The Eyes

The Eyes

Monday, October 7, 2013

Knox Martin Shines at LGTripp Gallery | Philadelphia

In a theater in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, we gathered shoulder-to-shoulder and to standing-room only capacity, to hear Knox Martin talk art. A true privilege to listen to the master artist, Knox enlightened us about the significance of 17th-century Dutch painters and placed their authority firmly in the history of art. He gifted us with the knowledge of Joan Miró, influenced by the Dutch realist painters and his series of works based on Old Master paintings titled Dutch Interiors after Hendrick Sorgh’s The Lute Player and Jan Steen’s Teaching the Cat to Dance. Knox took us even further into the geometry and balance of Frans Hals’s Merrymakers at Shrovetide. Then, he brought us forward to the Mark Rothko show he attended at the Betty Parsons Gallery in the 1950s and his encounter with Rothko who told Knox of his own work, “This is not art.”

The artist’s talk, in conjunction with his solo exhibition at LGTripp Gallery, readied us for the excitement of Knox's She series. Paint seems to dance and play off each canvas, never confined to its mere dimensions. The sparkle and shimmer of palladium and gold leaf make these beauties unreservedly glamorous. A regal eminence to each work dwarfs you in the gallery, reducing you to a simple attendant to a royal court. You almost feel as if you should bow or curtsy before them. Yet, an edgy drama is indelible, like a gasp one makes upon seeing something totally fresh, new, and spectacular. It is a stunning exhibition of Knox’s power as a painter and artist, bringing his sophistication and scholarship of the past into the 21st century.

PHOTO:  jamesbrockart

Friday, September 27, 2013

Coverage of the Knox Martin Solo Exhibition in Philadelphia

From Luella Tripp of LGTripp Gallery in Philadelphia:

A revered local art critic and artist, Burt Wasserman, has a radio program titled Art From Near and Far. He surprised me by sending the attached transcript. It aired yesterday and replays two more times.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Albert Bierstadt Kind of Day

What the hell does that mean? I have no idea, but I visited the Smithsonian's American Art Museum today during my lunch break and I gravitated toward its collection of Albert Bierstadt paintings.

All I have to do is sit in front of a painting to be inspired or awed. Bierstadt's paintings will do that. Whether it be a small image or a massive one, you feel the splendor and drama of the American landscape he attempted to capture in his work.

Sometimes, a lunch hour can be more than just having a sandwich ...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Knox Martin | She

A solo exhibition of recent works by internationally acclaimed artist Knox Martin, is set to run at the LGTripp Gallery in Philadelphia, September 13 through October 26, 2013. The exhibition will include paintings from Knoxʼs celebrated She series, as well as the unveiling of a new painting, Genesis.

A leading member of the New York School, Knox is a contemporary of artists Alfred Leslie, Alex Katz, Al Held, and was a mentor to Robert Rauschenberg. Although connected to the avant-garde of this pivotal time in American art, he continues to transcend labels and develop his artwork in distinct and masterful ways. 

She includes seven paintings revolving around Knoxʼs long-held interest in the female form. With his use of metaphor, Knoxʼs paintings point to something more mysterious and transcendent. Sinuous contours and vibrant shapes move across the flat picture plane hinting to the feminine. In his She paintings there is no ground as the “she” is all encompassing, the very composition of each painting. In his essay for She, William Fried writes, “Parts of her body move to intercept our gaze when we try to look beyond her. We cannot look beyond her just as the artist cannot free himself of her power in his mind.” The female form is therefore simultaneously treated as Knoxʼs subject and object. As with many artists before him, Knox's “she” is an archetype, a muse to be explored and celebrated.

Danae (Homage to Titian) | 2012
Palladium and gold leaf and acrylic on linen
80 in. x 65 in.
© Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
A renowned New York painter, sculptor, muralist, poet, and a scholar of art history, Knox has exhibited worldwide. Using a variety of media, Martin is known for his use of vibrant colors, sensuous gestures, rhyming of metaphor and the flat picture plane. Two of his most famous works are the monolithic 12-story wall painting titled Venus and the six-story wall painting Woman with Bicycle, both in New York City. Knox’s artwork is included in collections worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the National Academy of Design, among others. 

Dedicated to his art practice as well as teaching, Knox has held faculty positions at Yale Graduate School of the Arts, New York University, the University of Minnesota, and the International School of Art in Umbria, Italy. He continues to teach Master Classes at the Art Students League of New York. Throughout his career, Knox has been the subject of numerous articles, books, essays, and writings.

Monday, July 8, 2013

George Catlin and Native American History

Artist George Catlin (1796-1872) journeyed west five times in the 1830s to paint the Plains Indians and their way of life. Convinced that westward expansion spelled certain disaster for native peoples, he viewed his Indian Gallery as a way to rescue their culture from possible oblivion.

Catlin delivered lectures, conducted tours, and hosted receptions for the press. Beginning in 1840, he staged the first Wild West shows. Early casts of characters featured Englishmen and boys dressed in costumes from the artist's own collection, who sang, danced, and whooped their way through mock battles. 

In the spring of 1845, Catlin took a group from the Iowa nation and his Indian Gallery to Paris where their performances drew the interest of such cultural figures as Victor Hugo and Eugène Delacroix. When the Iowa returned to the United States, they were replaced in turn by a second group of Ojibwe, who so entertained King Louis Philippe that he asked them to perform for the royal family and invited Catlin to exhibit his collection at the Louvre.

On the heels of the installation of the Indian Gallery in the Louvre, Catlin was invited to exhibit in the Paris Salon, France's premier art show. Catlin was praised by Charles Baudelaire, the most important French critic of the age, for capturing "the proud, free character and noble expression of these splendid fellows in a masterly way."

Catlin lobbied the U.S. government for patronage throughout his career, hoping Congress would purchase the Indian Gallery as a legacy for future generations, but by 1852 he was bankrupt. A Philadelphia industrialist paid his debts and acquired the Indian Gallery, and soon after Catlin's death, the paintings were donated to the Smithsonian. Today, Catlin's Indian Gallery is part of the American Art Museum's permanent collection, recognized as a great cultural treasure, offering rare insight into native cultures, and a crucial chapter in American history.

Stu-mick-o-súcks, Buffalo Bull's Back Fat, Head Chief, Blood Tribe | 1832
Oil on Canvas | 29 in. x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Comanche Meeting the Dragoons | 1834–35
Oil on Canvas | 24 in. x 29 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Frieze of American History | United States Capitol Rotunda

The Frieze of American History in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. The frieze’s 19 scenes is the work of three artists: Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini, and Allyn Cox. The frieze is painted in a monochrome of whites and browns that resembles sculpture. It measures eight feet four inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor.

The frieze was painted in true fresco, a difficult and exacting technique in which the pigments are applied directly onto wet plaster. As the plaster cures the colors become part of the wall. Consequently, each section of plaster must be painted the day it is laid.

Begun in 1877, the Architect of the Capitol reported, "The belt of the Rotunda intended to be enriched with basso relievos [low relief] is being embellished in real fresco representing in light and shadow events in our history arranged in chronological order, beginning with the Landing of Columbus ..." The final section of the frieze was completed in 1953 and dedicated the following year.

The frieze depicts (click links below for detail of each section):

America and History
Landing of Columbus | 1492
Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple | 1520
Pizarro Going to Peru | 1533
Burial of DeSoto | 1542
Captain Smith and Pocahontas | 1607
Landing of the Pilgrims | 1620
William Penn and the Indians | 1682
Colonization of New England
Oglethorpe and the Indians | 1732
Battle of Lexington | 1775
Declaration of Independence | 1776
Surrender of Cornwallis | 1781
Death of Tecumseh | 1813
American Army Entering the City of Mexico | 1847
Discovery of Gold in California | 1848
Peace at the End of the Civil War | 1865
Naval Gun Crew in the Spanish-American War | 1898
The Birth of Aviation | 1903

In 1986, Congress appropriated funds for cleaning and restoration of the frieze to remove accumulated grime, overpaint, and streaks caused by leaking water. The conservation treatment, completed early in 1987, restored the original details and vividly brought out the illusion of relief sculpture. Minor repairs were made in 1994.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Samuel F.B. Morse and Gallery of the Louvre

Gallery of the Louvre | 1831-33
Samuel F.B. Morse
Oil on Canvas | 6' x 9'
Terra Foundation of American Art | Chicago

Samuel F.B. Morse began his career as an artist with a goal of fame as an historical painter. He was fascinated with large paintings depicting significant events throughout history. Longing to build a legacy in a young country yet to discover and invent itself and realize its artistic greatness, Morse went to London to study. There he created the six by eight foot historical canvas, The Dying Hercules, selected to hang in an exhibition at the Royal Academy. For the first time, Morse saw his work praised. Yet much to his dismay, he was forced to paint portraits for financial support. He announced in a letter to his parents dated May 2, 1814, “I cannot be happy unless I am pursuing the intellectual branch of the art. Portraits have none of it, landscape has some of it, but history has it wholly.” In 1822, he put his talent for portraiture to work in his depiction of the House of Representatives, containing more than eighty portraits of Congressman, Supreme Court judges, journalists, janitors, even including his father as a spectator in the gallery. His attempt to show the grand ideal and orderly process of democracy at work was not received as Morse had hoped and he returned to portraiture.

Within a short period, Morse suffered the death of his wife, father, and mother, forcing him to contemplate his own mortality and artistic legacy. He soon departed for Paris to pursue what he conceived to be his greatest work. Morse set his sights on a grand painting of the Salon Carré in the Louvre. Upon his inspection of the famous room, he was disappointed to find it filled with the work of contemporary artists. Morse decided to "rehang" his version of the Salon with the paintings he so admired from the Renaissance, bringing what he deemed to be the greatest art back to America for all to admire.

Morse spent an entire year, every single day, copying in miniature the paintings of Rubens, Titian, Van Dyck, and others, even including da Vinci's Mona Lisa to be shown in his version of the Salon Carré. As he undertook this Herculean task, Paris was in the grips of horror of a cholera epidemic that claimed more than 19,000 lives in six months. Morse was terrified and hurried to complete his task and return home to America. In all, he copied 38 paintings by 22 masters for inclusion. Gallery of the Louvre incorporates ten figures, some friends, acquaintances, and symbolic images, with the most conspicuous being Morse himself, center stage, leaning over the shoulder of a young art student. Also, rendered in the painting is friend and fellow American in Paris, author James Fenimore Cooper ("Last of the Mohicans") who joined Morse at the Louvre daily to encourage his endeavor.

By the summer of 1833, Morse had completed the grand painting and put it on public view in New York for an admission charge of 25 cents. The public showed little interest and it was purchased for $1,300, far less than the $2,500 Morse had hoped to command for this work of art. In 1982, it was purchased for $3,250,000, the highest sum ever paid until then for a work by an American artist.

Years earlier, at a gathering of the National Academy of the Arts and Design, while awarding prizes to young artists, he told them that if they expected a painter's life to be one of ease and pleasure, they were greatly mistaken. It was a "life of severe and perpetual toil." They must expect "continual obstacles and discouragements, and be prepared to encounter illiberality, neglect, obscurity, and poverty." Only an "intense and inextinguishable love of art" could sustain them to bear up, and if they did not feel this love, they should "turn while yet they might to other pursuits."

While the Gallery of the Louvre failed to be understood by its American audience, Morse ultimately achieved his quest to join “in the constellation of genius” by another means of international communication, the telegraph and Morse Code.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Pablo Picasso and Les Ballets Russes

The Ballets Russes—the most innovative dance company of the 20th century—propelled the performing arts to new heights through groundbreaking collaborations between artists, composers, choreographers, dancers, and fashion designers. Founded by Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev (1872–1929) in Paris in 1909, the company combined Russian and Western traditions with a healthy dose of modernism, thrilling and shocking audiences with its powerful fusion of choreography, music, and design.

Legendary artist Pablo Picasso was introduced to Diaghilev by Jean Cocteau in 1916, leading to his first ballet commission for Parade in 1917. Picasso artfully designed costumes and stage sets, working closely with the Ballets Russes for several years, even marrying the dancer Olga Khokhlova during this period.

The sets were modern, innovative, and new, the costumes colorful, complex, and whimsical. The sheer size of some of the costumes challenged the dancers to gracefully execute the ballet. But, the overall effect was a dazzling mix of Cubism and Picasso's playfulness. See this and so much more at Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music at the National Gallery of Art, Washington now through September 2, 2013.

See also related blog post: Giorgio de Chirico and Les Ballets Russes

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Giorgio de Chirico and Les Ballets Russes

Currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, is Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music through September 2, 2013. A hurried lunchtime visit to the exhibit only gave me a taste of the wonderful breadth of this exhibition. If you are fascinated by the marriage of dance, theater, music, and art, this exhibit will thrill your senses. Other artists of note who worked with Diaghilev included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, among others. The exhibit masterfully integrates, paintings, posters, costumes, music, stage sets, and video throughout. You could easily spend an entire afternoon absorbing this magical moment in ballet.

I was very drawn to the work of Giorgio de Chirico and the presentation of Le Bal. Confined to one room of the exhibit, you are seemingly transported into the set itself with the ability to see the costumes at close range. Hence, the focus of this blog post. 

Le Bal 
A ballet in one act and two scenes

Producer | Les Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev
Premiere | May 7, 1929 | Théâtre de Monte Carlo, Monaco
Costume Design | Giorgio de Chirico
Scenery Design | Giorgio de Chirico
Music | Vittorio Rieti
Choreography | George Balanchine
Libretto | Boris Kochno, after a novel by Count Vladimir Sollogub

While the Italian Surrealist painter, Giorgio de Chirico, had worked in theater design since 1924, his commission from Diaghilev for Le Bal gave him his most public success. As a version of the popular theme of the masked ball, the story’s dreamlike quality explored the nature of duplicity, ambiguity and deception. De Chirico drew upon his interest in desolate, devoid of people built spaces for his design of the ballroom, an austere room with exaggerated cornices, strangely proportioned openings and scattered with fragments of classical architecture. This theme is echoed in the guests’ costumes, rendering each performer a movable element of an architectural ensemble. Jackets and trousers became pilasters and columns, shirts and dresses roughly sketched examples of the classical orders. Their complexity and weight was further laden with stuccoed wigs for the dancers, adding to an air of ossified antiquity even though Balanchine’s choreography was light and acrobatic.

A young man, dressed as a military officer, attends a masked ball where he meets a beautiful masked lady accompanied by an old astrologer, and falls in love with her, even as she flirts with his rival, a young Italian man. While overseen by the ballroom’s giant classical statue, which is possessed of magical powers, the sylphides mischievously dress to imitate the couple in order to confuse their suitors. The young man finally persuades the lady to remove her mask and is dismayed to see her as an old woman. He tries to leave but she pursues him, and as the ball ends the old woman leaves on the arm of the astrologer. As she passes the young officer she and the astrologer both remove further masks, revealing them as a beautiful young couple. Attempting to follow them, the dazed young officer is held back by the statue to contemplate his behavior.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Elaine de Kooning's Portraits of President Kennedy

Artist Elaine de Kooning, known for her contemporary, gestural portraits, was chosen in 1962 to create a portrait of President Kennedy for the Truman Library. She had seven informal sessions in Palm Beach, Florida, with Kennedy at the end of December 1962 and early January 1963. The images capture Kennedy’s restless energy, and colors evoke a coolness and detachment not always obvious to his admirers. 

De Kooning characteristically immersed herself in the project, turning out hundreds of drawings and 23 finished canvases in her attempt to capture the President's restless energy. Because Kennedy had no time for formal sittings, de Kooning climbed a stepladder toting her charcoal, pencils and pad for a better view of Kennedy, who fidgeted constantly as he conferred with aides. Caroline Kennedy, a toddler, painted beside de Kooning while sitting on the floor. After Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, she stopped painting for almost a year.

In Elaine de Kooning: The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism, Selected Writings, she tells the story of drawing President Kennedy in her own words:
"President Kennedy was off in the distance, about twenty yards away, talking to reporters, when I first saw himand for one second, I didn’t recognize him. He was not the grey, sculptural newspaper image. He was incandescent, golden. And bigger than life. Not that he was taller than the men standing around; he just seemed to be in a different dimension."
"One of the reasons I was asked to do the portrait is that, with luck, I can start and finish a life-size portrait in one sitting (after a couple of preliminary sketches to determine the pose and familiarize myself with my impression of the sitter). After years of working on my portraits (mostly of friends) for months at a time, I found myself getting bogged down in overly conscious effort and discovered that by working swiftly I could enter into an almost passive relationship to the canvas and get closer to the essential gesture of the sitter. However, working at top speed this way, I require absolute immobility of the sitter. This was impossible with President Kennedy because of his extreme restlessness: he read papers, talked on the phone, jotted down notes, crossed and uncrossed his legs, shifted from one arm of the chair to the other, always in action at rest." 
Elaine de Kooning in her New York City studio in 1963

See related post:  The Kennedys | Art in Camelot

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meeting Knox Martin

This piece was originally written and published at in April 2008 following my first meeting and visit with master artist, Knox Martin.

On a recent afternoon, my partner and I were invited to meet the artist Knox Martin. Martin has been active in the New York art scene since the early 1950s connected to and influencing many of the artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement exploding at the time. At age 85, he continues to teach at the Art Students League and pursue his own artistic endeavors.

We arrived at his office at 11:00 a.m. with a large bouquet of flowers, meticulously chosen and arranged by my partner who is also an artist. Martin opened the door, looked at us and said, "You're both too tall!" and then slammed the door. Before we had a chance to react, Martin quickly opened the door again, and with a big grin, invited us inside. My partner handed the flowers to Martin, who promptly handed them to Gaby Ryan, Knox's assistant for over 10 years, then groused, "Oh, great! Now I have to paint the [expletive] things!" We all laughed.

We sat down with Martin and talked about ourselves very briefly, but we really were there just to spend time with him and let him do the talking. After regaling us with a few encounters with other artists and collectors, he invited us into his studio. We were overwhelmed! When we first entered the studio, Martin handed me a postcard from a nearby table that announced his 2003 Caprichos show at the Janos Gat Gallery with one of his paintings on the front. I immediately said, "Oh, my God, this is 'Concert'!" Visibly impressed that I knew the painting, Concert in the Park, at first sight, he told me to keep the card.

A review of the Caprichos show in Art in America stated: 
"Shown simply pinned to the gallery walls, the drawings are exhilarating in their freely drawn complex line, moments of vivid color and relation of form to the layering of space. They easily suggest the hallucinatory, storytelling landscapes of Mexican bark-paper drawings. Martin included his Concert in the Park (1955), a large, oil on canvas, roughly 7 by 12 feet that is allegorical and thoroughly painterly."
I stood in the center of the studio turning around and around, taking in everything Martin had tacked up or leaned against the walls in various stages of completion. He caught us with tears in our eyes admiring his work as we did many times throughout our time with him. Martin recited poetry, talked about teaching, his life, music, gourmet cooking, and, of course, art. It was amazing to receive this rich and colorful American art history so directly from a source that was part of it. Gaby was with us the entire time, sometimes engaged with us, but mostly she shadowed him, and helped him find things he wanted to show us. Around lunchtime, she brought out Brie, olives, flat-bread, nuts, and hot green tea to share with Martin.

We discussed his mural projects including the 12-story tall Venus, painted in 1970 on the side of the Bayview Women's Correctional Facility at 19th Street and West Side Highway now being obliterated, covered by a new building being constructed on a once-empty lot next door, and the whaling project mural symbolizing the abhorrent tragedy of commercial whaling. The latter is meant to serve as a vehicle to raise awareness of this significant threat to whales around the world. The funding is in place, yet the project is currently on hold as there is opposition to it being painted on the side of a school due to the violent act it depicts.

Martin sat in a rolling chair for most of our visit and he would reel himself closer to each of us individually or together at different times adding emphasis to the points he was making. His spirit, creativity, and love of life were intoxicating. The brief time we were with Martin, his warmth and generosity made us feel like we were the only people on his planet. He received a couple of phone calls during our visit and he would answer in a silly voice and playfully pretend to be someone other than himself.

After a little over three hours with Martin, we got up to excuse ourselves and say our goodbye. We asked if he minded if we took a couple of photos with him and he seemed excited that we asked. Martin asked Gaby to pull something out to show us and they unrolled one of his Caprichos works. The stunning piece made our heads spin! We had never seen anything like it. Tearfully, we hugged and thanked both Martin and Gaby for their tremendous hospitality. It was an unforgettable encounter with a man with a long and distinguished career. I can't wait to see wait he does next!

Knox Martin with "Concert in the Park" in his studio | 1955
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Splendor and Art of the U.S. National Parks

In celebration of National Park Week, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the artwork that glorifies the grandeur and spectacular geography in a few of the United States national parks. There are 84 million acres of iconic, treasured, and sacred places protected in America’s over 400 national parks. Some of these early paintings and illustrations would later help convince Congress to set aside America's first national parks.

For over 150 years, remarkable individuals whose vision, dedication, sacrifice—and sometimes even obsession—helped to create America's national parks into a cohesive national park system. They came from all walks of life, rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs. With artists making their way West after the Civil War, they were inspired to paint and draw the splendor and largess of this vastly unexplored and untouched land that reached skyward far into the clouds and beyond.

In 1871, Thomas Moran boarded a train taking him to the far reaches of the western frontier. He had been asked to illustrate a magazine article describing a wondrous region in Wyoming called Yellowstone—rumored to contain steam-spewing geysers, boiling hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. Eager to be the first artist to record these astonishing natural wonders, Moran quickly made plans to travel west. Immediately upon his return home to Philadelphia, he began producing the paintings that would change the course of his career.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone | Thomas Moran
Oil on Canvas | 96 1/2 in. x 168 3/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Albert Bierstadt’s beautifully crafted paintings played to a market eager for spectacular views of the nation’s frontiers. Bierstadt was a hardworking entrepreneur who had grown rich pairing his artistic skill with a talent for self-promotion. The unveiling of one of his canvases was a theatrical event. He sold tickets and planted news stories. A “great picture” was elaborately framed and installed in a room with carefully controlled lighting. At the appointed time, the work was revealed to thunderous applause.

Among the Sierra Nevada, California | Albert Bierstadt
Oil on Canvas | 72 in. x 120 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Into the 20th century, popularity of the national parks grew exponentially with the onslaught of Americans traveling across country in their newly purchased automobiles. This included the accessibility of artists to more easily reach these bastions of inspiration.

One of those artists who continued to find inspiration in one of the national parks was Chiura Obata. A teacher at University of California, Berkeley, Obata was a Japanese immigrant and renowned artist who spent much of his career painting landscapes of Yosemite National Park.

During World War II, Obata and his family were relocated to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, where he founded the Topaz Art School and encouraged his fellow prisoners to look to nature, as he did, for strength during the "intolerable sin" of their incarceration. After the war, he returned to teaching and took many trips with the Sierra Club to paint landscapes.

El Capitán | Chiura Obata
Color Woodcut on Paper Image | 15 5/8 in. x 11 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
And, finally, an artist with whom we are most familiar today through his breathtaking photographs, Ansel Adams, became an influential force in the designation of Kings Canyon as a national park.

Adams' 1938 book, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, captivated President Franklin Roosevelt after Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes showed it to the president. Roosevelt would not only designate Kings Canyon as a national park in 1940, but as a roadless park, leaving it completely undeveloped. Roosevelt's only access to the splendor of Kings Canyon would be through Adams' photography. 

Adams' influence on the national parks was not limited to his efforts in Kings Canyon. His relationship with Ickes led to a contract with the Department of the Interior in 1941. Over the course of eight years, Adams traveled to every national park except the Everglades, capturing thousands of spectacular images for prominent display in Washington.

NOTE:  Explore the fascinating history through the six-part documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beautiful Inspiration | Cézanne's Bathers for Matisse

Three Bathers (1879-82) | Paul Cézanne
Oil on Canvas | 21 7/16 in. x 20 5/16 in.
 Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

In 1899, Henri Matisse bought Paul Cézanne's Three Bathers from Paris art dealer, Ambroise Vollard who, in turn, had acquired it directly from Cézanne. Matisse could ill afford to spend money on other artists' works at the time, but was so moved by this piece that he signed a promissory note to Vollard and paid this debt off in installments. 

Matisse wrote in a letter when he donated the painting to the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris in 1936:
"In the thirty-seven years I have owned this canvas, I have come to know it quite well, though not entirely, I hope; it has sustained me morally in the critical moments of my venture as an artist; I have drawn from it my faith and my perseverance; for this reason, allow me to request that it be placed so that it may be seen to its best advantage ... I know that I do not have to tell you this, but nevertheless think it is my duty to tell you so; please accept these remarks as the excusable testimony of my admiration for this work which has grown increasingly greater ever since I have owned it."
Matisse worked on his own Bathers by a River over the course of eight years. The genius of Matisse lies in the evolution of his masterpiece from its inception as two decorative pastoral panels commissioned by a wealthy Russian collector for his home to the final Cubist-inspired composition. The artist considered this painting to be one of the five most pivotal works of his career.

Bathers by a River (1909–1910, 1913, and 1916–1917) | Henri Matisse
Oil on canvas | 102 1/2 in. x 154 3/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We Two Boys Together Clinging | Walt Whitman

We two boys together clinging, 
One the other never leaving, 
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.

Art by James K. Brock
Boundless Riders  |  11 in. x 14 in.  |  Acrylic on Canvas

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Century of Modern Art at the Archives of American Art

The International Exhibition of Modern Art was the first major exhibition of European modern art in the United States. Leaders of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) organized the 1913 show in New York City at the 69th Regiment Armory February 17 to March 15. It then traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago March 24 to April 16 and to Copley Hall in Boston April 28 to May 19. Organizers boasted that the show would be recognized as "the greatest modern show ever given any where on earth, as far as regards high standard of merit."

As part of the centennial of the Armory Show, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art developed a digital exhibition to make their materials available to a wider audience.

The Archives holds the largest accumulation of primary source material, ranging from official records produced by AAPS to the firsthand—and often irreverent—accounts by visitors to the show. Since their discovery in the middle of the last century, these resources have enriched the understanding of the 1913 Armory Show’s indelible impact on American art. This exhibition encourages visitors to access digital reproductions of key documents about the show from the Archives' collections.

Here is just one extraordinary sample of the Archives' treasures:
Artist, critic, show organizer, and agent Walter Pach's ledger for March 4-6, 1913 allow us to glimpse the formation of venerable American art collections and institutions. Over this three day period, Pach registered sales to several prominent art patrons and collectors. For example, on March 4 and March 5, he noted, "Sold to Miss Bliss." Lillie P. Bliss bought 20 pieces of art during the Armory Show, including works by Cézanne, Denis, Gaugin, Redon, Renoir, and Vuillard. Through her acquisitions, she developed a major art collection, one that formed the core of the Museum of Modern Art. On March 5, Pach entered H.C. Frick's purchase of his painting, Flowers. Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist and art patron, later donated his mansion and art to establish the Frick Collection. And, on March 6, Pach logged Dr. A.C. Barnes's acquistion of Maurice de Vlaminck's oil painting, Les Figures. Alfred Barnes established the Barnes Foundation, an educational art institution, a decade later.

Walter Pach notebook recording sales at the New York Armory Show (Feb. 18-Mar. 15, 1913) 
From the Walter Pach papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The 1913 Armory Show at The Art Institute of Chicago

Did you know that the Art Institute of Chicago was the first art museum in the United States to exhibit the work of European modernists? 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of this landmark exhibition—known as the Armory Show. The Art Institute has a cool, new interactive space on their website dedicated to the 1913 Armory Show that allows you to walk through this historic show.

The Art Institute of Chicago enjoys the unique distinction of having been the only art museum to host the Armory Show during its tour of the United States. As such, it was also the first museum to exhibit the works of modern artists including Constantin Brâncusi, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. This site explores the organization, presentation, reception, and impact of the Armory Show in Chicago and celebrates the city's important place in the early history of modern art in America.


Gallery 50 Northeast

Sunday, January 20, 2013

American Landscapes in The White House Art Collection

The beauty and splendor of the American landscape has been toiled over and captured grandly by many artists, with names like Albert Bierstadt, Asher B. Durand, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Moran, Georgia O'Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth. The White House art collection includes spectacular renditions of our nation's geographic diversity. 

Bierstadt's large compositions were exhibited in Europe, romanticizing the unblemished wilderness, grasping the viewers attention to the wonder of the United States.  A few first ladies played a role in the acquisition of some of the latter works including Hillary Clinton's championing O'Keefe and Laura Bush insisting on the purchase of a work by Wyeth months before the artist's death. The White House curator noted the coup by Mrs. Bush of the unprecedented acquisition of a work by a living artist. He said they would have never been able to afford to purchase it after the price of the artist's works skyrocketed following his death.

Surf at Prout's Neck (1895) | Winslow Homer
Asgaard Cornfield (Corn and Oats, Gray Day) (1945 - 1950) | Rockwell Kent
Mountain at Bear Lake -  Taos (1930) | Georgia O'Keeffe
Mrs. Charlie Stone (1945) | Andrew Wyeth

Saturday, January 19, 2013

U.S. Presidential Portraiture

First Lady Dolley Madison may have been the first to recognize the importance of presidential portraiture when she famously saved Gilbert Stuart's full-length painting of George Washington from destruction when fleeing The White House before it was burned by British troops in August 1814. In 1800, Congress allocated $800 to purchase Stuart's portrait of the much-revered first president, but it would be another half a century before funding further acquisition of official portraits for the President’s House.

In 1857, Congress commissioned Chicago artist, George P. A. Healy to paint portraits of several presidents. The portraits, completed from life or Healy’s replicas of earlier life portraits, were of John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. Finished by 1859, the portraits were stored in The White House attic, as no funds had been provided for framing them. After the Civil War President Andrew Johnson obtained funding to frame them and hung the portraits in the Cross Hall.

Four years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Congress allocated funds for a competition leaving the selection of the winning portrait to the incoming president, Ulysses S. Grant. He selected a full-length study by William Cogswell. Healy had also entered the competition and when his portrait was not chosen, Robert Todd Lincoln, bought it. His widow bequeathed it to The White House in 1939. Today the Healy portrait hangs in the State Dining Room while the Cogswell portrait has been relegated to storage.

Detail of State Dining Room with Lincoln portrait by George P.A. Healy

Rutherford B. Hayes and Mrs. Hayes took great interest in collecting presidential portraits for The White House, adding paintings of Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, and William Henry Harrison in the 1870s. After he left office, Hayes selected the fashionable American artist Daniel Huntington, who had painted a stunning portrait of Mrs. Hayes years earlier. Huntington was later commissioned for the official portrait of Chester Arthur, the first president to be painted for The White House while in office.

Twentieth century presidential portraits have been painted from life during their administrations by such renowned artists as John Singer Sargent (Theodore Roosevelt). However, no government patronage had been established for portrait acquisition. Presidential families or friends often donated portraits to The White House years after the president’s term of office. It was not until the founding of The White House Historical Association in 1961 and its commitment to fund the acquisition of portraits of both presidents and first ladies for The White House that life portraits of the presidents were consistently commissioned for the collection. Currently, official portraits of the sitting president and the first lady are photographs until they leave The White House.

The nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside The White House, lies at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

George Washington (1796)
Gilbert Stuart
Theodore Roosevelt (1903)
John Singer Sargent

Monday, January 14, 2013

Art in The First Family's Private Quarters at The White House

With each new Administration, the first family fills their private living quarters and office space with art from the Smithsonian and The White House art collection. The Obamas share their daily life with a rich mix of American artists across a wide range of genres and artistic movements, choosing more modern and abstract work than has ever hung on The White House walls.

The collection they assembled, with advice from White House and local museum curators, includes 45 pieces borrowed from various Washington museums and galleries including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art. The artists include Josef Albers, Richard Diebenkorn, Edgar Degas, Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, William H. Johnson, Alma Thomas, and many others.

The President is even showcasing American ingenuity in the Oval Office by displaying three mechanical devices on loan from the National Museum of American History's patent collection: models for Samuel Morse's 1849 telegraph register, John Peer's 1874 gear-cutting machine, and Henry Williams' 1877 feathering paddlewheel for steamboats. President Obama chose more traditional Oval Office artwork including Childe Hassam's The Avenue in the Rain, an impressionist view of New York's flag-bedecked Fifth Avenue, and Norman Rockwell's colorful Statue of Liberty (seen below), in addition to several presidential portraits.

Oval Office Detail of Frederic Remington 
sculpture The Bronco Buster 
and Rockwell’s Statue of Liberty
Detail of Oval Office bookshelf with
Native American pottery
and patent samples

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Kennedys | Art in Camelot

In January 1961, the new residents of the White House were young, sophisticated, and attractive. The Kennedys abolished several old social conventions and focused on bringing the arts to Washington and the White House. Soon after their arrival, Jacqueline Kennedy began a complete restoration of the White House that captivated the American people, culminating in a 1962 televised tour led by the first lady with over 80 million viewers. In conjunction with the National Park Service, the president and first lady created the White House Historical Association to forever preserve and record its history and the persons and events associated with it. 

It was discovered during the research that took place for the renovation that eight paintings by Paul Cézanne had been bequeathed to The White House. When Mrs. Kennedy found that those paintings were hanging in the National Gallery of Art, she successfully wrestled them from the Gallery with much disapproval from its then director. She had them installed in the newly renovated Green Room.

John F. Kennedy (1963)
Elaine de Kooning
Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery
Chronicled in a November 2008 Vanity Fair article and a book, Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, the first lady masterminded America's first blockbuster art show with the exhibition of Mona Lisa in New York and Washington. For several weeks, nearly two million visitors stood in long lines to catch a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. 

Five days prior to the presidential couple’s fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963, descriptions of the presidential suite at Fort Worth's Hotel Texas were released to the public. Unhappy with the couple’s accommodations, a Fort Worth art critic proposed installing art in the presidential "suite." Drawing on local private and public art collections, each room of the suite was outfitted with works of art that befitted the tastes and interests of the president and first lady. It included works by Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Franz Kline, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, among others. But, they arrived so late that evening they didn't notice the significant artwork until the morning. The Kennedys were awestruck when they realized this extraordinary exhibition and called the organizers to thank them. 

The president was assassinated later that day. Dallas Museum of Art will bring together 14 of the 16 works displayed in the presidential suite in an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination later this year. 

I am certain that after the dust of centuries 
has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered  not for victories or defeats in 
battle or in politics, but for our contribution 
to the human spirit.      President John F. Kennedy

The Green Room | Art and The White House

My favorite public room at The White House is the Green Room. This intimate room with its green silk-covered walls is one of three parlors on the State Floor. The windows look out over the South Lawn toward the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, adjoining the East Room, the Blue Room, and the Cross Hall on the first floor of the mansion.

Rich in historical significance and utilized in various ways by the presidents and first ladies, the art that adorns the walls of the Green Room is a microcosm of American art history. Works by George Bellows, John Marin, John Singer Sergant, and Gilbert Stuart comfortably reside together in this room's collection. Also hanging in the Green Room is Henry Ossawa Tanner's Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, the first work by an African American artist to be added to the permanent White House collection.

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885) | Henry Ossawa Tanner

Three Children (1919) | George Bellows

The Builders (1947) | Jacob Lawrence
The Circus No. 1 (1950) | John Marin

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Oval Office | Roy Lichtenstein

The Oval Office (1992)
Roy Lichtenstein | Color Screenprint 
National Gallery of Art, Washington

To celebrate Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective and the upcoming inauguration, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, installed Lichtenstein's print The Oval Office (1992). Commissioned as part of the Artists for Freedom of Expression project to benefit the Democratic National Committee during the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign, the print was later chosen as one of six commemorative inaugural posters by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The inaugural poster was reproduced with the heading "A New Generation of Leadership" prior to the Democratic National Convention and also made into a campaign button.

Lichtenstein studied the interior of the Oval Office at the White House to accurately include decorative details such as the paintings that once hung on the walls. In January 1993, after the print and poster were issued, Lichtenstein completed the painting The Oval Office.  A color screenprint was a gift to the Gallery from Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein in 1996.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Modern Art in America

With this sheet of 12 Modern Art in America 1913-1931 (Forever®) stamps, the U.S. Postal Service commemorates a dozen modern artists and their works, 100 years after the groundbreaking Armory Show opened in New York in 1913.

The dozen masterpieces reproduced on the stamp pane were created between 1912 and 1931 and include:
  • House and Street (1931) | Stuart Davis
  • I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928) | Charles Demuth
  • The Prodigal Son (1927) | Aaron Douglas
  • Fog Horns (1929) | Arthur Dove 
  • Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) | Marcel Duchamp 
  • Painting, Number 5 (1914-15) | Marsden Hartley
  • Sunset, Maine Coast (1919) | John Marin
  • Razor (1924) | Gerald Murphy
  • Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie's II (1930) | Georgia O’Keeffe 
  • Noire et Blanche (1926) | Man Ray 
  • American Landscape (1930) | Charles Sheeler
  • Brooklyn Bridge (1919-20) | Joseph Stella

The International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the Armory Show, opened in New York City on February 17, 1913. This exhibit, held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street, presented more than a thousand works, about a third of them by European artists.

At the Armory Show, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 excited derision as well as admiration. Duchamp and other European painters greatly influenced American artists, including those who created the works shown on this stamp pane. Like Duchamp, who became a U.S. citizen, modern art—and modernity itself—soon found a congenial home in America.

The stamp sheet also includes a quote by Marcel Duchamp and verso text that identifies each work of art and briefly tells something about each artist. Art director Derry Noyes worked on the stamp sheet with designer Margaret Bauer.

Check out my previous blog post about the children's book written and illustrated in response to the Armory Show here.