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