Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots

Tate Liverpool: Exhibition
30 June – 18 October 2015
  • Jackson Pollock, 'Yellow Islands' 1952
    Jackson Pollock
    Yellow Islands 1952
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1435 x 1854 mm 
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1961
    © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014
Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) is widely considered to be one of the most influential and provocative American artists of the twentieth century.
Pollock famously pioneered action painting, a process that saw him drip paint on canvases resting on the studio floor. Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots presents the first exhibition in more than three decades of Pollock’s paintings made between 1951 and 1953, shedding light on a less well known but extremely influential part of his practice and departure from his signature technique.
Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots brings together the most significant showing of this widely debated body of work in a public institution since 1980. These paintings had a profound impact on the language of contemporary art, with noted art historianMichael Fried commenting that it was while Pollock was making his Black Pourings that he was ‘on the verge of an entirely new and different kind of painting … of virtually limitless potential’.
Created after nearly four years of colourful, lyrical, decorative, non-figurative paintings, the Black Pourings marked a major turning point in Pollock’s style. Feeling compelled to re-invigorate himself and his practice during a difficult period in his life, it was a deliberate move from his defining ‘drip’ technique to a new ‘pour’, anticipating the arrival of post-painterly abstraction in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
This exhibition will take visitors on a journey through the artist’s practice, starting with a room featuring a selection of paintings from 1947–49 as an introduction to the innovative directions represented by the Black Pourings period. Exhibiting works from the peak of the artist’s fame juxtaposed with his lesser known work offers the opportunity to appreciate Pollock’s broader ambitions as an artist and better understand the importance of the ‘blind spots’ in his practice.
Presented alongside the Black Pourings will be drawings from the same period, regarded as his most important and productive as a draughtsman, as well as a number of virtually unknown and rarely seen sculptures. With an immense material power beyond their tiny scale, these enigmatic works will be a surprising discovery for many and, along with his paintings, reveal Pollock’s extensive practice.
Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots explores this immensely rich and relatively neglected body of work and will provide new insights into this pivotal artist’s contribution to and influence on post-war art.
This exhibition is a collaboration between Tate Liverpool and the Dallas Museum of Art, where it will then be on display 15 November 2015–20 March 2016.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kandinsky: A Retrospective September 26, 2014–January 4, 2015

Kandinsky Retrospective Brings Modern Masterworks from the Centre Pompidou–Paris to the Frist Center

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Kandinsky: A Retrospective, an exhibition celebrating a lifetime of work by Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) in the Center’s Ingram Gallery from September 26, 2014–January 4, 2015. Chronicling four decades of artistic evolution—from early figurative works to exuberant experiments in abstraction and color—this exhibition invites visitors on an extraordinary stylistic journey of one of the most innovative modern art masters of the twentieth century.

Kandinsky: A Retrospective is drawn largely from the collection of the Centre Pompidou–Paris, and features more than 100 paintings, drawings and other works. A majority of these stunning works were part of the artist’s personal collection and were given by the artist’s widow, Nina. Additional paintings from the Milwaukee Art Museum, including works by Gabriele Münter, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, further an appreciation of the artist in the context of his contemporaries.

Organized chronologically and spanning the artist’s periods in Russia, Germany and France, the exhibition begins with paintings from the early 1900s including landscapes, painted folk tales and figurative works. “These works show how the young artist was influenced by major styles such as Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Symbolism, and Post-Impressionism,” says Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala. In a period of experimentation and movement towards more symbolic work, Kandinsky and other like-minded artists founded Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) in 1911, a group of artists based in Munich who emphasized the expression of extreme psychological conditions in their art. “Kandinsky made a radical move away from recognizable subject matter in the belief that painting’s most important property was its capacity to dissolve the outside world and evoke inner conditions,” says Mr. Scala.

Kandinsky felt that music has the capacity to induce spiritual feelings within listeners through its formal arrangement of melodic sounds, harmonies and rhythms. He believed that “painters could similarly ‘orchestrate’ the elements of art—color, form, and line—to trigger pure emotional experiences,” says Mr. Scala. In the theoretical treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote that “color is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer, while the soul is a piano of many strings. The artist is the hand through which the medium of different keys causes the human soul to vibrate.”

In 1914, Kandinsky returned to Russia, his country of birth, and married Nina Andreevskaya in 1917. Facing financial hardship and material shortage during World War I and the Russian Revolution, his artistic output was somewhat limited. However, the paintings that Kandinsky did complete, some marking a return to Impressionism, further demonstrated his belief that art should comfort and convey inner meaning rather than provoke and express political views, as other avant-garde Russian artists believed.

Back in Germany during a period of heady intellectualism in the 1920s at the Bauhaus, a highly influential German art school, Kandinsky favored geometric works and created monumental decors, including the large scale mural panels he and his students designed for the Juryfreie Kunstschau—Berlin (Non-juried Art Exhibition—Berlin). The panels, built for a never-realized museum lounge, were intended to immerse the viewer in a complete aesthetic experience. A 1977 reconstruction of this room is a highlight of this exhibition, and as Kandinsky initially desired, lets “the viewer ‘stroll’ within the picture.” In stark contrast with the rigid geometry of the Bauhaus period, Kandinsky’s paintings from the end of his life and career in France are recognized for their joyful use of biomorphic forms, which reflect the influence of Parisian light and nature as well as Surrealism.

Exhibition Credit
Kandinsky: A Retrospective is organized by the Centre Pompidou—Paris and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Sponsor Acknowledgment
Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and TriStar Health
Silver Sponsors: Anne and Joe Russell
Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station Hotel
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by a 202-page illustrated catalogue distributed for the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Milwaukee Art Museum by Yale University Press.

Related Public Programs

Friday, September 26 
Community Opening: Kandinsky: A Retrospective and Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible
10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.

Celebrate the opening of two new exhibitions, Kandinsky: A Retrospective and Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible, during our Community Opening. This event is free and open to the public. A cash bar and hors d’oeuvres will be available in the Frist Center’s Grand Lobby from 6:00–8:30 p.m. Remarks will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Frist Center Auditorium. RSVP by Monday, September 15 by calling 615.744.3987 or membership@fristcenter.org. Join us!

Friday, September 26   
Curator’s Perspective: Kandinsky: A Retrospective Presented by Angela Lampe, curator, Centre Pompidou
Frist Center Auditorium   
12:00 p.m.
There are not many artists who successively adopted three nationalities during their lives.Wassily Kandinsky was born in Russia, achieved renown as a pioneer of abstraction and as a teacher at the Bauhaus art school in Germany, and settled in Paris where he was buried as a French citizen in 1944. In each country, in each context, he found new inspiration for his art. This lecture provides a journey through the life and work of one of the great masters of modern art. Kandinsky: A Retrospective is on view in the Ingram Gallery from September 26, 2014–January 4, 2015.

Tuesday, October 7   
Lecture Series: “Food for Thought”
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m. with lecture to follow at noon.
Frist Center Auditorium
Free with advance registration; lunch and gallery admission included. Registration for this lecture opens Tuesday, September 16; call Vanderbilt University at 615.322.8585 to register.

In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, “Food for Thought: Kandinsky―Exploring Connections between Music and the Visual Arts,” is a three-part lecture series presented by Vanderbilt professors, Frist Center curators, and members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. This series provides the community at large with an opportunity to build challenging intellectual connections to the exhibition Kandinsky: A Retrospective. Mark your calendars for our next lectures on Tuesday, November 4 and Tuesday, December 2. Visit http://www.fristcenter.org for lecture details. Kandinsky: A Retrospective is on view in the Ingram Gallery from Friday, September 26, 2014, to Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Thursday, October 9
Curator’s Tour: Kandinsky: A Retrospective Presented by Mark Scala, chief curator, Frist Center
12:00 p.m.    
Meet at exhibition entrance 
Gallery admission required; members free

Join Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala on a tour of Kandinsky: A Retrospective as he explores the work of this influential Russian painter and art theorist throughout his long career.

Sunday, October 19 
Artful Tales: “Little Logan Golden Eye”
2:00–3:00 p.m.
Frist Center Auditorium/Studios
Free; seating is first come, first seated

Artful Tales is a FREE family program geared toward everyone ages three and up! Listen and play along as an art-related story comes to life. Then, head upstairs to the art studio and make an artwork that relates to the story.
Enjoy this gentle, original story about a long-awaited child, a magical fiddle, and the power of believing in yourself and the gifts that you are given. Afterwards, make paintings that explore the connections between color and music. This program complements the exhibition Kandinsky: A Retrospective.

Tuesday, November 4   
Lecture Series: “Food for Thought”
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m. with lecture to follow at noon.
Frist Center Auditorium
Free with advance registration; lunch and gallery admission included. Registration for this lecture opens Tuesday, October 14; call Vanderbilt University at 615.322.8585 to register.
In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, “Food for Thought: Kandinsky―Exploring Connections between Music and the Visual Arts,” is a three-part lecture series presented by Vanderbilt professors, Frist Center curators, and members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. This series provides the community at large with an opportunity to build challenging intellectual connections to the exhibition Kandinsky: A Retrospective. Mark your calendars for the final lecture on Tuesday, December 2. Visit http://www.fristcenter.org for lecture details. Kandinsky: A Retrospective is on view in the Ingram Gallery from Friday, September 26, 2014, to Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Thursday, November 6   
Lecture: “Understanding Kandinsky in His Early Twentieth Century Context” Frist Center Auditorium  Presented by Linda Dalrymple Henderson, Ph.D., David Bruton, Jr., Centennial Professor in Art History and Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Professor, The University of Texas, Austin
6:30 p.m.        
Gallery admission required; members free         

Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky was one of the major pioneers in the emergence of totally abstract painting—art without recognizable subject matter. Kandinsky believed that, by communicating through color and form rather than by subject matter, art could achieve a higher level of spirituality. In an effort to have a transformative artistic effect upon his audience, Kandinsky grounded this quest in contemporary scientific ideas and discoveries such as radioactivity. This lecture, presented in conjunction with the exhibition Kandinsky: A Retrospective, will explore the cultural context in which Kandinsky worked and place the artist within this important historical moment. Find more lecture details at http://www.fristcenter.org.

Friday, November 14   
ARTini: Kandinsky: A Retrospective
7:00 p.m.
Meet at exhibition entrance
Gallery admission required; members free
Are you curious about art? Do you want to learn more about the content and concepts behind an artist’s work? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then the ARTini program is for you! ARTinis are designed for everyone—from the novice to the connoisseur—and include informal and insightful conversations that offer a deeper understanding of one or two works of art in an exhibition. Join Frist Center Associate Curator of Interpretation Megan Robertson as she explores a few of the works of this influential Russian painter and art theorist.

Tuesday, November 18   
ARTini: Kandinsky: A Retrospective
12:00 p.m.
Meet at exhibition entrance
Gallery admission required; members free
Are you curious about art? Do you want to learn more about the content and concepts behind an artist’s work? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then the ARTini program is for you! ARTinis are designed for everyone—from the novice to the connoisseur—and include informal and insightful conversations that offer a deeper understanding of one or two works of art in an exhibition. Join Frist Center Associate Curator of Interpretation Megan Robertson as she explores a few of the works of this influential Russian painter and art theorist.

Thursday, November 20 
Performance: “Blue-Yellow-Red” Presented by Robbie Hunsinger and Missy Raines
6:30 p.m.
Rechter Room
Gallery admission required; members free
Seating is first come, first seated

Interdisciplinary artist and transmedia performer Robbie Lynn Hunsinger will present an original composition inspired by the art and writings of Wassily Kandinsky that explores synesthesia and the interconnectedness of music, visual art and the senses. Hunsinger’s multimedia concert piece complements the motives and visual materials of her concurrent interactive installation, Blue-Yellow-Red, on view in the Frist Center’s Rechter Room from November 13–21, 2014. Virtuoso bassist Missy Raines will join multi-instrumentalist Hunsinger for this premiere performance of “Blue-Yellow-Red” for acoustic instruments, laptop, and projector.

Tuesday, December 2 
Lecture Series: “Food for Thought”
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m. with lecture to follow at noon.
Frist Center Auditorium
Free with advance registration; lunch and gallery admission included. Registration for this lecture opens Tuesday, November 11; call Vanderbilt University at 615.322.8585 to register.

In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, “Food for Thought: Kandinsky―Exploring Connections between Music and the Visual Arts,” is a three-part lecture series presented by Vanderbilt professors, Frist Center curators, and members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. This series provides the community at large with an opportunity to build challenging intellectual connections to the exhibition  Kandinsky: A Retrospective. Visit http://www.fristcenter.org for lecture details. Kandinsky: A Retrospective is on view in the Ingram Gallery from Friday, September 26, 2014, to Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thomas Hart Benton’s Epic Mural America Today on View at Met Museum Beginning September 30

Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975) City Activities with Dancehall from America Today, 1930–31. Mural cycle consisting of ten panels. Egg tempera with oil glazing over Permalba on a gesso ground on linen mounted to wood panels with a honeycomb interior. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of AXA Equitable, 2012

 Exhibition Dates: September 30, 2014–April 19, 2015

The exhibition Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered celebrates the gift of Thomas Hart Benton’s epic mural America Today from AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2012. Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) painted the 10-panel mural cycle in 1930–31 for New York’s New School for Social Research to adorn the boardroom of its International Style modernist building on West 12th Street. It was commissioned by the New School’s director, Alvin Johnson, who had fashioned the school as a center for progressive thought and education in Greenwich Village. Depicting a sweeping panorama of American life during the 1920s, America Today ranks among Benton’s most renowned works and as one of the most significant accomplishments in American art of the period.

“This exhibition is the culmination of an extraordinary partnership between the Metropolitan and AXA, which donated the mural to the Museum and also serves as the exhibition’s sponsor. For this, we are tremendously grateful,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum.  “The Metropolitan’s presentation of Benton’s great mural will shed new light on this visually and intellectually stimulating landmark in American art of the early 1930s, especially as the Museum will display the mural as the artist originally intended it to be seen.  Positioning the mural’s new home in the context of the Metropolitan’s diverse collections, the exhibition also tells a unique story rooted in New York’s own cultural history.”

“The Department of Modern and Contemporary Art is thrilled to debut AXA’s great gift of Benton’s remarkable America Today mural in the American Wing, where the artist’s expansive vision of life in the United States will resonate deeply with John Vanderlyn’s grand panorama, 19th-century genre painting, and Thomas Cole’s philosophical landscapes, among other treasures,” said Sheena Wagstaff, the Museum’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art.  “The exhibition will also remind visitors that the key themes of Benton’s mural—the heroic proletariat and modern industry—were greatly significant for artists in a contemporary international context, not only in the United States, but also in Mexico, and in France between the world wars.”

The exhibition is made possible by AXA.

America Today was Benton’s first major mural commission and the most ambitious he ever executed in New York City. The exhibition will demonstrate how the work not only marked a turning point in Benton’s career as a painter—elevating his stature among his peers and critics—but in hindsight stands out even more as a singular achievement of American art of the period, one that, among other effects, served to legitimize modern mural painting as part of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project in the 1930s. Stylistically bold, America Today stands midway between the artist’s early experiments in abstraction, signs of which are still evident in the mural, and the expressive figurative style for which he is best known today. Thematically, the mural evokes the ebullient belief in American progress that was characteristic of the 1920s, even as it acknowledges the onset of economic distress that would characterize life in the following decade. The commissioning of America Today also marked an important episode in international modernism; the great Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco was commissioned to paint a mural in the New School at the same time, and the two
artists worked on their projects concurrently.

On view starting September 30 in the Museum’s Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery in the American Wing, the exhibition will be organized into three sections: the first will feature a large selection of Benton’s studies for the mural; the second will present the mural installed in a facsimile of its original space at the New School; and the third will feature related works by other artists, all from the Museum’s collection.

America Today Rediscovered
The keystone of the exhibition—the mural—will be installed in a reconstruction of the 30-by-22-foot boardroom as it existed at the New School in 1931, allowing viewers to experience the mural cycle as Benton conceived it. A highlight of this extraordinary opportunity to view the reconstructed mural in its nearly original setting is the incorporation of elements that were part of the architect Joseph Urban’s modernist aesthetic for the New School building, such as the black and red color scheme he used for the room. Among the mural’s most distinctive features are the aluminum-leaf wooden moldings, which not only frame the mural but also create inventive spatial breaks within each large panel. When the mural was installed at the New School, these moldings echoed the Art Deco details of Urban’s building design.

The 10 panels—most of which loom to a height of seven-and-a-half feet—depict a panoramic sweep of rural and urban life on the eve of the Great Depression. They capture the tension of early modern America, with allusions to race relations and social values, while simultaneously celebrating the themes of industry, progress, and urban life. An array of pre-Depression types—flappers, farmers, steel workers, stock market tycoons, and others representing a cross section of American life—will surround visitors in the mural space and can be further explored in the adjacent galleries, which will present many of the studies Benton made during his travels around the United States in the 1920s and to which he referred for the mural project.

The Mural Studies
The second section of the exhibition, featuring Benton’s studies for America Today, illuminates the deliberative nature of his working process. Besides the impressions Benton captured during his travels around the U.S. in the 1920s, the studies on view will include character studies in pencil for figures that appear in the mural, as well as painted compositional studies for individual mural panels.

Related Works
The final section of the exhibition includes works that relate to Benton’s America Today drawn from the Metropolitan Museum’s Departments of Modern and Contemporary Art, Photographs, and European Paintings. Highlights of this section are other works by Benton; renowned photographs by Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, and Lewis Hine; and, of particular interest, Jackson Pollock’s Pasiphaë (1943). During the time Benton was painting America Today, Pollock was his student and served as a model for his teacher’s mural. The inclusion of Pollock’s abstract painting in the exhibition provides opportunities to consider the complex personal and artistic relationship between the two artists.

From the New School to the Metropolitan
After more than 50 years in the boardroom of the New School, a space that was subsequently used as a classroom, America Today proved difficult for the school to maintain in perpetuity. In 1982, the school announced the sale of the mural cycle to the Manhattan art dealer Maurice Segoura, with the condition that it would not be re-sold outside the United States or as individual panels. But the work was a great challenge to sell as a whole, increasing the likelihood that the panels would be dispersed.

America Today was acquired by AXA (then Equitable Life) in 1984, in support of efforts on the part of then-Mayor Edward I. Koch and others to keep it intact and in New York City. Two years later, after extensive cleaning and restoration, America Today was unveiled to critical acclaim in AXA’s new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue. When the company moved its corporate headquarters again in 1996, to 1290 Avenue of the Americas, America Today was put on display in the lobby. There it remained until January 2012, when the company was asked to remove it to make way for a renovation. The removal triggered AXA’s decision to place the historic work in a museum collection, and in December 2012, AXA donated the mural to the Metropolitan Museum. This transformative gift was facilitated by H. Barbara Weinberg, Curator Emerita, The American Wing, and Pari Stave, Senior Administrator in the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

More information about the 2012 gift can be found in the Press Room on the Museum’s website.

Exhibition Credits
Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered is organized by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Randall Griffey, Associate Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, both of the Metropolitan Museum.

Related Programs
A variety of education programs will take place in conjunction with the exhibition. These include gallery talks, a one-day symposium on March 2, 2015, a Sunday at the Met lecture, and a scholars’ day workshop event. A Musical Tribute to Thomas Hart Benton with jazz pianist Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band will take place on February 20, 2015.

Related Publication
The exhibition will be accompanied by a Bulletin published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Featuring essays by curators Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser and Randall Griffey, it will be available in February 2015.

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 (www.frick.org) 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).