Monday, July 17, 2017

Van Gogh, Rousseau, Corot: In the Forest

Van Gogh Museum
7 July - 10 September 2017

The exhibition 'Van Gogh, Rousseau, Corot: In the Forest'combines wooded views and landscapes by Vincent van Gogh with those of such painters as Théodore Rousseau and Camille Corot.
These French artists were among those who retreated to the Forest of Fontainebleau in order to paint the unspoiled landscape. They favoured motifs such as trees, vegetation and the play of light and shade on the foliage and the ground.

Trees, woodland and undergrowth
Van Gogh, too, worked as much as possible out of doors, in the midst of nature, invariably directing his gaze at the trees, woodland and undergrowth. He sought to depict the forest in such a way ‘that one can breathe and wander about in it — and smell the woods’.

In this summer presentation, Van Gogh’s paintings are being shown alongside those of Rousseau, Corot and other artists from the collection of the Van Gogh Museum and The Mesdag Collection. The exhibition also features several extraordinary loans:

Van Gogh’s Landscape with leaning trees (1883)

and Sunset at Montmajour (1888), both in private collections,

alongside Pollard Birch (1885), from the Van Lanschot Collection.

Vincent van Gogh, Undergrowth, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Undergrowth, 1889, oil on canvas, 73.0 cm x 92.3 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Vincent van Gogh, Path in the Woods, 1887 

More images

Friday, July 14, 2017


Tate Modern
23 November 2017 – 2 April 2018 26 June 2017

Amedeo Modigliani
The Little Peasant circa 1918
Oil on canvas
support: 1000 x 645 mm
frame: 1155 x 810 x 65 mm
Presented by Miss Jenny Blaker in memory of Hugh Blaker 1941

This autumn, Tate Modern will stage the most comprehensive Modigliani exhibition ever held in the UK, bringing together a dazzling range of his iconic portraits, sculptures and the largest ever group of nudes to be shown in this country. Although he died tragically young, Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) was a ground-breaking artist who pushed the boundaries of the art of his time. Including almost 100 works, the exhibition will re-evaluate this familiar figure, looking afresh at the experimentation that shaped his career and made Modigliani one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

A section devoted to Modigliani’s nudes, perhaps the best-known and most provocative of the artist’s works, will be a major highlight. In these striking canvases Modigliani invented shocking new compositions that modernised figurative painting. His explicit depictions also proved controversial and led to the police censoring his only solo lifetime exhibition, at Berthe Weill’s gallery in 1917, on the grounds of indecency. This group of 10 nudes will be the largest group ever seen in the UK, with paintings including  

Seated Nude 1917 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp)

and Reclining Nude c.1919 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).

Born in Livorno, Italy and working in Paris from 1906, Modigliani’s career was one of continual evolution. The exhibition begins with the artist’s arrival in Paris, exploring the creative environments and elements of popular culture that were central to his life and work. Inspired by the art of Paul Cézanne, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso, Modigliani began to experiment and develop his own distinctive visual language, seen in early canvases such as  

Bust of a Young Woman 1908 (Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, Villeneuve-d’Ascq)

and The Beggar of Leghorn 1909 (Private Collection).

His circle included poets, dealers, writers and musicians, many of whom posed for his portraits including  

Diego Rivera 1914 (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf),  

Juan Gris 1915 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

and Jean Cocteau 1916 (The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, Princeton University Art Museum).

The exhibition will also reconsider the role of women in Modigliani’s practice, particularly poet and writer Beatrice Hastings. Hastings will be shown not simply as the artist’s muse, but as an important figure in the cultural landscape of the time.
Modigliani will feature exceptional examples of the artist’s lesser-known work in sculpture, bringing together a substantial group of his Heads made before the First World War.

Although the artist’s ill-health and poverty eventually dictated otherwise, he spent a short but intense period focusing on carving, influenced by contemporaries and friends including Constantin Brâncuși and Jacob Epstein.

 For his wellbeing, Modigliani left Paris in 1918 for an extended period in the South of France. Here he adopted a more Mediterranean colour palette and, instead of his usual metropolitan sitters, he began painting local peasants and children such as  

Young Woman of the People 1918 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

and Boy with a Blue Jacket 1919 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).

The exhibition will conclude with some of Modigliani’s best-known depictions of his closest circle. Friends and lovers provided him with much-needed financial and emotional support during his turbulent life while also serving as models. These included his dealer and close friend

Léopold Zborowski

and his companion Hanka,

and Jeanne Hébuterne, the mother of Modigliani’s child and one of the most important women in his life. When Modigliani died in 1920 from tubercular meningitis, Jeanne tragically committed suicide.

Tate Modern will bring together several searching portraits of Jeanne Hébuterne, from Modgliani’s final years, on loan from international collections such as

 “Blue Eyes (Portrait of Madame Jeanne Hébuterne),” 1917,

the Philadelphia Museum of Art

and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which depict her in a range of guises from young girl to mother.

Modigliani is curated by Nancy Ireson, Curator of International Art, Tate Modern and Simonetta Fraquelli, Independent Curator, with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator. Visitors will be able to enjoy a new integrated virtual reality experience right in the heart of the exhibition. The virtual reality room will bring visitors closer into the artist’s world, enriching their understanding of his life and art. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a series of events in the gallery.

Alice Neel, Uptown

David Zwirner, New York 
23 February22 April 2017

Victoria Miro

16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
18 May–29 July 2017

Curated by the celebrated US critic and author Hilton Als, Alice Neel, Uptown focuses on paintings made by the artist during the five decades in which she lived and worked in upper Manhattan, first in Spanish (East) Harlem, where she moved in 1938, and, later, the Upper West Side, where she lived from 1962 until her death in 1984. An accompanying catalogue, jointly published by David Zwirner Books and Victoria Miro, includes essays by Hilton Als on individual portraits and their sitters, in addition to new scholarship by Jeremy Lewison.

Julie and the Doll, 1943, oil on canvas, 71.4 x 51.4cm, 28 1/8 x 20 1/4 inches

Intimate, casual, direct and personal, Alice Neel’s portraits exist as an unparalleled chronicle of New York personalities – both famous and unknown. A woman with a strong social conscience and equally strong left-wing beliefs, Neel moved from the relative comfort of Greenwich Village to Spanish Harlem in 1938 in pursuit of “the truth”. There she painted friends, neighbours, casual acquaintances and people she encountered on the street among the immigrant community, and just as often cultural figures connected to Harlem or to the civil rights movement.

Ed Sun, 1971, oil on canvas, 106.7 x 76.2 cm, 42 x 30 in

Neel’s later portraits, made after moving to the Upper West Side, reflect a changing milieu, yet remain engaged more or less explicitly with political and social issues, and the particularities of living and working under, as Neel put it, “the pressure of city life”.

Benjamin, 1976, acrylic on board, 29 x 20 inches, 75.9 x 52.7 cm

Highlighting both the innate diversity of Neel’s approach to portraiture and the extraordinary diversity of twentieth century New York City, in this exhibition Hilton Als brings together a selection of Neel’s portraits of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other people of colour. As Als writes, “what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered”.

 Alice Childress, 1950 Collection of Art Berliner

The selected portraits include cultural and political figures admired by Neel, among them playwright, actor, and author Alice Childress, and sociologist Horace R. Cayton, Jr., whose 1945 Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City is among the key academic studies of the African American urban experience in the early twentieth century.

Pregnant Maria, 1964

“From the start Alice Neel’s artistry made life different for me, or not so much different as more enlightened. I grew up in Brooklyn, East New York, and Crown Heights during the 1970s when Neel, after years of obscurity, was finally getting her due. I recall first seeing her work in a book, and what shocked me more than her outrageous and accurate sense of colour and form – did we really look like that? We did! – was the realisation that her subject was my humanity. There was a quality I shared with her subjects, all of whom were seen through the lens of Neel’s interest, and compassion. What did it matter that I grew up in a world that was different than that which Linda Nochlin, and Andy Warhol, and Jackie Curtis, inhabited? We were all as strong and fragile and present as life allowed. And Neel saw.

Ballet Dancer, 1950. Oil on canvas, 51.1 x 107 cm, 20 1/8 x 42 1/8 inches. Hall Collection

In the years since her death, viewers young and old have experienced the kind of thrill I feel, still, whenever I look at Neel’s work, which, like all great art, reveals itself all at once while remaining mysterious. In recent years, I have been particularly intrigued by Neel’s portraits of artists, writers, everyday people, thinkers, and upstarts of colour. When she moved to East Harlem during the 1930s Depression, Neel was one of the few whites living uptown. She was attracted to a world of difference and painted that. Still, her work was not marred by ideological concerns; what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered in her studio, on canvas.

But by painting the Latinos, blacks, and Asians, Neel was breaking away from the canon of Western art. She was not, in short, limiting her view to people who looked like herself. Rather, she was opening portraiture up to include those persons who were not generally seen in its history. Alice Neel, Uptown, the first comprehensive look at Neel’s portraits of people of colour, is an attempt to honour not only what Neel saw, but the generosity behind her seeing.”  – Hilton Als

Alice Neel was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1900 and died in 1984 in New York. Renowned for her portraits of friends, family, acquaintances, fellow artists and critics, Neel was among the most important American artists of her time. In 1974 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, an event that was repeated in 2000, marking the centenary of her birth. Recent solo exhibitions have included Alice Neel: The Subject and Me, Talbot Rice Gallery, The University of Edinburgh (2016); Alice Neel: Intimate Relations at Nordiska Akvarellmuseet, Skarhamn (2013); Alice Neel: Painted Truths, a retrospective that toured to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (2010), the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2010) and the Moderna Museet, Malmö (2010-11).  

Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, a major survey of the artist’s work featuring some seventy paintings was organised by Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki in 2016. It subsequently travelled to the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague and is on display at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, France (until September 2017), before concluding at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.

The Estate of Alice Neel has been represented by Victoria Miro since 2004; this is her sixth solo exhibition with the gallery. Her work is in the collections of major museums internationally including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Denver Art Museum; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate, London and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 1996, a theater critic in 2002, and chief theater critic in 2013. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for The Talk of the Town. Before joining The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. He has also written articles for The Nation, The Believer, The New York Review of Books, and 4Columns, among other publications, and has collaborated on film scripts for Swoon and Looking for Langston.

His first book, The Women, a meditation on gender, race, and personal identity, was published in 1996 (Farrar Straus & Giroux). His most recent book, White Girls (McSweeney’s), discusses various narratives around race and gender and was nominated for a 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.

In 1997, the New York Association of Black Journalists awarded Als first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He was awarded a Guggenheim for Creative Writing in 2000 and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 2002-03. In 2009, Als worked with the performer Justin Bond on Cold Water, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and videos by performers, at La MaMa Gallery. In 2010, he co-curated Self-Consciousness at the Veneklasen Werner Gallery in Berlin, and published Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis (After Dark Publishing, 2010), his second book. In 2015, Als co-curated, with Anthony Elms, at the ICA Philadelphia, a retrospective of Christopher Knowles’ work and organised Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, an exhibition of work by Celia Paul, at the Metropolitan Opera’s Gallery Met, in New York (an accompanying catalogue was published by Victoria Miro). He is also the co-author of Robert Gober’s 2014-15 Museum of Modern Art retrospective catalogue, The Heart is Not a Metaphor. In 2016 Als curated Forces in Nature at Victoria Miro, a group exhibition exploring ideas of man in nature, featuring works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Alice Neel, Chris Ofili, Celia Paul and Kara Walker, among others. The same year, he was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for Non-Fiction, and produced a six-month survey of art and text at The Artist’s Institute, New York. His work was recently included in the group exhibition Looking Back: The Eleventh White Columns Annual in New York (14 January ­– 4 March 2017). In April 2017, Als was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

Als is an associate professor at Columbia University School of the Arts and has taught at Wesleyan, Wellesley, Smith, and the Yale School of Drama. He lives in New York City.

The exhibition at Victoria Miro follows its presentation at David Zwirner, New York (23 February – 22 April 2017).

Girl with Pink Flower
Oil on canvas
61.3 x 45.4cm
24 1/8 x 17 7/8 in

Building in Harlem
Oil on canvas
86.4 x 61.3 cm
34 x 24 1/8 in

Alice Childress
Oil on canvas
75.9 x 50.8 cm
75 7/8 x 20 in
Alice Childress (1916 -1994) was an actor, playwright and novelist. As Hilton Als writes in his 2011 prologue on Childress in The New Yorker,“Childress moved to Harlem to live with her grandmother, in 1925. Dreaming of becoming an actress, she joined the American Negro Theatre in 1941, and in 1944 she was nominated for a Tony as Best Supporting Actress, for her role in the Broadway production of Anna Lucasta... But, after that, Childress found little dramatic material that represented the livesof black women she knew, so she began writing it herself.”

In addition to her work in the theatre and as a writer, Childress was involved with social
causes and helped form an off-Broadway union for actors, working alongside the Actor’s Equity Association and the Harlem Stage Hand Local Union.

Ballet Dancer
Oil on canvas
51.1 x 107 cm
20 1/8
x 42 1/8 in

Harold Cruse
Oil on canvas
94 x 55.9 cm
37 x 22 in
Harold Cruse would go on to become a key intellectual figure in civil rights and black nationalist movements, and is best known for his widely published academic book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967). In the 1940s and early 1950s, he wrote plays and was a member of the Communist-affliated Committee for the Negro in the Arts (CNA). After meeting and travelling to Cuba with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in the early1960s, Cruse taught at Jones’ (Baraka’s) Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem. Neel likely knew Cruse from political and
literary circles.

Julie and the D
Oil on canvas
71.4 x 51.4 cm
28 1/8 x 20 1/4 in

Oil on canvas
76.2 x
55.9 cm
30 x 22 in
Anselmo was a neighbor who assisted Neel with handiwork in her apartment, helping her to build bookshelves.

Horace Cayton
Oil on canvas
76.8 x 61 cm
30 1/4 x 24 in

Horace Cayton (1903-1970) was a sociologist, educator, author and columnist. He is most well known as the co-author (with St. Clair Drake) of Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, a history of Chicago’s South Side from the 1840s to 1930s. The book was groundbreaking when it was published in 1945 and remains a landmark study of race and the
urban experience. Cayton moved to New York from Chicago in 1949, the year this portrait was painted.

Abdul Rahman
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 40.6 cm
20 x 16 in
Abdul Rahman was a taxi driver and self-described Black Muslim
nationalist. He sat for Alice twice in 1964, on the second occasion wearing
a kufi, a trench coat and with one glove on and one off.

Excellent review

Another wonderful review

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sotheby’s London sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art on 13 July

Sotheby’s to Sell Orpheus and Eurydice by George Frederic Watts, ‘England’s Michelangelo’ 

Today Sotheby will offer one of the greatest compositions by George Frederic Watts, ‘England’s Michelangelo’, to come to auction. A tour de force of dramatic power, 

 Orpheus and Eurydice remained in Wattspossession until his death in 1904 when it was inherited by his adopted daughter Lilian. The romantic subject matter may have been inspired by the emotions Watts was experiencing following the breakdown of his first marriage to the young actress Ellen Terry, resulting in their separation after only eleven months. The painting will be offered at Sotheby’s London sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art on 13 July with an estimate of £300,000-500,000. 

Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian Art Specialist, said: Orpheus and Eurydice encapsulates everything that made Watts’ art so visionary and revolutionary in the 1860s – powerful drama, a sensual and expressive use of paint and rich colour and reverence for the work of the Italian Old Masters. This hauntingly beautiful vision of lost love is among a handful of his best-known pictures and the most important example of his art to be seen at auction in the last decade and a half. It is fitting that a picture of two lovers emerging from the shadows should itself re- emerge into public view in the year that marks the two-hundred year anniversary of the artist’s birth.” 

The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice was popular in the 1860s at a time of revival for classical subject matter in British art. Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Watts’ neighbour in Kensington, Leighton, produced their own visual interpretations of the moment when Orpheus, after journeying to the Underworld to lead Eurydice back to Earth, gives in to temptation to look at his wife despite the warning not to look back at her until they reached daylight. Watts was fascinated by the subject and made at least eight paintings of the two lovers, the earliest version in 1869, towards the end of a decade in which he had immersed himself in themes of abandonment, romantic disappointment and separation. The version to be offered for sale is probably the culmination of the artist’s experiments with a horizontal format and half-length figures, painted circa 1870. After 1872, he used a vertical format of full-length figures, which arguably lessens the intimacy and intensity of the composition. Watts never ceased to be fascinated by the possibilities of the narrative and in the last years of his life he painted another version. 

Such an important picture in Watts’ oeuvre, Orpheus and Eurydice required a large number of sketches and drawings, a process in which he worked through the dynamic controposto of the figures, especially the stretch and turn of their necks. Whilst aspects of the painting echo the traditions of the Renaissance, particularly the colouring of Titian, others are wholly modern and anticipate the abstractions of the next century. A significant tenet of the new Classicism that emerged in the 1860s was that narrative should be conveyed by the artistic qualities of gesture, form and colour rather than in details and accessories requiring interpretation. In this version of the work, Orpheus is clothed in a swirling vortex of fiery red drapery, suggestive of the flames of his father Apollo the Sun-God, his tanned muscular body contrasting with the languid pallor of Eurydice. The insertion of a dead tree-trunk marks the boundary between the worlds of life and death, a device which heightens the heart-breaking moment when Orpheus turns to see his wife disappear into the darkness forever. 

Orpheus and Eurydice demonstrates the stylistic preoccupations of the new art movement of the 1860s, when fifth century Greek art was considered the fountainhead of beauty. Combining grandeur with naturalness, Phidias’ sculptures for the Parthenon were regarded as the most important treasures of the ancient world. The figures in the painting reveal close study of the Parthenon pediment figures in their drapery and anatomy. 

One of the most remarkable men of the nineteenth century, Watts is perhaps now best-known for his magnificent sculpture

 Physical Energy in Kensington Gardens and for his large, imposing mythological, biblical and symbolist canvases. He also portrayed every great statesman, artist, poet, aristocrat and society beauty of his generation. Genuinely interested in the great issues of the day, he challenged the injustices of the world in his allegorical paintings. The most famous of all Watts’ paintings is  

Hope, a postcard of which Nelson Mandela kept in his prison-cell at Robin Island. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Poussin, Claude, and French Drawing in the Classical Age

Morgan Library & Museum
June 16 through October 15, 2017

The French refer to the seventeenth century as the Grand Siècle, or the Great Century. Under the rule of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the period saw a dramatic increase in French political and military power, the maturation of French courtly life at Versailles, and an unparalleled flourishing of the arts. Poussin, Claude, and French Drawing in the Classical Age, a new exhibition opening at the Morgan Library & Museum on June 16, explores the work of some of the most celebrated artists of the time. More than fifty drawings largely from the Morgan’s collections—including works by Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, Jacques Callot, andCharles Le Brun—will be on view. Together they demonstrate the era’s distinctive approach to composition and subject matter, informed by principles of rationalism, respect for the art of classical antiquity, and by a belief in a natural world governed by divine order.

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), Death of Hippolytus, 1645, pen and brown ink and wash over black chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1909, I, 267.  

 “The Grand Siècle saw artistic development unlike any before it in France,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “The visual arts, literature, music, drama, and architecture all prospered.  Poussin, Claude, and French Drawing in the Classical Age explores the extraordinary advances in the field of drawing by some of the true masters of the period, advances that provided the foundation for all French art that followed.”


I. Courtly Style from Fontainebleau to Nancy

The Renaissance style in France resulted from a combination of native artistic talent and artists and styles imported from the Italian courts. With thereturn of French artists trained in Italy, Paris became a locus for artistic activity by the 1630s. The generation of artists working there, Simon Vouet (1590–1649) foremost among them, ushered in a new era for French art. Having established a successful career in Rome, Vouet was recalled to Paris by Louis XIII in 1627 and named first painter to the king, who also engaged him to be his drawing tutor. Vouet and the king developed an intimate relationship, as  

Simon Vouet (1590–1649), Portrait of Louis XIII, ca. 1632–35, black and white chalk with pastel on light brown paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, and Stephen A. Geiger Gift; 2012.106. 

Portrait of Louis XIII (ca. 1632–35), an informal, frankly executed sheet indicates. Although few drawings from Vouet’s Italian period survive, this portrait of the king made not long after the artist’s return to France reveals the naturalism he learned in Italy and heralds the impact that style would have on French art more generally.

The printmaker Jacques Callot (1592–1635) spent most of his career at Cosimo de’ Medici’s court in Florence before returning to France in 1621 to work at the court at Nancy. 

Jacques Callot (1592–-1635), The Miracle of St. Mansuetus, ca. 1621, pen and brown ink and brown wash, over black chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Kenneth A. Spencer; 1978.35. 3
The Miracle of St. Mansuetus (ca. 1621), produced after the artist’s return, is devoted to a local saint, Mansuetus (d. 375), who was the first Bishop of Toul, in Lorraine (where Callot was born). It shows the saint resuscitating King Leucorus’ son, who had drowned in the river Meuse, and is one of a series of exploratory studies on the theme in preparation for the artist’s 1621 etching.  

II. Picturing the French Court

Courts were centers where philosophy, music, literature, and the fine arts flourished under the patronage of the royal family and wealthy nobles. The drawn portrait was a particularly vibrant tradition of the French court, beginning in the Renaissance and extending through the seventeenth century. These works were collected, assembled into albums, and exchanged as gifts. Portraiture was popular at the courts of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, and many members of the court are recognizable even today through their drawn and printed likenesses. Such depictions reached their apogee in the hands of masters such as Daniel Dumonstier (1574–1646), who was renowned for entertaining his sitters and producing flattering colored chalk portraits.

Daniel Dumonstier (1574 - 1646), Portrait of a Gentleman of the French Court, 1628, black, red, yellow, and white chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased as the gift of John M. Crawford, Jr., 1956.9.4
Portrait of a Gentleman of the French Court (1628) is carefully annotated by the artist with the exact date, August 31. However, Dumonstier did not identify the sitter. A possibly contemporary inscription suggests that it depicts a M. de Porchere, but there were at least two poets active at the court with the surname Porchere. It is Dumonstier’s facility with combining colored chalks for a meticulous, lifelike effect in such large scale sheets that sets him apart as a portraitist.

III. Poussin and the Classical Ideal

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) received his early training in France but spent nearly his entire career in Rome, where he embraced classical subject matter. He soon counted princes, cardinals, and a future pope among his patrons, and his fame reached Paris. He reluctantly returned there in 1640 when summoned by the king, although he was overwhelmed by the flurry of commissions and the demands of royal service and returned to Rome in 1642. 

As a painter, Poussin worked slowly and deliberately. Drawings were an essential element of his thoughtful, preparatory method. His concern for form and lighting yielded a drawing style that is bold and at times abstract, revealing his interest in overall effect and coherence over detail. This style would prove influential on his contemporaries in Rome, including his fellow Frenchmen Charles Mellin (1597–1649) and Gaspard Dughet (1615–1675).  

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), The Holy Family on the Steps, pen and brown ink, brown wash, with touches of gray wash, over black chalk, on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1909, III,71. 

 Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), The Holy Family on the Steps 1648, oil on canvas. The Cleveland Museum of Art; Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1981. 

The Holy Family on the Steps (1646–48) is the quintessential compositional study by Poussin for his painting by the same name, which is in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The drawing, which is featured in the exhibition, reveals his particular working method, which is known from a written account of his studio practice. Poussin posed small wax figures with linen drapery inside a box with apertures to admit light selectively, allowing him to rigorously study the way lighting defined form. The pyramidal structure of the figural group and architectural setting reveal both Poussin’s debt to Renaissance models and his careful ordering of elements to focus the composition.  

 IV. Claude and the Natural World

As did Poussin, Claude Gellée, better known as Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), would go sketching in the Roman countryside, drawing directly from nature. He believed that the natural world was a manifestation of the divine, and thus ordered his finished landscapes according to ideal principles, lending them an air of arcadian perfection. Claude’s drawings capture a range of approaches to the natural world—from stark, unadorned observations to highly finished works of art that would appeal to courtly tastes. Claude at least partially executed

Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), A Hilly Landscape, with Bare Trees, 1639–41, brush and brown wash over black chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909; III, 82b.
A Hilly Landscape, with Bare Trees (1639–41) while he explored the area around Tivoli. With stark hills and barren trees, it is a striking contrast to his highly finished, idealized landscapes. Yet, it is signed on the verso with an inscription that can be interpreted as “Claude Roma in Urbe” (“Claude in the city of Rome”): for all the drawing’s observation of nature, that is, the artist seems to have finished the work in his Roman studio.

V. Classicism and Naturalism in Paris

Parisian interest in classical antiquity reached a peak during the middle of the seventeenth century, and a strain of rigorous classicism became the latest fashion in the works of artists such as Jacques Stella (1596–1657). Subjects were chosen from antiquity and executed in a severe style reminiscent of the formal purity of ancient art. These scenes employ the tenets of classicism: symmetry, balance, proportion, and a seriousness of subject. The association of the early reign of Louis XIV with the golden age of ancient Greece also marked a respect for rational thought and philosophy.


Jacques Stella (1596 - 1657),The Angel Appearing to St. Joseph in the Carpenter's Shop, the Virgin Reading Beyond, ca. 1640, pen and brown ink, gray wash, over black chalk. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased on the Director's Fund in honor of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1986.1146

In the 1640s, Stella produced a celebrated series of drawings illustrating the Life of the Virgin. These compositions reveal the qualities for which Stella was revered in his day, and which he had imbibed from Poussin: a balanced composition, acute attention to expression, gesture, and details of objects and costumes, and a sense of intimate interaction among the figures. 

VI. The Rise of Print Culture

During the seventeenth century, the market for prints flourished in France. The collecting of prints and the emergence of print dealers, the increased publication of books, and the trend to produce  large-scale thesis prints, all made printmaking a lucrative business.

A Protestant artist at a time of religious persecution, Sébastien Bourdon (1616–1671) fled Montpellier in 1622 after it was besieged by royal forces, journeying to Paris and then Rome to seek his fortune. There, in the mid-1630s, he associated with other foreigners, including the Dutch artist Pieter van Laer and his followers, who were known for their scenes of peasants and beggars.

Group of Peasants and a Boy Drinking from a Bowl (ca. 1636) served as the basis for one of Bourdon’s earliest etchings  The Young Boy Drinks (ca. 1636–7). Similar quotidian scenes are also found in Bourdon’s paintings from this period in Rome. 

VII. Le Brun and the Academic Model

Charles Le Brun (1619–1690) enjoyed court patronage from a young age. He briefly assisted Vouet, and then accompanied Poussin to Rome in 1642. Upon his return in 1646 he was made first painter to the king and quickly adapted his Italianate style to Parisian taste. By 1655, Le Brun became the leading painter in Paris, receiving the most distinguished aristocratic commissions. Within ten years, he was in charge of the royal collection of paintings and drawings and was the leader of the large team that realized Louis XIV’s greatest decorative ambitions at Versailles.  

With Bourdon, Laurent de la Hyre (1606–1656), Eustache le Sueur (1617–1655), and Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674), among others, Le Brun was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648. The Academy was a formal institution under the king’s protection, and one of its primary functions was the education of artists. Le Brun and his busy atelier played a critical role in training the next generation of French artists and ensuring that the practice of drawing was central to their work. Before the young Le Brun left for Rome with Poussin in 1642, he executed

 Charles Le Brun (1619 - 1690), A Caryatid, 1641, black chalk and gray wash; incised for transfer. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1987.6

A Caryatid (1641), a design for a decorative print adorning the theological thesis of Jean Ruzé d’Effiat, who would be appointed the abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel that year. The grand format necessitated several sheets of paper joined together; this exhibition marks the first time the upper portion in the Morgan and the lower portions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been reunited.

Sébastien Bourdon (1616 - 1671), Group of Peasants and a Boy Drinking from a Bowl, ca. 1636, black and white chalk on light brown paper; incised for transfer. The Morgan Library & Museum; Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1986.59.  

 This exhibition is organized by Jennifer Tonkovich, Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator in the Morgan’s Department of Drawings and Prints, with Marco Simone Bolzoni, Moore Curatorial Fellow.  

Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism


July 8 - Oct. 29, 2017

Two famed American artists are featured in the focus exhibition Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism, which opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City July 8. The exhibition includes two monumental paintings, Jackson Pollock’s Mural and Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126. Pollock’s work is freewheeling and frenzied while Motherwell’s painting presents a rhythmic, consistent structure.

“Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell were vital figures of mid-20th-century American painting,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Both innovated new approaches to creative expression. They also shared colorful, intense personalities that raised their profiles not just in the art world but in the public imagination.”

 Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. Oil and casein on canvas, 95 5/8 x 237 3/4 inches. Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959.6. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City. Reproduced with permission from The University of Iowa Museum of Art. Photograph courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2014.

Mural, Pollock’s largest-ever canvas, was commissioned in 1943 by famed art collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim for her New York City apartment and helped launch him to international acclaim. Mural is a complex fusion of brushstrokes and splatters. An array of vivid colors weaves across the canvas while calligraphic forms of dark brown divide the repetitive composition. Pollock later recalled that the painting’s imagery is that of a Western stampede. Other scholars claim totemic figures march across the surface. Mural marked a turning point for Pollock, with its vigorous abstraction, massive scale, and bold freedom. In 1948 Guggenheim gifted the painting to the University of Iowa. It underwent a two-year conservation effort by The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles beginning in 2012.

Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126, 1965-75. Acrylic on canvas, 77 3/4 x 200 1/4 inches. Purchased with the aid of funds from The National Endowment for the Arts with matching funds and partial gift of Robert Motherwell. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City. © Dedalus Foundation, Inc. Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126 is among the most elegant works of his career due to its vastness and thoughtful integration of color. The painting is a unique salute to Pollock. In 1972, the director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art commissioned the painting to hang with and visually respond to Mural’s monumental size. While many interpretations exist, Elegy’s theme explores the challenges and tensions of modern life. Ovals confined between vertical elements may symbolize remembrances of life and death. The composition is full of contrasts­–straight and curved forms, black and white paint, brushy and pooled pigment. The title laments the war-torn demise of the Spanish Republic and the following conflict of World War II.

In an era of celebrity, Pollock and Motherwell fashioned memorable personas to elevate their status in the art world and popular culture. Investigations by art historians and conservators have since revealed new insights into the artists’ lives, their paintings, and the Abstract Expressionist movement.
“This exhibition will present a unique opportunity to consider the idea of legendary stories,” said Sherèe Lutz, the curator of this installation. “Ranging from conservation histories to inventive narratives surrounding the artists, we pull back the curtain to reveal some behind-the-scenes information about the paintings, the artists, and the movement.”

Abstract Expressionism was never a formalized art movement but instead was characterized by individualism, freedom, and a break from tradition in technique and subject. Centered in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, artists embraced emotion and non-representational forms. They shared a mixture of ideas including interest in existential philosophy, Jungian psychology, the romantic sublime, and art from around the globe.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was born in Cody, Wyoming, the youngest of five boys. After growing up in Arizona and California, Pollock moved to New York City in 1930 to study painting at the Art Students’ League with Thomas Hart Benton. He later worked on the Federal Art Project during the Depression. Ultimately, he became internationally famous for his experimental dripped and poured paintings. Pollock’s struggle with alcoholism tragically led to an early death in a car accident.

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) grew up in California in an affluent, although unhappy, family. He enjoyed an elite education that included studying poetry, philosophy, and art history. Eventually, he shifted his focus to fine arts after seeing modern French painting in Paris. Motherwell cited a trip to Mexico with friend and fellow artist Roberto Matta as a major influence on his body of work, especially on the content in his Elegy series. In addition to working in painting, printmaking, and collage, Motherwell was a leading art theorist. He taught at universities in New York and North Carolina.