In one of his most famous works, the esteemed art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner sought to define “The Englishness of English Art.” If anyone were to under take a comparable inquiry into the Danishness of Danish art, the painter Vilhelm Hammershøi could well stand as the palmary embodiment of the thing in question. His small, reticent, manically controlled paintings achieve that prim order, that almost morbid inwardness, that foreigners, at least, are apt to associate with the land of Hamlet and Kierkegaard.
Julia Margaret Cameron was almost twenty-four when Louis-Jacques-Mondé Daguerre announced the invention of photography at the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1839. But it wasn’t until she was forty-eight—another lifetime later—that she would fully take up the medium herself. The catalyst was a Christmas gift from her daughter Julia and Julia’s husband in 1863.
Collecting and researching American art have been avocations of mine since my student days at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, when I commuted to school through the neighborhoods of the Hill District and past the belching steel mills on both sides of the Monongahela River. Those are fond memories still—fifty years after leaving Pittsburgh for New England—so when a group of ten drawings of those neighborhoods and mills surfaced on eBay, with inscriptions dating to March 1945 by a student at the city's Schenley High School, I acquired them. My reasons were initially nostalgic, but I also wondered if research might show that the "Andy" on the first sketch could possibly be Andy Warhol, who graduated from Schenley High in 1945.
Some things just aren't meant to fit in. The Whitney Museum of American Art certainly sounds like an august institution. But it was born on a scruffy back street in Greenwich Village at a time when "bohemian" meant "disreputable," and during its six decades uptown-most of them at Madison Avenue and Seventy-Fifth Street, in the moneyed precincts of the Upper East Side-it never really outgrew its origins. It did, however, outgrow its starkly modernist home, Marcel Breuer's inverted ziggurat from 1966. In addition to the usual curatorial squabbles and courting of benefactors and some epic board disputes, the Whitney spent decades trying to assuage its neighbors while somehow finding a way to expand. The task was hopeless. So it was with a feeling not just of relief but of joy that last spring, having renounced itsuptown location, the museum opened the doors to an expansive new building in the part of downtown Manhattan that until a few years ago was a reeking abattoir. Home, sweet home.