Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Winter Sads Call for Art

Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (ca. 1590–1625 Italy), The Lament of Aminta, 1610–1615. Oil on canvas, 39" x 29 3/4" (99.1 x 75.6 cm). © Philadelphia Museum  of Art. (PMA-7014)

Even though the weather hasn’t been that bad this winter in New England (yet), I still have a major case of the sads for warm weather. What we do to beat the sads is travel 40 minutes into Boston to see every gallery on Newbury Street, and then there’s the MFA, Boston and ICA. So, we douse a dose of the sads with ART. If you’re having the winter sags, I thought you might be interested in this artist—whose name is not a household word—because his work is beautiful, and he doesn’t seem to be on the Top 40 list of art historians who write art history books. Ignore the fact that the look on the recorder player’s face reflects mine with my winter sads!

One of the most interesting things about the artists who were influenced by the style of Caravaggio (1571–1610) was that most of them put their own spin, as it were, on the over-the-top drama of Caravaggio’s work. The tendency in the Late Renaissance style of Mannerism for overblown drama, exaggeration of movement and form, and theatrical compositions resolved itself into the Baroque style (arbitrarily dated ca. 1600–1750). The Baroque was a wonderful combination of the Renaissance obsession with antiquity and realism, and the tortured forms of Mannerism.

Bartolomeo Cavarozzi was born in Viterbo, which is northwest of Rome almost half way to Siena. He settled in Rome at an early age, where he was probably trained by the painter Cristoforo Roncalli (1552–1626, also not a household name in art history), a Mannerist painter whose works influenced early works of Cavarozzi. By 1610, however, Cavarozzi had come under the influence of Caravaggio’s exciting, dramatic paintings that were available to see in Rome. Among the “Caravaggisti” (young adherents to his style), Cavarozzi (who I keep wanting to spell “Caravozzi”!) adapted the style with the least attention to the overblown, dark drama of the master. Caravozzi’s works tend to be more sentimental, although not in the sugar-coated sense.

Cavarozzi painted several versions of Aminta, one in which the young recorder player has a bright red coat. The composition if clearly in the style of Caravaggio, with the great attention to physical detail, especially in the still life objects, and the raking light across the figures that causes striking contrasts in dark and light (tenebrism). Like many of Caravaggio’s works, Cavarozzi places elements of his composition—in this case the violin—in a sharp perpendicular position to the picture plane, as if it is about the emerge from the painting. This trompe l’oeil type of realism would become a standard of Baroque still life painting.

Arminta was a play written by the poet and writer Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), who wrote it for the court of Ferrara. Ostensibly it’s a story set in the time of Alexander the Great (300s BCE) about a love-sick shepherd (Arminta) whose unrequited love for the lovely nymph (nature spirit) Silvia is eventually requited (I don’t know if I can say that but it’s staying). It’s basically an excuse for a lot of moping and melancholy dialogue, which naturally eventually became libretto for operas.

Here are some other artists influenced by Caravaggio’s style in the “Caravaggisti” camp. His style had repercussions throughout Europe, from Spain to Flanders and the Netherlands. Among the many famous Baroque artists influenced by Caravaggio’s tenebrism are numbered Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). 
Francesco Buoneri (called Cecco del Caravaggio, 1588/1590–after 1620, Italy), The Resurrection, 1619–1620. Oil on canvas, 133 1/2" x 78 1/2" (339.1 x 199.5 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (A6431)

Pietro Paolini (1603–ca. 1681, Italy), A Bacchic Concert, c. 1625–1630. Oil on canvas, 48" x 72" (122 x 183 cm). © Dallas Museum of Art. (DMA-44)

Georges de la Tour (1593–1602, France), Saint Peter Repentant, 1645. Oil on canvas, 44 7/8" x 37 3/8" (114 x 95 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-774)

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664, Spain), Saint Francis, ca. 1640–1645. Oil on canvas,81 1/2" x 42" (207 x 106.7 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFAB-104)

Judith Leyster (1609–1660, Netherlands), A Game of Tric-Trac. Oil on panel, 16 1/8" x 12 1/4" (41 x 31 cm). © Worcester Art Museum. (WAM-58)

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2, 1.4; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.5; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1, 1.2; A Community Connection: 6.2; A Personal Journey: 2.4; A Global Pursuit: 5.2, 5.4; Experience Painting: 6, Exploring Painting: 7, 10; Exploring Visual Design: 9; The Visual Experience: 9.3, 9.9, 16.2; Discovering Art History: 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Peale Women

The name “Peale” is synonymous with the First Family of American painting. The painters of the Peale family were the first “dynasty” of American art, and what a dynasty! They established norms of subject matter and style when the American painting school was in its infancy. However, mostly the Peale men are discussed in art history texts, because that’s just what most art history texts do: ignore most women artists. Many are familiar with Charles Willson (1741–1828), the patriarch of the dynasty; his brother James (1749–1831); Charles’ sons Rubens (1784–1865), Raphaelle (1774–1825) and Rembrandt (1778–1860); and even the cousin Charles Peale Polk (1767–1822). Rarely are the daughters, nieces, and women in-laws who were also professional painters mentioned in art history books. They were definitely pioneers of the American painting school like their male Peale dynasty counterparts. Here are four of them.

Anna Claypoole Peale (1798–1878), Portrait miniature of an unknown woman, 1818. Watercolor on ivory, 2 7/8" x 2 1/4" (7.3 x 5.7 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-337)
Anna Claypoole Peale played an important role in the cultural development of Philadelphia in the early 1800s. She was the daughter of James (the brother of Charles Willson). Trained by her father, Anna sold her first two paintings—copies of French landscapes—at the age of 14.

Peale was born and spent most of her life in Philadelphia, although she also made trips to Washington, DC; Boston; Baltimore; and New York to fulfill portrait commissions. Although after 1823 she relied primarily on commissions for portrait miniatures, she also continued to paint full-scale portraits, landscapes, and still life.

In 1824, Peale and her sister Sarah Miriam were the first two women to be elected members of the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Between 1824 and 1842 Anna’s reputation was such that she had more commissions than she could comfortably handle. She retired from painting in 1841 after her second marriage.

Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795–1882), Melon, Cherries and Plums, 1836. Oil on canvas, 13 3/4" x 18 15/16" (34.9 x 48.2 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6421)
Still life subjects came into their own during the first 25 years of the 1800s. Predominantly middle-class America was much the same as solidly middle-class Holland during the 1600s. Art patrons enjoyed works of art that celebrated familiar aspects of their lives. The painters of the Peale family helped elevate the genre into a first-class aspect of the American school of painting.

James Peale was known almost exclusively for his still life paintings, although he also did portraits. Margaretta Angelica, named (as Charles Willson did his sons) after famous artists: the Baroque still life painter Margerhita Caffi (1650–1710) and the Swiss Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807), was the most accomplished of James’ children in still life painting. Trained by her father, she exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy between 1828 and 1837, and is mentioned in their records between the 1820s and 1865.

Like her father and cousin, Raphaelle, Margaretta Angelica used clear outlines and generalized forms. Characteristic of Peale family still life painting, the forms are arranged on a shelf parallel to the picture plane, with a diagonal light raking across the objects, the background lit from dark to light in the opposite direction.

Anna Peale Sellers (1824–1905), Still Life with Fruit after James Peale, ca. 1875. Oil on canvas, 19" x 27" (48.3 x 68.6 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6422)

Anna Peale Sellers was the granddaughter of Charles Willson from his daughter Sophonisba Angusciola (1786–1859). Like many of the Peale painters, instruction was a family affair. She, too, learned the Peale style of still life painting. She was also an accomplished portrait painter, often copying the portraits done by her uncles or great uncle James.

The similarity to James’ still life formula is striking, with the only difference being in the direction of the raking light depicted in the background. Like her uncle, her still life objects often show slight decay, much like many Dutch Baroque still life painters did.

This is probably a copy of a James Peale work of 1825 now in the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute. The composition was also copied by her uncle Rubens and aunt Harriet Cany Peale (1800–1860), wife (and student) of Rembrandt. 

James Peale (1749–1831), A Porcelain Bowl with Fruit, 1830. Oil on canvas, 16 3/8" x 22 3/8" (41.6 x 56.8 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-441)

Mary Jane Peale (1827–1902), Charles Willson Peale (1821–1871), Son of Rubens Peale, ca. 1845. Oil on canvas, 22 7/8" x 19 5/8" (58.1 x 49.8 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6423)
Mary Jane Peale was the granddaughter of Charles Willson from Rubens. Her uncle Rembrandt was her first instructor, and she later studied with the Romantic portrait painter Thomas Sully (1783–1872). She was the last member of the Peale dynasty to work as a professional painter, carrying the Peale legacy into the 20th century.

Her portrait of her older brother is probably a copy of an existing painting. An early work, it betrays a certain naïve quality not present in her later portraits. Although she may have referenced photography in her later portraits, I doubt she referred to a Daguerreotype in 1845, because the long exposure times of those early photographic portraits was often 30 to 60 seconds and would not yield such an animated pose.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.4, 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.8; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.1, 2.7, 2.8, 7-8; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.1, 1.6; A Personal Journey 2.6; A Community Connection: 2.3, 3.4, 4.4, 6.2; Exploring Painting: 6; Experience Painting: 7, 9; The Visual Experience: 9.3, 16.3, 16.4

Monday, January 18, 2016


An artist picking up his artwork from the latest exhibit in the Davis Art Gallery, In Vision: 2D and 3D Landscape, proposed an idea for an exhibition of art related to jazz music. I’m sure the aesthetic kinship that music has with visual arts has occurred to many of you before, but I never realized it’s expressed in so many different ways!

China, Seated Musician, tomb figurine, ca. 500–550 CE. Earthenware with traces of polychrome, 8 1/4" x 5 1/8" x 4 7/16" (21 x 13 x 11.4 cm). © Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-230)
Wouldn’t it be great to listen to music forever in the afterlife? During the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1523–1027 BCE) aristocratic burials were accompanied by sacrifice of family pets, servants, horses, and guards. From the Zhou Dynasty (1027–256 BCE) through the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE), the human sacrifices were replaced by ceramic figures of familiar human attendants. I’ve always thought this is a nice way to think of the afterlife (not the human sacrifices, obviously). 

Italy, Leaf from an antiphonary, 1485. Ink, tempera and gold leaf ln parchment, 17" x 11 3/4" (43.2 x 29.8 cm). © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. (AK-1899)
The visual expression of music can be just as beautiful as the auditory. During the Middle Ages (ca. 500–1400), the major form of painting was manuscript illumination, which continued as an important genre through the Renaissance. Of the many types of books decorated, antiphonaries are among the most striking because of their use during a Christian service. They were extra-large (for manuscripts, that averaged 7 3/4" high), placed on a stand in the choir section of a church, so that monks or nuns could read the music while performing a choral service (they didn’t have printed hymnals). 

Attributed to Antoin Sevruguin (1830s–1933, Iranian, born Armenia), Group of Women Musicians, 1890s? Silver albumen print on paper, 6 3/16" x 8" (15.7 x 20.5 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2472)
I’m loving the woman with her eyes closed because the exposure time was probably about 30–60 seconds. What I would love even more is hearing the music they are playing. Sevruguin is an interesting person in the history of photography. A painter by vocation, he gave it up for photography to help support his family. Born of Armenian-Georgian parents in the Russian embassy in Tehran, and he returned to Tehran to set up a photography studio. Although his photographs were meant to appeal to Westerners as “curiosities” about the Middle East, they have provided a valuable document of everyday life in Iran at the time. 

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944, Russia), Fragment 2 for Composition VII, 1913. Oil on canvas, 34 1/2" x 39 1/4" (87.6 x 99.7 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-1812knars)
Of all the modernist pioneers of the early 1900s, Kandinsky was perhaps the most emphatic in his belief in the connection between music and painting. In his 1912 book On the Spiritual in Art, he proposed that artists should imitate music in their painting in order to achieve an expression that was free from any literary, historical, political, or physical connection. This is probably the reason so many of his paintings are entitled “composition.” 

Willi Baumeister (1889–1955, Germany), Drumbeat, 1942. Oil on cardboard, 20 7/8" x 18 1/8" (53 x 46 cm). Image courtesy of the artist/Davis Art Images. © 2016 Willi Baumeister / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (8S-724bmars)
Drumbeat is this artist’s visual tribute to the spiritual power of African music, despite the devastation of war. Baumeister was an abstract German artist, in touch with developments in Paris, Munich, and Berlin long before World War II (1939–1945). When his art was branded “degenerate” by the Nazis in 1937, he went underground and kept a low profile during the war. He studied non-Western art, particularly Asian and African, which resulted in a number of series, including his Afrika series of 1942. 

Arthur Dove (1880–1946, US), Primitive Music, 1944. Gouache on canvas, 18" x 24" (45.7 x 60.9 cm). Image © 2016 The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. (PC-112)
Dove may have been referring to the influence of African music in the word “primitive,” because he did a series of paintings based on jazz and swing music in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a pioneer (if not groundbreaking) American modernist, discarding narrative from his paintings as early as 1910, and producing a series of completely non-objective Abstraction works in 1912. He was one of the stalwarts of Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery

Robert Wesley Wilson (born 1937, US), Poster for Jefferson Airplane, 1967. Color offset lithograph on paper, 20” x 13 3/4" (50.8 x 34.9 cm). Image © 2016 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-3968)
Psychedelic rock music in the 1960s had an amazing effect on Western culture. The psychedelic aesthetic affected fashion, interior design, and, especially, visual arts. Wilson, a native Californian, developed his distinctive graphic style during the seminal counter culture period in San Francisco starting in the mid-1960s. Working in a friend’s printing business, he was free to explore a style influenced by his own political beliefs as well as those of the counter culture around him.

Romare Bearden (1911–1988, US), At Connie’s Inn from the series Of the Blues, 1974. Collage, acrylic and lacquer on Masonite, 50" x 39 3/4" (127 x 101 cm). Brooklyn Museum. © 2016 Romare Bearden Foundation, Licensed by VAGA, New York. (BMA-609bevg)
Jazz was an important part of Bearden’s life from his childhood, when his father was very involved in the artistic and jazz culture of Harlem in New York. It became an important part of his artistic output. Bearden viewed jazz and blues as a symbol of the energy of humanity, as well as one of the finest achievements pioneered by African Americans. During the 1970s he produced two series of paintings on the subject: Of the Blues and Of Jazz. At Connie’s Inn celebrates one of the famous jazz clubs in Harlem. It is particularly noted for hosting Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), who also happened to be a frequent guest in the Bearden home during his childhood. 

Arman (Armand Fernandez, 1928–2005, US, born France), Toccata and Fugue, 1962. Sliced violins mounted on wood, 65" x 52 1/2" x 5 1/4" (165.2 x 133.4 x 13.3 cm). Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-496amars)
Wed to an electronic music composer, Arman produced many works that involved musical instruments. He was an important figure in the Neo-Dada aspect of the Pop Art period, producing works that were conglomerations of found objects that he called “accumulations.” His interest in found objects began, like the work of Yves Klein (1928–1962), with impressions made in paint of found, discarded objects—particularly musical instruments—on paper or canvas. These Arman later translated to assemblages of smashed and cut up musical instruments, a comment of the waste of consumer culture.

Mayan People, Guatemala, Marimba Player with Two Quetzal Birds, 1972. Cotton, 24" (height: 61 cm). Private Collection. Image © 2016 Davis Art Images. (8S-21132)
Textiles have been a major means of artistic expression in Guatemala since the flourishing ancient Mayan cultures of Central America. This tourist weaving depicts a commonly seen street musician playing the marimba. The gourd marimba was an instrument widely used in West Africa, and evolved in Central America during the 1400s and 1500s. The first historically documented Mayan gourd marimba in Central America was in Guatemala in 1680. Accompanying the marimba player are two quetzal birds, the national symbol of Guatemala, and an important iconography in ancient Mayan art. 

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010, US, born France), Untitled, from the portfolio Fugue, 2003 / 2005, Screenprint on lithographed music sheet, 11 13/16" x 15 15/16" (30 x 40.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Louise Bourgeois/The Easton Foundation, Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P3803brvg)
Bourgeois is renowned as a pioneer abstract sculptor, but later in her career explored printmaking extensively. “Fugue” is a musical term. It describes a contrapuntal or polyphonic composition, but can also refer to the appearance of an idea and its reappearance in an alternate form. In a fugue, a main theme is introduced followed by variations in several voices, or parts. After that the principal idea is reintroduced. In Bourgeois’ Fugue certain aspects create compositional contrasts, such as the regularity of the spirals on one sheet and squares with rectangles on another. 

Monday, January 11, 2016


Well, it’s winter. Instead of ruefully awaiting spring, I prefer to look at works of art that evoke the idea of winter, one way or another. It’s always interesting to me how artists can capture some nuance of a season, be it with light, color, or composition. 

Ohara Koson (1877–1945, Japan), Willow Bridge in Winter, 1918. Color woodcut on paper, 14 5/16" x 9 1/2" (36.3 x 24.2 cm). © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-333)
With this print, I can hear the crunch of snow under foot and feel the frosty air! The Japanese artists of the Ukiyo-e style certainly perfected the atmospheric depiction of snowy weather in woodblock color prints. The perfection of this technique, using small holes in the woodblock for background colors to denote falling snowflakes was pioneered by carvers under the direction of the landscape master of the Edo Period: Hiroshige I (1797–1858). Ohara, known as Shoson after 1918, admirably mastered this technique in his ode to the heyday of the Ukiyo-e style, which includes a more solidly Western take on perspective.

Koson is one of the masters of the Shinhan-ga (new art prints) movement at the turn of the 1900s, a movement that sought to revive the subjects and style of Ukiyo-e from the Edo (1615–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. His biggest claim to fame was the exploration of the Kacho-ga (bird-and-flower) prints. These too he executed with a Western-influenced realism and perspective, marketing his prints primarily in the West.
Ernest Lawson (1873–1939, US), Winter Landscape, Washington Bridge, ca. 1907–1910. Oil on canvas, 18" x 24" (45.8 x 61 cm) without frame. © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3488)
I don’t know many artists whose paintings of New York in a winter atmosphere carry more reverie for me other than Ernest Lawson. I’ve been in New York in winter many times, and this artist really hit the nail on the head. While Manhattan is a lot more developed than it was when Lawson painted it, I feel as if I’m squinting with snowflakes hitting my eyes. 

Lawson’s attachment for Impressionism grew after a visit to Paris from 1893 to 1896, especially after he met the leading impressionist Alfred Sisley (1839–1899). Sisley and American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman (1853–1902) held the strongest influence in the development of his mature style. While in France, Lawson concentrated on painting landscapes outdoors (en plein air). In 1898 he moved to the Washington Heights section of New York, from which this scene is painted.

Compared to the other urban realists of The Eight, Lawson’s work takes on an almost lyrical nature. The brush work and strong construction of the forms are the influence of the French impressionists, while the high-key palette and frequent emphasis on winter light are the influence of Twachtman. Lawson often used a palette knife to apply thick passages of color in order to build up the surface. 

Martyl Langsdorf (1917–2013 US), Winter, from the Aerial View Series, 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 27 15/16" x 42 1/8" (71 x 107 cm). Photo courtesy of the Artist. (8S-27181)
If you’ve ever looked out of a plane window flying over winter fields or a winter townscape, then you’ll totally get this painting. Martyl was known for her abstract landscapes, and this is a perfect example how she takes common aerial views and combines them with an abstract aesthetic.

Considered a child prodigy artist by the age of eleven, Martyl studied painting at the school of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Unfortunately, she is most well-known not for her beautiful abstract landscapes and silver point drawings, but rather the “Doomsday Clock” that she designed for the cover of the Union of Atomic Scientists journal in 1947. Her husband was a nuclear scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atom bomb.

United States, Advertising poster stamp, early 1900s. Color lithograph on gummed paper. © Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE. (WIN-230)
I’m pretty sure in a couple of months we’ll all be dreaming about doing something like this as we get tired of the “W” word. The Winterthur Museum in Delaware has an astounding collection of early 1900s graphic design advertising media, from trade cards to these “poster” stamps. These printed stamps served the same function as posters, but were mobile, stuck as it were on the outside of packages, postal advertisement, and bills. They had, however, the same refined aesthetic as regular posters during the “golden age” of the poster (ca. 1910s–1940s). 

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 5.27; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 4.21

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year

Since I’m feeling lazy this week, I’m showing you Japanese New Year cards (“surimono”) again. I think they’re lovely, and who wouldn’t want to receive one of these color woodcut prints? I really wish I could read the “wayō shodō” (Japanese cursive script, remember my blog post last October?), but it is actually just beautiful to regard. 

Yoshimura Kōbun (1793–1863 Japan), Surimono with plum branch and rising sun, 1858. Color woodcut on paper, 7 1/8" x 9 3/4" (18.1 x 24.8 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2634)
The rising sun is a natural symbol for the dawning of a new year. The plum blossom, a symbol of purity and steadfastness because it brings forth beautiful flowers after a cold winter, is part of the traditionally displayed “gate pine” (kadomatsu), an arrangement of pine branches, bamboo, and plum branch decorating the inside and outside of houses at New Year. Traditionally, this arrangement was thought to be a temporary dwelling place for the deity who would bring bountiful crops come spring. Yoshimura was a print artist and painter in the late Ukiyo-e golden period. He primarily depicted landscapes and animals. 

Unknown Japanese artist, Surimono with list of auspicious calendar dates, 1867. Color woodcut on paper, 7 1/8" x 9 3/4" (18.1 x 24.8 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2701)

This card features a traditional Japanese umbrella that was sometimes used during festivals. I’m not sure if that is a prayer slip hanging from it, but the lists to the left are auspicious calendar dates for the coming year. Traditionally, there are auspicious dates in Japan for every activity, sometimes based on the day/month numbers (such as 7 July or 8 August). These days cover everything from auspicious days for weddings, business meetings, births, and even deaths. 

Unknown Japanese artist, Surimono with carp leaping in water, ca. 1860. Color woodcut on paper, 7" x 9 7/8" (17,9 x 25.1 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2630)

What better symbol for the new year than the noble carp (koi)? After all, this fish does symbolize courage, persistence, success, and strength of character, based on its habit of swimming upstream and up waterfalls in order to mate (learn more in my post about the Noble Carp). I always love the delicacy of the use of color in some of these Ukiyo-e type woodcuts. The hint of an orange glow in the sky is gorgeous.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4: Connections; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 5.29, 5.30; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.28; A Personal Journey: 4.2; A Community Connection: 1.2, 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Communicating Through Graphic Design: 1; The Visual Experience: 9.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.4

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rookwood, A National Treasure

Rookwood Factory (1880–1967, Cincinnati), Clara Newton (decorator, 1848–1936), Pitcher, 1882. Glazed earthenware, 6 1/2" x 3 3/4" x 2 1/8" (16.5 x 9.5 x 5.4 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5273)
I’m a really big fan of American “art pottery, so you can just imagine me doing a little jig of joy in my office when we recently acquired this gorgeous pitcher from the Brooklyn Museum! If I could fit a kiln into my living room and a potters wheel I’d give up painting, because the decoration of this pitcher looks totally Impressionistic / Expressionistic.

I TOTALLY love Rookwood, because, not only did I once have lunch in the kiln (Rookwood factory is now a restaurant) with my godmother in Cincinnati, but because so many of their works have a painterly quality in their decoration (guess why I like that). Also, in the Fisher Mansion in Indianapolis, every room has a Rookwood fireplace mantle and surround! Gorgeous!

The art pottery movement in America began in the 1870s. It is suggested that the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 exposed American ceramic artists to Arts and Crafts movement ceramics from England. Many artists who later worked for art pottery kilns were inspired by the Philadelphia exhibition. Scholars define American art pottery as a type of ware made from the 1870s to the 1920s. 

Starting in the 1880s, pottery painting had become very popular among American women. It was considered a "refined" occupation for women to undertake. This was due to the fact that the art form could be executed in the home. The popularity of pottery painting among American women spread quickly and pottery societies were formed under women’s leadership all over the country. They soon changed from simply painting pottery to modeling, firing and glazing ceramics. Ironically, an art vocation meant to keep women in the home actually led to hundreds of women working in pottery factories throughout the US.

Maria Longworth Nichols founded the Rookwood Pottery manufactory after visiting the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. She was an enthusiast for decorating ceramics. In Philadelphia she was impressed by the Arts and Crafts style coming out of England, and also of the understated elegance of Japanese ceramics. The common perception at the time was that American ceramics were inferior to European and Asian works. Nichols sought to change that when she established Rookwood, believing that quality ceramics could emerge from an environment filled with talent, ideas and inspiration, regardless of gender. She became the first woman head of a manufacturing company in the US.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on Clara Newton, but apparently she was an artist at Rookwood in the early days. Her decoration of this pitcher soooooo anticipates designs in Art Nouveau art works! Additionally, I wonder if her painterly background was influenced by the recently-introduced-in-America painting style of Impressionism?

Here are some other beautiful works from Rookwood. Shirayamadani was an immigrant from Japan and I find his pieces absolutely stunning. 

Ewer, 1884. Glazed earthenware, height: 11 3/8" (28.9 cm). © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-754A)
Kataro Shirayamadani (decorator, born Japan, 1865–1948)  Vase, 1900. Glazed, painted earthenware, height: 17 3/8" (44 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2274)
Edward Timothy Hurley (decorator, 1869–1950), Vase, ca. 1912. “Vellum” glazed stoneware, 9 1/4" x 4" (23.5 x 10.2 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6712)

Correlations to Davis Programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.35, 6.35-36 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 6.23-24 studio; A Community Connection: 2.6, 5.2; A Personal Journey: 3.1, 3.4; Experience Clay: 4, 5; Exploring Visual Design: 11; The Visual Experience: 10.6, 12.4, 16.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

National Monkey Day

I always admit I’m never too old to learn. This week I learned about National/International Monkey Day, which fell on the 14th of December. The commemorative day has only been around since 2000, dreamt up by two Michigan State University art students who subsequently promoted it in their artwork. Since then it has been internationally “celebrated,” the major emphasis being on preservation of primates and their natural habitats. There is that promotes the holiday and all sorts of primate news, and interestingly, a group named Primates Incorporated that guarantees the welfare of monkeys who leave research labs, private ownership, and the entertainment industry!

This monkey business leads to yet another interesting art historical character, a guy known as the “Professor of Toys”: Shimizu Seifu (18511913) (you can see more of his work in my recent Noble Carp post). Shimizu’s work probably falls on the “Nihon-ga” side of the late 1800s battle in Japan between Western style (“yo-ga”) and Nihon-ga (Japanese style) art. Nihon-ga artists were trying to preserve traditional Japanese art forms and subject matter in the onslaught of Western influences that flooded Japan after it was forced open to Western trade by the US in the 1850s. 

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey toys, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 1/2" (20.3 x 14 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3638)
One of the interesting aspects of the Nihon-ga/yo-ga dichotomy in late 1800s Japanese art is that it provided a springboard for a lukewarm revival of the admiration for woodblock prints. The Ukiyo-e style really flagged in popularity during the 1880s and 1890s. Artists around the turn of the century did a semi-revival of the art form and it was the impetus for a revival of not only woodblock printing but also of traditional subjects such as theater prints, beautiful women prints, and prints chronicling traditional Japanese folk arts, such as toys.

Shimizu founded the “Hobbyhorse Club” in 1880 or 1887, which was dedicated to aficionados of traditional Japanese toys. He was a wealthy businessman, artist, calligrapher, and the leading collector of folk art toys during his lifetime. He studied painting and printmaking under Hiroshige III (Sadaime Hiroshige Utagawa, 1842/1843–1894), a pupil of the great landscape master Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). His large personal collection of folk toys was the inspiration for his publication of the series of ten volumes of woodblock prints, documenting his collection. The Child’s Friend (Unai no tomo) was one of the most comprehensive publications of an ethnographic nature in the history of Japanese art. I think that these prints of monkey toys represent the Japanese macaque, sometimes called the “snow monkey,” with its distinctive red face.

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey riding a bull toy, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 9/16" (20.3 x 14.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3646)

Shimizu Seifu (1851–1913, Japan), Monkey and ox toys, from the series of volumes A Child’s Friends, 1891–1923. Color woodcut on paper, 8" x 5 9/16" (20.3 x 14.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-3725)
In 1906 Shimizu organized the first exhibition ever of traditional Japanese toys, many of them hand- made from common materials, and many from his personal collection. He published the first six volumes of Unai no tomo, and the remaining four were published by the painter Nishizawa Tekiho (1889–1965).

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 5: 4.22, 4.Connections; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 1.12; A Community Connection: 8.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Experience Printmaking: 4; The Visual Experience: 3.5, 9.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 4.4