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

Bad kitty…!

Scolded and Unamused

Reproof

c. 1878-1880 by Edward R. Thaxter

Marble

”In Reproof a young girl sternly scolds her cat who has just attacked a birds nest. She clutches the cat to her chest and looks at it disapprovingly while waving her hand in discipline. Meanwhile a dead bird lies at her feet and feathers hang limply from the cat’s mouth. This scene is a prelude to the responsibilities of motherhood the young girl who is now reprimanding her cat will have to ensure that her own children are well behaved in the future. Although Edward Thaxter’s life was short, he excelled in creating detailed neoclassical sculpture. He made at least five marble copies of Reproof.”

Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th, 2017

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

Sleeping Children

There is something simultaneously tranquil and unsettling about this sculpture – I want to believe the children are sleeping but a subtle whisper tells me they won’t be waking up…

Sleeping Children
William Henry Rinehart, 1825–1874

Modeled 1859, Carved 1869
Marble

Smithsonian American Art Museum

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