Detail | Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

Detail | Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye at the National Gallery of Art

The Floor Scrapers | 1875
Oil on Canvas
Musée d'Orsay | Paris
The artistic career of Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) began with failure. In 1875 the jury of the Salon, the French government’s elite art exhibition held annually in Paris, rejected his submission, The Floor Scrapers. Painted earlier that year, Caillebotte’s picture of shirtless, working-class men hand-planing wood floors did not appeal to the conservative sensibilities of the jurors, who were confounded by its vulgar subject matter and unsettling perspective. Although his depiction of modern urban life put off the Salon jury, it caught the eye of several impressionist painters, who persuaded him to join the group’s second exhibition the following year. Displayed alongside paintings by Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Claude Monet, Caillebotte’s work garnered considerable critical attention. It was not only praised for being excessively original and a “faithful representation of life,” but also criticized for its un-idealized subject. 

Caillebotte was thrilled by the impressionists’ fresh, radical vision. Over the next six years he participated regularly in their exhibitions, submitting paintings of the people and places he encountered in and around Paris. Caillebotte established himself as an artistic force in the group, as well as a vital organizer who helped curate and finance their exhibitions. During his brief career he also became a significant patron, amassing a collection of more than seventy works, including masterpieces by Degas and Renoir as well as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. 

Despite these accomplishments, Caillebotte remains perhaps the least known of the French impressionists. Because of his secure finances—derived from his father’s successful textile business—he had no need to earn an income from his art. He therefore did not sell his pictures, and few entered public collections. After he bequeathed his collection to the state, it became the cornerstone of impressionist art in French national museums. But the impressive bequest, which included only two of his own works, overshadowed his artistic achievements and further contributed to his obscurity. 

More than a half century after his death at age forty-five, interest in Caillebotte’s art began to reemerge. Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye continues this rediscovery, gathering his best work for a fresh look. The exhibition not only includes his most famous cityscapes and interiors, but also shows his artistic range with a selection of portraits, nudes, river scenes, still lifes, and landscapes. The exhibition runs from June 28 through October 4, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Paris Street, Rainy Day | 1877
Oil on Canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago

Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has organized a major exhibition about Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a preeminent 20th century modernist whose talents and contributions have rivaled those of his contemporaries, including Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Stuart Davis.

Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars.  He drew on American folk art, Japanese design and iconography, and European modernism to create a distinctive visual style.  Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while at the same time remaining very aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his identity and artistic practices.

His inventive, humorous early works often included subtle color harmonies, simplified shapes, oddly proportioned figures, and an eccentric handling of space and scale.  His work became more sensuous and worldly after two long stays in Paris, as he painted moody, reflective women and still lifes with unusual objects.

Kuniyoshi was thoroughly integrated into American life and the art world, but immigration law prevented him from becoming an American citizen.  Classified an "enemy alien" after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he remained steadfastly on the side of his adopted country during the painful war years, working with the Office of War Information to create artworks indicting Japanese atrocities.  After the war, Kuniyoshi developed a compelling late style, with bitter subjects and paradoxically bright colors.

The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi is the first comprehensive overview of his work by a United States museum in more than 65 years.  The exhibition traces Kuniyoshi's career through 66 of his finest paintings and drawings, chosen from leading public and private collections in America and Japan.  The exhibition runs through August 30 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Strong Woman and Child | 1925
Smithsonian American Art Museum

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.