Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, part V – The Best of the Rest

The title is highly subjective, of course; what we are looking at – and all we’ve seen so far –  is but a fraction of The Gardner’s vast collection of artworks and beautiful objects.

Look at the imposing Tapestry Room, for instance – imposing both in size and wealth – with its Flemish tapestries lining the walls…… and a portrait of Pope Innocent X, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a Velázquez but apparently it is not (but who the actually artist is, we know not)…Or the Veronese Room –

This room, which invites you to share Isabella Stewart Gardner’s love for Venice, takes its name from the painting on the ceiling. In 1899, while construction of the Museum was well under way, Isabella acquired The Coronation of Hebe, then attributed to Veronese. Gardner commissioned gilded paneling in Milan to frame the work in appropriate splendor. Rather than focusing on a single style or period, Isabella assembled around it a splendid mixture of objects that span diverse times and places. Stamped and painted leather panels from Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands line the walls. Gilded china saucers, cups, and a pitcher glisten on a small table at the room’s center. Balancing the stunning and huge Coronation on the ceiling are several pastels executed on an intimate scale by Isabella’s contemporary, James McNeill Whistler. 

Crossing the Long Gallery, a young lady stops me in my tracks –

Attributed to Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475)
A Young Lady of Fashion, early 1460s

The portrait has a highly decorative quality in which costume and ornament play a major role. The rather flatly modeled face is placed on an insubstantial bust set against a uniform blue background. The woman is portrayed both according to literary notions of female pulchritude, which called for fair skin and blonde hair, and the dictates of contemporary fashion. Costly brocaded fabrics, pearls, and precious stones serve not only to display the sitter’s familial wealth and status but also to enhance her physical appearance – in art, as in life. In addition to a red and gold brocade sleeve and a sleeveless overdress, the woman wears a head brooch, a pearl choker with jeweled pendant, and a white cap ornamented with pearls.

This fashionable beauty looks impassive, immobile, and immutable, as if she were outside space and time. Her portrait image has a static, stereotyped character, in which the sitter’s individuality is almost entirely suppressed in favor of the social ideals for which she stands.

Bought as a work by Domenico Veneziano, the portrait has also been attributed to Paolo Uccello and the so-called Master of the Castello Nativity.

Source: David Alan Brown, “A Young Lady of Fashion,” in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 50.

The Chapel –

at the far west end of the Long Gallery, houses a consecrated altar that was used by Isabella Stewart Gardner–a devout Anglo-Catholic–for the celebration of Mass. Its function as an active sacred space persists to this day. Every April, as specified in Isabella’s will, a memorial service honors her memory. Liturgical items, including an early 17th century Italian carved ivory crucifix and a cloth that Gardner crocheted herself, adorn the altar table. A magnificent Gothic stained-glass window from the cathedral of Soissons in France stands as the centerpiece of the Chapel.

And last, but not least, Isabella Gardner herself, gracing the Gothic Room –

Mrs. Gardner sat for Sargent during his visit to Boston in January 1888. He was paid $3000 for the portrait, which was exhibited to great acclaim at Boston’s St. Botolph Club. The work also inspired gossip and legend: someone jokingly titled it “Woman: An Enigma,” while others believed that the sensuous display of flesh deliberately echoed the scandal recently created by Sargent’s Madame X. Mrs. Gardner herself said that she rejected eight renderings of the face until she was satisfied. Jack Gardner seems to have asked his wife not to publicly show the portrait again while he was alive, and indeed the portrait was placed in the Gothic Room, which remained private until Mrs. Gardner’s death. In its gallery, surrounded by altarpieces, stained glass, and religious statuary, the sacramental quality noted by nineteenth-century reviewers is even more pronounced.

Source: Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 204.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

The Fabulous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

How come it is already one year ago this week, when we stepped into the secret world of wonders that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? That eclectic structure, inspired by Venetian Palazzos but integrating Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance elements – and more recently a new glass wing by (you guessed it, again) Renzo Piano –  and still managing to look harmonious?

Indeed, Isabella and her husband Jack, loved Venice so much they wanted to bring it back home with them. And so they did! They bought columns, windows, and doorways to adorn every floor, as well as reliefs, balustrades, capitals, and statues.

But it was not just Venice. The Gardners travelled all over the world, from Paris to the Middle East, Egypt to the Far East and across America, collecting on their way paintings, photos, statues and other objects of art and craft. Their collection grew so big, the Gardners had to think about a new home for their treasures. That’s when plans for a new museum were first laid. But Jack’s sudden death in 1898 found Isabella pursuing their common dream all by herself.

And she certainly pursued it. Not only she was present at the site every day, she gave orders, demonstrated exactly how she wanted the building to look like down to the slightest detail. When ceiling beams arrived for the Gothic Room and were too smooth for her liking, she took an ax in hand and hacked away to achieve the desired result.

It took us the best part of the day to walk through The Gardner; it will take us a good full week to revisit it here on The Humble Fabulist. I hope you enjoy this series as we take a look into the wonderful world that Isabella Stewart Gardner built for us.

Let us start with the Courtyard, visible from every gallery in the museum, with its Ca’d’Oro balconies dating from 1845-1855 and Roman sculpture garden where plants change almost every month. For most of the them are grown in the Museum’s temperature-controlled Hingham greenhouses, then trucked here on rotation so that the garden is always in full bloom. Notice the hydrangeas in these pictures?  They are often grown from cuttings taken the previous year and are on view between May & June.  This is ”Sentient Veil”, a sculptural sound piece created in 2017, by Philip Beesley (b. 1956). Small glass ampules containing gold and blue liquids hang in clusters from a digitally fabricated textile, along with LED lighting and miniature acoustic resonators. “Sentient Veil” is silent until visitors enter the gallery; movement in the room triggers a mixture of whispers, mechanical clicks and gentle tones, creating a quiet chorus.

The Spanish Cloister –

Isabella Gardner herself spent hours assembling the nearly 2,000 painted and glazed tiles into the appealing pattern we see today on the walls of the Spanish Cloister. Her friend, the artist Dodge Macknight, bought the tiles for her in Mexico in 1909 from the Church of San Agustìn.

And, finally for today,

JOHN SINGER SARGENT (1856 – 1925)
EL JALEO, 1882
Oil on canvas

During his travels in Spain in 1879, Sargent was mulling over a major work of art in which he could express his love of Gypsy music, dance, and picturesque costumes. On his return to Paris he set to work on a wide horizontal picture whose proportions simulated the shallow stage space of popular musical establishments. He named the painting El Jaleo to suggest the name of a dance, the jaleo de jerez, while counting on the broader meaning jaleo, which means ruckus or hubbub. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 with the more explicit title El Jaleo: Danse des gitanes (Dance of the Gypsies).

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

Head Hunters

Outside the MFA.

“Over the past several decades, Antonio Lopez Garcia has become known as the finest Spanish painter of his generation. His intensely realistic paintings-ranging in subject from grimy bathroom sinks to expansive Madrid cityscapes-often take him years of meticulous work to complete. These sculptures, and several other recent works by Lopez, were inspired by the birth of his grandchildren. When his second grandchild, Carmen, was a few months old, Lopez began modeling two portraits of her head, one depicting her awake and the other asleep.”
Source: CultureNOW

The full sculpture of the Hunter, however, depicts him hunting a antelope – not heads!

“Paul Manship designed Indian and Pronghorn Antelope to span the length of the mantelpiece in his New York City apartment. He expertly used the negative space created by the separation of the hunter and his prey to capture the drama of the hunt. The work represents a compromise between historical artistic traditions and modern tendencies toward abstraction: the smooth planes and stylized renderings recall ancient Greek statues, while the arresting linear design and suggestion of movement reflect Manship’s own innovations. Small-scale statuettes such as these were popular for interior decoration, and Manship’s style was immediately accepted by the public.” Source: Art Institute Chicago

While this particular cast adorns the Fenway entrance lawn of the Museum of Fine Arts, a quick search on line shows a number of others being in permanent collections of various museums in America, such as The Met in New York, Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha Nebraska, Buffalo Center of the West Wyoming, The Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Arts.

Antonio López García
Day & Night, 2008
Bronze

Paul Manship
Indian Hunter, 1917, this cast 2002
Bronze

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Blessed are your dreams, my Child)

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night – [Verses from a Welsh lullaby translated into English]Hans Memling
Christ Blessing, 1481
Oil on panel


Bed 
England (London), ca. 1800-10
Oak and pine veneered with mahogany, ebonized pine, patinated bronze, gilded metal, modern upholstery This bed is among the most original pieces of English Regency furniture. Dominant in English interiors from about 1800 to 1830, the Regency style perpetuated the classical taste of the late 18th century but was more academic and archaeologically correct. This bed closely resembles furnishings designed by Thomas Hope – collector, connoisseur and a pivotal figure in the classical revival of Regency England- for one of his residences. Its architectural form and bronze mounts derive from ancient and Renaissance models. The greyhounds, however, are inspired by medieval tomb sculpture and exemplify the more romantic interpretation of historical sources characteristic of Hope’s influential furniture designs. The bed may have been used for resting – a day bed – or for sleeping. 

Sweet (day)dreams from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

I am the Eye in the Sky @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 7]

«…Looking at You
I can read Your Mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind…»

The False Mirror, 1929. Oil on canvas || René Magritte

<<”Le Faux Miroir” presents an enormous lashless eye with a luminous cloud-swept blue sky filling the iris and an opaque, dead-black disc for a pupil. The allusive title, provided by the Belgian Surrealist writer Paul Nougé, seems to insinuate limits to the authority of optical vision: a mirror provides a mechanical reflection, but the eye is selective and subjective. Magritte’s single eye functions on multiple enigmatic levels: the viewer both looks through it, as through a window, and is looked at by it, thus seeing and being seen simultaneously. The Surrealist photographer Man Ray, who owned the work from 1933 to 1936, recognized this compelling duality when he memorably described ‘”Le Faux Miroir” as a painting that “sees as much as it itself is seen.”>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

A touch of Americana @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 6]

Speaking of American friends ~ since Labor Day was very inappropriately coupled with two very European artists, today we will appropriately balance it out with some quintessentially American art.

A vibrant painting where the artist is exploring his African-American roots:

Three Girls, 1941. Oil and pencil on wood panel || William H. Johnson

When the eye has to wander away from the target, and one begins to wonder which the real target be:

Target with Four Faces, 1955. Encaustic on newspaper and cloth over canvas surmounted by four tinted-plaster faces in wood box with hinged front || Jasper Johns

<<In the mid-1950s Johns incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings. Here, he transforms the familiar image of a target into a tangible object by building up the surface with wax encaustic. As a result, the concentric circles have become less precise and more tactile. Above the target Johns has added four cropped and eyeless faces, plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months. Their sculptural presence reinforces the objectness of the painting, particularly as the faces may be shut away in their niches behind a hinged wooden door.>>

The power of the thin white line:

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959. Enamel on canvas || Frank Stella

<<Stella used commercial black enamel paint and a house painter’s brush to make The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II. The thick black bands are the same width as the paintbrush he used. The thin white lines are not painted; they are gaps between the black bands in which the raw canvas is visible. Stella painted the black bands parallel to each other, and to the canvas’s edges, rejecting expressive brushstrokes in favor of an overall structure that recognized the canvas as both a flat surface and a three-dimensional object.

Stella identified his materials and process with those of a factory laborer. About his manner of painting, Stella famously said, “My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there… What you see is what you see.” Instead of painting something recognizable, Stella’s painting is about the act of painting, and its result.>>

Is this a flag or a painting?

Flag, 1954-55 (dated 1954 on reverse). Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels || Jasper Johns

<<“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Keep calm and enjoy… @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 5]

Lay back, relax, let go, dream. Let your fantasy guide you to places unknown. This Day is for You.

Happy Labor Day!

(exceptionally dropping the ”u” in honor of my American friends [Labour Day in Europe is celebrated on May 1st – May Day])

Reclining Nude, c. 1919. Oil on canvas || Amedeo Modigliani
The Anxious Journey, 1913. Oil on canvas || Giorgio de Chirico

 

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

Wait, is that a Rothko…? @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 4]

How subtle and feather-light, how wonderfully surreal, how utterly refreshing from his later work where drawing gave way, drowned under thick layers of colour.

Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea, 1944. Oil on canvas || Mark Rothko

<<”Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea” pictures two creatures dancing between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes. The forms ”have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms,” Rothko said. For him art was ”an adventure into an unknown world”; like the Surrealists before him, Rothko looked inward, to his own unconscious mind, for inspiration and material for his work.>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

 

Furry Encounters of the Surreal Kind @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 3]

By Meret Oppenheim.

Another perfectly unusable, utterly memorable object. Because one can always trust the Swiss to strike a balance between the simplicity of Surrealism and the surreal Simplicity.

Object, 1936. Fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon || Meret Oppenheim

<<It began with a joke over lunch. In 1936, Meret Oppenheim was at a Paris café with Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, who noticed the fur-lined, polished metal bracelet she was wearing and joked that anything could be covered with fur. “Even this cup and saucer,” Oppenheim replied and, carrying the merriment further, called out, “Waiter, a little more fur!” Her devilish imagination duly sparked, the artist went to a department store not long after this meal, bought a white teacup, saucer, and spoon, wrapped them in the speckled tan fur of a Chinese gazelle, and titled this ensemble Object. In doing so, she transformed items traditionally associated with decorum and feminine refinement into a confounding Surrealist sculpture. Object exemplifies the poet and founder of Surrealism André Breton’s argument that mundane things presented in unexpected ways had the power to challenge reason, to urge the inhibited and uninitiated (that is, the rest of society) to connect to their subconscious—whether they were ready for it or, more likely, not.>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017