Detail | Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

Detail | Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Frida Kahlo's Ghoulish Remembrance Portrait of Dorothy Hale

Dorothy Hale (January 11, 1905 – October 21, 1938) was an American socialite, aspiring actress, and Ziegfield showgirl. Hale was considered a remarkably beautiful woman with less remarkable talents, who was introduced to high society and luxury living by her husband. After his sudden death in an automobile accident and a series of failed relationships, Hale found herself dependent on her wealthy friends.

In the early morning hours of October 21, 1938, Hale was found dead on the sidewalk in front of her apartment building, the Hampshire House, on Central Park South in New York City. Her death was quickly ruled a suicide. Twelve days later, Hale's friend—editor, playwright, politician, journalist, and diplomat—Clare Boothe Luce, met famed surrealist Frida Kahlo at the artist's first solo exhibition in New York City. Both Luce and Kahlo knew Hale. Kahlo was asking questions about the suicide when Luce spontaneously surprised the crowd at the Julien Levy Gallery and hired her to paint a portrait of Hale as a gift for her grieving mother. After much deliberation, Kahlo painted one of her most famous paintings, El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale

Luce imagined Kahlo painting an idealized memorial portrait of Hale and was doubtless expecting a conventional over-the-fireplace portrait for her $400. The completed painting arrived in August 1939. Luce claims she was so shocked by the unwrapped painting that she "almost passed out." What Kahlo created was a graphic, narrative "retablo," detailing every step of Hale's suicide. It depicts Hale standing on the balcony, falling to her death, while also lying on the bloody pavement below. 

Luce, who intended to give the painting to Hale's mother, was so offended that she seriously considered destroying it; but instead she had the sculptor Isamu Noguchi paint out the part of the legend that bore Luce's name. Luce simply left the work crated up in storage. She donated it anonymously to the Phoenix Art Museum, where it was eventually outed as a Luce donation. The museum retains ownership, although the painting is frequently on tour in exhibitions of Kahlo's works.

At the bottom of the painting, blood red lettering details the tragic event (the section of the work painted over by Noguchi is underlined) :
In New York City on the 21st of October 1938, at 6:00 in the morning, Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself from a very high window in the Hampshire House. In her memory painted at the request of  Clare Boothe Luce, for the mother of  Dorothy, this retablo was executed by Frida Kahlo.
The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1938)
Oil on Masonite with Painted Wooden Frame | 23 3/4 in. x 19 in.
Phoenix Art Museum | Phoenix, Arizona

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nineteen American Masterworks at Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Tournament--Tennis at Newport (1920)
George Bellows

Nineteen major paintings from the private collection of Thelma and Melvin Lenkin of Chevy Chase, Maryland, are on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from April 17 through August 16. The exhibition includes major oil paintings by Mary Cassatt, George Bellows, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, William Glackens, John La Farge, Everett Shinn, and others.

The artworks are installed on the second-floor galleries of the museum within the chronological flow of it’s permanent collection to create a narrative around the excitement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, a “coming-of-age” period in American art. Many of the works will be on public view for the first time. 

Each of these 19 artworks is a premier example of these artists’ most significant contributions to American art. The American Art Museum is thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit them in concert with its own collection, where they help to more fully tell the story of such a vital period in our nation’s artistic development. Paintings by Bellows, Cassatt, and Glackens have been featured at retrospectives of those artists, but many of the other paintings have rarely if ever been displayed in public. 

Gilded Age expatriate artists such as Sargent and Cassatt pioneered impressionist styles abroad, challenging long-standing practice and rivaling their French counterparts. After 1900, artists on this side of the Atlantic such as Bellows, Glackens, Sloan, and Shinn also abandoned traditional studio techniques to portray New York City’s bustling streets and slice-of-life views of parks, shops, bridges and entertainment halls. Together these artists revolutionized American art, liberating it from academic strictures to become a dynamic mirror of life.

March Day, Washington Square (1912)
William Glackens

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Happy Presidents Day 2015!

National Portrait Gallery | Washington, DC

Presidents Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February, but it was originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington.  Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1971), an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers.  While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.

Honoring this celebration of our nation's presidents, below are links to blog posts I've written about presidential portraiture.  In the end, I don't care what we call it, as long as I still get the day off work.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the Shaw Memorial

Sculptor of over 200 works in marble and bronze, Augustus Saint-Gaudens had an international reputation and clientele for his portrait reliefs, decorative projects, and public monuments. His long career in New York, Paris, and Rome began as an apprentice to a cameo maker and ended with a request from the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to design gold coins for the nation. Saint-Gaudens' formal study at Cooper Union, National Academy of Design, and Ă‰cole des Beaux-Arts, prepared him for a rich, yet tortured life as a sculptor. Inspired by the golden age of Renaissance bronze statuary, he was committed to the overall relationships of architecture, design, and sculpture advocated by the Aesthetic Movement, and blessed by a personal genius for painstakingly researched, yet astoundingly fluid imagery.

Commissioned in the early 1880s, Saint-Gaudens labored over the Shaw Memorial for 14 years. Dedicated as a monument in 1897, the Shaw Memorial has been acclaimed as the greatest American sculpture of the nineteenth century. The relief masterfully depicts Colonel Shaw and the first African American infantry unit from the North to fight for the Union during the Civil War. The sculpture combines the real and allegorical. The memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment is on a ten-year renewable loan to the National Gallery of Art from the National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire.

Shaw Memorial | 1900
Patinated Plaster
Overall (without armature or pedestal) | 145 1/4 in. x 206 1/2 in. x 34 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hale Woodruff's Talladega College Murals

In 1938, Atlanta-based African-American artist Hale Woodruff was commissioned to paint a series of murals for Talladega College, Alabama, one of the first colleges established for blacks in the United States after the Civil War. The six murals, created for the college's newly built library, portray noteworthy events in the rise of blacks from slavery to freedom. Though he painted the murals for a local audience of students and faculty, Woodruff intended their impact to reach well beyond Talladega's campus.

The brightly colored murals were removed from Talladega College for a five-year collaborative restoration project organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The murals are six monumental canvases arranged in two cycles of three, portraying heroic efforts of resistance to slavery and moments in the history of Talladega College, which opened in 1867 to serve the educational needs of a new population of freed slaves. 

These exceptional paintings have just been restored and are on a one-time national tour before returning to their permanent home in Alabama. This is the only time these masterpieces will be available for viewing outside Talladega College. Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College is presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (currently being built on the National Mall) and is organized by the High Museum of Art in collaboration with Talladega College. The murals are being exhibited at the National Museum of American History in Washington until March 1, 2015. 

The Mutiny on the Amistad

The Trial of the Amistad Captives

The Repatriation of the Freed Captives

The Underground Railroad

Opening Day at Talladega College

The Building of Savery Library