Fig. 4. A View of Boston by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), 1837-1839. Oil on canvas, 34 by 37 ⅛ inches.
This is especially true of the Hudson River school painters who frequently appear at MMAM. The art usually included under that heading actually consists of two rather different strains: the earlier, associated with Thomas Cole and Asher Brown Durand, and the later, represented by such artists as Sanford Robinson Gifford and John Frederick Kensett, all of whom are notably represented in the collection. Cole and Durand still see the world through the spectacles of the Old Masters, specifically painters like Vlieger and Claude Lorrain. In Cole's A View of Boston (Fig. 4) and in Durand's Landscape (Fig. 5) the last, lingering filaments of a Virgilian golden age seem to play about the edges of these classically balanced works. In both paintings, significantly, the water seems almost incidental, a bluish blur in the middle distance: but that is enough for Burrichter and Kierlin to include them at MMAM. For the so-called luminist painters, Kensett and Gifford, however, working during and after the Civil War, such mythological halations are no longer possible. They have been replaced by the realism of John Ruskin in Gifford's The Beach at Cohasset and Kensett's At Newport (Figs. 6, 7). But even here, reality is hardly unfiltered.The pantheism of Baron Alexander von Humboldt infuses each white-capped wave and each scarred and furrowed cliff, as purest sunlight pours down upon scenes in which humanity is, at most, an afterthought.
Fig. 6. The Beach at Cohasset by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), 1864. Signed and dated "SRGifford Cohasset Mass Sept. 14th 1864" at lower right. Oil on canvas, 9 ½ by 19 ¼ inches.
Very different are the European artists in the collection. To see the works by J.M.W. Turner and the impressionists is to be reminded of Emile Zola's definition of art as "un coin de la creation vu a travers un temperament" (a corner of creation viewed through a specific temperament). That personal element, almost entirely absent from American art before the end of the nineteenth century, is manifest in Turner's great Heidelberg with a Rainbow: the city on the River Neckar, with its bridges and spires, becomes in Turner's hands a kind of medieval fairyland, a radiant vision in which humanity and nature exist in a state of perfect equilibrium (Fig. 8).
But Turner is making things up: he feels that it is his painterly prerogative to alter reality, as it presents itself to his eyes, according to the loftier dictates of his imagination and aesthetic sense. In Claude Monet's Near Fécamp (Fig. 12) and Paul Signac's Les Andelys, Lucas Island (Fig. 1), reality is never to be tampered with, even as it is infused with a mood as fluid as the waters it depicts. And so the cliffs and the sea that dominate Monet's overcast canvas suggest an almost drugged torpor, while Signac's scene of a medieval town, mirrored in the waters of the middle ground, carries intimations of deep happiness, as the sunlight sparkles on the waves.
Fig. 9. Seated Man (Homme assis) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), 1933. Signed and dated "Cannes 22 juilletXXXIII/Picasso" at upper right. Watercolor and Chinese ink on paper, 16 by 20 inches. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
In some of the paintings at MMAM, the viewer is almost challenged to find the watery element that was a precondition for their acquisition. The only intimation of liquidity in Paul Gauguin's Still Life with Onions (cover) is a very solid earthenware jug that may or may not contain a fluid. In Mary Cassatt's Françoise in a Round-Backed Chair, Reading (c. 1909), the eye traverses the surface several times before noting the open window at the top, through which a sliver of water appears. But given the general excellence and variety of the works on view, none of that matters. Burrichter and Kierlin have chosen-arbitrarily, it might seem-a thematic premise to which they have stuck with fastidious punctilio, and the result is a world-class collection.
Charting New Waters: Redefining Marine Painting, Masterworks from the Burrichter/Kierlin Collection, edited by Annette Blaugrund and containing essays by Blaugrund, Stephen Brown, John Driscoll, Barbara Dayer Gallati, Joseph D. Ketner II, Elizabeth M. Kornhauser, Leo G. Mazow, Barbara Novak, Allen Staley, and Sally Webster, has recently been published by the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Marine, Hudson River School, Impressionist and Modern Art •Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona • to December 2015 • mmam.org