Current and coming: Exceptional Impressions at the Dixon Gallery

Editorial Staff Art

The Delaware Valley by William Langson Lathrop (1859–1938), c. 1899. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, purchased with funds provided by Mrs. David Craven; all images courtesy of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee.

Impressionism was somewhat slow to gain a hold on the American consciousness, among both the public and most artists. Manet, Cézanne, and Pissarro were displaying their work in the 1860s; the first official impressionist exhibition in Paris took place in 1874. But it was not until 1886 that the impressionists had an exhibition in the United States, in a show in New York City organized by a French art dealer. But once impressionism took root in American culture, it proved to be not only the most popular—and enduring— artistic style ever to captivate the nation’s art lovers, but also a style that was uniquely adaptable to the American scene.

A newly opened traveling exhibition currently on view at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, titled America’s Impressionism: Echoes of a Revolution, demonstrates that, while they certainly learned from and were inspired by their French peers, American artists developed a style of impressionism that was entirely their own.

Old Farm, Giverny by Lilla Cabot Perry (1848–1933), 1900. San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas, purchased with funds provided by the Lillie and Roy Cullen Endowment Fund.

In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, foreign study and travel had become standard practice for Americans with artistic aspirations. The experience left them open to new ideas and techniques and, in the case of women—who were allowed to enroll at few American art schools, and even then with restrictions—studying in the for-profit ateliers of Paris was the only avenue to an artistic education at all. Claude Monet became a kind of patron saint for the Americans, and many made pilgrimages to his home in the country village of Giverny, hoping some of the French artist’s greatness would rub off.

Seaside Flowers by William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), c. 1897. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas; photograph by Dwight Primiano.

No doubt it had also not escaped their notice that Monet won an early following among American collectors. Rather than their urban scenes, it was the plein air landscapes of the French impressionists that first found favor among American aesthetes. From the dramatic and allegorical vistas of the Hudson River school painters to the moody views of the tonalists, by the later nineteenth century, landscapes had become the predominant and most popular genre in American art. Connoisseurs in this nation were primed to appreciate impressionist landscapes, and, what’s more, the style traveled well. Artists’ colonies sprung up in New England and on Long Island, and from them came pastel-colored visions of wildflower-filled fields, rolling surf on the shore, and mountainside meadows. There would be impressionist artists in Texas and the Southwest, painting prairie scenes and cattle drives. Impressionists in California created nostalgic views of Spanish mission towns, and the beauty of the rugged coastline around the Monterey Peninsula lured artists from the East, such as Childe Hassam.

Port of Dieppe, Evening by Claude Monet (1840–1926), 1882. Dixon Gallery and Gardens, gift of Montgomery H. W. Ritchie.

Above all, the exhibition’s curators argue, what made impressionism such a popular and enduring style in America was its inherent sentimentality—by which they mean not a syrupy or maudlin sensibility, but that the paintings were easy to understand and appreciate. A viewer need not be schooled in classical mythology, nor arcane Biblical stories to comprehend what was depicted. Impressionist paintings romanticized quiet moments in everyday life; these artworks were gentle, soothing, and comforting. Even when the realities of labor and industry intrude on the impressionist landscape—as in J. Alden Weir’s Factory Village (1897), which depicts a thread-making mill in a Connecticut town—they are rendered serene and even picturesque. American impression was, perhaps, a form of escapism.

The Factory Village by Julian Alden Weir (1852–1919), 1897. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Cora Weir Burlingham, and purchase, Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund; photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Art Resource, NY.

This exhibition will travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Please consult the websites of those institutions for show dates. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog—the lead author is Amanda C. Burdan, curator at the Brandywine—distributed by Yale University Press.


America’s Impressionism: Echoes of a Revolution • Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee • to May 9 • dixon.org 

Current and coming: Over the Moon for Blakelock in Iowa

Sammy Dalati Art

Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847–1919) in a photograph c. 1870. Archives of American Art, Washington, DC. Macbeth Gallery Records.

The ethereal landscapes of Ralph Albert Blakelock are once again on view, this time at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, in an exhibition that explores Blakelock’s artistic development during the romantic and early modern periods, and draws on works—some out of sight for decades—in the museum’s permanent collection.

Encampment by Blakelock, late 1800s. Except as noted, the works illustrated are in the collection of the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, City of Davenport Art Collection, gift of Maurice Hemsing.

Blakelock was born in New York City in 1847, the son of a homeopathic physician. Hoping his son would follow him into the trade, Blakelock Sr. enrolled his firstborn at the Free Academy of the City of New York (later the City College of New York). But Blakelock had other ideas, and soon dropped out to take up landscape painting. With little formal instruction, he worked first in the romantic idiom of the Hudson River school then in vogue. While he met with moderate success, selling canvases and showing four times at the National Academy of Design in New York between 1867 and 1869, the young painter was restless. Eschewing the Grand Tour, in 1869 he headed west, traveling by boat to Duluth, Minnesota, then penetrating inland. Arriving on the prairie during an entente in the Great Plains War, Blakelock was gratified to travel alone, often on horseback. He had several friendly encounters with Sioux, Assiniboin, and Arikara people he met along the way, with whom he pitched camp and sketched, sometimes hundreds of miles into the wilderness. For the rest of his life he would initial his paintings within a stylized arrowhead, as can be seen on the back of Sylvan Brook in the present exhibition.

Sunset by Blakelock, late 1800s. Hemsing gift.

Back in New York, Blakelock meditated on the spiritual dimensions of the American landscape and its native peoples. A convert, like many artists and writers of the period, to the ideas of Swedish scientist, theologian, and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), Blakelock believed that the spiritual world wasn’t a wholly separate realm, but could be glimpsed through careful examination of the physical landscape. To represent this idea, he retreated from the exacting naturalism of the Hudson River school to adopt the loose, expressive brushwork characteristic of the proto-impressionist Barbizon painters, which he paired with the turbid atmospherics of American tonalists like George Inness and Bruce Crane. Laying down pigment and glaze layer after layer, and repeatedly scraping, rubbing, and otherwise abrading his pictures, Blakelock worked up an uneven, multilevel surface meant to trap and scatter light. Even standing right next to one of his landscapes, it can be difficult to determine where exactly the painting’s ground lies. The vaporous tepees in Encampment appear as if from a great distance beneath layers of glaze; compositions like Sunset seem to glow with immanent illumination.

Moonlight by Blakelock, 1800s. Gift of Clara L. Brandt.

Blakelock would go on to achieve what was then the highest auction price for a living artist in 1916, for Brook by Moonlight, now in the Toledo Museum of Art, and was elected to the National Academy of Design later that same year. In the eyes of contemporaries like Marsden Hartley and the urban realist group the Eight, Blakelock’s ability to abstract lived experience into evocative rather than literal imagery was emblematic of the sort of modernism they aspired to. But by the time he received this acclaim the artist’s ability to separate memory from reality—aggravated by decades of poverty and run-ins with stingy clients—had collapsed. He was institutionalized at the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital, which he believed was an Indian trading post, in upstate New York after 1901 and died in 1919, leaving his haunting dreamscapes as a testament both to his vision and to the tragic circumstances of his life.

Moonlight by Blakelock, late 1800s. Hemsing gift.

Blakelock: By the Light of the Moon • Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa • to April 25 • figgeartmuseum.org  

Wandering Eye: Queen Mary, Marge, Morgan and… the Mets?

Editorial Staff Opinion

What the editors of The Magazine ANTIQUES are looking at this week

Subscribe to the Wandering Eye for more.

Bill Traylor. Photograph by Horace Perry, courtesy of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

CURATORS AND CORONETS

The New York Metropolitans baseball club has finally opened its 2021 season. Despite the influx of cash from their new owner—billionaire hedge fund manager and art collector Steve Cohen—the new Mets looked remarkably similar to the old Mets in their first contest. If that continues, perhaps a new logo would help things? One entrepreneurial fan has an idea for a logo that pays tribute to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Artnet)
 
By the way, did you happen to catch the latest episode of the Simpsons in which Marge hosts a watch party for the gala taking place at the satirical “Museum of Generational Wealth”—an institution clearly based on the Met? (Hyperallergic)
 
Take a look at the complex mechanical writing desks of French and English aristocracy, made in the Roentgen’s German workshop during the eighteenth century, and put through their paces by the Met museum’s video department. (Open Culture)
 
Queen Mary, consort of King George V, reigned during a turbulent time that included the entirety of World War I, and the run-up to World War II. As a respite, the queen spent much of her time with the Royal Collection, where she was responsible for adding more than two thousand objects to its holdings. Her passion for curating and cataloguing the collection she called her “one great hobby.” (Apollo)
 
With the imminent return of a looted Benin bronze—long at the University of Aberdeen—to its Nigerian home making headlines, the public is demanding greater transparency as regards cultural theft. In response to the news that the queen’s private residences are exempt from the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act of 2017, which places limits on the buying and receiving of unlawfully exported cultural property, an Oxford archaeology professor penned an op-ed arguing for more openness. (Guardian)
 
Sometimes the world’s greatest collections aren’t built by royalty and billionaires, but by average folks with a good eye, some savvy, and a whole lot of passion. Meet Michel-Jack Chasseuil, the oenophile owner of one of the world’s most prestigious collections of wine. Read the fascinating story of how his collection was amassed inside a cellar beneath a chicken coop in the French countryside. (Messy Nessy Chic)
 
We’ve read a lot about the mudlarks of the Thames who unearth thousands of historical objects, now meet New Yorker Scott Jordan, an urban archaeologist featured in the film The Artefact Artist, whose luckiest finds—including Revolutionary War-era musketballs, Civil War buttons, fragments of centuries-old pottery, pipe stems, bottles, dolls, and coins—were uncovered in nineteenth century landfills and privy wells. (Aeon)


ODDS AND ENDS

The remarkable life of the great self-taught artist Bill Traylor will be celebrated with a feature film documentary produced by Sam Pollard and directed by Jeffrey Wolf. Born into slavery in rural Alabama in 1853, Traylor spent much of his emancipated life as a sharecropper until the late 1920s when he relocated to Montgomery and began drawing and painting scenes of country and city life. Traylor went on to produce a body of nearly fifteen hundred works and was recently the subject of a major retrospective at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. We’re very excited to see him brought to life in Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts. (Kino Lorber
 
The eighteenth century Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt fielded portrait commissions from the upper crust of Viennese society, and was to become professor at the Academy of Fine Arts before he went mad and fled the city to live isolated in a tiny home in the forest with only “a bed, a flute, a tobacco pipe, a water jug and an old Italian book on the proportions of the body.” There he created a series of sixty busts in alabaster and dull grey metal. The faces of these busts are profoundly expressive. (Apollo)
 
Also on faces, here’s a fun fact on why we refer to them as “mugs.” Don’t quote us because it’s not definitive, but very likely the slang comes from Toby jugs of the eighteenth century. If you don’t know what those are, check out some here. (Mental Floss
 
During and after World War I, J. P. Morgan’s daughter Anne used her vast resources to support civilian aid in France through her organization the American Committee for Devastated France. A portal at the Morgan makes still and moving pictures that the committee commissioned, as well as miscellany like Anne Morgan’s letters, available for online viewing. (Morgan Library and Museum)
 
Of the nearly two thousand stave churches built in Norway and dating to the Middle Ages, only around thirty remain. Preservation of these post-and-lintel buildings has required research into the sophisticated weatherproofing methods employed during their construction, which involved the laborious production of tar. (Atlas Obscura

With the debaucheries of Michel Foucault in the news, perhaps it’s an appropriate time to reexamine the subject of illicit love. Editor Becca Rothfield does just that in her essay about French filmmaker Éric Rohmer, focusing on his six “Moral Tales,” each about a different almost affair. If free love is the enemy of passion, in Rothfield’s analysis, “Rohmer raises the stakes of adultery until it becomes a scandal again.” (Cabinet)

Openings and Closings: April 7 to April 13

Elizabeth Lanza Exhibitions

Goya conoce a Posada (Goya meets Posada) from Homage to Goya II: Disasters of War by Enrique Chagoya (b. 1953), 2003. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut

Opening on April 23 at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is the exhibition Goya, Posada, Chagoya: Three Generations of Satirists. This exhibition highlights the prints of each artist as commentary on society and the human condition. The subjects of the prints by Francisco Goya, José Posada, and the contemporary artist Enrique Chagoya range from precolonial mythology to pop culture. Yet, when their works are juxtaposed, the artists seem to speak to one another across centuries. Take particular note of Chagoya’s reinterpretation of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings. Make sure to check here in order to book your timed tickets in advance.

Chelsea Porcelain Works Plate, c. 1755. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, the Rienzi Collection.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

It is April and spring has finally sprung. At the MFA, Houston you can celebrate the turn of the season even on rainy days with their exhibition Perpetual Bloom: Botanicals in the 18th-Century Interior? Take a step inside and back in time to see the stunning prints, plates, and porcelain dolls created in response to the scientific discoveries of the 18th century. The bold colors and designs will certainly brighten the mood as we wait for our own flowers to bloom. In the meantime, make sure to check here to plan your trip over to the MFA, Houston.

Herd of Buffalo by William Jacob Hays (1830–1875), 1862. Denver Art Museum, CO; photograph courtesy of the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.
Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee

When we think of the American West, what do we see? Likely, flowing rivers and tall trees, rolling hills and open land. This vision didn’t spring out of nowhere, it was crafted by artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Frist Art Museum’s new exhibition Creating the American West in Art presents viewers with some 80 works of art dating from 1822 to 1946. The exhibition takes a look at the ever-changing nature of the American West in popular conceptions. Creating takes a nuanced approach to a delicate subject and must not be missed. So, make sure to plan your trip here before you go.

Véronique, in a Givenchy evening gown, Haute Couture Fall-Winter 1965, and Gregory Peck arrive at the premiere of Doctor Zhivago at Loew’s Capitol, New York, 1965. Denver Art Museum, Colorado; photograph courtesy of the Véronique Peck Collection.
Denver Art Museum, Colorado

As we head West from the Frist, our last stop of the day will be at the Denver Art Museum. The new exhibition Paris to Hollywood: The Fashion and Influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck takes a look at 100 ensembles from the wardrobe of Véronique Peck, the très chic Parisian-born writer and wife of the great actor. The exhibition boasts never before exhibited clothing, sketches, photographs, videos, family pictures, and documents that track the life of one Hollywood’s sweetheart couples. A time capsule of couture from the ‘50s through the ‘90s, the exhibition also takes a look at the role of fashion in the ongoing fight for women’s rights. To take a trip to old Hollywood, make sure to check here in order to reserve your tickets in advance.

City Smitten

Thomas Connors Art

Fig. 1. Detail of A View of the Old State House, Boston by Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978), 1911. Inscribed “DICIT ENIM: VETVS MELIVS EST” at upper right and “© R.RUZICKA/ 1911” at lower left; signed “R. Ruzicka/ disc. Imp” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 5/8 by 3 ½ inches (image). Here and throughout, “detail of” simply indicates that our image is cropped from the full sheet—which constitutes the artwork as a whole. All objects illustrated are in the collection of Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum; photographs © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Gift of Paul J. Sachs.

Every town has its emblematic landmarks. And for the walker in the city—native or newcomer—these are not always the biggest buildings, or the most historic byways. The old Central Savings Bank on Broadway at 72nd Street, and the tiny island of green across from it, can signify Manhattan as much as does Grand Central Terminal. Crossing Chicago’s Michigan Avenue bridge centers you in the city more than a trip to the top of the Sears (now Willis) Tower. And if you find yourself passing through the dark Temple Place in downtown Boston, you’ll understand something about that city as a city—not a history lesson.

Fig. 2. Detail of A View of Faneuil Hall, 1912. Inscribed “LIBERTATIS INCVNABVLA” at bottom and “©/ R RUZICKA/ 1912” at lower left; signed “R. Ruzicka disc.” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 5/8 by 3 ½ inches (image). Sachs gift.

Boston, of course, is a history lesson, a place so packed with tourists that it can be difficult to apprehend the almost brutal beauty of King’s Chapel, or appreciate the formal grace of the Longfellow Bridge. And with its low-rise charm now compromised by a host of high-rise towers, nothing—to borrow from Wordsworth—“can bring back the hour” when a muted splendor was the defining quality of this red-brick burg. But looking at the city as rendered by illustrator and designer Rudolph Ruzicka, one can imagine a time when its history was—if not living—at least not quite as monetized as it has since become, when even a legendary site was, perhaps, just a companion to the corner store, a familiar face encountered on the way to work.

Fig. 3. Detail of A View of Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown, 1915. Inscribed “HOC NOMEN est in æternum, et hoc memo/ riale in generationem et generationem.” at bottom and “© R. RUZICKA 1915” at lower left; signed “R. Ruzicka disc. Imp.” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 ½ by 3 ½ inches (image). Sachs gift.

Born in Bohemia, Ruzicka was raised in Chicago, where he left school at fourteen to apprentice as a wood engraver. He took drawing classes at Hull House and the relatively new Art Institute, and, after a succession of jobs with engraving and printing concerns, moved to New York City in 1903. There, he landed a position drawing designs and lettering for the timetables of the Phoebe Snow, a passenger train of the Lackawanna Railroad. Later, he spent hours creating layouts for Arrow shirt collars at the Calkins and Holden advertising agency. On his own time, he advanced his artistic interests, attending classes at the Art Students League, studying with Robert Henri for a time. Acquiring a hand press of his own, he began to realize his determination to “do wood engraving exclusively, of my own designs, and not to use wood engraving merely as a method of reproduction.”1

Fig. 4. Detail ofLowell House, Harvard University, c. 1931. Inscribed “VIGILATE ERGO: NESCITIS ENIM, QUANDO DOMINUS DOMUS VENIAT” at top and “R. Ruzicka/ © 1931” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 ½ by 3 ½ inches (image). Sachs gift.

Ruzicka’s first major, non-commercial commission was New York: A Series of Wood Engravings in Color, a limited-edition volume issued by the Grolier Club in 1915. From his arrival in Manhattan, Ruzicka had taken the built environment as his subject and while the scope of his work in various techniques ranged widely over his long career, images of streets and buildings are central to his oeuvre. Newark, Cleveland, Vassar College, and the United States Military Academy, West Point, are among the places he rendered in his spare, understated style. Remarking on the artist’s efforts in 1917, William M. Ivins, curator of prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, observed, “he is content to make his designs directly and calmly, without resort to forcing or over-emphasis, confiding fully in the telling power of terse veracity.”2

Fig. 5. Detail of A View of Gore Hall and the Weeks Memorial Bridge, 1927. Inscribed “NISI DOMINVS…” at top, “© 1927” at lower left, and “R. RUZICKA” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 1/8 by 3 5/8 inches (image). Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop.

Ruzicka’s Boston adventure began in 1907, when he met Daniel Berkeley Updike, founder of the Merrymount Press. Although their initial encounter at New York’s Hotel Lafayette was uneasy (“I was quite interested in encouraging modern or contemporary art. . . . Updike’s tendency . . . was just to borrow things from the past,” Ruzicka later recalled),3 within a few years, the two had formed a professional relationship that would last for three decades.

In addition to working on books and other publications printed by Merrymount, Ruzicka created the annual New Year’s greeting that Updike sent to friends of the press. The first, for 1912, depicts the Old State House of 1713, the new skyscrapers of the day looming in darkness behind it (Fig. 1). The keepsakes, issued until Updike’s death in 1941, form a catalogue of Boston’s signifying structures and neighborhoods, including Faneuil Hall (Fig. 2), the Bunker Hill Monument (Fig. 3), and Louisburg Square, as well as notable places nearby—Harvard’s Lowell House (Fig. 4), Walden Pond (Fig. 6), and the House of the Seven Gables, among others.

Fig. 6. Detail of A View of Walden Pond, Near Concord, Massachusetts, c. 1926. Inscribed “Cato dixit malle quaeri cur non, quam cur ipsi statua esset collocata.” at bottom; “R.RUZICKA” at lower left; and “© 1926” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 3/8 by 3 5/8 inches (image). Winthrop bequest.

By the time Ruzicka relocated to Massachusetts in 1948, the city’s glory days as an intellectual capital were past. In 1906 H. G. Wells said of a visit there: “The capacity of Boston, it would seem, was just sufficient but no more than sufficient, to comprehend the whole achievement of the human intellect up, let us say, to the year 1875 a.d. Then an equilibrium was established. At or about that year Boston filled up.”4 In her excoriation of the city, published in Harper’s Magazine in 1959, Elizabeth Hardwick asserted, “In Boston there is an utter absence of that wild, electric beauty of New York, of the marvelous, excited rush of people in taxicabs at twilight.”5

One can argue that, even as Ruzicka created his Boston images, he (or perhaps more accurately, Updike) was indulging a backward look. And to appreciate Ruzicka’s Boston work today is to submit to nostalgia. But there is more than sweet memory at work in these images. In his rendering of the Weeks Memorial Bridge (Fig. 5)—the arch of its span framing Harvard’s Gore Hall on the opposite shore of the Charles, a single sculler passing beneath—the low angle effectively captures the upward thrust of the structure, while the pile of clouds above extends the spatial dynamism of the engraving. Publisher David Godine, who gathered the keepsakes into a book in 1975 (Boston: Distinguished Buildings and Sites within the City and Its Orbit as Engraved on Wood by Rudolph Ruzicka), told me, “Ruzicka could look at very simple things, like the Frog Pond on Boston Common or the Newark waterfront—things most people would not look at—and somehow find the inner light that shone in those very simple, architectural arrangements.”

Fig. 7. Detail of A View of Some Old Gardens, Beacon Hill, Boston, c. 1930. Inscribed “RVS IN VRBE” at bottom and “© R. RUZICKA 1930” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 ½ by 3 ½ inches (image). Winthrop bequest.

The expressiveness of Ruzicka’s minimal color palette is manifest in a view of the gold-domed State House as seen from the Beacon Hill garden of Ellery Sedgwick, editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Shades of red and yellow predominate, with an almost black brown marking the tall, leafless trees that form a counterpoint to the chimneytopped houses that lead the eye to the distant dome (Fig. 7). Although one might read these impressions as essentially architectural renderings, Ruzicka always imbued them with a sense of the living city. In his engraving of the Bulfinchdesigned St. Stephen’s Church in the North End, young folks gather around the fountain in the adjacent plaza (Fig. 8). The tree-shaded benches in Worcester Square are chock-a-block with people. A single pigeon swooping to the ground in the Public Garden is enough to conjure a sense of urban life.

“Through every piece of Ruzicka’s engraving and design,” said Updike, “runs a secure and sufficient quality—the sane, self-respecting individuality of a man who has something to say and says it simply, directly, calmly and felicitously.”6 

Fig. 8. Detail of Saint Stephen’s Church (Charles Bulfinch Architect) on Hanover Street, Boston, Looking East from “The Prado,” c. 1936. Inscribed “PYRRHULAE OPUS” at bottom, “© 1936” at lower left, and “R. Ruzicka” at lower right. Woodcut on paper, 5 ¼ by 3 ½ inches (image). Winthrop bequest.

1Rudolph Ruzicka: Speaking Reminiscently, ed. Edward Connery Lathem (New York: Grolier Club, 1986), p. 30. 2 Ibid., p. 69, quoting William M. Ivins, The Wood-engravings of Rudolph Ruzicka (Newark, NJ: Newark Museum Association, 1917), p. 2. 3Rudolph Ruzicka: Speaking Reminiscently, p. 48. 4State of Mind: A Boston Reader, ed. Robert N. Linscott (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1948), p. 347. 5Elizabeth Hardwick, “Boston, The Lost Ideal,” Harper’s Magazine, vol. 219, no. 1315 (December 1959) p. 66. 6Quoted in Walter Muir Whitehill, “The Ruzicka Exhibition at the Library,” The Boston Public Library Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 1 (January 1951), p. 14.  


THOMAS CONNORS is a Chicago-based arts writer. 

Quaker Hautes – A review of the new catalogue: American Furniture, 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Peter M. Kenny Books, Exhibitions, Magazine

Fig. 1. Fox and Grapes high chest of drawers and dressing table, Philadelphia, 1765–1775. Mahogany, tulip poplar, white cedar, yellow pine, brass; chest: height 96 ¾, width 46 ½, depth 25 ¾ inches; table: height 29 7/8, width 35, depth 23 ¼ inches. All objects illustrated are in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; all photographs are by Gavin Ashworth. Chest, gift of Mrs. Henry V. Greenough; dressing table, museum purchase with funds from several donors, bequests, and funds.

As we stride warily into a new year, after a year like no other, how welcome it is to receive this handsome new publication on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s esteemed collection of American furniture. For those of us with a passion for American furniture and decorative arts, Zoom gatherings and virtual lectures on museum collections have provided a much needed “fix” during the pandemic, and institutions have been extremely resourceful in their offerings. However, the arrival of an engaging and beautifully made book such as this—a volume to settle in with, and refer back to again and again—feels truly like a gift in these times. Sincere thanks are due to its author, curator Alexandra Kirtley, her institution, and the generous donors who have made it possible.

Fig. 2. Butaca chair, Mexican, probably Campeche, c. 1730–1770. Mahogany, leather upholstery, brass; height 38 ¼, width 27 ¾, depth 25 ¼, inches. Partial gift of Bowman Properties and purchase with the Thomas Skelton Harrison Fund.

As indicated by its title, this is not an exhaustive catalogue of the collection of American furniture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which, according to the author, includes eleven hundred examples, but a carefully chosen group of just under a third of these intended to bring a great collection into focus and to afford it the prominence it deserves. There is solid scholarship here amplified by in-depth research into Philadelphia wills and probate records, histories of ownership, the careful reading of objects, and insights gained by a close and fruitful collaboration between the curator/author and the museum’s conservators.

Fig. 3. Pier table with marble top, possibly by Thomas S. Renshaw (1780–between 1836 and 1849) with painted decoration by John Barnhart (1780–after 1829), 1810–1815. Probably tulip poplar, marble, plaster, painted and gilded decoration; height 35, width 28 5/8, depth 16 inches. Promised gift of Lyn Ross.

The introductory essay on the formation of the American furniture collection from the time of its founding in 1876 to the present makes it clear why the Philadelphia Museum of Art is “unrivaled [in its] representation of furniture made in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania.” In Kirtley’s richly textured telling of this story we learn, for instance, of one quaint but eminently practical early approach taken to secure locally made and owned furniture for the museum: a genteel want ad placed in the museum Bulletin in April 1909 under the heading “Antique Furniture Wanted” that appealed directly to the members of any “old family” of Philadelphia to donate their “handsome and rare old furniture” so it “would be permanently preserved for the benefit of posterity.” And in a more contemporary vein, Kirtley candidly reveals the strategizing required to prevent a very important and expensive cornerstone of the collection, the dressing table mate to the celebrated Fox and Grapes high chest (Fig. 1) of drawers, from slipping from the museum’s grasp. Offered to the museum in 2011, after being on loan there since 1976, it was acquired over a five-year period through a combination of the proceeds from some significant deaccessioning and numerous donations. “Conceived,” as the author writes in the catalogue entry “as two parts of a whole,” this remarkable set [one of three such sets included in the book!] is a monument to Philadelphia cabinetmaking and carving excellence in the mid-1700s.

Fig. 4. Chair attributed to Ephraim Haines (1775–1837), Philadelphia, 1805–1810. Mahogany, with upholstery partially removed in the 1980s to show layers; height 34, width 19, depth 19 inches.

The furniture is arranged regionally—Philadelphia, southeastern Pennsylvania, New England and New York, the South, Bermuda, and Mexico—and within each region roughly chronologically. It is not a balanced presentation, with furniture from Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania (250 entries) far outnumbering all the other regions (47 entries). Not to diminish in any way Kirtley’s significant accomplishment in writing this book, but the question must be asked: why not a catalogue of Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania furniture from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring a chapter that synthesized the voluminous scholarship on this material to date, including her own, its social context, and the generations of talented artisans who produced it? It might be argued that such an endeavor is the province of a special exhibition catalogue, but given the pre-eminence and depth of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania furniture, it is this reviewer’s sincere hope that this was not a missed opportunity.  

Fig. 5. Sofa, Philadelphia, 1835–1840. Tulip poplar, pine, wool and silk fibers, linen, and curled-hair under-upholstery, replacement goat hide and silkand- cotton woven tape upholstery; height 43, width 76 ½, depth 28 inches. Museum purchase with the McNeil Acquisition Fund for American Art and Material Culture.

Gavin Ashworth’s photography is superb, and equal to this is the reproduction of the images on the page—blessedly, you can read the carving and the molding profiles of the furniture even in an overall view, something that cannot be said of every furniture publication. There are inventive layouts showing interesting juxtapositions of furniture— chairs and sofas in the wood and their upholstery foundations, for example. There is even a cutaway of the show covers on a chair attributed to Ephraim Haines revealing the history of its upholstery treatments (Fig. 4). To allow the images of the furniture to breathe on the page while also fitting the fairly extensive commentary, the typeface is delicate and relatively small—maybe just a little too small and trim for some readers, especially in the notes and the scholarly apparatus for the entries at the back of the book. These quibbles aside, this is a book that will reward close reading and bring joy to everyone who knows and admires the American furniture collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Fig. 6. Tall-case clock, case by John Janvier (1749–1801), movement attributed to Duncan Beard (d. 1797), Odessa, Delaware, 1779. Mahogany, yellow pine, white pine, tulip poplar, tinned sheet iron, brass, glass; height 101 ¼, width 19 ¼, depth 10 ¼ inches. Promised gift of Leslie Miller and Richard Worley.

American Furniture, 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley (Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2020). 

Wandering Eye:Eye on the Ball

Editorial Staff Opinion

What the editors of The Magazine ANTIQUES are looking at this week

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Face jug by the Martin Brothers, 1897. Photograph courtesy of AD Antiques.

RITES OF SPRING

This article celebrates the start of spring with James Paxton’s three-volume collection of hand-colored lithographs, Paxton’s Flower Garden. Dive into Paxton’s work as head gardener of Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, which got him interested in greenhouses, and ultimately led to his design for the Crystal Palace in 1851. (V&A Blog)

We hoped to avoid discussion of  NFTs, at least until the medium had a couple more years under its belt. But our forward-thinking friend Robert Aronson makes the case for paying attention now. The Amsterdam dealer in delftware is offering two series based on a seventeenth-century tulip vase on the NFT marketplaceOpenSea. The subject matter seems fitting for a rapidly growing market that may yet wither and die. (Art Newspaper)

Igor Stravinsky died fifty years ago. Who cares? That’s the opinion of music critic Norman Lebrecht, who seeks to elevate another Diaghilev protege, Serge Prokofiev, to the pedestal occupied by the composer of The Firebird. (Critic

Opening Day is upon us! That’s right folks, as of Thursday baseball will be back, and this year we’ll actually be allowed to go to the parks and take in the sounds and sights of the game. Get your popcorn! Beer here! And read about the history of the baseball cap here. Did you know that when the first organized nine-inning game was played in 1846 between the New York Knickerbockers and the New York Baseball Club, the players wore wide-brimmed hats made of plaited wood? (Smithsonian Magazine


ARTS AND CRAFTS

At the turn of the twentieth century, four London brothers produced a particularly distinctive style of pottery that remains highly collectible today. Read about the “Sly-eyed birds, gaping toads, leering jugs, gurning tortoisesa parade of glorious stoneware grotesquerie from the hands and minds of the Martin Brothers.” (Open Art Fair)

The Victoria and Albert Museum provides an introduction to William Morris—the nineteenth-century British polymath and doyen of the arts and crafts movement. Biographical notes precede a link to the trove of works by Morris (textiles, wallpapers, drawings, furniture, and much more)  held by the V&A. (Victoria and Albert Museum)


HISTORIES AND DATABASES

The V&A is also home to the National Art Library—an important resource for students of the decorative arts, and accessible to the public—that is currently in need of support. While implementing institution-wide cost-saving measures, the museum has been forced to consider restructuring the library and perhaps restricting its services. In light of this uncertain future, a petition is being circulated to support the library. Read the commentary from one (admittedly, biased) academic here. (Apollo)

Over the past few years more and more museums have put their collections online. The latest example is the Louvre, which has just introduced a portal to a virtual presentation of its entire collection of roughly five hundred thousand works of art. Enter and search this enormous trove of masterworks here. (Louvre Museum)

The collections of some other world-class institutions that have not yet devised a digital showcase of their holdings can be accessed with a new app that offers images of works from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Harvard Art Museums, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library Digital Collection. All images are public domain, free to remix, transform, or build upon. Enjoy! (Museo)

From “aerocars” to “zero-gravity”: introducing the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, a project initiated by the Oxford English Dictionary, then picked up by Columbia University lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, and now, finally, available to all. (Internet Archives Blog/Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction)

Since the time of Vasari, artists’ drawings have been appreciated as not simply the products of genius but also as records on paper of genius’s direct, dynamic impact—something like a divine trace. This quality was more and more appreciated following the Renaissance, and collectors responded by encasing their precious drawings first in hand-drawn or printed frames, and then, when drawings made the leap from the pages of portfolios to the walls of fashionable houses, in real frames of wood and paint. (Frame Blog)

Curious Objects: Corot’s Impressionist Lunchbox

Editorial Staff Curious Objects

Only nine times in his seventy-eight years did Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot paint on anything other than canvas, paper, and panel. On one occasion, offended by the crude wooden lunchbox carried by his friend Alfred Robaut, Corot had a new one constructed, which he decorated with a plein air painting, Fraîcheurs matinales (Morning Freshness). It’s a mini-masterpiece made all the more charming by its humble setting, a breezy landscape of trees and hills awash with sunlight and enlivened by one of Corot’s favorite motifs: a flash of red, the hat of a small figure coming over a rise. Host Ben Miller gets the story from the dealer who sold it, Jill Newhouse, and the collector who bought it, Ray Vickers.

A box painted with Fraicheurs matinales (Morning Freshness) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875), 1871. Photograph courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York.

Jill Newhouse is the fourth generation of her family to be an art dealer. Her eponymous gallery is located on East Eighty-First Street, across from the Met, and specializes in master drawings of the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. Newhouse was a founding member and past president of the Private Art Dealers Association (PADA), and, since 1999, a member of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), currently serving on the board of the ADAA Foundation. She is a member of the Morgan Library and Museum, and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Visiting Committee of the Department of Prints and Drawings. While focusing on the work of artists from Delacroix, Gericault, and Rousseau to Bonnard and Vuillard, Jill is co-authoring a revised catalogue raisonné of the drawings of J. B. C. Corot.

Photograph by Bill Massey.


Raymond Vickers is a retired corporate lawyer.  He and his wife lived for eighteen years in Hong Kong and Tokyo and after a stay in Los Angeles returned to New York City in 2008. They purchased their first serious art object, an early Japanese Imari jar, in 1973. They have donated works of Japanese art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museums of Harvard, and the Freer Gallery.

Openings and Closings: March 31 to April 6

Elizabeth Lanza Art

Cover of a Book, c. 1800s. Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This past fall, the Museum of the American Revolution opened an exhibition entitled When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776–1807. While museums across the country were celebrating the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, the Museum of the American Revolution took a different approach. The exhibition examines a little-known chapter in the history of American suffrage: for more than thirty years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women and free persons of color were legally allowed to vote in New Jersey. That ended in 1807 when New Jersey legislators restricted the franchise to land-owning white men. For history lovers, this exhibition is a must-see, whether in person or online. If you’re planning to go in person, check here, but if you’d rather peruse the exhibition from home, check here before the exhibition closes on April 25.

Stan Hywet Hall was designed by Charles S. Schneider (1874–1932) for Frank Augustus (1859– 1955) and Gertrude F. P. Seiberling (1866–1946), built 1912–1915. Recently restored and open to the public, the house retains some 95 percent of its original furnishings. Adams photograph.

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, Akron, Ohio

After six long years of restoration, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is proud to share its renewed manor house interiors with the public. On April 1, the site will open its 2021 season exhibition with Restoration: If This Hall Could Talk. The show discusses the what, why, and how of historic renovations and gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the hard work of their curatorial team. This long-awaited reopening is not to be missed so, check here to book your tickets in advance.

Breastplate (civavonovono), early 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; photography courtesy of the collection of Mark and Carolyn Blackburn, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California

Opening on April 1 at LACMA is the exhibition Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific. The show is the first large-scale presentation of the art of Fiji in the United States, and features more than 280 works drawn from international collections. The diverse array of pieces on view includes figurative sculptures, barkcloth panels, pearl shell breastplates, traditionally constructed sailing canoes, and much more. Fiji: Art and Life in the Pacific is a historical and cultural goldmine. So, make sure to book your tickets in advance here.

Detail of Landscape of Suzhou Sceneries by Shen Zhou (1427–1509), c. 1484–1504. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; gift of the Wan-go H.C. Weng Collection.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

The late filmmaker and historian Wan-go H.C. Weng was the steward of a collection of Chinese paintings and calligraphy that had been gathered by his family over the course of six generations. Before his death last year at age 102, Weng made a gift of the collection—more than 230 works—to the MFA Boston, the largest donation of  Chinese art the museum has ever received. On April 3, the MFA unveils the second of three exhibitions dedicated to celebrating Weng’s gift. Weng Family Collection of Chinese Painting: Travel and Home features 20 works that relate to domestic and exotic landscapes and scenic voyages. Boasting artworks by the greats from the Ming and Qing dynasties, this exhibition should not be missed so check here in order to plan your trip ahead of time.

Current and coming: Two Titans at the Barnes Foundation

Editorial Staff Exhibitions, Magazine

Landscape by Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943), c. 1922–1924. Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris; Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection, © 2021 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York; photograph © Peter Willi/Bridgeman Images, courtesy of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Albert Barnes, the pioneering American collector of modern art, visited the gallery of artist Chaïm Soutine’s dealer in Paris in 1922 and bought everything available— some fifty paintings in all. Thirty years later, the Dutch-born artist Willem de Kooning and his wife, Elaine, visited the Soutines in the collection of the Barnes Foundation at its then home in suburban Philadelphia. De Kooning left the museum enthralled.

Queen of Hearts by Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), 1943–1946. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS); photograph by Lee Stalsworth, courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

A new exhibition at the Barnes Foundation in downtown Philadelphia, organized with the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie in Paris, will unite the work of Soutine and de Kooning, placing the two artists—as curators like to say—in conversation. Art is a continuum, the present building on the past. But rarely are we given such a direct demonstration of the way in which one great artist influenced another. Soutine was admired by later generations of artists for the manner in which he painted— his vigorous brushstrokes, his application of pigment in thick layers. But, for de Kooning, there was also a deeper connection to Soutine. Neither artist can be pigeonholed stylistically. Both sought a middle path between representation and abstraction— a synthesis of figure and gesture. Hanging side by side, their works represent a dialogue between two kindred spirits.


Soutine/de Kooning: Conversations in Paint • Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia • March 7 to August 8 • barnesfoundation.org