Friday, June 6, 2014


August 5 through October 26, 2014 


El Greco (1541–1614)
Vincenzo Anastagi, c. 1575
Oil on canvas
74 x 49 ⅞ inches
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

El Greco’s Vincenzo Anastagi, acquired a century ago by Henry Clay Frick, is one of The Frick Collection’s most celebrated paintings and one of only two full-length portraits by the master. It was executed during the artist’s six-year stay in Rome, before he moved to Spain, where he spent the rest of his career. Much of the force of this work emanates from the resplendent half-armor worn by Anastagi. Rich highlights applied with broad brushstrokes accentuate the steel, its metallic sheen contrasting with the velvety texture of Anastagi’s green breeches and the dark crimson curtain. 


Scipione Pulzone (c. 1540/42–98)
Jacopo Boncompagni, 1574
Oil on canvas
48 x 39 ⅛ inches
Private collection, courtesy of Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd.
Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

To mark the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death, the Frick will pair Vincenzo Anastagi with the rarely seen Jacopo Boncompagni by the artist’s Roman contemporary Scipione Pulzone. With its gleaming, highly detailed polish, Pulzone’s portrait of Boncompagni, on loan from a private collection, epitomizes the elegant style that dominated high-society portraiture in Rome during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. El Greco’s painterly portrayal of Anastagi stands in stark contrast, underscoring the artist’s innovative departures from convention. The exhibition, held in the Frick’s East Gallery, is organized by Jeongho Park, Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow.


El Greco was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in 1541 on the Greek island of Crete, which had been under Venetian rule since 1212. One of the few surviving records from his early years indicates that he was already an established painter of icons by 1566. He relocated to Venice in 1567, probably dissatisfied with his career as a Byzantine icon painter. There he absorbed Venetian Renaissance painting and began his transformation into an Italianate painter. As an aspiring artist, it was necessary for El Greco to master portrait painting. During the sixteenth century, portraiture grew in popularity in Europe, and portraitists enjoyed increasing recognition and esteem. A well-painted likeness was an effective way to win the favor of a prospective patron and become a court painter. Once associated with a court, an artist would enjoy not only economic stability but also the elevated status of a courtier.

In 1570 El Greco moved to Rome, where a recommendation written for him by the miniaturist Giulio Clovio led to his acceptance into the household of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Clovio introduced El Greco as a pupil of Titian and wrote specifically of a marvelous “self-portrait that astonished the painters in Rome.” Unfortunately, this painting has not survived. Clovio’s claim about El Greco’s mastery of portraiture is confirmed by the artist’s portrait of him (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), completed about 1571. In this work, El Greco demonstrates his remarkable ability to depict psychologically penetrating likenesses with exacting naturalism. Although not officially hired by the cardinal, El Greco spent the next year and a half focusing on portraits for the circle of learned men who gathered at the Farnese Palace. In 1572, for reasons that are unknown to us, El Greco was expelled from the Farnese household. His execution of the portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi was no doubt part of his effort to draw the attention of powerful men and to secure much-needed patronage after his expulsion.


Anastagi was born into a noble family in Perugia around 1531 and became a Knight of Malta in 1563. He was most famous for his contribution to the victory against the Ottomans during the Siege of Malta in 1565. He was also known as an expert in fortifications, and his biography is included in a book published in 1578–79 about famous people from Perugia.

As a middle-ranking nobleman, Anastagi would not have been a promising patron. He was not particularly interested in paintings and was therefore unlikely to commission further works. He was, however, connected to a very eminent personage: Jacopo Boncompagni, the natural son of Pope Gregory XIII. Born in Bologna in 1548, Jacopo was legitimized almost immediately by his father. He moved to Rome in March 1572, when his father was elected pope, and in that year assumed the offices of governor of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo and head of the papal army. In 1575 Boncompagni named Anastagi sergeant major of the Castel Sant’Angelo; it was probably on this occasion that Anastagi commissioned his portrait. The close connection between the two men may well have motivated El Greco. It could be expected that the portrait would be shown to Boncompagni and possibly even to Pope Gregory XIII. Since Boncompagni was known to be a great patron of the arts, El Greco’s portrait of Anastagi was an ideal means of self-promotion.3

For his portrayal of Anastagi, El Greco would have looked to examples of military portraits, the most recent, successful likeness of this type being Pulzone’s portrait of Boncompagni. Pulzone was at this time the most sought-after portrait painter in Rome, having portrayed dignitaries of the highest rank, including Pope Pius V, Pope Gregory XIII, and Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The artist also enjoyed personal relationships with powerful patrons; his first son, Giacomo, was Boncompagni’s godchild.


El Greco undoubtedly would have been aware of Pulzone’s splendid likeness. The three-quarter-length portrait communicates Boncompagni’s high status with the detailed depiction of his opulent armor, meticulously groomed beard, and elegant hands. According to the inscription on the piece of paper in the sitter’s right hand, the portrait was executed in 1574, only about one year before El Greco painted Vincenzo Anastagi. In his left hand, Boncompagni holds a wooden letter case, which suggests that the painting was probably commissioned when Jacopo was sent on a diplomatic mission to Ferrara to greet Henri de Valois, the future French king, Henry III.

In the portrait, Pulzone achieves lifelike qualities through painstakingly rendered details. Traces of brushwork are suppressed in order to gain a highly finished surface that adds to the portrait’s sense of refinement. Boncompagni’s dazzling armor displays techniques of embossing, damascening, bluing, and gilding. Pulzone’s depiction of the breeches—woven with gold and silver threads—shows an equal degree of precision. The light bouncing off the breastplate lends tactile effect to the polished surface of the metal. Pulzone’s masterful depiction of the play of light in the smallest details, such as on the fringe of the curtain, enhances the illusionistic effect.


As a newcomer to Roman noble society, Boncompagni would have felt the need to actively propagate his image, and a portrayal in armor would serve this purpose. Armor had gradually become obsolete in the sixteenth century, after firearms replaced swords and lances as the principal weapons of warfare; paradoxically, the loss of its utilitarian function served only to enhance its prestige, and it was seen as a symbol of masculinity, military valor, wealth, social status, and antique lineage. Pulzone’s portrayal of Boncompagni in such ostentatious armor reflects the sitter’s important positions as governor of Castel Sant’Angelo and head of the papal army. 

The figure of Saint Michael on the breastplate refers not only to Castel Sant’Angelo but also to Boncompagni’s role as the protector of the Church. Militant spirit is accentuated in the prominent display of the figure of Mars on the helmet and the armored glove placed on the table. Lining the golden bands that twine the breastplate and shoulder and arm defenses are various trophies that represent military feats. More specific than the spoils are the depictions of captive Turks along the center band of the breastplate and the base of the helmet, which commemorate the recent victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In addition to the martial motifs, there are symbols of wealth and prosperity—such as cornucopias and grotesque figures carrying jars of fruit—meant to convey Boncompagni’s eminent status.

When El Greco portrayed Anastagi, both the painter and the sitter would have been keenly aware of the prestige associated with armor, but the trappings El Greco could use in his depiction were limited by the sitter’s rank of sergeant major. Unlike Boncompagni, who wears highly decorative parade armor, which was reserved for ceremonial occasions, Anastagi is portrayed in field armor, which was used in battle. Regardless of the degree of opulence, however, armor itself was perceived as a status symbol. In the sixteenth century, even merchants would have themselves portrayed in armor. In this sense, Anastagi’s desire to be depicted in armor and with a rapier reflects not only his wish to make known his profession but also to aggrandize himself. El Greco’s use of the full-length format further emphasizes the sitter’s ambition. Anastagi was from a noble family, but his status did not approach that of the kings, generals, and grandees for whom full-length military portraits were customarily reserved.


For El Greco, representing Anastagi in armor would have presented an excellent opportunity to display his artistry. Contrary to previous studies that assume this work is a literal depiction of reality, research undertaken in preparation for this exhibition indicates that the painter went beyond a faithful description of the symbolic objects. Most striking is El Greco’s drastic abbreviation of the details of Anastagi’s armor, prioritizing instead a blaze of light reflected on the metal surface. During the Renaissance, the painted representation of reflective armor was considered to be a powerful means of demonstrating a painter’s virtuosity and was often offered as proof of painting’s superiority over all other artistic genres. El Greco certainly would have been aware that the artistic skill necessary to imitate the glittering armor would draw much praise.

El Greco’s innovations were not limited to the representation of armor. The painter appears to have taken careful measures to render the unusual form of the curtain, which emphasizes the most important elements in the portrait, the sitter’s face and armor. As can be seen in the pentimento, El Greco moved the contour of the right edge of the drape upward in order to align it closer to the sitter’s left forearm. Also, the X-radiograph taken during the painting’s treatment in 1958–59 indicates that El Greco shortened the curtain to achieve a tighter focus on the sitter’s upper body, which allows the viewer to appreciate the painter’s ability to depict the different textures of various materials.

Showcasing his artistic invention, the painter achieves a sense of verisimilitude quite distinct from that of Pulzone’s meticulously executed portrait. It is as though El Greco’s intent was to emphasize Anastagi’s military career and personal traits over his status. The sunburnt face and strands of gray hair, rendered with short, powerful brushstrokes, bear witness to his career on the battlefield—these are not the idealized features of an elegant courtier. White hose accentuate the athletic, muscular calves befitting an infantry officer. Anastagi’s sense of self-possession is enhanced by the placement of his arms, which frame his torso. In the sixteenth century, this pose was associated with aggressive masculine virtues. The pentimento to the sitter’s left reveals that El Greco made an inventive change in the depiction of the sword. By shifting its orientation without altering the position of the hand, the painter directs the viewer’s attention to the gilded hilt and to the scabbard, so that the weapon seems almost an extension of the sergeant’s powerful forearm.

El Greco’s likely intention was to honor Anastagi while simultaneously displaying his own artistic invention. The painter has been described as a proud man who felt a keen sense of rivalry with other artists of his time. Although there is no evidence documenting El Greco’s opinion of Pulzone, a compelling case can be made for the catalytic effect that the most successful portraitist in Rome had on the Cretan artist. A link emerges between the magnificent verisimilitude of Pulzone’s Jacopo Boncompagni (as well as the acclaim it brought him) and El Greco’s ambition to surpass Pulzone in terms of fame and artistry, which prompted the creation of the highly original Vincenzo Anastagi.


Men in Armor: El Greco and Pulzone Face to Face is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that features an essay by Jeongho Park, the exhibition’s guest curator. The book (softcover, 64 pages, 35 illustrations; $14.95, Member price: $13.46) will be available in the Museum Shop or can be ordered through the Frick’s Web site ( or by phone at 212.547.6848.


The Frick will extend its focus on El Greco through the fall and winter with an installation organized in conjunction with El Greco in New York, opening in November at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Frick will unite its three remarkable El Greco paintings— 

Purification of the Temple  

and portraits of Vincenzo Anastagi and  


St. Jerome 

 —for the first time showing them together on one wall of the East Gallery. El Greco at the Frick, runs from November 4, 2014, through February 1, 2015.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting

30 April – 21 September 2014

This spring, the National Gallery presents the first exhibition in Britain to explore the role of architecture in Italian Renaissance painting of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
Domenico Veneziano, ‘Saint Zenobius Bishop of Florence restores to life a widow's son in Borgo degli Albizzi, Florence', about 1442-1448 © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Domenico Veneziano, ‘Saint Zenobius Bishop of Florence restores to life a widow's son in Borgo degli Albizzi, Florence', about 1442-1448 © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' aims to increase visitors' appreciation and understanding of some of the most beautiful and architectonic paintings by Italian masters such as Duccio, Botticelli, Crivelli and their contemporaries. Visitors will be encouraged to look in new ways at buildings depicted in paintings, and to investigate how artists invented imagined spaces that transcended the reality of bricks, mortar and marble.
With a record-breaking six million visits during 2013, the National Gallery remains committed to researching and showcasing its extraordinarily rich permanent collection. As a result of the research partnership between the National Gallery and the University of York, this exhibition offers a fresh interpretation of some of the National Gallery’s own Italian Renaissance collection. In addition, Building the Picture will include the Venetian master

Sebastiano del Piombo's 'The Judgement of Solomon' (Kingston Lacy, The Bankes Collection, National Trust),

 on display in London for the first time in 30 years,

 and 'The Ruskin Madonna' by Andrea del Verrocchio (National Gallery of Scotland).

In Renaissance Italy, art and architecture were closely interconnected and the boundaries between all the arts were fluid. An important reason for this was that there was no specific educational programme or apprenticeship for architects. The Florentine architect Brunelleschi, for example, trained as a goldsmith, while Michelangelo was a painter and sculptor before he designed buildings.
Five short films commissioned to coincide with this exhibition demonstrate how contemporary practitioners and thinkers are again blurring the boundaries between media and forms of practice. The films provide modern perspectives on real and imagined architecture from award-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, film-maker Martha Fiennes, art historian T J Clark, film historian John David Rhodes and computer game cinematic director Peter Gornstein.

Caroline Campbell, Curator of Italian Paintings Before 1500 at the National Gallery, said:
''This exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to think about how pictures can achieve an architectural sort of beauty. We can look beyond perspective to appreciate the imagined and fantastical spaces created by architecture. And how the sense of mass, scale and three-dimensionality introduced by buildings changes the balance and feel of a painting.''
Building the Picture explores the roles played by architecture in painting and how it affects the viewing process. Architecture within paintings has often been treated as a passive background or as subordinate to the figures. This exhibition shows how, on the contrary, architecture underpinned many paintings, and was used to design the whole picture from the very start. This was the case in

Sandro Botticelli's 'Adoration of the Kings',

 where the ruins in the picture were planned first and still dominate the composition. Renaissance paintings are full of arches, doorways and thresholds, like those in

Carlo Crivelli's 'Annunciation, with Saint Emidius

that invite the viewer into the picture and encourage us to begin a visual journey. Architecture could also be designed to tell a story, articulating the plot, deepening our understanding of the narrative and helping us to engage with the events.

In Domenico Veneziano's 'Saint Zenobius Bishop of Florence restores to life a widow's son killed by an ox cart in Borgo degli Albizi, Florence' from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the compressed perspective of the street heightens the emotion of the desperate mother whose son has just died.

More images from the exhibition:

Duccio , The Annunciation, 1311, © The National Gallery, London

Antonello da Messina, Saint Jerome in his Study, about 1475, © The National Gallery, London

Ercole de’ Roberti, Nativity, about 1490-93, © The National Gallery, London

Bramantino, The Adoration of the Kings, about 1500, © The National Gallery, London

Vincenzo Catena, Saint Jerome in his Study, probably about 1510, © The National Gallery, London

Marcello Venusti, The Purification of the Temple, after 1550. Oil on wood, 61 x 40 cm. Bought, 1885 © The National Gallery, London.

'Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting' is also an online catalogue produced by the National Gallery to accompany the exhibition. Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, said:
''I am delighted that this catalogue will be permanently accessible on the National Gallery website, where it can be read and enjoyed by a very wide audience.''
Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting is curated by Dr. Amanda Lillie, Reader in History of Art at the University of York; and Caroline Campbell, Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500; with Alasdair Flint, CDA PHD student, University of York/National Gallery.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames,” opening May 3 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is the first major exhibition devoted to American artist James McNeill Whistler’s early period in London, and it is the largest U.S. display of his work in almost 20 years. The exhibition showcases changing views of the capital city’s iconic riverbanks and waterways, revealing how Whistler emerged as one of the most innovative and original artists of the 19th century while London evolved into a modern city.

“Whistler was one of the most influential painters of his time, and now in a single show we’re able to look at the transformation of his work and the transformation of a city,” explained Julian Raby, The Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “This is a huge opportunity for the U.S. public to celebrate one of their greatest artistic figures.”

On view through Aug. 17, the exhibition features more than 80 works from major museums in the U.S. and Britain, including 20 important oil paintings of Chelsea and the Thames, masterful prints and rarely seen drawings, watercolors and pastels. The exhibition culminates with an ensemble of the artist’s famous Nocturnes, including the iconic 

“Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge.” 

Other highlights include the daytime industrial landscape 

“Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge,” 

the schooners at rest captured in “Wapping” (below) and selections from the Thames Set, an early series of etchings depicting the river’s seedy dockyards and dubious characters.

The Sackler’s presentation is the final venue of a three-city tour (previously at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts) and will be enhanced by the addition of nearly 50 masterpieces from the Freer Gallery of Art, which holds the world’s largest and finest collection of the artist’s work, including the famous Peacock Room. Museum founder Charles Lang Freer met Whistler in London in 1890 and became his most important patron. This is the first time since the Freer Gallery opened in 1923 that these works will be on view with Whistlers from other institutions.

Changing Art for a Changing City

“An American in London” focuses on the period during the 1860s and ’70s when Whistler (1834–1903) adapted the realist style he developed in Paris into a more personal aesthetic: “art for art’s sake.” He transformed scenes of gritty contemporary life, especially along the Thames riverbank, into moody and poetic views of the city, layered with color and atmosphere. It was during this time that he started to give his works musical titles such as “arrangement,” “symphony” and “nocturne” and drew inspiration from the composition and flattened forms of Japanese prints, some of which will be on view.

“Whistler developed radically new modes of expression as a response to the changing world outside his window in London’s Chelsea neighborhood,” said Lee Glazer, curator of American art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “Through the visual poetry of his ‘arrangements’ and ‘nocturnes’ he reasserted the value of beauty, providing aesthetic compensation for the loss and alienation many Victorians associated with modern life.”

During this time, London was in a near-constant cycle of destruction and rebuilding. Historic landmarks—such as Battersea Bridge, a Whistler favorite—were altered or torn down to make way for mansions, factories and other modern structures. The river, however, maintained its central importance both as Whistler’s subject and as part of the lifeblood of the city itself.

 “An American in London” also features portraits of Whistler and his associates, bringing to life the personalities surrounding the artist during this crucial time in his career, as well as historic photographs and maps that detail the London neighborhoods where he lived and worked.


“An American in London” is organized by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Addison Gallery of Art, and is co-curated by Margaret F. MacDonald, professor emerita, and Patricia de Montfort, lecturer, at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Exhibition support is provided by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts and the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Additional support for programming is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


A beautifully illustrated catalog, “An American in London: Whistler and the Thames,” ($40, softcover, $60, hardcover; Philip Wilson Publishers, 2013, 191 pp.) contains detailed analysis of several of Whistler’s most important works.

Dulwich Picture Gallery 
London, U.K.
October 16, 2013 – January 12, 2014

Addison Gallery of American Art 
Phillips Academy, Andover, MA 
February 1 – April 13, 2014

Freer and Sackler Galleries 
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
May 2 – August 17, 2014


In grand oils, Whistler became a French-inflected painter of modern London life. His girlfriend Jo Hiffernan – hair “a red not gold but copper, as Venetian as a dream!” – stars in

“Wapping” (begun 1860) as a dockside tart, perched with smoking sailors on a balcony above passing ships painted impressionistically in fresh, bright hues...

In “The Last of Old Westminster” (1862), an impressionist flurry recording the reconstruction of the old bridge, each labourer is a dab of cream, each wooden pile a single luscious downward grey stroke.

By the fluid, sombrely tonal “Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach” (1863)

and “Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf” (1864-8), cool criss-crossed thin silver marks enlivened by the rusty brown of a few moored barges, narrative is banished and the Whistler of subdued, abstracted colour harmonies is triumphant.

Outstanding review 

Also in the exhibition:

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Pink and Silver - Chelsea, the Embankment


James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Vauxhall Bridge

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses

Christie’s American Art on May 22 will offer Hopper, Hassam, Sargent, Avery, Inness, Cassatt

Coast Guard Boat I’s detail and emphasis on light, embodies Edward Hopper's aesthetic from the summer of 1929, as the majority of his work from the period was in watercolor (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000).  Hopper preferred to use watercolor for his New England works as this medium was conducive to working en plein air and provided him a freedom not afforded by oil paint.  As is the case with Coast Guard Boat I, Hopper often used water in his work as a means of introducing an element of motion into a scene that is otherwise dominated by stillness.  The beauty of Coast Guard Boat I lies in the contradiction between weightlessness and heft, motion and stillness. This tension is echoed by the ropes, which tether the boat to the shore. At once wanting to be of the sea yet firmly harnessed creates a sense of restlessness and even agitation to the otherwise serene, idyllic image.

Milton Avery’s The Mandolin Player ( estimate: $800,000-1,200,000) is just one of the six works from his collection to be included in the sale of American Art.   The highly saturated palette of greens, blues, oranges and pinks is representative of Avery’s works from the mid-1940s, as is his rendering of expressive figures through a contained, plastic two-dimensional design. The interconnectedness of music and the formal components of visual art had been explored by American Modernists such as Arthur Dove and Georgia O'Keeffe in the 1910s and 1920s and were championed by European abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky. Avery had likely been exposed to Kandinsky's work while exhibiting at the Valentine Gallery on 57th Street in 1935. Avery explored the topic in a more literal approach, demonstrating his ability to blend modern themes and broader European influences while remaining committed to a familiar subject, thus creating his own style.

George Inness’s (1825-1894) treatment of the landscape, particularly in his later work, is marked by a more subjective and ultimately more modern aesthetic than that of his contemporaries. The innovative brilliance of his art eventually brought him high acclaim--particularly for the later landscapes of which Summer, Montclair of 1887, is a notable example (estimate: $600,000-800,000). In Summer, Montclair, Inness presents a pastoral scene with a village church spire on the horizon and stream and grazing cattle in the distance. Beginning in 1884, Inness was able to achieve a complete synthesis of his innovative formal means and his goal of poetic expression. The central component of this synthesis was color, which he described as ‘the soul of a painting.’ Forms, on the other hand, though still based in the observation of nature, were softened by atmosphere and dissolved by light. Inness relished in capturing the colors of dawn, dusk, twilight, moonlight, the colors of all seasons and of all hours of the day. However, unlike the Impressionist painter Monet, Inness did not focus on the implied optical effects of motion or action, he instead created a dreamy stillness giving a sense of calmness. 


Childe Hassam's stunning Impressionist work, Evening in the Rain, ( estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000) captures a picturesque moment on a rain drenched sidewalk of lower Fifth Avenue. Hassam's passion for capturing the cityscapes that surrounded him immediately found direct expression in the works he produced, and critics quickly came to associate him with New York.   In order to capture the ever-changing scenes around him, Hassam often executed quick sketches while seated in a cab or standing on the street. From the vantage point of the viewer, it seems entirely likely that Hassam sketched the composition for Evening in the Rain while out on one of his many jaunts around the city.  The work includes all of the hallmarks of Hassam's celebrated works from the 1890s. Reflecting his fascination with his urban surroundings and the people that he encountered, Hassam pays homage to the city and captures the spirit of the end of the century in New York.

Hailing directly from a descendant of the sitter, John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. William George Raphael  (estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000) was painted in London in 1906 at the height of Sargent’s unparalleled level of success and when he had reached a mastery of his craft. Mrs. William George Raphael is a grandiose and engaging painting that is a masterwork of Sargent's later portraits.  Following Sargent's enormous success in the United Kingdom and the United States by 1900, the artist had gained international celebrity and his clientele expanded upward from the high bourgeoisie to the aristocratic who now sought to have their image captured by the top portraitist of the Gilded Age.  As is typical in Sargent's best portraits, Mrs. William George Raphael conveys the sitter's character as a forceful presence, combined with a quality of elegance and social ease.

Also in the sale:

Mary Cassatt’s Girl in a Hat with a Black Ribbon (estimate: $400,000-600,000).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Christie’s spring sale of American Art on May 22 will offer total of 172 lots, with outstanding works of from a range of styles and genres, including Illustration, Modernism, Western Art, Nineteenth Century and American Impressionism.  This fantastic array of masterworks is led by Norman Rockwell’s The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) and Thomas Moran’s The Grand Canyon of the Colorado.  

The Rookie illustration ©SEPS. Used with permission from Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, Indiana. All Rights Reserved

The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) by Norman Rockwell, which has never been offered at auction, was painted in 1957 for the March 2nd cover of The Saturday Evening Post and has remained in the same private collection for nearly thirty years.   It has been publicly exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston twice–once in 2005 and again in 2008–following World Series victories by the Red Sox. 

The work was painted in 1957 for the March 2nd cover of The Saturday Evening Post and has remained in the same private collection for nearly thirty years. It has been publicly exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston twice–once in 2005 and again in 2008–following World Series victories by the Red Sox. Estimated at $20-30 million, The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) marks the highest estimate ever for Norman Rockwell at auction.

Norman Rockwell’s covers for The Saturday Evening Post during the 1950s reflected the direction of editor Ben Hibbs, who strove to make the magazine more current to increase circulation. Nothing could be a more popular subject to an American audience than baseball and no player other than Ted Williams, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” was commanding more attention at the time, on the eve of his retirement from baseball. Rockwell conceived this cover at least 9 months in advance of its publication date on March 2nd, 1957, just in time for the start of spring training for the Red Sox.

Over the summer of 1956, he convinced team management to send four players from the starting lineup up to Rockwell’s hometown, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, deep in Red Sox country. Pitcher Frank Sullivan, right fielder Jackie Jensen, catcher Sammy White all posed for the painting. Williams was either unable or unwilling to make the trip and Rockwell captured his likeness from his trading card, and other photographs. Rockwell traveled to Sarasota to take pictures of the Red Sox spring training stadium and locker room. The palm trees which sway in the window indicate the location. The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) depicts an intimate scene during spring training; an awkward newcomer is juxtaposed with the confident stances of the seasoned players, making the rookie’s anxiety all the more apparent and endearing. 

In addition to The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room), ten other works by Norman Rockwell will be offered in the sale, including

The Collector ( estimate: $700,000-1,000,000),

Boy Graduate (estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000)

and Willie Gillis in Church (estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000).

Christie’s sale of American Art on May 22 will feature Thomas Moran’s (1837-1926) magnificent large-scale painting The Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Painted in 1904, the work is one of Moran’s most ambitious oils of the subject from the period. This canvas presents an awe-inspiring panorama and manifests Moran’s romantic and inspirational vision of the American West. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado, which has been exhibited at both the Royal Academy in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., has not been offered for sale in over two decades. At $8-12 million, this is the highest pre-sale estimate assigned to a work by Thomas Moran at auction, reflecting the superb quality and rarity of this masterwork.

Moran first visited the Grand Canyon in 1873 as part of John Wesley Powell’s expedition. The artist eagerly accepted Powell’s invitation to join the excursion, as he was planning a pendant for his painting  


Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 

which Congress had purchased for the Capitol the previous year. Moran was immediately captivated by the unique and dramatic light, color and topography of the Grand Canyon and later wrote, “Of all places on earth the great canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities.”

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado is a masterwork of Moran's mature style and represents the artist at the height of his abilities. Although he visited the Grand Canyon many times and created multiple of images of the geologic wonder over the course of five decades, few are as richly complex or as monumental in scale as this painting, which captures the sublime beauty of the area in its expanse of rugged peaks and atmospheric valleys. Throughout, he employs his characteristic keen attention to light, color, and detail and the high vantage point underscores the vastness of the Canyon. Moran studied at a time when the strict realist theories of John Ruskin were lauded and, though adhering to the auspices of precise geologic transcription, it is evident that he was far more interested in capturing and conveying the emotional effect the landscape inspired.

The current world auction record for a work by Thomas Moran is 

Green River of Wyoming,

which sold at Christie’s in 2008 for $17.7 million, against a pre-sale estimate of $3.5-5 million. In addition to setting a record for the artist, it also set the record price for any 19th century work of American Art at auction.

Another view of the Gran Canyon by Moren:

Norman Rockwell’s America

Boy Graduate
Norman Rockwell, 1959, oil on canvas

Two Children Praying
Norman Rockwell, 1954, oil on canvas

 Bridge Game - The Bid
Norman Rockwell, 1948, oil on canvas

After shattering attendance records with its debut in England, Norman Rockwell’s America, a comprehensive exhibition of the legendary illustrator’s 60-year career, opens at the Birmingham Museum of Art on September 16, 2012.

Featuring more than 52 original paintings and all 323 vintage Saturday Evening Post covers, the exhibition visually chronicles the evolving landscape of American culture and society from 1916-1969 and is one of the largest Rockwell exhibitions to ever travel. Rockwell’s six-decade career depicts one of the most eventful periods in American history, spanning four wars, the Great Depression, the space race, and the Civil Rights Movement. Organized by the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, the exhibition premiered to critical and popular acclaim at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery in December 2010.

Norman Rockwell’s career as an illustrator began in 1912, at the age of 18, when he published his first works. That same year, he was hired as a staff artist for Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. He soon became the magazine’s art editor, a position he held for three years. While Rockwell’s relationship with the Boy Scouts continued long after his departure, it was his work with the Saturday Evening Post that made him a household name. With his first Post cover published in 1916, Rockwell often used his friends, family members and even himself as models for his work. He usually worked from reference photographs staged in his studio, and created scenes depicting everyday American life based on his own experience.

Although often remembered for his nostalgic approach to American daily life, Rockwell also seriously addressed major social issues of the time in some of his later work.

The Problem We All Live With showcases the courage of a young black girl led by US Marshals on her walk to school on the first day of desegregation. The original painting recently hung in the West Wing of the White House at the personal request of President Obama.

Rockwell’s exploration of such controversial topics was a radical departure from the generally positive and frequently humorous scenes he was known for in his Saturday Evening Post days.

As a painter, Rockwell mastered a wide variety of techniques, and showed strong interest in art history, sometimes emulating the work of the Old Masters, and even showing an interest in Modern artists such as Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sandro Botticell at the Städel Museum

The Städel Museum hosted an exhibition on Sandro Botticelli (1444/45–1510) from 13 November 2009 to 28 February 2010. Taking the artist’s monumental  

Idealized Portrait of a Lady, 

 one of the Städel Museum collection’s highlights, as its starting point, the exhibition presented numerous works from all productive periods of this great master of the Renaissance in Italy about 500 years after his day of death (17 May 1510).

The exhibition opened with portraits and allegorical paintings that illustrate the degree of sophistication with which Botticelli drew on this highly developed genre and enriched it with new impulses. While the second section centered on his famous mythological representations of goddesses and heroines of virtue, the third part iwa dedicated to his abundant religious oeuvre.

With a total of more than forty works by Botticelli and his workshop, the show presented a comprehensive selection of his work surviving worldwide. Forty further exhibits, among them works by such contemporaries as Andrea del Verrocchio, Filippino Lippi, and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, will allow to understand Botticelli’s precious creations in the historical context of their genesis.

The presentation was supported by outstanding loans from the most important collections of paintings in Europe and the United States. These include the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery London, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden, as well as the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting has become a landmark of Italian Renaissance. The delicate beauty, elegant grace, and unique charm of his frequently melancholic figures make his work the epitome of Florentine painting in the Golden Age of Medici rule under Lorenzo the Magnificent. Initially trained as a goldsmith and then apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli soon ranked among the most successful painters in Florence in the second half of the quattrocento next to Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, and the Pollaiuolo brothers. From 1470 on, he received prestigious public commissions and established himself as a painter of large altarpieces. 

Throughout his life, Botticelli was in the ruling Medici family’s and their supporters’ good graces. Fulfilling their wishes for innovative decorative paintings, the master could not only rely on his personal knowledge of Florentine traditions and of ancient art, but also on definite suggestions and concepts from the circle of humanists gathered around Lorenzo de’ Medici. Held in equally high esteem as both a panel and a fresco painter, Botticelli enjoyed a high standing beyond his native Florence and was thus one of the artists summoned to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Rome by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481. It was particularly his much-discussed late work that brought out the characteristic features of his original style in an extreme manner.

Guided by the art of drawing – the exhibition includedan outstanding selection of preparatory sketches – Botticelli followed his penchant for presenting his figures with sharp contours, strong movements, and abundant gestures, grounding his compositions on textures of lines and surfaces rather than on spaces and volumes. In this respect, his painting had already stood out against his competitors’ works and current theoretical demands in his early years.

The starting point and center of the cross-genre exhibition was provided by a main work from the collection of the Städel Museum not only very well known in Frankfurt: the master’s idealized portrait of a young lady, who is probably to be identified with Simonetta Vespucci, the beloved jousting tournament lady of Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano de’ Medici. This portrait is less aimed at a true-to-life likeness of the subject than at the ideal of a woman characterized by perfect beauty and equally perfect virtuousness, an ideal also reflected in the poetry of that time. Such an ideal defines itself not least through its rapport with antiquity: thus, the beautiful female wears a piece of jewelry round her neck which is obviously based on an ancient cameo showing Apollo and Marsyas, which wasalso be on display in the exhibition.

In the Städel Museum, 

Botticelli’s famous portrait of Giuliano from the National Gallery of Art in Washington 

offered itself for comparison with his beloved Simonetta’s likeness. Both paintings make up the center of the first part of the presentation, which is devoted to Botticelli’s art of portraiture and, drawing on prominent examples, illustrates the interplay between social norm and artistic form as well as the different genre conventions of the male and the female portrait.

The second section of the exhibition dealt with Botticelli’s mythological pictures, which number among the artist’s most original creations. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which safeguards the most comprehensive and significant collection of works by the artist in the world, supported the exhibition in Frankfurt with one of its most popular works among others loans: the famous  

Pallas and the Centaur, 

 one of Botticelli’s monumental mythological paintings, to be seen in the context of Medicean self-presentation. 

Together with Botticelli’s 


it once adorned the walls of a bedchamber in a Florentine palace owned by the family of bankers. We see Pallas taming the wild centaur indulging in his passions through her wisdom and virtue. The control and cultivation of emotions was a central issue in ancient philosophy and – combined with Christian thought – of the Renaissance, too; among the painters of the time, Botticelli offered himself as a congenial interpreter for such subjects. The political dimension and the reference to the patron family are symbolically present in the form of two intertwined diamond rings on Pallas’s gown, which were an emblem of the Medici family. 

Another great female figure featuring in the Florentine artist’s oeuvre is the goddess Venus. His life-size 

Venus from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin 

is a repetition of the central figure of (the unloanable) 


Birth of Venus in the Uffizi Gallery, 

which he isolated from the context of the scene and set off against a black background. This work is one of the first monumental nudes of postancient painting.

The third and last section of the exhibition was devoted to Botticelli’s religious pictures. Next to his portraits and mythological works, Botticelli has owed his continuing fame to his Madonnas. According to theological thinking, Mary stands out as the ideal woman among the saints: she is the most virtuous and the most beautiful female, the bride of the Song of Songs. Besides many other works spanning from Botticelli’s earliest works still revealing the influence of his teacher Fra Filippo Lippi to examples of his late style, the exhibition in Frankfurt shows one of the artist’s most beautiful Madonnas:  

The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child.  

The Madonna’s physiognomy of this painting from the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, whose brilliant colorfulness has only been uncovered through restorative measures some years ago, is rendered in the vein of the same female model which the painter developed for his idealized portraits and pictures of ancient goddesses. This chapter also includes a number of narrative pictures, such as a removed Annunciation fresco once to be found in the vestibule of the hospital of San Martino alla Scala in Florence and preserved in the Uffizi Gallery today. Not only the enormous size of the fresco (243 x 550 cm), but also its qualities as a painting testify to Botticelli’s extraordinary importance in this medium. Four panels depicting scenes from the life of St. Zenobius, an early bishop and patron of Florence, offer a further highlight, with which the exhibition ends. Usually scattered to museums in London, Dresden, and New York, they have been brought together for the first time in Frankfurt again. Ranking not only among his most significant late works, but also among his very last, the panels are to be considered as Botticelli’s legacy as an artist.

Curator: Dr. Andreas Schumacher (Städel Museum)

Research assistants: Gabriel Dette M.A. and Dr. Bastian Eclercy (Städel Museum)

Exhibition architecture: Nikolaus Hirsch & Michel Müller Architekten, Michiko Bach


On the occasion of the exhibition, a comprehensive catalogue edited by Andreas Schumacher and comprising an introduction by Max Hollein and texts by Cristina Acidini, Gabriel Dette, Bastian Eclercy, Hans Körner, Lorenza Melli, Ulrich Rehm, Volker Reinhardt, Anna Rühl, and Andreas Schumacher was published by Hatje Cantz. German and English editions.