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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

MAM Behind-the-Scenes: Rotating the Collection

Gallery with Portrait Miniatures at Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo credit: Tina Schinabeck.
Gallery with Portrait Miniatures at Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo credit: Tina Schinabeck.

The Milwaukee Art Museum, like many other large museums, has so much art that it is impossible to display it all at once; there is just not enough space in the galleries.

Instead, the museum often rotates their installations, allowing the largest amount of objects to be displayed—just at different times. This also lets the curators to explore many different narratives using the permanent collection.

One such rotating installation is the display of portrait miniatures. Located in the gallery that contains most of the eighteenth-century European material, the portrait miniatures make a fascinating case study on just how the Milwaukee Art Museum goes about rotating artwork.

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Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Questions of Provenance: William and Gertrude Schuchardt

Installation of Corot, Daubigny, Miller: Visions of France. Photo credit: the author.
Installation of Corot, Daubigny, Miller: Visions of France. Photo credit: the author.

In the past, in posts related to provenance (or the history of an artwork, such as who has owned it and where it’s been), we’ve talked a little bit about credit lines.  Credit lines are the part of an object label that tells you how the Milwaukee Art Museum acquired that artwork.  The most common credit lines are gifts or bequests, but we also purchase artwork with funds given to us for that reason.

Today, I want to explore the story behind a more unusual credit line.

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Art Events

If Milwaukee’s Festivals were Works of Art…

Warrington Colescott (American, b. 1921), Suite Louisiana: The Music of the Folks, 1996. Color soft-ground etching, aquatint, and spit bite, with à la poupée inking, and relief rolls through stencils. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the artist and Frances Myers M2004.538. Photo credit: Michael Tropea © Warrington Colescott
Warrington Colescott (American, b. 1921), Suite Louisiana: The Music of the Folks, 1996. Color soft-ground etching, aquatint, and spit bite, with à la poupée inking, and relief rolls through stencils. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the artist and Frances Myers M2004.538. Photo credit: Michael Tropea © Warrington Colescott

Milwaukee has earned the title “City of Festivals,” and for very good reason. If you are looking to celebrate music, art, film, cultural heritage, specific holidays or simply a love of craft beer, Milwaukee has a festival for you!

In the summer months, when Wisconsin weather is arguably most pleasant for those outdoor activities that do not require snowsuits, you might even find yourself at a different festival every weekend. The Milwaukee Art Museum itself contributes to the city’s lively “festival culture” by hosting the Lakefront Festival of Art every June.

To coincide with the height of our local festival season, I’ve selected some works from the Museum’s collection for their visual resemblance to some of Milwaukee’s most popular upcoming summer festivals.  Have fun!

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center

Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center. Photo credit: John Glembin.
Herzfeld Photography, Print, and Drawing Study Center. Photo credit: John Glembin.

Did you know that nearly half of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection consists of works on paper? We have more than 15,000 rare prints, drawings, photographs, and book arts.

Works on paper cannot be shown indefinitely, because they are light-sensitive; light will cause them to fade.  Accordingly, in order to preserve them in the best condition possible, they are rotated.  A rotation is when one work is taken off view and replaced with another, usually every three to four months.

The Museum has a number of new spaces dedicated to works on paper.  The focus of these areas range from European prints and drawings (Gallery S202), to modern art from the Bradley Collection (Gallery K215), to Folk and Self-Taught art (Gallery K122). When not on view, those works on paper are stored safely in the dark.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Albrecht Dürer, Part 2

The inaugural exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until March 20) explores the Renaissance in Germany. Comprised completely of prints from the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can find engravings by Heinrich Aldegrever (1502–ca. 1561) and stipple engravings by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550). But you can’t study printmaking in the German Renaissance without a serious consideration of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). And we’re lucky enough to have 14 prints by the master! This is the second of a series of posts related to Dürer’s prints.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Madonna with the Monkey, ca. 1498. Engraving. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gertrude Nunnemacher Schuchardt Collection, presented by William H. Schuchardt M1924.169. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Madonna with the Monkey, ca. 1498. Engraving. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gertrude Nunnemacher Schuchardt Collection, presented by William H. Schuchardt M1924.169. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.

Last time, we learned a little about Albrecht Dürer by looking at a woodcut from his series called The Apocalypse. In this post, we’ll look at a different type of print—an engraving—with religious subject matter.

Madonna with the Monkey is one of several Madonna and child compositions that Dürer produced throughout his career. His Catholic German patrons would be interested in the powerful woman that had become so central to the salvation of man by being the mother of Christ. This type of print would be popular and consequently sell well. In the current display at the Milwaukee Art Museum, there are two other depictions of the Madonna and child (Madonna and the Infant in Swaddling and the Madonna with the Pear) and two prints from the series The Life of the Virgin (The Death of Mary and The Circumcision of Jesus).

In Madonna with the Monkey, Dürer shows a young, loving mother holding her chubby baby. This display of emotion, combined with the well-modeled physicality of the figures, is a contrast to previous depictions of the Madonna and Child found in central Europe (compare this sculptural example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). This is likely a result of Dürer’s first visit to Italy, from 1491 to 1495. While there, he studied artwork of the Italian Renaissance and the classical past. He brought back sketches and ideas which moved German art away from the frontal, stylized representations of the middle ages.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Albrecht Dürer, Part 1

The inaugural exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until March 20) explores the Renaissance in Germany. Comprised completely of prints from the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can find engravings by Heinrich Aldegrever (1502–ca. 1561) and stipple engravings by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550). But you can’t study printmaking in the German Renaissance without a serious consideration of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). And we’re lucky enough to have 14 prints by the master! This is the first of a series of posts related to Dürer’s prints.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), St. John's Vision of Christ and the Seven Candlesticks, from the series The Apocalypse, 1498; published 1511. Woodcut. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Albert O. Trostel M1972.41. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), St. John’s Vision of Christ and the Seven Candlesticks, from the series The Apocalypse, 1498; published 1511. Woodcut. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Albert O. Trostel M1972.41. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.

Albrecht Dürer is often considered the father of the northern Renaissance. He traveled to Italy twice, bringing the Italian Renaissance’s interests in art and culture back to Germany. Not only was he a well-respected visual artist, but he was also a widely published author on humanistic thought and scientific topics.  Also, he was engaged in debate on religious issues. Serving as the first court artist to Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and his successor Charles V, Dürer had access to some of the highest social circles of Europe.  Accordingly, he embraced the Renaissance idea of the artist as a creative genius whose gifts were bestowed by God rather than as a hard-working craftsman.

One way that Dürer influenced the artistic trajectory of the northern Renaissance is through his masterful approach to printmaking. His exploration of the unique way that prints can show light and dark, as well as how they can tell a powerful story, made printmaking an artwork in its own right rather than just a way to illustrate printed books. Today we begin a series that explores Dürer’s role in the history of printmaking by looking closely at some of his prints on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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Art Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—Doubting Thomas by Adriaen van der Werff, Part 2

Adriaen van der Werff (Dutch, 1659–1722). Self-portrait with the Portrait of his Wife, Margaretha van Rees, and their Daughter Maria, 1699. Oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-A-465.
Adriaen van der Werff (Dutch, 1659–1722). Self-portrait with the Portrait of his Wife, Margaretha van Rees, and their Daughter Maria, 1699. Oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-A-465.

In the first part of this post, using the Milwaukee Art Museum’s painting Doubting Thomas, we explored the biography and style of Dutch artist Adriaen van der Werff (a self-portrait of him from the Rijksmuseum is to the left).  This week, we’re going to trace the provenance of Doubting Thomas and see what it tells us about the history of taste in art and trends in collecting.

Van der Werff was one of the most famous painters of his day and was known internationally throughout his career. He was in demand in his earlier career for his rich portraits in the popular “Fine School” style. One example of his early work is the 1685 painting in the National Gallery, London called Portrait of a Man in a Quilted Gown.

Then in the 1690’s van der Werff’s paintings became more and more influenced by the classical style admired in France. He already had a tendency to use richer detail and elegant lines in his Fine School paintings. An important reason for this transition is the fact that the new style was preferred by patrons in the late Baroque period. If you want to make a living, you paint want people want to buy!

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Art Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—Doubting Thomas by Adriaen van der Werff, Part 1

Adriaen van der Werff (Dutch, 1659–1722). Doubting Thomas (The Incredulity of St. Thomas), 1710. Oil on wood panel. 24 15/16 × 18 15/16 in. (63.34 × 48.1 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. V. Krikorian M1971.60. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.
Adriaen van der Werff (Dutch, 1659–1722). Doubting Thomas (The Incredulity of St. Thomas), 1710. Oil on wood panel. 24 15/16 × 18 15/16 in. (63.34 × 48.1 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. V. Krikorian M1971.60. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells.

Remember in an earlier post when I said that the study of provenance can tell us a lot about the history of taste? We’ll see how by taking a closer look at one of the paintings in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The painting is Doubting Thomas—sometimes called The Incredulity of St. Thomas—by Dutch artist Adriaen van der Werff (1659–1722).

Adriaen van der Werff started his career by painting in the style called Fijnschilder, which literally means “Fine School”. In Fine School painting, the goal was to create a painting that is so smooth and pristine that individual brushstrokes could not be seen. Often the artworks were small and filled with details that required close looking and layers of symbolism. A perfect example is our A Young Woman at a Window with a Parrot and a Birdcage, which you can see bellow (and which will be discussed in a future blog post!).

By the late 17th century, van der Werff began to change his style, painting in a classical style that was popular in France. Doubting Thomas is a perfect example of this classical style. You can see it in the long, elegant proportions of his figures and in his rich depiction of costume.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Questions of Provenance—The Marriage Trap by Jan Victors, Part 1

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.
Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676), The Marriage Trap, ca. 1640–60. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Erna Flagg M1974.233. Photo credit: John Nienhuis, Dedra Walls.

Jan Victors (Dutch, 1619–after 1676) was probably a student of the famous Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606–1669). Just like his contemporaries, Victors created works with various popular subjects, including religious scenes, portraits, and genre paintings.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has a market scene in its collection which falls into this last category. The Marriage Trap is set along the familiar canals of Holland. A peasant wedding party is purchasing a fish for the ensuing celebration.

But the Dutch loved layering painting with many layers of symbolism–often for a humorous result.  Victor’s ability in combining realism with humor is illustrated by the context and placement of the fish.  It is most likely intended as a sexual metaphor!

Recently, The Marriage Trap was on our list for submission to the Art Loss Register. A quick look at the thick object file—where we keep records and correspondence related to one artwork—showed me that there was some untangling to do! So, I carefully read through everything, looked for more resources, and double checked it all before organizing it in a clearly stated entry for our collection database.

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Art

Bradley Collection Celebrates 40th Anniversary!

Mrs. Harry L. Bradley standing standing her "Girl in a Straw Hat" on exhibition in "Pierre Bonnard, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 7-November 29, 1964.
Mrs. Harry L. Bradley standing standing her “Girl in a Straw Hat” on exhibition in “Pierre Bonnard” exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 7-November 29, 1964.

This year the Milwaukee Art Museum celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection. Upon its donation in 1975, the collection elevated the status of the Milwaukee Art Museum from a local art museum to a museum with a world-class collection.