Monday, July 29, 2013


Since vacation is on everyone’s mind now that summer is in full swing, let’s just look at works of art that spout vacation, special day off, or festival. And, yes, this can be an art historical exercise too!

Thomas Cole (1801–1848, United States), The Picnic, 1846, oil on canvas, 122 x 183 cm (48" x 72") © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-48)
Thomas Cole—yes he’s an ancestor of mine—is my favorite of the Hudson River School artists because he brings the “romantic” into the style of Romantic Realism. The Picnic is a perfect example of nostalgia for the American wilderness that was rapidly disappearing at the time (see my post from July 15th for more about nostalgia in art). My favorite part of this painting is the clouds, which remind me of Dutch Baroque landscape painting in which clouds always figure importantly. Is this the classical reference to thought?

Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/1603–1670, Netherlands), Castle on a River, 1644. Oil on wood, 39.3 x 60.5 cm. © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-64)

William Laughlead (dates unknown, United States), Poster stamp for vacation land in Minnesota, early 1900s. Color lithograph on adhesive paper. © Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE. (WIN-162)
The phenomenon of “poster stamps” raged in the early 1900s. They were stuck on packages being shipped, advertising mailings, brochures, and pamphlets. It is such an interesting part of design history, especially since they reflected the artistic styles of the day. This one reflects an Art Nouveau aesthetic.

Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815, Japan), Children at the Chrysanthemum Festival, 1793–1798. Woodcut, 38 x 26 cm (15" x 10 1/4"). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1743)
The chrysanthemum is the national flower of Japan. It figures prominently in the debate in Japan about the merits of spring and autumn gardens. The Chrysanthemum Festival in the fall elicits beautiful arrangements of the flower, but also encourages contemplation on the possibility of snow falling on the fading blossoms. This print shows children preparing (in a manner) for the festival.

Marion Post Wolcott (1910–1990, United States), Winter Tourists, 1940. Gelatin silver print, 21.1 x 26.9 cm (8 5/16" x 10 9/16"). Photo © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. (MOMA-P3249)
Like many artists who matured during the Great Depression (1929–1940), Marion Post Wolcott was interested in the human experience. This image of a couple on a beach in Massachusetts is an example of the frank lack of money to travel except to nearby locales. Even in winter it’s nice to get away!

Robert Gwathmey (1903–1988, United States), The Vacationist. Oil on canvas, 149.9 x 98.7 cm (59” x 38 7/8"). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (BMA-902gwvg)
I leave you with Robert Gwathmey’s depiction of a tourist on the outer banks of North Carolina. Gwathmey was a social realist from Virginia who was keenly interested in daily life, particularly of African Americans. Here he represents an uber-tanned tourist with his catch for the day. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sculpture as Jewelry / Jewelry as Sculpture

Liv Blåvarp (born 1956, Norway), Necklace, 2002. Dyed sycamore, painted birch and gold leaf. Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC. © 2013 Liv Blåvarp. (MIN-70)
As you know, I consider artists in any medium to be ARTISTS, not “artisans” or “craftspeople” or “decorative artists.” When one looks at jewelry, even if it has been cast, one sees the potential of viewing jewelry artists as sculptors.

Liv Blåvarp is a Norwegian artist who initially studied metalwork at the National College of Art and Design in Oslo. While studying at the Royal College of Art in London, she turned her attention to wood and creating monumental wooden sculptures. Upon returning to Norway, she switched her focus to carving wood to make jewelry. Her father had been a carpenter and she grew up in his workshop. She subsequently turned his workshop into her studio.

Blåvarp’s incredibly elegant sculpted necklaces and collars are influenced by forms from nature such as fruit, birds, and animals. One recurring theme in her work is the cornucopia (horn of plenty), seen in this gorgeous necklace. Needless to say, each of her pieces with its intricate, organic carving is a one-of-a-kind work of art. I think her work far transcends the influences of nature seen in pieces of Art Nouveau jewelry (see Lalique below), because she is not merely copying natural forms, but expanding on them.

See more of her fabulous work at these websites:

And, gaze upon these examples of contemporary jewelry that prove my point!

Annamaria Zanella (born 1966, Italy), Brooch, 2006. Enameled silver, 3.81 x 3.81 x 2.54 cm. Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC. © 2013 Annamaria Zanella.  (MIN-63)

René Lalique (1860–1945, Belgium), Comb, ca. 1900. Horn with enamel and gold. Cleveland Museum of Art. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (CL-315llars)
Alexander Calder (1898–1976), Necklace, 1930s or 1940s. Hammered brass; inner circumference: 81.3 cm, outer circumference: 143.1 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-D0435caars)
Maria Hees (born 1948, Netherlands), Padova Necklace, 1985. Birchwood, width: 25.1 cm.  Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Maria Hees. (MOMA-D0725)
Richard Hoffman Reinhardt (1923–1998, United States), Bracelet, 1989. Silver, width: 10.6 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2013 Estate of Richard Hoffman Reinhardt. (PMA-4036)

Studio activity: Design a pendant. Sketch a study of the pendant and choose the shapes desired. Fold a piece of thin cardboard. Cut into the fold to create a shape for the pendant. Glue foil on one side. Turn it over and use a pencil to press shapes into the foil. Cover the back with paper or another piece of thin cardboard.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.11; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.29; A Community Connection: 5.2; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 2, 6; The Visual Experience: 10.7

Monday, July 15, 2013


I read in the New York Times that up until 1999 “nostalgia” was considered a mental illness. Well, you could have knocked me for a loop with that one. One usually gets warm fuzzies from being nostalgic. I think artwork from most cultures around the world have big doses of nostalgia in their subject matter. And one of the biggest cultures would be the US. Nostalgia has always been a component in American art. The New York Times article states that a psychologist at the University of Southampton, Constantine Sedikides, debunked the notion in 1999 (I can’t believe it took that many years), and I agree. What I find fascinating is the reason behind nostalgia in American art is usually war. I guess it’s human nature, universally, to pine for the “good old days.”

Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860, United States), Washington, after an original painted portrait, about 1827. Lithograph on paper, sheet: 59 x 39 cm (23 1/4" x15 3/8").  © American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA. (AAS-72)
Son of the premier colonial portraitist Charles Willson Peale (1741–1825), Rembrandt Peale was a well established painter in his own right. The period following the death of our first president (1799), was a period of extreme longing for the early days of the early Republic (1787–1800). George Washington was a universal symbol of American heritage, and his portrait was copied over and over through the late 1800s. They also appeared in courthouses and public buildings throughout the US.

Robert Mills (1781–1855, United States), First Baptist Church, Charleston, SC, 1838. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-14758)
The new American republic was obsessed with the idea that it was the first democratic country since ancient Greece. Therefore, architecture reflected this idea in the Greek Revival style, which flourished between 1820 and 1860. This was a period when many of the government buildings of the capital were built. However, the style was popular way beyond Washington, and can be found in cities up and down the East Coast from the period before the Civil War (1860–1865). Many southern country houses (plantations) were in the Greek Revival style.

Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880, United States), A Home in the Wilderness (Mount Hayes in New Hampshire), 1866. Oil on canvas, 76.8 x 135.7 cm (30 1/4" x 53 7/16"). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-795)
The Hudson River School is not technically a school but a group of artists who painted landscapes of the Hudson River valley and parts of New England. Americans of the early part of our country were proud of the vast, unique wilderness of the Northeast. The romantic-realist depictions of specific locations were documentation of a “wilderness” that was fast disappearing under settlement and clearing of the original forests. This painting dates from after the Civil War and reflects a longing to return to the time when the American wilderness was actually a sparsely populated wilderness.

Winslow Homer (1836–1910, United States), Snap the Whip, 1872. Oil on canvas, 56 x 91 cm (22 1/16" x 35 13/16"). © Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH. (BIAA-24)
No other American artist better represents nostalgia than Winslow Homer. Having documented the horrors of the Civil War for Harper’s Weekly magazine, his works from the 1870s retreat to bucolic scenes from America of before the war. Americans wanted to forget the horror that was the Civil War, and remember the “good old days” of pre-war America in innocent scenes such as this schoolyard frolic.

Anita Chernewski (born 1946, United States), Coney Island (Thunderbolt), 1987. Gelatin silver print, sheet: 15.2 x 19.1 cm (6” x 7 1/2"). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. © 2013 Anita Chernewski  (BMA-1844) 
After the ten-week Spanish-American War in 1898—the US’s first international war fought in the Caribbean and Pacific—Coney Island in New York boomed as a place to forget the horrors of international war. It was once again a “return” to the halcyon days after the Civil War. Unfortunately, World War I (1914–1918) interrupted the nostalgia. After World War I Coney Island slowly declined in attendance. By the 1960s many of the original attractions had closed.

Donald Moffett (born 1955, United States), He Kills Me, 1987. Color offset lithograph on paper, 59.5 x 95 cm (23 7/16" x 37 3/8"). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2013 Donald Moffet. (MOMA-P3073)
Perhaps one of the worst propagators of the “return to the good old days” was President Ronald Regan (1980–1988). He harkened back to the 1950s as the greatest period [you know, the period of the Korean War (1950–1953), the Red Scare, the McCarthy hearings, and the beginnings of the Vietnam War]. I guess he was thinking of the TV show Leave it to Beaver. This artist has parodied Reagan threatening mass death, because of his pushing the escalation of nuclear weapons after calling Russia an “evil empire.”

Studio activity: A scene from a happy time from the past. Use a pencil to sketch the scene and fill it in with markers or crayons. Emphasize showing people and objects near and far away. The farther way the people are the smaller they should appear (same for buildings, tress, etc.).

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Wari

Peru, Wari Culture (flourished 600–1100 ce), Tunic, ca. 500–800 ce. Wool and cotton interlocked tapestry weave, 103.8 x 101 cm (40 7/8" x 39 3/4"). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-575)
Recently a royal tomb of the Andean Wari culture was excavated in Peru about 175 miles north of Lima. It contained the mummified bodies of 57 royal women and 6 female servants (assumed sacrificed). The site is El Castillo de Huarmey. It’s always exciting (especially for art historians) to hear about new excavations and new discoveries that shatter long-held beliefs about ancient cultures. This particular excavation— which contained three women rulers— has apparently revealed that women were more important in ancient Andean cultures than previously believed, because of the richness of their burial jewelry and number and apparent rank of the attendant female mummies.

The Wari culture is thought to have unified the various Andean cultures into a single empire by the year 600 ce. The name of the culture comes from the central city of Wari. Other impotant centers of the culture were Virachochapampa and Pikillaqta, 700 kilometers north and 250 kilometers southeast of Wari. The Wari empire was probably the first unified state in the Peruvian Andes, and formed the basis of what the later Inca conquered. Both the Chimú (flourished 900–1500 ce) and the Inca (1438–1534) cultures are descendants of the Wari.

The textiles of ancient Peru, woven in every technique known for over three thousand years, represent a significant achievement of ancient Andean civilizations. They were highly prized, second only to gold. So many textiles have survived because they were part of burial rituals (in the arid coastal plains), such was their value. Wari weavers abstracted human and animal forms and explored geometric abstraction as the major themes of their textiles. This highly analytical abstracting of forms has, by art critics, been compared to Cubism. Indeed, it may have been influenced the Cubism of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973, Spain) and Georges Braque (1882–1963, France).

This tunic has six columns of alternating squares: outlined step fret and one half abstracted faces with split eye and abstracted four animal heads on two u-shaped bodies with characteristic split eyes.

Detail of Tunic

Correlation to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 3: 6.31, 6.31-32 studio; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 5.27; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 2.10; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.30; A Community Connection: 1.5; A Global Pursuit: 5.5; Exploring Visual Design: 8, 11, 12; Discovering Art History: 4.9; The Visual Experience: 10.8, 14.4

Monday, July 1, 2013

American Originals

Morgan Russell (1886–1953, United States), Creavit Deus Hominem (So God Created Man) (Synchromy Number 3: Color Counterpoint), 1913. Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, 30.2 x 26 cm (11 7/8" x 10 1/4"). Photo © The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Art © Estate of Morgan Russell. (MOMA-P1220)

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how spotty modernism was in American art in the early 1900s. Since the colonial period, American artists had a tenacious obsession with realism, including the work of portrait painters, Hudson River School artists, and Tromp l’oeil artists. However, by the end of the 1800s, there were a number of American artists living and working in Europe, many in Paris. This introduced Impressionism into American art, and by the late 1910s, experiments in modernism, including abstraction.

Although the Armory Show of 1913 is sometimes cited as the impetus for modernist impulses in American art (the show introduced Americans to Cubism and other forms of abstraction), many American painters and sculptors living in Paris were experimenting with abstraction before 1913. These artists were not only aware of experimental movements, but also participated in them. Many of these artists returned to New York and introduced modernism to Americans before the Armory Show. Fauvism, Cubism, and ultimately Dada/Surrealism and Futurism all had an impact on early American modernists.

In my mind, the most interesting of these early American modernist movements by far was the style called Synchromism by its founders: Morgan Russell and Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890–1973). This movement, which evolved in the years before World War I (1914–1918), in its most literal translation means “with color.” It was informed by the light of Impressionism, the color of the Post-Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890, Netherlands), and the scientific color theories of artists like Georges Seurat (1859–1891, France). Although the works of MacDonald-Wright and Russell may resemble works of Robert Delaunay’s (1885–1941, France) Orphism—a style that infused Cubism with brilliant color—Synchromism divorced color from physical objects to create pure abstraction.

Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Synchromy No. 3, 1917. Oil on canvas, 99 x 97 cm. Brooklyn Museum of Art. © Estate of Stanton MacDonald-Wright. (BMA-369)
Russell initially studied sculpture, but under the influence of the Fauves he took up painting exclusively in 1911. MacDonald-Wright was heavily influenced by the late near-abstraction of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906, France). This work by Russell clearly shows the debt the Synchromist artists owed to Cubism. However, Russell has reasserted in his work the important connection between line and color to define forms. The two artists held an exhibit of their new style in 1913 in Munich, and then in 1914 in New York. By 1920 both artists had taken their color theories in different directions, including objective subject matter executed in the brilliant Synchromist palette.

Studio activity:  Russell, like Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944, Russia), was very interested in the connection between music and abstract painting. Using pastels or colored chalks, create a work of abstract shapes in vibrant colors that symbolize the sounds heard in a piece of music. Remember that warm colors (such as red, orange, and yellow) tend to advance while cool colors (such as blue, green, and purple) tend to recede visually. This can help create a tension or movement in the music-inspired composition.

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.25; Exploring Visual Design: 2, 4, 12; Discovering Art History: 15.2; The Visual Experience: 5.3