Temple of Knowledge

There are a great many good reasons to visit your neighbourhood’s public library. And when this happens to be the Stephen Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the fourth largest library in the world, being a ”curious tourist” is one of them.

The New York Public Library’s historic Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room recently completed a major ceiling restoration that went on for two years, since May 2014, when a rosette fell overnight and prompted a full inspection of the ceilings. And while it was agreed that they were in an – otherwise – excellent condition, the Library decided to take advantage of the already set up scaffolding to do some restoration work. The rooms reopened on October 5th, 2016 and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself.

The sheer size of the rooms, the epic beauty of these 105-year-old ceilings, the rows upon rows of accumulated knowledge can hardly be described in words. Capturing its essence on camera is an impossible task. It requires physical presence; slow steps, long pauses, quiet respectful gestures; as all temples do.

wp20161127_154358wp20161127_154732

wp20161127_154626

wp20161127_155044 wp20161127_155106 wp20161127_155450 wp20161127_155622 wp20161127_160645 wp20161127_160715 wp20161127_161214 wp20161127_161505 wp20161127_161827

November 27th, 2016

Four Cats and a Mouse

Looking at those little wonders of skill and craftsmanship that are the works of Henri-Charles Guérard, on show at the New York Public Library, is a pure pleasure and an excellent introduction to the artist. But the fact that felines (and other animals) were featured prominently in his work, warmed me up to the person too.

Here are the three stages of a Cat on a Newspaper:

wp20161127_162516
Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression
wp20161127_162524
Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression.
wp20161127_162536
Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression.

A Cat’s head sealing an announcement by the Black-and-White Society:

wp20161127_162616
Henri-Charles Guérard, Tête de chat noir (Head of a Black Cat), before 1888. Etching and drypoint on found paper.

And a mouse:

wp20161127_162708
Henri-Charles Guérard, Rat in a Vase Gazing at the Moon, ca. 1886. Colour etching and aquatint.

Accompanying caption: [Although Westerners generally have an aversion to rats, the creatures play an important role in Japanese culture, for the rat, or nazumi, is thought to be the messenger of the god Daikoku. It is said, moreover, that if rats eat the New Year cakes, there will be a good harvest. Guérard’s endearing treatment of this rodent climbing out of a vase decorated with Japanese motifs seems more closely aligned with Japanese than Western sentiments.]

A small consolation to weary New Yorkers, little impressed at the thought of having to share their homes, parks and subway with millions of them creatures…

A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard (1846-1897)

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

New York, NY, 10018

November 27th, 2016

A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard (1846-1897)

These and a lot more from ”the engraver of curiosity par excellence” can be viewed at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building until February 26th, 2017.

Don’t go in a rush, the exhibition is more extensive than one might expect; although this was supposed to be an added bonus to my visit, it quickly became apparent that it merits a lot more attention than a mere skimming through.
wp20161127_152632

wp20161127_153403
Henri-Charles Guérard, Porte-bouquet et crabe (Vase and Crab), 1882, Colour etching

wp20161127_152743

wp20161127_153600
Henri-Charles Guérard, After Diego Velásquez. Portrait du cardinal infant Don Fernando (Portrait of Cardinal Infante Don Fernando as a Hunter), 1888, Etching

[Beginning in the 1870s, Guérard assisted Édouard Manet with biting and pulling his prints, and their working relationship eventually blossomed into a friendship. In 1879, Guérard married Eva Gonzalès, Manet’s favourite pupil, who died in childbirth in 1883 shortly after Manet’s own death. Manet was not only a friend and colleague of Guérard’s but also an important source of inspiration.]

wp20161127_153710
Eduard Manet, Printed by Henri-Charles Guérard. The Boy with Soap Bubbles, 1868-69, Etching
wp20161127_153837
Henri-Charles Guérard, Soleil couchant (Setting Sun), 1895-96, Woodcut

[The image, which shows a troop of tiny Japanese men climbing energetically over a woman’s shoe of Western style, captures the droll and occasionally baffling behaviour of the figures in Hokusai manga. Women’s feet and, especially, their shoes have long been fetishized in both the West and the East, and the conduct of the ”assailants”, which includes a figure clambering on the slipper’s ruffled pompom, is suggestive. The impression shown here reveal Guérard experimenting with jaunty colours, one hot pink, the other bright yellow.]

wp20161127_162418
Henri-Charles Guérard, L’Assaut du soulier (The Assault of the Shoe), ca. 1888. Etching, drypoint and aquatint with roulette in pink and yellow

wp20161127_162425

wp20161127_153915 wp20161127_154310 wp20161127_162947

wp20161127_163010

[Guérard designed these multipurpose sheets for menus or notecards. They exhibit a whimsical mashup of Western and Japanese art and include a number of his favourite motifs, including the monkey spilling ink, the marionette, Japanese masks, and even his dog, Azor. References to cooking, including the buffoonish figure in an apron and the men wearing chef’s hats, make the connection to menus.]

All notes are from the accompanying captions and brochure (available also on-line).

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

New York, NY, 10018

November 27th, 2016