Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category

Edward Steichen and His Seven Rare Mural Paintings: A History of “In Exaltation of Flowers”

Seven murals painted by Edward Steichen are undergoing conservation treatment this summer in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery. After treatment is completed, the rare and exquisite murals will be on view September 5, 2017, through May 28, 2018, as part of the exhibition Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers (1910-1914), overseen by the Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the DMA, Sue Canterbury.

Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy being unrolled from a travel tube

Edward Steichen, born Eduard Jean Steichen in 1879, was an American artist who was both a painter and photographer during his lifetime. Most of his paintings and photographs were produced for the American art market while he was living in the United States or France. He stayed in Paris for about a year in 1901 and then returned to Paris a second time in 1906; it was then that he joined the New Society of American Artists. One of his friends in Paris was an American student at the Sorbonne named Agnes Ernst, and she later played a large role in Steichen’s commission for In Exaltation of Flowers. In 1908, Steichen moved from Paris to his villa, L’Oiseu Bleu, in Voulangis, France. There, he cultivated a garden and built a small studio with a skylight.

In 1910 Agnes Ernst married Eugene Meyer and the couple traveled to L’Oiseu Bleu during their honeymoon. The three friends likely discussed the commission for In Exaltation of Flowers during that visit. This commission would include seven 10-foot-tall murals designed for a foyer in the Meyers’ new townhouse at 71st Street and Park Avenue, which the Meyers acquired in 1911. The commission was $15,000 and these artworks became Steichen’s most ambitious undertaking.

As Steichen worked on the Meyers’ commission from 1910 to 1914, many of their American friends visited Voulangis, including Arthur Carles, Mercedes de Cordoba, Katharine Rhoades , Marion Beckett, and Isadora Duncan. Some of these visitors identified with specific floral personifications, which became incorporated into Steichen’s tempera and gold leaf compositions. The In Exaltation of Flowers series consists of the following seven panels:

    1. Gloxinia – Delphinium: a kneeling woman (likely Isadora Duncan) with Gloxinia, Delphinium, and Caladium flowers
    2. Clivia – Fuchsia – Hilium – Henryi: one woman sitting (possibly Isadora Duncan or Marion Beckett) and another woman standing (likely Katharine Rhoades) with Clivia, Fuchsia, and Henry Lily flowers
    3. Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy: Florence Meyer (first child of Eugene and Agnes Meyer) with a butterfly and poppies
    4. Petunia – Begonia – The Freer Bronze: a Zhou Dynasty bronze (symbolizing Charles Lang Freer, a collector of Asian art and benefactor of the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC) with Petunia and Begonia flowers
    5. Rose – Geranium: Katharine Rhoades with a fruit-bearing tree, roses, and geraniums
    6. Petunia – Caladium – Budleya: two standing women (Marion Beckett and an unidentified woman in the background), with Petunia, Iris, Caladium, and Budleya (other spelling variants include Buddleia and Buddleja) flowers
    7. Golden Banded Lily – Violets: a standing woman (likely Agnes Meyer) with Golden Banded Lily and Violet (also identified as Begonia rex) flowers

Coleus – The Florence Meyer Poppy in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery

Even before receiving the Meyers’ commission, Steichen had been painting and photographing women and flowers; however, his depiction of the subject matter and use of gold leaf in In Exaltation of Flowers alludes to influences from French couture designer Paul Poiret and Art Nouveau painters Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Denis.

All seven murals in In Exaltation of Flowers were completed by 1914. Even though they had originally been commissioned for the townhouse on 71st Street and Park Avenue, the paintings were never displayed in that building. Due to financial hardship, the Meyers had to sell their townhouse earlier in 1914, and Steichen’s intended sequence for the murals remains unknown today. The order listed above is based on a 1915 checklist from their presentation at the Knoedler Galleries in New York. Two of the murals were later displayed at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1921 and 1996, and at least one mural was displayed at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in 1988. The DMA’s presentation this fall of the murals, which are part of a private collection, will mark the first time the seven panels have been exhibited together since their debut at the Knoedler Galleries 102 years ago.

Rose – Geranium in the DMA’s Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery

References
Murphy, Jessica. Portraiture and Feminine Identity in the Stieglitz Circle: Agnes Ernst Meyer, Katharine Rhoades, and Marion Beckett. Dissertation. University of Delaware, 2009.
Goley, Mary Anne and Barbara Ann Boese Wolanin. From Tonalism to Modernism: The Paintings of Eduard J. Steichen, October 4–December 9, 1988.  Washington, DC: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1988.
Haskell, Barbara. Edward Steichen. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2000.
Pusey, Merlo J.  Eugene Meyer.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Keara Teeter is a Conservation Intern at the DMA.

 

Feline Mastermind

It’s undeniable that fuzzy four-legged felines are an internet sensation. Their mischievous whiskers and silly antics have all the making of a viral video. Cats are so trendy that there is an entire month dedicated to adopting them. Much like the social media moguls, clothing, and cosmetics brands that have jumped on the kitty bandwagon, American artist Thomas Sully was in the know. The 1830s and 40s were not without financial crises, and less money meant less desire for portraiture. Sully, who was highly regarded for his artistic talents, should be equally regarded for his keen marketing and forecasting abilities. He began making “fancy pictures” that flawlessly idealized and exaggerated fashionable society, appealing to those with means. He also recognized the popularity of Cinderella, a tale that had entered America only a few decades before; an opera based on the story had taken the US by storm, putting it at the forefront of respectable society’s polite conversations. It only took Sully around three months to complete Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, which features not only a popular subject but also a cat! Talk about a win-win situation! Sully was in tune with the world around him and knew what people wanted, over a century ago and today, and so he flourished during times of financial hardship. Celebrate Thomas Sully’s birthday and National Adopt a Cat Month by visiting this pristine picture of furry fairytale marketing genius this week at the DMA.

 

Julie Henley is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the DMA.

Finding Yourself at the DMA

As an art museum educator, I live for the tales of visitors who have had meaningful, inspirational, life-changing experiences in museums—perhaps because it was exactly this kind of personal experience that propelled me down the career path I’ve taken. Working in the Center for Creative Connections (C3), a participatory educational space for visitors of all ages, I have the privilege of hearing these kinds of statements often; however, a few months back I was surprised to hear from a visitor who literally found herself in a photograph by Geoff Winningham currently on view in the C3.

Geoff Winningham (artist), The Cronin Gallery (publisher), U.T. Cheerleaders, negative 1972, print 1976, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Prestonwood National Bank 1981.36.6

During a Late Night event, Laura was walking through C3 with her husband when they both stopped dead in their tracks as they walked by the photograph. “I think that’s you,” her husband stated. “I know it’s me!” Laura exclaimed.

I had so many questions for her. What was it like seeing yourself in a work of art in a museum? Did you know this photograph existed or that you were being photographed at the time? Can you recall the other cheerleaders in the photograph? Luckily, Laura was happy to meet up to discuss her experience.

As you might imagine, Laura was quite surprised to see a photo of her college-age self in the Museum. As a University of Texas cheerleader, she was aware they were photographed in action from time to time—once her image ended up as part of the opening montage of ABC’s Wide World of Sports for a full year—but she never imagined she would make it into a work of art in the DMA’s collection. Laura is uniquely well versed in the DMA collection, but until recently she had never seen this photograph before. Not only is Laura a DMA Member, but she was also part of the PM Docent class for five years, starting with the charter class under the leadership of Gail Davitt.

Both the University of Texas and the Dallas Museum of Art have loomed large in Laura’s life, but she never imagined that the two worlds would collide. In fact, UT Cheer isn’t just a distant memory as Laura regularly attends the Cheer Reunions and keeps in touch with fellow cheerleaders, including some of those captured alongside her in Winningham’s photograph. In the image below, the woman on the far right is the same woman on the far left of the UT Cheerleaders photograph by Winningham.

Now that Laura knows of the existence of this photograph, she comes back to visit it from time to time. She was also keen to meet the photographer, Geoff Winningham, and looked him up immediately to learn more about him and his work. Fortunately, Winningham was at the DMA in April to lead a Gallery Talk about the series this photograph is part of—A Texas Dozen.

Jessica Fuentes is the Manager of Gallery Interpretation and the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA.

Picture Yourself

Self-portraits are compelling images because they appear to show us the person behind the artwork, offering us a special peek into who the artist was. We hope that by looking at the self-portrait, we can learn something about the subject. Yet, much like the selfies we post on social media, the artists were presenting themselves how they wished to be seen.

Just as selfies allow our friends and family to feel like they’re sharing in our daily lives, they are ultimately the result of our own conscious decisions, just like a self-portrait. The self-portraits we see in museums are images that exist somewhere between how we see the artist and how the artist wanted us to see him or her.

My upcoming exhibition Multiple Selves: Portraits from Rembrandt to Rivera, opening this weekend in the Museum’s European Galleries on Level 2,  focuses on this play between how we want to be seen and how we are seen. The majority of the images are self-portraits, ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries in a variety of media, including etching, lithography, and drawing.

Just as we use objects and clothing in our selfies to identify ourselves (think college t-shirts to mark us as alums or pictures in front of tourist landmarks to show where we’ve been), artists in these self-portraits use different objects and costumes to help us identify the person we see in the portrait as an artist.

Koloman Sokol, Self-Portrait, mid-20th century, wood engraving, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift, 1949.11

In many of the works, these objects are tools of the trade, or items that are specific to an artist’s working life. This includes palettes, canvases, mahl sticks (used by artists to keep their painting hand steady), drawing implements, and jewelry, which historically marked an artist’s inclusion in a professional guild or within a royal court.

One work in particular offers an intriguing example of this complex dynamic. Self-Portrait by Koloman Sokol is this type of double self-portrait. Sokol, a Slovakian artist by birth who worked extensively in Mexico and the United States, probably created this self-portrait sometime in his 30s. In it, we see not only the completed self-portrait but also the artist caught in the act of creating a self-portrait. At the bottom of the print, the outlines of this second self-portrait take shape. This second self-portrait is being created just as the first one was, through a printmaking process known as wood engraving. To help us identify the work he is doing, he includes his tools—the wood block he is carving on and a burin, a tool used in printmaking to cut into the metal plate or wood block.

Detail of Self-Portrait

In the works that feature artist tools, like Sokol’s, the artists are manipulating their own image to ensure that we as an audience recognize the duality of their self-portrait, that we recognize the artist as an artist through both the self-portrait as a work of art and through the artist’s self-presentation as an artist.

For more about self-portraits, join me for a free Gallery Talk on Wednesday, May 3, at 12:15 p.m. in the exhibition. For another type of double self-portrait, be sure to visit The Two Fridas, now on view in the exhibition México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde, on view only at the DMA.

Amy Wojciechowski is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Graduate Intern for European Art.

The Mondrian Brand

The abstract paintings of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian have become ubiquitous in pop culture, from architecture to designer fashions. In a sense his geometric, primary-colored compositions have become a brand. This proliferation and appropriation of an artistic style begs the question, what shapes an artist’s legacy? Why do some works of art become so intertwined with pop culture that they become icons instantly recognizable to mass audiences? Join us on Thursday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m. for The Mondrian Brand and hear from Dr. Nancy Troy, Victoria and Roger Sant Professor in Art at Stanford University and author of The Afterlife of Piet Mondrian.

Piet Mondrian, Place de la Concorde, 1938–1943, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation 1982.22.FA

To contemplate Mondrian’s pop culture legacy in my own way I thought it was finally time to attempt the complex and beautiful Mondrian Cake made famous by Caitlin Freeman in her book Modern Art Desserts: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art.

The first three lines of the recipe are just a taste of what goes into this chocolate-soaked masterpiece:
Makes one 16 by 3 by 3-inch cake, serving 15
Hands-on time: 6 hours
From start to finish: 2 days


To begin, I had to make four velvety cakes: one white, one blue, one red, and one yellow. Freeman uses a delicious recipe with a shocking butter content (I made two trips to the store). As you might imagine, I ended up with a rainbow of leftover cake that I was too lazy to repurpose into another dessert.

After precisely cutting each section of the Mondrianesque composition I glued them together with 24 oz of bittersweet chocolate ganache and finished the cake with a shower of ganache. With two days of cake construction behind me I was impatient to see the finished product and did not let it set up in the fridge for the recommended three hours. Each slice revealed a mini Mondrian, if only slightly wonky and Easter-egg colored. We’ll never know if Mondrian would have approved of this culinary counterfeit, but I was certainly satisfied with my effort.

Jessie Frazier is the Manager of Adult Programming 

Bluebonnets in Bloom

With spring upon us, we can anticipate the sprouting of bluebonnets along Texas roads and highways. Bluebonnets can also be found in the DMA’s permanent collection. One of the best places to look is in the work of Julian Onderdonk, a San Antonio–born artist. Onderdonk is recognized for his portrayal of his home state’s landscape, in particular the Texas State Flower, the bluebonnet. Onderdonk so perfected the portrayal of bluebonnets that to this day his name is immediately linked to scenes of these blue and violet flowers carpeting expansive landscapes.

Onkerdonk in action. Image source http://nyti.ms/2nrmieC

After studying in New York at the Art Students League and William Merritt Chase’s Shinnecock Summer School, Onderdonk returned to Texas in 1909. Back in his home state, he found that he could combine the techniques he learned in New York with his environment in Texas. The bluebonnets were the perfect subject in which to manifest his interests. Appearing initially as subtle parts of his compositions, they dominated the artist’s work by the mid-1910s.

Field of Bluebonnets

Julian Onderdonk, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets), 1918–20, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, bequest of Margaret M. Ferris, 1990.153

Although the bluebonnet became the state flower in 1901 and was represented by other artists prior to Onderdonk’s embracing them as a subject, his depictions of the flower increased their popularity and distinctive connection to the state of Texas. The bluebonnets also brought fame to the artist while defining Texas art as a regional school that paralleled other schools of regionalist art in America. The appeal of these paintings was twofold; on one hand, they played into Texas pride by giving importance to the state flower, and on the other hand, they highlighted Onderdonk’s painterly talents and ability to render nature.

Blue Bonnets

Bluebonnets in bloom.

For Onderdonk, these flowers were more than simply bluebonnets. They allowed him to find a balance between what he saw and a subject he knew well: in other words, a blending of his East Coast training and his connection to the Hill Country of Texas. Painted around 1918-1920, Untitled (Field of Bluebonnets) is an example of Onderdonk’s dedication to the flower. Onderdonk learned from Chase the importance of painting outdoors because it allowed a closer observation of the light and shadows. Here Onderdonk responded to Chase’s emphasis on painting en plein air (outdoors before the motif) and capturing the changing effects of light and shadow in a field covered with the vividly colored blossoms. He paints the bluebonnets in rich blues and greens, making each bloom in the foreground individuated and then progressing into broad strokes of color to portray the pool of flowers.

Francesca Soriano is the McDermott Intern for American Art at the DMA. 

Who Run the (Ancient) World?

In celebration of Women’s History Month, let’s look way back at a few leading ladies from the DMA’s collections who made their mark on the ancient world. Then join DMA curators Dr. Anne Bromberg, Dr. Kimberly L. Jones, and Dr. Roslyn A. Walker on Thursday, March 23 to hear more about Women of the Ancient World and the objects that tell their stories.

Red-figure column krater with Amazon, c. 470-460 B.C.E., ceramic with slip, Dallas Museum of Art, the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund, 2008.10

The Amazons were fierce group of women warriors who, until recently, were thought to be purely mythological figures. To the ancient Greeks, Amazons were barbarian man-haters and a formidable opponent for any would-be hero. They were an object of disgust for their rejection of traditional feminine roles, but they were also a source of fascination, often portrayed in art as beautiful and brave.

Altar depicting the first female ancestor, Indonesia, 19th century, wood and shell, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, 1999.181.McD

While this work of art was made fairly recently, it honors the founding female ancestor of this Indonesian society who is seen as the ultimate source of fertility. She is rising out of a boat, a symbol for the womb. Her arms are outspread, symbolizing the ancestral trunk of a tree and subsequent generations of branches.

Mummy and cartonnage, Egyptian, 19th Dynasty or later, wood and polychrome, Lent by Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, 20.2002.1.a-c

On this lid of this cartonnage, or coffin, we see an elaborately dressed woman and symbols of the deities that would protect her mummy inside. Although her identity is unknown, the quality of the coffin suggests that she was a person of wealth and social status.

Wall panel depicting Ix K’an Bolon, Mexico: state of Tabasco, Pomona, Maya culture, Late classic period, c. A.D. 790, Limestone, stucco, and paint, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James, H. Clark, 1968.39.FA

The royal woman depicted in this Mayan relief sculpture is Ix K’an Bolon or “Lady Precious Nine.” The text on the panel and the iconography of her ornate clothing tell us she is depicted as a goddess. It is possible that this relief would have been balanced by a second showing her husband in similar dress, shedding light on the power and prestige of ruling women in Maya society.

Jessie Frazier is Manager of Adult Programming


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