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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.

Categories
Art Collection Contemporary

From the Collection: Agnes Martin’s “Untitled #10”

Agnes Martin (American, b. Canada, 1912–2004), Untitled #10, 1977 (detail). Gesso, India ink, and graphite on canvas. 72 × 72 1/8 in. (182.88 × 183.2 cm). Gift of Friends of Art M1981.6. Photo by Efraim Lev-er. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Agnes Martin (American, b. Canada, 1912–2004), Untitled #10, 1977. Gesso, India ink, and graphite on canvas. 72 × 72 1/8 in. (182.88 × 183.2 cm). Gift of Friends of Art M1981.6. Photo by Efraim Lev-er. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Agnes Martin’s work can be tricky, all lines and grids and pale neutrals. It used to make me wonder, what’s the big deal? Pencil marks and a wash of color—not so impressive. I chalked it up to those nutty Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists, divorcing themselves from the real world and delving into a world I didn’t know how to get into.

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Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Wilhelm Trübner’s “Salome”

Salome Wilhelm Trübner 1898 Oil on cardboard 39 3/4 x 21 in. (100.97 x 53.34 cm) Purchase, René von Schleinitz Memorial Fund M1978.2
Wilhelm Trübner (German, 1851–1917), Salome, 1898. Oil on cardboard, 39 3/4 x 21 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, René von Schleinitz Memorial Fund, M1978.2. Photo by Larry Sanders.

German artist Wilhelm Trübner’s depiction of Salome shows the New Testament character brazenly nude, holding the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

When this painting by an admittedly-minor artist was recently rotated into the permanent collection gallery #11, it was hung alongside masterpieces by Monet and Caillebotte. I was stunned that my eyes left Boating on the Yerres to look instead at this girl, Salome, painted in vibrant colors with dramatic light and shadow on the model’s skin.

I was also stunned that after a childhood of of attending Sunday school, I needed to turn to Wikipedia to learn more about Salome.

I learned that this temptress-of-legend has been the inspiration for everything from an Oscar Wilde one-act play to a B-side song by U2.

The Biblical story explains that Salome, daughter of Herodias and therefore stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas, danced to entertain and seduce the ruler of Galilee at his 1st century AD birthday celebration. Her dance survives in our cultural imagination as the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” during which seven veils are sequentially and tauntingly removed. You can watch femme fatale Rita Hayworth performing the dance in her 1953 film Salomé.

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Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze

Probably Nuremberg, Germany  Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze, 1560/80 with later movement Gilt brass, brass, steel, blued steel, silver and blue enamel 3 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (8.89 x 24.77 cm) Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1991.84  Photo credit John Nienhuis
Probably Nuremberg, Germany, Table Clock with Orpheus Frieze, 1560-80 with later movement. Gilt brass, brass, steel, blued steel, silver and blue enamel, 3 1/2 h x 9 3/4 inch diameter. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg, M1991.84. Photo by John Nienhuis.

When you visit the European galleries of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you may have noticed that in the “Renaissance Treasury” gallery (gallery #2) there are a lot of clocks!

These aren’t the wristwatches and battery-powered kitchen clocks that most of us have in our homes and offices.  With their highly decorative cases, these special clocks show highly-skilled and artful metalwork that celebrated a new way of time-keeping during the Renaissance.

Until the 14th century, time-keeping was not systematic at all.  The only way to tell time was to look at the sun, or to use a sun-dial, but that was tricky because the length of the day changed so much over the course of a year.  Another option was to use a water clock, which used flowing water to move gears, but they were large and cumbersome—and not always very accurate.

Categories
Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection—Charlotte-Françoise DeBure by Catherine Lusurier

Charlotte-Françoise DeBure PAINTINGS Lusurier, Catherine French, 1752-1781 1776 Oil on canvas H. 29 1/2 x 24 in. Bequest of Arthur & Noryne Riebs (M1959.80)
 Catherine Lusurier (French, ca. 1752-1781), “Charlotte-Françoise DeBure”, 1776. Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 24 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Arthur & Noryne Riebs. (M1959.80) Photo by Larry Sanders.

One thing to keep in mind when you look at art is not to trust the labels. Well, I don’t mean the labels that museums put on the wall next to the artwork–we try to make those as accurate as possible. I mean that you should not trust the little metal plaques that sometimes decorate the frames of many older artworks. Why? Let me tell you one an example.

Tucked in one of the side niches in the Museum’s 18th-century French room, Gallery #8, is a painting of a young girl. Decked out in her lace finery, her blonde hair pulled back with a pink ribbon in that matches her pink dress and posed with a basket of flowers, she is the epitome of a blushing sweet child.

The ornately carved frame has a metal label at center bottom that reads “H. DROUAIS, le fils”. You’d assume this must be the artist or the subject. But upon looking at the Museum’s object label, you see that the painting is a likeness of young Charlotte-Françoise DeBure by the artist Catherine Lusurier, who lived from about 1753 to 1781. Neither of them is named Drouais.

So, what’s going on with that frame plaque?

Categories
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.

Categories
Art Art News Collection Contemporary Curatorial Prints and Drawings

From the Collection–Fab 5 Freddy (Told Me Everybody’s Fly)

Fab 5 Freddy (American, b. 1959), Untitled, 1986. Ink and oil pastel on paper. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Susan L. Strande, M1992.57.

A new exhibition Art in the Streets is on view April 17 to August 8, 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles). The exhibition is the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art and it features an artist in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection: Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Braithwaite.

Early on the hip hop scene in Brooklyn, graffiti artist, close friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat, fan of Andy Warhol, and host of “Yo! MTV Raps”, Fab 5 Freddy is a pioneer of the street art genre.

Categories
Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Miss Frances Lee by Francis Cotes

Francis Cotes (English, 1726-1770), Portrait of Miss Frances Lee, 1769. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William D. Vogel M1964.5. Photo by Larry Sanders.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has in its collection a beautiful portrait by Francis Cotes, one of the highlights of the Museum’s Gallery of 18th century English and Italian Works (gallery #7, main level).

Cotes’ story is an interesting one.  Francis Cotes’ (English, 1726–1770) fame as a portrait painter in eighteenth-century England was surpassed only by that of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough—and many feel that if he had not died so early in his career at age 44, his name would not have faded into obscurity.

Cotes was particularly talented in working with pastel, evident even in his oil paintings which use bright yet delicate colors and contrasting textures.  Examples of pastels by Cotes are at the Cleveland Museum of Art and in The Frick Collection.  Some oil paintings by Cotes are in the Tate, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Museum of Wales.

Cotes was particularly successful with likenesses of children, since they have an unaffected immediacy lacking in the more formal, decoratively detailed society portraits.  Portraits of children can be found at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Speed Museum of Art.

Categories
20th and 21st Century Design Art Art News Collection

From the Collection—Toshiko Takaezu

Oil of the Earth

The ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu generously gave the Milwaukee Art Museum ten of her fine art vessels in 2006.

Today I was nonchalantly compiling information on her life in preparation for a potential display of those vessels, when I was suddenly saddened to read of her recent death on March 9, 2011. In Toshiko Takaezu’s obituary in the New York Times, she is credited with helping “to elevate ceramics from the production of functional vessels to a fine art.”

As one often does when encountered with the loss of either someone close or someone distant but admired (like an artist), I ran through my bank of fond memories.

Categories
Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection—Portrait by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein

In 1988, the Milwaukee Art Museum purchased a painting by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, one of the most important German portraitists of the early 19th century. Up until that point, most of the paintings in the Museum’s German collection were from the second half of the 19th century, so this was a significant acquisition.  You can find it on the bright blue wall in Gallery 9.

The portrait is a fantastic example of German neoclassical style blended with Biedermeier attention to detail. The upper-class gentleman, dressed expensively and with his jewelry prominently displayed, sits comfortably in an elaborately carved chair. The chair, with a griffin as the armrest, is gilded and upholstered in dark blue—an interpretation of ancient Roman furniture. Behind him is a gilded desk with marble top, again a quote from the ancient world, and a window with a luxurious dark red velvet curtain pulled up to show a city in the distance. The sitter is well-educated, shown by the books spread out on the table and the roll of paper with writing in his hand. He also wears the Maltese Cross on his jacket.

The question is, who is this man?