Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Impressionist Sculpture?

Medardo Rosso (1858-1928 Italy)   Ecce Puer (Behold the Boy), 1906-1907, wax over plaster, 40.3 x 24.1 x 17.1 cm (15 7/8 x 9 1/2 x 6 3/4")   © Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ever think “sculpture” when you think “Impressionism”?   Sculpture gets a bad representation in art history books during the 1800s, unless you want to look at endless (yawn) “classically” inspired works of art. It wasn’t just the US that was obsesssed with classicism when it came to sculpture in the 1800s. That’s why the works of Rodin stand out so much in that century. However, Rodin’s sculpture was strongly influenced by “classical” sculpture, and that’s why I prefer the work of his student, Medardo Rosso, though, goodness knows, Rodin was on a path to modernism with his works!

Well, the popular perception in Western art history is that the sculpture of Rodin was the springboard to modernism in 1900s sculpture. Granted, Rodin’s idea of capturing fleeting moments in sculpture, including copying ancient Greek and Roman sculpture with missing heads and arms was evocative of “the moment,”  I think Medardo Rosso by far got a grip on the Impressionist idea of the stolen moment that would never be repeated. There’s far too much classical (Western) reference in Rodin’s sculpture for him to be (for me) the epitome of the modern aesthetic, although, I must admit to liking Rodin’s flying figure.

Rosso originally studied to be a painter until about 1880. He lived in Paris after 1883 for two years where he was exposed to the sculpture of Rodin while studying under the romantic-realist sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou (1883-1902), who despised the academic (Neoclassical) style of sculpture. Rosso was impressed with Rodin’s emphasis on mottled surfaces that reflected light in ways that made the sculpture seem to visually vibrate. Instead, however, of contemplating subjects with grandiose allusions to antiquity, history, religion or emotion as Rodin did, Rosso tackled subjects from every day life.

Rosso did several versions of young children he saw on the streets of Paris. After 1889 Rosso spent mostof his active career in France, and his sculpture subsequently became more associated with French, rather than Italian art. The many-textured, suggestive surface of this work, reflects Rosso’s perception that “Nothing is material in space.”  His favorite medium was wax, which allowed him to create surfaces that immitated the soft nuances of light of Impressionist painting. His ability to capture an intimate moment, as Impressionism did in painting, was a great influence on sculpture in the early modern period of the 1900s.

Other works by Rosso:

Another artist whose sculpture expressed an Impressionist aesthetic, Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917, France) Woman Rubbing Her Back, ca, 1900, cast after 1922, bronze, height: 46 cm (18 1/8”) © Philadelphia Museum of Art  (PMA-1537)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938 Germany)   Head of a Woman, 1913, painted oak, 50.8 x 32.7 x 31.3 cm ( 20 x 12 7/8 x 12 3/8”)   National Gallery of Art, Washington (NGA-S0086)  

German Expressionist sculpture explored the mottled surface much like Impressionist sculptors. However, it was more associated with the interest in the active surfaces of Medieval German sculpture than with an interest in the transient effects of light. 

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art 3 1.3-4 studio; Explorations in Art 5 1.1-2 studio; Explorations in Art 6 1.4

Monday, October 21, 2013


Kuna People, San Blas Islands. Mola. 1960 / 1969. appliqué and reverse appliqué in cotton plain weaves, some printed; embroidered with cotton in buttonhole, chain, running and satin stitches. 43.2 x 49.5 cm (17 x 19 1/2”)  © Art Institute of Chicago (AIC-402)

Many years ago I was fortunate enought to go to an exhibit of Kuna Mola textile art in Chicago. It actually blew my mind, because it is very complex. And yet, it is the common textile art form of the Kuna, and has become world-famous. Textile arts have always been a special interest of mine, and I love finding out as much as I can about them. Well, this was my “epiphany of the week” for my co-workers when I added it to our collection. It’s so beautiful I had to share it with you!

The Kuna culture was primarily in Colombia until the Spanish invaded in the early 1600s. Fleeing the Spanish, they migrated to Panama, eventually to the San Blas region, particularly on the small islands off the coast. Mola cloth was a traditional part of Kuna culture, and the Kuna staged a rebellion in 1925 with the newly independent Panamanian government tried to enfore “national culture” on them and discourage the production of Mola. By 1945 the Kuna had established a semi-autonomous reservation in the San Blas region. Mola textiles contiue to be a source of national identity for the Kuna.

Mola cloth is used in a variety of forms, including dresses, shirts, pillow covers, and carrying bags. The technique is incredibly complex. Normally, as many as two to seven different layers of differently-colored cotton cloth are basted together. Each design (meaning, each individual line, is cut from one layer of color, folded under, and sewn to the lower layers. This painstaking work is usually done with hand stitching, though in the late 1900s, artists used sewing machines to apply the finished textile to a background support, usually plain weave cotton.
This particular piece uses some printed textiles as layers. Chain, running and satin stitches are the kind we see in embroidery. Mola tends to be a comination of embroidery and appliqué. Traditional designs tended to be geometric, while modern designs reflect not only native cultural influences but also contemporary society. This piece seems more traditional.

A Kuna blouse from the 1970s with Mola panel attached. Private Collection, Davis Art Images (29267)

Fon People, Benin, Appliqué cloth, 1970s Private Collection, Davis Art Images (10666) While the technique is different in pure appliqué, where cut out pieces of cloth are sewn onto a ground, the forms remind me very much of what is seen in Mola pieces.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art 4 5.25-26 studio

Activity: Show this image to students and see if they can identify how many layers of colored / printed cloth comprise this textile.