The Eyes

The Eyes

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holidays at The White House 2015

The holiday season at the White House is celebrated with an array of annual traditions, glittering holiday décor, fresh pine, and sugary treats. This year’s holiday theme, A Timeless Tradition, reflects long-held, cherished customs across America, and commemorates extraordinary moments that shaped the country during the past two centuries. The 2015 White House Holiday Tour Book is brimming with beautiful illustrations by art students at Duke Ellington School for the Arts, in Washington, DC.

Highlights include:
  • The holiday décor was executed by 89 volunteers from around the country. Sixty-two trees and over 70,000 ornaments were used in this year's extravagant mix.
  • Three of the rooms feature creations by fashion designers Carolina Herrera, Duro Olowu, and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. In a nod to the Obama Administration's new china pattern with a Kailua Blue stripe, Herrera integrated this stunning blue water color off the coast of the President's home state of Hawaii for package ribbons and other accents in the China Room.
  • In the Blue Room, a grand oval space overlooking the South Lawn and Washington Monument, is the official White House Christmas tree. Dedicated to our nation's service members, veterans, and their families, it is ornamented with holiday messages of hope for our troops and patriotic symbols of red, white, and blue.
  • At approximately 500 pounds, this year's White House Gingerbread House contains more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds of pulled and sculpted sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing—a White House pastry chef tradition since the 1970s.
  • A long-standing holiday custom—the White House crèche—has graced the East Room for more than 45 years, spanning nine administrations. The nativity scene made of terra cotta and intricately carved wood was fashioned in Naples, Italy in the eighteenth century.

I was like an excited, little kid experiencing the holiday magic, completely mesmerized by bright, shiny things! I'm still in awe being surrounded by all the history of the executive mansion. It was fascinating hearing Secret Service officers in each room engaged in conversations about the decorations, furnishings, and even the art. Below are a few photos from my recent afternoon at The White House.

Eight Thousand Snowflakes Grace
a White House Corridor
The Library with Five Literary-Themed Trees

The China Room with Kailua Blue Accents

The East Room and The White House Crèche

The Red Room with Real Cranberry Trees and
Magnolia and Berry Garland on Fireplace Mantel
The State Dining Room with
Thousands of Gumballs and Dozens of Nutrackers
A Festive White House Fireplace Mantel with Mirror 
The Glittering Cross Hall

Source | Office of the First Lady,  The White House
Photos | Cary Knox

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holidays at the Thorne Miniature Rooms

The beloved decorating tradition is back at the Art Institute of Chicago—and continues to ramp up the festivities—with a Twelfth Night–themed room joining in the fun.

Several other rooms once again get their seasonal trimmings. Among the most elaborate is the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, the only room with a Christmas tree. Now a ubiquitous feature of the season, the Christmas tree ortannenbaum, was only brought to England from Germany in 1840 with the marriage of Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. The Thorne Room tree and accoutrements are based on a famous engraving of the royal couple and their children surrounding a trimmed and toy-bedecked tree, an image that would forever popularize this holiday fixture. Other ornamented rooms include:

  • The English Great Hall of the Tudor period with a wassailing bowl, yule log, and an essential part of the costuming for that period’s singing-dancing revelers—a mummer’s mask
  • The Virginia Entrance Hall with mistletoe, wreath, and garland
  • The French Provincial Bedroom with shoes, or sabots, lined up before the fireplace, a crèche, and puzzle
  • The modern-era California Hallway with an Otto Natzler mid-century menorah and box with a dreidel
  • The New Orleans, New Mexico, and the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) rooms filled with regional treats of the season
  • The 1930s French Library with a tiny taste of Art Deco holiday glamour
  • The traditional Chinese interior filled with shadow puppets and instruments that would have been used to celebrate the Chinese New Year as well as other festive occasions

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. 

Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

See the holiday display in the Thorne Miniature Rooms through January 10, 2016 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inside Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides

Grand Street Brides | 1954
Oil on Canvas | 72 9/16 in. x 102 3/8 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Grace Hartigan thought deeply about the colors she would use before she tackled her six-foot-by-nine-foot painting, titled in her journals, Bridal Store Mannequins. She walked around the Lower East Side neighborhood outside her 25 Essex Street studio, taking in the drifts of white fabric, lace, and wispy netting displayed on the dainty mannequins. Hartigan saw them imprisoned behind the glass storefronts on Grand Street, then known as “Bride’s Row.” She purchased a two dollar wedding gown from a thrift store and tacked it to her studio wall, along with photos of the bridal shop windows for further inspiration. Hartigan once said, “It seems ludicrous to me to go through all that fuss,” referring to the fiasco of a wedding in the 1950s. She added that she painted “things I’m against to … give them the magic they don’t have.”

In this post-war world, Hartigan personally smashed the stereotype of the modern American woman—the married, child-rearing, housewife. The tradition that began with a woman floating down the aisle, draped from head-to-toe in virginal white, being handed over to another man by the woman’s father, to be cared for the rest of her life. This ideal couldn’t be more removed from Hartigan’s own personal life. She struggled with her identity in a male-dominated, testosterone-fueled art community in mid-century New York City, even going so far as to sign her early work George Hartigan.  By the time she painted Grand Street Brides, Hartigan had been married twice and had sent her young son to live with his father's parents. She sometimes wrestled with what she needed to do to make her way as an artist versus society's expectations of her as a woman.

Also, a part of her thinking during the time she executed this work would have been the knowledge of the arranged marriages rampant among the immigrant population living in her Lower East Side neighborhood. Note the dead and hollow eyes of the brides in her picture, devoid of love or feelings, yet dressed up pretty and put on display for all to admire.

In a letter to critic Harold Rosenberg in 1954, Hartigan attempted to explain her work: "I think some of my subjects are loneliness, alienation, and anxiety. The figures in my paintings ask, 'What are we doing? What do we mean to each other?' The figures never look at each other, but have some personal meaning." The same year Frank O'Hara wrote of the brides who "face without bitterness the glassy shallowness of American life as their showcase."  Hartigan also makes reference in her journals to Picasso's 1907 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (seen below), which not only parallels the poses of the subjects, but perhaps makes a connection between her impression of what it meant to be a bride and the prostitutes he painted in that work.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon | 1907
Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas | 96 in. x 92 in.
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides: The Modern Bride as Mannequin by Aliza Edelman (2013)
The Journals of Grace Hartigan, 1951-1955

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Knox Martin's Homage to Jan de Heem

Dutch and Flemish artists took remarkable delight in creating images of the natural world. Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied their interest in art and in science. The flower paintings of Jan de Heem celebrate the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplify the concept of “art is long, life is short” embodied in 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings. Depictions of striking and exotic flowers also bared their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany. 

Thirty-one species of plants are portrayed in De Heem’s Vase of Flowers. Poppies, tulips, roses, wheat, and peas reach out in dynamic rhythms, while insects crawl and flutter about the arrangement and glass vase. Reflected in the vase, is the light streaming through De Heem’s studio window. Interestingly, such a composition could not have existed naturally, as his choice of flowers and insects did not flourish and live during the same seasons of the year.

Knox Martin pays reverence to De Heem's Vase with his own monumental canvas, Homage to Jan de Heem. Martin’s use of color and scale is captivating and magical. At nearly three times the size of De Heem’s still life, Martin’s composition is even more fantastical because he doesn’t confine it within the boundaries of the canvas itself. His elements stretch far beyond the borders in such an extraordinary way that you feel like it goes further than your peripheral vision could allow, making it up-close and personal.

Martin mirrors the natural components in De Heem’s work, but with his own exceptional flair. He obliterates the black background and traditional dark colors of Dutch paintings of that time period, and makes it fresh and new with his bright colors and large scale. Martin used dazzling hues of red, blue, purple, pink, green, yellow, and black that are wonderfully dream-like, transporting you to a land filled with enchantment.

Although Martin stayed true to many of the elements in the earlier painting, including the reflection of the window in the vase, he puts his own mark on this tribute piece by placing a lobster in the lower left corner. I’ve been privileged to not only see De Heem’s original painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but honored to have seen Martin’s stunning work in his studio not long after its completion—a witness to art history.

Homage to Jan de Heem
Knox Martin
Acrylic on linen | 80 in. x 66 in.
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Vase of Flowers | c. 1660
Jan de Heem
Oil on canvas | 27 3/8 in. x 22 1/4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washingt2on

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy National Dessert Day!

Around the Cake by Wayne Thiebaud

Fanciful Ice Cream Cone by Andy Warhol

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Intrigue of the Little Black Book

The "Little Black Books" of some American artists are currently on view at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. In this era of digital communication, contacts can be quickly updated, shared, and even deleted at the click of a button. Before smartphones and computers, traditional address books stored important, and sometimes confidential, contact information, and other details. 

The little black book has long been considered the secret space where the most intimate, mysterious details were once kept—a femme fatale’s list of lovers, a business magnate’s key clients, a detective’s code-named informants. These unadorned volumes, where a person would jot down contacts and other personal details, is less coherent than a diary, but its scattering of names, numbers, and appointments is in some ways more intriguing.

The show dives into the personal address books—complete with enigmatic notes, strikethroughs, and ink stains—of artists like Jackson Pollock and Joseph Cornell. The books offer a glimpse into the personal lives of these luminaries, and a portal into a time when important private information was scribbled into a modest volume, and carried around, unsecured, and dog-eared.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's list of friends is a Who's Who of the day's top artists: Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and critic Clement Greenberg. Also, in their address book, Pollock's psychologist and the homeopathic doctor who tried to "cure" his alcoholism.

Just as an address book provides a vehicle through which to understand a person, it also served in one case as a pathway to a much larger world for its owner. Assemblage artist Joseph Cornell was a known recluse, who rarely left his home in Flushing, New York. But his address book is packed with names of avant-garde artists with whom he frequently exchanged letters and gifts, many of which he used in his collages. 

Although Cornell never really left New York, he did accumulate through all his friends and people listed in his address book, all these experiences from around the world.  People seemed to really enjoy corresponding with him. They brought the world to him. He didn’t leave much, but still had a really interesting life through those relationships.

"Little Black Books" runs through November 1, 2015 at the Archives of American Art Fischbach Gallery in the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Restoring the Grandeur of Rome

Rome's famous Spanish Steps closed to the public Wednesday for a restoration project funded by luxury jeweler Bulgari that is expected to last several months. Bulgari is putting $1.7 million into the refurbishment. The 18th-century Baroque-style stairway, which has 144 steps, was last restored 20 years ago. 

The work, which will be carried out by local restorer is expected to be finished by spring 2016, at which point the steps will be "restored to the whole world in all their beauty and splendor," Rome mayor Ignazio Marino said. 

The steps will be closed to pedestrians until December 7—the start of a special Jubilee year expected to draw millions of Catholic pilgrims to Rome. 

"Rome has always been the number one source of inspiration for Bulgari so it is right to give back to Rome what Rome has given Bulgari," the jeweler's CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said as work began. 

The work includes re-levelling the steps to repair natural wear, maintenance of the rainwater drainage system, as well as restoring the original lamps which illuminate the steps by night. 

The Spanish Steps, which links Bernini's "boat" fountain with the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, were made famous in the United States by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. 

Bulgari pledged the money last year in response to a government plea for help in financing Italy's heritage monuments. In addition, the private sector is already helping restore other UNESCO monuments: in Rome, luxury shoemaker Tod's is financing works at the Colosseum, while high-end fashion house Fendi is refurbishing the Trevi Fountain.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Short Architectural History of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery

The Renwick Gallery is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch for contemporary craft and decorative arts and is the first purpose-built art museum in the United States. The building is considered one of the first and finest examples of Second Empire architecture in the United States. 

The Renwick building was designed to house the art collection of William Wilson Corcoran, a native Washingtonian and a prominent banker and philanthropist. In 1858, Corcoran engaged the noted architect James Renwick Jr., who had earlier designed the Smithsonian’s Castle in Washington and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, to design a public museum in which to display his art collection. 

Construction of the Renwick building marked an important moment in the cultural history of the United States, as it was the first time a building had been designed expressly as an art museum, and helped to introduce a new style of architecture to Washington and to the nation. 

Renwick was inspired by the Louvre’s newest addition in Paris and modeled the gallery in the Second Empire style that was then the height of French fashion. His design integrated the central pavilion and distinct mansard roofs he saw in France with his own creative interpretation of proportions, details and architectural elements. The result was a building unlike anything else in the United States at the time, popularizing a style that soon spread throughout the country. 

Renwick chose a contrasting palette of materials for the building: Baltimore pressed red brick, brown Bellville sandstone from New Jersey and purple Welsh slate. The interior included a grand flight of stairs to the second floor, which featured a main picture gallery (the Grand Salon) and an “Octagon Room” that was designed for Corcoran’s favorite sculpture. Elegant arched entryways to the galleries echoed the arched windows and front doorway. 

The architect incorporated a whimsical American touch into his design by adding ears of corn among the acanthus leaves of the columns’ capitals, inspired by Benjamin Latrobe’s earlier use of corn in his capitals at the U.S. Capitol. The words “Dedicated to Art” were inscribed in stone above the front entrance. Upon its eventual completion, Sen. Charles Sumner dubbed the building the “American Louvre.”

Known today as the Renwick Gallery, it is the third oldest Smithsonian building. In 1956, Congress proposed that the building be razed. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy successfully led the campaign to save the Renwick building as part of her plan to restore Lafayette Square and in 1965, S. Dillon Ripley, then secretary of the Smithsonian, met with President Lyndon Johnson to request that it be turned over to the Smithsonian. 

It was subsequently dedicated “for use as a gallery of art, crafts and design.” It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated a National Historic Landmark building in 1971. The Renwick Gallery opened in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s contemporary craft and decorative art program. 

The Renwick Gallery, after completing an extensive two-year renovation, reopens to the public Friday, November 13, with carefully restored historic features, entirely new infrastructure, dramatically improved energy efficiency and other upgrades that will make the National Historic Landmark building into a 21st-century destination.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Case of the Upside Down Matisse at MoMA

Le Bateau (The Boat) | 1953
Museum of Modern Art
[Image shown right side up.]

In October and November of 1961, only one person among the 116,000 visitors to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition "The Last Works of Henri Matisse" noticed that one of the most elegant of the great artist’s late career cutouts, Le Bateau ("The Boat") was hanging upside down. The esteemed curators responsible for capsizing the sailboat, and even the artist's own son, the New York art dealer Pierre Matisse, had not noticed the error. 

Le Bateau, executed in 1953, is comprised of paper cutouts forming a blue boat sailing on a windy day with clouds, and the water outlined with graceful, yet assertive, curving purple lines. The bottom half of the picture shows a stylized reflection of the boat and clouds. 

“For the last forty-seven days, a picture by the
French master Henri Matisse has been hanging
in the Museum of Modern Art—upside down."
New York Times | December 5, 1961

However, a stockbroker named Genevieve Habert could not believe that Matisse would have arranged the picture in such a way as to give more detail to the reflection than the boat itself. An admirer of Matisse’s work, she visited the exhibition multiple times and on the third visit bought a catalogue, which, showing the picture correctly displayed, validated her assumption. 

Habert approached a nearby guard to notify him of the mistake. The guard responded rather amusingly, "You don’t know what’s up and you don’t know what’s down and neither do we." Undeterred by this modernist babble, Habert made her way to the information desk, but as it was a Sunday, the curatorial staff were not available. She decided to contact the New York Times, who ran the story on December 5a day after an embarrassed director of the exhibition righted the picture. 

According to the museum’s curators, Le Bateau had been hung incorrectly in the past as indicated by deep screw holes in the frame, which along with the labels had led them unwittingly to commit their error. On closer inspection, however, screw holes were discovered on the correct half of the frame as well, indicating that at least once the sailboat had headed in the right direction. 

Le Bateaunow part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Arthangs right side up.

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.

U.S. Presidential Portraiture | January 2013

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 École 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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Born This Day | January 7, 1830 | Albert Bierstadt

Rocky Mountain Landscape | 1870
Albert Bierstadt
Oil on Canvas | 36 5/8 in. x 54 3/4 in.
The White House Art Collection

Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several exploratory journeys during the westward expansion of the United States, sketching and painting all that inspired him. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.

Born in Germany, Bierstadt came to the United States at the age of one with his parents. He later returned to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf. He became part of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along this scenic river. Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism.

The artist's rugged, romanticized landscapes of the West, painted on a grand scale with an abundance of detail and dramatic lighting, captured the imagination of 19th-century art collectors and their interest catapulted Bierstadt to the top of the American art market. His paintings brought record prices and in his lifetime, Bierstadt enjoyed tremendous success and recognition.

Bierstadt became internationally renowned for his beautiful and enormous paintings of the newly accessible American west, and his works found their way into public and private collections at staggeringly high prices for his time. His popularity and wealth rose to tremendous heights only to fade as the interest in impressionism turned public taste away from his highly detailed landscapes suffused with golden light.

Nonetheless, his paintings remain popular. He was a prolific artist, having completed over 500 paintings during his lifetime, most of which have survived. Many are scattered through museums around the United States. Original paintings themselves do occasionally come up for sale, at ever increasing prices.

Because of Bierstadt's fascination with mountain landscapes, Mount Bierstadt in Colorado is named in his honor. Another Colorado mountain was originally named Mount Rosa, after Bierstadt's wife, but it was later renamed Mount Evans after Colorado governor John Evans.

Other posts on this blog with references to Albert Bierstadt:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Always Looking | A Year in Art

It is a genuine love for art that compels me to be always looking. Looking at paintings, drawings, sculptures, fountains, architecture, public parks, sky, water, and landscapes. Looking at color, symmetry, repetition, patterns, textures, shadows, and light. I filled my free time this year (and, sometimes that was my lunch break at work) with exhibitions, lectures, museum visits, reading artist's biographies, photography, blogging, and volunteer work at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. 

This was an artfully enjoyable year beginning with my Monuments Men mania. After the release of the movie in February, I read two books; saw an exhibition and attended a lecture about the National Gallery of Art's own Monuments Men, who participated in the World War II effort to save Europe's art treasures; published two posts on this blog and posted a dozen facts and photos on my Art According to Cary Facebook page about this subject; and watched the documentary, Rape of Europa. I'm still fascinated by this story as Nazi-looted art continues to make news headlines around the world.

In May, I participated in a National Trust for Historic Preservation Instagram contest and was invited to photograph a behind-the-scenes tour of Union Station in Washington. It was a great experience with a guide from the Trust about the current preservation efforts. It got me hooked on Instagram as an outlet for my quirky, and I hope fun and visually interesting, photographic vignettes.

Indelible artistic moments this year included seeing James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington for the first time, discovering enchanting Bartholdi Park near the U.S. Capitol, and seeing the beautifully stylized musical about Edgar Degas and the model for his famous sculpture, Little Dancer, at the Kennedy Center. And, artistic intrigue abounded daily living with my partner, an artist! 

Thank you to everyone who joined me on this journey of artistic discovery and I hope you will always keep looking.