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.

Art 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.