Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Cyril Colnik Iron Basket

Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958), Hanging Basket, ca. 1900. Iron, glass; 35 x 8 x 8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the American Arts Society M2012.299a–d.
Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958), Hanging Basket, ca. 1900. Detail. Iron, glass; 35 x 8 x 8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the American Arts Society M2012.299a–d. Photo by the author.

Though the Museum’s mission is to present, in our official lingo, “four floors of over forty galleries of art with works from antiquity to the present,” I’m probably not alone among curators in getting most excited when we acquire and exhibit world-class artwork made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This year, I was thrilled to work with our Museum’s support group dedicated to American fine and decorative arts (the American Arts Society, or AAS) to bring to the Museum’s Collection a fantastic iron hanging basket that was designed, made, and kept in Milwaukee.

While operating The Ornamental Iron Shop for over 60 years in Milwaukee, master iron artisan Cyril Colnik (American, b. Austria, 1871–1958) moved with changing fashions of his posh clientele in the finest homes of this city.

It you see stunning ironwork in Milwaukee, it’s probably by Colnik. To walk on the East Side, or along Lake Drive, is to enjoy a veritable open air Colnik museum.

And now, thanks to the American Arts Society, his artwork is also within the galleries of the Museum!

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection—The Rivals (Little Kittens) by Mihály Munkácsy

Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844–1900) The Rivals (Little Kittens), 1885 Oil on wood panel 34 3/4 x 45 11/16 in. (88.27 x 116.05 cm) Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton L139 Photo credit P. Richard Eells
Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844–1900), The Rivals (Little Kittens), 1885. Oil on wood panel, 34 3/4 x 45 11/16 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton L139. Photo credit P. Richard Eells.

In honor of mother’s day this month, I thought that I would write about a painting that not only features one mother, but two!  You’ll find The Rivals (Little Kittens) by Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844-1900) in the Museum’s Gallery #10 with 19th-century European paintings.

The painting shows a woman (mother #1) and her child on a sofa watching two kittens wrestling.  Meanwhile, a cat (mother #2) sits on the floor, watching the tussle from below.

Dated 1885, The Rivals shows us a comfortable French drawing room of what Americans recognized as the Victorian period. This family is clearly well-off financially, with up-to-date furnishings, opulent red decorations, and a fantastic potted plant.  Visible in the lower left, even the cat has her own fur-lined bed.  In fact, having housecats at all meant the family was of means.  In the late 19th century, it had become a popular trend for the upper middle class to own cats.

As can be deduced by the family-oriented subject, the painting was aimed at a bourgeois market interested in displaying ideals such as domesticity, prosperity, and refinement. These were known as salon pictures, which is the French word for living room.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection— “A Roman Amateur” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (English, b. Dutch, 1836–1912), A Roman Amateur (also known as A Roman Art Lover), 1870. Oil on wood panel, 29 x 39 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of the following Layton Art Gallery Trustees, plus Layton funds, between 1892-96: George Dickens, Frederick Layton, William Plankinton, B.K. Miller, Samuel Marshall, J.H. Van Dyke, L149. Photo by John Neinhuis.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema (English, b. Dutch, 1836–1912), A Roman Amateur, 1870. Oil on wood panel, 29 x 39 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of the following Layton Art Gallery Trustees, plus Layton funds, between 1892-96: George Dickens, Frederick Layton, William Plankinton, B.K. Miller, Samuel Marshall, J.H. Van Dyke, L149. Photo by John Neinhuis.

On December 14, 1894, Frederick Layton, the Milwaukee meat packer and philanthropist who founded the Layton Art Gallery (the predecessor of the Milwaukee Art Museum), wrote a letter to Julius Gugler of the Milwaukee Art Association.

Layton requested the organization to raise $10,000 by subscription to purchase a painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema which was currently on display at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel as a loan from one of Layton’s art dealer friends.

The subscription must have been successful, because the Layton Art Collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum has a wonderful painting by Alma-Tadema!

This painting, called A Roman Amateur, can be found in Gallery #10 with other works of 19th-century European art.

Categories
Art Library/Archives

From the Library: “Men Who Own Big Libraries”

Scrapbook of Mr. Charles Mortimer (1824-1911) Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives
The cover (a reused ledger book) of Mr. Charles Mortimer's scrapbook. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives. Photo by the author.

“Men Who Own Big Libraries: Milwaukeeans Who Delight in Collecting All Manner and Kind of Books” (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 18, 1901).

A title not to be passed up, wouldn’t you say? Who are these men, you ask? I had to read the 1901 article and find out …

I found this article, that goes on to describes the book collections of several wealthy Milwaukee attorneys and local leaders, housed alongside a scrapbook in the Museum’s Institutional Archives. The scrapbook was compiled by a man mentioned in the “Men Who Own Big Libraries” article. This man was not exactly a wealthy Milwaukee industrial titan, he was more of an odd man out–a mechanic whose unique collection provides a special surprise for anyone interested in Milwaukee’s early art scene.