Monday, June 25, 2018

Another Ignored Aspect of an American Art Movement


Claude Raguet Hirst (1855–1942, US), Book Closed Over Spectacles, ca. 1894. Watercolor on illustration board, board: 10 7/8" x 15" (27.6 x 38.1 cm). © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8307)

Nothing showcases the American obsession with realism in art during the 1800s better than the brief Trompe l’Oeil Realism movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Like the Dutch Baroque realist still-life genre of the 1600s, American Trompe l’Oeil (literally “deceive the eye” in French) was popular with middle class art patrons because it was clever and it displayed a sophisticated technique. Yeah, we know all great artists in history are total realists, right? My point in pointing out this movement is that art history texts on American art highlight very few of the numerous American artists working in the style, most notably women.

The trompe l’oeil phenomenon did not suddenly start in the 1880s, although many art history texts treat it that way. During the earliest decades of the 1800s, American artists, including women in the Peale family—an American art dynasty led by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827)—painted trompe l’oeil still lifes that were influenced by the Dutch Baroque. In the mid-1800s, many women genre artists such as Lilly Martin Spencer (1822–1902) were renowned for their ability to realistically depict the texture of still-life objects. As far as I’m concerned, I think American art history books should mention more than William Harnett (1848–1892), John Peto (1854–1907), and John Haberle (1856–1933). They should also feature Claude Hirst (1855–1942), born Claudine.

Hirst starting signing her paintings “Claude” in the 1870s because it was obviously easier for male artists to sell paintings at the time. The trompe l’oeil genre was popular among patrons rather than art critics, who considered such work technical proficiency rather than aesthetic. They were more likely to be found in bar rooms (the domain of men) than in gallery auctions. This would explain why so much of the imagery in these still-life paintings is predominantly male-oriented. Both of the paintings shown here have the trappings of a scholar, obviously male, with images of a pipe. Toward the late 1890s, Hirst began to include books with open pages from texts that spoke of experiences of late-1800s women. In works such as Companions, she also includes examples of art pottery, a field dominated by women. In both examples, her brilliant mastery of watercolor—known in the 1800s as a “lady’s medium”—imitates the smooth, highly detailed surfaces of oil painting. 

Claude Raguet Hirst (1855–1942, US), Companions, 1895. Watercolor on board, 10" x 14 ½"  (25.4 x 36.8 cm). © 2018 Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH. (BIAA-526)

Hirst was born in Cincinnati and first studied art at the School of Drawing and Painting at the University of Cincinnati. She moved to New York in 1879 and studied privately, building her reputation as a skillful still-life painter of flower and fruit subjects. She ultimately became a masterful watercolorist, as is obvious in both of these works. 

In the 1890s, when the trompe l’oeil style became really popular, Hirst began to branch out into still life of objects related to male pastimes. By 1895, she was incorporating small nods to women in the arts. The antique books she featured by the end of the 1890s (antique book collecting was a fashion among the “elite”) often featured text that was legible. This was quite a feat using watercolor!

In the 1910s, well into her 60s, Hirst eliminated the references to male pastimes in favor of her earlier floral and fruit works. By that time, she began to receive prizes from juried exhibitions and received critical acclaim for her work during a period when Impressionism and the Ash Can School were also prominent. She painted into her 80s, producing more than 100 still-life works.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 1E Grade 5: 2.7; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 5: 2.1; The Visual Experience: 9.9

Monday, June 18, 2018

What Do You Think of When I Say “Porcelain”?


John Bartlam Factory (Bartlam 1735–1781, born Britain, factory 1765–1770, Cain Hoy, South Carolina), Teabowl, 1765–1770. Soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue hand-painted (interior) and transfer-printed (exterior) decoration, width: 3" (7.6 cm) at rim. © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8202)

“American” is probably not the first word that springs to mind when paired with “porcelain.” We all know that China developed porcelain by the 600s or 700s CE and perfected it during the Song Dynasty (960–1279/1280 CE). The formula for porcelain (secret ingredient kaolin, a clay mineral derived from feldspar) was transmitted to Korea during the Goryeo Kingdom (918–1392) and then to Japan from Korea during the 1600s.

Porcelain was introduced to Europe soon after the Portuguese trading post was established in Macau in 1557. The translucent, thin-walled nature of porcelain immediately appealed to Europeans, whose earliest efforts in the medium were in the late 1500s. They did not understand that kaolin made Chinese porcelain special and tried all manner of additives to clay.

The British initially added ground bone and ground glass (frit) to produce porcelain results that they called “China.” Ultimately, European makers discovered the secret of kaolin, which was subsequently mined in Europe as “china stone” or “china clay.” Staffordshire, England became a center of porcelain production when kaolin (or “Staffordshire clay”) was discovered in the early 1700s. In the 1730s, the earliest experimentation with porcelain was begun by André Duché (dates unknown), who introduced “Cherokee clay” to Europe in his attempt to secure funding to produce his porcelain.

It’s amazing to me that there was true porcelain being produced in the US already in the mid-1700s. This shouldn’t have surprised me, though, because some of the entrepreneurs in the US were originally from Staffordshire. Many of the techniques they used, particularly for decoration, came from their experience in Britain. John Bartlam (1735–1781) and American China Manufactory (1770–1772) were the leaders in porcelain production during the pre-Revolutionary (1775–1783) period.

Bartlam settled in South Carolina in 1763 to exploit the abundant varieties of clay found in that state, extending down into Georgia. He was producing soft-paste porcelain as early as 1765 in Cain Hoy (north of Charleston) and then in Charleston until 1773. Teabowls are one of the signature forms made by Bartlam. They were a combination of painted and transfer decoration. Bartlam himself may have overseen the transfer printing of the porcelain, as he was a skilled copper engraver himself. The exterior decoration of this teabowl was laid down from a stiff tissue to which an oil-inked design had been transferred from a copper plate. Many of the artists (“transferrers”) who did this tedious work were young women. 

American China Manufactory (firm 1770–1772, Philadelphia), Pickle Stand. Soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue decoration, 5 1/8" x 7" (13 x 17.8 cm). © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8500)

American China Manufactory was formed by Gousse Bonnin (ca. 1741–1780, France) and George Antony Morris (1742/1745–1773). They formed the company at an opportune time after the Nonimportation Act of 1760, secessionist fever leading up to the Revolution, and a newly wealthy merchant class that wanted the same luxuries as their British counterparts. The team even lured away skilled porcelain artists from the Bow factory in London. Their standout product is this pickle stand, the likes of which were sold as far north as Albany, NY and as far south as Charleston.

The great British ceramic guru Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) was sufficiently worried about the competition in the colonies that he conspired with the East India Company (a “trading” outfit) to flood the American market with cheap British porcelain in 1771. This violation of the Nonimportation Act was a catalyst for the revolution to follow. Unfortunately, it led to the demise of both Bartlam and American China Manufactory, ending a truly unique period in American ceramic history. 

Well, porcelain manufacture in the US did not just wither completely. By the 1880s, the American Art Pottery movement reinvigorated the production of native porcelain in kilns throughout the country.

Mary Louise McLaughlin (1847–1939, US), Vase, 1900–1903. Porcelain, height: 5" (12.4 cm). © 2018 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-747)

Mary Louise McLaughlin was a pioneer in art pottery. She studied furniture carving during the late 1860s in a studio in her native Cincinnati, a class that also introduced her to pottery painting. Ceramics thereafter dominated her interest. Her book entitled China Painting: A Practical Manual for the Use of Amateurs in the Decoration of Hard Porcelain sold 23,000 copies, indicating the growing popularity of art pottery in the US.

Porcelain is not going anywhere in the 21st century either, with many contemporary artists working in the medium in both utilitarian and non-utilitarian forms.

Robert Lazzarini (born 1965, US), Teacup, 2003. Gilt porcelain, stainless steel spoon, assembled: 3 1/2" x 6 1/4” x 7" (8.9 x 15.9 x 17.8 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Robert Lazzarini. (PMA-8709)

Robert Lazzarini is primarily a sculptor. He achieved a BA from the School of the Visual Arts in New York in 1990. One of the main focuses of his art is the disruption of the viewer’s normal perception of everyday objects. He does not always do this with unusual materials foreign to the subject. In Teacup, Lazzarini has exploited the normal material used in tea cups to create an uncomfortably distorted, yet fascinating play on a common object. Take that Andy Warhol (1928–1987), it’s more interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2018

American Impressionists You Probably Don’t Know

The joy of approaching summer always makes me think of color, and color makes me think of Impressionism—American Impressionism in this case. The Ten American Painters group was formed in 1898 by American artists who had adapted the Impressionist style. At the time, it was not well received in the realism-obsessed “official” American art academies: the National Academy of Design (founded 1825) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (founded 1805, Philadelphia). These academies were oriented on the European model of Neoclassicism-based art education.

Naturally, when the Ten American Painters group formed in opposition to the academies’ rejection of Impression—much in the same vain that the original Impressionists formed the Salon des Refusés—they did not invite any women, such as Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). Cassatt was back and forth between Paris and Philadelphia at the time and her work was featured in the Women’s Pavilion of the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago, surprise, surprise.

Many American women artists adapted the Impressionist style aside from Cassatt, and I am presenting three of these artists to you. Although Impressionism had run its course as a “revolutionary” style by the first decade of the 1900s, many artists persisted in this style. It gradually spread to the West Coast in the late 1910s after the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco introduced French and American Impressionists’ works. The California Impressionism painting movement, often called the Plein Air Movement, developed, although many of the artists were not native to the state.

Fern Isabel Coppedge (1883–1951, US), Drying Sails, Gloucester. Oil on canvas, 20" x 24" (50.8 x 61 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 Estate of Fern Isabel Coppedge. (PMA-4552)
Fern Coppedge (1883–1951) was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois. At thirteen she moved to California with a sister and became interested in painting for the first time. She studied watercolor and, even though the California Impressionist movement had yet to coalesce, she became interested in reflections of sunlight on snow and water. Returning to the Midwest, she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She also studied under American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) at the Art Students League in New York.

Key to her development as an Impressionist was her move to Philadelphia in 1917 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where her mentor was the American Impressionist Daniel Garber (1880–1953). By that time, the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement had become a phenomenon. Coppedge was active summers at the New Hope art colony, which was home to many Impressionists. She was a member of the influential women’s art group The Philadelphia Ten from 1922 to 1935. Many of the members of that group also painted in an Impressionist style.

Coppedge is most famous for her snow scenes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which she always painted outdoors, often with her canvas lashed to a tree or from the back seat of her car. This painting of Gloucester comes from summers spent at the Rocky Neck Art Colony there, the oldest art colony in the US. Rocky Neck was a haven for many American Impressionists, including Childe Hassam (1859–1935), Celia Beaux (1855–1942), and Frank Duveneck (1848–1919). 

Harriet Lumis (1870–1953, US), Pasture Brook, Berkshire, ca. 1928. Oil on canvas, 24" x 28" (61 x 71 cm). Photo courtesy of R.H. Love Gallery, Chicago. © 2018 Davis Art Images. (8S-27160)
Harriet Lumis (1870–1953), born in Connecticut, was initially discouraged from painting by her parents. After marriage in 1892, she began formal painting lessons under Willis Adams (1848–1921), a landscape painter in the Barbizon-Realism style. Her first landscapes were in the Tonalist tradition, which means an interest in light and atmosphere within the traditional academic landscape palette of greens, yellows, and browns.

This changed after she studied under the Impressionist Leonard Ochtman (1854–1934), who was one of the founders of the Cos Cob art colony in Connecticut, a hotbed of American Impressionism. Ochtman had studied with Dutch Tonalists Anton Mauve (1838–1888) and Jacob Maris (1837–1899), and then in Paris where his work was influenced by the airy, lyrical landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875). After studying with Ochtman, Lumis’s palette lightened and she changed her approach to landscape from broad vistas to more intimate snapshots of nature.

Lumis was one of the founding members of the Springfield (MA) Art League in 1919. This work from the 1920s demonstrates how, as time went on, her approach became looser in brush work, yet still firmly rooted in sound composition. 

Helen Hamilton (1889–1970, US), The Old Dock. Oil on canvas, 25 3/16" x 29 15/16” (64 x 76 cm). Photo courtesy of R.H. Love Gallery, Chicago. © 2018 Davis Art Images. (8S-26991)
Helen Hamilton (1889–1970), the daughter of academic painter Hamilton Hamilton (1846–1928), showed artistic talent at a young age. Like Coppedge, the California Impressionism movement was in a nascent period when she moved there in 1908. She received training from her father there and early on was interested in landscape, practicing in the Sierra Madre Mountains. She gradually became interested in Impressionism. In 1910, she moved to New York where she took lessons at the National Academy.

Hamilton’s family also had a house in Silvermine, Connecticut, home to a thriving art colony since 1908. Hamilton spent much time there, where, among the many styles explored, Impressionism was coming to the fore. Silvermine artists (although not including Hamilton or her father) exhibited in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York, where Helen saw thirteen of Vincent van Gogh’s (1853–1890) works. Judging by this work, van Gogh had a lasting influence on her painting.

As Hamilton’s style evolved after World War I (1914–1918), color became more important to her than subject matter. That is obvious in this luscious painting where she has delighted in laying down thick layers of pure color, probably with a palette knife. Hamilton was renowned for her works involving reflections in water and her loosely painted snow scenes.

Monday, June 4, 2018

An Illustrator (Who Happens to be a Woman)

Barbara Shermund (1899–1978, US), Saleswoman: “This is a bath salt one may sit on.” Original drawing for a cartoon in The New Yorker magazine, 1938. Ink and wash on paper, sheet: 19" x 14 ¾" (48.3 x 37.5 cm). Image © 2018 Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. © 2018 Estate of Barbara Shermund/The New Yorker. (AK-4368)

As we know, women have been artists since the beginning of recorded time. The dawn of women artists as a significant part of magazine, book, and newspaper illustration, however, came at the end of the 1800s. Ironically, women artists were able to enter the world of illustration because all “proper young ladies” were trained in the art of sketching and watercolors from the Renaissance (1400–1600) on. Like “art pottery” and photography of the late 1800s, women were able to study illustration at home (“propriety”: no dirty art schools with their nude drawing classes!). 

At the turn of the 1900s, the demand for illustration in printed matter was high, due in large part to the printing advances of the late 1800s that allowed for easier reproduction of illustrations—photolithography, chromolithography, and photography. In a field crowded with male artists, women illustrators had to be self-motivated and determined. Barbara Shermund (1899–1978) is an artist I just learned about, so I’m now letting you know about her.

Shermund was born in San Francisco to an artistic family: an architect father and sculptor mother. She started drawing as a child and studied at the California School of Arts, where she received an academic training in the basics. She subsequently moved to New York. Shermund started working for The New Yorker magazine four months after it was founded in February 1925. Almost at once (13 June, 1925), she had designed her first New Yorker cover, featuring a young woman with bobbed hair, very much in an Art Deco aesthetic.

Shermund’s cartoons mostly revolved around the so-called New Woman, a term that referred to women who had joined the work force beginning in the late 1800s. This term was particularly appropriate to address the state of women after World War I (1914–1918), when even more women were pushing the boundaries of what society deemed was “proper” for women. Shermund received inspiration for many of her gags from the social network in which she lived in New York. She depicted a broad range of women, from independent to traditional, set against the latest nuances of American society. 

The artist was so driven by the subject matter for her cartoons that she reportedly slept with a pencil and pad under her pillow in case she came up with an idea in the middle of the night. She once admitted that she would work and rework a drawing twenty times so that it had the appearance of being spontaneous. She often worked only with a brush, employing dramatic, decorative washes to establish volume or depth. There is a description of her technique in the book by Liza Donnelly Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons (Prometheus Books, 2005).

The astonishing career of women like Barbara Shermund (597 cartoons and eight covers) is in a stark contrast to many women illustrators of the late 1800s who often worked in virtual anonymity for male publishers. This was particularly true for the women who worked on the illustrations for Currier and Ives, with the exception of Flora Frances Palmer (1813–1876), who produced dozens of prints for that publisher. Shermund worked for The New Yorker until 1944 and was featured in a 1947 photograph by Irving Penn (1917–2009) of New Yorker illustrators. Shermund is the one in the broad-brimmed black hat.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 2E Grade 6: 3.1, 3.2