Before she died in 1983 in her enormous hôtel particulier on the banks of the Seine, Mona Bismarck created a foundation for art and culture in her name, and gave it, in addition to an endowment, her historic mansion on the avenue de New York. It was Bismarck’s means of creating a legacy more enduring than merely that of a fashion plate or serial bride.
Queen Kapiolani’s fan quilt, Hawaii, early twentieth century. American Museum in Britain, Bath.
Née Mona Travis Strader in Louisville, Kentucky, about 1897, the daughter of a professional horse trainer, her biography and glamorous transatlantic social life resemble that of a Henry James character sprung to jazz-age life. After a couple of starter marriages, she landed Harrison Williams in 1926, reportedly the richest man in America at the time. She subsequently earned herself the title of “Best Dressed Woman in the World” a title upgraded in 2011 by Vanity Fair magazine, which dubbed her one of the “Best-Dressed Women of All Time.”
After Williams’s death in 1953, she married her secretary Count Edward von Bismarck, a grandson of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck and a handsome gentleman-decorator. Upon his death she wed Umberto de Martini, fourteen years her junior. When she learned after his death in a car crash in 1979 that he had, in fact, been simultaneously married to someone else, she reverted to the Bismarck surname and ostensibly retired to Paris for the remainder of her life.
The foundation she created there, and where her portrait by Dalí still hangs, has made Mona Bismarck the friend of artists and writers as much as of aristocrats and financiers. Since opening its doors to the public in 1986, it has hosted exhibitions on a broad range of subjects including American and French art and design but also Russian icons and even Oceanic artifacts. When it came time to celebrate the institution’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2011, then-treasurer Eddie McDonnell challenged the board to re-envision the organization’s next quarter-century. He proposed narrowing the exhibition schedule to American subjects but also suggested that the Mona Bismarck expand the range of its programs to replace, in some respects, the erstwhile American Center, which closed in 1997.
The proposal earned McDonnell an appointment as the organization’s executive director. Since taking up his post, he has brought his vision to life with great energy. After changing the foundation’s name to the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture, this past fall, he, along with chief curator Danielle Berger Fortier, presented the first of the “new regime’s” exhibitions, Mary Cassatt in Paris: Prints and Drawings from the Ambroise Vollard Collection, which remains on view through January 20. In addition to engravings, aquatints, and preparatory drawings, the show features fifteen pastel counterproofs, which are as exceptional for their luminosity as for their rarity. A roster of life-drawing classes, lectures, concerts, staged readings, and other events relating to the works on view rounds out the program.
The next exhibition will present highlights from the quilt collection of the American Museum in Britain, featuring pieces from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. Opening on February 13 and running through the spring, the show will include album, log cabin, and Hawaiian quilts as well as many patriotic specimens, some of which depict scenes from American history. Rarely has such a display of this American folk art form been staged in France.
The choice of subject encapsulates the new vision at the Mona Bismarck Center and offers a fresh note to the portrayal of American culture in Paris.
Hotel Room by Edward Hopper (1882-1967), 1931. Oil on canvas. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
This past season le tout Paris has been raving about the Edward Hopper retrospective, which remains on view at the Grand Palais through January 28. Many visitors have expressed surprise and delight at discovering a more multifaceted body of work by the artist than they had previously imagined.
Divided into two major sections, which separate Hopper’s development from his mature work, the exhibition places special emphasis on his Parisian sojourns and influences and thus includes work by Albert Marquet, Edgar Degas, Félix Valloton, Camille Pissarro, and Walter Sickert.
The organizers have said that their objective is to shed light on the complexity beneath the deceptive simplicity of a Hopper composition. However, they (and French visitors) also express fascination with the “hypothetical knowledge and dreams conjured up by the fabulous name of America,” which Hopper’s compositions express.
A catalogue has been published in English and French to accompany the exhibition.
Königssee, Bavaria by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), 1868. Brush and oil paint, graphite on thin cream paperboard. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York, gift of Louis P. Church.
London hosts the first in-depth exploration of landscape oil sketches by Frederic Church to be held on the other side of the Atlantic in an exhibition opening on February 6 at the National Gallery. Featuring thirty oil sketches of scenes close to the artist’s home on the Hudson River as well as from his far-flung travels, the show is the second in a series of exhibitions devoted to American painting that the National Gallery commenced last spring in collaboration with the Terra Foundation for American Art. Far more ambitious than the first, twelve works by George Bellows and American ashcan painters, the Church exhibition will subsequently be shown at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh from May 11 through September 8.
Both exhibitions result from the Terra Foundation’s 2008 decision to close the Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, which has now been reorganized as the Musée des Arts Impressionismes, and to focus instead on assisting European museums in mounting shows devoted to American painting.
Wrought-iron castle door from Toledo, Spain, fifteenth century. De Backker Medieval Art, Hoogstraten, Belgium.
The 2013 European fair season kicks off with the fifty-eighth edition of the Brussels Antiques and Fine Arts Fair (BRAFA), which opens on January 19. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the show’s move from the historic Palais des Beaux-Arts to Tour and Taxis. In retrospect, the risky move from a historic site in the center of Brussels to a former industrial space at the far end of town has been highly successful, as can be measured by its growing attendance. In 2012 approximately forty-six thousand people visited, up from roughly forty thousand the year before.
This year’s fair includes 128 dealers, seventy-five of whom come from outside of Belgium, and boasts a broad spectrum of art and objects dating from the ancient world to the present day. It is best known for its strong offerings of tribal arts, antiquities, and art deco as well as a growing section devoted to Pre-Columbian art. It also showcases highly unusual items such as a model of a Neanderthal skull carved in ivory in Germany in the late nineteenth century offered by Finch and Company of the U.K., and a rare wrought-iron castle door, which will be at the stand of De Backker Medieval Art of Hoogstraten, Belgium.
Portrait of a Lady by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), c. 1760. Thomas Coulborn and Sons.
The British Antiques Dealers’ Association (BADA) holds its twenty-first fair from March 13 to 19 on Duke of York Square, in London’s fashionable Chelsea. Because all of the hundred-odd exhibitors must be BADA members, the fair excels in offerings of British art and objects. Highlights include an elegant portrait of about 1760 of a Derbyshire lady in costume by Joseph Wright of Derby, which will be shown by Thomas Coulborn and Sons. Among the more unusual items offered are a magnificent early nineteenth-century embroidery of a young woman mourning at a Wenten family tomb, which will be offered by Witney Antiques; and an ivory sculpture of a woman doing ikebana (arranging flowers), signed Shingyoko, carved in the late Meiji period, and offered by Laura Bordingnon.
The fair will feature a special exhibition of forty works by English watercolorist William Payne, whose views of Devon, Cornwall, and South Wales will be exhibited alongside contemporary photographs of these sites. A fully illustrated catalogue has been published for the occasion.
Left: A Dutch Man-O’-War; a Yacht Firing a Salute, Pincks, and Shipping on a River in a Calm by Ludolf Backhuysen (1631-1708), 1695. Right: Fleur dans un Vase Bleu by Odilon Redon (1840-1916), c. 1903-1905.
It is almost routine to refer to The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) Maastricht as the most important such show in the world, and the fair’s organizers work prodigiously to keep it on top. As early as last October, thirty-one of the roughly 250 international dealers who will exhibit in the fair’s twenty-sixth edition traveled to São Paolo, Brazil, to exhibit highlights of what they intend to show in Maastricht from March 15 to 24. Never before have TEFAF dealers previewed their wares in advance of the fair. Held as a benefit for Childhood Brazil, the exhibition provided an opportunity for TEFAF to introduce itself to Brazilian collectors.
This year TEFAF continues its quest to keep the fair fresh by branching out into new collecting areas, even as it remains committed to maintaining its hold on the mainstays. This year’s TEFAF Showcase, a one-time-only slot for six emerging dealers, will include Lucas Ratton of Paris, who will exhibit African art; as well as Eric Delalande, also of Paris, who will show a cabinet of curiosities that includes marine and scientific objects.
Only five previous Showcase exhibitors have ever joined the ranks of the main fair. Two of them-Jason Jacques of New York, specializing in art nouveau and art deco ceramics and other objects, and Didier Ltd. of London, featuring jewelry by artists-make their debut in 2013.