My imaginary wish list

Sometime ago I mentioned how much I enjoy wandering about the period rooms at the Metropolitan, so painstakingly reconstructed by the museum curators that they compete in authenticity and splendour with the original ones. Today, let’s go for another walk to see some of the objects high on my imaginary wish list (and a couple of no-nos).

The pianoforte:Pianoforte, New York City, 1810-15
Patented by John Geib and Son. Case attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe (1768-1844). Mahogany, rosewood, satinwood, ivory, gilded gesso, brass with white pine, maple, ash


The Square Piano (when more is too much – too complicated for my wish list, yet very impressive woodwork): Square Piano
Robert Nunns and John Clark (active 1833-58)
New York City, 1853
Rosewood, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell

{Lavish decoration and opulent materials distinguish this extraordinary piano…. Its immense scale and excessive decoration make it quite unlike the small and economical upright pianos that became fixtures of middle-class parlours in the second half of the nineteenth century.}


The Four Seasons cabinet: Cabinet
Herter Brothers (active 1864-1906)
New York City, ca. 1869
Rosewood, maple ebonized wood, porcelain plaques, oil on panel, brass

{This rich and imposing cabinet is from a ten-piece parlour suite made by Herter Brothers in 1869 for Jay Gould’s house on Fifth Avenue. Incorporating a design vocabulary taken from the architecture of the day, it is a tour de force of cabinetmaking, combining sophisticated marquetry, assured carving and delicately modeled ceramic plaques depicting the Four Seasons.}


The Étagère in Rococo Revival style: Alexander Roux (active 1843-86)
New York City, ca. 1855
Rosewood, chestnut, poplar, bird’s-eye maple veneer


A Girl’s best friend (not just diamonds): Necklace with Pendant, ca. 1910
Louis Comfort Tiffany
Tiffany and Company
Moonstones, Montana sapphires, platinum


The Gilded Kennel (with the mark of Marie-Antoinette, no less): Kennel
Gilded beech and pine. Signed by Claude Sené (1724-1792): stamped with the mark of Marie-Antoinette’s garde-meuble. French, ca. 1775-80


The Copper Lamp: Dirk Van Erp (1859-1933)
San Francisco, California, ca. 1912-15
Copper base, mica and copper shade


The dressing room (gown included): Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room
New York City, 1881-82
George A. Schastey & Co. (1873-97)

{In 1881, Arabella Worsham then-mistress of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, hired the cabinetmaking and decorating Firm George A. Schastey & Co. to create a series of distinctive artistic interiors for her townhouse at 4 West 54th Street. The resulting decor, including that found in this dressing room, was the height of cosmopolitan style in the early 1880s and emblematic of Worsham’s quest to fashion her identity as a wealthy, prominent woman of taste.}


The octagon table:Probably New York City, about 1860
Walnut, marble


The Richard and Gloria Manney Greek Revival Parlour:

The Richard and Gloria Manney John Henry Belter Rococo Revival Parlour:

The Working Girl’s table:Worktable
Salem, Massachusetts, 1800-1810
Mahogany, mahogany veneer, ivory with white pine, maple

{Worktables were one of few gender-specific pieces of furniture used in the home. Women relied on them for storing sewing supplies and for conducting correspondence, as such tables often contained a hinged writing surface in a drawer.}


The Richmond Room, 1810-11:

The yellow chairs and the sleek Federal era sofa:Side Chairs
Attributed to the workshop of John Finlay (1777-1851) and Hugh Finlay (1781-1830)
Baltimore, ca. 1815-25
Maple with painted and gilded decoration

{Originally part of a large set, these brilliantly conceived and handsomely executed chairs derive their broad, deeply curved crest tablets and sweeping rear stiles from the ancient Greek klismos form.}

Center Table
Labeled by Anthony G. Quervelle (1789-1856)
Philadelphia, ca. 1830
Mahogany, marble and brass with painted decoration

The Art Nouveau mantelpiece: Attributed to Jean-Désiré Muller (French, 1877–1952)
Glazed stoneware, ca. 1900

The Minimal-Tidy-Closet-I-will-Never-Have-But-Always-Dream-Of:  Sara Berman’s Closet

{The meticulously organized, modest closet in which Sara Berman (1920–2004)—an immigrant who traveled from Belarus to Palestine to New York—kept her all-white apparel and accessories both contained her life and revealed it. Inspired by the beauty and meaning of Berman’s closet, the artists Maira and Alex Kalman (who are also Berman’s daughter and grandson) have recreated the closet and its contents as an art installation.

This exhibition represents Berman’s life from 1982 to 2004, when she lived by herself in a small apartment in Greenwich Village. In her closet Berman lovingly organized her shoes, clothes, linens, beauty products, luggage, and other necessities. Although the clothing is of various tints—including cream, ivory, and ecru—it gives the impression of being all white.}

And, finally, his made-to-order Little Red Hood’s cloak:Child’s cloak
American, 180s
Wool and silk

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

July 2nd, 2017

The saddest little girl

“Look at her”, said my companion, “this must be the saddest little girl in the world!”
“He is right”
, I thought, captivated by the palette, contrasting colours, their facial expressions and composition of the painting.

Until I read the description on the wall and, for a moment there, it was I who seemed to be the saddest little girl in the world…

Unknown Artist
A Family Group, ca. 1850
Oil on canvas

{”This painting of an unidentified family bears the hallmarks of high-style portraits produced in New York during the antebellum era: saturated colours; attentiveness to details of costume, coiffure and jewellery; accurate facial depictions. The setting is a richly appointed Rococo Revival parlour. Seen through the window is a castellated Gothic Revival villa, possibly the family’s home, perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. While it is similar to many designed by architects such as Alexander Jackson Davis during the period, it may be the home they aspired to, rather than their actual house. Details suggest that the child is deceased: the woman wears a cameo brooch carved with Orheus holding his lyre, a reference to the myth of Orpheus’ attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld; the possibly phantom house (a castle in the sky?); and the adults are wearing sombre black clothing.”}

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

July 2nd, 2017

True Beauty

Shines from within, pure, timeless, immortal. No makeup, no cosmetics – not even a whole face – required.

Fragmentary colossal marble head of a youth
Greek, Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C.
Discovered at Pergamon, on upper terrace of gymnasium, 1879

Although this extraordinary head has long been known, its function and importance have only recently been understood. The youth, with long curling locks and a brooding expression, was originally part of a draped bust set into a marble roundel almost four feet in diameter. It is probably among the earliest known sculptures of this type (imagines clipeatae) in marble and over life-size in scale. It would have been one of several that adorned the walls of a particularly grand space in the gymnasium of ancient Pergamon. He may represent a young god or possibly Alexander the Great. Even in its damaged condition, the head exemplifies the combination of sensitivity and presence characteristic of the finest Hellenistic Pergamene sculpture. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

May 28th, 2017

Room Service @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sometimes I like to wander in and out of the period rooms, so elegant and opulent, so meticulously arranged down to the last detail, and imagine how it would be to live in places like these:  Formal Reception Room from the Hôtel de Tessé at 1, quai Voltaire, Paris.


Room from the Hôtel de Varengeville at 217, boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris.


The Lauzun Room (Hôtel Lauzun at 17, quai d’Anjou, Ile Saint-Louis).


Back Panels of Choir Stalls
From choir stalls made by the cabinetmaker Johan Justus Schacht with the help of twenty-one assistants for the church of the Carthusian monastery in Mainz.
Panels: oak veneered with walnut, boxwood, rosewood, ebony, maple and other woods, ivory, green-stained horn and pewter.
Figures: carved and painted limewood
Mainz, 1723-26 with additions from 1787


Would my dreams be any different under this canopy?

This armoire had me wondering how much more detail could one squeeze on a single piece of furniture: Armoire
Oak veneered with walnut and marquetry woods and set with silvered-bronze mounts
Design by Jean Brandley (active 1855-67)
Woodwork by Charles-Guillaume Diehl (1811-about 1885)
Mounts by Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910)
French (Paris), 1867

The central plaque of this ”Merovingian” armoire depicts the victory of the troops of King Merovech over the forces of Attila the Hun in 451. The prototype, a medal cabinet made for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, is in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. This armoire was commissioned by the cabinetmaker Diehl for his country house at Lagny.


Secrétaire à abattant
Walnut, parcel-ebonized and inlaid with various woods; mounted with gilt bronze; leather, glass, brass
Austrian, ca. 1815-20, with later additions.

Pair of side chairs
Attributed to Josef Danhauser (1780-1829)
Beech and pine wood, cherry wood veneer and ebonized mahogany; covered in silk not original to chair
Austrian (Vienna), ca. 1815-20


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

May 28th, 2017

Irving Penn || Centennial

In 2017, Irving Penn (1917–2009) would have been one hundred years old. To mark the occasion, The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted ”Irving Penn: Centennial”, in collaboration with The Irving Penn Foundation. It was the most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of the great American photographer.

Here are some photos of the photos (and reflections thereof) which I hope you’ll enjoy :-

Image titles:

1/ Irving Penn: Centennial
2-3/ Roleiflex 3.5 E3 Twin-Lens Reflex Camera with 75 mm Carl Zeiss Planar Lens, 1961-64. Irving Penn acquired this camera in 1964 and used it and other similar models for portrait sittings for the next four decades. It is topped with a modified Hasselblad chimney viewfinder and mounted on a Tiltall pan/tilt head above a table tripod of the artist’s own design.
4/Carl Erickson and Elise Daniels, New York, 1947
5/Charles James, New York, 1948
6/
Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1948
7/
Alfred Hitchcock, New York, 1947
8/
Dusek Brothers, New York, ca. 1948
9/
Ballet Society, New York, 1948
10/
The Tarot Reader (Bridget Tichenor and Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
11/
Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950
12/
Vogue covers: Between 1943 and 2004 Penn produced photographs for 165 Vogue magazine covers, more than any other artist to date.
13/
Vogue Fashion Photography (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
14/
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris, 1950
15/
Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell), New York, 1949
16/Man Lighting Girl’s Cigarette (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949
17/
Many Skirted Indian Woman, Cuzco, 1948
18/
Cuzco Children, 1948
19/
Butcher, London, 1950
20/
Facteur (Mailman), Paris, 1950
21/
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1957
22/
Francis Bacon, London, 1962
23/
Cecil Beaton, London, 1950
24/
Cat Woman, New Guinea, 1970
25/
Two Guedras, Morocco, 1971
26/
Four Guedras, Morocco, 1971
27/
Not an Irvin Penn image but the type of background he would frequently use, New York, 2017
28/
Birgitta Klercker – Long Hair with Bathing Suit, New York, 1966
29/
Clockwise from left: Ingmar Bergmann, Stockholm, 1964 – Alvin Ailey, New York, 1971 – S. J. Perelman, New York, 1962 – Tom Wolfe, New York, 1966
30/
Truman Capote, New York, 1965
31/
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, New York, 1993
32/
Three Poppies ‘Arab Chief’, New York, 1969
33/
Girl with Tobacco on Tongue (Mary Jane Russell), New York, 1951

The Met

May 28th, 2017

Meet Peder Balke || Painter of Northern Light

The North Cape by Moonlight, 1848
Oil on canvas


Finnmark Landscape, ca. 1860
Oil on canvas


Seascape, 1870s
Oil on wood


Northern Lights, 1870s
Oil on wood

To produce this striking image, Balke first applied a thin layer of paint for the sky and then a thicker one for the water. Subsequently, he removed paint with a serrated device to reveal the white ground layer, producing the effects of the lights. Finally, he added details such as the coastline and boats with a brush. 


Seascape, ca. 1845
Oil on canvas, mounted on masonite

Majestic mountains and immense, churning clouds are indifferent to the course of a steamer chugging along the coast, trailed by gulls. This work, a tour de force of Balke’s ability to dematerialize form through the use of a limited palette, strikes a balance between painterly effect and a poetic vision that aspires to the Sublime. 


Moonlit View of Stockholm, ca. 1850
Oil on panel


Incredibly, I had to cross the Atlantic to see these wonderfully poetic works and even learn about the existence of this artist.

Images from an exhibition of 17 paintings by Peder Balke, presented at The Met in 2017.

May 28th, 2017

A Madman Distilling his Brains

The Robert Lehman Wing was built not only to showcase the vast Lehman Collection – donated to the museum by the family – but parts of it were made to look like rooms recreating the Lehman family residence. 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
Saint Jerome as Scholar, 
ca. 1610

Oil on canvas


Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) 
Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter, María Agustina – 1787–88
Oil on canvas


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres  
Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825–1860), Princesse de Broglie
Oil on canvas

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the neo-classical French artist par excellence, painted this masterpiece toward the end of his life when his reputation as a portraitist to prominent citizens and Orléanist aristocrats had been long established. Pauline de Broglie sat for the artist’s final commission. Ingres captures the shy reserve of his subject while illuminating through seamless brushwork the material quality of her many fine attributes: her rich blue satin and lace ball gown, the gold embroidered shawl, and silk damask chair, together with finely tooled jewels of pearl, enamel, and gold. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Albert de Broglie, a few years after their ill-fated marriage. Pauline was stricken with tuberculosis soon after completion of the exquisite portrait, leaving five sons and a grieving husband. Through Albert’s lifetime, it was draped in fabric on the walls of the family residence. The portrait remained in the de Broglie family until shortly before Robert Lehman acquired it.


The collection also comprises some extravagant, utterly amusing objects:Inkstand with Apollo and the Muses
Workshop of the Patanazzi family (Italian, active ca. 1580–1620)
Probably after Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (Italian, Urbino 1483–1520 Rome)
Date: 1584
Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

This extravagant desk set celebrates the art of poetry while providing a writer with storage for the tools of his craft. The exterior decorations evoke ancient Roman art and honor the divine sources of creativity. Gods and muses perch beside famous poets atop an elaborate confection of drawers and removable containers, including inkwells and a sand-shaker (for drying fresh text). Inside, the compartments are decorated with images denoting their contents, such as scissors and quills.


Among which my personal favourite:
Inkstand with A Madman Distilling His Brains, ca. 1600
Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

In this whimsical maiolica sculpture, a well-dressed man leans forward in his seat with his head in a covered pot set above a fiery hearth. The vessel beside the hearth almost certainly held ink. The man’s actions are explained by an inscription on the chair: “I distill my brain and am totally happy.” Thus the task of the writer is equated with distillation—the process through which a liquid is purified by heating and cooling, extracting its essence.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art
March 19th, 2017