Earlier this week, as I walked to work, seeing my breath in front of me with my hands stuffed in my pockets, noticing that the trees were mostly bare, I had to admit to myself: winter just might be here. But part of me doesn’t want to dig out the winter coat and put away the flip-flops. I’m channeling my split-season-personality in this post by featuring two works in our Von Schleinitz collection of German art, which live right next to each other in Gallery 9.
George Niedecken’s reputation is that of a masterful Prairie School interior architect. However, because he worked as a collaborator to the master Prairie School architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, Niedecken’s legacy is often diminished. In addition to his famous collaborations on Wright’s Robie House (Chicago, Illinois) and Bogk House (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Niedecken was committed to new American styles for the twentieth century right here in Milwaukee. He studied the European Art Nouveau, Secessionist, and Arts and Crafts movements in Paris and Berlin, and applied these ideas to inspired designs for the living rooms of his Midwestern clients.
Ever wondered what it’s like to experience a religious epiphany? Just walk into Gallery 6 and look to Francisco de Zurbarán’s St. Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, one of the great masterpieces in the Museum’s Collection. St. Francis towers above us in a massive, stark painting, lit only by unseen torchlight, his face hidden and a skull cradled in his palms. The space is unclear, the colors muted. He is monumental, and walks towards us: his foot pokes out of his robes, entering into our space. When I stand in front of this painting, I always feel like I should take a step back and get out of his way.
In my high school art history class, my teacher, having covered with reverence the high-contrast drama of the Baroque, flipped the slide machine to show Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing and paused, glaring at the slide in the darkened room. Then she pronounced: “The Rococo. I loathe the Rococo! The Rococo is art history’s porn!”
Speaking of curious museum coincidences, here’s yet one more. I knew the identity of the man in the Museum’s Courbet painting (Clement Laurier), but what I didn’t know was that Courbet also painted a portrait of Laurier’s wife. After popping onto the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History for some entirely unrelated research, I came across Courbet’s rendering of Madame Laurier, which lives in the Met! (And then I immediately sat down to write this blog post instead of doing my original research. Always nice when your procrastination relates to your job, right?)
This week is National Dog Week – and what better Museum dweller to highlight than brave Jocko (and his unfortunate companion, the hedgehog) in honor of this important holiday?
In any museum gallery, you will encounter rare and valuable pieces of art. We value well-designed objects for many reasons, including for their materials and craft, their aesthetic design, and sometimes the people associated with them. This luxurious Tiffany & Co. Tea Service from 1905 is a rare object with incredible value in all three categories.
This unusual form with an even odder name begs the question: what is a posset pot?
Posset pots were specially designed for the consumption of a warm, spiced drink popular from the Medieval period into the 19th century. The nourishing beverage, posset, was used to strengthen new mothers, the sick, or the elderly. Though it turns my stomach slightly to think of it, a good posset recipe should result in several layers caused by curdling. The drink is made from milk beaten with eggs, sugar, and spices and curdled with ale or wine, but bread could be added to thicken it. The curdled milk rises to the top, the eggs create a custard mid-layer, and at the bottom is a warm spicy alcoholic drink, accessible only through the straw-like spout of a posset pot’s distinctive shape.
The work of an art historian or curator can sometimes be like that of a master investigator or CIA agent. For example, a trail of clues led to the probable identification of the woman in this painting by Sofonisba Anguissola. Anguissola is one of the earliest identified female artists, working in Italy in the late 1500s. Rare for the Renaissance, Anguissola was famous in her own time and worked as the court painter for the King of Spain, a job she secured thanks to the portraits of her family that she’d painted as she grew up and honed her skills. The girl in this image is the spitting image of many of Anguissola’s family members, with her round face, large hooded eyes, and long nose. But Anguissola had five sisters and two brothers, so who is this?
My favorite design objects are those that ring familiar, but also offer a story-telling twist, like Marcel Breuer’s aluminum Chaise Longue No. 313–or Reclining Chair–in our Museum’s permanent collection.