Art Collection Curatorial European

From the Collection–Girolamo Mengozzi’s “Architectural Fantasy with Figures”

Attributed Girolamo Mengozzi, Architectural Fantasy with Figures, ca. 1750. Oil on canvas34 3/8 x 28 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Myron Laskin,M1982.37. Photo by P. Richard Eels.

I have always loved architecture. As a child, nothing excited me more than a big old Victorian farmhouse. Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Second Empire, Queen Anne—I was probably one of the only Wisconsin middle-schoolers who knew the nuances of American house design and could read—and draw—a floor plan.

As an undergraduate, one of my majors was Classical Civilization, and my interest in architecture easily translated to ancient buildings. When I studied in Rome during my junior year and was able to see ruins that I had been studying in photographs, I was so excited.

I actually cried a little when I walked into the Pantheon for the first time!

Working in the European department at the Milwaukee Art Museum doesn’t allow me a lot of possibilities to directly study architecture, but I have found one way to explore it indirectly. Tucked away in the corner of the Italian Baroque gallery (Gallery #6) is a painting that most visitors probably miss. It is Architectural Fantasy with Figures attributed to Girolamo Mengozzi (Italian, ca. 1688–ca. 1766).

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.

Art Collection Curatorial European Modern

From the Collection–Hans Baluschek’s “Working-class City”

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870–1935), Arbeiterstadt (Working-class City), 1920. Oil on Canvas, 48 7/16 x 36 1/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase with funds from Avis Martin Heller in honor of the Fine Arts Society M2010.49. Photo by John R. Glembin
Hans Baluschek (German, 1870–1935), Arbeiterstadt (Working-class City), 1920. Oil on Canvas, 48 7/16 x 36 1/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase with funds from Avis Martin Heller in honor of the Fine Arts Society M2010.49. Photo by John R. Glembin.

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought drastic and sometimes violent changes to European cities. By the beginning of the 20th century, artists in Germany were responding to the time’s social struggles and political unrest through their revolutionary artistic style and new subject matter.

The German Expressionists were one such art movement that reacted to these changes. Turning to simplified or distorted forms and bold colors, these artists tended to focused on humanistic themes and high emotion.

German Expressionism is one of the strengths of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection, which includes multiple works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (Street at Schöneberg City Park, 1912–13), Ludwig Meidner (Portrait of a Young Man, 1912), Käthe Kollwitz (Self-Portrait; from the deluxe periodical The Creators, vol. 5, no. 1, 1924), Emil Nolde (Roses on Path, 1935), and Max Pechstein (Calla Lilies, 1914).

In October 2010, the Museum added a new dimension to its early 20th-century German collection by acquiring a painting by the artist Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935), which has just been put on display in Gallery #12 with other European Modernism.

Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Cataloging 188 Paperweights

Baccarat paperweight M1996.68

This blog is about museum life “Under the Wings,” right?

One of the most important and perhaps most buried “under the wings” duties of the curatorial department is the care of the art collection (housing, safe transport, conservation) including the proper organization of what we have, where it is, who made it, how much it is worth, etc.

As the Museum acquires new objects, we make a new TMS (our database, The Museum System) record that tracks everything from insurance values to the artist’s nationality and birth date. As time progresses, TMS becomes rich with information, but that is entirely dependent on constantly adding new data.

A small thorn in our side was an old record saying “188 glass paperweights” and the location of four high-density storage boxes.  And, that’s all it said.

Were these 19th-century French millefiori paperweights? Folk art advertising paperweights? Tourist paperweights from 1950s Venice? We didn’t know.

Enter our Milwaukee paperweight expert.

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.

Art Curatorial

From Museum Storage—C. A. Buffington & Co. “Automobile Folding Chair”

C. A. Buffington & Co. (Berkshire, NY), Automobile Folding Chair, patented 1912. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of David and Toni Damkoehler, M2011.10. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Do you think this rusty iron folding chair deserves a place in a world-class art museum alongside priceless paintings by Mark Rothko and Vassily Kandinsky?

It looks like something you might find in a barn.

Well, in fact, it did come to the Museum from a barn, and we are thrilled to have it.

This metal folding chair is a patented design made sometime in the late 1910s by the C.A. Buffington & Co. manufacturers in Berkshire, New York. Buffington specialized in designing all sorts of equipment for the newfangled automobiles of the “Horseless Age“, including special jacks for changing tires, luggage carriers, and special automobile folding chairs like this one.

So how and why did this chair come to be part of the Museum’s Collection?

Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Kem Weber’s Airline Chair

"Airline" Armchair

This chair is one of my favorite designs of the 20th century. Period.

So sleek, yet soft! So comfortable, yet efficient!

When contemplating a move to Milwaukee to accept my current position, I made a short list of things I loved: “Lake Michigan. Calatrava-designed building. Beer culture. Kem Weber’s Airline chair.”

And now here I am, lucky enough to work every day in a building with “Airline” chair, the perfect type of museum object that looks stunning and can tell stories about its time and place. The Milwaukee Art Museum purchased the chair in 2001, and it is currently on view in the 20th-century Design Gallery (Gallery #30) on the Museum’s main level.

Art Curatorial

From the Collection–The Newsboy

American (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), The Newsboy, 1888. Carved, assembled and painted wood with folded tin. Milwaukee Art Museum, The Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. Photo by John Nienhuis.

The Museum often uses The Newsboy as a poster child for our spectacular Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. The education department includes it on our Family Audio Tour, and the energetic boy has a place of honor on view in the Museum’s Folk & Self-Taught Galleries on the Upper Level. However, I personally didn’t know a thing about this wonderful….er.. sculpture? Statue? Sign? I didn’t even know what to call him!

For this “From the Collection” I thought it was time for me to learn more about this Museum treasure.

The Newsboy is a trade sign. An artful sculpture, certainly, but also an object that was made with a pragmatic purpose in mind. In 1888 Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where this trade sign was made by an unknown artist, a larger percentage of the population would have been illiterate. Merchants relied on eye-catching storefront signs like this one to grab the attention of passers-by without the need for words.

Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Rubens Peale “Apple and Two Pears on a Pewter Plate”

Rubens Peale (American, 1784–1865), Apple and Two Pears on a Pewter Plate, 1861. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, Layton Art Collection. Photo by John R. Glembin.

In the American Collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum is an example of the long-standing artistic tradition, the still life painting. Apple and Two Pears on a Pewter Plate (1861) by Rubens Peale, speaks both to the history of the still life genre and the Peale family’s American artistic dynasty.

Historical origins of the still life trace back to antiquity, but it was not until the Renaissance that still life painting rose and flourished as a distinct tradition, when painters throughout Europe explored the art of painting a carefully arranged assemblage of objects.

Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

A quick trip to the Niedecken archives

George Mann Niedecken archival materials relating to designs for Milwaukee's Frederick Bogk House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

This afternoon I had to run a quick errand to the Museum’s George Mann Niedecken archives (formerly Prairie Archives) and decided to take a camera, and you blog readers, along for the trip.

As we prepare for the upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century exhibition, we are going through our own rich design holdings to see what we have that supplements the Wright drawings coming from the collection of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.