Monday, April 24, 2017

The Bill for Art

No, this is not some sort of philosophical jaunt through current government threats to cut all funding for the arts and libraries, though goodness knows that could be a college dissertation. Actually, yesterday I realized I was going to be late paying our cable bill and the art history nerd in me suddenly came up with the idea to show you works of art that feature different uses of the word “bill” in the title.  

William Harnett (1848–1892, US, born Ireland), Still Life—Five Dollar Bill, 1877. Oil on canvas, 7 7/8" x 12 3/16" (20 x 31 cm). © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2804)

Brought to the US as an infant from Ireland, Harnett was apprenticed as a silver engraver for currency as a youth. Obviously, that led to a life of crime (art)! In 1886, New York police grabbed this painting from the bar where it hung and Harnett was arrested for counterfeiting! A judge looked at the painting and told Harnett to avoid such “mischief.” Harnett never painted money again, but another trompe l’oeil artist, John Haberle (1856–1933) made it his specialty. I don’t know if he was ever arrested.

Harnett turned to painting in 1866, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the National Academy of Design in New York. In New York, he first began to exhibit still-life paintings. He preferred still life because he could not afford models. Harnett’s preference for still life was reinforced when he went to London and Frankfurt in 1880. He was much impressed by Dutch Baroque still life, which he studied carefully while in Europe. 

Senufo People (Ivory Coast), Hornbill (Porpianong Bird), 1900s. Wood, metal and pigment, height: 63" (160 cm). © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-753)

Large sculptures of the hornbill bird (Porpianong) were traditionally commissioned by the Lo and Poro societies of the Senufo as representatives of fertility. The Porpianong was traditionally considered the “founder” of the Senufo people. Worn traditionally on the head during dance or processions, the sculptures depict the bird’s long bill touching a fertilized stomach, a symbol of procreation. The wings are usually represented as a square with painted designs.

Hornbills mate for life and are considered to share in the raising of their young. They protect their young by spreading out their wings. This would probably account for the square, shield-like wings in many Porpianong sculptures.

The Senufo people (also called Siena and Sene) are an ethnic group living in Ivory Coast, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Many of them live in the Middle Volta valley, between the Bagoe, Bani, and Mouhoun Rivers in West Africa. Senufo ancestry is not fully known, but they are believed to have migrated northward from the area around Odienne in Ivory Coast. They are now known as distinctly northern, central, and southern Senufo. They have traditionally worshipped ancestors and earth spirits, but many have converted to Islam since the 1700s.

Courier Lithograph Company (printer, ca. 1848–1926, Buffalo, NY), copy after Charles E. Stacy (1873–1926?, US), “Buffalo Bill” Cody—I Am Coming poster, ca. 1900. Chromolithograph on paper, 26 ½" x 40 9/16" (67.3 x 103.1 cm). © 2017 Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. (SI-18)

I’m not even going to touch on the implications of Cody’s Christ-like “I am coming” statement on this poster. In fact, I’m not touching at all on the questionable ethics of his “Wild West Show.” I’m using his name merely as a vehicle to give praise to a 19th century sensation: the chromolithograph.

Chromo—or color—lithography works much on the same principle as multiple block woodcuts, using a litho stone for each color. Alois Senefelder (1771–1834, Czech-German), the developer of the black and white lithograph around 1798, had envisioned color lithography, but never realized it. The first patent taken out on chromolithographs was in 1837 in France. The first chromos were produced in the US in 1840.

By the post-Civil War (1860–1865) period in the US, chromolithography had created what some critics called a “chromo civilization.” By the 1880s, when the fad was fading, it was said that 4 out of 6 homes in the West were decorated with chromolithographic copies of either Currier and Ives prints or schlocky genre scenes. The great lithographer Louis Prang (1824–1909) pushed the sale of cheap chromolithograph reproductions of art, because he felt that art was not only for the elite.

The Buffalo Bill is a fine example of a chromolithograph in all its glory, right down to the spit coming out of the buffalo’s mouth. I’m wondering if the running buffalo were taken from one of the numerous studies of thundering buffalo executed by George Catlin (1796–1872) in the early 1800s. Regardless of that, the Courier Company was most famous for its posters rather than its reproductions of paintings. Their most famous posters were done for Buffalo Bill and the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956 Russia), Handbill for “The Bedbug,” a play by Ivan Mayakovsky (1893–1930). Letterpress on paper, 6 7/8” x 10 3/8" (17.5 x 26.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 Aleksandr Rodchenko / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-D1054rdvg)

It’s interesting that so many of the Russian avant-garde artists warmly embraced Communism as a “salvation” from the country’s imperialist past. Ironically, this advertisement is for a play (“Klop” is Russian for bedbug) in which Mayakovsky throws shade on the swindlers and new elitists of the Communist party, who ultimately, in the playwright’s mind, become archaic curiosities in the successful Communist dream state of the future.

Rodchenko was born to a working-class family in Saint Petersburg, studying art in an academic milieu. Moving to Moscow in 1915, he was immediately drawn to the avant-garde, particularly the Suprematist theories of Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935). Malevich believed that pure abstraction helped elevate and express the spiritual. As an ardent Communist in the coming revolution (1917), Rodchenko turned to the abstract theories of Constructivism, based in geometry and the influence of machines and building. Constructivism advocated for social transformation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Not an Easter Egg

On our planet, the egg has been almost universally viewed as a symbol of rebirth and fertility since ancient times (imagine ancient eyes seeing something living come out of something hard and apparently inanimate!). Cosmic eggs are also the part of many creation stories around the world. Hardly surprising that it was adopted by the early Christians as one of the symbols of Christ’s resurrection. Eggs were symbols in spring equinox ceremonies throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East in ancient days. As we know, many Christian holidays and symbols stem from pre-Christian practices. But, as this is not a religious blog, these interesting works of art are as close as I’m coming to the subject of Easter! 

Unknown American Artist, Egg Salad, ca. 1850. Oil on canvas, 8 ½" x 11 ¼" (21.6 x 28.6 cm). © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-133)

This isn’t usually what contemporary American’s conjure up in their minds when they yearn after egg salad. Where’s the mayo? But, honestly, every time I see this painting when I’m at the MFA, it makes me hungry. And what is more representative of the no-nonsense realism—even in the most common things—that characterizes early American art?

As far as the still-life genre in American painting, it really didn’t exist until the Peale family came on the scene in the latter half of the 1700s. Before the second decade of the 1800s, still-life works were confined to botanical studies. Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), the patriarch of the Peale “dynasty,” turned over his successful portrait miniature business to his brother James (1739–1831) in 1795. When James’s eyesight began to fail (go figure) around 1820, he began painting still life.

James is really credited as the instigator of the craze over still life by American patrons, but I’ve always considered Rembrandt Peale’s (1778–1860) portrait of his brother Rubens (1784–1865), Rubens Peale with a Geranium (National Gallery of Art), to be an outstanding early still life (1801). It is thought to have been the first geranium introduced in America, and it really does vie with Rubens for the star spot. 

Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860), Rubens Peale with a Geranium, 1801. Oil on canvas, 28 1/8" x 24" (71.4 x 61 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (NGA-P0381)

Another brother of Rubens and Rembrandt, Raphaelle (1774–1825), was primarily a still-life painter. Two daughters of James, Anna Claypoole (1791–1878) and Margaretta Angelica (1795–1882), were also primarily still-life painters. Mary Jane Peale (1827–1902), daughter of Rubens, carried the Peale still-life painting dynasty into the 20th century! 

Marcel Wanders, designer (born 1963, Netherlands) and Moooi B.V., manufacturer (2001 to present, Breda, Netherlands), Medium Egg Vase, designed 1997. Porcelain, 5 3/4" x 4" x 3 ½" (14.5 x 10.2 x 9 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6701)

This is definitely not an Easter egg! An unusual porcelain vessel, it is one of a set of three of differing sizes. What they all share in common is how they were created. The designer, Marcel Wanders, formed the mold from hard-boiled eggs that were encased in latex condoms. But, using unconventional and innovative materials is one of the hallmarks of the work of this Dutch designer.

Wanders was born in Boxtel, Netherlands, and graduated from the School of the Arts in Arnhem in 1988. He first came to attention with his innovative Knotted Chair in 1995 that he made in collaboration with Droog Design in Amsterdam. It is constructed with carbon and aramide fiber cord, and an epoxy resin finish. Wanders emphasizes creating designs that stress humanity and a down-to-earth aesthetic.

Wanders has designed works for many of the major design firms, such as Cappellini (1946–present, Arosio, Italy), Droog Design (1993–present, Amsterdam), Flos (1962–-present, Brescia, Italy), and others. He founded his own firm of Moooi—a tricked up version of the Dutch word mooi, or “beautiful” —in 2000. Wanders also extends his talents to architectural and interior design, and in the last few years the design of home appliances. 

Sudo Reiko, designer (born 1953, Japan), and NUNO Corporation, manufacturer (1984 to present, Tokyo), Big Egg textile, 2003. Polyester organdy with paper appliqué, width 39" (99.1 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2017 Sudo Reiko. (PMA-7141)

This fabulous fabric was designed by one of my favorite fiber artists, Reiko Sudo. If you have read my blog for a while now, you know how much I love the revolutionary designs of Sudo. Failing the entrance exam in order to become a kimono designer, she founded NUNO Corporation in 1984 with Jun’ichi Arai (born 1932). Nuno means “cloth” in Japanese. The company is dedicated to designing and producing textiles in combinations of unconventional materials and techniques, according to traditional Japanese aesthetics and in an eco-friendly way.

When they started NUNO, Sudo and Jun’ichi were on the cutting edge, being among the first to use computers to design textiles. Designs such as Big Egg are meant to be versatile, used for fashion or interior design. Big Egg is made from Eichizen washi papers applied to ramie (a fibrous Asian plant stem) ovals and then to polyester. Materials such as this are made in limited quantities and are not mass-produced, industrially milled to simulate the aesthetic of hand-looming. 

Ogata Gekko (1859–1920, Japan), White Rabbit, ca. 1890–1910. Color woodcut print on paper, (9 1/2" x 9 7/8") 24.1 x 25.1 cm. © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2378)

Since this post has a vaguely Easter theme, I couldn’t leave you without a good art work of a rabbit, though it’s no Easter Bunny!

Like Sudo Reiko, I’ve also blogged about Ogata Gekko in the past. I’m fond of artists who don’t quite fit into one stylistic category or another, and he certainly typifies that quality. A devoted follower of Chinese painting traditions, he was renowned in his time for his sophisticated lacquer work. During the 1880s he became committed to the rejuvenation of the ukiyo-e tradition of multiple woodblock prints, although he developed a style that avoided the overt linearity of the tradition prints of that style. His woodblock prints, where possible, imitated brush work. One sees that in this bunny in the gentle shading of the form.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hanami in Spring

Terasaki Kōgyō (1866–1919), Cherry Blossoms and Moon. Ink and light color on silk, 46 ¾" x 18 3/16" (118.8 x 46.2 cm). © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1017)

With warm weather finally starting to return, I’m going to continue to celebrate spring with ART. Hanami is Japanese for “blossom viewing,” and is the name given to the annual spring cherry blossom viewing that takes place in Japan between March and May/June. The time span is wide because of the many species of sakura (cherry blossoms) that have different blooming times, and some of very short duration. The Japanese gave the US government more than 3000 cherry trees in 1912, and those have their own Hanami in Washington, DC every year. Naturally, cherry blossoms play a big part in Japanese art.

The beautiful painting above is by an artist who is part of the interesting state of society in late 1800s Japan. While the country was industrializing and “modern(western)izing” at a fantastic rate, there was a lot of push back from Japanese who wanted to preserve traditional aesthetics and values. The veneration of the cherry blossom period is so lovely, it has resulted in masterpieces like this. In Japan, the cherry blossom is the symbol of, naturally, rebirth. In fact, I think I read somewhere that the school year in Japan starts in Spring rather than Autumn, because it is such an auspicious time.

Tersaki was born Terasaki Chutaro in Kyoto, the son of a poor samurai who was in service to a regional warlord (daimyo). Kyoto was the center of the Maruyama/Shijō “school” of painting that was both a reaction to and receptive of Western influence. It evolved out of the work of Maruyama Okyō (1733–1795), a painter school in the traditional Kanō School, who followed the traditions of Nanga (Southern School, or, traditional Chinese monochromatic painting), but who instilled in his work a respect for naturalism through direct observation. He also adapted techniques of Western chiaroscuro (nuances of dark and light) to build form. Terasaki, too, was trained in the Kanō tradition before moving to Edo (Tokyo) in 1888.

In Edo Terasaki studied with the Maruyama/Shijō painter Sugawara Hakuryu (1833–1898). Training with Sugawara combined with his Kanō training helped Terasaki develop a unique personal style. This piece probably pre-dates 1893, the year a fire destroyed his body of work in his studio. He thereafter decided to abandon traditional forms of expression and focused on images of beautiful women (bijin) in a more westernized style and book illustration. This painting of cherry blossoms in moonlight definitely reveals the influence of the Maruyama/Shijō style in the sophisticated nuances in value. 

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino, from a Snow, Moon and Flowers series, ca. 1832–1833. Color woodcut print on paper, 9 13/16" x 14 15/16" (25 x 38 cm). © 2017 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1407)

I’m sure none of you questions that I have a soft spot for the founders of the landscape genre in the ukiyo-e style, Hokusai and Hiroshige to be specific. They just seem to capture such elegant, subtle statements of visual experience—such as falling rain and snow, mist, and clouds—that it is no wonder this charming piece is so magnificent. Of course, this print is also a tribute to the artists who actually cut the woodblocks with Hokusai’s drawing and achieved the beautiful nuances in pinks of the blossoms! If you’ve ever seen the cherry blossoms in DC, this is what they look like from a distance.

Hokusai is credited with creating the importance of landscape and bird-and-flower prints in ukiyo-e.  Born the son of an artist, he began drawing in earnest at the early age of five. He is thought to have learned drawing and painting from his father, who painted designs around mirrors he made for the shogun (the military dictator).

Hokusai’s lasting contribution to Japanese art, of course, was the introduction of landscape series of woodblock prints. His "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" had a lasting impact on the younger Hiroshige, and was so popular that it was published numerous times. His interest in landscapes started when he was in the Shunshō School. Impatient at having to produce actor prints, he studied the landscape tradition of the rival Kanō School, based in the great tradition of Japanese landscape painting.

Hokusai produced several Snow, Moon and Flowers and Snow, Moon, Wind and Flowers series. These poetic series usually contained references to revered poetry about these natural subjects, while featuring them in locations the Japanese traveling public would recognize. I love the wonky angle of the torii (gate) in the background of this print! 

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), Cherry Blossoms with Pine Needle Border, from the series Comparison of Flowers, ca. 1880. Color woodcut print on paper, 6 1/2" x 9 7/16" (16.5 x 24.5 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4635)

Shibata Zeshin is such an interesting artist. This print reminds me of his New Year’s Cards (surimono). And those include precisely carved cursive Japanese to boot! Prints in series like this are not a scientific comparison of flora, like Western Florilegia, but rather aesthetic and symbolic. Cherry blossoms, symbols of fertility and rebirth, are a likely companion to the pine, which symbolizes strength and eternity (because it’s an evergreen, I guess). I particularly like the disassembled pine tree in the lower left, comprised of clumps of needles.

Shibata Zeshin lived through tremendous cultural and artistic changes in Japan after the US forced Japan open to Western trade in 1854. The Ansei Earthquake of 1855 destroyed much of Edo (Tokyo), and the Meiji “restoration” theoretically put authority back in the hands of an emperor rather than a military dictator (shogun). 

Shibata was born in Edo, son of an ukiyo-e print artist who had studied under Katsukawa Shunshō (1726–1793). He began an apprenticeship at age 11 to a lacquer artist. At 13 he was apprenticed to the artist Suzuki Nanrei (1775-1844) to learn how to draw. While studying under Nanrei, he acquired the name Zeshin (“true artist”). He also studied in Kyoto, where he learned about Japanese history and Buddhist traditions, studying the tea ceremony, waka and haiku poetry, and philosophy.

Perhaps because of his training in Kyoto, Shibata resisted the urge to study Western art after 1853 and persisted in paintings that reflected Japanese tradition. He is one of the most traditional of the late artists who worked with Ukiyo-e themes. However, his insistence on tradition makes prints such as this one put Western influence in the rear-view mirror.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 4

Beverly Pepper (born 1924, US), Double Pyramid, 1971. Cor-Ten steel, 8'8" x 23' x 25' (270 x 700 x 760 cm). Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. © 2017 Beverly Pepper. (WAM-686)

I think a grossly under-spotlighted artist is Beverly Pepper. I love her huge primary structures that are so elegant and simple. I have to say that any artist who works in such large, Cor-Ten steel constructions has always got my attention, especially the oxidation of the surfaces!

Minimalist sculpture on a large scale is sometimes called Primary Structure. Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptures was a 1966 exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibition consisted of monumental single and multi-unit masses, usually based on geometric shapes. These works evolved out of the constructivist sculpture of the first two decades of the 1900s, on a larger scale. The works were constructed out of industrially-produced materials.

Since the 1960s, Pepper has been a sculptor of monumental minimal sculptures. While they reflect the scale and material of "primary structures," they are infused with a personal mysticism that is avoided by Minimalist, primary structure artists.

Pepper was born in Brooklyn and studied at Pratt Institute when she was 16. She originally wanted to study graphic and industrial design and photography. She also took courses at the Art Students League, but worked in advertising until 1948, when she moved to Europe.

In Paris, Pepper studied painting with the Cubist realist André Lhote (1885–1962) and Machine Cubist Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Her first paintings depicted social themes. After Paris, the artists moved to Todi, Italy. A trip to Asia where Pepper saw Cambodian temple sculpture inspired her to turn to sculpture. She initially carved in wood, but she was inspired to work in steel after seeing the work of David Smith (1906–1965), who lived in a nearby Italian town. She soon thereafter became apprenticed to a master ironworker, and showed her first welded, outdoor sculptures with Smith and Calder in Spoleto in 1962.

Pepper began working exclusively with Cor-Ten steel in the 1970s. Her works often explore the themes of growth, rejuvenation, and continuity. Her works often appear to grow from the earth in which they are situated. That organic aspect to the piece is contrasted with the asymmetry and sense of floating that defies either balance or a notion of stability.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 3

Graciela Iturbide (born 1942, Mexico), Untitled, 1981. Gelatin silver print on paper, 12" x 8" (30.5 x 20.3 cm) Brooklyn Museum. © 2017 Graciela Iturbide. (BMA-1990)

The work of Graciela Iturbide is a good example of how photography expanded in conception and expression after World War II (1939–1945). There have been quite a few other women photographers who have documented indigenous peoples of Central and South America, among them Claudia Andujar (Brazil, born 1931 Switzerland) and Mary Ellen Mark (1940–2015). I’d rather see the idea of the “Family of Man” represented by artists such as this rather than the Western European/American slant on “cultural relativism.” I can’t say enough about how important I think the work of artists like Iturbide is in broadening people’s grasp on the incredible diversity of humanity.

Although many photographers in Mexico continued to observe European and American aesthetics in photography after World War II, there was a growing rejection among Central and South American artists to the idea of the “American Way of Life,” a socio-economic yardstick that was held up as the standard of a successful society.

In 1978, the First Colloquium of Latin American Photographers was held in Mexico City. What emerged from that was the attempt to explore a separate and distinctive identity in Latin American art.
In Mexico, photographers had already turned in a major way to local subject matter before that meeting in Mexico City. Iturbide was among those photographers who documented urban and rural ordinary people. Her focus is often on the adaptation of traditional life to the contemporary world. The urge to trace the persistence of ancient, pre-conquest cultural aspects in the modern world is a common thread in contemporary Mexican photography.

Born in Mexico City, Iturbide was exposed to photography as a young woman. She turned to photography as a vocation in 1970, and then studied filmography and cinema at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos at the National University of Mexico. There she met her mentor, the great Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902–2002). She became interested in photographing Mexico’s indigenous cultures and the life of Mexicans along the Mexican-American border.

This image reflects Iturbide’s interest in feminism. It was shot in the town of Juchitán, Oaxaca, where the women dominated town life. Her photographs reveal her strong sense of the dignity of every human being. This respect has led her in recent years to document the relationship of human beings with the natural environment.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 2

Julia Morgan (1872–1957, US), Saint John’s Presbyterian Church (now the Julia Morgan Center), Berkeley, California, 1908–1910. Photo © 2017 Oliver Radford. (RAD-183)

There aren’t many women architects who share the star power of names such as Mies van der Rohe or I.M. Pei, but, like many things in the old timey art history books—like sculpture—architecture was considered male territory. Well, Julia Morgan’s nearly 700 completed buildings would tend to negate that view, and we need to honor her during Women’s History Month.

This charming former church is a West Coast version of the Arts and Crafts style that was big at the time. Her employing leaded glass, casement windows, and overhanging eaves are the same attributes of the style seen in Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867–1959) houses of the same period.

Morgan was born in San Francisco and grew up in Oakland. Her parents wanted a higher education for their daughter, an unusual attitude about young women in the 1890s. She attended UC Berkeley, an overwhelmingly male school, and gradually decided to study architecture. She was the first woman to graduate from Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering (1894).

While studying at Berkeley she attracted the attention of the famous architect Bernard Maybeck (1862–1957). After hiring her, he suggested that Morgan study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the most prestigious architecture school in the world at the time. Morgan became the first woman to enroll in that school. Morgan graduated in 1902 from the École des Beaux-Arts where training was in a historicist (revival of historical styles) vein.

She opened an office in San Francisco. In a period when many architects were beginning to experiment with modernism, Morgan's designs persistently remained conservative and respectful of her clients' tastes. One of her more famous commissions was her work on William Randolph Hearst's famous castle San Simeon, which lasted from 1919 to 1938.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Artists Who Should Be Stars of Women’s History Month, part 1

Arapaho Culture, Pouch, late 1800s or early 1900s. Hide, beads, porcupine quills, deer hooves, sinew, fiber thread, 5 1/8" and 5 1/8" (13 x 13 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1566)

Even unknown women artists deserve to be given the star treatment, especially during Women’s History Month! I may have learned as a child to carefully lay burnt matches side by side in glue on paper to form star patterns, but I don’t think that equals the sophistication of native quill work. It is an art form that has always fascinated me because it is so darn time-consuming. The origin of this bag, now backed with modern leather, is foggy—either it was a pouch to carry valued personal objects or it acted as tipi decoration.

The Arapaho are a Plains culture that is thought to have migrated from the northeast during the 1600s to 1700s. Historically they were settled in Colorado and Wyoming. Nomadic buffalo hunters, they preferred to winter in the Boulder, Colorado area. By the 1700s, there were some branches of the culture in the Dakotas and Montana. By the time of white contact, the Arapaho extended from northern New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas to Wyoming and South Dakota. Successive “treaties” with the US stripped them of their ability to roam, consigning the Southern Arapaho to central Oklahoma (after 1864/1865), and the Northern Arapaho to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming (after 1878), which they shared with their traditional enemies, the Shoshone.

Unlike other Native arts—such as the jewelry and weaving of the Navajo, the ledger painting of the Sioux, and the numerous types of trade art that rely on traditional forms—quill work is one Native art form that has fallen into relative obscurity. Only recently has it been given renewed attention by several First Nations artists. Quilling is an art form that has been done traditionally only by women.

Porcupine quill work is one of the oldest aboriginal art forms. It is a time-consuming and multi-step process. First the quills must be prepared for use: they are sorted according to size, cleaned, and dyed. In the traditional manner, the artist would draw the quills repeatedly through her teeth which made them supple. The quills, split in half down the middle, are then applied to the design. They can be arranged in a zigzag pattern, plaited, parallel folded, banded, or woven.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Artistic Legacy of Conquest, part 2

This week's look at Spanish Colonial art continues, inspired by the exhibit Highest Heaven, currently on view at the Worcester Art Museum.

Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768 Mexico), Doña Maria de la Luz Padilla y Cervantes, ca. 1755–1760. Oil on canvas, 43" x 33" (109.2 x 83.8 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-389)

I don’t know if this woman looks miserable because: a. the paniers (side hoops) of her skirt are very unwieldy, or b. she’s unsure the velvet beauty marks (chiqueadores) are really a hot beauty item, as they were in France at the time. Either way, I think the flowers she’s holding indicate this may be a wedding portrait.

By the end of the 1600s, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, centered in Mexico City, had established social customs based on the model of European monarchies. The social hierarchy of elite classes consisted of the following, in order of the most honored: families born of European Spanish blood (peninsulares), those of Spanish descent born in Mexico (criolles), and those of Spanish descent married to Aztec royalty (mestizo).

Miguel Cabrera was an indigenous Mexican painter from the Zapotec culture in Oaxaca. He was universally recognized during his lifetime and the century that followed as the greatest painter of New Spain. He was born in Antequera and moved to Mexico City in 1719.

Cabrera may have been trained either by the Rodríguez Juárez brothers (Juan, 1675–1728 and Nicolás 1667–1734), or by José de Ibarra (1688–1756). Ibarra is considered the key artist in the transition in Mexico from the Baroque style to the Rococo. This painting shows the strong affinity of Cabrera’s work to that of the Baroque Spanish artists Murillo and Zurbarán. The subdued, dramatic lighting; theatrical composition; and dark palette are all typical of Spanish Baroque painting.

Cabrera was the favorite painter of the archbishop of Mexico City—of the Jesuit order and of the Mexican nobility—so he enjoyed many lucrative commissions. Although famed for his portraiture, portraits are outnumbered by religious works in his body of work. In 1753, he founded Mexico’s first academy of painting and served as its perpetual president. 

José Francisco Xavier Salazar y Mendoza (1750–1802, born Mexico, active in US), Portrait of a Man. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2" x 28" (92.7 x 71.1 cm). © 2017 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-206)

Indeed, Spanish Colonial art also originated in the US. Most Americans forget that large parts of the South and Southwest were home to Spanish colonists before other Europeans from British and French colonies, and, of course, before the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). This beauty of a portrait comes from an expatriate Mexican artist who settled in New Orleans.

The French founded New Orleans in 1718. It was ceded to Spain in 1762 as part of the peace negotiations with Spain at the end of the Seven Years War (1756–1763). Only under Spanish domination did New Orleans begin to flourish and establish an urban identity, becoming a center of trade. New Orleans was handed back to the French in 1800 after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. He sold it to the United States in 1803.

With the increased prosperity came a desire by New Orleans’ well-to-do to patronize the arts. Since the city had no native artists, and no art school existed until the end of the 1800s, many of the artists who rose to prominence under Spanish rule were from Mexico. Salazar y Mendoza was the best known of those artists and the most sought after for portraiture commissions at the time.

Originally from Mérida on the Yucatan in Mexico, Salazar and his family moved to then-Spanish-ruled New Orleans around 1782. Already an accomplished artist trained in the Spanish Rococo style, he received numerous commissions for portraits of prominent families and community leaders. Under his tutelage, his daughter Francisca because an artist and assisted him in his studio. He may have also been assisted by his brother.

Salazar’s portrait of a prosperous gentleman reflects his awareness of Spanish portraiture of the period. The emphasis in Rococo portraits was a subtle idealization of the subject’s features, emphasis on luxurious garments, and elegance of bearing that would reflect the status and refinement of the sitter. Like most Spanish Rococo portraits, the palette is somewhat darker than that in French and English portraits of the same period. The neutral background is similar to those seen in American portraits of the period. 

Cuba, Easy chair, ca. 1825–1850. Mahogany with old and new caning, 43" x 35 3/4" x 35 3/8" (109.2 x 90.8 x 89.9 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5127)

Am I the only one who thinks this chair has a set of big ears? Seriously, this is what happens when 1800s revival instincts kicked in in furniture design. This chair, called butaca, displays influences from Rococo (the wavy wings and top rail), Renaissance (the klismos-like x-legs), and Baroque (the turned arm posts) furniture. It was probably modeled on the early 1700s wing chair, although, ironically, wing chairs were meant to retain heat in front of a fireplace. A cane chair probably wouldn’t do that.

Because Cuba was not free of Spanish control until the early 1900s, the dominant influence on Cuban arts was European, with some indigenous aspects. This chair is apparently based on some type of more ancient Mesoamerican form of x-leg camp chair. This style of butaca was apparently popular throughout the Caribbean Spanish colonies starting at the end of the 1700s. Rather than for grand public rooms of elite families, it was intended for intimate domestic spaces.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Artistic Legacy of Conquest, part 1

The Worcester Art Museum is having an amazing exhibition entitled Highest Heaven (March 11–July 9, 2017). It is a traveling exhibit of the fabulous religious art produced in Spanish colonial Central and South America, and their conquered lands in the Caribbean, from the Huber Collection of New York. I’m not sure how “heavenly” life was for the indigenous peoples of these regions, but they certainly had a hand in producing many of the gorgeous works of art from the 1600s through the earliest 1800s.

In some cases, indigenous forms were adapted by the Spanish conquerors and Europeanized. In other cases, indigenous artists learned European techniques and adapted that to their own subject matter. This show puts me in mind of the groundbreaking one held at the Brooklyn Museum called America South of the US (November 1941 to January 1942). That exhibit highlighted objects from more than 1400 works the Brooklyn Museum had acquired in 1941, the earliest collection of Latin American art by a major American museum.

Today and tomorrow I will feature some examples of Spanish Colonial, not-strictly-religious, art from our image library—mostly from the Brooklyn Museum. The Huber collection from which the Worcester exhibition is drawn, has been all over the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2013), the San Antonio Art Museum (2016) and the Crocker Art Museum (2016). 

Peru, Kero (beaker), from Cuzco, 1600s–1700s. Wood with inlaid pigment, 7 1/2" x 6 5/16" (19.1 x 16 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-938)

While only wooden kero (beaker) examples survive from the Inka culture of pre-conquest Peru, it is known that other cultures, such as the Chimú, made kero of gold and silver for the elite classes. Wooden kero with inlaid pigment decoration were common among the Inka, usually made in matching pairs for drinking corn beer. This genre of vessel continued among the indigenous Peruvians after the Spanish invasion, independent of any influence by European vessels.

The kero usually had a painted scene of the subjugation of a culture considered hostile to the Inka. This practice continued under Spanish domination. Subjugated people were often beheaded after defeat, and their skulls were sometimes made into kero. This head-form vessel is probably an allusion to that practice. 

Peru, Incense burner, 1600s–1800s. Silver, 8" x 3 13/16" x 3 3/8" (20.3 x 9.8 x 8.6 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1265)

Silver working was a refined art form among the indigenous Peruvians long before the Spanish conquest. New lodes were discovered and exploited by the Spanish, requiring a large indigenous work force to do the dangerous labor. In 1572, the viceroy passed a law requiring one of every seven native men to work in the mines. This levy of labor lasted throughout the colonial period and was only abolished in 1812.

Native artists easily adapted to new stylistic requirements of their Spanish conquerors. Indian artists played an important role in silversmithing throughout the colonial period. Although European silversmiths began arriving in Peru in the 1600s, native and mestizo artists were numerous in Lima and Cuzco, protected by regulations of the viceroy.

This incense burner, based on a European model, is simple in its surface decoration compared to other silver vessels of the period that were often covered in elaborate volute decoration. This burner has simple, almost neoclassical garland decoration on the lid. Noteworthy is the Indian figure that forms the support of the bowl. Artworks with depictions of the native population were very popular throughout the colonial period, and became popular tourist items during the 1800s.

Peru, Tapestry, from Cajamarca, 1700s. Camelid fiber, 77 3/4" x 67 3/4" (197.5 x 172.1 cm). © 2017 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-4741)

The textiles of ancient Peru, woven in every known technique for over three thousand years, represent one of the highest achievements of their cultures. Textiles were the most highly prized objects after gold in Peruvian cultures, so the indigenous cultures did not need any weaving lessons from the Spanish. The Inka were a textile-oriented culture, one in which weavings were sometimes used as money. Textiles played a significant role in the burial ceremony, in that the body of the deceased was always wrapped in some sort of weaving.

This piece, an example of sectional weaving in which the different bands were joined by single interlocking junctures, may have been influenced from bed coverings from Alpujarra in Granada, Spain. The central panel is unique because it contains a mermaid accompanied with traditional Inka stylized animals. The single-direction orientation of the central piece, and the four-way orientation of the borders, assigns this to a possible single Spanish influence.