Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition Through June 3, 2012

The Stein siblings—Gertrude, Leo, Michael, and his wife Sarah—were important patrons of modern art in Paris during the first years of the 20th century. This American family collected hundreds of artworks by a group of relatively unknown artists with whom they became close friends. The Steins opened their apartments on Saturday evenings to anyone who arrived with a reference in hand. At these salons, scores of international artists, collectors, and dealers passed through their doors in order to see and discuss the latest artistic developments, long before they were on view in museums. Ultimately, the Steins’ enthusiasm for avant-garde art—particularly the work of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso—had an indelible impact on its development for decades to come.

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde—at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 28 through June 3, 2012—unites some 200 works of art to demonstrate the significant impact the Steins’ patronage had on the artists of their day and the way in which the family disseminated a new standard of taste for modern art. The exhibition traces the evolution of the Steins’ collections and examines the close relationships that formed between individual members of the family and their artist friends. While focusing on paintings by Matisse and Picasso, the exhibition will also include paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Manguin, André Masson, Elie Nadelman, Francis Picabia, and others.

Leo Stein was a collector by nature. Once he settled in Paris in early 1903, he was amazed to discover that he could afford to purchase contemporary oil paintings. He was most attracted to colorful figurative work, traditional subject matter rendered in innovative ways. Leo’s youngest sister Gertrude joined him in the fall of 1903. Their eldest brother, Michael, together with his family, followed from California in January 1904. Leo was the driving force of the collection during these early years. After realizing that his plan to build a collection of paintings by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Auguste Renoir was beyond his means, Leo changed strategies and instead began to purchase inexpensive paintings by relatively unknown younger artists. In 1905 he bought his first pictures by Picasso and Matisse.

Following Leo’s lead, Sarah and Michael began purchasing fairly inexpensive pictures by Cézanne, Gauguin, Manguin, Picasso, and Vallotton. They became close friends with Matisse after Leo introduced them in late 1905. Within three years, the walls of their apartment were filled with colorful canvases. With the exception of Matisse’s own studio, there was no better place to see his recent work.

The Steins had close bonds with the emerging artists whose works they collected. They went horseback riding and swimming with Henri Matisse and arranged for their friends from San Francisco, Harriet Lane Levy and Alice Toklas, to take French lessons from Picasso’s girlfriend, Fernande Olivier. It was not uncommon for Leo to have lunch with Matisse and dinner with Picasso in a single day. Both artists sent the Steins sketches and reports of their work in progress.

The Steins were natural networkers. They famously introduced Matisse to Picasso and made the art of the Parisian avant-garde available to hundreds of people who might not have had a chance to see it otherwise. The first documented visitors to 27, rue de Fleurus were Leo’s artist friends, who often found him pacing the studio or reclining on a daybed while extolling the individual merits of the pictures.

As word of the Steins’ collections spread, they were overwhelmed with requests for visits. A decision was made to consolidate the visits and open both Leo and Gertrude’s atelier and Sarah and Michael’s apartment on Saturday evenings to anyone who arrived with a reference. Artists, writers, musicians, and collectors convened to discuss the latest artistic developments. Visitors from the United States, Europe, and Russia spread news of what they had seen. By opening their homes and making their collections accessible, the Steins did more to support avant-garde painting than any other collectors or institutions during the first decade of the 20th century.

By late 1910, the modest two-bedroom apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus that Leo had initially rented for himself was home to three occupants: Leo, Gertrude, and her companion, Alice Toklas. Leo’s increasing deafness led him to distance himself from the Saturday evening salons, and by 1913 he recognized that it was time for him to leave rue de Fleurus altogether. Leo and Gertrude divided their collection. Gertrude kept the Picasso paintings, and Leo took 16 Renoirs. “Rather an amusing baggage for a leader in the great modern fight,” he conceded. Leo was relieved to live a quieter, simpler life with Nina Auzias, whom he married in 1921. He spent the rest of his years in Italy, France, and the United States, painting, writing and lecturing about aesthetics.

Meanwhile, Gertrude and Alice renovated the atelier and removed the frames from most of the paintings, which accentuated her more orderly display. Gertrude took her writing quite seriously, and friends noted that in books such as Tender Buttons (1914 ) and The Making of Americans (1925), Gertrude was “doing the same thing in literature that Matisse & Picasso [were] doing in art.”

World War I had a particularly devastating impact on Sarah and Michael’s collection. At Matisse’s request, they lent 19 of their largest and most important paintings by him to a July 1914 gallery exhibition in Berlin. When Germany declared war on France in early August, the paintings were trapped. After years of legal negotiations, Michael and Sarah opted to sell them to the Norwegian shipowner Tryggve Sagen and the Danish collector Christian Tetzen-Lund. Matisse regretted the turn of events and painted portraits of Sarah and Michael (1916; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), the only portrait pendants he is known to have made. In the mid-1920s, the couple commissioned a villa from Le Corbusier. “After having been in the vanguard of the modern movement in painting in the early years of the century, we are now doing the same for modern architecture,” Michael said.

Of all the Steins, only Gertrude managed to keep the bulk of her collection together. She could no longer afford to buy paintings by the artists she had once supported. Most new acquisitions were gifts or acquired through trade, such as the last Picasso painting she added to her collection, Still Life (1922; The Art Institute of Chicago). Younger artists such as Louis Marcoussis, André Masson, Francis Rose, and Pavel Tchelitchew gravitated to Gertrude, flattered by her interest in them. She and Alice retreated to their country home at Bilignin during World War II, ignoring repeated warnings from the American Embassy to leave. It was probably Bernard Fäy, a close friend, translator of many of Gertrude’s writings, and influential Vichy collaborator, who protected her.

In the mid-1930s, Gertrude reminded her readers that the art of Matisse and Picasso was once scorned. “It is very difficult now that everybody is accustomed to everything to give some idea of the uneasiness once felt when one first looked at all these pictures on the walls.”

The Steins Collect; Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde revisits this decisive moment. It is the story of one American family residing in Paris who shaped the development of modern art for decades to come.

Highlights from the exhibition include Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), purchased by Leo Stein from the famous “fauve” Salon d’Automne of 1905, and Picasso’s painting of Gertrude Stein (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), which will be presented alongside additional portraits of the Stein family by Matisse, Picasso, and Vallotton.

Life-size photographic enlargements of the Steins’ Parisian apartments will be displayed throughout the exhibition to show how the art was installed in the Steins’ residences. Additional themes covered in the exhibition include Sarah and Michael Stein’s role in the formation of the Académie Matisse, the influential art school that operated from 1908 to 1911; their commission of a villa from Le Corbusier; and Gertrude’s later friendships and collaborations with Juan Gris, Elie Lascaux, Francis Rose, and Virgil Thomson.

Exhibition Credits and Catalogue
The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde is organized by Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA; Cécile Debray, curator of historical collections at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; and Rebecca Rabinow, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 492-page catalogue edited by Janet Bishop, Cécile Debray, and Rebecca Rabinow. The publication features new research, previously unpublished archival information, photographs illustrating how the Steins displayed their works of art, a facsimile of Sarah Stein’s notebook of Matisse’s teachings, an extensive chronology detailing the lives of the family members, and original essays by a range of French and American experts in the field: Isabel Alfandary, Janet Bishop, Emily Braun, Edward Burns, Cécile Debray, Claudine Grammont, Helene Klein, Martha Lucy, Carrie Pilto, Rebecca Rabinow, and Gary Tinterow. This authoritative volume also includes a timeline of the Steins' collecting activity created by Kate Mendillo and a catalogue of the family's holdings compiled by Robert McD. Parker, along with his presentation of rare photographs depicting the changing configurations of works on the walls of the various Stein salons. The catalogue is published by SFMOMA in association with Yale University Press, and is for sale in the Museum’s book shops (hardcover $75, paperback $50).

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond

© Andrew Wyeth, Chambered Nautilus, 1956, tempera on panel. Gift from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Montgomery, 1979.168.

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond will be on view March 24 through July 22:

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art | 600 Main Street | Hartford, CT | 06103 | (860) 278-2670

Inspired by the Andrew Wyeth paintings in the museum’s collection—Northern Point (1950),

April Wind (1952),

and Chambered Nautilus (1956)— Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond invites the viewer to look deeper into the masterful technique and poignant imagery one of the twentieth century’s most critiqued artists. These three paintings will be displayed, for the first time, alongside their related studies revealing the richness and complexity of his creative process. The exhibition also addresses the prevalence of windows and half-opened doors throughout his works, through a selection of outside loans from public and private collections.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rembrandt Peale's Portrait of John Meer

In celebration of a recent gift to the museum by a Maryland family, the Walters Art Museum presented the focus show, Rembrandt Peale’s Portrait of John Meer: A New Addition to the American Art Collection, on the work of painter Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860). The donated, undated painting, Portrait of John Meer, depicts a robust middle-aged man who points enigmatically at a human skull cradled to his body.

Painted by Peale when he was probably just 17 years of age, Portrait of John Meer serves as a point of comparison with other exhibited works to trace the artist’s development from a technical wunderkind to a mature painter of remarkable fluency.

Highlights within the focus show included Peale’s sensitive fraternal portrait, Rubens Peale with a Geranium, on loan to the Walters from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., as well as portraits from the Maryland Historical Society and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection at Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia.

“This show will also explore the symbolism of the human skull in Western art and its possible significance as a clue to the profession of the sitter, who the family had always thought of as a ‘Dr.’ Meer,” said Eik Kahng, the Walters’ curator and head of the department of 18th and 19th century art

A craftsman and friend of the Peale family, Meer emigrated from England to Philadelphia with his family in 1793. He soon lost his wife to yellow fever and nearly died of the illness himself. He survived, however, to nurse others through outbreaks of the disease that plagued the city throughout the 1790’s. Peale’s use of the skull poignantly recognizes the subject’s personal loss, his brush with death and his heroic service to others.

Symbolism of the Human Skull

In response to the prominence of the human skull in the Meer portrait, the focus show highlights the use of skull imagery in the Renaissance, Baroque and Modern periods. Giacomo Galli’s Saint Mary Magdalene, for example, pairs a smooth-skinned young woman with a rough skull as a momento mori, a stark reminder of one’s own mortality. Lucas van Leyden’s 17th-century print of a handsome courtier in fancy dress brandishing a skull was intended as a warning against pride in earthly things such as wealth or knowledge. Peale may have been thinking of compositions like van Leyden’s when he conceived of the Meer portrait. Alfred Stieglitz’s photographed “portrait” of Southwestern artist Georgia O’Keefe shows the painter’s roughhewn hands stretched alongside a horse’s skull, one of her favorite and enduring subjects.

Rembrandt Peale’s Background

As if to guide their destinies, the American portrait painter Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) named his children after famous artists: Raphaelle, Angelica Kauffman, Titian, Rubens, Sofonisba Angusciola, Rosalba Carriera and Rembrandt. Charles Willson Peale himself was the leading portraitist of his day, weaving conventions from British portraiture into his works that appealed to elite clients in the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas. Rembrandt was the most naturally gifted of the siblings and was singled out by his father as the favorite. Through his father’s introduction, the young Rembrandt was given an opportunity to paint a study of the then-legendary George Washington. His direct portrayal offers viewers a startling contrast to Gilbert Stuart’s highly idealized portraits of the president, an example of which is on view in the Walters’ Neoclassicism and Romanticism gallery adjacent to the Peale exhibition.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430–1516), St. Francis in the Desert, c. 1480, oil on poplar panel, 49 x 55 7⁄8 inches, The Frick Collection, New York

One of the most familiar and beloved paintings at The Frick Collection, Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert (c. 1480), is also deeply enigmatic. The artist has imagined this medieval saint alone in a stony wilderness, stepping forward from his simple shelter into a golden light that seems to transfigure him spiritually. For centuries, viewers of this masterpiece have puzzled over the meaning of Bellini’s composition and have sought explanations in a variety of pictorial and textual sources.


Sir Anthony van Dyck

Anthony Van Dyck
Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle 1637
Oil on canvas 2184 x 1308 mm
The Trustees of the Rt Hon. Olive Countess Fitzwilliam's Chattels settlement by permission of Lady Juliet Tadgel

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) was the greatest painter in seventeenth-century Britain. Though trained in Flanders, he had a huge impact on British cultural life as the principal painter at King Charles I’s ostensibly elegant court, where his impact was similar to that of Hans Holbein at the court of Henry VIII.

Van Dyck was born and trained in the great art centre of Antwerp. He made a brief visit to London in 1620-21 before returning in 1632 to King Charles I’s court. Intensely ambitious and hugely productive, he re-invented portrait-painting in Britain, retaining his pre-eminence until his premature death at the age of 42. Working in a period of intense political ferment during the run-up to the British Civil War, van Dyck portrayed many of the leading characters of the period. His iconic portraits of King Charles I have shaped our view of the Stuart monarchy, while the compositions he used influenced many future generations of British painters.

This visually sumptuous exhibition brings together some of the finest and most magnificent paintings that van Dyck produced during his years in Britain. It also reveals his continuing visual legacy through portraits by artists from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and John Singer Sargent. Featuring loans from The Royal Collection and The National Trust, this exhibition explores the context of van Dyck’s key English works, examining his innovative approach to painting the British elite. It also looks at his use of costume and his luscious, sparkling depiction of the rich fabrics of the period, and how his art was itself influenced by more local British painting.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art

Pablo Picasso
The Three Dancers 1925
Tate © Succession Picasso/DACS 2011

Picasso remains the twentieth century’s single most important artistic figure, a towering genius who changed the face of modern art.

In a major new exhibition at Tate Britain, Picasso and Modern British Art, 15 February – 15 July 2012 explores his extensive legacy and influence on British art, how this played a role in the acceptance of modern art in Britain, alongside the fascinating story of Picasso’s lifelong connections to and affection for this country.

It brings together over 150 spectacular artworks, with over 60 stunning Picassos including sublime paintings from the most remarkable moments in his career, such as Weeping Woman 1937 and The Three Dancers 1925.

It offers the rare opportunity to see these celebrated artworks alongside seven of Picasso’s most brilliant British admirers, exploring the huge impact he had on their art: Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney.

Picasso and Modern British Art is the first exhibition to trace Picasso’s rise in Britain as a figure of both controversy and celebrity. From his London visit in 1919, working on the scenery and costumes for Diaghilev’s ballet The Three Cornered Hat; to his post-war reputation and political appearances; leading up to the phenomenally successful 1960 Tate exhibition.

Full of beautiful and inspirational artworks, this exhibition is an unmissable treat and a fascinating insight into how British art became modern.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Helena Fourment, c. 1630, black, red, and white chalk and pen and ink, 24 x 21 1/2 inches; The Courtauld Gallery (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

In keeping with its tradition of exhibiting masterworks from collections outside of New York, the Frick will present fifty-eight drawings from The Courtauld Gallery, London from October 2, 2012, through January 27, 2013. This exhibition marks the first time that so many of the principal drawings in The Courtauld's renowned collection — one of Britain's most important — have been made available for loan. The prized sheets represent a survey of the extraordinary draftsmanship of Italian, Dutch, Flemish, German, Spanish, British, and French artists active between the late Middle Ages and the early twentieth century. The survey features works executed in a range of drawing techniques and styles and for a variety of purposes, including preliminary sketches, practice studies, aide-mémoires, designs for other artworks, and finished pictures meant to be appreciated as independent works of art.

Among the artists in the Frick's exhibition will be Andrea Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Charles-Joseph Natoire, Thomas Gainsborough, Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Théodore Géricault, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.

Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces from the Mauritshuis

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665, oil on canvas, 44.5 x 39 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague

The Frick Collection will be the final venue of an American tour of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague in the fall of 2013, (October 22, 2013, through January 12, 2014).

This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly thirty years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation that makes this opportunity possible. Between January 2013 and January 2014, the Mauritshuis will send thirty-five paintings to the United States, following two stops at Japanese institutions. The American exhibition opens next winter at de Young/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, traveling on to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for the summer of 2013. A smaller selection of ten masterpieces will be on view at The Frick Collection in New York from October 22, 2013, through January 12, 2014. Among the works going on tour are the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer and The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, neither of which will have been seen by American audiences in ten years. Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis, comments, “We are delighted to have three excellent museums as partners for our U.S. tour. This agreement allows us to present our collection on both the west and east coasts of the United States, in large as well as more intimate venues.”

The New York presentation will be coordinated by Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey and Assistant Curator Margaret Iacono. Continuing in the Frick’s tradition of presenting masterpieces from acclaimed museums not easily accessible to the New York public, this exhibition follows on three acclaimed shows of similar size that drew, respectively, upon works from the Toledo Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Norton Simon Museum. The Frick’s Mauritshuis exhibition, to be shown in the Oval Room, primarily features works by artists collected by founder Henry Clay Frick, such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals, and van Ruisdael, but is complementary in its inclusion of work by Steen and Fabritius.

The ten paintings coming to the Frick, all highlights of the Mauritshuis collection, represent the range of subject matter and technique prevalent in seventeenth-century painting in The Netherlands. They are Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665; Rembrandt van Rijn’s Simeon’s Song of Praise, 1631, and his Portrait of an Elderly Man, 1667; Frans Hals’s pendant portraits of Jacob Olycan (1596–1638) and Aletta Hanemans (1606–1653), both painted in 1625; Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, 1654; Gerard ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter, c. 1655; Jan Steen’s Girl Eating Oysters, c. 1658–60, and ‘The Way you Hear It, Is the Way You Sing It’, c. 1665; and Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds, c. 1670–75.

Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), La Promenade, 1875–76, oil on canvas, 67 x 42 5/8 inches, The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Frick Collection presents an exhibition (February 7 through May 13, 2012) of nine iconic Impressionist paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, offering the first comprehensive study of the artist's engagement with the full-length format, which was associated with the official Paris Salon in the decade that saw the emergence of a fully fledged Impressionist aesthetic. The project was inspired by La Promenade of 1875–76, the most significant Impressionist work in the Frick's permanent collection.

The exhibition explores Renoir's portraits and subject pictures of this type from the mid-1870s to mid-1880s. Intended for public display, these vertical grand-scale canvases are among the artist's most daring and ambitious presentations of contemporary subjects and are today considered masterpieces of Impressionism. On view only at the Frick, Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting is a landmark exhibition, bringing together several beloved masterpieces from around the world.

Works on loan from international institutions are La Parisienne (1874) from the National Museum Wales, Cardiff; The Umbrellas (c. 1881 and 1885) from The National Gallery, London (first time on view in the United States since 1886); and Dance in the City and Dance in the Country (1882–83) from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Works on loan from American institutions are The Dancer (1874) from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Madame Henriot "en travesti" (1875–76) from the Columbus Museum of Art; Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (1879) from The Art Institute of Chicago; and Dance at Bougival (1882–83) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition will be shown in the Frick's East Gallery. Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting was organized by Colin B. Bailey, the Frick's Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) The Umbrellas, c. 1881 and 1885 Oil on canvas 71 x 45 inches The National Gallery, London Photo: © The National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue will offer fresh insights into Renoir's complex ambitions when, as a young artist, he submitted works to both the avant-garde Impressionist exhibitions and the official Salon. While painting in the new Impressionist style, Renoir remained uniquely committed to the full-length format — a traditional type eschewed by most of his fellow Impressionists.

The project draws on contemporary criticism, literature, and archival documents to explore the motivation behind Renoir's full-length figure paintings as well as their reception by critics, peers, and the public. Technical studies of the canvases themselves will also shed new light on the artist's working methods.

The juxtaposition of these full-length images of women will bring the glamour of the Belle Époque vividly to life. This format, which bears striking similarities to contemporary fashion plates, afforded Renoir the perfect opportunity to devote himself not only to his sitters, but to the finest details of their dress.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue explore the rich variety of Renoir's painterly technique — the sheer virtuosity of his brushwork in creating silk, lace, fur, and taffeta — as well as the social significance of the garments themselves. From shimmering ball gowns to sumptuous furs, from chic Parisian day dresses to glamorous theatrical costumes, the nine paintings capture the fashions of Renoir's Paris.

Friday, March 23, 2012

17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting


Above: Ludolf Bakhuizen, Ships in a Gale on the IJ before the City of Amsterdam, 1666. Oil on canvas. Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection

This exhibit, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 10, 2012 - June 24, 2012, features masterpieces from the collection of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, including Rembrandt’s sublime Portrait of Aeltje van Uylenburgh (1632) and Dou’s sympathetic little Sleeping Dog (1650). These favorites and dozens of other paintings from the Van Otterloo collection, like Bakhuizen’s Ships in a Gale (above), return to the MFA after a sojourn in Holland and yearlong tour of the United States.

Prime examples of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting include architectural views; landscapes and seascapes; still lifes; portraits and tronies (head studies); and figure paintings. Seen together with the MFA’s collection, this installation provides a veritable banquet of Dutch and Flemish art for all to enjoy.

Manet in Black


Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects, from exotic Spanish dancers to the horses and spectators at a thrilling Paris racetrack. This exhibition, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from February 18, 2012 - October 28, 2012, celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia

Paul Gauguin: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1898)

Paul Cézanne: The Large Bathers (1906)

Henri Matisse: Bathers by a River (1909-17)

Philadelphia Museum of Art: June 20, 2012 - September 3, 2012

The theme of an earthly paradise, or Arcadia, has been popular in theater, poetry, music, and art since antiquity. In France during the early 1900s, this idea of a mystical place of contentment and harmony was especially potent--illustrated in mural-sized paintings which were often commissioned for public viewing. This exhibition explores the theme in three such paintings of the time: Paul Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1898), Paul Cézanne’s The Large Bathers (1906), and Henri Matisse’s Bathers by a River (1909-17). Placed on view together, in a dialogue of sorts, these three masterpieces take visitors to the very foundations of modern art.

Inspired by his travels in Tahiti, Gauguin painted Where Do We Come From? as an embodiment of his vision of Arcadia in 1898. Shortly after its completion, the painting was exhibited in Paris at the art gallery of Ambroise Vollard. Also in Paris at that moment were Paul Cézanne, who happened to be at work on a portrait of Vollard, and Henri Matisse, who had just abandoned his legal studies for a career in art. It’s unclear whether either Cézanne or Matisse was aware of Gauguin’s vast canvas, but it is fascinating to examine their own later masterpieces in relation to it. Cézanne’s Arcadian ideal is exemplified in the 1906 painting The Large Bathers, which combines figures and landscape in a stagelike setting deeply rooted in the past. Matisse, meanwhile, completed one of his own largest paintings, Bathers by a River, in several stages between 1909 and 1917. His vision evolves from a stylized rendering of an idyllic scene to a Cubist-inspired representation that hints at a sinister side of paradise.

This exhibition, which is only being shown in Philadelphia, includes masterpieces by artists such as Albert Gleizes, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Signac that emphasize the French tradition of grand public paintings. Works by Nicolas Poussin and others establish the prevalence of the Arcadian theme. With major loans from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Art Institute of Chicago, Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia allows visitors to experience works created during one of the most innovative and remarkable periods in the history of art.

Rockwell Kent—Voyager: An Artist’s Journey in Prints, Drawings, and Illustrated Books

Philadelphia Museum of Art May 19, 2012 - July 29, 2012

Famous in his own time as a painter, author, arctic adventurer, and political activist, Rockwell Kent (1882–1971) left his most enduring legacy as a printmaker and illustrator of books. His bold and enigmatic images of mysterious, statuesque figures in spiritual communion with the natural world proved equally effective in corporate advertising campaigns and book projects alike. This exhibition follows the artist’s journey from Alaska to Newfoundland, and from the pages of Vanity Fair magazine to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Rockwell Kent prints, drawings, and illustrated books is virtually unmatched in its depth and diversity. Primarily assembled by Carl Zigrosser, Kent’s longtime friend and the founding curator of the Museum’s department of prints and drawings, the holdings of Kent’s works on paper includes important examples from throughout the artist’s career.

Rockwell Kent—Voyager is the first exhibition at the Museum to focus entirely on the work of this iconic early-twentieth-century American master. Limited-edition prints and illustrated books provide a broad survey of Kent’s success as a graphic artist, while related pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors, sketchbooks, woodblocks, and lithographic stones allow a glimpse into his creative process.

Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) painter of the Dutch Golden Age

Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) was one of the most accomplished painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

In his own time, Dou was viewed as the very paragon of art, and was a great favorite of important and influential patrons. He and his fellow artists from Leiden, called fijnschilders (“fine painters”), captivated generations of collectors and art lovers with their scenes of contemporary life, rendered with painstaking detail and modeled in the subtle and rich chiaroscuro inspired by Rembrandt.

His meticulously executed portraits and scenes of everyday life frequently use niches and windows to extend the space of the painting, heightening the viewer’s sense of reality and intensifying the painting’s illusions. These works also often contain hidden symbolism that encourage the viewer to search behind the mirror-like facade of visible reality.

A pupil of Rembrandt’s, Dou looked ahead to Vermeer in his love of domestic subjects, skillful rendering of light and texture, and fine execution.

La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Complete article

La Primavera (ca 1482), by Sandro Botticelli. Photograph: George Tatge/Alinari Archives/Corbis

...Very early in its history, Sandro Botticelli's depiction of the goddess Venus, raising her hand in blessing over a gathering of mythological followers, acquired the name it bears today: La Primavera. It's a lovely word, the Italian for spring – and there's a good chance this is what Botticelli called it when he first unveiled it to the Medicis in 1481...

Who does the season best? Monet and the impressionists captured spring's effervescent changes acutely. Van Gogh's paintings of fruit trees in blossom contain a desperate passion that is pure Vincent. William Blake, too, earns a place, for his picture of Chaucer's pilgrims heading out on a spring day, when April's sweet showers have ended the drought of March.

Botticelli's Primavera was one of the first large-scale European paintings to tell a story that was not Christian, replacing the agony of Easter with a pagan rite. The very idea of art as a pleasure, and not a sermon, began in this meadow. The painting teems with life: the myriad shades of the flowers in the dark grass have been analysed by botanists, who identified 200 accurately depicted plants. Blue-skinned Zephyrus, spirit of the wind, chases Chloris, who transforms into Flora in her flowering dress, while the Three Graces dance, Mercury waves a wand and Cupid gets ready to fire an arrow.

The goddess of love stands at the centre, crowned by radiating foliage against the blue sky. This is the season of Venus, when flowers bud and birds sing. In the world Botticelli inhabited, everyone lived close to nature whether they wanted to or not and the season of natural renewal was seen as a time for lovers and courtship. In Florence, young men cut down flowering boughs and pinned them to the doors of women they loved. (Botticelli's friend Poliziano even wrote a Renaissance pop song about spring lovers: "Welcome spring/ Which wants a guy to fall in love/ And you, girls/ Come to the fresh cool shade/ Of the green growing trees.")

The miracle of Botticelli's painting is that it translates all this life-renewing joy into colours and figures. The cool shade of the green trees sets off pale limbs, blond hair, gauzes and bright robes gliding over the carpet of flowers. The season is at once warmed by the sun and cooled by breezes. It is an image of life unstoppable...


Monday, March 19, 2012

Van Gogh Up Close

Rain, 1889 Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch
Oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 36 3/8 inches (73.3 x 92.4 cm)

Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 1–May 6, 2012 (Dorrance Galleries)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, May 25–September 3, 2012

Vincent van Gogh was an artist of exceptional intensity, not only in his use of color and exuberant application of paint, but also in his personal life. Drawn powerfully to nature, his works--particularly those created in the years just before he took his own life--engage the viewer with the strength of his emotions. This exhibition focuses on these tumultuous years, a period of feverish artistic experimentation that began when van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris in 1886 and continued until his death in Auvers in 1890.

Radically altering and often outright abandoning traditional painting techniques, van Gogh created still lifes and landscapes unlike anything that had ever been seen before. He experimented with depth of field and focus. He used shifting perspectives and brought familiar objects “up close” into the foreground. And he produced some of the most original works of his career; works that dramatically altered the course of modern painting. Through some 40 masterpieces borrowed from collections around the world, Van Gogh Up Close is the first exhibition to explore the reasons and means by which this impassioned artist made such unusual changes to his painting style in the final years of his life.

When he arrived in Paris, van Gogh initially worked in the Montmartre apartment he shared with his brother Theo. He created a series of still lifes and paintings of flowers and fruit, focusing especially on aspects of scale, angle, and color. In many of these works, objects may be seen from above, or are placed in a tightly cropped space providing no clues to their context or setting. Pieces of fruit appear to tip forward and threaten to roll out of the picture. Meanwhile, the close up views of grasses, wheat sheaves, and tree trunks, which dominate the foreground of a number of the landscapes of this period, hint at more than just a detailed study of subject--they suggest a deep concern with representing the sensory and emotional experience of being outdoors.

When van Gogh discovered the work of other artists in Paris, such as the Impressionist paintings of Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir, and the pointillist works of Seurat and others, he was inspired to use lighter colors and to play with different kinds of brushwork in his own work. At about this time, he also began to acquire Japanese woodblock prints. He admired these for their decorative use of color and flattened compositions, and he embraced the ideas of Japanese artists who worked in close communion with nature, studying “the smallest blade of grass” to better comprehend nature as a whole. Indeed, when he moved to Arles in 1888, van Gogh wrote that being in the south of France was the closest thing to going to Japan.

The landscapes that he painted around Arles show Japanese influence in their deep views of the countryside and high horizon lines, while the landscapes he went on to create in Saint-Rémy and Auvers in 1889 and 1890 are tightly packed, more structured works. Dominated by a screen of trees or falling raindrops, these paintings suggest the immediacy and closeness of van Gogh’s surroundings. A year before he died, he wrote in a letter to his sister, “I…am always obliged to go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself."

In his final works, van Gogh closed in on his subjects in even more dramatic ways, reducing the depth of field and maximizing the expressive impact of his brushwork and color. An intimately focused view of a clump of iris, a tangle of almond branches, and the vibrant patterning of an Emperor moth are just a few of the images in an audacious series of still lifes which mark the culmination of the exhibition.

Outstanding pictures from the Renaissance

Andrea Previtali (ca. 1470–1528 Bergamo). Madonna and Child with Saints Paul and Agnes and the Donors Paolo and Agnese Cassotti. Oil on canvas. Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, no. 110.

The Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, is a jewel among Italian museums and a haven for art lovers. Founded at the end of the eighteenth century by Count Giacomo Carrara and housed in a beautiful Neoclassical building, it contains a range of masterpieces dating from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. At its core is a group of outstanding pictures from the Renaissance. Because of closure for restoration, it has been possible for the museum to lend to The Metropolitan Museum of Art fifteen masterpieces by Venetian and north Italian painters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including works by Bellini, Titian, and Lorenzo Lotto.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515

Giovanni Bellini (Italian, Venetian, active by 1459–died 1516). Madonna and Child, ca. 1470. Tempera, oil, and gold on wood; Framed: 31 x 26 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.81)

Venice’s territorial expansion in the surrounding mainland and its increasing power in the early 15th century, as well as its alliance with Florence in 1423, facilitated the influx of preeminent artists from Tuscany and other regions of Italy to execute important commissions in Venice and nearby Padua. These artists had a profound impact upon local masters, playing a fundamental role in introducing the Renaissance style to Venice. The installation illustrates the transition from the Late Gothic style of the early 15th century to mid-century, when Venetian artists began to respond to the Renaissance vocabulary of Florence and Padua.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 is divided into four galleries beginning with a section on Gothic art, that includes Gentile da Fabriano’s important painting Madonna and Child with Angels (ca. 1410), a rare work of the artist’s Venetian period. The influence of Gentile’s style can be seen in the paintings of Niccolò di Pietro and Michele Giambono, examples of which are on display in this gallery.

The next gallery explores Venice’s close ties with Padua, approximately 25 miles outside the city. In 1404 the city became part of the dominion of the Venetian Empire but maintained its identity as a thriving center of humanism and art. The Renaissance culture of Padua had a profound effect on Venetian masters. On view in this section are works by Marco Zoppo, who trained in Padua and was active in Venice for many years, and Carlo Crivelli, who was heavily indebted to the style of the Paduan school.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 presents a comparison of the two primary artistic dynasties during this period, the Bellini and the Vivarini, and explores their workshop practices and specializations in the context of the Venetian art market. The Vivarini had a thriving workshop that specialized in large altarpieces, which they mass-produced and exported widely beyond the city of Venice itself, to parish churches throughout the Veneto, along both sides of the Adriatic Sea, and to Southern Italy. The patriarch, Antonio Vivarini, was active beginning in the 1440s and, together with his contemporary Jacopo Bellini, was among the first Venetian painters to respond to the new Renaissance language. Works on view in this gallery include Antonio Vivarini’s Saint Peter Martyr Healing the Leg of a Young Man (probably 1450s) and two paintings by his brother Bartolomeo, who was greatly influenced by Paduan master Andrea Mantegna: Madonna of Humility and the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Pietà (ca. 1465) and The Death of the Virgin (1485).

The Bellini family—Jacopo Bellini and his sons, Gentile and Giovanni—were the preeminent painters of Venice from the mid-15th to the early 16th century and maintained the largest and most successful workshop in the city. Jacopo, who was active in Gentile da Fabriano’s studio in Florence, painted several half-length images of the Madonna and Child behind a parapet. This subject would also comprise the majority of Giovanni Bellini’s output and the mainstay of his workshop production, reflecting the art market’s strong demand for these private devotional objects. This gallery illustrates the evolving treatment of this sacred subject by the Bellini family and their workshop over the course of seven decades. A series of paintings of the half-length Madonna and Child also highlights Giovanni Bellini’s remarkable stylistic and technical progression from his early works.

Also on view in this gallery are examples of the Sacra Conversazione, or Holy Conversation, a compositional formula developed by Venetian painters for depicting the Madonna and Child with saints in a unified space that transformed the format of Venetian altarpieces. Giovanni Bellini popularized this formula and the large-scale painting Madonna and Child with Saints (ca. 1510), attributed to the painter and his workshop, is featured in this section.

Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515 ends with a gallery devoted to Vittore Carpaccio, a younger contemporary of Giovanni Bellini’s, who is best known for the narrative cycles he painted for the scuole, or confraternities, of Venice. The works exhibited in this gallery, which include a devotional painting of a sacred subject as well as preparatory drawings for an altarpiece, showcase Carpaccio’s production of sacred works. The drawings on view, executed by Carpaccio and other early 16th-century artists of Venice, evoke the range of graphic techniques and media employed by Venetian draftsmen, as well as various ways in which preparatory studies functioned in a workshop. The works exhibited also show the pervasive influence of Giovanni Bellini upon his contemporaries as well as the subsequent generation of celebrated Venetian artists, including Giorgione and Titian.

Hans Memling’s “Portrait of a Man”

Hans Memling (Netherlandish, c. 1430–1494) ‘Portrait of a Man,’ c. 1470–75 Oil on oak panel 13-1/8 x 9-1/8 in. (33.5 x 23.2 cm) The Frick Collection, New York Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Memling’s “Portrait of a Man” is a tour de force of early Netherlandish painting—remarkable in its truthfulness and humanity, and in an extraordinary state of conservation that allows the viewer to see practically every brushstroke. The identity of this sympathetic sitter, who holds the cornette or strap of his hat in his right hand, still remains to be discovered. Might the tiny steeple in the far left background and the impressive tower in the landscape at right offer some clue to his origins? Despite our best efforts, this is a work that has yet to reveal all its secrets.”

About Hans Memling Hans

Memling’s brilliance as one of the most formative early Netherlandish painters is clearly evident in The Frick Collection’s generous loan of their “Portrait of a Man.” The remarkable quantity of Memling’s existing portraits—in all about 50 of the 100 or so panels that have been attributed to his hand or his workshop—testify to the artist’s popularity and renown in his own lifetime. All of these portraits were probably painted after his arrival in Bruges, in modern-day Belgium, in 1465 from his German birthplace in Seligenstadt. They demonstrate his awareness of a long line of his counterparts such as Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus and Gerard David, but above all they reveal his indebtedness to Rogier van der Weyden, with whom he assuredly trained in Brussels after his arrival in Flanders from the middle Rhine. After Rogier’s death in 1464, Memling made his way to the thriving city of Bruges, where he would buy his citizenship, marry and have three children, and paint for the remainder of his life. In the stable economic and political climate of the 1460s and 1470s, Bruges was a flourishing center of commerce, and the city was filled with ranks of successful locals and foreigners alike. The Frick’s portrait, dated to ca. 1470–75, is likely a record of one of these prosperous bankers or merchants that were anxious to have their likenesses immortalized by Memling, who had already achieved wide fame and fruitful private commissions in his adoptive city. Given the panel’s Northern Italian provenance, it has been suggested that the sitter was from Italy or a northern locale, but the identity of this dark-eyed, determined individual remains unknown.

Other portraits by Memling reveal clues to the identity of his sitters: some hold attributes such as a letter, coin or ring, and in a few cases their ages or names are inscribed. Here, however, the Frick’s anonymous sitter grasps the strap of his hat and gazes confidently at the object of his attention from inside his fictive frame. The landscape holds no distinct hints of his origin either, although scholars have commented on the fascination of Italian clients for northern landscape painting and their willingness to pay a higher price to have such a background painted for their own portraits. While Memling was not the -morefirst northerner to place his figures, both sacred and profane, in an outdoor setting, the export of his paintings to other countries, especially Italy, would create an indelible mark on portrait painting from that point forward.

Works such as “Portrait of a Man” would be admired and emulated by Italian artists who were seminal in their own right: Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci would all paint signature works that suggest their familiarity with Memling’s common patterns and unique positioning of his figures in lush landscapes.