A Centennial Album: Drawing, Prints and Photos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 9, 2017 at 4:24 pm (Art, Photography)


Gazing at this beautiful graphic on the cover of the Met’s Winter 2017 Bulletin, I thought to myself: Why, that looks like Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s backdrop for Mozart’s Magic Flute. More precisely, it’s identified as being by Karl Friedrich Thiele, “after” Schinkel’s design for The Hall of Stars in the Palace of the Queen of the Night. Here is the original by Schinkel:

Here is Diana Damrau, singing the Queen of the night’s famous – and famously challenging – aria, Der Hölle Rache:

Born in Prussia in 1781, Karl Friedrich Schinkel was a man of extraordinary gifts. He was not only a set designer but a painter and architect as well.

Morning (Der Morgen)


Medieval Town by Water


Castle by the River


Konzerthaus, Berlin

Altes Museum und Lustgarten, Berlin


Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz


Karl Friedrich Schinkel 1781-1841


Back to the Met Bulletin: For two hours I’ve been lost in image searches prompted by this slender, unpretentious little volume. Here are some of the results:

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, black chalk and graphite, 1857


Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, gelatin silver print, 1985


St. Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Durer, engraving, 1514


The Salon of Baron Gros, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gros, Daguerrotype, 1850s


Louis-Remy Robert, by Alfred Thompson Gobert, salted paper print from paper negative, ca. 1850

If ever it could be said that a person’s very soul has been captured in an image, then surely it was done in this portrait of Louis-Remy Robert by his friend Alfred Thompson Gobert. The two were colleagues at the Royal Porcelain Factory at Sèvres.  Commentary provided on the Met’s site explains how technical necessity resulted in a striking work of art:

Robert’s colleague Alfred Gobert, head of the Enameling Workshop at Sèvres, is shown here with his head slightly bowed and his eyes half closed (in part to help maintain his pose during a long exposure in bright sunlight), as if lost in thought. The shallow depth of field—only Gobert’s face is in focus—and the flecks of light and soft massing of shadows so characteristic of prints from paper negatives heighten the sense that this portrait is a privileged meditation by Robert on the interior world of his friend.


The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty, by Julia Margaret Cameron, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1866

We know of this model nothing but her last name, Miss Keene.

Students from the Emerson School for Girls, byAlbert Sands Southworth, Daguerrotype, ca. 1820

I confess I exclaimed with delight upon seeing this photo! This school was founded in 1823 by George Barrell Emerson, second cousin to Ralph waldo Emerson. It is described in the Bulletin as “the most prominent school for young women in Boston.”


Spiraea aruncus, by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype, early 1850s

Described in the Bulletin as “a superb example of  Atkins’s cameraless photograms of algae and plant specimens,” these and similar images were created by placing “plant samples directly on light-sensitized paper. The resulting cyanotypes, or blueprints, appear as negative images against a sea of Prussian blue.”


Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851 London) The Lake of Zug, 1843 British, Watercolor over graphite

Ah, J.M.W. Turner, master of light….If you haven’t seen the film Mr Turner, featuring Timothy Spall’s brilliant and memorable portrayal of this genius of British painting, I recommend it very, very highly.

Just viewing this trailer made me yearn to see it again, in its entirety. Why aren’t there more movies like this?


St. George and the Dragon, Lewis Carroll, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1875


Frontispiece design for “Peter Poodle, Toymaker to the King,” by William Henry Bradley, Graphite, black ink, watercolor and gouache, 1906


Sumner Healey Antique Shop, 942 Third Avenue Near 57th Street, Manhattan, 1936. Gelatin silver print, by Berenice Abbott


As usual, this intensive period of image searching took me far afield, in this case somewhat outside the province of the Met Bulletin:

Baron Antoine Jean Gros Rushing into Eternity, by Jacques Charles Bordier du Bignon

Date unknown, but probably not long after 1835, when Baron Gros committed suicide.

Study of cats, Eugene Delacroix

(Nine months later, our own Miss Marple, we still miss her so much.)

Eugene Delacroix, by Nadar, ca. 1855






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The Gift of Art

February 26, 2017 at 5:49 am (Art)

foa-exhibit-catalog_002_1024x1024  In 1916 John L. Porter, a Pittsburgh businessman, established a fund whose purpose was to purchase works of art to be given as a gift to the public schools of his city. This philanthropic initiative was to be called The 100 Friends of Pittsburgh Art. In 1922 Porter wrote:

‘Can art appreciation be taught at any better period in life than when the youthful eyes and mind are in their most impressionable and temperamental years? Can squalor exist in the surroundings of the children brought into daily contact with beauty?’

In celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Mr Porter’s farsighted and generous conception, Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz Center  mounted an exhibit of some eighty works of art. In addition, they assembled a catalog, whose cover you see above.

Here are some of the featured paintings:

American Slovak Church by Dorothy Lauer Davids

American Slovak Church by Dorothy Lauer Davids


Assurbhannipul's Ark by Edward M Kosewics

Assurbhannipul’s Ark by Edward M Kosewics


Louine by Malcolm Stephen Parcell

Louine by Malcolm Stephen Parcell


Boy on a Bike by Charles "Bud" Gibbons

Boy on a Bike by Charles “Bud” Gibbons


After the Chores by Dorothy Lauer Davids

After the Chores by Dorothy Lauer Davids


Gibsonia woodland by Will J Hyett

Gibsonia woodland by Will J Hyett


The Princess and the Unicorn by Lee F McQuaide

The Princess and the Unicorn by Lee F McQuaide


Circe by Norwood Hodge MacGilvary

Circe by Norwood Hodge MacGilvary


Chinese Vase by Sister Mary Clare Besterman

Chinese Vase by Sister Mary Clare Besterman


The Immigrants by Gregory Kavalec

The Immigrants by Gregory Kavalec


1948, Pittsburgh Phenomena by John D Clarkson

Pittsburgh Phenomena by John D Clarkson


Our Little Flowers by Salvatore Madia

Our Little Flowers by Salvatore Madia


I was made aware of this exceptional exhibit by the American Art Review, a wonderful magazine for art lovers.







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Last Entry for Best Books of 2016: Two Titles

January 22, 2017 at 2:55 pm (Art, Best of 2016, Book review, books)

I’ve been very late getting this done, I know. This is mainly due to my work on what was the most challenging book discussion preparation I’ve ever undertaken. The book was Paul Theroux’s Deep South. The discussion took place on this Thursday past, and I’m glad to report that it went quite well, mainly due to the lively and insightful comments of my colleagues in AAUW Readers.

Mostly it’s done. And what a sweet relief!
Audiobooks are very vital to me. I only listen to them in my car, and I want to feel  a sense of happy anticipation when, belted in and ready to roll, I fire up my current choice. I knew I’d get that good feeling from a work by Alexander McCall Smith, and so I am now listening to the 44 Scotland street series.  238543

Love Over Scotland, the third entry, features a prose passage so moving – at least it was to me – that as soon as I got back home, I downloaded the novel in its entirety.

The excerpt I refer to consists of a letter being written by the artist Angus Lordie to his friend , the beautifully named Domenica Macdonald. Domenica, described as a “freelance anthropologist,” is at that time halfway around the world studying the mores and folkways of a community of pirates inhabiting the Malacca Straits. (McCall Smith’s imagination as usual, ranges freely from the domestic to the remote to the downright bizarre.)

In this missive, Angus gives voice to his feelings upon the loss of a friend in strange and sad circumstances. I’m going to quote the whole thing here:

“My dear Domenica,” he began. “I write this letter seated at the kitchen table. It is one of those cold, bright winter mornings that I know you love so much, and which make this city sparkle so. But the letter I write you will be a sad one, and I am sorry for that. When one is alone and far from home, as you are, then one longs for light-hearted, gossipy letters. This is not one of those.
“Yesterday, as I was painting his portrait, Ramsey Dunbarton, a person I have known for a good many years, died in my studio. He was seated in my portrait chair, talking to me, when he suddenly stopped, mid-anecdote. I thought nothing of it and continued to paint, but when I glanced from behind my canvas I saw him sitting there, absolutely still. I thought that he had gone to sleep and went back to my painting, but then, when I looked again, he was still motionless. I realised that something was wrong, and indeed it was. Ramsey had died. It was very peaceful, almost as if somebody had silently gone away, somewhere else, had left the room. How strange is the human body in death–so still, and so vacated. That vitality, that spark, which makes for life, is simply not there. The tiny movements of the muscles, the sense of there being somebody keeping the whole physical entity orchestrated in space–that goes so utterly and completely. It is no longer there.
“You did not know Ramsey. I thought that you might perhaps have met him at one of my drinks parties, but then, on reflection, I decided that you had not. I do not think that you and he would necessarily have got along. I would never accuse you of lacking charity, dear one, but I suspect that you might have thought that Ramsey was a little stuffy for you; a little bit old-fashioned, perhaps.
“And indeed he was. Many people thought of him as an old bore, always going on about having played the part of the Duke of Plaza-Toro at the Church Hill Theatre. Well, so he did, and he mentioned it yesterday afternoon, which was his last afternoon as himself, as Auden puts it in his poem about the death of Yeats. But don’t we all have our little triumphs, which we remember and which we like to talk about? And if Ramsey was unduly proud of having been the Duke of Plaza-Toro, then should we begrudge him that highlight in what must have been a fairly uneventful life? I don’t think we should.
“He was a kind man, and a good one too. He loved his wife. He loved his country–he was a Scottish patriot at heart, but proud of being British too. He said that we should not be ashamed of these things, however much fashionable people decry love of one’s country and one’s people. And in that he was right.
“He only wanted to do good. He was not a selfish man. He did not set out to make a lot of money or get ahead at the expense of others. He was not like that. He would have loved to have had public office, but it never came his way. So he served in a quiet, rather bumbling way on all sorts of committees. He was conservative in his views and instincts. He believed in an ordered society in which people would help and respect one another, but he also believed in the responsibility of each of us to make the most of our lives. He called that ‘duty’, not a word we hear much of today.
“There is a thoughtless tendency in Scotland to denigrate those who have conservative views. I have never subscribed to that, and I hope that as a nation we get beyond such a limited vision of the world. It is possible to love one’s fellow man in a number of ways, and socialism does not have the monopoly on justice and concern. Far from it. There are good men and women who believe passionately in the public good perspectives. Ramsey was as much concerned with the welfare and good of his fellow man as anybody I know.
“People said that he had a tendency to go on and on, and I suppose he did. But those long stories of his, sometimes without any apparent point to them, were stories that were filled, yes filled, with enthusiasm for life. Ramsey found things fascinating, even when others found them dull. In his own peculiar way, he celebrated the life of ordinary people, ordinary places, ordinary things.
“I suspect that Scotland is full of people like Ramsey Dunbarton. They are people whose lives never amount to very much in terms of achievement. They are not celebrated or fêted in any way. But there they are, doing their best, showing goodwill to others, paying their taxes scrupulously, not cheating in any way, supporting the public good. These people are the backbone of the country and we should never forget that.
“His death leaves me feeling empty. I feel guilty, too, at the thought of the occasions when I have seen him heaving into sight and I have scuttled off, unable to face another long-winded story. I feel that I should have done more to reciprocate the feelings of friendship he undoubtedly had for me. I never asked him to lunch with me; the invitations always came from him. I never even acknowledged him as a friend. I never told him that I enjoyed his company. I never told him that I thought he was a good man. I gave him no sign of appreciation.
“But we make such mistakes all the time, all through our lives. Wisdom, I suppose, is seeing this and acting upon it before it is too late. But it is often too late, isn’t it?–and those things that we should have said are unsaid, and remain unsaid for ever.
“I am heart-sore, Domenica. I am heart-sore. I shall get over it, I know,  but that is how I feel now. Heart-sore.”
He finished, read it through, and then very slowly tore it up. He would not send it to Domenica, even if he meant every word, every single word of it.


fullsizender  I’d never heard of Cesar Aira until I encountered him in a review in the Wall Street Journal written by Nathaniel Popkin. Popkiin was actually reviewing a novel called Zama by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto. In the concluding paragraph, reference was made to Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira, Di Benedetto’s fellow Argentinian.

Two things about Episode immediately piqued my interest. First, there was the fact that the protagonist was a painter; his name is Johann Moritz Rugendas. Secondly, Rugendas had been encouraged to travel to South America in order  to find new and exotic subjects with which to fuel his artistic impulses. The individual urging him on this course of action was none other than the great explorer and natural scientist Alexander Von Humboldt. Early last year I read The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. Von Humboldt’s “New World” became my new world – what an absolutely terrific read this was! Had it been up to me, Andrea Wulf would have won every existing literary award and then some.

The following is from Aira’s novel:

Rugendas was a genre painter. His genre was the physiognomy of nature, based on a procedure invented by Humboldt. The great naturalist was the father of a discipline that virtually died with him: Erdtheorie or La Physique du monde, a kind of artistic geography, an aesthetic understanding of the world, a science of landscape. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was an all-embracing scholar, perhaps the last of his kind: his aim was to apprehend the world in its totality; and the way to do this, he believed, in conformity with a long tradition, was through vision.

And so I read Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. Though slight in length – more a novella than a novel – it is one of the most unusual and powerful works of fiction I have ever encountered.  Johann Moritz Rugendas was an actual historical personage, a German artist of the early nineteenth century who traveled to South America in search of new vistas to paint. But although this novel takes Rugendas’s life as its starting point, it diverges significantly from his actual biography. This is nowhere more true than in regard to the episode in the title. Actually, ‘episode’ is a misleadingly innocuous term to describe what actually happens to Rugendas shortly before the novel’s midpoint. I don’t want to say anything more about it except this: it haunts me.

I do think I can say that for me, this novel is about two things: the courage that individuals are capable of in extreme circumstances, and the sustaining devotion that one friend freely gives to another.

The writing is extraordinary. Kudos to Cesar Aira for his intense lyricism and meticulous descriptions, and to Chris Andrews, the translator.

At a recent book club discussion I attended, some readers expressed impatience with descriptive passages that impede the pace of a book’s plot. While I have encountered this from time to time in my own reading, the sheer beauty of the prose in Episode was one of the main things that kept me riveted to the narrative.

 It was not really rain so much as a benign drizzle, enveloping the landscape in gentle tides of humidity all afternoon. The clouds came down so low they almost landed, but the slightest breeze would whisk them away . . . and produce others from bewildering corridors which seemed to give the sky access to the center of the earth. In the midst of these magical alternations, the artists were briefly granted dreamlike visions, each more sweeping than the last. Although their journey traced a zigzag on the map, they were heading straight as an arrow towards openness. Each day was larger and more distant. As the mountains took on weight, the air became lighter and more changeable in its meteoric content, a sheer optics of superposed heights and depths.

I hope to read more of the works of Cesar Aira; I’d like to read Zama as well.

 César Aira

César Aira

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Sounds and images of the season

December 25, 2016 at 8:38 pm (Art, Christmas, Music)

Christmas music to accompany your viewing:



Annnunciation, Domenico Beccafumi



Ecce Ancilla Domini, Dante Gabriel Rosetti



Annunciation, Bartolome Esteban Perez Murillo


Annunciation, Sandro Botticelli

Annunciation, Sandro Botticelli


The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner


Madonna of the Magnificat, Botticelli

Madonna of the Magnificat, Botticelli


Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgione

Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgione


St. Joseph and the Christ Child, by Guido Reni

St. Joseph and the Christ Child, by Guido Reni


The Alba Madonna, Raphael

The Alba Madonna, Raphael






People Celebrating Kwanzaa

People Celebrating Kwanzaa


Child Lighting Hanukkah candles

Child Lighting Hanukkah candles



Rabbi with a Torah, Marc Chagall

Rabbi with a Torah, Marc Chagall

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa – Happy Everything, and Everyone.


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‘Come to us and we will comfort you…’ – Sarah Goodridge and Daniel Webster

November 25, 2016 at 11:23 pm (Art, History)

So there I was, perusing my newly acquired art book from the Metropolitan Museum, when I came across a startling image that seemed totally out of keeping with the book’s general content. But let’s back up for a minute – or several minutes.

The book is called American Portrait Miniatures. img-news-met-mini-1_162030661934 The Met has a wonderful collection of these gem-like masterworks. (They usually  measure about two by three inches.) Here are some examples:

Portrait of a Lady byby Thomas Seir Cummings, ca. 1827

Portrait of a Lady by Thomas Seir Cummings, ca. 1827

Portrait of a Gentleman and His Daughter by Francois M Guyal de Guiron, ca 1805

Portrait of a Gentleman and His Daughter by Francois M Guyal de Guiron, ca 1805

Mrs William Gordon Ver Planck and Her Son Samuel Hopkins Ver Planck, ca 1828

Mrs William Gordon Ver Planck and Her Son Samuel Hopkins Ver Planck, ca 1828

Kate Roselie Dodge by John Wood Dodge (the artist's daughter), ca 1854

Kate Roselie Dodge by John Wood Dodge (the artist’s daughter), ca 1854

The making of portrait miniatures was one area of art in which women were able, as it were, to make their mark early in the world of art history. One of the first was the Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757).

Self-Portrait as Winter by Rosalba Carriera 1731

Self-Portrait as Winter by Rosalba Carriera 1731

Antoine Watteau [1684-1721] by Rosalba Carriera 1721. One of my favorite painters, looking so melancholy and no wonder; his life, so brief yet full of brilliance.

Antoine Watteau [1684-1721] by Rosalba Carriera 1721. One of my favorite painters, looking so melancholy and no wonder; his life, so brief yet full of brilliance.

L'Embarquemtn pour Cythere (Embarkation for Cythera) by Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1717

L’Embarquement pour Cythere (Embarkation for Cythera) by Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1717

From the essay “The Revealed and the Concealed,” by John Updike:

The painting of miniature portraits, to be kept in lockets and leather cases, had become, in the decades before the daguerreotype n the 1840s, a thriving artistic industry, and one of the few in which women could succeed. The delicacy of the work–laying fine strokes or stipples of transparent watercolor upon small squares or ovals of ivory–was thought especially suited for feminine talents.

And this brings us to Sarah Goodridge. Born in Templeton, Massachusetts in 1788, Goodridge showed artistic ability early and was encouraged by her parents to develop her talent.  At that time, however, educational opportunities for women were severely limited. She took instruction where and when she could, and was to a large degree self-taught. Here is some of her work:


Gilbert Stuart, ca 1825-1827

Daniel Webster 1825

Daniel Webster, 1825


Self-Portrait, 1830

Sarah Goodridge painted several likenesses of Daniel Webster. They were friends – possibly more than friends. In 1828, shortly after the death of his wife Grace, Goodridge sent him a miniature that was – well, rather unique, at least for the times and  the country in which they were living.

Updike again:

Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s display of American portrait miniatures from the Manney Collection in the winter of 1990-1991 were startled to encounter, amid the staid Victorian visages in their tight bonnets and stocks, these luminous bare breasts.  Beautifully palpable and framed by a continuous swathe of gauze, they float ownerless and glow like ghosts, or angels, in some transcendental realm whose dark atmosphere lurks in the corners.

He continues:

There is a certain confrontations; severity about the precisely frontal presentation. The exquisitely tinted and shaded white skin and lipoid softness have the symmetry of armor. And a suggestion of challenge balances that of invitation. Do we imagine  plea, a silent chastisement, emanating from these so vivid but ethereally disembodied breasts?

This daring and unprecedented work of art is called Beauty Revealed.

In his magisterial biography of Daniel Webster, Robert V Remini informs us that “…Daniel Webster was a passionate, romantic man all his life, however much he hid his feelings from public view.”

He needed female society and contact, and in this period of  bereavement he appears to have developed a strong emotional bond with Sarah Goodridge….

If Goodridge was cherishing hopes of a marriage proposal, she was doomed to disappointment. No matter how intense their relationship may have been, Webster needed to marry money. Goodridge, living by her wits  and her talent, was comfortable but not wealthy. Webster proceeded to wed Catherine LeRoy, a New York merchant’s daughter, in 1829.

As for Sarah Goodridge, she remained single for the rest of her life. Following Webster’s death, Beauty Revealed remained in the possession of  his heirs and descendants, along with the artist’s easel and paintbox. (The family maintained that Sarah Goodridge had been Daniel Webster’s fiancée.) The painting was eventually given to Christie’s to be auctioned, purchased  by a  gallery, and  acquired from thence by collectors Gloria and Richard Manney. The Manneys utlimately donated their collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As to Sarah Goodridge’s intent on gifting Daniel Webster with Beauty Revealed, Updike has a pretty good idea of what it was:

Come to us and we will comfort you, the breasts of her self-portrait seem to say. We are yours for the taking, in all our ivory loveliness, with our tenderly stippled nipples.

(And who else could have said it quite this way but the inimitable, not to say irreverent, John Updike?)







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‘The life of Henry Ossawa Tanner is nothing short of inspirational.’

November 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, by Thomas Eakins

Henry Ossawa Tanner by Thomas Eakins, 1900

So begins the foreword to the catalog that accompanied the 2012 retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibit was entitled Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1859, Tanner moved with his family to Philadelphia while he was still very young. The city served as an incubator for great American art and artists, and so it proved to be with him.

Tanner’s professional journey began at age thirteen with a  walk beside his father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, where they encountered a landscape painter. Transfixed by the magic of this artist’s craft, Tanner knew at that formative moment that he wanted to be an artist.

[From the above cited Foreword, by David R. Brigham]

In 1879, Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He profited greatly from his studies there, especially those undertaken with Thomas Eakins. Nevertheless, his exposure to the taunts and routine humiliation of racism distracted and dismayed him. And so, like many of his fellow artists, he journeyed to France. This was in 1891. In 1899, he married Jessie Olsson, a Swedish-American opera singer. They had a son, Jesse. With the exception of several short trips back to America, Tanner remained living abroad for the remainder of his life.

Tanner’s style was fluid; his subject matter ranged from scenes of daily life for African-Americans to religious subjects.

In paintings like The Banjo Lesson, one can see the fluid use of paint, as if he effortlessly swept the pigment onto the canvas. The light and color of the piece echo the Impressionists in that it seems as if the subjects are caught at a fleeting moment as the sun starts to fade. While many of his works were influenced by Impressionism he never moved into the whole of that style, and because of this he was often criticized as being too “old fashion.” Yet, when looking at his use of color and the application of paint, there is such vitality and softness that it is hard to imagine calling it “old fashioned.”

Both in his genre scenes, African American paintings and his religious work, there is a type of compassion and gentleness between the subjects, which is rarely seen in art. In his painting The Annunciation (1898), the divine light of an angelic presence illuminates the entire room. The young Mary, frightened but full of gentleness looks questioningly towards the messenger whose warm light seems to embrace her.

[From the Henry Ossawa Tanner entry on Sullivan Goss: An America Art Gallery]

The Banjo Lesson

The Banjo Lesson, 1893

The Thankful Poor, 1894

The Thankful Poor, 1894

Spinning by Firelight, 1894

Spinning by Firelight, 1894

The Annunciation, 1898

The Annunciation, 1898

Abraham's Oak, 1904

Abraham’s Oak, 1904

View of the Seine Looking Toward Notre Dame, 1896

View of the Seine Looking Toward Notre Dame, 1896

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, 1897

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1897

A Mosque in Cairo, 1897

A Mosque in Cairo, 1897

In recognition of his achievements as an artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner was honored in his adoptive country France by being made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1923.

To view more of Tanner’s art, go to The Athenaeum.

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Seductive Paris, Part Three: James Abbott McNeill Whistler

November 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

[Click here for Part One; here, for Part Two]

Rather extraordinary that Whistler could have painted Wapping in the early 1860s


and Nocturne in Black and Gold: Falling Rocket, circa 1875:


The short answer is “Tonalism.” This article on the site of the Montclair Art Museum enlarges on certain of this art movement’s characteristics:

With its darkish palette, Tonalism countered the high-keyed expression of sunlight and shade in French Impressionism. Tonalism was, in short, one of the swan songs of nineteenth-century American academicism. Yet, paradoxically, it was also assimilated by progressive American Impressionists, and — with its often-ambiguous forms and subjects — even anticipated abstraction.

The understated color in most Tonalist art, or its complete absence, as well as its preternatural evocations, appealed to turn-of-the-century photographers seeking to assert the legitimacy of that medium as a serious art form which could transcend the mere documentation of reality.

More useful definition from The Art Story, especially as it applies to Whistler:

By limiting his color palette and tonal contrast while skewing perspective, Whistler showcased a new compositional approach that emphasized the flat, abstract quality of the painting.

Symphony in White: The Girl in White

Symphony in White, No.1: The White Girl, 1862

The woman here depicted is Joanna Hiffernan, Whistler’s mistress at the time. She was not quite the shy innocent suggested in this portrait. Whistler’s friends Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell described her thus:

“She was not only beautiful. She was intelligent, she was sympathetic. She gave Whistler the constant companionship he could not do without.”

Whistler himself expresses his admiration rather more freely:

“Her name is Jo Hiffernan, an Irish hellcat, skin like milk. Quick-witted for a woman, and a soul as deep as a well.”

(Quick-witted  for a woman, was she? It behooves us to remember that not so long ago, it was perfectly acceptable to toss off this sort of observation disguised by the speaker as a clever bon mot.)

This same model was painted by Gustave Courbet circa 1866:

La Belle Irelandaise (Jo Hiffernan)

La Belle Irelandaise (Jo Hiffernan)

Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864

Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl, 1864  (also Jo Hiffernan as model)

This work inspired the poem “Before the Mirror” by Algernon Swinburne:

WHITE ROSE in red rose-garden
Is not so white;
Snowdrops that plead for pardon
And pine for fright
Because the hard East blows
Over their maiden rows
Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright.

Behind the veil, forbidden,
Shut up from sight,
Love, is there sorrow hidden,
Is there delight?
Is joy thy dower or grief,
White rose of weary leaf,
Late rose whose life is brief, whose loves are light?

Soft snows that hard winds harden
Till each flake bite
Fill all the flowerless garden
Whose flowers took flight
Long since when summer ceased,
And men rose up from feast,
And warm west wind grew east, and warm day night.

“Come snow, come wind or thunder
High up in air,
I watch my face, and wonder
At my bright hair;
Nought else exalts or grieves
The rose at heart, that heaves
With love of her own leaves and lips that pair.

“She knows not loves that kissed her
She knows not where.
Art thou the ghost, my sister,
White sister there,
Am I the ghost, who knows?
My hand, a fallen rose,
Lies snow-white on white snows, and takes no care.

“I cannot see what pleasures
Or what pains were;
What pale new loves and treasures
New years will bear;
What beam will fall, what shower,
What grief or joy for dower;
But one thing knows the flower; the flower is fair.”

Glad, but not flushed with gladness,
Since joys go by;
Sad, but not bent with sadness,
Since sorrows die;
Deep in the gleaming glass
She sees all past things pass,
And all sweet life that was lie down and lie.

There glowing ghosts of flowers
Draw down, draw nigh;
And wings of swift spent hours
Take flight and fly;
She sees by formless gleams,
She hears across cold streams,
Dead mouths of many dreams that sing and sigh.

Face fallen and white throat lifted,
With sleepless eye
She sees old loves that drifted,
She knew not why,
Old loves and faded fears
Float down a stream that hears
The flowing of all men’s tears beneath the sky.


Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso, 1866

Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso, 1866

There is a kind of magic here, I think.

In my hastily scribbled notes, I’ve written three phrases uttered by our lecturer: “no narrative, no story, no point.” I’m not sure which work she was referring to.

For more on Whistler, see the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, on the Met’s site.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903

James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903




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Adventures in art history: Seductive Paris, Part Two

November 9, 2016 at 6:42 pm (Art, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

French naturalism was a direct outgrowth of the realist movement in art. The distinction between the two is rather subtle;  ergo, I’ll direct you to the relevant entry in the Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

Ms Billman cited Jules Bastien-Lepage as one of the main exponents of naturalism. I was thrilled to hear that name, as I knew what was about to appear on the screen. And sure enough:

Joan of Arc, 1875

Joan of Arc, 1875

I first saw this painting on my initial visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was eight years old. I already knew the extraordinary story of the Maid of Orleans. Seeing her brought to life in this way before my eyes – I was stunned.

It turns out that this work is somewhat of an anomaly in Bastien-Lepage’s oeuvre. As an artist in the realist/naturalist mode, he produced relatively little in the way of “history painting” or religious subjects. Here are several of his other paintings:

Pas Meche (Nothing Doing) 1882

Pas Meche (Nothing Doing) 1882


October 1878

October 1878

I’ve always wondered why Bastien-Lepage’s works were so rarely encountered elsewhere. I now know that this was due to the sad fact of his early death. According to the French language site “LES SECONDES AU TEMPS DES PEINTRES XIXEME” he died of stomach cancer at the age of 36.

Ms Billman provided a fascinating detail concerning the Joan of Arc painting. It seems that Joan never claimed to have actually seen the saints who spoke to her – only to have heard them. Hence their appearance behind her as she gazes, transfixed, into the middle distance.

I’ve never ceased to be fascinated by Joan’s story. Books about her appear  fairly regularly. I can recommend Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison (2014). joanarc




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Adventures in Art History, Part One: ‘Seductive Paris’

November 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm (Art, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

View of Ornans, Gustave Courbet

View of Ornans, Gustave Courbet

In which your intrepid faithful blogger and Jean, her equally intrepid friend and fellow art lover, commence their journey toward a Certification in World Art History, to be bestowed by the Smithsonian Associates, the educational arm of Washington’s illustrious Smithsonian Institution.

Alas, the day did not start out well. Our train, scheduled to leave at 7:59 AM, did not arrive until almost 9:30. Coincidentally, this was the exact time that our class – our very first one in the program – was scheduled to begin. As the train finally appeared in the distance, I could not help exclaiming, “Oh look! There comes a  chugging giant, traveling on these tracks at which we’ve been staring in frustration for an hour and a half! I believe it is a…Can it be..Yes!”


The MARC train at the Odenton stop, where we caught it – finally

And so it went…

We arrived, panting but barely an hour late, at the Ripley Center, an odd little edifice on the Smithsonian campus where the class was  being held. ripley-center  At least, it seemed little, until we journeyed down two floors and found ourselves in an unexpectedly vast underground space.

But this was no time to stand gaping! We made for the Lecture Hall and were directed to the balcony, where we settled ourselves, whipped out our notebooks, and as the lecturer held forth about Realism in art  history, started scribbling madly. (Everyone around us was doing the same.)

My immediate first thought: I love this!

The program was called Seductive Paris. Our lecturer was Bonita Billman, who teaches art history at Georgetown University’s School of Summer and Continuing Studies. Ms Billman was knowledgeable, discursive, and witty. She possessed a large fund of anecdotes which greatly enhanced her presentation, which consisted of four lectures. They were as follows: French Teachers and American Students; Summers in the Country: American Painters in Brittany and Normandy; Domestic Bliss: Painters of Genre Scenes; and Impressionism in America. All the while Ms Billman was sharing her expertise with us, one gorgeous slide after another appeared on the screen beside and above the podium where she stood. Some of the art work was known to me; most was not. I wrote at frantic speed (and in very low light), trying to get down the names of paintings and artists that I particularly wanted to remember.

There is simply no way I can reproduce here the vast content that constituted these  talks. It was akin to condensing an entire semester of art history into one day’s proceedings. So what follows is a partial recapitulation of what was covered in the morning.

When Jean and I got to the lecture, Ms Billman was discussing Gustav Courbet, an artist of out sized genius with an ego to match. This pleased me, as I recalled the stunning exhibit of his works that I’d seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art eight years ago.

The Desperate Man (Self-Portrait) ca. 1845

The Desperate Man (Self-Portrait) ca. 1845

Ms Billman highlighted The Stone Breakers (1850), which was destroyed during World War Two:


Courbet was in the vanguard of realist painters. These artists turned away from portraits of the aristocracy and royalty, and of historical and mythological subjects. Instead, they sought to depict people one might encounter in the ordinary course of  life, laborers and peasants being chief among these. Jean-Francois Millet was also in this group:


The Gleaners, 1857


The Angelus, ca 1859

Jea-Francois Millet Self-portrait ca 1841

Jean-Francois Millet Self-portrait ca 1841

Our lecturer spoke about the Barbizon School and the artists associated with it. These artists were drawn to natural surroundings, and to their depiction on canvas.The Forest of Fontainebleau was their chief inspiration:

Despite differing in age, technique, training, and lifestyle, the artists of the Barbizon School collectively embraced their native landscape, particularly the rich terrain of the Forest of Fontainebleau. They shared a recognition of landscape as an independent subject, a determination to exhibit such paintings at the conservative Salon, and a mutually reinforcing pleasure in nature.

From “The Barbizon School: French Painters of Nature,” by Dita Amory

 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot Forest of Fountainrbleau 1830

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Forest of Fontainebleau, 1830

Narcisse Virgilio Diaz Forest of Fontainebleau 1868

Narcisse Virgilio Diaz   Forest of Fontainebleau, 1868

This group of artists had its counterpart in what is sometimes referred to as the American Barbizon School.  Ms Billman emphasized three painters associated with this movement: William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, and Theodore Robinson.

For a time, William Morris Hunt and his brother Richard Morris Hunt shared an apartment in Paris, hard by the Ecole Des Beaux Arts. Writes David McCullough: “From the training and inspiration each of the brothers was to experience in the next several years in France would come great strides for each in his work.” (This quote comes from The Greater Journey: American in Paris, a book I highly recommend.)

Dinan, Brittany, by William Morris Hunt

Dinan, Brittany, by William Morris Hunt

Landscape, by William Morris Hunt

Landscape, by William Morris Hunt


Late in 1866, motivated probably by the chance to see two of his Civil War paintings at the Exposition Universelle, [Winslow] Homer had begun a ten-month sojourn in Paris and the French countryside. While there is little likelihood of influence from members of the French avant-garde, Homer shared their subject interests, their fascination with serial imagery, and their desire to incorporate into their works outdoor light, flat and simple forms (reinforced by their appreciation of Japanese design principles), and free brushwork.

From an essay on Winslow Homer by H. Barbara Weinberg, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Weinberg opens this essay with the following statement: “Winslow Homer (1836–1910) is regarded by many as the greatest American painter of the nineteenth century.” It’s not hard to see why.

The Milkmaid 1878

The Milkmaid 1878

Artists sketching in the White Mountains

Artists sketching in the White Mountains

Photo Stduio Comments -there is no master transparency for this...find and check against it Timeline Update - went to see actual piece and color corrected based on the painting. Working Title/Artist: Snap the Whip Department: Am. Paintings / Sculpture Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1872 photography by mma, DT1395.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 9_3_09

Snap the Whip

The Four Leaf Clover

The Four Leaf Clover

Boys in a Pasture

Boys in a Pasture

Like William Morris Hunt, Theodore Robinson was born in Vermont. He traveled to Paris, Venice, and Bologna, returning to America in 1879. Five years later, he returned to France, where he became part of the artists’ colony that had  formed around Monet at his house and  garden in Giverny.

Robinson returned to America in 1892. He had intended to go back to France once again. Instead, in 1896, while in New York City, he succumbed to an acute asthma attack. He was 43 years old.

Le Cortège Nuptial (The Wedding Procession), 1891

Le Cortège Nuptial (The Wedding Procession), 1891

Nantucket 1882

Nantucket 1882

The Old Bridge 1890

The Old Bridge 1890

There’s more to come on ‘Seductive Paris.’


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Of love and baseball

October 27, 2016 at 3:36 pm (Art, baseball, Family)

So for once, I turned up in the right place at the right time…

Naturally the primary reason for my weekend visit to Chicago was to spend time with these most excellent people:

img_20161023_143546‘Mr. Bones’ joined the family for  this portrait; the children are very excited about the approaching Halloween festivities.

img_20161023_143016The presence of my daughter-in-law’s parents was a most welcome bonus.



We got to preview Etta’s Halloween costume. She’s going to be a fortune teller.

Back Camera

This is a far cry from her first Halloween. At the age of about three weeks, she was a ladybug! As for Welles, he wants only to be Spiderman, his current favorite action hero.


Amidst all the family activities, a great drama was unfolding in the world of baseball: the Cubs were on the verge of winning their first National League Pennant since 1945. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I have a residual affection for the game of baseball. Growing up in northern New Jersey in the 1950s, with the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he New York Giants nearby, it would have been hard to stay aloof from the National Pastime. My brothers and I didn’t even try. At one point, my older brother actually wrote a letter to the Yankees – the team we rooted for – to tell them of a magical occurrence: every  time he wore his Yankee baseball cap, the Yanks won!

My Dad loved baseball too. And Dad, you would have appreciated that game last Saturday. The Cubs hit the ground running, scoring immediately in the first inning. The high octane drama continued, with pitcher Kyle Hendricks keeping the Dodgers scoreless and very nearly hitless (he allowed two). I loved watching him. His  form was a thing of  beauty; his face an absolute mask of concentration. The game ended with an electrifying double play, clinching a 5-0 win over the LA Dodgers. Then, all you-know-what broke loose:

At 9:45, cheers erupted, not only from our gang but outside  too, up and down the street. Car horns honking, fireworks, police sirens (but things did not get out of hand). Chicago is a city that’s taken its lumps in the press lately, so this healthy dose of good news was especially appreciated.

Sunday morning we were greeted by this Chicago Tribune front page story:


Now, two games into the 2016 World Series, the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians each have one win under their respective belts. Of course, I’ll continue  to root for the Cubs, but no matter which team wins the championship, there’s no taking away the gift that the Cubs bestowed on the people of Chicago last Saturday.

And as the weekend drew to a close, our dear Etta, who loves to paint and draw, made this gift for Ron and me:



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