American Art Collection Curatorial Exhibitions

Layton Art Collection: 1888-2013, Part 3

When we last left off, Charlotte Partridge was the curator of the Layton Art Gallery, which was located on the northeast corner of North Jefferson street and Mason street. In 1957 the Layton Art Collection joined the Milwaukee Art Institute in the new War Memorial building. Three figures are key to the Layton Art Collection during this third period: Edward Dwight, Tracy Atkinson and Frederick Vogel III.

American Art Collection Curatorial Exhibitions

The Layton Art Collection—1888-2013, Part 1

Exhibition Title Wall. Photo by Claudia Mooney
Exhibition Title Wall. Photo by Claudia Mooney

As you may know from reading Chelsea Kelly’s last blog post, the Milwaukee Art Museum is celebrating its 125th anniversary–-commemorating the big year with three exhibitions. The Layton Art Collection: 1888-2013 is the Chipstone Foundation’s contribution to this great celebration.

The exhibition, open through the end of the year, is located in the Museum’s lower level. It tells the story of the Layton Art Collection, and is divided into three parts: Frederick Layton and the Layton Art Gallery, Charlotte Partridge and Modernism, and American Paintings and Decorative Arts. Each of the sections represents a distinct period in the Layton Art Collection. I will devote one blog post to each period, since each is rich with objects and interesting stories.

American Art Collection Curatorial European Exhibitions

Mr. Layton’s Gallery: The Salon-Style Hang

View of Gallery 10. Photo by Chelsea Kelly

If you’ve been in the European galleries in the last few weeks, you’ve probably noticed a dramatic transformation in Gallery 10!

The gallery has been reinstalled as part of the celebrations of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Layton Art Gallery, which laid the foundation for what would become the Milwaukee Art Museum.  We’ve decided to call it Mr. Layton’s Gallery, after Milwaukee philanthropist Frederick Layton, who started it all.

Art Library/Archives

A Museum’s History in Moving Image

Film still: View in to the Layton Art Gallery’s sculpture court, circa 1957. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives.
Film still: View in to the Layton Art Gallery’s sculpture court, circa 1957. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives.

One of my favorite film gems in the Museum’s audio-visual archive is rare film footage of the institution’s changing location and architecture. This film–soundless, in black and white, circa 1957–features the Layton Art Gallery, the Milwaukee Art Institute, and the Eero Saarinen-designed War Memorial and Milwaukee Art Center building, into which the museum moved officially in 1957.

While the 15-minute film is rather grainy and hazy, the images are nevertheless a stunning peek into the last days of the Layton Art Gallery and the Milwaukee Art Institute in the early 1950s before their demolition, and the subsequent rise of the War Memorial building and the (then) Milwaukee Art Center. Excerpts from this film will be featured in our upcoming 125th Anniversary Exhibition, but if you’d like a sneak peek, read on.

Behind the Scenes Library/Archives

125 Years and Counting

"When Democracy Builds". Milwaukee Art Institute Bulletin. November 1945. Vol. 18, No. 5, Page 1.
“When Democracy Builds”. Milwaukee Art Institute Bulletin. November 1945. Vol. 18, No. 5, Page 1.
We owe it to the awakening interest in art matters
and the democratic spirit of the society,
which is attempting to make the gallery
a valuable asset to every citizen and
to inculcate an appreciation of its offerings.

–Samuel O. Buckner, President, Milwaukee Art Institute. “Art Gallery Rapidly Growing in Popularity.” Free Press, Dec 23, 1913

In 2013, the Milwaukee Art Museum will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Since 1888, the Museum has featured over 3,600 exhibitions, acquired 30,000+ objects, and published hundreds of exhibition and Collection catalogues. The Museum has been instrumental in setting national standards for excellence in art education, and has also erected visionary architecture. An exciting 125 years indeed!

Art Collection Curatorial European

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.

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.

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.