Highlights from a visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art

December 7, 2010 at 2:09 am (Art, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington))

A recent visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art was something of an eye opener. Well, yes – it’s an art museum; why go if you’re eyes aren’t wide open and your mind receptive to new ideas and images?

I hadn’t been to the BMA for quite some time. This particular occasion was a tour arranged by the AAUW chapter to which I belong. Its purpose was to highlight distinguished women artists in the museum’s collection. We began with Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. I’m somewhat familiar with the works of this painter, but it was a pleasure to see once again, after a prolonged absence, this lovely work:

Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin, by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun

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One of my favorite discoveries of the day was Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837). She was the sister-in-law of Jean-Honore Fragonard, whose enormous canvases at the Frick Collection never fail to thrill. I could not find the exact work by this artist online. (The BMA’s site is not very generous with visuals from its permanent collection.) Here are some examples of her work found on the Web Gallery of Art:

The Gift

Artist painting a Portrait of a Musician

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Also on view was Young Woman in Black , also known as Portrait of Madame J, by Mary Cassatt:

(I asked the docent: “Can we assume that she is in mourning?”
“I don’t think you can assume anything,” was her quick riposte.
Well, thought I, You let yourself in for that one!)

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When we came to Apollinaire and His Friends by Marie Laurencin, I was initially unimpressed. This is a painting I would have passed right by, if it had not been a stop on the tour. However, by the time the docent had filled us in on its background and its special qualities, I was in a far more receptive frame of mind:

Guillaume Apollinaire is in the  center; Picasso is on the left , with his dog; Laurencin herself is on the right. The woman in the above, left quadrant is, I believe, a mistress of Picasso’s. (Anyone in the know out there, please correct me, if need be.) Somehow, once these identifications were made and the significance of the flowers and their positioning was pondered,  the picture came alive in all its delightful insouciance.

I don’t remember ever having heard of this artist prior to this occasion. But as so often happens, I encountered her again just yesterday. At present, I am  making my leisurely way through The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham, Selina Hastings’s enthralling new biography of the writer. Maugham purchased the Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferat, on the French Riviera, in 1926. He apparently turned it into a veritable showcase for art and artifacts from his extensive travels. And wouldn’t you know it: “The whitewashed dining room was comparatively small, the walls adorned with four paintings of white-skinned, coal-eyed girls by Marie Laurencin.” (The Villa Mauresque is now a boutique hotel, or rather two boutique hotels combined. I  for one am ready to go there!   )

 

Marie Laurencin

I am glad to have discovered the work of Marie Laurencin. Here is her portrait of Coco Chanel:

 

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Alma Thomas was born in 1891 in Columbus, Georgia. In 1907, she moved with her family to Washington DC, where she continued to live in the same house until her death in 1978. Thomas was the first graduate of Howard University’s art department in 1924. She went on to become the first African American woman to earn a Masters in Fine Arts at Columbia University (1934).  In addition, she was the first African American woman to have her work exhibited in New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

First, first, first… this was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman. In an essay entitled “Remembering Alma,” Adolphus Ealey, who knew the artist, tells us:

As a solidly established middle-class black family, the Thomases were able to give their daughters many advantages, but they expected them to conduct themselves as model young ladies of the era. Alma struggled to fit herself to the mold of propriety pressed upon her, but under her satin bows and lace gowns lurked a true Bohemian spirit – impatient of convention, fiercely independent, iconoclastic, hungry for recognition, and fixed upon a high ideal of personal achievement. Somehow, in Alma’s case, the mold cracked and before the inner spirit could harden, a wholly unique personality spilled out.

(This essay is included in A Life in Art: Alma Thomas  1891-1978.)

This is the painting that we  stood before. It is called Evening Glow:

As I gazed at it, I couldn’t help but smile. I believe that others in the group were similarly affected.

Here are two other works by Thomas:

 

Eclipse

Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses

 

Alma Thomas

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Yvette said,

    Thank you for posting all these. I love your blog and am always checking in even if I don’t leave a comment. I love that you talk about art and music as well as books. I try to do the same thing on my blog and I’ve taken your suggestions to heart in the past.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks so much, Yvette! I enjoy your blog as well (and especially the picture of the incredibly cute little granddaughter! Aren’t we the lucky ones, you & I…)

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