Fear & Love

Go hand in hand. See, for instance, how beautifully these works complement each other –

From the powerful painting by Maynard Dixon, giving shape to fear,

Maynard Dixon, Shapes of Fear, 1930-32, oil on canvas

to the subdued and delicate works by Joseph Cornell, who took his fear of this world and placed it inside wooden boxes, each one containing a mini universe,

Joseph Cornell, Soap Bubble Set, 1949-50, glasses, pipes, printed paper and other media in a glass-fronted wood box

or his magical homages to Tamara Toumanova, Cornell’s way of expressing his great affection for the world of Romantic Ballet.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Marine Fantasy with Tamara Toumanova), c. 1940, collage and tempera on paperboard
Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Tamara Toumanova), c. 1940, collage with tempera on paperboard

Embracing Life @ Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th, 2017

Man in a Vest

William H. Johnson, Man in a Vest, 1939-40, oil on canvas

“And even if I have studied for many years and all over the world, . . . I have still been able to preserve the primitive in me. . . . My aim is to express in a natural way what I feel, what is in me, both rhythmically and spiritually, all that which in time has been saved up in my family of primitiveness and tradition, and which is now concentrated in me.” — William H. Johnson

With its minimal palette of contrasting colours and clean, simple lines Man in a Vest expresses brilliantly Mr Johnson’s quote, don’t you find?

Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th, 2017

Will o’ the Wisp

My, oh, my… those fans! This is one of the most exquisite quilts I have ever seen! I wonder if I could borrow it for a day or two…

Harriet Hosmer, Will o’ the Wisp, modeled 1858, marble
Residents of Bourbon County, Kentucky – Fan Quilt, Mt. Carmel – 1893 – cotton, wool, silk, velvet, lace, ribbon, silk thread, paint, chromolithographic paper decals and canvas
Residents of Bourbon, County, Kentucky – Fan Quilt, Mt. Carmel – 1893 (detail)

If not the quilt, how about this Greek Evzone costume?

Walter Gould, Portrait of John B. Carmac in Greek Evzone Costume, 1853, oil on canvas

”Walter Gould painted this image in Florence in 1853, soon after he returned from Greece and Turkey. He posed his sitter wearing Greek military costume associated with the crack troops that fought the Turkish occupation of Greece. Such costumes alluding to Greek independence became popular with visiting American tourists, who fondly saw parallels to their own war of independence. Gould portrays Carmac as if he were a local resident, holding a long-stemmed pipe; a hookah, or water pipe, rests on the floor beside the window.”

I seem to be in need of some counseling!

John Rogers, The Council of War, modeled c. 1873, painted plaster


Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th

A breath of fresh spring air

A breath of fresh spring air from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C., in spite of the 6-10 inches snow accumulations we have been warned to expect today in New York City!

Kenyon Cox, An Eclogue, 1890, oil on canvas
Robert Reid, The White Parasol, c. 1907, oil on canvas
Robert Reid, The White Parasol, c. 1907, oil on canvas (detail)
Arthur F. Mathews, Spring Dance, c. 1917, oil on canvas

”Arthur Mathews led a group of progressive Californians who believed that fine art and design served the public good. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he and his wife, Lucia, also a designer, led the effort to rebuild the city’s fine public spaces. The pastoral scene in Spring Dance evokes civic murals created for museums, libraries and concert halls. But Mathews had more on his mind than ancient Greece or Rome. His Arcadia is the luminous landscape of California, and the planes of color and the graceful postures of the dancers show the artist is also looking across the Pacific to Japan for inspiration. The ornate frame is a reproduction of the original. It repeats the colors in the painting, reflecting Mathews’ commitment to designing complementary furniture, art and architecture to create an aesthetic whole.”

Eastman Johnson, The Girl I Left Behind Me, c. 1870, oil on canvas
Childe Hassam, The South Ledges, Appledore, 1913, oil on canvas

”Childe Hassam spent many summers on Appledore Island off the coast of Maine. Every year, he and a circle of musicians, writers and other artists gathered as an informal colony based at the home of his friend, the poet Celia Thaxter. In Thaxter’s gardens and on the rocky beaches, Hassam used the flickering brushwork and brilliant colors he had adopted in France to capture the dappled light of Appledore’s brief summer. This painting evokes the leisurely, seasonal rhythms of America’s privileged families in the last years before the Great War. A beautifully dressed woman shields her face from the sun; she looks down and away, as if absorbed in the song of a sandpiper, the island bird that inspired Celia Thaxter’s most famous children’s poem.”

Childe Hassam, Tanagra (The Builders, New York), 1918, oil on canvas

”In Tanagra (The Builders, New York), Childe Hassam painted a complex image of modern life. At the turn of the twentieth century, the skyscraper symbolized all that was dynamic and powerful in America. Architects praised the new towers as symbols of mankind’s reach for the heavens. If the skyscraper represents worldly ambition, the other vertical elements in the painting – the lilies, the Hellenistic figurine, the panels of a beautiful oriental screen – suggest delight in the sophisticated cultural aspirations of American Society.

But as the United States grew in power and prestige, the workers who provided the nation’s muscle also seemed to threaten Hassam’s orderly and prosperous world. The artist had built his career picturing New York’s moneyed class; the art, music and fine manners surrounding what Hassam called a ”blond Aryan girl” are a world apart from the immigrants laboring to build the city’s future.”

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, In the Garden, 1892-94, oil on canvas
Thomas Wilmer Dewing, In the Garden, 1892-94, oil on canvas (detail)
John La Farge, Wreath of Flowers, 1866, oil on canvas


Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th, 2017

The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries

Sheer delight continued with the discovery of these masterpieces dating from the 14th to the 20th century.

Beham, Sebald, 1500 – 1550, Cimon and Pero (1540), pen and black ink with charcoal heightened with white on heavy laid paper

The story of Cimon and Pero was told by the first-century historian Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Imprisoned without food or water, the aged Cimon was saved from death by the visits of his daughter Pero, a young mother who nourished him with breast milk. Pero’s selfless act, which came to be known as ”Roman charity”, was regarded as a model of filial piety.

Niccolò dell’Abbate, 1509 or 1512-1571, The Rape of Ganymede (c. 1545), pen and ink with wash and watercolour over traces of chalk, heightened with white on paper washed light brown

Ganymede was a handsome shepherd who was carried off by Zeus (shown here in the form of an eagle) to become cupbearer to the Gods. The youth is usually shown nude or in classical dress, but here he wears the elegant costume of a sixteenth-century courtier.

Federico Barocci, probably 1535-1612, Head of a Bearded Man (1579/1582), chalks on blue paper
Luca Signorelli, 1445/1450 – 1523, Bust of a Youth Looking Upward (c. 1500), chalk, partially indented with a stylus
Andrea del Sarto, 1486-1530, Head of Saint John the Baptist (c. 1523), chalk
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805, Bust of an Old Man, probably 1763, chalks with stumping, wetting and erasure

After completing a painting, Greuze often made finished drawings of the heads of some of the individual figures. These ”têtes d’expression” (expressive heads) were intended to be sold and appreciated as independent works of art. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1780-1867, Mademoiselle Mary de Borderieux (?), 1857, graphite and watercolour with white highlights
Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, Self-Portrait, c. 1855, chalk
Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Two Fashionable Women, 1900, charcoal
Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, Satan Defying the Powers of Heaven, late 1790s, graphite, chalk and wash

National Gallery of Art

”Washington, DC—Ian Woodner assembled an extraordinary collection of over 1,000 old master and modern drawings, making him one of the 20th century’s most important collectors. More than 150 works from his collection now reside at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. While Ian Woodner gave some works himself in the 1980s, the majority have been donated by his daughters, Dian and Andrea. His daughters have also made other gifts and have pledged works from their personal collections. The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries brings together for the first time the best of Ian Woodner’s collection with some of the works given and promised by Dian and Andrea Woodner. […] 

Some 100 drawings dating from the 14th to the 20th century are presented in an exhibition of masterworks donated by one of the great connoisseurs of the 20th century, Ian Woodner, and his daughters, Dian and Andrea. The Woodner Collections includes drawings executed by outstanding draftsmen such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, among many others.”

They were on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art through July 16, 2017.

April 25th, 2017

Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered

A reason big enough to visit the Sackler and a wonderful coincidence these masterpieces were on show during our visit (show ran until July 2017).

”In 2014, the Okada Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, made an announcement that startled the art world. The new arts center revealed it had discovered a long-lost painting by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), a legendary but mysterious Japanese artist.Titled Snow at Fukagawa, the immense work is one of three paintings by Utamaro that idealize famous pleasure districts in Edo (now Tokyo). This trio reached the Paris art market in the late 1880s and was quickly dispersed. Museum founder Charles Lang Freer acquired Moon at Shinagawa in 1903. Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara passed through several hands in France until the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, purchased it in the late 1950s. And Snow at Fukagawa had been missing for nearly seventy years before it resurfaced in Hakone.

For the first time in nearly 140 years, these paintings reunite in Inventing Utamaro at the Freer|Sackler, the only location to show all three original pieces. Contextualizing them within collecting and connoisseurship at the turn of the twentieth century, the exhibition explores the many questions surrounding the paintings and Utamaro himself.”

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery |::| ░W░h░e░r░e░ ░A░s░i░a░ ░m░e░e░t░s░ ░A░m░e░r░i░c░a

Together with the Freer Gallery of Art, they form the Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art with permanent collections and temporary exhibitions of Asian or Asian-influenced art, bridging the differences of cultures in a unique way.As unique as ”The Peacock Room”, a magnificent example of cross-cultural art:

”Before the Peacock Room became a work of art by James McNeill Whistler, it was the dining room in the London mansion of Frederick Leyland. Its shelves were designed to showcase the British shipping magnate’s collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Whistler completely redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold.” Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation and the artist’s fee. He quarrelled with Whistler, but he kept the room intact.

Charles Lang Freer purchased the room in 1904. He had it taken apart, shipped across the Atlantic, and reassembled in his home in Detroit, Michigan. There, he gradually filled its shelves with ceramics collected from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. For Freer, the Peacock Room embodied his belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.”

Whistler’s extravagant interior has been on permanent display since the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923. Located between galleries of Chinese and American art, the Peacock Room remains a place where Asia meets America.”

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

April 25th, 2017

Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian American Art Museum part II

Nude Seated at Her Dressing Table, 1909, oil on canvas
Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)

Undine, modeled about 1880, carved 1884, marble
Chauncey Bradley Ives (1810-1894)

Illusions, before 1901, oil on canvas
Henry Brown Fuller (1867-1934)

Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman), 1893, oil on canvas
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

According to the artist, twenty-six-year-old Elizabeth Chanler had ”the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child.” This portrait shows a beautiful, well-bred woman who has learned to be strong. When Elizabeth was still a girl, her mother died, leaving her to help care for seven younger brothers and sisters.

Sargent has portrayed her in the elegant interior of his London studios decorated with two paintings that frame the circumstances of Elizabeth’s life: a Madonna and Child, and a figure of an old woman copied from a portrait by Frans Hals. Perhaps the artist wished to show Elizabeth as a woman who, despite early hardships, was neither maiden nor matron. Sargent was often dismissed by his contemporaries as a ”society portraitist”, but his paintings never fail tot convey the human story behind the image. 

April 24th, 217

Washington D.C. – The Smithsonian American Art Museum part I

Taking refuge from the rain, letting the experience at Ford’s Theatre sink in. Next stop, the wonders of the American Art Museum. We arrived late in the day, two hours before closing, and instantly knew we were coming back for more. Perfect for rainy days – here is a first look:   Peacocks and Peonies, 1882, Stained glass – John La Farge (1835-1910)

John La Farge’s stained glass windows reflect the Gilded Age fascination with medieval art and craftsmanship. The tail feathers of the peacocks are made of bits of glass in the ”broken jewel” technique; each peony blossom is a single piece of glass molded to catch the light differently through the day. La Farge layered his coloured glass as a painter would build glazes of colours to achieve the right shade. For the composition, he borrowed from many cultures: the central panels with the bird and flower motif evoke Chinese and Japanese screens; the lower panels emulate Pompeiian architecture; and the transoms recall the curved arch above the door to a Romanesque cathedral. 

The Industrial Revolution had made inexpensive, mass-produced glass available to anyone, but art glass remained a prized emblem of wealth and good taste. These windows were commissioned by Frederick Lothrop Ames, a railroad magnate, who had them installed in a vast, baronial hall of his Boston house.

The Sun God, modeled 1882, cast iron – Elihu Vedder (1836-1923)

Between 1881 and 1885, Elihu Vedder undertook a number of commercial projects, including book illustrations and the design of firebacks and decorative tiles. A fireback was a metal insert placed against the back wall of a fireplace to protect the masonry and radiate heat forward into the room. Vedder decorated this example with the head of a sun god; the rays surrounding this face are a visual play on the warmth usually associated with the hearth.

Adams Memorial, modeled 1886-91, cast 1969, bronze – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907)

Marian ”Clover” Hooper Adams, wife of writer Henry Adams, committed suicide in 1885 by drinking chemicals used to develop photographs [Clover was a skilled autodidact photographer]. Her grieving husband commissioned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a memorial that would express the Buddhist idea of nirvana, a state of being beyond joy and sorrow. In Adams’ circle of artists and writers, the old Christian certainties seemed inadequate after the violence of the Civil War, the industrialization of America, and Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Saint-Gaudens’ ambiguous figure reflects the search for new insights into the mysteries of life and death. The shrouded being is neither male nor female, neither triumphant nor downcast. Its message is inscrutable. Clover’s gravesite in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., quickly became a tourist attraction, but Adams resisted all attempts to sentimentalize the memorial as a symbol of grief. He acknowledged the power of Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture, however, and allowed reproductions to be made and sold to a chosen few.

Diana, 1889, bronze – Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907)

Angel, 1887, oil on canvas – Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921)

Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896, fire etched wood relief – J. William Fosdick (1858-1937)

J. William Fosdick made this relief to appeal to wealthy industrialists who favoured richly designed interiors and uplifting art. He tapped into the fantasy of a more spiritual past, and when the screen was exhibited, it was praised for craftsmanship that rivaled a medieval masterwork.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Joan of Arc was a popular symbol in American culture. Mark Twain wrote about her in 1896, Anna Hyatt Huntington created a sculpture of the martyr for Riverside Drive in New York and George Bernard Shaw’s famous play about her was first produced on Broadway in 1923. She could be a figure from the romantic past and an emblem of the ”New Woman” in the modern world. Joan may have died for king and country – as the legend at the bottom of the screen records – but her symbolic power as a woman who took history into her hands also resonated among women fighting for the right to vote.

Rising Sun, 1914, bronze – Adolph A. Weinman (1870-1952)

Girl Skating, 1907, bronze – Abastenia St. Léger Eberle (1878-1942)

Synthetic Arrangement, 1922, oil on canvas – Morris Kantor (1896-1974)

People in the Sun, 1960, oil on canvas – Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Night in Bologna, 1958, egg tempera on fiberboard – Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)

Night in Bologna is a dark comedy of sexual tensions played out on a stage of shadowy arcades. In the foreground, a soldier on leave throws off a visible heat that suffuses the air around him with a red glow. He casts an appraising look at a worldly woman nearby, who gauges the interest of a man seated at a café table. The gawky tourist is unaware of her attentions, and looks longingly at the man in uniform. Paul Cadmus noted that he used red, green and yellow to denote the characters’ vices – lust, envy and greed – but left the outcome unclear; he was more interested in the tangle of human instincts than in tidy resolutions. He once said that he would always rather paint a novel than a short story.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 24th, 2017


The exhibition in Chelsea featured two new Infinity Mirror Rooms, one which could be seen through a peephole (below) and another, where the viewers could walk in (from which yesterday’s ”teaser” photos). There was also a red and white polka-dotted space and a larger one featuring sixty-six paintings from the artist’s iconic My Eternal Soul series and three large-scale flower sculptures.

Immerse into Yayoi Kusama’s mesmerizing, beautiful chaos. You may even discover a kind of order behind this explosion of colour, this pandemonium of patterns and shapes, this sensory overload.

After a while, it all starts to make sense. 

Festival of Life ran through a limited time only, in David Zwirner Chelsea concurrently with an exhibition of Kusama’s new Infinity Nets paintings, in their uptown location. We never made it to the latter.

December, 6th 2017