Archive for the 'American Art' Category

Writing the Wrong

While museums increasingly take on roles in entertainment and education, they remain, like libraries, stewards of knowledge. However, sometimes this knowledge—what we think of as researched, established fact—is misguided. Admitting you’ve been wrong can be humiliating, yet slip-ups within the museum field encourage humility. Mistakes remind us that correcting, preserving, and adding to the record is, at the end of the day, what museums are called to do.

The blunder in question surrounds the identity of the objects seen in Gerald Murphy’s 1924 painting Razor.

Gerald Murphy Razor

Gerald Murphy, Razor, 1924, oil on canvas, The Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the artist, © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly, 1963.74.FA

The journey began when Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art, received an email from a concerned fountain pen enthusiast who notified her that the Museum was misinformed about Murphy’s painting. Sue asked me to create a timeline of recorded references to find out when the misinformation began. Then I was asked to search for what may have misled our predecessors and to untangle this 15-plus-year hiccup in the DMA’s records.

For years, the Museum said the razor and pen featured in the painting were modeled after products designed or sold by the Murphy family through their successful storefront, Mark Cross & Co. While it is true that Murphy designed a prototype razor in the mid-1910s that had a short burst of fame from 1912 to 1913, and that his family’s company most likely sold top-of-the-line writing utensils in their luxury goods stores, the razor and pen are NOT Murphy-designed objects. After thorough research, I concluded that years of accidental conflation caused the mix up.

Mark Cross Logo

The Mark Cross logo after its inception in 1845. Gerald Murphy’s father, Patrick Murphy, bought the company in the 1880s, which led to the family’s increasing wealth. © Mark Cross Leathergoods LLC

Murphy confirms the object’s correct identity in his letters with former DMCA director Douglas MacAgy: “The first Gillette razor and the first Parker pen (of red rubber) were real objects (not gadgets) ‘no bigger than a man’s hand.’”

Gerald Murphy letter

A letter from Gerald Murphy to Douglas MacAgy referencing Razor and Watch, another painting by Murphy, 1960, DMA Archives

The object for which Razor takes its name is a Gillette “New Standard” safety razor. This razor featured new technology that increased consumers’ ease of use and overall safety. Fewer shaving cuts? Yes, please! It was the most successful razor during the time of the painting’s creation and reached both American and European markets. By comparing the Mark Cross and Gillette razors below, and looking again at the painting, you can see how the Gillette attribution makes more sense with what Murphy illustrates.

The Parker Pen Company took the American (and later European) markets by storm with its iconic “Big Red” Duofold fountain pen in the early 1920s. Instead of wanting a new Xbox or iPhone as a gift, consumers hoped for a Parker pen.

lucky strike

A 1920s Parker “Lucky Strike” Duofold fountain pen, Courtesy of edgepens on Ebay.com

Why? The pen featured cutting-edge technology, including a leak-proof inkwell system and a durable, strikingly modern red rubber shaft. Murphy’s detailing even alludes to it being not the first version of the pen but the glitzier 1923 version, which included the fashionable “gold girdle,” seen in the advertisement below.

parker ad

1923 Parker advertisement, Courtesy of the-ad-store on Ebay.com

Now to the probable sources of the mix-up: a combination of trying to make the painting more personal to Murphy, plus an unfortunate conflation of similarly named companies. Symbols are always intriguing and tempting for art historians. If Murphy had designed the razor and/or pen, it could be seen as a self-portrait; yet, Razor still can be, despite the objects not being of his design (see Deborah Rothschild’s book Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy).

Additionally, an accidental conflation occurred between the Mark Cross name and the A.T. Cross Company, a popular producer of pens. A.T. Cross bought the Mark Cross company in 1983 (right before the first publication of the misinformation), as referenced on A.T. Cross’s website. Prior to the buyout, Mark Cross was known primarily for its leather goods, not its side hustle of writing accessories. Every source that labels Mark Cross as a pen company and the pen as sold/designed by Mark Cross occurs after this buyout date.

Murphy’s Razor and his dazzling 1925 painting Watch are currently not on view, but be sure to check them out in the DMA’s upcoming exhibition Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, on view from September 16 through January 6!

Ashton Smyth is the Summer Curatorial Intern for American Art at the DMA.

Streamline Design: The Art of Technology

Today is National Radio Day, and yesterday, August 19, was National Aviation Day. The two days celebrate the development and technological advancements in aviation and the invention of the radio. While it is most likely coincidental that both holidays fall back-to-back, in terms of 1930s industrial design, this pairing is meant to be.

The years between World War I and World War II were the Golden Age of Flight and the Golden Age of Radio in America. During these decades, affordable, safe, and comfortable long distance plane trips became a foreseeable travel option for the greater American public. Similarly, the affordability of the radio brought families across the United States together for regular nightly programming and entertainment—essentially bringing the world into their living room. With both the skies and airways now within reach, the fascination with rapidly developing technology, speed, and motion became hallmarks of the era.

Artistically speaking, this era is one of my favorite periods in terms of the decorative arts. The emergence of flight had a profound impact on the design of many household and consumer goods during the interwar years, and radio encasements often reflected the Machine Age aesthetic of the 1930s. Prominent industrial designers of the day embraced America’s love affair with flight and successfully blurred the lines between art and technology with of-the-moment consumer products. Good design sells; therefore, it is no surprise that for the radio—one of the most prominent fixtures in the 1930s American household—overall design aesthetic often dominated the purchasing decision of a design-savvy consumer.

If you’re looking for a creative way to pay homage to these two holidays, take note of these aerodynamic gems on view at the Dallas Museum of Art that incorporate characteristic elements of streamline design, including horizontal banding, smooth exteriors, and the use of modern materials like chrome and plate glass. Each object suggests the concepts of speed and movement while stylishly capturing a moment in decorative art and design history when the worlds of aviation and radio effortlessly collide.

Take a look at the 1933 “Air-King” radio (model 66) designed by Harold Van Doren and John Gordon Rideout. The form of this radio is a play on the motif of a skyscraper, with its stepped shape toward the top; however, the circular glass plate on the façade with showing AM and FM broadcast band numbers, combined with the tuning and volume knobs, remind me of a cockpit’s control panel.

Don’t miss this “Bluebird” radio (model 566) designed by Walter Dorwin Teague and manufactured by the Sparton Corporation in 1934. The name alone embraces the notion of flight and is enhanced even further through streamlined design elements. Here, the straightforward use of circles and horizontal banding set against the plate-glass backdrop seems to mimic a single engine propeller plane’s nose and wingspan. I imagine a plane flying gracefully through the clear blue open sky, transporting the avid listener to new destinations through the magic of radio.

To learn more about how the Machine Age influenced art and design in America, visit the Dallas Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art, which will open to the public on September 16.

Jennifer Bartsch-Allen is a Digital Collections Content Coordinator at the DMA.

America the Beautiful

Happy Independence Day! Many of you likely have exciting activities on your agenda today, like proudly parading through the streets, chowing down on some backyard BBQ, watching the night sky illuminate with sparkling bursts of color, or all of the above. For those of you in need of some balance between raucous outdoor festivities and quieter, more subdued plans, today is a great time to visit the DMA and stroll through the American art in our collection. The Museum is open today from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

To celebrate the array of differing landscapes and perspectives that make up the United States, here are a few works from American artists that illustrate various scenes and slices of life in our country.

Small towns:

 

Big cities:

 

Towering mountainscapes:

 

Seaside scenes:

 

Deserts and dry lands:

 

Lush green views:

 

Everyday people:

 

And all the critters in between:

 

Hayley Caldwell is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the DMA.

Farewell to Florals

For the past several months, the Rachofsky Quadrant Gallery on the Museum’s first level has been occupied by seven large paintings spanning half the gallery, nearly floor to ceiling. Installed on a lilac-colored wall, the framed canvases contain figures posed with flowers, rendered in eye-catching pastel hues, and surrounded by alternating sections of black and gold leaf.

These paintings are Edward Steichen’s In Exaltation of Flowers, a commissioned series that the artist completed in 1914 for the home of New York financier Eugene Meyer and his wife, Agnes. Never installed in the space for which they were created, the majority of the panels were kept in storage for the past century. Last summer, the DMA’s conservation team unrolled the canvases, stretched and framed them, and completed conservation treatment so the series could go on tour. Newly conserved and reunited in one exhibition, In Exaltation of Flowers is a time capsule of Edward Steichen’s life and the lives of his close friends on the eve of World War I.

On Thursday, April 26, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., we will say goodbye to In Exaltation of Flowers with a soiree that will include a complimentary reception with drinks and small bites inspired by the paintings, a tour about flower symbolism with Dallas Arboretum VP of Gardens Dave Forehand, and a talk by art historian Dr. Jessica Murphy.

Reception
6:00 p.m., Check in at Will Call, Horchow Auditorium, Level 1
Arrive early for a complimentary reception featuring beer, wine, and small bites inspired by In Exaltation of Flowers and Edward Steichen’s French country garden. Hors d’oeuvres will include:

FRESH PEA AND MINT SHOOTER
butter-poached shrimp and hibiscus crema

DRIED FIG AND BRIE CROSTADA
balsamic glaze

GRILLED QUAIL AND SUNDRIED CHERRY SALAD
chive crepes and saffron aioli

ROASTED RED & GOLDEN BEETS WITH TEXAS GOAT CHEESE
arugula and orange-tarragon dressing

PARSLEY CHICKEN IN PHYLLO
romesco sauce

ROSE AND WHITE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
candied rose petals and toasted almonds

Tour: In Exaltation of Flowers
6:30 p.m., Meet at the Flora Street Visitor Services Desk, Level 1
Edward Steichen was an avid gardener who exhibited his celebrated delphiniums in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. For Steichen and much of society at this time, flowers were more than just beautiful objects; they took on human character traits and the giving or receiving of flowers served as a kind of subtle language. Each of the sitters for In Exaltation of Flowers is paired with specific flowers that relate to their personalities or the nicknames given to them within their friend group. Join Dave Forehand of the Dallas Arboretum for a tour of In Exaltation of Flowers focusing on the types of flowers Steichen included in his paintings and what they might have communicated to a viewer in 1914.

Exhibition Talk: Murals from a “Magic Garden”: Edward Steichen’s “In Exaltation of Flowers”
7:00 p.m., Horchow Auditorium, Level 1
In Exaltation of Flowers captures a very particular moment in Edward Steichen’s career, in the history of art, and in the lives of a circle of friends on the eve of the World War I. A very personal project for the artist, the murals include portraits of close friends, either painted from life or from photographs, alongside flowers inspired by his garden at the French country home where he hosted lively parties. Steichen’s careful portrayal of his subjects reveals the nuances of their personalities and relationships within the social group. Best remembered as a photographer, Steichen had a somewhat rocky relationship with painting and ultimately destroyed much of his painted work. His approach to this series shows a nod toward the Symbolist movement, with its emphasis on flatness, invariable color, and in some sections abandonment of realism. Jessica Murphy, Brooklyn Museum’s Manager of Digital Engagement, will bring to life these and other stories behind Edward Steichen’s murals and the people who inspired them.

Don’t miss your chance to spend an evening in 1914 with Edward Steichen and his closest friends before In Exaltation of Flowers leaves the DMA in early May. For more information, visit DMA.org or click here to purchase a $5 ticket.

Jessie Carrillo is Manager of Adult Programs at the DMA.

 

Dashing Paint

John Singer Sargent, Dorothy, 1900, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Leland Fikes Foundation, Inc., 1982.35

On an afternoon in London, a two-year-old girl posed for the American artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Dorothy Williamson was the granddaughter of one of Sargent’s American patrons, and sat before one of society’s greatest portraitists. But how long could a toddler sit still? What might that studio visit have been like?

Sargent would have painted Dorothy in his Tite Street studio in London (Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler had also lived on the street). Behind the imposing bricks, the room was packed with antique silks, Chinese screens, and a gramophone to play music for clients.

Dorothy herself was perched on one of the chairs the artist kept around the studio. Sargent was already familiar with painting upper-class children: to keep them entertained and holding a pose, he might bribe them with oranges, whistle a tune, or recite a limerick.

First, he would place the easel next to Dorothy so he could step back and visualize sitter and canvas together. Sargent advised his students to place lots of paint on the palette in order to create a thick layer on the canvas. With the brush, he would start to add flesh colors, apply dark tones for contours around the eyes and mouth, and finish it off with white highlights along the nose and rosy cheeks.

Rather than create preparatory sketches, he often worked ideas out on the canvas—even painting a portrait in one afternoon. To capture the wriggling toddler, Sargent set up a fast-paced sitting, seen in his sketchlike brushwork. As he looked at tones and shadows, suddenly a face would miraculously emerge from the background. He tried to use the fewest strokes, perhaps a single mark for Dorothy’s bangs or pursed lips. He dashed a blue line for a shadow under the pudgy cheeks and left bits of the cream canvas untouched to suggest voluminous feathers on the hat. Sargent also added a single mark of white to the hat for a flamboyant detail.

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He took breaks to play a song on the piano, and then jumped up to finish a few brushstrokes. Sitters described how he would run toward the canvas with a loaded brush of paint, balance a fragrant cigarette in his mouth, and suddenly make a single stroke on the canvas. Looking closely, you can almost see Sargent’s gestures, when he arched his brush, twisted the wrist, and finally made a stroke on the canvas. He described wanting to create portraits that were “alive”—capturing a sitter in the midst of moving or speaking. The result is Dorothy’s hand—energetic and vibrating strokes for the fingers.

Sargent would hold his brush in the air and then place it down upon the canvas exactly where he wanted it to fall. As described by one of his students, “The stroke resounded almost like a note in music.” My personal favorite is the gray line that travels down the pinafore, just one stroke to suggest the folds of the dress.

Finally, he added the finishing touch—the signature. On the upper left side of the canvas, Sargent playfully signed his name with the butt-end of the brush by scratching into the paint layers. Come visit little Dorothy in the Level 4 galleries and marvel at Sargent’s dazzling skill.

Lea Stephenson is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the DMA.

Who’s the Boss

Today is national Boss’s Day so we decided to look back on the legacy of one of the DMA’s former bosses, Jerry Bywaters.

Jerry Bywaters with his painting On the Ranch

Jerry Bywaters was the figurehead for the Dallas Nine, a group of artists from the 1930s who all focused on individual styles while working together to present unique aspects of the Texas landscape. Throughout his career, he was an art critic, professor, museum director, and, of course, a Texas artist. From 1943 to 1964, Bywaters served as Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, which would merge with the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts to create the DMA in 1963. He believed museums should be responsible for inspiring and cultivating art within the community, something that is still very important to the DMA today.

Jerry Bywaters, Self-Portrait, 1935, oil on Masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Duncan E. Boeckman in honor of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 1990.5

The DMA is fortunate to have a number of his works in our collection, including his paintings Share Cropper (1937) and On the Ranch (1941). Celebrate one of the DMA’s bosses with a visit to Level 4 to view Bywaters’, and his contemporaries’, work.

Kimberly Daniell is the Senior Manager of Communications, Public Affairs, and Social Media Strategy at the DMA.

 

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.

 


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