I want, to kill you, O time who devastates…

The original from Paul Verlaine’s book of Symbolist Poetry:

Je veux, pour te tuer, ô temps qui me dévastes,
Remonter jusqu’aux jours bleuis des amours chastes
Et bercer ma luxure et ma honte au bruit doux
De baisers sur Sa main et non plus dans Leurs cous.
Le Tibère effrayant que je suis à cette heure,
Quoi que j’en aie, et que je rie ou que je pleure,
Qu’il dorme ! pour rêver, loin d’un cruel bonheur,
Aux tendrons pâlots dont on ménageait l’honneur
Ès-fêtes, dans, après le bal sur la pelouse,
Le clair de lune quand le clocher sonnait douze.


Bust of a Young Girl Wearing a Beret
France or The Netherlands
mid 16th (?) or 19th (?) century
Polychromed terra-cotta

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, part IV – The Sarcophagus

In terms of antiquarian fame—marbles copied in sketchbooks, paintings, or sculptures from the Renaissance on—the most important work of art in the Gardner collection, and perhaps of its type in America, is the sarcophagus with satyrs and maenads gathering grapes.

This large, rectangular coffin of Pentelic marble with one long side and both ends elaborately carved and polished (the second long side left in a less finished state because it stood against a wall in the funerary chamber), was exported from Athens to the area of Rome in the late Severan period, between circa 222 to 235 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed some time around 1500. The groups of reveling couples on all sides, combined with the type of lid found on other examples of this Attic imperial sarcophagus, suggest a husband and wife were shown on top, as if reclining at a symposium on an elaborate couch.

The art-historical diarist and cicerone of the mid-cinquecento, Ulisse Aldrovandi, reported that the sarcophagus came from Tivoli and was first to be seen in Rome in the Villa Farnesina in the 1550s. For over a quarter of a millennium the monument ornamented the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese in the heart of the city, passing finally to the Villa Sciarra. In 1898 it was purchased from the Sciarra collection, through Richard Norton.

The carving of the satyrs and maenads was especially suited to the artistic tastes of Mannerist and Baroque Rome, providing one of the most elegant examples of Greek imperial optic elongation to have survived from ancient times. The Farnese-Gardner sarcophagus can be considered one of the latest expressions of monumental pagan sculpture used for non-historical and decorative funerary purposes. As such it makes a perfect transition through the sculptures of the Middle Ages at Fenway Court to the cinquecento paintings with antiquarian flavor, like Titian’s Europa, in the rooms upstairs.

Source: Cornelis C. Vermeule (1978), “Sarcophagus: Revelers Gathering Grapes”, in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong, et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 12-13.

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,

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

East meeting West in the Harvard Museums of Art

I already mentioned in the first part of this series, that the Harvard Art Museums collection spans centuries, styles and continents. Even a brief walk through the galleries proves this to be quite true. See, for example, how the display of objects from ancient Eastern civilizations is arranged so that they blend seamlessly with art from the 18th century.

Head of a Buddha
Gandharan, Kushan period, 2nd century AD
From Pakistan. Dark grey schist

”With small mouth, slender nose, crisp, planar intersection of forehead and eyes and wavy locks of hair, this idealized image of a Buddha bears all the Classical features of Greek-inspired Gandharan sculptures.”

Attributed to Kaikei (active c. 1183-c. 1236)
Left Hand of a Colossal Amitābha Buddha (Amida)
Japanese, Kamakura period, late 12th-early 13th century
Wood, lacquer and gold

”The third and fourth fingers of this enormous left hand in the centre of the gallery, sculpted in a palm-up posture, would originally have curled upward to the thumb as part of a symbolic hand gesture, or mudra. Recent scholarly detective work has established that this hand belonged to a 16-foot standing Amida Buddha, installed at Shin-Daibutsu-ji Temple in Mie prefecture in central Japan. The sculpture’s right hand would have been held pendant, palm facing outward to complete the mudra, which is known in Japanese as the sakate raigō-in, or ”gesture of welcome to the soul of the deceased with upturned palm”.”

Inkstone Box (Suzuribako)
Japanese, Edo period, late 17th-early 18th century
Lacquer on wood with decoration in gold, silver and sabi urushi (thick lacquer paste) utilizing the hiramaki-e (low-relief sprinkled design), takamaki-e (high-relief sprinkled design) and nashiji (”pear-skinned” ground) techniques, with applied kirikane (cut gold and silver) and with sheet-lead inlays; stone and metal fittings

Pair of Jade Circular Table Screens
Mounted on Cloisonné Stands
Chinese, Quing dynasty, 19th century
Dark green nephrite (so-called spinach green jade); stands made of enamels on brass

”Table screens such as this pair were intended for decorative display within a scholar’s studio.  The flamboyancy of these ornate, deeply carved screens and cloisonné stands suggests that they were likely made for a scholar’s studio within a palace, as the environs of a typical Confucian scholar’s studio would have been more restrained.”

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Susanna Steuart Tilghman (Mrs. James Tilghman), 1775
Oil on canvas

”Charles Willson Peale, who founded one of the first museums in America, began his career as a portraitist. He spent his early years in Annapolis and during the Revolutionary period enjoyed the patronage of prominent landed families in the area. Susanna Steuart Tilghman and her husband, James, helped fund Peale’s travel to London where he studied with the expatriate American painter Benjamin West. Emulating the grand patrons of Europe, the Tilghmans and their peers helped launch Peale’s distinguished career, which would include commissions from important dignitaries and would culminate in the founding of the Philadelphia Museum. Housing natural history specimens and portraits of Revolutionary heroes, the museum opened in the city’s Independence Hall in 1786.”

Otto van Meurs (1714-1783)
Case, mounts and face by unidentified artists
Long Case Musical Clock, ca. 1750-75
Oak with burl walnut veneer, mahogany inlay (possibly with later additions), walnut moldings and a gilt brass mount; silvered, gilt and pained brass dial

”Crafted by one of the leading clockmakers in 18th-century Amsterdam, this clock displays important information but is also a richly symbolic object. Its elaborately ornamented dial keeps time and indicates the day of the week, the month, the phase of the moon, the lunar date and the tides. The case, inlaid with woods imported from around the world, is adorned with a gilt brass mount showing Father Time holding an hourglass. Finials representing Atlas and a pair of trumpeting angels rise at the top of the pediment.
The true marvel of this clock is its music. To mark the hour, a set of ten carillon bells powered by an internal gear train sounds on of eight popular tunes.”

Paintings on the left & right side of the clock are by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Left: Sarah Morecock Boylston (Mrs. Thomas Boylston), 1766 – Oil on canvas
Right: Thomas Boylston II, ca. 1767-69 – Oil on canvas

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Major General August de la Motte, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Ernst August von Hugo and Lieutenant Colonel von Schlepegrell, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Gustav Friedrich von Dachenhausen, 1787
Oil on canvas

”In 1783, the City of London commissioned Copley to create a large public painting commemorating Britain’s victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Siege of Gibraltar in 1782. These portraits were preparatory studies for that painting.”

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Young Girl Reading, ca. 1770
Oil on canvas

On loan to the Harvard Art Museums from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Harvard Museums of Art, Boston

May 3rd, 2017

The Yard & The Art

Everything about Harvard commands respect: the Institution, the studies, the buildings and – my personal favourite – the art. If Harvard were a car, it would have been a Rolls-Royce. As things stand, Harvard is one of the top Universities in the world and, as we are about to find out, boasts an astonishing art collection that can be viewed at the Harvard Art Museums. The use of plural is intentional, because there are actually three Museums – the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Arthur M. Sackler – consolidated under one roof just outside the Harvard Yard, in the newly renovated building on 32 Quincy St., re-designed and extended by (you guessed it) Renzo Piano.

John Harvard (1607–1638)

Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950)
Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927
Oil on canvas

Franz von Stuck (1863-1928)
Wounded Amazon, 1905
Oil on canvas

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Self-Portrait with Cat, 1920
Oil on commercially woven cotton fabric

Victor Grippo (1936 – 2002)
Analogia I, 1970-71
electric circuits, electric meter and switch, potatoes, ink, paper, paint and wood

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Eugénie Graff (Madame Paul), 1882
Oil on canvas

Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Untitled, 2009-10
Plaster, beeswax, human hair, cotton, leather, aluminium pull tabs, enamel paint

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Seated Bather, c. 1883-84
Oil on canvas

William Holman Hunt, (1827 – 1910)
The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem / The Miracle of the Holy Fire, 1892-99
Mixture of oil and resin on canvas

Hunt, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a painter of religious subjects, made four trips to the Holy Land. This painting represents the annual “miracle of the sacred fire” at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Denounced as a fraud for centuries, the event continued to attract thousands of pilgrims, who eagerly awaited the rekindling of the flame over Christ’s purported tomb. Hunt found the scene, with its crush of bodies, to be distasteful and heretical, but was keen to capture its “dramatic, historic, and picturesque” qualities. When the painting was exhibited in London in 1899, he was obliged to provide a key to the complex array of figures. The flame, borne by a priest to the right of the shrine, is barely visible. An English woman at the lower right, protecting her children from the spectacle, serves as a surrogate for the curious viewer and a contrast to the expectant pilgrim family in the foreground.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Eternal Idol, 1893

The Renzo Piano effect

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Victor Chocquet, c. 1875
Oil on canvas

An employee at the Ministry of Finance, Victor Chocquet (1821–1891) met Degas in 1875, and by the second impressionist exhibition, in 1876, had become an avid supporter of the progressive artistic movement, collecting works by Renoir, Monet, and Cézanne. Here Renoir paints his new friend and patron dressed in casual attire. With his hands informally clasped across the bottom left corner of the canvas, Chocquet’s pose suggests the sitter’s closeness with the painter. Chocquet had identified Renoir as the inheritor of the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix’s approach to color. Renoir acknowledges this compliment and pays homage to the celebrated colorist by including one of Delacroix’s preparatory studies from Chocquet’s collection in the background. The study was for a lunette in the Hôtel de Ville (Paris city hall), which was destroyed in 1871.

There will be more art from the Harvard Art Museums in the coming days, the collection is vast and spans centuries, styles and continents.

May 3rd, 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

Paul Manship
Indian Hunter, 1917, this cast 2002

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

May 2nd, 2017

Maenads in a Wood

”Gustave Doré (1832–1883), known primarily for his book illustrations, prints, and paintings, turned to sculpture late in his career. It was only in 1871 that he began to learn to model, and he exhibited his first sculpture at the Salon of 1877.
This plaster relief is the second version of a sculpture inspired by his 1879 painting of the Death of Orpheus. Doré used the same background and composition in both reliefs; however, here the dead Orpheus is absent and the female woodland figures are not armed. He has depicted a Bacchic dance of the Maenads, followers of Dionysus, god of the Orphic religion, who in a delirious frenzy killed Orpheus. This relief may have been intended to serve as an architectural decoration.”

Maenads in a Wood, 1879
Gustave Doré

The painting in reference and a study (the only copies I was able to trace on-line): 

Gustave Doré
Study for La mort d’Orphée, 1879
Charcoal and watercolor with gouache on thick card

Gustave Doré
La mort d’Orphée, 1885
Wash and gouache

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
May 2nd, 2017

Make Way for Ducklings

Mrs. Mallard with Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack, are out for a walk in the park. Dressed in their springly attire, daring the sun to come out (but – wisely – keeping their woolen shawls on, just in case it wouldn’t). 

“Make Way for Ducklings” by Nancy Schön
Bronze on Old Boston cobblestones
Boston Public Garden, Boston

May 1st, 2017

Before leaving Baltimore

We attempted to visit the B&O Railroad Museum but found it closed in preparation of the ”Day Out with Thomas” which, by the way, is coming back this year on April 27-29 and May 4-6.

Instead, we walked back to Penn Station, taking in some city views along the way. But one of the most striking features was Jonathan Borofsky’s much debated Male/Female, a 51-foot (15,5m) of a sculpture overlooking – or, as some would say, clashing with – the classic Beaux-Arts building of the train station. It all depends on the point of view, I guess. Personally, I rather like this dialogue between two giants and was glad to have discovered another artwork by Borofsky (the first one was ”Humanity in Motion” inside the Comcast Center lobby, in Philadelphia).

That’s a wrap of our two-day trip in Baltimore. But stay tuned for more travels, because next, we go to Boston!

April 27th, 2017