that I was doing something that was natural to me…I had to have something  to relate to besides myself…I’m quite willing to sacrifice fidelity to the subject to the vitality of the  image, a sensation of the quick, lively blur of reality as it is apprehended rather than analyzed.  I like to work on that borderline—opulent beauty in a homespun environment.”

 

And what is Freilicher’s “homespun environment”? Her landscapes reflect the atmosphere and colors that she can see close to her summer studio in Water Mill, near Mecox Bay, at the eastern tip of Long Island.  Many of her paintings are framed by a window looking out on the landscape.

 

When America was young, history paintings and portraits were highly prized.  Fields and forests were not considered important artistic subjects.  When those fields and forests began to disappear in the nineteeneth century, painters celebrated America as an earthly Paradise, a virgin, unspoiled land. Thomas Cole (1801-1848), father of American landscapes, said “Where once there was beauty, there now is barrenness.  We are still in Eden—the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly.”  He wrote in 1841, lamenting the destruction of trees, “Our doom is near.  We feed ten thousand fires…the woodland growth of centuries is consumed.” He later wrote, “If I live to be old enough, I may sit down under some bush—the last left in the utilitarian world—and feel thankful that intellect in its march has spared one vestige of the ancient forest for me to die by.”   Who bought Cole’s paintings? Many were people living in crowded cities who had grown up in the country and were nostalgic for the natural beauty he portrayed.           

 

These landscapes, uninhabited and limitless in the nineteenth century, have now been replaced by evidence of people living on the land: a bridge, a fence, a house—or a window frame.

                                              

But in View over Mecox (Yellow Wall) Jane Freilicher chose to paint not a scene seen through a window, but a painting of a painting of her much-loved landscape.

 

Look again—and again.

 

Other comments on Freilicher’s works:

 

Jane Freilicher, a longtime resident of Long Island, knows her subjects of fields, trees, and strips of land right down to the details of twigs and grass and flowers.  That knowledge and affinity emerge from the aura of the works, not from details which she almost seems to abhor.  She prefers to omit rather than include in her works…”

                         David Shirley, New York Times, 9/21/80

 

“…the landscape of Long Island has come to resemble a Freilicher painting…a Freilicher landscape has the ability to alter our perception of what we see…what must happen in a Freilicher painting is light.  She calls it ‘voltage’ when she keys up the color so the painting just doesn’t describe light, it glows.”

                          Amei Wallach, Newsday, 9/14/86

 

“Of all the contemporary artists who have been working to sustain the traditions of still life and landscape painting, none may be more respected and influential than Jane Freilicher.  If Freilicher cares passionately about her Long Island landscape, she still keeps herself at a distance from it.  We invariably look at a scene through a window.  As lush and seductive as grass and brush may be, we almost never feel that we could plunge into it.”

                    Michael Brenson, New York Times, 9/21/86   

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Wolf Kahn (MAG Evening Glow), Neil Welliver (MAG Dead Pine), and Jane Freilicher all paint familiar places—their own environments.  Welliver paints his beloved Maine woods. Wolf Kahn, who also studied with Hans Hofmann, paints the area of Vermont where he lives.  While his subject might be a field or trees, it is his color which defines his landscapes.  Kahn said, ‘I try to keep alive a traditional landscape spirit in the face of the most outrageous colors.”

 Source: Curatorial files, Architectural Digest 6/96;  “Artwork of the ‘80s” Collections of the Castellani Art Museum

 


TANG DYNASTY HORSE

by Sydney Greaves

October 2003
 

In the excitement surrounding the new Gill Center, connections between Ancient Egypt and the rest of our collection will play a large part in engaging MAG visitors. In that spirit, let us examine…

 

…our lovely Chinese ceramic Horse (30.26), standing placidly but boldly, head held high. His molded bridle and saddle are painted in the beautiful three-color glazing known as sancai (sahn-kie), made from copper and iron oxides added to clear glazes. Large clay figures like this were produced from molds, usually in several pieces, and often in multiple versions or poses. Our Horse was acquired in a group with two other horses (currently in storage), one with arched neck, dancing front legs, and bared teeth, the other  bending his neck forward to nibble at his front hoof. Arranged and displayed as a group, their different temperaments and poses would enhance the individuality and personality of each animal.

 

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) is known as a golden age of Ancient China. Following  400 years of rule by foreign occupation (remember the Intermediate Periods in Ancient Egypt!) the Tang was a period of strong central government, stability, prosperity, and flourishing arts under a native Chinese leadership. Exposure to Western art, cultures, and goods along the Silk Road had a great influence.  The newly-introduced fashion for tea-drinking, with all its necessary accoutrements, led to great experimentation with ceramics and glazes in order to produce tea–worthy vessels, leading to such innovations as the sancai glazes and eventually the development of true porcelain at the end of the dynasty.

 

The horse was quite rare in China prior to this time.  It is estimated that there were only about 5000 horses in all of China around 618. Admiration for the magnificent Bactrian or Turkmene horse breed from western Asia inspired a massive acquisition effort led by the emperor himself. Breeding programs in China were rather unsuccessful, so the animals had to be purchased and imported.  One horse cost 40 bolts of silk cloth in the late 8th century! Despite the cost, the acquisitions were a success, raising the horse population to 706,000 in less than 50 years.

 

Horse ownership was limited to only the most noble and aristocratic classes, who rode them for hunting, the new game of polo and dance-like dressage performances (i.e. the Lipizzaner stallions of Austria). Their abilities in warfare, demonstrated with such deadly skill by nomadic raiders of the north like the Mongols, caused mounted cavalry to replace the chariot as the primary Chinese war machine.

 

In addition to the horse’s very real role in Chinese culture, it also developed a legendary status in Chinese mythology. Known as tianma (tee-ahn-mah), or heavenly horse, its true characteristics of speed, strength, and endurance were elevated to mythical proportions: the ability to run thousands of miles a day, sweat blood, and live indefinitely on almost no food or water. The tianma was also said to run so fast that  it could  fly up to heaven—thereby becoming transport for the hun soul to reach eternal paradise.  A similarly-dated horse figurine in the ROM in Toronto bears the inscribed name “Flying Wind,” the perfect name for a heavenly horse.

 

********

 

Belief in an Afterlife:   A continued spiritual existence and enjoyment of earthly pleasures such as food, possessions, music and occupations following the death of the earthly body was a fundamental aspect of the ancient Egyptian culture.  Early beliefs in China parallel those of the Egyptians in striking ways (however, this does not imply any connection or sharing of ideas between these two cultures, and examples are pointed out only for discussion purposes. It is important to remember that  in the case of both cultures, the objects that survive reflect only the wealthier classes—people who had the time, money, and resources to acquire these objects in the first place!

 

One surprising similarity between Egyptian and Chinese cultures is a dual-spirit that survives after bodily death , in both cases likely reflecting a reconciliation of regional ideas following a political union (remember the North-South unification of Dynastic Egypt).  In Chinese belief, this duality appears again and again in the concept of yin-yang—the two opposing forces/elements/aspects that together comprise the whole. The Chinese believed the po soul (yin) remained tied to earthly existence, while the hun soul (yang), departed for “heaven.” (a concept in China by 1700 B.C.E.) to eventually rejoin the universal energy force known as chi.  In order to keep the po from wandering and tormenting surviving relatives, compiling the necessary goods, fine figurines, and personal possessions for a well-furnished tomb occupied much of a person’s lifetime, and sometimes put a family in considerable debt.

 

This need to adequately sustain the earth-bound po soul led also to the very early, short-lived practice of live funerary sacrifice in both cultures.  Servants, animals, even family members were killed and buried in or near the tomb in order to accompany and serve the deceased in death as in life. This practice was quickly recognized as impractical, expensive, and wasteful (not to mention barbaric), and so in China these victims came to be replaced by figurines known as mingqi (ming-chee), objects produced specifically for the wealthy classes for funerary purposes. Like the Egyptian shawabti, these figures were made from baked clay, modeled and painted to fulfill the roles of courtiers, grooms, dancers, musicians and other servants for their noble master in the Afterlife.

 

It is all of these roles that our beautiful Horse once occupied in a Tang dynasty tomb.

 

Source: “The Horse in Chinese History: A Brief Overview,” www.ket.org/artof the horse/ed/history.htm ; Watson, William: The Arts of China to AD 900, Yale UP, 1995; Gallery Notes, v. n (Oct. 1930)


A NEOCLASSSICAL CLEOPATRA

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2003
 

The painting came on the European market at a time when the Gallery was interested in finding a 17th-century Neoclassical work to fill a void in its collection. Clearly this was a history painting, and a Neoclassical one at that. Its vivid colors, dramatic subject, and attention to detail attested to that fact.  But virtually nothing was known about the painting other than the artist’s name, written in small letters at the bottom right of the painting: BDuvivier 1789. What was its story? 

 

Examine the clues. The dominant men are soldiers—Romans, judging from their costumes. And the man in the foreground, with the elaborate helmet and sandals, is their leader. The man lying on the gilt bed is dying or dead—his grayish skin and the wound under his breast, without blood, suggests dead. 

 

Now look at the expressive hands in the painting. The hand of the woman at the center of the picture gets our attention immediately.  She is in distress; her fingers are spread out as though to ward off a blow or plead for help. The women in the background are covering their faces with their hands and fearfully slinking into the shadows; the man on the right, startled, has just knocked over a pitcher. These people look like servants. The hands of the Romans are strong, purposeful. One carries a sword; the other holds the woman’s arm. Look more closely and you will see a dagger in her hand. (Donald Rosenthal in his article in Porticus tells us that the artist was focused on the hands. Infra red photographs show that the central woman’s left forearm was moved from “an extended to an upright position to create greater central dramatic focus,” and the dying man’s “left arm and hand were moved to produce a more expressive pose.”)

 

Now examine the large basin on the floor near the body. Made of silver, it is decorated with gold Egyptian ibis figures.  What historical events involved both Rome and Egypt? Was the man on the right washing the body? And who is the  woman?  Is that a jeweled diadem or small crown on her head? It is, and she is Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. The man is Mark Antony, who went to Egypt to conquer, but fell in love with Cleopatra, married her, and deserted Rome. The Romans under Octavian Caesar have come to reclaim Egypt.

 

The happenings in the painting are not easy to identify because they are rarely pictured. Cleopatra has often been shown holding the dying Antony in her arms, but Cleopatra’s capture by the Romans is rarely the subject of a painting.  The incident is described by the Greek historian Plutarch in his Life of Mark Antony. As he tells it, after being defeated by Octavian in the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Antony and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt where Cleopatra locked herself in her “monument,” a fortified tomb. Antony, falsely told that Cleopatra had committed suicide, stabbed himself. He was brought to Cleopatra by his soldiers, and then died in her arms. As the Romans broke into the monument, Cleopatra attempted to stab herself, but the Roman Proculeius stopped her. And this is the moment pictured in our painting.

 

As is well known, Cleopatra did manage to commit suicide, legend says through the bite of a poisonous asp (brought to her by her servant in a basket of lunch?) The painting is fascinating, and tour groups, who have seen Romans on television or in the movies, enjoy playing detective, just as the curators at the Gallery did. Once the characters had been identified, the painting was named  Cleopatra Captured by Roman  Soldiers after the Death of Mark Amthony (84.40)

 

Johannes Berdardus Duvivier, called Bernard Duvivier, (1762-1837) was born in Bruges (Flanders). He first studied at the Academy in Bruges, where he painted genre scenes, seascapes, and allegorical themes. He went next to Paris, studying at the Paris Academy with Joseph-Benoit Suvée, whose archaeological settings and dramatic scenes were a marked influence on the younger painter, as were the works of Jacques Louis David.. In 1785 Duvivier  received second prize in the Prix de Rome competition for The Death of Camilla, a historical composition that showed the artist’s great promise.

 

Though Duvivier won a series of prizes, he attempted to win the Grand Prix three times, but was not successful. His works had captured the eye of a benefactor, however, who funded three years of study in Rome, beginning in 1789, the year the Cleopatra was painted and the beginning of the French Revolution. He remained there until 1793, then set out on a trip to Florence, Bologna, Venice and Milan with three friends.  He returned to Paris in 1796, when the Revolution had become less threatening, and became a French citizen.

 

Duvivier exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1793 to 1827, and showed drawings after famous works by Raphael, Correggio and Leonardo. He soon returned to painting, concentrating on a small picture based on Homer, Hector Mourned by the Trojans and His Family. A Danish critic praised the draftsmanship, expression, and color of the work, and noted that that the small painting (24x31 inches) contained forty–six well executed figures.

 

In his later career, Duvivier moved away from the time-consuming smaller pictures and exhibited larger historical and mythological works as well as a few landscapes and portraits. His reputation as a history painter, however, is confirmed by the numerous engravings and lithographs after his compositions, a few of which may have been made by the painter himself.

 

 His career after 1800 is difficult to follow. Auction catalogues and other publications of the period list dozens of paintings and drawings, but most cannot be traced. By the last year of his life he seems to have spent most of his time painting religious and mythological subjects, which were copied for publication by a variety of engravers and litho-graphers.  He was appointed a professor at the École Normale in Paris in 1832 and died in Paris in November of 1837.

 

Source: Curatorial files, Donald Rosenthal, “A Cleopatra by Bernard Duvivier,” Porticus 8 (1985), Susan Dodge Peters, editor, Memorial Art Gallery, Introduction to the Collection.


NY-USER-RA REJOINED

by Betsy Brayer

December 2003—January 2004
 

“One plus one equals one,” read the eye-catching headline.

 

In 1972, a royal portrait bust of an unknown Egyptian king, which had been in the AG collection for thirty years, suddenly gained identity and description in articles in the New York Times and Time magazine,  The bust also acquired the cast of the torso and feet--the bottom two thirds--from which it had been  separated thousands of years previously.

 

The Gallery’s involvement began in 1942 with the purchase of an eleven-inch-high portrait bust from the estate of Vladimir Gregorievitch Simkhovitch, professor of economic history at Columbia University.  The Aswan-granite figure had been broken at the elbow with the right arm bent above the break line and holding a mace. Assumed to be from a larger statue, it had been found by Simkhovitch’s expedition to the Temple of Amun at Karnak in   1922.

 

The scholarly sleuth who put the king back together again was Egyptologist Bernard V. Bothmer, curator of ancient art at the Brooklyn Museum, who had been “on this case.” as she put it, for twenty years.  While lecturing in Rochester in 1952, Bothmer stopped by the Gallery and “noticed in the small Egyptian collection the head and shoulders from a royal sculpture which appeared to date from the Old Kingdom. “At that time,” Bothmer wrote in 1974, “I jotted down a summary description of the piece and, as had long been my habit, noted not only the customary measurements but the dimensions of the break as well.: He also photographed the bust from all four sides and then forgot about it for eighteen years. “As so often happens with one’s notes, not much was done with them.”  However, in those 1952 notes, Bothmer observed the sculpture’s remarkable similarity to the head of a complete statue of Ny-user-ra in Cairo.” Several years later, Bothmer saw another related royal bust on view in the Musée National at Beirut, and fifteen years after that, in 1970, he had the chance to study and measure it closely. Then a footnote in Vandier’s Manual beginning “Le Musée du Caire possede une seconde statue de Nioussere” caught Bothmer’s eye, and soon he was rummaging through the vast uncataloged storerooms of the Cairo Museum.

 

Vandier and then Bothmer had found a headless torso “representing the king, standing, in the position of marching” languishing in Cairo. Legrain had originally discovered it in 1904 in the cave of Karnak.  The chief historical value of the Cairo torso is a small cartouche on the base identifying Ny-user-ra, an obscure pharaoh who ruled circa 2370-2360 BCE.

 

The Cairo base did not match the Beirut find; but then “a light clicked.” On the basis of the position of the arms, Bothmer reasoned that it might fit the Rochester bust. Old notes, measurements, and photographs strengthened his surmise. He had a case of the Cairo base made and shipped to the Brooklyn Museum where the borrowed Rochester original was waiting.  Soon he was on the phone to Harris Prior, director, and Isabel Herdle, curator, with the grand news, “It fits!”

 

The attempt to ship the plaster case of the bust to Cairo was trickier, running afoul of complex Egyptian import regulations. Taking no chances, Bothmer packed the Ny-user-ra cast as “research material” and flew to Cairo himself. The two pieces were put together during a ceremony in the office of Dr. Henri Riad, director of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

 

Cairo’s two halves were on view in 1980 with labels written in French, English and Arabic.  Part of each label reads: “Upper part a copy from an original displayed in the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester USA.” Only the words “Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester USA” are in English in all three labels.

 

Ny-user-ra himself may have been obscure, but obscure can mean rare, and the sculpture is one of the few existing pieces that can be positively ascribed to the period in Egyptian history known as the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Kings   wielding a mace with bulbous head---symbol of royal power---are common in Egyptian painting and relief. According to Bothmer only two sculptures of the king carrying his mace are known, both in repose and both from the Old Kingdom.  One is at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the other is “The Rochester-Cairo statue of Ny-user-ra.” The empty but clenched left fist is rare and puzzling, too, Bothmer says.

 

Bothmer and Vandier both theorized that the red granite statue was made at Thebes, brought to Karnak, and separated in antiquity.  It was either broken during a war, as was the fate of many antique statues, or it was tossed out of the Temple of Amun by priests on a housekeeping binge.

 

Despite the priests’ contempt and the unfinished ears, the carving on the face is fine, Bothmer said, with eyebrow and eyelids well executed. “While the face of the (unbroken) seated statue (of Ny-user-ra) in Cairo has a brooding, almost sullen expression, the Rochester king appears to be direct, forceful, and somewhat haughty,” Bothmer said in 1980.

 

One plus one equals one,” Bothmer concluded.

 

Sources: Interview with Bernard Bothmer, 1988.  Interview with the director of the Cairo Museum, ca. 1980. Curatorial files, including articles in the New York Times and Time magazine                                                                 

 

Editor’s note: Docent Brayer is the author of Magnum Opus and the biography George Eastman, the latter to be issued in :paperback in honor of the 100th anniversary of  Eastman. 


INTERPRETING LORNA SIMPSON

by Sandra Koon

February 2004
 

Enigmatic yet evocative.  That’s the challenge of Lorna Simpson’s Untitled (the failure of Sylvester (2003.4), a recent addition to the New Acquisitions Gallery. Nearly identical black and white photographs of a black woman in profile or three-quarter view are repeated in purposeful patterns.  Who is she?  We can easily see her in fourteen images, some in oval frames like Victorian daguerreotypes.  She hides behind Plexiglas in four shadowed frames. Would we recognize her if the Plexiglas were lifted?  Is she hidden behind the one totally obscured frame in the middle? The photos remind us of scissor-cut silhouettes or the ancient bust of Queen Nefertiti.  Is there meaning in the arrangement of the photos?  Look at the text -- black lower-case words and phrases seemingly unrelated to each other or to the images.  We search for meaning, just as Lorna Simpson intends.

 

Simpson was born in Brooklyn in 1960 and grew up in Queens.  Raised during the civil rights movement, she was interested in books by African-American authors about their struggle for equality.  This early interest in human rights became a central theme of her artwork.  She earned a BFA in photography in 1982 from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and an MFA in visual arts in 1985 from the University of California in San Diego. Trained as a documentary photographer, Simpson soon began to question the objectivity of the genre, rejecting the idea that “the camera never lies.”  She was equally interested in language and its multilayered meanings and in the way mass media and art can create and disseminate stereotypical information.

 

Simpson combines images and text to comment on issues of gender, race, identity and interpersonal communication and relationships.  She makes her figures universal by abstracting the images, never showing the whole person, eliminating all information or clues to that person.  The female form is a staple of her iconography. She inserts her own text, or as she says, “my own specific reading of the images” to give the viewer a clue to something he might not otherwise interpret.  She often uses the discrepancy between text and image to emphasize stereotypical conclusions many people draw, especially about women’s place in society and about race.  She says,

               

        For me, the specter of race looms so large because this is a culture where using the black figure takes on very particular meanings, even stereotypes.  But if I  was a white artist using Caucasian models, then the work would be read as completely universalist.  It would be construed quite differently.

 

Consider her work entitled Twenty Questions (A Sampler).  Four circular photographs showing the back of the head and shoulders of a black woman wearing a white sleeveless top are accompanied by five questions:  “Is she pretty as a picture/Or clear as crystal/Or white as a lily/Or black as coal/Or sharp as a razor.”  What does each phrase mean to us?  Do we link photo and phrase?  Would we visualize different images if we read the phrases without the photos? 

                                                                      

Simpson intends her work to produce doubts and questions.  She wants us to participate in constructing meaning.   She

never tells the whole story; instead, she forces us to complete it in a way that draws attention to our belief systems.  For example, by always photographing the figure from the back, she says,

               

The viewer wants so much to see a face to read “the look in  the eyes” or the expression on the mouth. I want viewers to realize that that is one of the mechanisms they use to read a photograph.  If they think, “How am I supposed to read this if  I don’t see the face?” they may realize that they are making acultural reading that has been learned over the years and then perhaps see that it is not a given.

               

Untitled is one of a series of 12 works combining images and text which Simpson completed in the fall of 2001.  Each uses the same images, but arranged differently and with different text.  All are titled “Untitled” with intriguing phrases in parentheses, such as “cabin in the sky” or “guess who’s coming to dinner” or “the bride or the beloved.”  MAG’s the failure of Sylvester, according to the accompanying label, refers to a young African-American, the model for a painting by Robert Henri. Sylvester has fallen asleep—has ‘failed’ as a model.  Simpson includes words and phrases in her work that are allusions to mainstream perceptions of the African-American and are often drawn from film, popular culture and personal narrative.  She chooses these for the body of Untitled:

the failure of Sylvester octoroon two old women minnie               woman holding a jug self portrait troubador self portrait  self portrait artist’s life no. 1 nude john brown mom and  dad I’ve been in some big towns constance jeannie mable two girls family no. 9 wanted poster no. 3 man standing  on his head wanted poster no. 17 harriet willy j

 

What meaning can we make?  “Self portrait” is repeated three times—is this a clue?  Maybe. “Octoroon” is a term for someone who has one black great grandparent and no other black ancestors.   Look at the purposeful arrangement of images again.  Seven black and white images in a rectangle plus four in shadow and one blank square.  Do the four in shadow represent a quadroon? Does the blank square represent the eventual loss of black identity?  Is it helpful to know that Simpson’s partner is artist photographer James Casebere, a Caucasian, and they are the parents of daughter Zora Simpson Casebere?  Too literal an interpretation?  Your turn to try.

 

In asking us to examine how we read others through physical characteristics, clothing, gesture, Simpson’s work can be compared on gallery tours to that of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s Famous Names (98.39).   Smith uses collaged photos to show stereotyped ways white culture has viewed Native Americans and she uses text to show the names Native Americans give one another.

  

Source:  Gumbo Ya Ya:  Anthology of Contemporary African-American Women Artists (various authors); Henry M. Sayre, A World of Art;  exhibition catalogue Centric 38: Lorna Simpson, University Art Museum, California State University Long Beach, 1990; “Turning Down the Stereotypes,” ARTNews, September 2002; “Fragmented Documents,” selections from The Art Institute of Chicago “African-Americans in Art”, Museum Studies; “Questioning Documentary,” Aperture No. 112, Fall 1988; various museum and gallery websites.


THREE SCENES OF VENICE, FRANCESCO GUARDI , WILLIAM JAMES, THOMAS MORAN

by Joan K. Yanni

March 2004

 

During the eighteenth century it was the goal of every gentleman, and particularly every artist, to make the grand tour of Europe. The highlight of any tour was Venice, La Serenissima, with its beautiful canals and churches and bridges. Venice is made up of not one but 120 islands formed by 177 canals, connected by about 400 bridges. Since the canals serve as streets, people travel by waterbuses called vaporetti, and all supplies, from food to furniture, must be brought in by water. Tourists, then and now, sought souvenirs of their visits, and to meet this demand, a new type of painting was created: vedute, or views of the city. If the view was glorified, and became more ideal than real, it was called capriccio, or invented view. Probably the greatest masters of the vedute genre were Giovanni Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768) and Francesco Guardi (1712-1793). Less known copiers also provided what the visitors wanted.

 

MAG has three views of Venice on view. Two are in the second floor eighteenth century gallery: San Giorgio Maggiore,Venice, by Guardi (82.6), and View of Venice  (55.180), once thought to be by Canaletto, now attributed to an Englishman named William James. The third painting hangs in the new acquisitions gallery. It, too, is called View of Venice (2000.6); it was painted in the 19th century by American Thomas Moran.

 

FRANCESCO GUARDI (1712-1793) was raised in a family of painters and worked in the Guardi studio with his older brother Gianantonio. They produced history and religious paintings, and it is often difficult to identify which of the brothers did what.  Though Gianantonio is sometimes considered the better figure painter of the two, Francesco came into his own when he began to paint scenes of Venice in the fashion of Canaletto; these were much in demand both by European tourists and by Venetians themselves. It is said that Guardi worked for a time in Canaletto’s studio, painting pictures that Canaletto had laid out and adding his own finishing touches. But Guardi had his own following, which found that his pictures captured the unique shimmering atmosphere, the light and color of Venice. Whereas Canaletto had painted architectural scenes with painstaking Realism, Guardi often added imaginary backgrounds and colorfully dressed people in boats. In MAG’s painting, cool, blue-grey tones surround San Giorgio Maggiore. The light of the open sky and the still water seem to dissolve the solid architecture of the church, which appears to float between water and sky.

 

WILLIAM JAMES (active 1760-1771) was an English painter who worked in Canaletto’s studio as pupil and assistant while the Venetian was in England.. This painting is a busy one, filled with various kinds of boats crowded with figures.  His dark blue water, stirred up by the boat traffic, laps at the shore. Groups of men and women gossip on the street, a dog watches the traffic, and a woman, standing near the steps leading to the water, greets men in a boat. James exhibited in London at the Royal Academy between 176l and 1771.

 

American Thomas Moran’s View of Venice is quite different from the post card vedute of Guardi or James.  It is a breathtaking, flowing work in blues and azures with sky and sea predominating. One’s first impression is that it is a painting of light. The sun, shining brilliantly through pink and white clouds, bathes the sea and the church below in shimmering light.  The buildings and clouds are reflected in the water.  On the right of the painting a group of trees and sail boats balances the scene. The whole painting glows.

 

THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926) was born in England and came to Philadelphia with his family at the age of seven.  His family was artistic, so his interest in art appeared early. He was an apprentice to an engraver and a landscape painter before the age of 20. The Philadelphia painter James Hamilton provided encouragement.

 

In 1861 Moran traveled to England to study the works of Turner and Constable. His admiration for Turner lasted throughout his life. On. his return to the U.S. he married Mary Nimmo. Though children soon followed, the sale of his paintings seemed to support the family. In 1866 they spent a year in Europe, studying Old Masters and returning to London to enjoy Turner again.  Back in the U.S. his reputation spread when he joined a geological survey group exploring the territory that became Yellowstone National Park. His paintings helped convince Congress to establish the park in 1872. He sketched everything that interested him, took notes, and went home to paint. He sold one of his works, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone , to Congress for $10,000 and it was displayed in the lobby of the Senate building. He was fascinated by new places and by travel. His next trip was with an expedition to Utah and the Grand Canyon. One of his  Grand Canyon paintings was also purchased by Congress to hang in the Senate. Subsequently he visited and painted the Mountain of the Holy Cross, the Grand Tetons, and other national landmarks, bringing scenes of the unexplored West to the public.

 

His first trip to Italy was in 1886. It captivated him, and he and his family returned often. He made sketches and painted watercolors, then took them back to America to paint in oil. He bought a home in East Hampton and established a studio there, where he began to do most of his work. His paintings were praised by critics here and abroad. He continued to paint Venice, contributing a Venetian painting to the National Academy exhibition every year.  (His love for Venice was proved when he bought the gondola he had been using in Italy and took it back to use in East Hampton.) Like Turner, he pictured the interplay of reflective light in sea and sky, often using recognizable architecture and inventing foreground elements. His awards for painting were ongoing.

 

He was still traveling and painting into his 80s; he died at Santa Barbara, California, at 89. He has been called the last of the 19th-century romantics

 

Source: Curatorial files, Encarta encyclopedia.


RAEBURN’S PORTRAIT OF MACDOWELL

by Betsy Brayer

April  2004
 

Henry Raeburn, painter of MAG’s Portrait of General Hay MacDowell (68.102) was born in 1756 in Stockbridge, an unfashionable suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was a yarn-boiler, his mother a weaver. Orphaned at seven and placed in Heriot’s Hospital for fatherless boys, Henry was indentured to an Edinburgh goldsmith.  A self-taught artist, he learned by copying, using the camera obscura, and painting miniatures for the goldsmith.  Despite its size, the way MacDowell is posed--arm leading out to the hilt of the sword that angles back toward the right boot--suggests the oval  composition of a miniature.

 

At age 20, Raeburn painted his first full-length figure on canvas, a poor but audacious portrait commissioned by the Dumferline Town Council, to which it still belongs. One commentator wrote, “This (painting) clearly betrays (Raeburn’s) lack of professional training; equally, it is an astonishing performance under the circumstances.”

 

In 1778 Raeburn married the widowed Countess Leslie, whose considerable dowry didn’t spoil his workaholic habits. One sitter noted: “He was pursued by the passion for industry and spent every day from 9 to 6 in his large studio He spoke a few words to me in his usual brief and kindly way--evidently to put me in an agreeable mood; and having placed me in a chair on a platform at the end of his painting-room, set up his easel beside.  When he saw all was right, he took his palette and his brush, retreated back step by step, with his face t6owards me, till he was nigh the other end of the room.  He stood and studied for a minute more, then came up to the canvas, and without looking at me, wrought upon it with colour (sic) for some time...I had sat to other artists; ...they made an outline carefully in chalk, measured it with compasses and proceeded to fill up the outline with the colour.  They succeeded best in the minute detail--Raeburn best in the general result of the expression; they obtained by means of a multitude of little touches what he found by broader masses...No one could have imagined him a painter till he took up the brush and palette; he conversed with me upon mechanics and shipbuilding...He painted at my portrait till within a quarter of an hour of (dinner), threw down his palette and brushes, went into a little closet, and in five minutes sallied out in a trim worthy of the first company.”

 

In 1785 Raeburn studied in London with Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy and archetype of the British portrait painter.  Raeburn gave his sitters a Reynoldsesque air of consequence, earning the sobriquet,  “the Scottish Reynolds.” Reynolds urged Raeburn to go to Italy for 18 months. Paintings after 1787 show a mature style and heightened sense of color, suggesting the influence of Raphael and Titian.  But Rae burn’s strong and original personality overruled foreign influences including Reynolds, and he returned to Edinburgh for his remaining 36 years.  His portraits are a roster of prominent men, women, lawyers and scholars of the “Athens of the North” during its golden age.
 

He was knighted on George IV’s state visit in 1822 and is still considered Scotland’s greatest painter.

  

Raeburn’s virtuoso handling of paint and decorative use of color make the flesh tones appear to glow.  His hallmark, perfected about 1800, was the square touch of his brush--a decisive, choppy stroke reducing a face to essential planes without blending one brushstroke into the next. He used brushes a yard long to keep his work from tightening.  His limited palette of primary colors used half the tints as his contemporary Sir Thomas Lawrence did.  Raeburn produced several sculptures, including one of his sons Peter, who died of consumption. The pronounced features of MacDowell lend themselves to sculptural treatment, and the artist’s own method of building up planes of color.  He touches the canvas first at the forehead, then the chin and mouth with broad, crisp brushstrokes.

 

Because of his haphazard training in drawing, Raeburn developed skill in portraying figures accurately, using the camera obscure.  With this device, the image passes thru a lens and is projected, sometimes with the aid of mirrors, onto paper or canvas.  The Artist can then use a paint-by-numbers approach. There are no known drawings by Raeburn. yet he was an innovator in his treatment of chiaroscuro. His backgrounds are loosely treated, atmospheric landscapes.

 

The elegant Lieutenant General Hay MacDowell was one of Sir Arthur Wellesley’s generals in India when the latter subdued the dominant natives in 1803.  Wellesley became Duke of Wellington, achieving lasting fame by defeating Napoleon at Waterloo.  In 1805, when MacDowell was painted in red riding coat and white britches to celebrate his appointment as commander-in-chief of the British Army in Madras, MacDowell appeared to have an equally bright future.  But a mutinous army confronted him.  Accused of insubordination, MacDowell resigned, departed for home in 1809, and was lost at sea. This premature end to a promising career consigned MacDowell to being a footnote to history.  Because the renown of historical portraits often depends upon the renown of the sitter, books listing museums with Raeburn paintings often do not list Rochester.

 

A second, smaller version of the MacDowell painting and a companion portrait of his wife, whereabouts now unknown, existed.  The copy--for David Erskine of Cardrossa (MacDowell was godfather to Erskine’s son) is at the National Gallery of South Africa. Provenance records are confusing--perhaps because of this second version. The Treasures from Rochester catalog, 1975, shows the painting going from the Erskine family to M. Knoedler to George Eastman in 1930.  In The Geolrge Eastman Collection, 1979, it goes from the Mac Dowell family to Garthland to George Eastman, via a Christie’s sale on 12 December 1919. Eastmana’s own correspondence shows that Lewis and Simmons, dealers, hung it at Eastman House on approval in April 1922. (A second reason for confusion is that Eastman supposedly bought the painting, sent it back for being too bright, but eventually reinstalled it in the side hall of Eastman House.)

 

Source: Curatorial files

*Docent Betsy Brayer is the authort of  MAGnum Opus and George Eastman


LIPCHITZ, INNOVATIVE SCULPTOR

by Joan K. Yanni

May 2004
 

Most art enthusiasts would name Pablo Picasso as the most innovative sculptor of the 20th century. But though Picasso might have been best known, he was surpassed in quantity--and often quality--by Jacques Lipchitz. MAG has two works by Lipchitz: Study for Hagar (55.15) and Study for Benediction (55.16). Both are in the case of sculptures in the 20th-century European gallery on the second floor.

 

Chaim Jacob Lipchitz was born to Russian-Jewish parents in Lithuania in 1891. His father, a building contractor, opposed his son’s wish to study art, but his mother encouraged him and arranged for him to go to Paris in 1909. He studied for a short time at the École des Beaux-Arts before transferring to the Académie Julian. He spent his mornings drawing and modeling from life, the rest of the day in museums. He was talented and eager to learn, fascinated by art from all periods in time and all parts of the world.

 

In 1909 the Paris art world was in ferment, with new ideas and unique forms abounding. Lipchitz joined a group of artists living in Montmartre and Montparnasse and became friends with Amedeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, and Diego Rivera and was a neighbor of Constantin Brancusi. Lipchitz’s first works (1910-12) had their source in Greek and Roman classical art and resembled those of Aristide Maillol (MAG’s Torso, 60.16). In 1913, through Rivera, he met Picasso and became immersed in Cubism.

 

 He saw immediately the sculptural possibilities in Cubism and turned to a geometric, cubist style. His relationship with Picasso was one of mutual respect: he derived many of his motifs from Picasso’s canvases while Picasso respected Lipchitz’s views on his own sculpture. Lipchitz’s first purely cubist works, composed of abstract, overlapping planes, appeared in 1915-16. Between 1915 and 1930 he was the most widely recognized and admired cubist sculptor, and his work was acclaimed. In 1922 the American collector Albert Barnes acquired a number of his sculptures and commissioned relief sculptures for the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania.

 

In the 1920s Lipchitz began experimenting with abstract forms he called “transparents,” which were formed by using a series of planes to break up volume and giving equal space to volumes and the voids that separate them, sometimes with edges spiraling around a central axis. Much of his work from the late twenties onward combines Cubism with the lyrical quality of his transparents.

 

With the Nazi invasion of France, Lipchitz was forced to flee to the United States. He arrived in 1941, and found an America not ready for his advanced modernism, but open to new ideas and techniques. The Abstract Expressionist movement had become prominent and the emotional expression of ideas was an influence that changed his work. It became more emotional,  with rounded forms and muscular shapes, often in agitated arrangements. His subjects changed from harlequins and musicians to themes from myths and heroic legends and even religious symbolism.

 

“I felt young and strong, as though I were just beginning my career once more," he said. Lipchitz was 50 and was recognized as one of the premier cubist sculptors, but in the second phase of his long career he turned out a prodigious body of emotional sculpture that was profoundly different from his detached, elegant Cubism.

 

His experimentation never stopped. In 1955 he began to make “semi-automatics,” in which he would squeeze clay or plasticine under water, creating by touch alone, then bring the work to completion out of the water, a method acclaimed for its innovation and one which suggested original new forms.

 

Once established in America, Lipchitz married and settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He became a father at age 60, and this experience prompted his emotional sculptures of mothers and children.

 

One of the Biblical themes in which he was vitally interested was the story of Hagar, the subject of one of the works in the Gallery collection. His experiences with the Nazis had led him to become passionate about Jewish causes and concerned over the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the new state of Israel. His large sculpture of Hagar, done in 1948, was “a prayer for brotherhood between the Arabs and the Jews.”

 

Hagar was a young Egyptian girl, handmaiden of Sarah, wife of Abraham. When Sarah and Abraham reached advanced years without children, Sarah told her husband to take Hagar as his concubine and produce issue through her--an accepted practice at the time. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, regarded in Muslim tradition as the father of Arab tribes. But though Sarah was long past childbearing years, the Lord granted her a child, and Isaac was born to her.  Sarah demanded that Abraham banish Hagar from their household, and he sent Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.  As they were dying of thirst, an angel appeared to them and showed Hagar where a spring of water was, thus saving them from death. The story substantiated Lipchitz’s strong feeling that Jews and Arabs are brothers and must find a way to be at peace with one another. The Hagar theme appears twice in 1948 and was  carved in magnificent stone sculptures 1969 and 1971 by the aging artist.

 

Beginning in 1963 he returned to Europe for several months each year, working in Italy, where many of his large bronzes were cast. He died in Capri, Italy, in 1973 and was buried in Jerusalem, as he had requested.  His works, ranging from small models to huge monuments, are in all major collections and can be seen throughout America and Europe.

 

Source: Grove Encyclopedia of Art;, New York Times art review, 3/17/2000; John L McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible; files of docent .Susan Feinstein.


A BRIDGE TO THE SKY

by Joan K. Yanni

June, July, August 2004
 

The fascinating Whitestone B ridge is a stop on most tours. Its bold colors and strong linear perspective attract the eye of even a casual visitor. What’s going on in the painting?  Whitestone is a bridge in New York City. Where are the cars? The buildings? Does it really go into the sky as the cloud on the right implies?

 

The bridge, which spans the East River and connects the Bronx and Queens, was constructed under the leadership of the legendary Robert Moses. The Triborough Bridge, which had opened in 1930, was a traffic nightmare. In addition, the Depression had created a need for new jobs, and Moses, Parks Commissioner and Arterial Coordinator for New York City, was on hand to provide them. A further impetus for the building of the bridge was the coming of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, a project chaired by Moses.  A direct link was needed so that upstate New York and New England motorists could be enticed to visit the Fair with less hassle from traffic. As an added bonus, the bridge would provide a link to a new airport which ultimately became LaGuardia. Moses received authorization to build the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in April 1937.

 

Construction proceeded on a tight schedule. Othmar Ammann, a famed bridge designer, introduced innovations to slash building time and produce a safe, efficient structure.  . When it was constructed, the 2300-foot main span was the fourth largest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge was completed in April 1939, only 23 months after construction began and six months ahead of schedule; its cost was $19.7 million. The bridge, with its sleek, art deco design, won acclaim from architects as well as from New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

 

MAG’s Whitestone Bridge (51.2) was painted by Ralston Crawford in 1939 and was part of MAG’s 1951 Encyclopedia Britannica purchase, the core of our American collection.
 

The picture of the bridge is Precisionist, with Surrealist touches. The Precisionists celebrated the new American industrial landscape in clear, sharply delineated colors, often based on carefully-composed photographs. Their interest in analyzing real objects reflects the influence of Cubism, but whereas Cubists tend to dissolve the contours of objects into refracted forms, Precisionists’ images remain clear and recognizable. Crawford used linear perspective to create a dramatic effect, reducing detail to an absolute minimum while emphasizing color, shape and form. His work is linked to others associated with the Precisionist movement, including Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

 

Crawford was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1906 and in 1910 moved with his family to Buffalo. At nineteen he became a

sailor on a tramp steamer and after a year ended up in California, where he started his art training at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. While in LA he worked briefly for Walt Disney, drawing Oswald the Rabbit.   Between 1927 and 1930 he continued his art studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and at the Barnes Foundation.  He moved to New York City in 1930 and in 1932 went to Europe, studying in Paris, Spain and Italy.

 

By the time he returned to New York in 1933 he was painting in the Precisionist fashion, using the urban subjects that fascinated him: industrial scenes, coal and grain elevators,

and bridges. He began to paint canvases of large, flat color shapes without details, rarely showing movement or human figures, concentrating on architectural forms. Crawford admitted that in this absence of human forms there was a relationship between his work and Surrealism. “It was not my primary concern, but it was also not an inconsequential concern.”

 

In 1942 he enlisted in the US Army Air Force, becoming chief of the Visual Presentation Unit of the Weather Division, a job in which he prepared pictorial presentations of weather, air flow and terrain for the use of fliers and military personnel without technical backgrounds in meteorology. The war, climaxed by the test firing of the atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll in 1946, which he witnessed as a reporter-artist for Fortune Magazine, was deeply upsetting for him; and the theme of destruction can be seen in many of his later paintings.
 

His art became more abstract. He also became an accomplished lithographer and a more active photographer, documenting his continuous travels and creating spare, architectural images in his photographs.

 

During his travels he had given special attention to the New Orleans jazz scene,. and in 1961 he was appointed  a photographic research consultant to the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University. By this time he was well known and had been given numerous one-man exhibitions --over fifty-five during his lifetime.  He died of cancer in Houston in April, 1978, and was given a traditional jazz funeral in New Orleans.

 

The Gallery has more recently acquired two of Crawford’s preliminary sketches and a silver print photograph of  Whitestone Bridge. These images illustrate his working method --creating a series of works on a theme before starting his oil painting.

 

In 2000, MAG’s Whitestone Bridge became part of an exhibition installed at the Pompidou in Paris and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.  It consisted of 250 works of art featuring Romanticism, symbolism, and Surrealism, all picturing fear and surprise--subjects that would have appealed to Alfred Hitchcock. The exhibition was called Hitchcoc and Art: Fatal Coincidences. What do you think Hitchcock would have made of our bridge into the sky?

 

Source: curatorial files; Arnason, HH, History of Modern Art, New York: Harry Abram, Inc; Tsujimoto, Karen:  Images of America Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


TALES OF GENJI

by Thea Tweet

September 2004
 

The six-fold Japanese screen in the Asian Room pictures events from The Tale of Genji. The author of this romance, the first of its kind in Japan and perhaps in the history of literature, was Murasaki Shikibu, the widow of a minor court official. Her stories were much in demand and have inspired an endless series of illustrations throughout the years to modern times. They were written during the period when the capital of Japan was Heian, present day Kyoto.

 

On page 435 of Lady Murasaki’s long book we learn that “the shining Genji” is dead.  His many adventures (most of them amorous) have come abruptly to an end. During the course of those events readers learn a great deal about Heian court life, particularly from 897 to 1183, and of course about Genji, a semi-historical figure.

 

The Gallery’s screen was probably painted as much as 700 years after the story was written.  By then the government had shifted from Kyoto to Tokyo (Edo), and yet the costumes and traditions of the Heian-Fujiwara period were faithfully depicted. Reading from right to left the panels in our screen depict the following chapters from the Tale of Genji:

 

Chapter 8: The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms. Oborozukiyo (one of Genji’s conquests) is shown embracing a pillar.

Chapter 46: Beneath the Oak. Kaoru and Niou (Genji’s successors in the novel) cross the Uji River by boat and arrive at the pavilion of the Eighth Prince’s villa.

Chapter 27: Flares. Genji visits Tamakazura (Genji’s adopted daughter) for a music lesson. A bored servant holds the fire basket.

Chapter 11. The Orange Blossoms. The song of the cuckoo urges Genji to revisit the Lady of the Orange Blossoms. His carriage awaits him.

Chapter 32: A Branch of Plum. The competition of scents is enhanced by the perfume of plum blossoms. Genji plays the koto, a long, stringed instrument.

Chapter 54: The Floating Bridge of Dreams. The final chapter of the novel in which Ukifune becomes a nun after refusing the suit of Kaoru. Her attendant reads a sutra.

 

The pictorial code of the Heian period depicts stiff figures elaborately clothed; faces and hands are shown only with slashes for eyes and hooks for noses. A classic convention used in the screen is the removal of the roof to illustrate interior space. The cloud-like spaces on our screen may originally have been intended for calligraphy, but this was never added.  The historian Sherman Lee notes another stylistic convention which is used in our illustrations: the more acute the angle from which the scene is observed, the greater agitation in the scene.  

 

The setting of nature in its various seasons of the year is an integral part of the story. The grasses are as significant as the flowering trees.  Stormy winter scenes and remote windswept seasides offer dramatic contrast with quiet, refined interiors. Even the carriages which carried the nobility from place to

place were elaborately decorated.  (See the fourth panel of our screen.) Although these carriages had their origins in the shape of the lowly oxcart, they were transformed into an impressive vehicle to announce  the arrival of an important personage

 

Scents were an important part of Fujiwara court life. The book speaks of “burning” the scents into the silk. The silk itself was beaten to smooth out any irregularities, and the court ladies specialized in subtle dyes and many changes of costume. Clothing, as well as elaborate boxes and fans, were frequent gifts of friendship and for service. (See the incense box at the entrance to the Asian Gallery.)

 

Equally important to court life was the skill of courtiers in playing musical instruments. Both the Chinese and Japanese koto were played; Genji was adept on the flute, and others played the lute. There were ceremonial dances and songs that survive to this day. Needless to say, these musical parties were usually drinking parties as well.

 

The observances of Pure Land Buddhism, with its worship of the bodhisattva Amitabha and its various rites and festivals, play a central role in the story.  Many of the characters long to leave court life and enter monasteries or become nuns, which women could have done easily simply by removing decorative objects and replacing them with religious objects. (See the sixth paned of our screen.)

 

When a woman decided to become a nun, the first step was to cut her hair. Hair was almost a fetish with men, who prized the long, lustrous hair of the court women. Women who became nuns also changed their clothing to a subdued gray, in contrast to the elaborate range of bright colors chosen for both public and private wear by men as well as women.

 

The position of men and women in court was determined by rigid class distinctions.  In the upper classes, women were almost cloistered. They were surrounded by many women of slightly lower class and they received men only when they were seated behind a screen. The man was allowed only as far as the veranda--at least on the first visit. (See the first panel of the screen.) Refinement was the ultimate goal of both men and women.

 

Although the scenes around the village of Uji suggest a remote, undeveloped countryside, the Uji River was to become the setting for one of Japan’s best-loved surviving temples (By-a-do-in) some forty years after Lady Murasaki’s death.

 

Prince Genji was a dashing, romantic figure to Lady Murasaki, and her public clamored for more and more stories. To a twenty-first century reader; Genji may seem like a sexual predator, but artistic representation restores him to the glamour and brilliance of his original reputation as "the shining Genji.”

Source: Shikibu, Murasaki, The Tale of Genji; Lee, Sherman, A History of Far Eastern Art, Curatorial files


17H-CENTURY TAVERN

By Joan K. Yanni

October 2004
 

Genre painting during the Renaissance? Hard to imagine, but genre painting, which presents scenes of everyday activities, from work to celebrations to recreation, originated in ancient times.  Scenes of daily life can be found on the walls of Egyptian tombs. Excavated houses in Herculaneum and Pompeii are decorated with genre scenes--some of them erotic and even scatological. In the late Middle Ages, genre paintings were used in calendars, with illuminated manuscripts showing people engaged in activities of each season. And in the early Renaissance, painters often used contemporary people and places as backgrounds in their religious paintings.

 

Genre painting matured and reached a peak in Europe in the late 16th and early 17th century in Flanders with the work of Jan Brueghel, Adriaen Brouwer, and David Teniers the Younger. Subsequently, artists in 17th-century Netherlands became the most familiar genre painters, recording every aspect of Dutch life in their works. Even the leading Dutch masters Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer created genre pictures of unrivaled skill and beauty.  MAG’S Tavern Scene (55.70), by Teniers, is an amusing scene of uninhibited rustics enjoying themselves in a tavern.

 

David Teniers the Younger, whose father was also a painter, was born in 1610 in Antwerp to a family of artists. Teniers’ father was his first and principal painting teacher, but though the father had never been very successful, his son became known all over Europe.

 

The art of the time revolved around Peter Paul Rubens, the “grand master” of his age, who painted voluminously in the Baroque style and kept a host of painters busy in his studio so that he could keep up with the demand for his work. Painters excellent in their own right participated in his division of labor. Frans Snyders, Anthony Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, Cornelis de Vos and others worked in their specialized fields on a painting after Rubens created the central theme.

 

Teniers never worked for Rubens, but he was intimately connected with him. When Teniers married the daughter of Brueghel, Rubens, who was her godfather, was his witness.  And it was through Rubens’ intercession that Teniers became a member of St. Luke’s, the painters’ guild, and later its dean.  Marriage to Brueghel’s daughter was a successful financial as well as artistic coup, because it carried with it a hefty dowry and brought Teniers into the circle of important painters of the time. In the year he was married, he painted his first peasant wedding, and later painted a series of multifigured scenes of parish fairs.

 

In 1651 Archduke Leopold William, governor of the Spanish Netherlands, made Teniers court painter, tapestry designer, and director of the picture gallery installed in his palace in Brussels. Teniers moved to Brussels, but he never lost interest in activities in Antwerp, and was instrumental in founding an academy of art there in 1663.


A prolific artist--he painted over 2000 works--Teniers had a huge following. He painted everything his clients asked for: portraits, landscapes, religious scenes, still lifes, animals, and  allegorical subjects as well as genre scenes.  Of special importance are his Art Gallery of Leopold Wilhelm pictures (he painted more than one) which document the famous works in the Archduke’s collection. He painted precise copies of almost 250 works in these holdings for use an in illustrated catalogue, which was the first printed and illustrated catalogue of a painting collection. Today the work not only testifies to the taste of the time but also helps trace the whereabouts of some “lost” masterpieces.         

.

Teniers’ rustic genre scenes, though realistic, elicit understanding rather than condemnation of the peasants, and they often present moralistic undertones. His pictures can be identified by their precise detail, for the trick of adding heads of onlookers and animals poking through windows to view the scene inside, and for the silvery brown light in the paintings. 

 

In MAG’s painting six men are relaxing, carousing, gossiping, and otherwise enjoying the freedom of the tavern. A black-and-white dog is enjoying the evening with them and waiting for scraps. A seventh man and another dog (or is it a cat?) look on through windows at the back of the painting. The men smoke clay pipes and drink tankards of ale or beer. (Smoking was thought to be inebriating at the time.)  One uninhibited  (and possibly intoxicated) fellow relieves himself in a wooden tub. The coarse-featured men are dressed in the rough clothing worn by country folk, with their garments shades of the same brown hues as their surroundings. The only color is provided by the smoker in the foreground, dressed in blue with a red cap and lighting his pipe.

 

Teniers’ comment on these activities is in full view on a paper tacked to the tavern wall: a picture of an owl and a candle.  There are various interpretations of the picture: if the owl is a symbol of wisdom, as it is in modern times, the picture refers to the Dutch proverb “When drink enters man his wisdom dims like the flame of a candle.” But an iconographic reference guide of the time identifies the owl as an attribute of vulgar, common persons, and another proverb states, “He’s as drunk as an owl.” Owls also signify folly, referred to by the candle and spectacles next to the bird:  “What use candle and spectacles if the owl cannot and will not see?”  The earthiness of the scene attests to the coarseness of life at many inns as well as to the importance of alcohol and tobacco at the time.

 

Our Tavern Scene is unusual in that it is one of the few pictures painted in Teniers’ late years that are dated. Painted  when Teniers was 70, it still shows his mastery of   his art. Teniers lived a long, productive life, dying in 1690 in his 80th year. His work continued to be popular after his death into the 18th century, where it sometimes brought higher prices than that of Rembrandt at auctions.


Source: Susan Dodge-Peters, editor, Memorial Art Gallery, An Introduction to the Collection; Herwig Guratzsch: Dutch and Flemish Painting; Encarta Encyclopedia; curatorial files


DOING THE LAUNDRY OUTDOORS

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2004 
 

Though he was active at the time of Monet and Renoir, Leon-Augustin Lhermitte was not an Impressionist. He chose instead to remain a traditional academic painter, and his pictures of rural French life remained favorites of the public and the Salon.  MAG’s Les Laveuses, The Washerwomen (37.2), is an ideal example of his work.

 

The painting pictures three women washing at a stream. One is bending over with her hand in the water, probably rubbing her wash on one of the protruding rocks. A second is kneeling and looking up at the third, who is standing, perhaps to stretch a bit to rest her back. The women are relaxed, seemingly enjoying their work.

 

The surrounding landscape is sunlit, with patches of light illuminating the grass and highlighting the textures of foliage and rocks.  The trees are reflected in the bright water, and white garments are spread out in the grass to bleach as they dry.

 

The artist was known for his theme of peasants at work: harvesters, gleaners, shepherds and washerwomen. These subjects had been treated before him by Jean François Millet, but while Millet pictured the laborers as rugged and weary, Lhermitte shows them as industrious, contented figures, the bedrock of French society. His bright colors and fluid brushwork create a happy, glowing painting.

 

Lhermitte was born in 1844 in the village of Mont-Saint-Pere, Aisne. The only son of the village schoolmaster, he showed skill in drawing at an early age and won a grant from the state for study in art. At the age of nineteen he went to Paris and became a student of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, who was known for teaching his students to draw from visual memory. Jean-Charles Cazin, a fellow pupil, became a lifelong friend, and Lhermitte got to know Henri Fantin-Latour and Auguste Rodin.

 

Lhermitte was always a superb draughtsman, and the first work he exhibited at the Salon was a charcoal drawing, Banks of the Marne near Alfort. He continued to exhibit drawings there until 1889. In 1866 his first painting was exhibited at the Salon, and in the same year he produced his first etchings and did illustrations for a book on insects.  On a visit to London, he got to know the artist Alphonse Legros, who introduced him to an art dealer, Durand-Ruel. After examining Lhermitte’s work, the dealer agreed to sell his drawings. Recognition of his work grew. He won a third-class medal in the Salon of 1874 for his painting The Harvest, which was bought by the state.

                                                   

In the mid 1880s, as Lhermitte noted the new techniques of the Impressionists, he began to use pastels, adapting his drawing style to the creation of brilliantly-colored landscapes. This medium suited him, and he participated in the annual exhibits of the Société des Pastellistes Français. Favorable reviews of these exhibitions, and of Lhermitte’s works in particular, attracted public attention and added to his reputation. In 1879 Edgar Degas noted in a sketchbook his intention to invite Lhermitte to exhibit with the Impressionists, but Lhermitte never participated in any of their shows.

 

Lhermitte’s subject matter rarely deviated from the subject of rural life, and he continued to produce pictures showing the beauty of the French countryside and the dignity of peasant life. In his earlier works, his figures seem impersonal, a small part of the surrounding landscape. Later on they took on personalities of their own, as the artist began to focus on the peasant’s identity. Many of his works after 1890 are among the most realistic, with detailed depictions of country costumes, tools, and activities. It is as though Lhermitte saw the coming of machines which would take over hand labor and make the laborer less and less important. He needed to present the rural scene with accuracy before it was no longer a prevailing way of life.

 

As his reputation grew, he was commissioned in 1886 to do two large portrait groups to decorate the Sorbonne, and in 1894 he was commissioned to do a huge painting. Les Halles, which depicted workers at the market, to decorate the City Hall. He continued to exhibit in the first decades of the twentieth century, though he was often seen as rooted in the past.

 

Lhermittre produced a prodigious number of works in his lifetime, most acclaimed by both the public and the Salon. Many honors came to him during his long career, including the Grand Prix at the Exhibition Universelle, 1889, the Diplome d’honneur, Dresden, 1890, and the Legion of Honor. He was a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He died in 1925.

 

In an article in Porticus,1994-96, Grace Seiberling, Associate Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Rochester, sums up Lhermitte’s place in the Gallery: “Lhermitte’s The Washerwomen with its heightened color, loosened brushwork, and strong light effects, is an example of a work by an  ‘official’ artist who was attempting to incorporate Impressionist innovations while maintaining more exacting standards for drawing the figures.”

 

Source: Curatorial files, Grove Dictionary of Art


ROCHESTER’S MASTER CRAFTSMAN

by Joan K. Yanni

December 2004-January 2005
 

Artist, master-craftsman, or furniture-designer? Wendell Castle is all three. One of the premier furniture makers in America, his works are in the collections of major museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. MAG has a number of his works, the most familiar being the Dr. Caligari clock, the Suggestion Box and Lord Dragonfly Chair.

 

Though Rochesterians think of him as one of their own, Castle was born in Emporia, Kansas, in 1932 and came to Rochester to teach at RIT’s School for American Craftsmen (today the School for American Crafts) in 1962. He has been here ever since.

 

He was trained as a sculptor, earning his BFA in industrial design and his MFA in sculpture from the University of Kansas. In addition to RIT, where he has been artist-in-residence since 1984, Castle has taught at University of Kansas and the State University of New York at Brockport. He ran his own woodworking school at his studio in Scottsville from 1980 to 1988. He has been designing and crafting furniture throughout his career, but his technique and materials have been constantly evolving.

 

Much of his work is created using the stack lamination process, a classical technique that he has refined. First, one must visualize the desired result, then cut boards to the approximate end shape and glue them together. With a chain saw, the glued piece is cut closer to the desired shape; then, finally, it is carefully carved into the finished work. Castle notes that modern glues have made possible more creative designs, since the glues expand and contract with the wood. Examples of this technique include MAG’s Suggestion Box, and the Blanket Chest. These are sinuous, organic forms and were made at a time when seeing the color and grain of the wood was particularly important. His biomorphic pieces can also be seen in the lectern and baptismal font at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Winton Road and the Ark of the Covenant at Temple Sinai.

 

Castle hasn’t limited himself to working with wood. During the 50s and 60s he turned to plastics, which he hoped would be less expensive and more accessible to the public than his one-of-a-kind wood pieces. One of the forms that he produced in plastic is his functional “molar chair.”  He also made purely sculptural forms in glass-reinforced polyester, such as the 12’ high public sculpture Twist, which stands in Genesee Crossroads Park. The large red sculpture catches one’s eye as it stands out against the landscape. But since none of Castle’s work is simple, even Twist demands a second look. The piece is designed with several flat surfaces that can be used as seats for visitors who want to sit and enjoy their surroundings.

 

Castle did not give up wood for fiberglass. One commission finished in the 70s gave him special visibility in Rochester and elsewhere. He was commissioned by the Gannett Corporation which was headquartered in Rochester at the time, to create furniture and a staircase for its offices. Photographs of the pieces were widely distributed and gained national attention. 

 

In the mid-70s Castle turned from organic forms to elegant, often humorous trompe-l’oeil works. With meticulous detail, seemingly impossible to create in wood, he produced startling works: objects such as keys, gloves, and hats resting on an elegant table; a coat hanging over a chair or a coat rack; a tablecloth draped over a table. These are some of the most sculptural of his pieces, for the chair is not for sitting but for looking--and convincing oneself that the items lying casually on the table or over the chair are not real. MAG’s Table with Tablecloth and the new Chair Standing on its Head  (Can you believe the pillow is not real?) are both trompe-l’oeil pieces.

 

In 1988 Castle was commissioned to build the 500,000th Steinway piano. He decided that he could not change the shape of the Steinway Model D, the standard instrument in the concert world, so he used variations elsewhere. He used striped Indian ebony, and the names of more than 1000 artists who used Steinway pianos on their concert tours were carved into the case   He did make one change in the design.  He moved the rear leg, always found on the back of the piano, to the center of the instrument. To do this, he had to construct a bridge-like device that would keep the leg from actually touching the underside of the piano where it would interfere with the vibrations that produce sound. After its unveiling at Carnegie Hall, the piano was exhibited at the Gallery before going on a tour of world concert halls, where renowned pianists were allowed to play it.

 

In the 1980s Castle did a series of 13 clocks, including MAG’s Dr.Caligari. (See “About Gallery Art,” May 1996) Using the Caligari theme, taken from a 1917 movie in which the background and scenery is skewed, he also did a library, now in the MAG collection, for NYC gallery owner Peter T. Joseph.  The walls are made of satinwood, gesso, leather and acrylic. The bookshelves look as though they are about to topple, but they don’t. Castle says the slant of the shelves is better for the books; they lean against each other rather than on their covers and binding.

 

One cannot talk about Castle without mentioning his public sculptures. They include a 19-foot clock on the corner of Toronto’s windy, busy Yonge and Bloor Streets. This clock is made of metal with a round, antiqued bronze face and three-foot-long gold-leafed hands. It is supported by a zigzagged stainless steel arch, high enough for pedestrians to walk under. Another clock, the 19-foot bronze Lunar Eclipse, is now in the Rochester International Airport concourse. One of his more recent public pieces is his wall sculpture for the Bausch and Lomb headquarters: a 45-foot by 12-foot mural of wood, neon and acrylic called Metamorphosis.

 

More and more, Castle’s furniture is accepted as art by museums and collectors. As the artist points out, “When collectors buy it, it is used like a sculpture. It’s in the room to be looked at and enjoyed. It’s not put there because there was a need for a table.”   

 

Source: CWA Library files


THE HUSDON RIVER SCHOOL REVISITED

by Libby Clay

February 2005
 

Favorite tour stops among docents are at Asher B. Durand’s Genesee Oaks and Thomas Cole’s Landscape Composition: Italian Scenery. These artists represent, of course, the Hudson River School of painters, artists who recorded both idyllic and dramatic scenery in New York State--the White Mountains, the Berkshires and the Adirondacks--and established the tradition of a national landscape art.

 

Further down the corridor, across from the Lockhart Gallery, hang two works by another Hudson River Schooler, Jasper Francis Cropsey. Hung one above the other are The Hudson River, New York (73.39) and Chenango River, New York (73.40). They are the same size, and both were painted in 1858, leading one to wonder if they were part of a series. Their small size (10 3/8 x 16 7/8 inches) would make an ideal grouping.

 

Also on view is American Harvesting, after a Painting by Jasper Cropsey (77.196), a  painting  of a print which, in turn, was a copy of a painting by Cropsey--prints were a means of bringing artworks to the general public. This work gives an idea of what the artist’s larger paintings were like: full of color and detail and very American..

 

Correspondence found in the curatorial files zeroes in on The Hudson River and makes the title (and the location) more specific. In the right foreground can be seen the ruins of a building, probably Fort Putnam, built in 1779 high above the United States Military Academy at West Point. The view of the river would then be looking north toward Newburgh, with Constitution Island to the right. During the Revolutionary War, a great chain was stretched across the Hudson from West Point to Constitution Island to prevent the British from sailing farther up the river. Some of the enormous links from the chain are preserved at Trophy Point at West Point, and the view of the Hudson from there is very similar to that in Cropsey’s painting.

 

The location of Chenango River (the area near Binghamton, New York) has also been challenged, the objection being that the area is not as rugged as Cropsey paints it. Although the Hudson River School artists sketched out-of-doors and on site, they were not above embellishing when they felt their painting needed more drama.  After all, they were painting for a public with a taste for romantic landscapes.

 

Jasper Francis Cropsey had an interesting career. He was of Dutch-Huguenot stock, born February 18, 1823, in Staten Island, New York. His schooling was sporadic and limited to what the neighborhood could provide. In his teens he was apprenticed to an architect; by age twenty he was a practicing architect. He also began to paint, secretly at first, rising at dawn to work until breakfast, then putting in a full day’s work before painting again until night. His landscapes were very much influenced by the works of Thomas Cole and by Cole’s almost mystical reverence for the American wilderness.

                                                                                                                                                           

In 1847 Cropsey and his wife Maria went to Europe for a year. There he settled with a group of American and European painters and saw firsthand the work of European landscape painters, both contemporary and academic. He himself did no painting there, but he executed numerous sketches which he then turned into paintings when he returned to America.

 

In 1856 he returned to Europe with Maria and their two daughters. They settled in England for a seven-year sojourn, and he became a close friend of the writer and art critic John Ruskin. Cropsey had brought America with him in the form of his sketches, and he developed oil paintings from them. The best of them, Autumn--on the Hudson River was exhibited in the London Exhibition of 1862. (It is now in the National Gallery in Washington.) The British were astonished by the painting, and could not believe that the full brilliance of American autumn was other than the artist’s fantasy. Cropsey placed a pressed autumn leaf from America next to the painting as proof of his realism. (Maria Cropsey had spent the crossing pressing American leaves and flowers into a book.) Queen Victoria bestowed a medal on him for his services with the American Commission of the great London Exposition.

 

The American Civil War brought Cropsey home again, and he immediately went to the battlefields with an artist’s ammunition: paint and brush. He also continued his architectural career, designing stations and platforms for the Sixth Avenue Elevated train platforms in New York City, and executing a design for a five-story, multi-family house long before apartment houses were built in America. He also designed private homes, including his own, “Aladdin,” at Warwick, New York.

 

Jasper Cropsey, though not as well known as Cole and Durand, carried on their tradition of the romantic landscape. His vivid colors, sometimes almost brash, reflected his love of the land and also the profound changes in ideas and ideals that took place in America from the middle decades of the 19th century to the Civil War:

                1. Regarding the natural world, the feeling changed from a desire to conquer it, as on the frontier, to living in harmony with nature, enjoying it, and respecting it as an expression of God’s grandeur or purpose.

                2. A new outlook emerged on man’s place in the cosmos, and a new notion of what makes up a good life, including the idea that life is a pilgrimage, a voyage.

 

Eventually American landscape paintings became, by their very nature, somewhat repetitious, and public demand for  them waned. Cropsey lamented the diminishing wilderness as much as the diminishing demand. He sold “Aladdin” and bought a more modest home at Hastings-on-Hudson. He died in 1900, known particularly for his autumn scenes.

 

His great-granddaughters have turned his home and studio into a Cropsey memorial and center for scholarly and artistic study. It is open by appointment.

Source: Curatorial files; article by M. Therese Southgate, MD, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, October 7, 1998; John K. Howat:The Hudson River and its Painters, Viking Press.


ROCKWELL: ILLUSTRATOR AND ARTIST

by Joan K. Yanni

March 2005
 

During his lifetime Norman Rockwell was one of the best known and most loved artists in America. He produced 317 covers for the Saturday Evening Post as well as illustrations for Look, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Literary Digest and other prominent magazines of the day. He was known for his Boy Scout calendars and illustrations for classics such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  His work could be seen in ads for light bulbs, soft drinks, toothpaste, and encyclopedias. He pictured the life of the average American as well as major events in American history from Admiral Dewey’s warships arriving in New York Harbor to Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic to man’s first steps on the moon. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson sat for portraits, and he painted world figures such as Nasser of Egypt and Nehru of India. His work was published without interruption for over seventy years.

 

Rockwell (1894-1978) was born in New York City .A tall, skinny kid with a long neck and glasses, he said he turned to drawing because it was the only thing he could do well. When he failed at baseball or could not wiggle his ears, he began to draw and made it his life. He left high school to attend classes at the National Academy of Design and later studied at the Art Students League. Success came early. He became art director of Boy’s Life at 19, and drew his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post when he was 22.

 

With the development of four-color printing, magazines were beginning to attract the public. Since there was competition among the publications, a colorful cover sold the magazine. Each cover had to appeal to people in all corners of America: librarians and laborers, country-folk as well as cosmopolitans. Rockwell’s covers attracted everyone. He hid any personal opinions that his readers might not share, and kept his subjects light, wholesome, humorous. His covers avoided Prohibition, the Depression, Korea and Vietnam. Only later in his career did he touch on racial segregation and the death of a president.

 

Whatever his subject, his scenes were executed with minute details, so realistic that they resembled photographs. He achieved this realism through painstaking planning. Every situation was worked out to give proper sense of space, light and color and to focus attention on what was important to the picture. First he would make a small sketch--often only 2”x3”. Then he would gather models, usually using neighbors or friends. Often he would act out the scene, taking the parts of all the characters and demonstrating the expression he wanted on his models’ faces. So concerned with authenticity was he that he even used live animals.  His directions on how to pose a chicken are hilarious. (“A chicken will sit still for five minutes after you set it down.” The artist must move fast!)  When techniques in photography advanced, he sometimes   hired a professional photographer to take the picture he wanted, under his direction. He was always in charge.

 

Then the actual painting began. As he painted, he separated each layer of paint from the next by a layer of varnish.
 

Though this did not guarantee survival of the painting, it provided the finish that he wanted. He was concerned with reproducing his work, not preserving it. Many of his original paintings deteriorated quickly, with bits of paint peeling off or evidence of yellowing caused by the varnish between the paint layers

 

As his personal contribution during World War II, Rockwell painted the famous “Four Freedoms” posters, symbolizing for millions of Americans the aims described by President Franklin Roosevelt and in 1941 incorporated into the Atlantic Charter: “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom of Religion,” “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom from Fear.” The familiar posters were used to promote the sale of war bonds.

 

In 1941, just after the “Four Freedoms” had been issued, Rockwell’s studio burned. It resulted in the loss of 28 years of props and an unrecorded number of original paintings and files of clippings. Because there were no records, the extent of the loss will never be known.

 

In 1957 the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington cited him as a Great Living American, saying that “Through the magic of your talent, the folks next door--their gentle sorrows, their modest joys--have enriched our own lives and given us new insight into our countrymen.” When he died at Stockbridge, MA, at 84, there was an unfinished painting on his easel. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge holds a large collection of his paintings and has preserved his last studio as well.

 

MAG’s Soldier on Leave (74.98), was the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on August 12, 1944, in the midst of World War II. The scene it pictures was an all-too common one: Allied forces had landed in Normandy on June 6, D-Day, two months prior to the publication date, and young men were subject to the draft. Wartime romances were made more urgent by the threat of separation, and lack of privacy was unimportant when time together might be brief. The scene is a train, where seatbacks could be moved to face front or back, depending on the direction of the train or the space desired. A young couple is clinging together, ignoring the young girl peering at them over the back of her seat. The details are impeccable: the girl’s curious look, the woman’s black and white shoes, the soldier’s uniform and each strand of hair. The people in the painting are no doubt Rockwell’s Vermont neighbors, and they are posed in an actual train loaned to him by the Rutland Railroad.

 

Our painting was a gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert M. Boynton; Dr. Boynton’s father had received it from the artist. It had been in storage because of condition problems until the Rockwell Museum asked to borrow it for an exhibit. The Rockwell helped pay for its conservation, and after the exhibit closed, it was installed in the 20th-century gallery.

 

Source: Buechner, Thomas, Norman Rockwell, Artist and Illustrator, Harry Abrams 1970; Encarta Encyclopedia


THIEBAUD’S PERSPECTIVE

by Sandy Koon

April 2005 
 

River Pond (75.421) sparkles with the clear blues, lavenders, yellows, oranges and bright light that say California.  A lavender-blue pond encircled by warm earth browns, a sinuous channel to the river beyond lie flat against the picture plane.  In the distance lollipop-like trees cast colorful shadows.  Puffy white clouds float above mountains. Cloud shadows appear on land and are reflected in the pond.  Are we looking out or looking down?  Straight on or bird’s eye view?  It’s a matter of perspective, the Wayne Thiebaud perspective.

 

The simple shapes of River Pond belie the complexity of Thiebaud’s work. For over 40 years he has worked in a variety of media to create a unique style rooted in his ability to balance apparent opposites:  realism and abstraction, seriousness and wit, immediacy and control of composition.  His subject matter is pure Americana.

 

Born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920, Thiebaud has spent most of his life in California. As a youngster, he drew cartoons, designed stage sets and posters. As a teenager he worked in the animation department at Walt Disney Studios, drawing the in-betweens for cartoons; that is, the action between the initial and final poses of a character.  He studied commercial art in Los Angeles and attended Long Beach College, then served in the U.S. Air Force from 1942-45.  After the war, he worked as an advertising layout designer and cartoonist for Rexall Drug Co., but by 1947 he had decided to become a painter. 

 

To obtain formal art training and a teaching credential, he enrolled under the GI Bill first at San Jose State College and then at California State College in Sacramento, where he received a teaching appointment at Sacramento Junior College.  In 1956 he took a leave of absence from teaching to spend time in New York City where he met several of the Abstract Expressionists.

 

Long an admirer of Willem de Kooning, Thiebaud visited the abstract painter in his Tenth Street studio. Their conversations about the tradition of painting reinforced Thiebaud’s commitment to putting color on canvas.  Thiebaud saw in de Kooning’s work, “a succinct reductiveness that appealed to me…he seemed to work form-first with an immense vocabulary.”  Thiebaud was drawn equally to de Kooning’s ability  “to light a picture from within.”

 

Thiebaud says his conversations with de Kooning, Franz Kline and Barnett Newman changed his attitude.  “I had been painting cigar counters and windows and shoes and pinball machines, but they were all kind of articulated and hyped up with Abstract Expressionist brushstrokes--so that when I came back to California, I determined, ‘Well, I’m going to see if I can’t just present something as clear as I can.”

 

That something turned out to be food. Still lifes of cakes and pies, lollipops, hot dogs—row upon row of them seen as if looking through a store window. Thiebaud painted these objects from memories of work as a food handler in restaurants and of walks along the Long Beach boardwalk peering into pastry shops and delicatessen windows.  Reflecting on a painting of a slice of pie, Thiebaud says, “So it started out just as a sort of crazy problem to set for myself to orchestrate abstract elements with the subject matter. …I couldn’t help but look at it and laugh, ‘That certainly has to be the end of me as a serious painter—a slice of pie’... But I couldn’t leave it alone...It just seemed to be the most genuine thing which I had done.”

 

The pie paintings had a similar effect on the New York City art dealer Allan Stone.  Stone gave Thiebaud his first east coast show in

1962 and the works sold out immediately.                                                                       


With the food paintings, Thiebaud’s style and vocabulary began to mature.  He isolated objects within a painting, each with a colorful shadow, against a background of muted whites.  The isolation focused attention, gave each thing significance beyond what it was. Thiebaud rendered the cakes and pies with broad brushstrokes, dragging the paint across the surface and around the shapes in a way that seemed to transform the paint into the frosting or meringue itself--a technique Thiebaud calls “object transference.”  Brush -work is important to Thiebaud; he calls it “tempo,” the implied rhythm of the brushstrokes or the “brush dance” of a picture. 

 

The simplification of form, the brushwork, the rendering of light would be applied next to landscapes of the Sacramento River Valley.  In 1960 Thiebaud had joined the art faculty at the University of California, Davis, where his colleagues included leaders of California art --Robert Arneson, Roy DeForest, Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley.  The farmland surrounding the campus absorbed Thiebaud.  With River Pond, which he worked and reworked from 1967 to 1975, Thiebaud demonstrates a blend of realism and abstraction.  Consider the simplified forms of the pond and the trees, the horizontal band of lavender blue that we see as the river.  Thiebaud calls the thin ribbons of vivid complementary colors that outline the pond and the river “halation,” an effect akin to vibrato in music.  He alternates hot and cool colors to intensify the contrasts of shadow and light. The warm light in the distance shines uniformly across the river bank, and streaks of color alternate with darker cloud reflections on the land.

 

In 1972 Thiebaud made San Francisco a second home and the subject of new paintings.   His cityscapes and freewayscapes are dizzying.  Streets rise and fall, while buildings hug the side of hills.  He trades Renaissance perspective for an Asian point of view.

While the city offered new subject matter, Thiebaud continued to paint still lifes and figures.  In the late 1990’s he exhibited a new body of work, some 40 landscapes of the delta of the Sacramento River, more patterned, more detailed, more geometric than River Pond.  These new works are large and lush with sweeping brushstrokes, thick impasto, and almost psychedelic color.  The view is entirely from on high, as if one were looking down from a small plane—again, Thiebaud’s perspective.

 

Thiebaud continues to acknowledge the contributions of other artists to his work. “I’m very influenced by the tradition of painting and not at all self-conscious about identifying my influences…whether it’s Van Gogh, or Morandi or Barnett Newman—they’ve all had terrific impacts on what I wanted to explore in the way of problems, and I actually just steal things from people that I can use.”  But there’s more than plagiarism to Thiebaud’s work.  His ability to portray the scale, topography, colors and atmosphere of California sets him apart. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman calls Thiebaud “an artist of the American West--of Western light, Western space, Western silences, Western attitudes.”

 

Writing about art is never easy, as Thiebaud has pointed out.  His statement written for an exhibit of works from the permanent collection of the National Academy of Design which he curated concludes:  “A painter being asked to write about painting [is] akin to a request to paint about writing.  It is a questionable if not impossible task…It only confirms what true lovers of painting already know:  painting is verbally invisible, for it is an autonomous and beautiful language of silence.” 

 

Source:  Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, Steven A. Nash with Adam Gopnik, Thames & Hudson, 2000; Wayne Thiebaud: Still Lifes & Landscapes, exhibition catalogue, Associated American Artists, 1993; Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper from the Family Collections, exhibition catalogue, Springfield Art Museum, 1998; docent and C.W. Allen Library files.


HINDUISM IN MAG ART

By Joan K. Yanni

May 2005 
 

Docents taking tours into the Asian room sometimes skip over the Hindu art there--probably because it isn’t as familiar as the Japanese, Chinese or Buddhist works. But Hinduism is an old and fascinating religion, and the objects in the MAG collection are interesting examples to examine.

 

Hinduism was founded around 1500 BC. According to the World Almanac, there are about 837,000,000 Hindus in the world, mainly in India. The religion has no formal organization; generally rituals should be performed or assisted by Brahmins, the priestly caste, but in practice simple rituals can be performed by anyone. Most Hindu families have a shrine in their homes, and prayers are said there, with periodic visits to a temple. There is no fixed day to worship; such as the Christian Sunday or Jewish Sabbath. Worshipers visit the temple any time they like. There is a local Hindu temple on Pinnacle Road in Pittsford.

 

Hindus believe in one supreme spirit, called Brahman, and many gods who are aspects of that spirit. The most important are Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. They are often called “The Hindu Trinity.” Each has a wife, or consort: Saraswati, goddess of wisdom and learning, is the wife of Brahma; Lakshmi (Laxmi), goddess of wealth and good fortune, is the wife of Vishnu, and Parvati is Shiva’s wife.

 

 Brahma has four heads, to look in all four directions. Vishnu, often pictured with blue skin, is believed to have appeared on earth in various reincarnations, or avatars, to save humans from perils or evil. The most important of his aspects are the gods Rama and Krishna.  Krishna is famous for his mischievous and amorous nature. Minor gods who represent some aspect of Brahman are also venerated.  One of the most popular is Ganesha, the elephant headed god, son of Shiva and Parvati. Others are Surya, the sun god, who rides across the sky in a golden chariot, and Chandra, the moon god, who rides in a silver chariot.

 

MAG has a small bronze sculpture of Ganesha (81.10). The arms of our Ganesha are broken, but he probably had four. Traditionally he is shown with one tusk, also missing from our figure. Ganesha is the bringer of good fortune and the remover of obstacles. He is prayed to before one sets out on a new project.  He is always happy, often dances, and his large belly can be rubbed to bring good luck.

 

How did he get an elephant head? Legends vary, since they are passed on orally. The most often told is that Shiva was away from home for a time and Parvati became lonely and created a “son” for herself from clay. One day she was bathing, and asked Ganesha to guard the door and let no one pass. Shiva returned home to find Ganesha at the door, refusing to let him in. Angered, and not knowing who Ganesha was, Shiva cut off his head with his sword.  Parvati emerged to find her “son” dead. Sobbing, she told Shiva he had killed their son. Brahma heard their distress and promised to revive Ganesha if they would send their servants to bring the head of the first being they met and put it on Ganesha’s body. They first met an elephant; thus Ganesha got his head.

 

Ganesha’s single tusk is another story. One is that, angered because he thought the moon was laughing at him, he tore off his tusk and threw it at the moon. Another is that the sage Vyasa was composing a very long epic poem about life and death and needed someone to write it down. Ganesha agreed to do this. As he wrote down the long poem, Ganesha’s pen broke, and, not wishing to interrupt the sage, he pulled off his tusk and used it as a pen until the poem was complete.

 

The largest Hindu sculpture in the MAG collection is a limestone figure of Surya, the sun god (82.48). He is accompanied by two attendants, Pingala and Dandi. All three have halos, but because they are not as important as the god, the attendant figures are smaller. Surya holds lotus flowers in both hands, sign of rebirth, since a lotus closes its petals at night and opens them again in the morning. Pingala holds a pen and ink pot to record man’s deeds, and Dandi, a bodyguard, holds a sword. All three figures are linked together by a draped scarf.

 

The goddess Lakshmi (68.48), again a small bronze, was probably carried in a religious procession. She also holds a lotus and represents abundance and prosperity.

 

Other MAG Hindu sculptures include a torso of an attendant figure (61.9), probably a temple decoration, and a mysterious three-headed god (61.12), with cobras coiled around the heads. The heads could be those of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and the monkey on the left might represent Prince Rama, from the epic story in the Ramayana. (See below.)

 

The Gallery owns a number of Indian paintings, which are rotated to keep them from fading. On view at the present time are four paintings, watercolor or oil on paper.  In the left case, two scenes from the Ramayana, the Indian national epic, are displayed. (53.58 and 53.55). The Ramayana tells the story of the exile of Prince Rama and the abduction of his wife Sita by the demon king Ravana. Rama must kill Ravana to rescue Sita. But the demon king cannot be killed by gods or demons, so an army of bears and monkeys is summoned to defeat him. One painting shows part of a battle, the other portrays the victorious Rama, his brother Lakshmon, and Sita being taken home in a vehicle pulled through the sky by birds. Bears and monkeys accompany them.

 

The second pair of paintings (83.52 and 80.44) show the god Shiva, Parvati, his consort, and a musician.  Nandi, sometimes called Vahana, the white bull on which Shiva rides, is in the picture. The second is a painting of Shiva in his role as unifier of opposites: life/death, ascetic/erotic, creator/destroyer, and male/female. The paintings are always intricately detailed and need careful examining.

 

Sources: Krishnaswami, Uma, The Broken Tusk; Kanitkar, V.P. Hinduism; Ganeri, Anita, What Do We Know about Hinduism? Ions, Veronica, Indian Mythology


16TH CENTURY BAROQUE ART

By Libby Clay

June, July, August  2005
 

A recent art-oriented visit to Holland with fellow docents inspired much pre- and post-trip reading. In the process of

 relearning about the Dutch and Flemish artists of the seventeenth century, I also found out a great deal about how the people of the time lived---what they wore, some of their customs, what they valued.  I would like to pass on some of what I’ve learned.

 

I’ll start in MAG’s Baroque gallery. The gentleman in the corner with the “big hair” (Portrait of a Gentleman 55.77) was painted by Nicholas Maes. He is wearing a flowing cloak, a shirt open at the throat and a full-bottomed wig. It is said that King Louis XIV of France was responsible for the wig fashion. Although heavy and cumbersome, these wigs were especially favored by elderly and professional men. English and American barristers wore them into the late eighteenth century. This gentleman’s wig would not have been powdered, for that did not come into use until 1703.

Snow white powder was the most fashionable.

 

Maes (1634-1693) was a pupil of Rembrandt. There was some uncertainty about his earliest works because no paintings dated before 1654 had been found. However, a small Maes painting dated 1653 has turned up and new research is being conducted on works thought to have originated in Rembrandt’s studio. Eventually some may be attributed to Maes. MAG’s painting is a later work, when Maes adopted the then current fashion of painting his models in elegant poses against a park-like background and with much use of draperies.

 

In contrast to the Maes portrait, the gentleman in the neighboring picture, painted by Frans Hals (1538-1666) is dressed in somber, conservative, no-nonsense black, proper attire for a Calvinist. Portrait of a Man (68.101) shows a gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed, high crowned black hat typical of his time. He wears his hair long and curled slightly above a modest starched white collar, or “whisk.” He is holding something in his right hand, perhaps his gloves.

 

The tradition of the time was that you should be un-smiling for your portrait. Hals’ gentleman has just the hint of a smile, for Hals often “broke the mold” and painted people happy and smiling. The portrait is apparently true-to-life, for the man’s eyes do not quite tally. One eye appears to “wander” slightly. Hals painted hands quickly and impressionistically. Unfortunately it is difficult to see that in this painting because of the craquelure.

 

Portrait of Eva Bicker (55.72) is by Dirck van Santvoort, another artist who came under Rembrandt’s influence. Santvoort was primarily a portrait artist, and he came from an old Amsterdam family of painters. Dirck was wealthy and apparently gave up painting about 1645, for there are no known works after that date.

 

Eva Bicker wears her hair loose and gently curled. She must be wearing her entire jewelry box, for she has garnet earrings and brooch and a pearl necklace. She also has a pearl fillet around the crown of her head and pearls criss-crossing her boned corset-bodice. It is no doubt false lacing. She has given up the old-fashioned ruff and is wearing a flat, starched lace collar which allows her to wear her hair “down.”

 

For examples of the ruff, we need to look at the Flemish couple in the Renaissance room in Portrait of Man and Woman (79.69 and 79.70) by Pieter Jansz. Pourbus. They are pendant portraits, meant to be hung together, with the man always on the viewer’s left. A docent at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem explained that this was because the husband, being more important, is always on the right side of his wife. She is subservient to him. Often these companion portraits were commissioned by couples to celebrate their marriage.

 

They are wearing ruffs, hers larger than his. These portraits date to the 16th  century, but ruffs were worn into the early 17th century. They were a kind of stiffly starched collar, varying in width and sometimes worn several at a time.  This was hard because wearing too many made it difficult to turn one’s head or eat. There were even special spoons for eating while wearing a ruff! The wife wears a starched cap as well, with her hair swept back and tucked under the cap.

 

Speaking of caps, peek around the corner of the Baroque room at Heershop’s The Doctor’s Visit. The woman behind the patient is wearing a cap that comes to a point or peak in the center of her forehead. The name for this cap is “widow’s peak,” hence the name for hair that comes to a peak on the forehead. These were mourning caps, black with a black veil falling behind them.

 

In the Baroque room, try standing in front of Jan van de Cappelle’s seascape, View off the Dutch Coast (68. 99). Stand there until you feel you are in the painting. The low horizon makes the painting work like a unified whole, versus looking through a window. There are no framing devices to funnel our eyes toward the center. We can look around us and see the vague forms of the big ships in the mist. The smaller boats may be bringing passengers to shore. Cargoes would be off-loaded by cranes. The ships’ pennants have the colors of the House of Orange.

 

The Dutch were without rivals in shipbuilding between 1590 and 1600. Their greatest achievement was called the fluit, or flute, a modest, practical and businesslike seagoing barge, especially suited for out-bound bulky cargoes of corn, timber, iron, hemp, and flax, the products of the North. The Dutch West and East Indies Companies brought back  spices--pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, camphor and opium, and from Turkey, the tulip. Trade created a prosperous middle class, which in turn created a market for paintings. We are fortunate that MAG has so many fine examples of this great period in art and in Dutch history.

 

Sources: Haak, Bob, The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century; Laver, James, Costume and Fashion: Lucie-Smith, Edward, Art and Civilization; Wilcox, R. Turner, The Dictionary of Costume.


BAROQUE ORGAN IN FOUNTAIN COURT

by Joan K. Yanni

September 2005
 

An antique Baroque organ arrived by boat from Germany in July and is now the keynote in the Gallery’s Herdle Fountain Court, designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1926. The magnificent organ, 22 feet tall and 9 feet wide, has been installed on a rostrum custom-built by the MAG exhibition crew at the north end of the gallery. Owned by the Eastman School of Music, it is the only known full-size antique Italian organ--and in a lavishly ornamented case--in North America. It will be housed permanently in the Fountain Court in a space surrounded by Baroque art.

 

Originally constructed in Italy in the late 17th century, perhaps around 1680, and refurbished a century later, the instrument was discovered by German organ builder and restorer Gerald Woehl while he was visiting Florence in the 1970s. Woehl spotted parts of the organ at an antique store. When he inquired about it, he found that the dealer was planning to destroy the pipes and turn the case into furniture.

 

After examination of the instrument and research on its origin, Woehl acquired the organ in 1980. He has been responsible for its restoration and reassembly, aided by a group including the Italian organist and scholar Edoardo Belotti, the German organist and organ expert Harald Vogel, and Hans Davidsson, Eastman School organ professor and artistic director of the Göteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden.  Destroying the organ would have been a disaster, says Davidsson, “because Baroque organs have a sweet warm sound that you don’t hear on today’s instruments and can’t be reproduced...It’s the sound that Bach and (Italian composer Girolamo) Frescobaldi would have heard.” The Eastman School of Music purchased the organ from Woehl, and it will become part of the Eastman center for organ study.

 

In June, following the purchase by the ESM, the restored organ was completely dismantled, packed into a massive 40-foot container, and loaded onto a ship bound from Germany to the United States. In July, it arrived in Baltimore, then was carried by truck to Rochester.  Though the 40-foot container held smaller crates, some of which were unpacked outside in the parking lot or front lawn, still MAG’s original front doors had to be removed to get the huge parts up the 1913 stairs and into the building. In total, the boxes held 2000 parts of the organ including its 600 pipes. Woehl and his team spent two weeks reassembling and installing the organ in the Fountain Court. Voicing, tuning, and final adjustments by Davidsson, David Higgs, chairman of the organ department, and others from Eastman, are still taking place. The exquisite sounds that can often be heard in the Gallery are the sounds of the tuning and voicing.

 

Unusually well preserved, the organ most likely originated in Tuscany or in the Naples region in the 17th century. The ornate crown (top), base and case are original, as are its wind chest and some pipe ranks.  Its lavishly ornamented, carved and gilded case, however, links it to the Italian court culture of the 18th century.  Each side of the case is decorated with a 10-foot high painting of a vase of flowers, and the crown ornament is adorned with an unusual motif depicting St. Andrew.

 

The picture of Andrew is unusual because ordinarily an image of King David, the multi-faceted personality who was a musician as well as a warrior and is traditionally said to be

the author of the Psalms, and whose symbol is the harp or lyre, would be pictured on a musical instrument. Yet we know that this image is St. Andrew, an apostle and the brother of Peter, because of the saltire, or X-shaped cross that can be seen behind him. The saltire is the symbol of Andrew because he was crucified on that unusual type of cross. He is probably pictured because the organ was originally in a church dedicated to him.

 

The Eastman Italian Baroque Organ (official name) actually refers to the mechanism inside the case. The case, the outside part of the organ, is built separately, often to match the interior of the church or court that will house the instrument. The Organ itself is made up of the pipes, keys, wind chest, and mechanisms that work the stops and keys, all inside the case. (This arrangement, the instrument inside and separate from the case, is also true of our Mondini harpsichord. The keys, strings and sounding board, the real harpsichord, sit inside the case and can be removed. The harpsichord case, like that of the organ, is also lavishly decorated.)

 

Professor Davidsson describes the Italian organ as being “virtually a ‘living recording’ of the musical sounds heard hundreds of years ago.” As far as the sound that listeners actually will hear, Davidsson reports that “the facade stop (pipe) has a sweet, warm and prompt sound; the flutes a charming and beautiful singing quality, and the full chorus--the ripieno--a rich, powerful and silvery cascade of complex elegance.” As a research tool, the organ will provide a better understanding of how to interpret and musically shape a vast body of work created for this type of organ.

 

The organ is the first major accomplishment of ESM’s Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI), which plans to assemble a collection of new and historic organs unparalleled in North America, making Rochester an international center for performance, preservation and research. EROI also plans a romantic organ to be built for Christ Church, a new organ specially designed for symphony orchestra performance to be built for the Eastman Theatre, and an enhanced collection of practice instruments.

 

The organ will be introduced to the public at EROI’s  fall festival on Friday, October 7 (by invitation only) and Saturday, October 8 at MAG, initiating the weeklong EROI Festival with guest artists, public concerts, master classes, and symposia. Visit www.rochester.edu/Eastman/EROI for updates.

 

Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 7/19/05; MAG and ESM press releases; Google.


LUCA FA PRESTO

by Joan K. Yanni

October 2005
 

Luca Giordano (1632-1705), painter of MAG’s recent acquisition, The Entombment, was one of the most acclaimed artists of the Neapolitan Baroque period. In its handbook, the J. Paul Getty Museum claims that, until Picasso, he was the most prolific artist who ever lived. His vast output includes mythological and religious paintings and altarpieces, and fresco cycles for both palaces and churches. Internationally known, he worked in Naples, Venice, Florence and Madrid.

 

Born in Naples, Luca was the son of mediocre painter Antonio Giordano, who probably taught him the rudiments of the art. He was innately talented. It is said that at the age of eight he painted a cherub into one of his father’s pictures. News of this feat was spread throughout Naples--perhaps by his father--and the viceroy of Naples recommended the child to Jusepe de Ribera. Whether or not the story is true, Giordano’s early work is influenced by Ribera’s use of dark color and drama.

 

His father subsequently took him to Rome to study with Pietro da Cortona and his circle. Subsequently, in the late 1650s, Luca’s style changed to the light, delicately colored canvases reflecting da Cortona and the vibrant hues of Veronese and Venetian art. The warmth of the faces in his later works recalls the paintings of Rubens, works which he probably saw in Rome.  In fact, he absorbed many influences in his travels, and could imitate any artist’s styles with ease. He often copied the works of Raphael.

 

In 1663 he returned to Naples.  Remembering the works he had examined in Rome and experimenting with numerous techniques, he began to abandon calm, classical naturalism and to paint in a lively Baroque style that brought new light and color as well as movement and action to his work. His figures moved closer to the front of the canvas, and elements in the composition moved in curving spirals. (Note the statue of Pluto and Proserpine, typically Baroque, in the Fountain Court. The figures twist and spiral upward, ending with Prosepine’s fingers reaching toward the heavens, pleading for rescue.)

 

Early in his career, Giordano was nicknamed Luca fa Presto, an Italian idiom that means “Luca go quickly,” or “Luca work fast”. Two reasons are given for the name. The first was that it was the result of his father’s incessant prodding, “Luca go quick!” when Giordano had numerous commissions and his father was in need of money. The other was the amazing speed with which he worked as well as his huge output. He was undoubtedly the chief of the Machinisti, as the popular quick-painting decorators of Italy came to be called. In addition, his colleagues and patrons were astonished at the

rapidity with which he covered vast ceilings, domes and walls with frescos.  The Spanish Viceroy, who had never seen such speed before, proclaimed Giordano was “either an angel or a demon.”                  

 

Giordano joined the Neapolitan painters’ confraternity in 1665, then traveled to Florence and Venice. In Venice he won the commission for altarpieces in the Venetian church of St. Maria del Salute and produced The Assumption of the Virgin and The Presentation in the Temple. Though he continued his use of color and drama in these works, he showed his sensitivity to the tastes of his Neapolitan patrons by using Ribera’s dark color in paintings done for Naples sites.

 

In the late 1670s Giordano began a series of great fresco cycles on the nave vault of the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino (destroyed in WWII). St. Bridget in Glory in the Neapolitan church of St. Bridget followed. Here his daringly foreshortened forms gave a sense of depth to the very low dome.  In Florence he won the commission to decorate the library and gallery of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. This complex composition unites  Allegory of Human Progress with Allegory of the Medici Family, the previous owners of the palace. While working on this commission, he found time to hurry back to Naples where he produced the astonishing Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, a huge fresco covering the entrance wall of the Gerolamini Church. Here Christ is set against brilliant light at the center of a magnificent architectural setting.

 

In 1692 Giordano was called to Spain, where he became court painter. Charles II had declared that only the facile Giordano could tackle the huge ceilings and staircase of his Escorial palace. In the staircase, Giordano painted St. Lawrence in Glory, Adored by Charles V and Philip II, infinite space filled with light and tumultuous figures, the scene observed by the royal family. In the main vault of the monastery church at the Escorial he introduced a new sense of airy space by lightly sketching figures in the distance and concentrating more monumental figures around the edges of the composition. Giordano stayed in Spain for ten years.

 

He returned to Naples where his last work was the ceiling of the Treasury chapel of St. Martino. When he died in Naples in 1705, his fame was equaled by no other artist of his generation.

 

MAG’s major new acquisition The Entombment, created around 1650-53, pictures the placing of Christ’s body in a tomb after the crucifixion. The bright red cloak of St John in the foreground of the painting draws attention to the work and illuminates it. The only other light in the picture is the grey-white body of Christ.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus support the body and place it in a stone sarcophagus. The Virgin, at left, collapses in despair, while a woman--one of the Marys?--puts a comforting hand on her shoulder. Mary Magdalene, her long hair flowing over her shoulder, watches near the center of the picture, wringing her hands. Other unidentified women and men, shadowed, hover in the background. A large painting (115 1/4 x 79 1/2), it is a touching, emotional work.

 Source: Grove Encyclopedia of Art, Catholic Encyclopedia, Google


TOBIAS AND THE ANGEL

by Libby Clay

November 2005
 

The journey of Tobias and the Angel has taken them to the newly-installed Herdle Fountain Court, and we are treated to a whole new perspective on Jan Glauber’s painting. The enhanced lighting in the room makes the painting a star rather than an understudy. This would please Marion and Tom Hawks, longtime benefactors and friends of the Gallery. The painting was given in memory of Irene Comfort Jones, Marion’s mother.

 

Teddy Carr chose this work for her provisional docent paper in 1988. Sydney Greaves and Jessica Marten supplied material on the “moving art” of the second floor, and this painting was included. Tobias and the Angel has already been “discovered,” so this article will contain additions, not corrections.

 

A beginning to the story of Tobias’s journey can be found in Tobit, one of the Apocryphal books of the Bible, found in the Douay but not in the King James Bible. Tobit was the blind father of Tobias. A debt was owed him, and he sent his son to collect it.  As it was a great distance to travel, Tobias hired a guide who knew the territory. Unknown to Tobias, the guide was the angel Raphael.

 

At the river Tigris, Tobias caught a fish and they ate it, saving the heart, liver and gall. Upon arriving at their destination, Tobias and Raphael burned the fish’s heart and liver, and the smoke drove away an evil spirit who had caused the debtor’s daughter Sara to murder her seven previous husbands on their wedding nights. Sara’s father was so grateful that he gave Tobias half of his wealth. In this painting we see the successful entourage heading home, where Tobias will apply the fish’s gall to his father’s eyes and cure his blindness.  The debt had been paid, and Raphael has served as both guide and guardian angel. The painting becomes an allegory of redemption and salvation.

 

Just as Mary Magdalen has her ointment jar, Saint Peter his key and Judith the head of Holofernes, so Tobias is usually represented carrying a fish, accompanied by his dog and the Archangel Raphael. Is he carrying a fish in this painting?

 

Would the painting be interesting without the figures? Jan (Johannes) Glauber was primarily a landscape painter, and the landscapes he loved to paint were not those of his native Netherlands. Rather, they were of more exotic places--

dramatic, rugged, mountainous Italy or France or Denmark. The figures may have been a means to an end, a well-known story, set not in its original Assyria, but in Italy. It is the river Tiber and Mount Socrate that we see in this painting. In fact, the figures may not have been painted by Glauber at all, but by a much better-known figure and decorative painter, Gérard de Lairesse. It is known that Glauber lived in the Lairesse home in Amsterdam for a time, and they collaborated on paintings, Glauber doing the landscape, Lairesse the figures.

 

This painting may be one of their joint works. Collaboration was common at this time

 

Glauber was a painter and etcher, born in 1645 in Utrecht. He probably received his first art instruction from his father, as did his brother Jan Gottleib and sister Diana. Johannes also studied with the artist Nicolaes Berchem and was encouraged to paint in the academic classical tradition, as best exemplified by the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). Glauber was sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Poussin.”

 

There were “laws” for creating a classical landscape: draw a line down the center, have absolute symmetry. If there is a tree on the right, you must have a tree on the left; architecture should be in the center; there must be a foreground, a middle ground and a distance--often a zig-zag; figures, trees and (usually) architecture are verticals, while water, hills and horizon are horizontals. They were all carefully controlled.

 

Presumably Glauber abhorred the new “realism” or “naturalism” taking place in art in his home country. A society of merchants did not want paintings with religious, mythological or imaginary overtones. They wanted the picturesque details of social and domestic life, familiar objects and outdoor scenes of both town and country.

 

And so Glauber traveled, observed and painted, in Hamburg and Copenhagen, Lyons and Padua and most of all Rome. He associated himself wholeheartedly with the international, classically-oriented landscape painters. Eventually he returned to Amsterdam, where there was now a demand for “decorator artists,” artists who could paint historical and mythological scenes for the new public buildings, palaces and country homes. Glauber and Lairesse often collaborated on these commissions.

 

Rika Burnham, of the Metropolitan Museum’s education department, is expert at helping an audience really “see” a painting. She advocates spending time with a painting, enough time to “make it yours.” With Glauber’s Tobias, do you see the progression of colors...browns in the foreground, leading to greens in the middle ground and to blues and grays in the background? Do you see his use of light and shadow? Do you see the winding path, the animals drinking, the servants trying to get them back on the trail? Do you see Tobias and the angel chatting at the head of the line, with the little curly-tailed dog watching intently?  Look even closer. In the dimness of the middle ground are two figures riding side by side. One woman, babe in arms, rides a donkey. Could this be a reference to “The Flight into Egypt?” The other figure is more curious. She is riding an uncooperative camel and she is riding it sidesaddle. Given the uneven gait of a camel, this must have been a rocking ride. Glauber's Tobias is a welcome addition to the Fountain Court and to our tour repertoire.

 

Source: Germain Bazin, Baroque and Rococo, Oxford University Press, 1964; Teddy Carr, provisional docent paper, 1988; Nancy Norwood, material on Gérard de Lairesse, curatorial files.


BOUGUEREAU REDISCOVERED

By Joan K. Yanni

December 2005 - January 2006
 

Many artists live in poverty during their early years, unknown and unrecognized, only to be acclaimed after their death. Van Gogh was one of these. Others achieve success and acclamation during their lifetime, but are neglected and even denigrated in later years. Adolphe William Bouguereau is among these.Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle, France in 1825, the son of merchants who sold wine and olive oil. Early in life, he showed a facility for drawing, but his parents wanted him to join the family business, and he did for a time. Then a client urged his father to allow his son to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux. For a time William (he never used the Adolphe) balanced working and art study, earning extra money by designing labels for jams and preserves. Even with only part time study, he won first prize in figure painting at the art school for a canvas of Saint Roch. This decided his future.

 

Since the center of the art world was in Paris, not Bordeaux, the next step was getting there. Bouguereau’s parents could not afford to send him, but his uncle, a priest, came to his rescue. He arranged for Bouguereau to paint the portraits of parishioners, and the money he made in this venture was matched by an aunt. At the age of 21 he had enough to go to Paris. He was accepted into the studio of Francois Edouard Picot, and then at the prestigious École des Beaux- Arts.

 

At the school students competed for honors in a variety of contests, the highest prize being the Prix de Rome--four years at the Villa Medici, the seat of the French Academy in Rome, to study classical art and the Italian Renaissamce masters. In 1850 Bouguereau was awarded the Prix de Rome. 

 

Living in Italy was a luxury for him. The prize carried a 4000 franc stipend, and the city of La Rochelle had given him 600 francs when he was admitted to the art school--more money than he had ever had before. He delighted in being able to afford food and lodging so that he could devote his energy to art. In addition to soaking up all that could be learned about classical and Renaissance art in Rome, he traveled throughout Italy and copied the masters in Assisi, Siena, Florence, Venice,  Naples---everywhere! The things that he saw during his sojourn in Italy inspired his art for the rest of his life.

 

On his return to Paris he found immediate success. He was awarded commissions in portraiture in both Paris and La Rochelle, and he exhibited regularly at the Salon. His salon paintings, drawn from subjects taken from the Bible and mythology, were mainly somber. Although these brought acclaim, they did not have commercial appeal. Always an astute businessman, Bouguereau  began to move toward happier themes that would attract the middle class. In addition to painting for the Salon, he found dealers who could attract good prices from potential buyers. Beginning in the 1860s, his paintings became popular in England and America. In America new millionaire art patrons such as Chrysler, Frick and Chester Dale bought his works.

 

Boguereau painted prodigiously, and produced an amazing number of paintings, all beautifully composed with an enamel -like finish which he achieved  by using layers of thin washes. His technical mastery was unmatched. He worked in his studio non-stop, and, unlike artists like Rubens, never used assistants to do backgrounds or tedious underpainting.

 

Bouguereau had a passion for teaching, and though he allowed his students to express some individuality, he taught his own conventional style. Some students caused problems, the most famous being Matisse. The master tried to encourage Matisse, but finally, exasperated, told the young artist “You badly need to learn perspective...but first you need to know how to hold a pencil.” Bouguereau believed in the Old Masters and deplored the artists who wanted to create a new art when the old was so perfect. He clashed with Cézanne, Renoir, and others. He did, however, support women in art, both in his atelier, later in the Julian Academy, and finally in the École des Beaux Arts itself.

 

As the growing number of painters began to label Bouguereau and his colleagues reactionaries in the face of the new Impressionism and Post Impressionism, the tastes of the public began to change. Bouguereau remained stubbornly unmoved, creating his world of fantasy and light. He never felt the need to defend himself against detractors, even when the rumors turned to slander. It was said that he was a lecher, only happy when he was painting nudes. Yet his nudes, perfect as they are, make up less than 10% of his work. He, as well as his colleagues in the salon, fell out of favor as the younger artists and new movements took over the art world.

 

Bouguereau died in 1905. His works were relegated to back rooms and museum basements from World War I through the 70s. In 1983 the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts mounted a Bouguereau retrospective, and found that his works were undergoing a reevaluation. Prices for his paintings have sky-rocketed, and the good and the beautiful are again looked on with favor.

 

MAG has two of Bouguereau’s works: Young Priestess (73.1) is almost life-size--71 1/4 ” x  32”. The priestess is pensive, her dark hair flowing over her shoulders. She is dressed in a pink classical robe and holding a staff.  Her hand touches her chin, her eyes are demurely downcast. She stands on an ancient Greek mosaic floor. Her hands and feet are perfectly modeled  

 

Our second painting is smaller, 30” x 24”, but also charming and idealized. In The Washerwomen of Fouesnant (55.61) the women wear the starched white headdresses of Brittany; their figures are beautifully composed and their ragged dresses are as carefully modeled as classical drapery. The figure in the foreground predominates. She wears a red skirt and balances a basket of bright blue clothes on her head. Another woman kneels to pick up a basket. Four girls are washing by a river bank. None look tired or worn. It is Bouguereau’s usual idyllic scene. The feet of the main figure are pink and lovely despite walking barefoot over grass and dirt. They look just like those of the priestess.

 

Source: Google: ARC ARTicles; press release from the Montreal Museum of Art 7/22//83; “The Naughty Painting” by Timothy Cahill in the 2000 Journal of The Clark Institute; curatorial archives


THE ART OF DOMENICO FETI 

by Joan K. Yanni

February 2006 
 

Domenico Feti's St. Stephen (29.61) has come out of storage and is now displayed prominently in the Fountain Court. At first glance, the work seems to be a life-size portrait of a seated Venetian gentleman in a red and gold damask robe--but a closer look reveals unusual details.

 

In his right hand, the young man is holding a large palm frond, the symbol of a martyr. His right elbow is resting on a large book, perhaps a Bible, open on a nearby table.  The left hand is lying on his right knee, palm up, as though in explanation of his beliefs. There are large stones in his lap. The figure is not that of a wealthy Venetian; the palm frond and stones tell us that it is St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

 

References to Stephen are from the Christian scriptures (Acts of the Apostles, 6: 1-15; 7: 51-60). Because some of the apostles were traveling to distant lands to spread the gospel of Jesus, seven men were chosen to help preach and distribute alms. Stephen, an early convert to Christianity from Judaism, was one of these. His impassioned sermons caused an uproar in Jerusalem that led to a charge of blasphemy, for which he was condemned to death by stoning.

 

The picture is the work of Domenico Feti (sometimes Fetti), an Italian painter who lived from 1589-1624. Born in Rome, he studied first with his father, Pietro, and later became a pupil of Ludovico Cigoli. Familiar with the bright colors of Titian and Tintoretto as well as the light and shadows of Caravaggio, he bridged the Renaissance and the Baroque. In our painting the large palm frond creates a diagonal in the picture and is echoed by a fold in the saint’s robe and in the arrangement of the stones. Feti’s art has moved from the calm, serene pyramid of the Renaissance to the livelier mood of the Baroque.

 

In 1611 Ferdinando Gonzaga, then a Cardinal in Rome, commissioned paintings from Feti, and three years later, when Gonzaga became Duke of Mantua, his patronage enabled the artist to take his family to that city.  His father and sister Giustina, who was a painter as well as an Ursuline nun, traveled to Mantua with him. They were followed by his brother Vincenzo, who became a priest and may also have been a painter.

 

Domenico became a curator of the extensive Gonzaga collection and, influenced by the variety of artistic styles he saw there, his own art matured, broadened by the example of the unfamiliar art in the collection. He was particularly impressed by the color and realistic figures of Rubens, who had preceded him at the Gonzaga court. He was also attracted by the silvery light and landscape backgrounds of Veronese. 

 

Most of Feti’s work in Mantua consisted of religious subjects: cycles from Biblical themes or portraits of saints.


Around 1617 he painted a melancholy but voluptuous Mary Magdalene, unhappily gazing at a skull.  She is surrounded by objects symbolizing man’s intellectual accomplishments and tangible successes, yet the skull suggests the futility of all worldly achievements. It becomes an allegory of vanities in the manner of the northern European paintings which Feti had seen in the Gonzaga collection.  By blending a variety of influences, he had developed an original style.

 

Feti was highly valued in the Gonzaga court. In 1620 the Duke presented him with a house, and the following year Feti made his first recorded journey to Venice. Around the same time he received his most demanding commission as a court painter: a series of pictures celebrating the Gonzaga family, with 23 figures interspersed with 18 small putti. Only two historical portraits survive from this project. His last major ducal commission was for a cycle of pictures illustrating the Parables.  Ten of these survive. The paintings are his most original works, showing the parables as events in everyday life. Enriched with lively genre detail, they show a tenderness and humanity in his work. By this time Feti, his work much in demand, had an extensive workshop and similar versions of his paintings exist, some done by the master, others copies by his workshop which included  his sister and father.  In addition to his religious themes, Feti produced sensitive portraits, reviving the Venetian tradition of showing the sitters with objects that they prized.

 

In 1622 Feti attended a sports event in Mantua with the painter Gabriele Balestrieri. They quarreled violently and Feti left Mantua for Venice. His reputation for excellence followed him to the larger city, where he easily found new patronage. In addition, his brother Vincenzo served as courier, carrying his paintings from Venice back to Mantua.

Though Feti died after only two years in Venice, he was instrumental in reviving painting in the city and is often classed as a member of the Venetian school. 

 

MAG’s St. Stephen illustrates the interesting oil technique Feti used, learned from advances made by 16th century Venetian painters. A ruddy brown tone has been spread over the entire canvas. The painter then used oil pigments to broadly sketch the large areas such as architecture, sky and figure. Dark areas were painted very thinly over the dark ground, while thick paint was used on lighter areas to prevent the background from showing through. Once he had outlined his picture, Feti concentrated on refining and detailing his composition. His flesh tones are created by combining complements of red and green.  The harmony of his color, the beauty of the design and the modeling of the figure combine to produce a painting of great aesthetic appeal and importance.  MAG acquired the Feti in 1929, a gift from Mr. and Mrs. George Clark of Rochester. It is still one of the Gallery’s most impressive works. Feti’s paintings can be found in most of the leading museums of Europe.

 

Source: Grove Art Online, The Bulletin of the Memorial Art Gallery, Vol. I, No. 5, 1929, WEB Gallery of Art;  Clemems Jockle, Encyclopedia of Saints


BARYE, SCULPTOR OF ANIMALS 

by Libby Clay

March 2006
 

Lately “Animals in Art” tours have been rivaling “Passport” tours in popularity. Docents have been going where few went before...into the yellow, 19th-century room to examine the realistic animal sculptures of Antoine- Louis Barye. His Elephant (63.4), an African elephant on the run, delights, while his Elk and Cougar (55.4) emphasizes cruel realities of the natural world. Both amaze with their faithfulness to detail and in their transformations to miniature versions of the animals.

 

Barye, pronounced “bar-ree,” is usually associated with Romanticism.  However, art historical “isms” have fuzzy borders, and his early work is more like Neo-Classicism. He was greatly influenced then by the work of the English sculptor and draftsman John Flaxman (think Wedgwood). Barye produced historical and mythological works, both drawings and sculptures.

 

Toward the mid-point of his career, in the 1820s and 1830s, he was credited with “liberating” animal sculpture from the traditional classical noble beast to more dramatic, realistic beasts in the wild. He exploited the emotional, the moralizing, the narrative in his work.  His animals were not only anatomically accurate, they also conveyed powerful messages about the realities of untamed nature. Barye lived in a time of great political upheaval in Western Europe, especially in France. During a stint in the army he experienced firsthand the cruelty and brutality of war.  In a milieu of rapidly changing governments and wars, both internal and external, his animal sculptures reflected the chaos and frenzy of his time.

 

Barye was born in Paris in 1796, the son of a goldsmith.  It is interesting that many sculptors came from a goldsmithing background. At age 13 he began a series of apprenticeships, first in his father’s atelier, then with a sculptor, and finally with the goldsmith to Napoleon Bonaparte.  Here he learned the secrets of metal and foundry methods.  He also learned to miniaturize, to transform faithfully the large into smaller replicas. This was the distinctive genius of the goldsmiths, and it would be Barye’s genius in sculpture.

 

He also studied with the painter Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, whose romantic paintings of Napoleon “saving” France impressed him greatly. (Napoleon at Arcole and Napoleon on the Battlefield at Eylau are the best examples.) Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa was also an influence on him. Barye was accepted at the École des Beaux-Arts, where one of his friends and fellow students was the soon-to-be famous Delacroix. Both were interested in animals and spent long hours observing and sketching the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes and the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle. Barye especially became interested in zoology and comparative anatomy, and attended autopsies of animals to increase his knowledge and understanding of their structure.

 

Barye’s finest productive years were the 1830s. He was exhibiting his sculptures at the Salon, and they received highly favorable reviews.  During these years an artist’s goal was the Salon, for here work could be seen by the public and, hopefully, would bring patrons. One such patron for Barye               was the young Duke of Orleans, son of the “citizen king,” Louis-Philippe. For him, Barye created an ensemble of nine sculptural groups for an elaborate table decoration, a surtout de table. The designs were of animal hunts in exotic lands or in long-ago historical periods. These purely decorative sculptures stood on their own merit and represented a breaking away from the tradition that such scenes should only be embellishments on table service, such as a salt cellar.  They inspired a small group of artist followers called the animaliers.

 

Barye continued to have a long and active career. He managed to remain a favorite artist through all the changing governments of France, Louis-Philippe, the provisional government of the Second Republic and the presidency of Napoleon III. He also taught, and his best-known pupil was Rodin. Barye was a great influence on not only Rodin, but also on Matisse and on Carpeaux, whose sculpture of the Breton Poet is encased in the same gallery opposite Barye‘s animals. Sadly, Barye did not receive the appreciation he deserved in our time until the 1950s. Then he was “re-discovered,” and the prices for his works increased by five to seven times. The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and the Corcoran both have extensive collections of his work.

 

When we look closely at MAG’s sculptures, we are impressed with their fidelity to life and with the detail Barye has included. The wrinkles on the elephant’s neck and legs appear to have been cast rather then etched in.  Barye’s name as well as the name of the founder, “F. Barbedienne,” appears on the base. Barye was meticulous about his work and never allowed anything to leave the foundry until he was satisfied that it was perfect. Only then would he sign it.  MAG acquired this sculpture through the Marion Stratton Gould Fund.

 

Elk and Cougar is a remarkable work, even if it might be too violent for young sensibilities. The six-point elk is braced against the attack, his nostrils flared. The cougar, tail almost twitching, pins the elk down with his right paw as he goes for the spinal cord. Gouge marks from his claws are visible. There is no founder’s mark on this piece, but Barye has signed it.

 

MAG is fortunate to have two sculptures from the admirable work left by Barye. He is now regarded as the greatest animal sculptor of the French school and as the creator of a new class of art.

 

Sources: Benge, Glenn F., Antoine Louis Barye: Sculptor of Romantic Realism. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park and London, 1984. Clay, Jean, Romanticism (forward by Robert Rosenblum) The Vendome Press, NY, Paris, and Lausanne, 1981. (Benge’s book is available in MAG’s library and contains a number of illustrations of Barye’s works.) 


THE ART OF PIETRO PAOLINI

By Joan K. Yanni

April 2006
 

It’s almost impossible to pass by Paolini’s Portrait of a Man Holding Dürer’s “Small Passion”  (77.103) without stopping to look.  It is an unusual portrait. Rather than sitting stiffly in a formal pose, the anonymous subject is shown from the side, his head turned to look directly at the viewer. Interrupted in his contemplation of a book in his hand, he momentarily looks up, lips parted, as though questioning the intrusion. He is serious, but not unfriendly. He doesn’t want to chat, he wants to get back to the page at which he was gazing.

 

The background of the painting is dark, almost black. The light, coming from above, illuminates the subject’s face, the white silk sleeve of his left arm, the book in his hand, the left side of his chair. Also notable, though not as highly lighted, are books and a scroll on a shelf in the upper right of the picture, identifying the sitter as a scholar. The chiaroscuro (dramatic use of light and dark) is similar to that used by Caravaggio (1573-1610) and his followers, who used everyday scenes in their works but employed unusual lighting to achieve interest and drama. In fact MAG’s portrait had been attributed to Caravaggio himself until an art sale in the 1960s listed Paolini as the artist.  MAG acquired the work in 1977.

 

In the sitter’s hand one can see the frontispiece of the book he is holding: Dürer’s “Small Passion.” It pictures Jesus, “the man of sorrows,” seated with his bent head supported by his right hand. The crucifixion and resurrection have already  taken place, for Jesus wears the crown of thorns, and the nail holes in his feet are prominent. A verse written in Latin under the figure describes the reason for his sorrow:

 

                O cause of such great sorrows to me who am just;

                O Bloody Cause of the cross and of my death;             

                O Man, is it not enough that I suffered these things once for you?

                O cease crucifying me with new sins.

 

In addition to the pictured frontispiece, the book consists of thirty-six woodcuts, narrative plates with a Latin poem on the page facing each plate. Each plate invites contemplation and meditation. Dürer (1471-1528) was a painter as well as a printmaker and the most prominent engraver of his time. His works would have been well known to Paolini and his circle.

 

The portrait is typical of Paolini’s mature work: sensitive and introspective. This portrait was not for public display, but a private, insightful presentation of his sitter’s inner thoughts and persona.

 

Pietro Paolini was born in Lucca, Italy, a town in Tuscany, in 1603. When he was 16 his father sent him to Rome to study under painter Angelo Caroselli  (1585-1652), who had been a student of Caravaggio. How the young student paid for this sojourn is not known, since his family was not affluent. However, records of the prominent Buonvisi family of Lucca, who were bankers and had business in Rome, list one painting by Caroselli and six by Paolini in their holdings. They could have brought the artist and pupil  together.

 

Caroselli was probably chosen as his teacher because he knew the Roman art scene and was eclectic in his own painting. From him Paolini learned versatility and diversity in style. His earliest works were genre scenes with the lyrical style of Caravaggio, using familiar figures and details but dramatic lighting with heightened light and shadow. The Lute Player and The Fortune Teller are examples of this work.

 

There is no record of any other teacher,  though Paolini was probably influenced by the Italian and northern European artists,  followers of Bartolomeo Manfredi, who were active in Rome between 1620 and 1630. His first religious works, as well as many portraits done at this time, show the influence of his years in Rome. Many portraits from this time also demonstrate his early skill in portraiture and an interest in presenting likenesses that show the inner personality rather than the worldly possessions of his sitter.

                                            

Around 1628 he traveled to Venice, where he spent two years and learned the Venetian artists’ use of color. The Venetian influence can be seen in religious works such as two versions of Virgin and Saints, and history paintings, such as Esther and Ahasuerus.

 

He returned to Lucca in 1631. Here he created an original style encompassing  what he had learned from his experiences in Rome and Venice. He painted cabinet works, smaller works meant to be displayed in his patrons’ more intimate rooms, usually of musical or allegorical themes. He introduced still life painting to Lucca and found a ready market for his realistic still life works. 

 

Around 1650 the successful Paolini opened a painting academy which he was able to fund himself.  It was based on the principle of “art from nature.” Here numerous artists were trained, among them Antonio Franchi, Simone del Tontore and his brother Francesco.

 

Paolini’s life and prominence in his native town are recorded by local historians. He evidently moved in the aristocratic circles of  Lucca, fostering knowledge of and love for art.  He was regarded with esteem by his fellow citizens. He lived in Lucca until his death in 1681.

  

Source: Curatorial files, Grove Art Online, Gloria Williams, “Pietro Paolini’s Portrait of a Man Holding Dürer’s “Small Passion,” Porticus, Vol. XII/XIII, 1989-90.


LEPRINCE’S THE VISIT 

by Joan K. Yanni

May 2006
 

A combination of a landscape and a genre scene, Jean-Baptiste Leprince’s The Visit, (77.102) on view in the 18th-century gallery, is an example of the best in the artist’s work. Painted just two years before his death, it combines his facility in landscape with his remarkably detailed genre scenes.

 

The most important element in the painting is a huge tree rather than the people meeting in its shade. The landscape in the background, with its winding roads, stream, animals, castle and peasant dwellings, represents the ideal

in 18th-century French painting: a departure from the frivolity of the Rococo painter Boucher and a return to the style and subject matter of the Dutch landscapists. It shows a moment in the daily life of people living on an estate in France.

 

The scene pictures the visit of nobles to a peasant family with a new baby. The nobles, dressed in fine clothes and on horseback, have come from the castle on the far right. The new mother is nursing her baby under the tree, while her husband sits on the ground at her feet. The child’s bassinette is being carried on the side of a donkey at the left of the group, while a loyal dog rests on the right side of the couple.

 

The tree dominating the painting illustrates Leprince’s principles of design as set forth in a treatise he wrote for the French Academy in 1773. He advised an artist who is painting nature to work from the detail to the whole, to proceed from a single leaf to a cluster, then to the mass of the tree, last to the direction of branches. He notes that a tree appears different at various distances. For example, a detailed leaf represents a tree close at hand, while at a distance only the “spirit,” which eliminates detail, can be shown.  He also advises that when working from nature, the painter should work for only two hours or less because the sun moves, changing the shadows and mass of the subject. If necessary to finish the work, the painter should return the next day at the same time to complete the look already on the canvas. Unlike the Impressionists, Leprince is aiming for a picture of permanence and stability in his work rather then the fleeting moment. The variable here is not light, but distance from the object.

Leprince (1734-1781) was born in Metz, France, to a family of master-sculptors and gilders who had worked in the region around Rouen. When he was twelve he was sent to study with a local artist. Even at this early age he was impatient.  After a few years he decided he could do far better in Paris than in Metz, so he asked the governor of Metz for patronage and, having received it, accompanied the governor to Paris and went to study with the influential François Boucher. Always ambitious, he soon married a very rich woman twice his age and set about spending her money. The wife was displeased and the marriage a failure. Leprince went then to Italy, producing drawings of ruins for an amateur engraver.                                                 

His drawings showed little originality, for he was not captivated by the neo-classic. From these he turned to genre scenes. Though his work was pleasing and colorful, he had not yet found a theme that captured his attention.  In 1758, on his way to join his brothers in St. Petersburg where they were employed as musicians, he stopped in Holland to study the work of Dutch and Flemish masters. Their influence can be seen in his later work. Once in Russia, he finally found subjects that appealed to his imagination. He remained here for several years traveling and sketching the native peasant life. His reputation in Russia grew, but though he found the scenery and life in Russia to his liking, the climate did not agree with him. He returned to Paris with detailed drawings of customs and costumes he had seen on his travels there and would use them in his work in France.

On his return to France he published several sets of etchings which he used to get the attention of the Academy. These were created in 1768, using Leprince’s new formula for aquatint. Though Leprince claimed its invention, it has also been attributed to others. Whoever had invented it,  Leprince was a pioneer in its use.

He soon presented himself as a candidate to the French Academy and was received as a member in 1764. His reception piece was The Russian Baptism. It was shown at the salon that year along with several paintings of his Russian themes including a view of St. Petersburg, a party of Cossacks returning from a raid, a Russian pastorale and a landscape with figures in different costumes.

In his paintings he continued to use Russian landscapes,  with Russian costumes in his genre scenes. The French shepherds he had formerly painted turned into Russian peasants watching over real sheep and goats. His exotic costumes and unusual settings created a demand for his pictures. His Russian subjects were unique because they were not painted realistically, but in pastel hues--Rococo Russians presented by an artist who was trained under the master Boucher.

In 1773 Leprince read a treatise to the Academy on  the subject of landscape with four volumes of four plates, each illustrating  “Principles of Design.” His principles are based on a study from nature and have been described earlier.  Many seem self-evident, but they gained him acclaim.  Two years after presenting his treatise to the Academy, he bought a house in the region of Lagny. Though he exhibited eight landscapes at the salon of 1777, he was by then very ill. He died in 1781.

 

Though Leprince’s reputation in art history has long been based on his Russian genre scenes, his work in landscape may have been just as important   He embraced the tradition of landscape then taking shape,  showing an appreciation of the outdoors, fresh air, walks in the country, and the skies and light of France.

 

Source: Rémy Saisselin, “Leprince Landscape,” Porticus, Vol. II, 1979; “Jean -Baptiste Leprince,” The Memorial Art Gallery: An Introduction to the Collection; The Grove Dictionary of Art


BOLTANSKI’S MYSTERIOUS MONUMENT

by Sydney Greaves and Diane Tichell

June, July August  2006 
 

From the moment of its 2004 installation, Monument by French artist Christian Boltanski has prompted many questions.  Who are the children in the photographs?  Does this piece refer to the Holocaust and WWII?  Why did the artist use bare wires and old-fashioned light bulbs?  We may be able to provide a few answers, or at least  ideas…

___________________________

 

Christian Boltanski was born in Paris in 1944 to a Corsican mother and a Christian-converted Jewish father.  As an artist his earlier work dealt with photography, film and installations.  In a 1984 interview he first publicly acknowledged his Jewish heritage, which would become an influence on his subsequent work.  Called “death-obsessed” by some, his post-1984 works explore the use of photographic images and materials, anonymous and out of context, as objects of memory: public and private, real and imagined.

 

Monument is one of a series of installations that explore identity and memory by utilizing delicate, impermanent materials such as photographs and wrapping paper as well as mundane objects like clothing, paper, found objects and lost property.  The small scale and everyday nature of Boltanski’s intimate installations contradict the accepted concept of a monument as a way to preserve memory.  The very word monument conjures up images of magnificent bronzes and marbles of suitably “monumental” size, and it is these contradictions that are a hallmark of Boltanski’s Monument series.

 

Our Monument consists of very basic materials; fifty-six small metal “picture frames” are individually mounted on the wall with adhesive Velcro in a stair-step, tall, triangular arrangement.   Each “picture” consists of paper, backed with thin cardboard, covered with glass and mounted in the frame using masking tape. Eleven small, old-style light bulbs connected by dangling wires sit on the “riser” of each step all the way to the top center. 

 

Of the 56 frames, 48 show a black speckle-patterned paper, the outer frames in a gold or tan color, the interior divided between blue on the left and gray on the right.  The eight remaining frames feature photographs.  The very top photo is the only color photo in the installation and features a scene of purplish-pink tulips in a garden.  An additional two photographs, arranged at the bottom left and right respectively, feature one little boy at full length and two children together.  Arranged in pairs in the interior of the triangle are four black and white, extreme close-up photographs of children’s faces, slightly blurry as if enlarged from very small old originals.

 

Many of Boltanski’s monuments have been described as resembling the structure of a Christian altar.  (Think of the MAG’s Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance icons and altarpieces, especially Madonna and Child Enthroned Between Six Saints and Angels, 27.1.)  S ome “altars” have a large central shape flanked by smaller ones on each side, while others, like ours, have a triangular stair-step arrangement.  All share the candle-like use of a series of small bare light bulbs, gently illuminating the installation and enhancing the religious nature of the space. The bare wires, draped and dangling in front of the photographs, serve not only an obvious electrical function (supplying power to the light bulbs) but unite the various elements of the work in a casual, home-made fashion, as if roughly constructed with materials at hand.

 

The haunting, blurry old photographs of Boltanski’s monuments come from various sources, such as photo archives, borrowed family albums, found objects and miscellaneous collections.  Many feature the close-up faces of children, obviously from another era.  In the context of the shrine-like installations, questions arise again:  Who are these children?  Do we know their names?   Are they alive or dead?  Did they die in the Holocaust, memorialized here as representative of the millions of others?  Perhaps comments from the artist himself provide something of an answer:

 

 “I never speak directly about the Holocaust in my work, but of course my work comes after the Holocaust.”    (1999 interview)

 

“I have never used images from the [concentration] camps.  My work is not about, it is after.”                     (1997 interview)

 

In other words, Boltanski relies on our collective cultural memory surrounding the events of WWII, knowing that our knowledge of the Holocaust inevitably colors our viewing of Monument.  We add up the elements:  shrine-like configuration, “candle” light, poignant old photographs of children, and of course the title Monument itself, and then use these to draw our own conclusions.  Those conclusions may reflect the intended effect of the work, or not, but …

 

[that effect] “has to be ‘unfocused’ somehow so that everyone can recognize something of their own self when viewing it.”

 (1999 interview)

 

In the end, the experience and reaction of the viewer, both individual and collective, is as integral to Monument as the photographs and light bulbs. Whether we stand in front of Monument and “see” a Holocaust memorial or, conversely, a  Birthday Cake or  Christmas Tree, as some child visitors have suggested, we are indeed heading in the right direction.  That recognition from something of your own experience,  be it historical memory, personal connection or contextual interpretation, is itself The Right Answer.

 

Sources:

Curatorial Files, 

Wired Image:  Ben Armstrong, The Installation of Monument: The

     Children of Dijon at Chapelle de la Salpetriere, Paris, 1986

     http://www.wiredimage.co.uk/archive/wiredimage/chapt5.html

frenchculture.org: Visual Arts, Christian Boltanski: “Coming and Going”

     Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Feb 21-Apr 14, 2001

Tate Magazine, issue 2, Studio: Christian Boltanski

                httpL//www.tate.org.uk/magazine/issue/boltanski..htm


Living in Ancient Egypt
By Libby Clay
September 2006

Docents, it’s almost time to renew our passports… passport tours, that is. Since the Ethnographic Gallery won’t be available for some tithe, I ‘ve been looking for more material on the other areas we use on the tour. I began with Egypt:
because two things puzzle me: (I) why the bread and the food in the ancient gallery case are “hardened” and how they got that way, and (2) why Pa-debeliu-Aset is wearing a false beard when he was not a pharaoh.

 Minerals must have replaced the pore space in the food and bread, but how? Where did the minerals come from? Perhaps they were from small, modest entombments where no moisture could seep in. I wonder about the condition of foodstuffs in the large tombs. I know that the rice found in the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen would still germinate, but what about other foodstuffs?

I didn’t find the answer to the beard, but I did find out more about pharaohs. Beginning at the top of the pyramid with the king, he (or she in the case of Queen Hatshepsut) wore a false beard as a sign of maturity and status. The daily purification rituals required of the King prevented him from growing his own beard. The false beard was square-ended and carved of wood or made of woven fibers. It was suspended by strings from the tabs on his brow band. When he died, the king was entitled to wear the longer, narrower plaited beard with a rounded, upturned end... like the one “Pa” is sporting.

The king had official headdresses, the simplest being the names, ahead cloth of blue and yellow stripes with two shaped lappets that hung down, one over each shoulder. The loose cloth at the back was gathered into a sort of pigtail. As with all his crowns, the nemes was attached to a brow band of leather or linen, tied behind his head with ribbons. King Ny-user-ra wears the nemes. Pharaoh never went bareheaded. If the occasion called for a crown, the choice depended on the specific power necessary for the event. The double crown, combining the crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt was a symbol of his power over the two parts of his realm. The crowns could be worn separately as well, the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red of Lower Egypt. In the eighteenth dynasty, the time of the Maya, the blue war crown was. developed. King Tutankhamen wears this crown in paintings on a chest found .in this tomb. The crowns always bore the sacred uraeus, a multi-colored cobra, symbol of Buto, and the cobra goddess who was ready to deal death to Pharaoh’s enemies.

The king wore the pleated shendjyt-apron with its triangular front piece. Ordinary mortals wore loincloths or kilts. Women wore simple shifts or wrap-around skirts. Priests were permitted to wear only garments of white linen and sandals made from papyrus. Animal products in the form of leather or wool were considered “unclean” for the temple. Homes of all but the aristocracy were modest, made of hardened mud-brick, with only a door and perhaps a couple of small apertures to let in air and .keep out the sun.  They: had  flat roofs for sleeping in the cooler night air Lighting at night was by stone or baked clay cups in which twisted wicks coated with oil were burned. Furniture might consist of a chest for storage and simple cubic stools and small pedestal tables for meals. People slept on mats with head rests made of wood or stone, meant to promote sleep and protect the head from the stings of crawling insects. Besides raising children, a wife’s primary role was managing a household that could be quite large, sine it was a man’s responsibility to care for any unmarried or widowed females in his immediate family. Orphaned nieces and nephews would be adopted and brought up as the householder’s own.

In addition, the wife would be responsible for getting water:
several times a day from the Nile or an irrigation ditch. It was also her duty to see to baking the bread and brewing the beer that were the staples of Egyptian life. Grinding the grain for the flour was an arduous task, performed on a stone tray-like mortar. The resulting flour was coarse and, despite sieving, often had some grit in it, the molars of many mummies show severe wear. Bread .could come in as many as sixteen varieties and shapes, from flat pita-like bread baked on the outside of an oven, to yeast-risen bread baked in a domed oven set on stones. Beer was brewed using leftovers from the bread to start fermentation  It was often sweetened with dates. Children, of course, drank milk

Both boys and girls wore the side lock of youth, a lock of hair on the right side of the head. The rest of the hair was shaved off or cut short. A child went nude, often till puberty; with its side lock and its finger in its mouth to indicate recent weaning. See the little bronze statue (#1) of Horus as a child in the first case in the Gill Center.

Also in the first case is a mummified cat Cats were much admired because of their cunning, resourcefulness and ability to catch poisonous snakes. Later they were domesticated and served their families by catching the mice that plagued every house. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, if a house caught on fire, the family ignored the fire to make sure the cat was safe. If a domestic cat died of natural causes the whole family shaved off their eyebrows. No wonder one of their major gods was the cat-goddess Bastet.

In the case on mummification, there is a small dish of natron. Natron. is a naturally-occurring crystalline mixture whose principal constituents are washing soda and baking soda. This all-purpose cleanser was used in ancient Egypt for washing everything from household crockery to sacred vessels, from linen clothing to the people who wore the clothes. It was considered so necessary that bags and bowls of it were offered to the gods and requested in funerary offering lists. Pellets of natron were chewed to freshen the breath and clean the teeth. It was also used to wash the body for embalming and for desiccating it.

Sources: Cottreli, Leonard: Life under (he Pharaohs; Andreu, Guillemette:Egypt n the Age of the Pyramids; Herodotus: The Histories; Wilson, Hilary, People of the Pharaohs: From Peasant to Courtier.


SOLIMENA’S JUDITH

by Susan Nurse

October 2006
 

The reinstallation of the Fountain Court after the installation of the 18th-century Italian Organ has brought works from the Baroque Period together, including our Francesco Solimena, The Triumph of Judith (77.109).  The painting, full of the drama of subject matter and the use of chiaroscuro and undulating forms is very representative of Baroque style.  So who are the figures in this dramatic painting?  Is that a woman holding a man’s severed head in the center of this work of art?  No wonder she has everyone’s attention.

 

This is Judith, the female heroine from the apocryphal “Book of Judith.”  Her story is extraordinary, and has the makings of a great source for visual images. We are seeing the end of the story. Judith has charmed the Assyrian general Holofernes, been admitted to his tent, and got him drunk. Then comes her triumph over the enemy of her town, the Assyrians, through the murder of Holofernes.  This apocryphal tale is of a Jewish widow who, with the help of God, slays the general by decapitating him with his own sword, thereby saving her own town of Bethulia and the entire state of Israel.  The word Bethulia, in Hebrew, is understood to mean house of the Lord, that is, the Temple, while the name Judith alludes to the Jewish people as a whole.  The moralistic message is of obedience to God's law and unwavering faith, unlike the town elders who offered to surrender the town.

 

Her story had been used in medieval times, usually depicted in narratives, and like other Old Testament figures, Judith and her triumph over Holofernes was interpreted as a pre-figuration of Mary. 

 

It was during the Counter Reformation that the heroism of Judith took on a new importance.  Holofernes had to die because as a Gentile, he had attempted to force the Jews to disobey the one true God.  Judith's fatal blow was done for the greater glory of this God, a deed highly meaningful to the resurgence of the Catholic Church over the heresy of Protestantism. 

 

It should not be surprising, looking at Solimina's work here, that his early training was in the elaborate ceiling frescos done by his mentor, Luca Giordano.  (Note that The Entombment by  Giordano hangs next to the Solimena in the Fountain Court).  Notice how, in the painting, we seem to be climbing a steep hill or stairway, looking up to see Judith with Holofernes's head held in triumph against the sky.  Regardless of the turmoil and the bodies swirling around her, Judith stands in a dramatic gesture, allowing us to focus on her and her prize. 

 

Solimena lived from 1657-1747 and brought great fame to the Naples area during his lifetime.  Arriving in the city in 1674, Solimena at 17 was seen as a prodigy.  His early work showed his preference for the flowing robes and gestures of the painterly style with complex spatial arrangements that resulted from his father’s training.  It was Solimena’s introduction to Giordano that brought a new solidity of forms and an increase in contrasts of light and shadow that are reflected in his mature work, including our Judith.  Another influence on Solimena was his trip to Rome in 1700.  His exposure to Guido Reni brought more classicized elements to his work.

                                                

These changes in style can be seen in Solimena’s most monumental work, the ceiling fresco in San Domenico Maggiore, Triumph of the Dominican Order of 1709. The Madonna points to St. Dominic, with a gesture clearly derivative of Giordano’s 1704 Triumph of Judith (fresco Chapel of the Treasury in the Certosa di S. Martino, Naples).  This gesture introduces the Saint to the Holy Trinity, while the Virtues and angels drive out heretics, who literally fall towards the viewer.  The hand of the Madonna is a focal point, just as is Judith’s hand in our picture, painted less than 20 years later.

 

Solimena used hands throughout our work to express surprise and wonder at the amazing spectacle before them: Judith, the widow of Bethuli, has returned to the town with the head of the Assyrian general!!  Solimena emphasized Judith's heroism by depicting her as an ordinary woman, not overly strong.  In this way, he emphasized the core of the story, that the hand of God must have helped her accomplish such an amazing feat. 

 

Solimena has created a variety of people who look up to Judith, both literally and figuratively, setting her off as a universal heroic figure.  Young and old, male and female, with different races represented, all swirl around the base of our painting, their gestures and movement further emphasized by the movement of the drapery of their clothes.   Even the elders, who had been willing to surrender the town, are awe- struck with the event that has taken place. They can no longer deny that a lone woman has done what they were unable to do. Through faith in God, she saved the town and Israel itself. The proof is before them.

 

Solimena did four other versions of this same story, one of which is now in Gemaldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.  That work, dated 1730, is more derivative of his ceiling works.  But while ceiling size helped to dissipate a large number of figures, the number of figures in a work  similar in size to our own painting makes the painting appear  somewhat cluttered.  In MAG’s painting Judith is not accentuated to the degree necessary to understand the significance of her act of courage and the drama of the moment.

 

This painting is representative of the power of the Baroque style at the hands of a Neapolitan master, Francesco Solimena, and the representation of Judith as a heroic figure.

 

Sources- Curatorial files; Carmen Bambach “A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America, 1650-1750”; Stocker, Margarita, Judith, Sexual Warrior: Women and Power in Western Culture, Yale University Press, 1998.

 

Susan Nurse is MAG’s Visual Resources Coordinator


HUBERT ROBERT, MASTER OF RUINS

by Joan K. Yanni

November 2006
 

Hubert Robert, painter of MAG’s Figures Amidst Ruins (63.14), was one of the most prolific and admired painters in 18th-century France. His fascination with ruins led to the development of the architectural landscape in French painting.

 

Early landscapes were merely backgrounds for historical and religious scenes, such as those painted by Renaissance artists. Gradually the landscapes grew in size and importance, and eventually became subjects in themselves, such as in the paintings of van Ruisdale in Holland, Constable and Turner in England, and Claude Lorraine in France.  The popularity of landscapes increased until, when the French Academy classified the genres of art in the 17th century, they were placed fourth out of five categories in order of importance. (The categories were, from highest to least in importance, history, religious and mythological paintings; genre scenes or scenes of everyday life; portraits; landscapes; and still lifes. Some sources list landscapes last, but they were always popular.)

 

Hubert Robert was born in 1733 to an official in the service of the Marquis de Stainville in Paris. His father’s position insured an excellent education for his son: Robert attended the College de Navarre, where he studied ancient history and literature as well as Latin. Against his parents’ wishes, he also studied drawing under the sculptor Rene Michel Slodtz. Here he learned perspective and developed his interest in architecture.

 

In 1754 Robert traveled to Rome with the Comte de Stainville, the son of the Marquis, who had been appointed French Ambassador to the Vatican. The Comte’s influence was helpful in getting Robert admitted to the French Academy in Rome, even though he had not previously studied at the Academy in Paris and had bypassed the Prix de Rome competition. Robert was to remain in Rome for the next 11 years. His passion for architecture could already be seen in his work here, where he painted the classical architecture for which Rome is known, often in ruins, in a landscape setting.

 

At the French Academy in Rome Robert studied under the artist Giovanni Paolo Panini, during which time he met classmate and lifelong friend Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  Always sociable, Robert also befriended Giovanni Battista Piranesi, whose workshop was located near the Academy, and they often sketched buildings and ruins together.

 

Robert’s expanding social network provided him with the opportunity to view historic places firsthand. In 1760 the Abbé Saint-Non brought Robert and Fragonard to Naples, and the three visited Herculaneum and Pompeii. They also traveled to the abandoned Villa d’Este in Tivoli, where the ambassador to the Vatican from Malta had arranged for them to stay.  On these trips, Robert and Fragonard sketched continually together. Though their styles were similar, their subject matter was not. Whereas Fragonard was interested in society at play, Robert was fascinated by romantic ruins.

 

Robert returned permanently to Paris in 1765, and the following year, in an usual honor, was named an associate and a full member of the Academy is in the same session. Images of classical ruins were very popular by then and Robert exhibited at the Salon every year from 1766 until 1798. His paintings incorporated the antique architectural elements he had sketched during his stay in Italy, sometimes turning them into imaginative fantasies. Populated with lively figures, these works presented an appealing combination of silent monuments and busy contemporary life.

 

At the height of his career in the 1770s and 1780s, Robert was given commissions from royal patrons as well as wealthy private citizens. Louis XVI was an admirer as was Catherine the Great of Russia. In fact, one of the largest collections of his work is in the Hermitage.

 

During the Revolution in France Robert was arrested by the Jacobins and spent a year in prison, but obviously had access to canvas and paint since he completed more than fifty paintings as well as watercolors and drawings. After his release in 1794 he became curator of the Louvre, where he remained until Napoleon took control of the museum in 1802. Still actively painting, he died in 1808. His friend, the artist Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, recorded that he died brush in hand as he prepared to go out to dinner.

 

MAG’s painting, executed around 1775, shows a partial view of a ruined circular temple filling the height of the canvas on the right side.  The classical structure with Corinthian columns is based on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. There is no pastoral landscape in this painting.  Instead, architecture stretches across the canvas. The perspective in the scene recedes abruptly, implying vast distance.

 

The triumphal arches are based on the design of the Arch of Constantine, but they have been squared three-dimensionally and form pavilions. Between them part of a pediment is visible, suggesting a temple overlooking an imagined Forum. Various sculptural figures are placed at the corners of the arches. A river or canal leads from the segment of land in the foreground to the first arch. An Egyptian lion fountain can barely be seen in the shadows at lower left.

 

Robert has scattered figures throughout this scene, walking among the columns, looking out behind the railings, sitting on the fragments of ruins in the foreground, and bathing and doing laundry where the steps descend into the water.

 

His loose painterly technique has sometimes been criticized as too facile, especially because of his prodigious output, but his reputation as one of France’s most revered painter of architectural landscapes is secure.                                           

 

Source:  Steven D. Borys, The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting, catalog of the exhibition; Grove Encyclopedia


FRUIT, FLOWERS AND INSECTS: RACHEL RUYSCH

By Joan K Yanni

December 2006 - January 2007 
 

Rachel Ruysch, the painter of Floral Still Life (82.9), was the best flower painter of her day and probably the greatest female painter before the second half of the 18th century.  MAG’s painting, done in 1686, is one of the artist’s earliest known paintings.

 

Ruysch was born in Amsterdam in 1664 to highly distinguished parents.  Her mother, Maria Post, was the daughter of Pieter Post, a renowned architect, and her father, Anthony Frederick Ruysch, was a professor of anatomy and botany as well as an amateur painter. Her father collected scientific specimens--shells, fossils, insects, skeletons, minerals and rare plants. Rachel helped him with the dissections and mounting necessary for his collection and often painted backgrounds for his displays.

 

Rachel’s talent was discovered early, and when she was fifteen, she was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a versatile still life artist who specialized in fruit and flower paintings. This arrangement in itself was unusual. At this time it was not the custom for a woman, let alone a young girl, to be apprenticed to a male painter unless he was a relative. Luckily Rachel’s parents’ enlightened attitude helped get her the best possible training. As would be expected, her early work shows the influence of van Aelst.

 

Ruysch’s first dated works are from 1682, when she was only 18. One is a study of insects and a thistle plant in a landscape; the other is a painting of flowers, apples and quinces hanging together in a bunch.  She began to use contrasting scenes of dark woodlands and brilliant flowers in her works almost from the start. A work from 1685, Still Life with Flowers and Insects in a Landscape, uses a shady landscape setting as background for an impressive collection of flowers, vegetation, rocks and reptiles, all perfectly detailed.

 

This practice of combining dark and light shows her knowledge of and appreciation for the work of Otto Marseus van Schriek, a painter of the time whose specialty was a blend of dark settings contrasted with exotic flora and fauna.  Flower painting had fallen out of favor after the collapse of Holland’s tulip market in the 1630s; van Schriek’s nature paintings were a way of reintroducing pictures of flowers--but not tulips. Ruysch sometimes used elements of van Schriek’s paintings, rearranged and put into her own settings. Our Floral Still Life is one of about a dozen still lifes in nature painted early in her career. Technically, these are not flower paintings, but woodland still lifes.                                                                                    

Most of her early works differ drastically from the conventional flower painting of flowers in a vase in the center of a composition. She has avoided the vase and instead places plants in a dark, outdoor setting inhabited by insects, reptiles, and amphibians. The setting in Floral Still Life is entirely artificial, though details are realistically presented. The Spot lighted roses, lilies, iris, morning glories, opium poppies and mushrooms, for example, are painted with the same precision lavished on the trunk of the old tree from which they appear to grow. Although some of the plants pictured grow in or near water, the blooms are not indigenous to this environment. There are no tulips in the composition.

 

In 1693 Rachel married Juriaen Pool, a portrait painter.  The two had ten children, and it is remarkable that, despite her domestic responsibilities, she continued to paint. She and her husband entered the Hague Painters’ Guild together in 1701.  During her years in the Guild, Ruysch honed her skills and developed a style of her own, showing her technical virtuosity.  She highlighted vivid flowers in a natural setting, emphasizing the contrast between the grotesque and the beautiful in nature. When she used vases, they contained blossoms from every growing season as well as exotic flowers she must have seen only in Amsterdam’s botanical gardens where her father was supervisor.

 

Ruysch gained international recognition around 1708 when she and her husband were appointed court painters to the elector palatine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf. The elector bought all of the paintings she produced during her eight years in his court, and sent two of them as a gift to his father-in-law, Cosimo III de’ Medici of Tuscany. These paintings are now in the Uffizi in Florence. After the elector died, Ruysch returned with her family to Amsterdam. She continued to paint until the age of eighty-three, two years before her death.

 

The flowers in MAG’s Floral Still Life are arranged in an S-curve at the right of the canvas.  They seem to be growing out of a dead tree; a large rock anchors the tree trunk. Elements in the painting can be seen as vanitas references, reflecting the idea of memento mori, the transience of life: “Remember, man, that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return.” The morning glories and opium poppies, standing next to each other, symbolize night and day; the lizards, toads, and half-eaten toadstools symbolize death. The butterflies in the composition reflect the resurrected soul.  However, the usual representations of death are absent: the skull, hour glass, candle, or goldfinch (which feeds on thistles and represents the crown of thorns in the Crucifixion) are lacking, suggesting that Ruysch was not interested primarily in vanitas. Rather, she chose blooms in an outdoor setting because she was familiar with nature and the creatures in it.  These she pictured with an accuracy that must have come from her work with her father.                  

 

Ruysch achieved an international reputation in her lifetime, but interest in her works did not decline after her death. Her works brought high prices when she was alive and they remain sought-after today.

 

Source: Susan Dodge-Peters, ed., Memorial Art Gallery, An Introduction to the Collection; Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists 1550-1950; Marianne Berardi, “The Nature Pieces of Rachel Ruysch,” Porticus, vol. X-XI 19 87-1988

 

NB: Paintings by van Aelst and van Schriek will be in the upcoming Natura Morta exhibit coming to MAG from April 1 to May 27.


A RENAISSANCE SUIT OF ARMOR

By Joan K. Yanni

February 2007
 

An exciting new addition to MAG’s Renaissance collection is a beautifully decorated suit of etched armor now on view in the Tour Entrance.

 

The armor is a partial set consisting of etched steel pieces--helmet, breastplate and tassets (thigh protectors), backplate, gorget (collar) and shoulder plates. The breastplate is dated 1562, and the other pieces date from the same period. All were made by the same workshop for the Dukes of Brunswick, and all would have been worn by the Duke’s knights and soldiers as they battled neighboring states and honed their skills in tournaments and jousts.

 

In addition to being historically important, the armor is also a significant artwork that illustrates Old Testament stories, classical myths, and Renaissance birds, beasts and grotesques. On the breastplate, a medallion illustrating the Old Testament story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den is inscribed in German “My life and destiny rest in God’s hands. O my lord God, I pray that you protect my soul, life and honor. 1562.”

 

A panel at the top of the breastplate is decorated at left and right with the Old Testament scenes of Cain killing Abel and Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac. A center vertical panel is split into three sections. At the top is the Old Testament scene from the Book of Samuel showing Joab kissing and stabbing Amas. (King David named Amas rather than Joab head of his army; in retaliation Joab pretended to greet Amas with the traditional kiss and instead stabbed him.) Two classical figures are in the middle section, and a satyr can be seen in the lower section. The side panels are decorated with classical and allegorical figures.

 

The decorations on the backplate are similar to those of the breastplate. Scenes from the story of Adam and Eve are found at the top. One shows Eve emerging from Adam’s rib; the other shows the Temptation, with the devil in the form of a snake inviting Eve to become all-knowing by tasting the apple. Like the breastplate, the central panel of the backplate is split vertically into three sections.  At the top are two long-legged birds; the scene of Samson and the lion is in the center; a clothed half-figure surrounded by flags is in the lower panel. The side panels are decorated with classical allegorical figures.  The main bands of the helmet are decorated with a hunting motif of hounds chasing rabbits.

 

The era of plate armor lasted 300 years, from about 1340 to 1650. Before that time soldiers had worn garments of chain mail, made up of hundreds of tiny metal rings, hammered and linked together to form a mesh. This protected the wearer from slashing swords, but newer, deadlier weapons called for more protection. A mace was capable of crushing bones, and a lance or arrows shot from powerful longbows were able to pierce coats of mail. Armorers tried padded garments to lessen the impact when a knight was hit and finally used pieces of solid metal. Eventually a combination of padding

and plate armor was used to produce suits of armor. The knight would put on a padded undergarment first. This not only gave him more protection in battle, but the padding made the metal plates a bit more comfortable.

                  

Another factor that called for the development of plate armor was the rapid development of firearms. The first cannon fired in Europe was in Italy in 1330. Portable firearms appeared in armories in the 16th century, gradually superseding bows, swords and pikes (lances some 12 feet in length) as infantry

weapons. Plate armor, made from solid metal, now had to be strong enough to protect the wearer from gun fire.

 

But this strength required heavier metal, which was difficult to manipulate. The armor was therefore redesigned as an ensemble of lighter pieces attached to the padded body of the soldier. The parts were articulated to allow movement, much like the tail of a lobster.  Knowledge of human anatomy was necessary for armorers to design plate armor that would bend with the movements of the body.

 

The parts of the fighter’s body most at risk to life-threatening injury--head, chest and shoulders--were most heavily protected. Next highest priority was given to body parts active during combat: arms, hands, elbows, knees and legs. Finally, feet were given protection. The amount of armor each soldier had depended on his military rank and what he could afford. The king wore full armor, specially designed and artistically decorated; the aristocratic cavalrymen, such as officers, were typically protected by a complete, or almost complete, suit of armor with as much decoration as its wearer could afford.  The foot-soldier would be issued half armor, protecting only his chest and head. These items were mass-produced, not custom-designed. The infantrymen were the most vulnerable--and expendable--in a battle.

 

The further development of firearms finally led to the extinction of full body armor. Once projectiles were able to penetrate plate armor, there was no way to protect the wearer, and the armor became almost useless.

 

The Gallery’s armor is from a distinctive Brunswick group identified in inventories in 1667 and 1732. The bulk of this arsenal was sold off in the 19th century, but the dukes of Brunswick dept the most attractive pieces to furnish their castle. In 1942 the remaining pieces were transferred to Schloss Marienburg in Germany, near Hanover, to avoid capture by invading Soviet troops.

 

A few years ago, the Royal House of Hanover decided to sell off the bulk of the collection. MAG’s armor was acquired in 2006 from an arms and armor dealer. It had been restored by a conservator specializing in armor and is in excellent condition. According to Susan Daiss, director of education, it will attract visitors of all ages, particularly schoolchildren, and will play a critical role in the museum’s educational mission.

 

Source: Curator of European Art Nancy Norwood and press release by Shirley Wersinger, PR editor/graphics coordinator


THE REMBRANDT ADVENTURES

By Betsy Brayer

March 2007

 

There is no greater master of psychological penetration than Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69). George Eastman purchased Young Man in an Armchair in 1911 after it had been examined by Wilhelm von Bode, premier Rembrandt scholar of his generation and director of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. It was the first old master portrait to enter the Eastman collection. By 1927 Eastman wrote that he was no longer buying landscapes but was concentrating exclusively on portraits.

 

Although Eastman was emotionally attached to this painting, he constantly fretted about its condition. “Why are the shadows so dark and murky?” he would ask his advisors. “What happened to the signature? Have the hands been repainted? Is it over restored? Did I pay too much?”

After Bode’s Rochester visit in 1911, Carmen Messmore of Knoedler’s conveyed some answers and advice. According to Bode, the painting was signed and dated 1660. He [Bode] suggests your having the Rembrandt placed on an easel & so exposing it to a strong light whenever you are away from home as he claims this keeps it from getting too dark & is a good thing for the paint.” No curator today would agree with that advice.

Eastman had the painting “restored” and cleaned several times. William Valentiner, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts and a Rembrandt scholar, borrowed the painting for Rembrandt exhibitions in 1924 and 1930 and sent Eastman an x-ray of the hands that was taken during the 1930 exhibition. The x-ray showed that the hands had indeed been repainted.

The theft of the Rembrandt from Eastman House in 1968 was the catalyst that brought the whole 17th -century Dutch school to the Gallery permanently. During Harris Prior’s years as Gallery director (1962-1975) 17 works were transferred. Minor works had been transferred in 1936 and 1950.      
        

The Rembrandt caper was the work of amateurs. Two nights earlier (a practice run, apparently) the thieves successfully removed Eastman’s painting of Cabin Interior—Rainy Day by Arthur B. Davies. On a January evening in 1968, a W. C. Fields film was playing in the Dryden Theatre and Nan Brown was working late for Beaumont Newhall on the third floor of the house. The three thieves stayed after the movie—probably in the men’s room—then moved effortlessly into the house, took the painting, and exited via a window. They left the gilt frame dangling on a fence and tire tracks in snow that were identified as belonging to a small foreign car. Harry Silver, a guard who is remembered by the insurance office as announcing, “I’m Hi-O Silver, but I left my horse outside,” spotted the open window on morning rounds.
 

The painting went missing for nine months. The three thieves hailed from Rochester, Buffalo, and Chicago, ages 38 to 50. A police informant in Montreal offered to buy the painting for $50,000 and negotiations ensued. On the October 15, 1968, state police gathered at the Clinton County airport near Plattsburg to arrest the three who were about to load the Rembrandt, rolled and wrapped in tissue paper, aboard a small plane bound for Canada. Eventually charges were dropped: one man had turned informant and achieved immunity and the other two were wanted for more “serious” crimes in Buffalo.

As the bruised painting was rehabilitated, relined, re-varnished, remounted and repaired, the theft became the vehicle to bring it to the Gallery. By the terms of Eastman’s will, the painting belonged to the University of Rochester. After George Eastman House became an independent museum, the paintings remained there by courtesy and inertia. With a new, enlarged, temperature controlled and secure Gallery building opening in 1968, it became something of a cause for director Harris Prior to bring the whole 17th -century Dutch and Flemish school (Hals, Rembrandt, van de Cappelle, van Dyck) to the Gallery permanently. He achieved it.

From the evidence of the Eastman correspondence, experts of that period never doubted that the painting was by Rembrandt, but its authenticity has been questioned since Eastman’s lifetime.

 

Between 1913 and 1990 Rembrandt’s official oeuvre shrank from 988 works to fewer than 300, thanks to the Rembrandt Research Project sponsored by the Dutch government. These experts claim that Rembrandt ran a large-scale commercial studio much as Rubens did, in which assistants worked on most of the portraits. Conceived in the 1960s, by 1989 the project had published three volumes (1584 pages) covering works up to the year 1642. Our painting dates from 1660. But commission members who saw our painting on exhibit during the Rembrandt tercentenary in 1969 and again here in 1970 wrote to a Gallery curator in 1989 that the painting’s “chances of convincing us eventually of its authenticity are practically nil.”

The authenticity debate is still not settled. Dr. Christopher Brown, curator of 17th- century Dutch and Flemish paintings at the National Gallery, London, rejects the “hypothesis of a flourishing studio turning out Rembrandtesque works.” He sees no documentary evidence for a studio of this type and endorses the traditional view that the artist simply worked very hard as the most sought-after portrait painter in Amsterdam. Brown cites “the fierce pace of his work” as the definitive factor in “variations in quality” in the portraits. No one ever said ours is the best Rembrandt ever seen—but there are undisputed works (such as portraits of his son Titus) that could be considered second-rate.

David Walsh, who teaches 17th-century art at the University of Rochester, agrees with Brown. In a talk to the Memorial Art Gallery docents in 2001, Walsh, who unlike the Dutch commission, has lived with and taught from our Rembrandt for many years, said there is nothing about our painting that would cause him to doubt that it is by Rembrandt. Also, an analysis by the Fogg Museum at Harvard showed that the materials used—canvas, pigments, etc.--are 17th-century and typical of those favored by Rembrandt. Betsy Brayer, the author of Magnum Opus, George Eastman and many articles on Rochester’s architecture and art, is also a docent, graduating with the class of 1989. 


TRAVELS OF THE WEST WIND

by Joan K. Yanni
April 2007
 

The movement of Thomas Ridgeway Gould’s The West Wind to the 19th-century galleries after decades in the tour entrance brings a sense of rediscovery to the piece. A new, bright blue wall sets off  its white classical elegance and its flowing skirt. It seems to beckons us to come and look more closely.

 

The West Wind personifies manifest destiny, the westward settling of new America. Stars around the waist indicate the patriotic theme of the piece. Though the sculpture is heavy marble, it seems to float lightly over its pedestal. The figure is on tiptoe, the wind blowing against it and outlining the contours of the body. The right hand holds the skirt, while the left curves over the bust toward the right shoulder. The head of the figure looks over the left shoulder; the wind blows the hair away from the face, showing a lovely, serene profile.

 

It is interesting to notice the grey veins in the marble (marble is not pure white) and to see that in some places the marble is carved so deeply that it is almost transparent. What is probably a pile of leaves and earth descends from the back of the skirt and attaches it to the marble base. It seems to be a counterweight to the body of the figure, all of which is at the front of the piece.

 

The West Wind was created by the American sculptor Thomas Ridgeway Gould and became his most celebrated work. Gould, born in Boston in 1818, started a career as a dry-goods merchant, carving sculptures as a hobby. When his business collapsed during the Civil War, he decided to try sculpture as a profession.

 

As most sculptors of the day, Gould traveled to Italy where he could study the Old Masters. Here, too, he could find plenty of Carrara marble--Michelangelo’s marble--and carvers. (At this time it was the custom for the sculptor to make clay models of his creations and have hired craftsmen copy it.) Gould went to Italy in 1869 and lived in Florence the rest of his life, returning to the US only twice, once briefly in 1878 and again in 1881, the year he died.

 

The West Wind was created in 1870 and bought by Hon. Demas Barnes of Brooklyn. The work was so popular that seven replicas were produced in two sizes. Daniel W. Powers of Rochester bought a duplicate, the same size as the first. Our figure is dated 1876. One of these two, it is not clear which was shown at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia--  six-month celebration of America’s founding. The confusion comes because the Barnes statue was listed in the catalogue of the exhibition as the one on display.  But another source lists the version on view as having been lent by “its owner, Mr. Powers, of Rochester, NY.” Whichever was in Philadelphia, the Barnes version is now in the St. Louis Mercantile Library and the Powers version traveled to Rochester for display in the Powers Gallery.

 

Powers was a prosperous Rochester banker who had been born in Batavia in 1818, the same year as Gould. Though he came to Rochester to work in a hardware store, by the age of 31 he  had established a successful brokerage and banking business. He built the Powers building in 1870, a handsome many-storied fire-proof structure at Main and State Street.  Five years later, after a trip to Europe during which he bought many Old Master copies (which was customary at this time), as well as some new works and commissioned The West Wind, he opened his famous art gallery. As he bought more art, the gallery grew from one room until it eventually occupied three floors. It was open to the public, seven days a week and two evenings for the admission price of twenty-five cents.

 

But back to Gould.  The sculptor had connections in Rochester before his West Wind arrived here. He was the uncle of Marion Stratton Gould, who had died at the age of thirteen and whose mother, Mrs. Samuel Gould, created an endowment in her memory. The first purchase through the fund was El Greco’s The Apparition of the Virgin to St. Hyacinth. Some subsequent purchases made possible by the fund were Mortimer Smith’s Home Late, Reginald Marsh’s People’s Follies, Marsden Hartley’s Waterfall, Morse Pond, Ralston Crawford’s Whitestone Bridge and Arthur Dove’s Cars in a Sleet Storm. Mrs. Gould also bequeathed her brother-in-law’s marble relief The Ghost in Hamlet to the Gallery. Many of MAG’s most important works are still acquired through this fund.

 

It had been Powers’s intent to donate his gallery to the city after his death, but when the city denied his request for tax relief and even tried to levy a tax on the gallery, Powers changed his will and left his fortune to his wife and children, with nothing to the city or to maintain the gallery. After this death, in 1898, an auction of the best works from the gallery was held in New York City. The West Wind was not in the sale. Some of the largest paintings and sculptures had been left behind and subsequently moved from the gallery to other parts of the building to make room for office space.

 

In 1952 Memorial Art Gallery curator Isabel Herdle was putting together a show celebrating the 75th birthday of the Rochester Art Club. She looked for The West Wind in the Powers Building, but was unable to find it. It did not make the RAC show, but tenacious Isabel never gave up. According to gallery stories, she made repeated visits to the building, picture of the sculpture in hand, until in 1965 she came upon a cleaning woman and, on a whim, showed her the picture.  The woman told her exactly where the statue was: on the second floor in the shadow of a staircase next to a phone booth. After a cleaning, the marble looked as good as new.

 

Another tale of the sculpture must be told. For a time West Wind stood in the lobby of the Powers hotel, and lawyers who passed by on their way to a court case would rub the statue’s toe for good luck. Thus it is worn smooth and shiny.

 

When was West Wind in the lobby and not in the top floor galleries?  Too many questions spoil a good story!

 

Source: Elizabeth Brayer: MAGnum Opus; Susan Dodge Peters, editor: Memorial Art Gallery: An Introduction to the Collection;  Marjorie Searl, editor, Seeing America, Cynthia Culbert, Chapter 21,“Thomas  Ridgeway Gould : The West Wind”; curatorial files


Vicente’s Batavia

by Susan Feinstein
May 2007
 

The striking reinstallation of MAG’s Concourse gallery returns Esteban Vicente’s Batavia to a place beside its mid 20th-century contemporaries.

Batavia glows with the spare, unexpected color palette for which Vicente was admired throughout his long and productive career: lustrous salmon; Reinhardt reds to radiant orange; earthy ochres  which muddy and deepen; a range of mutable blues. Vibrant, linear streaks of color – red, blue, green, and orange – appear as frontal marks and pepper the canvas randomly. The effect is one of sensitive chromatic balance within an engaging abstract composition of organic and visual integrity.

Thick, juicy brushwork predominates, leaving evidence of multidirectional strokes. Vaguely-geometric masses are clustered in the center of the painting, extending, overlapping, and bleeding into one another. The paint thins and lightens toward the very edges of the canvas, giving these central structures the appearance of being in suspension. We see signs of Vicente’s “love-hate” affair with edges, his urge to move beyond the notion of lines as contour--or boundary--making, and his preoccupation with color’s capacity to establish structure.
 
Batavia hangs, appropriately, amid the work of Vicente’s artistic colleagues and friends, Ad Reinhardt, Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, and others. One of the last surviving members of this first-generation of New York School artists, Vicente enjoyed a quieter renown than that of his more conspicuous contemporaries; it was, nonetheless, important, solid, and well deserved, resting upon an extensive body of extraordinary work. His experimentations with color and space are thought to be among the most brilliant in postwar American painting.
 

The only Spanish-born artist of the group, Vicente started life in Turégano, a small town in Segovia, in 1903. His father was a military officer and amateur painter, who resigned his commission and moved his family to Madrid so that his six children could grow up in the capital with its multitude of artistic treasures and opportunities.

First educated by Jesuits, Vicente also briefly attended military school before leaving to become an artist. He studied sculpture at the Royal Academy of Madrid, graduating in 1924. Four years later he abandoned sculpture in favor of oil painting, and shortly thereafter left for France where the already well-established Picasso entreated him to join the enclave of Spanish artists residing in Paris.

There he met and married Estelle Charney, an American. They lived for a time on the island of Ibiza, where Vicente painted landscapes reminiscent of Pissarro and the Post-Impressionists. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he returned to Spain to support the Republicans, working as a camouflage expert. In 1936, Vicente and Charney settled permanently in New York City; he established himself as a professional portrait painter and had his first exhibition one year later.

The 1940s were a difficult time: His daughter, Mercedes, born with a heart defect, died at the age of six; he divorced Charney and married Maria Teresa Babin, a Spanish literature scholar. When he resumed painting, Vicente began to experiment with abstraction, following the lead of Europeans Picasso and Mondrian, and American modernists 

Stella, Davis, Avery, Dove, Marin, and Hartley.

Though described by art critic Harold Rosenberg as a leader in creating and disseminating Abstract Expressionism, Vicente’s work most often echoed the innovations of other artists like de Kooning, Guston
, Hofmann and Rothko, who were his friends, or European masters, like Matisse.  According to Elizabeth Frank, his biographer, “His talent lay in his ability to borrow liberally and synthesize confidently, with elegant color combinations, bold scale and, in particular an unerring sense of abstract composition.” Vicente came late to his mature style. In 1950–already 47 years old–he finally integrated his two major allegiances: the Analytic Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris, with its gridded, faceted infrastructure, and the sensibility of Mondrian’s nearly transparent color. To these he added his distinct, drawn shapes.

 

Historians characterize Vicente’s work as a merging of the two schools of Abstract Expressionism, that of the color field painters (exemplified by Rothko, Newman, Still, Reinhardt and Frankenthaler) and the American action painters (such as de Kooning, Pollock, Kline, Hofmann and Leslie).
                                

In 1961 Vicente married his third wife, Harriet Peters, and they bought a farmhouse in Bridgehampton, NY, where, for the remainder of his life, they spent six months of every year, alternating with their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Concurrent with his painting, Vicente had a distinguished career as a teacher. Among his former students are contemporary artists Chuck Close, Susan Crile, Janet Fish, Brice Marden, and Dorothea Rockburne. He taught at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1953, along with composer John Cage, poet Robert Creeley, and dancer Merce Cunningham. He was a founding member of the New York Studio School on Eighth Street, and also taught at Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, NYU and Yale.

A complete overview of Vicente’s achievement must include his drawings and works on paper. Though he occasionally made prints, and, from time to time, small, wood polychrome sculptures he fondly characterized as “toys or Divertimentos,” it is the drawings --with their expressive, graphic marks, in charcoal and black ink – that provide the most important accompaniment to his work as a painter.
 

Using only the finest handmade and hand painted papers, Vicente also made collages of torn paper strips, glued to paper. These “paintings with paper” dealt with the same issues in collage that he addressed in his paintings, and were a significant, integral, and highly personal  part of his lifelong artistic practice.                                                          

                                                              

Vicente steadfastly refused to exhibit his art in Spain during the years of the Franco dictatorship. He has been widely embraced since that time, and in 1988 the Spanish government opened the Esteban Vicente Museum of Contemporary Art in Segovia. Vicente personally selected the works for the permanent collection.

The artist died at his home in Bridgehampton in January, 200l, just days short of his 98th birthday. The artist’s friends described him as a true gentleman who loved to tell long-winded stories and had a unique sense of humor. Once, when a reporter asked him to reveal the secret of his longevity, he responded, “I eat one mothball every day.”

 

Elizabeth Frank, author of the single monograph on the artist, says of the man, “In an era that tended to sanctify those who squandered their talents and wreaked havoc on personal lives, Vicente was a rare and marvelous instance of an artist who husbanded his gifts, took the trouble to learn and respect his limits, and kept faith with himself.”

*Does MAG’s painting refer to our local Batavia? The answer is unclear, though it is believed that Vicente spent some time in the Finger Lakes region (an apocryphal story attributed to Isabel Herdle). Extensive research efforts have failed to produce an alternative theory.Source: Elizabeth Frank, Esteban Vicente, Hudson Hills Press, Inc., 1995, curatorial files


FLINCK PAINTS POMONA 

by Joan K. Yanni

 June, July, August 2007
 

Govaert Flinck (1615-1650) was one of the most outstanding of Rembrandt’s many pupils, able to capture the master’s technique and adapt it to his own style.  MAG’s Vertumnus and Pomona (83.10) is an example of Flinck’s ability to bring together color, composition, detail and passion in his work.

 

The shining white blouse and glowing face of a young, rosy- cheeked girl, her chin resting on her left hand, light up the painting. She is Pomona, a wood nymph, and she is listening intently to an old woman who is speaking. The woman’s gesturing hand is also highlighted, though the rest of the picture is shaded except for a half light on the woman’s face and left hand. What are they talking about?

 

The story of Vertumnus and Pomona comes from Roman mythology and is told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Pomona is a wood nymph who did not find pleasure in the wild woodland. Instead, she loved fruits and orchards and spent her days pruning, grafting, and helping her trees to flourish. She shut herself away from men, preferring to be alone in her manicured forest.  Many men sought her, but the most persistent was Vertumnus, the Roman god of orchards, who had the power to change his appearance at will.

 

Often he was able to approach her by assuming the form of a poor reaper or herdsman or vine pruner, but these disguises did not permit him to get close to her. He finally had a plan: he disguised himself as an old woman, admired her orchards, and when she invited him in for a closer look, told her of a suitor who loved her and would never love anyone else, one who also loved orchards and gardens. He also pointed out that the goddess Venus had shown many times that she hated hard-hearted maidens. Then he dropped his disguise and showed himself as a radiant youth. Pomona was won over by his eloquence and beauty and thereafter her orchards had two gardeners. The subject of the painting is a popular one among artists of the time, but Flinck’s depiction is unsurpassed. 

 

Flinck was born in the town of Cleves. Early on, he loved drawing and sketching, but his father saw no future in art and placed his son in an apprenticeship with a silk dealer.     Young Flinck’s opportunity to pursue a career in painting came when Lambert Jacobsz., a Mennonite preacher and occasional artist, convinced the elder Flinck that a career as a painter was an honorable way to make a living.  Jacobsz. took on Flinck as an apprentice in 1629. Four years later Flinck was a pupil in Rembandt’s studio in Amsterdam, along with Gerard Dou, Jacob Backer and Ferdinand Bol, among others. Flinck worked here for three years, going out on his own in 1636, the date of his first known painting.  For a time his work showed the influence of Rembrandt, though often he failed to capture the spiritual content of his master’s work.


Despite this, some of his works were good enough to be attributed to Rembrandt himself. In the 1640s and 1650s Flinck began to incorporate touches of Flemish style in his work, particularly in his portraits. The colors in his history paintings also became typically Flemish.

 

In 1647 Flinck received a commission which became a milestone in his career. Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, named him painter of the allegory of the Birth of Prince William Hendricks III of Nassau. The commission was carried out with the Baroque flourishes preferred at the time, with theatrical pathos, though artistically unchallenging.

 

But his work came to the attention of the citizens of Amsterdam, who sought him out to have their portraits painted or to buy one of his history paintings. His portraits particularly attracted patrons and were more in demand that those of Rembrandt. This was probably because of his skill in detail and his ability to capture the best features of his sitter.

 

His portrait groups also became popular. One of his best--and best known--is the Peace of Münster in the museum of Amsterdam, a canvas with nineteen life-size animated figures, radiant with color and dynamically arranged. Flinck himself must have liked it, for he painted his own image in a doorway on the left of the canvas.

 

Continued success led to a commission to paint twelve monumental history paintings for the new town hall in Amsterdam, illustrating the revolt of Julius Civilis, a Batavian who led an insurrection against the Romans in 69 AD. He was to be paid 1,000 guilders for each of them, and he sketched four in watercolor in preparation for the commission. Unfortunately Flinck died three months after he was awarded the project, and execution of the paintings was divided among Jan Lievens, Jacob Jordaens and Rembrandt.  For some unknown reason, perhaps because it seemed too dark, the Rembrandt was later removed .

 

Vertumnus and Pomona has one of the most established provenances of any painting in the Gallery. It can be traced from the 18th century when it belonged to the Parisian art dealer J. B. Lebrun, husband of the portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. In 1792 Lebrun published an engraving of the picture, which served as a guide for the conservators at Oberlin University, who cleaned the picture at the time MAG acquired it. It showed that the work has been cut down on all sides since 1792, particularly at the left. The cleaning also revealed Pomona’s right hand, which had been painted over.

  

Source: Grove Dictionary of Art; Donald Rosenthal, “17th-century Dutch Painting: Vertumnus and Pomona, Joins Gallery” Gallery Notes, April-May 1984; Herwig Guratzsch, Dutch and Flemish Painting, Vilo, Amsterdam, 1981; curatorial files