Monday, March 30, 2009
This oil on canvas is by American artist Cecilia Beaux. It is a portrait of her expatriate colleague Alexander Harrison. (Photo by Katherine Wetzel, © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
Since putting to bed a year ago my last major exhibition project – Cecilia Beaux, American Figure Painter – I was thrilled last month to be able to acquire for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts an important work by the still too little-known Beaux, who at the turn of the last century was the most acclaimed and successful woman artist working in America. “Alexander Harrison” (1888), Beaux's transitional portrait of her fellow Philadelphian, dates from a formative time in her French artistic training – a summer spent in Concarneau, Brittany, working alongside the more established expatriate Harrison in an artist colony long popular with Philadelphians. This painting, which is one of two major works Beaux finished that summer, reveals how the experience encouraged her to lighten her palette, experiment with more fluid brushwork, and paint outdoors – in short, to eagerly absorb the lessons of Impressionism.
The portrait of Harrison was a personal favorite in my retrospective look at Beaux's impressive career. In fact, Harrison's depicted palette – as luscious and appealing as a Thiebaud confection! – is one of my favorite details in all of Beaux's oeuvre. Her bravura portrayal of Harrison, known for his evocative marines, also captures the character of the sitter, a quality which defines Beaux's best work. Although her first impression of Harrison was far from positive – she described him as “very tall, very handsome, and distinguished—dark hair and gray eyes, and a long, dark moustache—And the worst cold, blasé expression. He looks at one as he would a horse" – during that summer in Concarneau, they established a more collegial relationship that culminated in this collaborative portrait. Apparently, Harrison was quite taken with Beaux's depiction of his debonair swagger and lanky good looks, observing that she had the “right stuff” to become a painter, “the stuff that digs and thinks and will not be satisfied and is never weary of the effort of painting nor counts the cost.” Beaux’s portrait of Harrison will be a pivotal work in our forthcoming gallery of Expatriate American Artists, complementing another recent Cochrane Fund purchase painted in France just a few years earlier – “Peines de Coeur” by Charles Sprague Pearce, a friend of Harrison’s as it happens. I can't wait to share them with you!
Dr. Sylvia Yount
Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, VMFA
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The most interesting aspect of the LeWitt reinstall for me was that it was an opportunity to allow another artist to set up the parameters of the way in which the drawing would be rendered. I was engaged by both the materials and the meticulous process that were used to execute the drawing.
During the re installation, we masked each individual panel prior to painting. The acrylic paint was then applied in thin layers (between 12 and 18 for each section) with rags as opposed to brushes. Since the paint had to be permitted to dry between each layer, patience was a necessity. The way in which the paint was applied alternated systematically between “boom booms,” or pats, and wipes. During this laborious process, we all worked together as much as possible, rotating our positions between applications to try to insure that we each had a hand in painting every inch of each wall. This process ultimately is what gave the work its textured look.
In the time lapse footage, you can get a quick sense of how the piece came together from January 12 through 30, 2009.
It was a wonderful experience working with Sarah Heinnemann from the LeWitt estate, as well as forming new friendships with the other artists involved.
Max Perry, Richmond artist
Monday, March 23, 2009
"Still Life" is a 1959 oil on canvas by Italian artist
Giorgio Morandi from the VMFA collection.
When paintings travel from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to loan exhibitions, it is a good opportunity to reassess them and see how well they stand out: Often, it is a case of love at “second-sight”!
It’s nice when others recognize the quality of VMFA’s holdings. Here’s what Paul Richard of the Washington Post had to say about one of our two works by Giorgio Morandi that we gladly lent to the Phillips Collection’s astoundingly beautiful Morandi exhibition:
Look at "Still Life" (1959) from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. First, you see, on a gray tabletop, a pair of corked bottles side by side, and, in front of them, a fluted teacup, and then you look again. You can't help it. The fluted teacup (which doesn't have a handle and could be a sugar bowl) isn't on the table. It looks as if it had been glued up against it. And the bottles aren't twins: The one on the right has a brighter gleam. And what's that between them? A green shadow? A container? A pleasing sense of symmetry, of classical repose, arrived with the first glimpse. Where'd it go?
And what shape is that gray table, anyway? Rounded? Square? What is its grayness doing, lifting up that way as if to put its arm around the shoulders of the flasks?
You can read the full article by clicking here.
Dr. Mitchell Merling
Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art
Friday, March 20, 2009
Reinstalling Sol LeWitt's “Wall Drawing #541”
at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
As an artist, I was most intrigued by the aspect of participating in a LeWitt installation that involved the setting aside of all individual aesthetics and practices in favor of total group cooperation, the goal of which is LeWitt’s specific breed of uniformity and exactitude. Though the mark-making movements are specific and simple, an integral part of the process was our concerted effort to vary our approach, such that no hand held too much influence over any specific region within the drawing. The idea is not that we use our own experiences and skills to approach the specific challenges of the drawing, but that we carefully yield to the history of the practice. It is a unique thing for an artist to forgo individuality in such an explicit way. The results are beautiful in their precision and specificity.
I also appreciate that LeWitt would choose to narrow his approach to the use of a simple set of rules and specific marks and colors, and that with this relatively simple language there is virtually endless room for variation. This is a central theme in my own studio work, that a true and thorough exploration of a singular problem can easily yield a life’s worth of work. His approach acknowledges the importance of the very foundations of visual expression. The simplest notions of mark-making and surface provide ample room for variation and expansion. Lastly, I admire his willingness to allow others to bring the works to fruition, as this demonstrates an implicit trust in the value of his systems as a means for expression that stands alone, independent of the artist.
Anna Bushman was one of six workers who assisted Sarah Hienemann in the reinstallation of VMFA’s “Wall Drawing #541,” 1987, by Sol LeWitt.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Leon Garnett with “The Migrants Arrive
and Cast Their Ballots” by Jacob Lawrence
I identify with the painting “The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots” by Jacob Lawrence because I have recently been in a polling place – a scene just like this occurred throughout America last November. I can hear the clatter of activity. The colors in this image from "Labor and Leisure" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts make things come alive, yet there is a busy stillness in the presence of some of the characters. The responsibility and emotions are apparent in this simple act of democracy.
VMFA Manager of Accounting and Fiscal Services
Monday, March 16, 2009
John Henry Rice, Dr. Joseph M. Dye, and Dr. Shantaram
Talegaonkar examine VMFA’s new South Indian painted scroll.
(Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
Before Curator Dr. Joseph M. Dye III published “The Arts of India” in 2001, only a handful of people knew that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is home to a world-class collection of South Asian art. The secret is now out, and even the most reclusive will hear about us when we open our spectacular new South Asian and Himalayan galleries next year. One of the collection’s particularly strong areas is the art of South India, a region where I have worked extensively and which is very dear to my heart. I was thrilled, then, when I learned that our first major acquisition since my arrival here last summer was to be an incomparable South Indian painting.
Not your typical “Indian miniature painting,” this 48-foot-long painted narrative scroll was gradually unrolled for an audience by professional storytellers. It tells the legendary history the Hindu social caste that makes and sells toddy, an alcoholic drink concocted from the fermented sap of the palmyra tree. In addition to toddy-tapping, production, and distribution, its lively scenes show mythological tales, epic battles, and enthroned deities. Similar legend scrolls, made in northern Andhra Pradesh, can be found in other museums’ collections, but none is as large or as sumptuous as VMFA’s, which makes extensive use of gold. This beautiful scroll will be one of several stunning new additions to our upcoming galleries, and I cannot wait to travel back to South India to ask contemporary storytellers what they might know about some of its imagery.
John Henry Rice
VMFA Associate Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art
Monday, March 9, 2009
There are 750 Old Master paintings from the Dresden Art Gallery in its virtual museum on Second Life
While researching a presentation for a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts trustee committee on virtual art, I encountered what must be the most thorough realization of a virtual art gallery. On Second Life (the alternative-reality Internet-based world), the Dresden Art Gallery has created an exact facsimile of its elaborate Baroque building and filled it with 750 Old Master paintings. Follow this link to find out more: http://www.dresdengallery.com/index.php. On screen, you can walk your little avatar around the gallery, look at the paintings, read labels, listen to an audiotour, or chat with other visitors. You can even get a free T-shirt with a detail of one of their most famous paintings – Raphael’s Madonna – and put it on your avatar. The only thing missing is a café – because avatars don’t need to eat!
Will every major museum soon have a virtual clone? Up to now the argument has always been that no virtual museum experience can compare to reality – particularly with the quality of the art reproduced. But in recent months the Prado and Google Earth have experimented with incredibly high-resolution images and shown that it is possible to experience a work of art online in almost as much detail as in real life (http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/prado/ ). So is this the future of the art museum? The guestbook at the Dresden Gallery website is worth reading – many people from around the world commenting that they would never have a chance to visit Dresden in real life, but that this amazing clone has given them a chance to experience a great art collection and a great building.
VMFA Deputy Director for Exhibitions
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Kaye Wiggins is pictured with “Guitarist” by Charles White
This picture from the exhibition "Labor and Leisure" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts makes me think of a time when slaves entertained their owners with a range of music representing the entire cycle of life. Music was artistic expression -- a vehicle to celebrate happiness and to soothe times of sadness. This guitar player projects a dignity that comes from his connection to the universal language of music. I hear him playing a slow, soulful, and mellow song. I think future African-American painters will be inspired by professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers. And it’s not just my racial group making a transition. Latinos, Asian-Americans, and many others are joining hands as a country behind our new president.
VMFA Parking Supervisor
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Snow makes all the world beautiful. Up on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts West Wing terrace, the recent snowfall has given us the opportunity to see several of our outdoor sculptures in a different way. This is an image of French artist Aristide Maillol’s “La Riviere” (“The River”) taken today (3/3/09) at about 1:20 p.m. Made out of lead and dated 1938-1943, the sculpture has always been one of my favorites – from the time I first saw it in the pool at the base of the cascading fountain in VMFA’s former North Wing Sculpture Garden and right up until today when it sits on the West Wing terrace. The subject of nearly all of Maillol's mature work is the naked female body. You can see a large collection of his work at the Musée Maillol in Paris. The Museum of Modern Art in New York also has a cast of “La Riviere,” and three bronzes by Maillol are on view on the grand staircase of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
VMFA writer and Media Room manager