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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection—Severin Roesen’s Still Life

Severin Roesen (American, born Germany, ca. 1815-1872).  Still Life.  ca. 1852.  Oil on canvas.  Milwaukee Art Museum, gift of Anita Vogel Hinrichs in memory of Ferdinand Hinrichs, M1988.133. Photo credit: Dedra Walls.

White grapes? Check.

Red grapes? Check.

Peeled lemon? Yep.

Champagne? Yep.

More flowers than a bouquet offered by an apologetic husband the day after he forgets an anniversary? Got those, too.

A bird’s nest with three tiny eggs? Wait a minute.  A bird’s nest?!?

The next time you visit the American Collections in the Museum’s Lower Level, take a look closely at Severin Roesen’s monumental still life of around 1852.  It’s full of all of the objects listed above, from the expected to the unexpected.

And it’s all part of a very elaborate tradition of painting—with unexpected twists—that served this nineteenth-century painter very, very well.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Elihu Vedder’s “Star of Bethlehem”

Elihu Vedder (American, 1836–1923) Star of Bethlehem, 1879–80 . Oil on canvas; 36 3/16 x 44 3/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears, M1925.2
Elihu Vedder (American, 1836–1923), Star of Bethlehem, 1879–80 . Oil on canvas; 36 3/16 x 44 3/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears, M1925.2.

Thanksgiving has come and gone and you know what that means – the “holiday” season is officially upon us!

If you hadn’t already experienced  red and green decorations and Christmas music vying for your attention in October before your pumpkin could be carved, then surely by now, during this week of creative reuse of turkey, you have noticed that December’s holiday mania has set in.

Cue: Sweaty palms, anxiety over what gifts to buy, and finding time to do get it all done. All so that you can have a merry, happy, snowy holiday celebration full of family, friends, food, gifts, etc…whew!

The frantic holiday scene I’ve described is starkly in contrast to the peaceful one we find in Star of Bethlehem created by American painter Elihu Vedder in 1879-80.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection—Step into my Parlor (Cabinet)

Attributed to Alexandre Roux (American, born France, 1816-1886).  Parlor Cabinet.   1860-70.  Wood with inlays, porcelain, gilding and gilt metal.  Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Jane Rayniak in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Rayniak  M1985.58

One of my favorite decorative art objects in the Museum’s permanent collection is actually a rather bewildering piece.

It’s an enormous Parlor Cabinet, designed and produced sometime between 1860-1870 by Alexandre Roux (1813-1866), a French-born cabinetmaker who moved to New York to open a successful furniture business.

At first glance, this is a monumental and pretty confusing object.

It has columns and pilasters, just like a building.  Its top is a stepped pagoda, which gives it the effect of an Asian temple.  And it’s big:  five feet tall, over six feet wide and nearly two feet deep.  The cabinet part, in the central portion is actually pretty small in comparison to the rest of the piece (look for the key hole in the door to find it).

So is it architecture or furniture?  The answer is:  both.

Categories
American Art Behind the Scenes Collection

Who’s That Girl: Wisconsin Edition

Nana Kennedy with her portrait by Lester Bentley
Lester W. Bentley (American, 1908-1972), Nana, 1939. Oil on masonite. Milwaukee Art Museum, Loan to Layton from Milwaukee Public Museum. Allocated to MPM by Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration. Photograph by Dick Kennedy
Nana Kennedy with Lester W. Bentley (American, 1908-1972). Nana, 1939. Oil on masonite. Milwaukee Art Museum, Loan to Layton from Milwaukee Public Museum. Allocated to MPM by Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration. Photograph by Dick Kennedy
Nana Kennedy with Lester W. Bentley (American, 1908-1972). Nana, 1939. Oil on masonite. Milwaukee Art Museum, Loan to Layton from Milwaukee Public Museum. Allocated to MPM by Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration. Photograph by Dick Kennedy

Every so often, Museum staff gets an email or learns a story that connects the art in our collection with our community. These might be far-away communities, as in the case of the English ancestors of Miss Frances Lee, or it might be close by here in Milwaukee.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

Who’s That Girl?

For years, she was just a pretty face.

Now, we’re close to identifying the sitter of this elegant portrait by artist Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860).

When this portrait was given to the Museum in 1961 by Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Berger, it was known simply as Portrait of a Lady.  The painting had been passed down through a South Carolina family with New York origins and was sold through a gallery in Boston.  At that time, the last owners knew this mystery woman was a relative, but weren’t exactly sure which long-lost great-great auntie she was.

Anyone who works with portraits knows how these things happen.  Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story.   As time and generations pass, people forget just who is in that canvas.  It happens to us, too.

Go dig your first-grade class photo out of that box in your basement and try to remember the names of all your classmates in each row.  It’s the reason your mother was always after you to write on the back of photographs, back when photographs were on paper instead of your hard drive.  Or why we tag images now on Facebook.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

Refreshed Look for the American Paintings Galleries

American Paintings gallery, August 2011. Photo by Mel Buchanan.
Milwaukee Art Museum American Paintings gallery, August 2011 reinstallation. Photo by Mel Buchanan.

The newly reinstalled galleries in the Museum’s lower level offer a survey of the American paintings collections from the Colonial era to the turn of the 20th century.  The nearly fifty objects on view showcase not only a history of American art, but also the history of the Museum’s interest in American art.

Around half of the paintings on view are part of the Layton Art Collection, Milwaukee’s first public art gallery and our present-day Museum’s parent organization. The Layton Art Gallery was founded by meat packer and philanthropist Frederick Layton in 1888, and you’ll find Layton’s monumental 1893 portrait by Eastman Johnson still on view in the newly-installed American painting gallery.

The other half of the collections on view represents works acquired by the Museum as gifts and purchases, both before and after its 1957 merger with the Layton Art Gallery.

Old favorites remain, but there are many new additions pulled from Museum storage.

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American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection—“Chippendale” Philadelphia High Chest

Philadelphia, High Chest of Drawers, 1760-75. Walnut, yellow poplar, white cedar, brass hardware (replaced),94 1/2 x 46 3/4 x 23 3/4 in.  Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund M1984.120. Photo by John Nienhuis.

If you need an excuse for cake, Thomas Chippendale would have celebrated his 293rd birthday today. Indulge and then come to the Museum’s American Collections Galleries on the Lower Level and appreciate several sumptuous forms of “Chippendale” style furniture.

Chippendale was born in England on June 5, 1718. He became a London cabinetmaker in the 1750s, and though his furniture appears in many grand 18th-century English homes, he is more widely known for publishing books on trendy furniture design.  His publication was so influential that the name “Chippendale” stuck as shorthand for a wildly popular style of ornament.

As an example, you can stand in front of the Museum’s High Chest and refer to it as either “Rococo” or “Chippendale” in style. You’d be looking at an American object that Mr. Chippendale didn’t know about or help make, but your term would still be apt because its American craftsman knew about Chippendale’s ideas of good taste when he put together the exquisite carved ornament on this monumental object.