Archive for Thomas Eakins

Northern Exposure: The Landscapes of David Milne

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by Liz Hager

David Milne, Dark Shore Reflected, Bishop’s Pond, 1920
Watercolor on Paper, 38.8 x 55.6 cms
(Private Collection)

Feeling is the power that drives art. There doesn’t seem to be a more understandable word for it, though there are others that give something of the idea: aesthetic emotion, quickening, bringing to life. Or call it love; not love of a man or woman or home or country or any material thing, but love without an object—instransitive love.

—David B. Milne, “Feeling in Painting,” 1948

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The Titans of 19th and early-20th century landscape art were amply represented in last summer’s meaty exhibition “Expanding Horizons: Painting and Photography of American and Canadian Landscapes 1860-1918” at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  The roster of American painters and photographers was an impressive one—Frederick Church, Albert BierstadtThomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keefe,  Timothy O’Sullivan, Edward S. Curtis, Carlton Watkins, and Alfred Stieglitz were among the many whose work filled a seemingly endless array of gallery rooms.

For this American visitor, however, the most exciting discoveries in the exhibition were to be found in the ranks of the Canadian artists, a group not as well known below the border. By arranging the exhibition according to six major themes, the curators provided visual evidence of the ways in which Canadian artists were influenced by styles and events in the US over the 60 plus years covered by the exhibition.  But this organizing principle also made evident clear points of differentiation and, in doing so, highlighted the essentially Canadian approach to landscape art.

David Milne, White, the Waterfall (The White Waterfall), 1921
Oil on canvas, 45.8 x 56.3 cms
(National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Lacking the notion of Manifest Destiny, Canadian artists were never seduced by epic proportions and panoramic vistas. The talented Group of Seven, working in the first quarter of the 20th century, focused on exploring the unique quality of the Canadian landscape.  As a group, their paintings evoke intimate, understated beauty. Additionally, Emily Carr’s soul-full renditions of native peoples and nature were a lovely surprise. American painter Allen Tupper True came to mind as a kindred spirit.

David Milne (1882-1953), however, was far and away the most exhilarating find of that summer day. Present in Milne’s work are the powerful sirens created by Matisse—vibrant line work, sinuous and often voluptuous forms, as well as daring color choices. And yet Milne managed to harness these elements to produce a uniquely expressive statement; his work illuminates the remarkable beauty to be found in the ordinary corners of the natural world.

David Milne, Black and White Trees and Buildings, 1915/6
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 61.5 cm
(National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

A contemporary of the Group of Seven (although not a member) Milne, was every bit as talented, but never attained commensurate public recognition in his lifetime. By choice, he led an often-solitary and financially-impoverished life. Voluminous letters make clear the extent to which Milne chose artistic expression over financial success, though he worried mightily about providing for his family.  As David P. Silcox observes in his David Milne: An Introduction to His Life and Art: for Milne “the making of art meant following a solitary track, not joining art movements or societies, even if it meant living for many years in relative obscurity.”

Milne attended The Art Students’ League in 1904.  Although he attempted a career in fine art afterward, earning an income soon necessitated full time work as a commercial illustrator.  One of only three Canadians, he exhibited five paintings in the 1913 Armory show. In 1915 he exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. These must have been rays of affirmation for the young artist.

David Milne, Side Door, Clarke’s House, c.1923
Oil on canvas, 30.5 x 40.7 cm
(Courtesy McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

Milne’s New York experience was interrupted by World War I. Having joined the Canadian army too late to see action, Milne was sent just after the Armistice to record his impressions of the French and Belgian battlefields for the Canadian War Memorials program. Upon his return to the United States the artist became increasingly more reclusive, relocating from New York to the solitude of the Berkshire and Adirondack Mountains.

Success eluded him over the ensuing decade, however, and in 1928 he moved to a series of locations both outside Toronto and in more remote, rural Ontario. The years of the Great Depression were highly productive ones for Milne. He painted a huge numbers of landscapes, the occasional interior or still life, and, beginning in the late 1930s, an increasing number of fantasy and Biblical scenes. This shift to  “spiritual” concerns corresponded with an almost exclusive return to the watercolor medium. For the remainder of his life Milne produced very few oil landscapes.

David Milne, Painting Place III, 1930
Oil on canvas, 51.3 x 66.4 cms
(National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Vincent Massey Bequest)

In the last years of his life, Milne was diagnosed with cancer. He sketched and painted until the end, when finally a virulent stroke took his life at the end of 1953. He is buried in an unmarked grave in a Toronto cemetery.

Fortunately, since his death, David Milne’s legacy has become better understood. After Milne’s death, art critic Clement Greenberg remarked:

To claim that Milne was arguably Canada’s ‘greatest painter’ is not extravagant. . . I would class him with such as Marin and Hopper in my own country. But he can hold his own anywhere.

(Letter to David Silcox 12/18/1991, from Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne)

Milne is remembered as the inventor of the multiple place color drypoint (a process similar to etching that does not require acid bath).  The National Gallery of Canada and other institutions have organized retrospectives since his death. The Metropolitan and British museums presented a comprehensive exhibition of Milne’s watercolors in 2005; in fact, in the last decade the British Museum began to acquire a number of Milne works.

This American hopes for more Northern exposure in the years to come.

Wider Connections

David Milne cybergallery at National Gallery of Canada
David P. Silcox—Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne
Group of Seven repository—McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Katherine Lochnan—David Milne Watercolours
Maureen Mullarkey—“Gilding the Lily” (review of the “Painting Toward Light” Milne exhibition)

“Manly Pursuits”—Thomas Eakins at LACMA

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2010 by Liz Hager

Editor’s Note: Nancy Ewart, whose posts appear on ChezNamasteNancy and Examiner.com, is a guest contributor at Venetian Red. Today she comments on “Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Thomas Eakins, Wrestlers, 1899
Oil on canvas, 62 x 72 in.,
(Courtesy LACMA; gift of Cecile C. Bartman and The Cecile and Fred Bartman Foundation.

By NANCY EWART

Although Eakins is now considered one of the great masters of nineteenth-century American art, his work, surprisingly, has not been extensively exhibited on the West Coast. During his lifetime, the artist showed close to home, primarily in Philadelphia and nearby New York City. Not until the end of his life, in 1915, did he display on the West Coast, at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. After his death, Eakins’s widow, in a concerted effort to sell some of the extensive oeuvre that remained in her possession, organized traveling exhibitions of his paintings. The 1927 West Coast tour of twenty-five paintings was the first and last showing of Eakins’s paintings in Los Angeles—until now.

Although I have problems with the way the work is displayed in “Manly Pursuits”, it’s well worth the trip.  Eakins’s work doesn’t need a “steampunk” version of the rigging and ropes which were placed around the show’s advertising banners; the visual clutter detracted from the paintings. I had just viewed the Fisher Collection at SFMOMA which is organized and hung so beautifully that it sensitized me to how a show looks when it’s well.  I wouldn’t say that the Eakins show was hung badly; it just wasn’t hung well enough for a museum of LACMA’s stature. The introductory banner of John L. Sullivan was nice but it really didn’t mirror Eakins’s vision which was far darker and internal.

I also appreciate that the curators avoided any of the controversies around his sexuality. They let the works speak for themselves. A wall text—there is no catalog—attests that modern sports signaled a new economic possibility for leisure time and a novel means of class mobility. (The wrestlers have sunburned faces and hands, meaning they’re probably working-class young men.)

Thomas Eakins, The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), 1871
Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 46 1/4 in.
(Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I doubt if I will be traveling to Philadelphia any time soon where Eakins’s masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, has been restored and will be on display until 2011. The last time I was in the East Coast, all of the Eakins’s paintings that I saw were in need of serious cleaning; the 19th century varnish had darkened so much that you couldn’t see a lot of the painting through the murk. Additionally, none of his drawings or the photographs that he used were on exhibit.

So this show is a much needed look at at one of American’s genuine Old Masters. One of the things that I liked about Eakins is that his work is not controversial for the sake of being controversial; there’s no sense of “look at what I did, see how modern and transgressive and just oh-so-chic I am.” He certainly had the ego and used it, sometimes to his own detriment, but the grand standing that so often passes for talent in modern art is just not on display.

Thomas Eakins, The Swimming Hole, 1884/5
Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 46 1/4 in.
(Courtesy Amon Carter Museum)

Organized exclusively for LACMA by Ilene Susan Fort, the museum’s Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, the exhibition celebrates the museum’s acquisition of Eakins’s last great sporting painting, Wrestlers (1899)—which also happens to be one of the single most important American paintings ever acquired by LACMA. Featuring around 60 oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs, and sculpture by the great American master, the exhibition serves as a rare opportunity to examine for the first time the entire range of sporting images by this iconic American artist.

“Eakins considered the body amazingly beautiful and a remarkable mechanism of movement,”  Ms. Fort has commented. “In his images from the late nineteenth-century of the athletic figure in action, Eakins created a new modern American hero; the sportsman—who can still be admired today by athletes and sports enthusiasts, as well as connoisseurs of great art.”

Thomas Eakins, Salutat, 1898
Oil on canvas, 9 ¾ in × 39 ¾ in
(Courtesy Addison Gallery of American Art)

“Manly Pursuits” is organized chronologically, from the 1870s to 1899, and thematically by type of physical endeavor:

1870s: Rowing, Sailing, Hunting and Coaching : Although sun and fresh air pervade these river scenes, Eakins recorded the races with the precision and mathematical interest of a scientist. On view with their related paintings will be the large-scale perspective drawings in which he calculated the position of boats, oars, waves and even reflections.

Eakins’ most colorful and impressionistic scene, Fairman Rogers’ Four-in-Hand was the sole example Eakins devoted to the upper middle-class activity of coaching (the art of driving horse-drawn carriages). It also was perhaps his most controversial sporting canvas since in it he attempted to depict the movement of the horses and wheels with photographic accuracy—an impulse many critics found to be at odds with the art of painting.

1880s: Swimming and Photography: Eakins devoted his sole sporting canvas of the 1880s to this subject. Swimming (1884-85) was also one of the major paintings in which he demonstrated his new interest in photography. On view will be photographs that helped Eakins compose the scene along with his scientific studies of human anatomy and posture and his experimental motion photographs.

1890s: Boxing and Wrestling:
Eakins’s last sporting images feature boxers and wrestlers and showcase the new indoor spectator sports that attracted the attention of middle and working-class enthusiasts. These paintings, some of which rank among the artist’s largest canvases, are ironically among his least known endeavors in the sporting genre.

Wider Connections

Christopher Knight (LA TImes)—interesting comparison of Eakins with Courbet
William S. McFeely—Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins
Sidney Kirkpatrick—The Revenge of Thomas Eakins

“Some Source of Elixir”: Leonard Baskin’s Artist Portraits

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , on May 1, 2010 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Leonard Baskin, Wiliam Blake, 1962
Etching, 45 x 37.5 cm

VR’s recent post on “The Beautiful Vagabonds: Birds in Art” prompted my renewed interest in Leonard Baskin. Those crows were just the tip of the iceberg!

Leonard Baskin, Edvard Munch, 1964
Etching, 30 x 45 cm

Baskin (1922-2000) first came into public view in 1952 as a printmaker. His creative expression was deeply influenced by rabinical training, a creative kinship with William Blake, and Gothic and early Renaissance art. Given these, perhaps it was inevitable that he would stake out a territory in his art very much in opposition to the reigning style of the time, Abstract Expressionism. And though Baskin went on to become a reknown sculptor, his stark black and white prints remain for me most emblematic of his distinctive legacy.

Leonard Baskin, Thomas Eakins, 1964
Etching, 45 x 33.5 cm

Baskin’s prints call forth a figurative world filled with introspection and brooding, with pain, transformation and, ultimately redemption. Even his choice of medium was ruled by this cosmos, for prints are made by incising a wound upon the block or plate. Baskin evoked the commonality of our suffering in endless ways, even through the most benign of subject matter.

Leonard Baskin, Gericault, 1969
Etching, 42.5 x 35 cm

Leonard Baskin, Mathias Grünewald, 1969
Etching, 45 x 37.5 cm

His close friend, poet Ted Hughes, is particularly eloquent on the subject:

This startling, sinister beauty, characteristic of all his works, cannot easily be called “content.” Yet it is something more than style, something other than the masterful technical expertise that gives his image the foot-poundage of its striking power and penetration. The subject matter of his image may shock us, and his phenomenal technique may overpower us, but this other thing does not attack in any way. It summons us very quietly. But more and more strongly. In the end it makes us seek his work out as if we needed it, and makes us cherish it, as some source of elixir, long after more documentary or photographic evidence of “our common suffering” has become a sad blur.

—Ted Hughes, “The Hanged Man and the Dragonfly,” (from The Complete Prints of Leonard Baskin: A Catalogue Raisonne 1948-1983)

Leonard Baskin, Self Portrait, 1951
Woodcut, 52.4 x 46.5 cm

Wider Connections

Baskin biography

Cornell University—Artifex: Leonard Baskin and the Gehanna Press
Smith College—“Leonard Baskin’s Images of Woman”

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Nicholaes Tulp

Posted in Fashion, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , on July 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here to read all posts in the series.

rembrandt—nicolaes-tulpRembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp,
1632, oil on canvas, approximately 5.5 x 7.1 feet.
(Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague)

The Painting

The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp marks Rembrandt’s first large commission, painted when the artist was 26 and newly arrived in Amsterdam. Rembrandt was to prove adept at group portraiture, and this painting has the hallmarks of many of his later group works, among them dramatic focal point and dynamic composition. Pictorial prototypes for anatomy lessons were scarce in Amsterdam at in 1632, although Rembrandt may have been familiar with Aert Pieterz’s 1603 example and Piet Mierevelt’s 1616 painting. With this portrait, however, Rembrandt pushed the genre into new territory.

Rembrandt blended spiritual and earthly concerns as no other painter before him. The painting reflects the enormous interest in and advancements made by science during the period. The subject, Nicholaes Tulp, demonstrates the workings of the hand through manipulation of forearm flexor muscle. Though painted during a period of scientific advancement, the painting displays inaccuracies, perhaps in the service of art. While Rembrandt has rendered elements of the dissected arm with with scientific accuracy, the hand of the cadaver does not clench closed as the doctor pulls on the main tendon. Further, the body cavity, which would have been opened first in a true dissection, remains untouched.

Andreas Vesalius, plate from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543

Apparently at Tulp’s own request, Rembrandt portrays him as the Andreas Vesalius of his age, in a pose replicated from the 1543 edition of Vesalius’ groundbreaking work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Vesalius was hugely influential to Tulp’s generation. As the first doctor to dissect cadavers himself (the previous practice called for a surgeon to dissect while the physician read aloud suitable chapters from an anatomy tract), Vesalius was responsible for most of the anatomy that Tulp would have known.

Rather than the conventional “heads in a row” presentation, Rembrandt has arranged members of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild more dynamically in a semi-circle around the highlighted corpse in various gestures of reaction. Curious given that it’s a dissection, no one looks directly at the body. Compare it to Eakin’s later painting, The Gross Clinic, in which the team is absorbed in their tasks:

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Doctor Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic)
1875, oil on canvas, 8′ x 6’6″
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The corpse is perhaps the most visually arresting element of the painting, bathed as it is in intense light. The body belonged to an executed criminal, and the painting is generally read as a statement about Tulp’s rendering good from evil.  In the particular pose of this cadaver with its white loin cloth, it is impossible not read into it religious martyrdom, recalling as it does various depictions of the entombment of Christ.

Tulp held the tenets of science and religion as complementary; he firmly believed the practice of anatomy led to a greater knowledge of God. In particular, the hand with its ability to create human civilization was proof to Tulp of divine wisdom.

The Lace

By the end of the 16th century, Holland had thrown off the yoke of Spain and entered her Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Dutch were basking in the success that their  maritime prowess had brought through expanded trade opportunities and far-flung colonies. In 1632 the Dutch East India Company was in its 30th year and flourishing, returning annual profits in excess of 100%. True, Holland, with the rest of Europe, was embroiled in Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), but a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet was not far off.

Nicholaes Pickenoy, Cornelis de Graeff,
1636, oil on canvas,
(Gemäldegalerie Berlin)

Although lacemaking in Holland never reached the dimensions that it did in Flanders, the Dutch were nevertheless wild about lace. It used not only on garments, but also to decorate household objects, including warming implements. A quaint custom even called for lace around the door knocker of a Dutch home to announce a new born baby. The lace kept the knocker from waking the baby.

The eight figures in The Anatomy Lesson reflect the new economic affluence of the Dutch. The men are depicted in the manner typical of the prosperous burghers of the period—plain tailored suits ornamented with costly and often elaborate collars (a legacy of Spanish fashion). The painting is remarkable for the variety of its neckware—the pleated ruff, the “fallen” ruff, and the rather unostentatious lace-trimmed flat collar worn by Tulp himself. (A clearer version of this particular collar can been seen in Pickenoy’s 1633 portrait of Tulp.) The flat collar could be fashioned into a mini ruff by pulling its string ends closed.

Jan Cornelisz.Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue,
1641, oil on canvas, 82 x 66.5 cm
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Tulp’s collar may be a form of “Dutch” lace, which was often used in the 17th century to rim collars. Dutch lace, actually Flemish, was a thick, closely worked, strong bobbin lace, worked in chrysanthemum- or cauliflower-like designs.

The ruff survived longest as an accessory in Holland; it was separated quickly from the shirt and, as such, survived well into the 17th century.  Ruffed and flat dish collars often reached absurd lengths, up to a foot and a half, and special eating utensils required for use with them.

Judith Leyster’s self-portrait notwithstanding, it would be the French who took lace fashion to dizzy heights.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait,
1630, oil on canvas,
(National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Wider Connections

Masquelet on The Anatomy Lesson
Alison Kettering—Rembrandt’s Group Portraits
Lace and Lace Making in the Time of Vermeer
“Ruffs, ribbons, cravats, and collars”

%d bloggers like this: