November 15, 2021
This quilt features two motifs popular in the mid-19th century: the eight-pointed star in the center is the “Star of Bethlehem” pattern, and the “Mariner’s Compass” is seen in each corner. The quilt is in excellent condition because it was a silk “show quilt,” made to display the skills of its maker rather than for everyday use. The Star of Bethlehem requires advanced needlework skills to accurately sew the silk pieces together to complete the pattern. The Mariner’s Compass is also difficult due to its combination of sharp points and curved piecing set within a square.
A note on the back of the quilt states that it is made of 3,632 pieces of silk. It was cut, arranged, and quilted in seven weeks by Susan F. Wyman, when she 71, as a present for her daughter, Rebecca H. W. Morton. At the time, Wyman lived in Hillsboro, Illinois, about 60 miles northeast of St. Louis.
November 14, 2021
Banquet Scene with a Lute Player
Bright light and contrasting shadow have been used to especially good effect in this banquet scene. The artist uses these tools to enhance the spatial qualities of the table corner and define the surface textures of foodstuffs as well as clothing. Artists of the early 17th century sought to involve the viewer in the picture, which is why the composition is arranged so that the table corner juts out toward the viewer. The scene is set in an inn or a brothel and the single female may be a courtesan. Musical instruments often convey erotic themes. The man who drains his glass indicates that indulgence and vice may indeed be themes of this work. Tournier worked in Rome between 1619 and 1626 and probably used models that he encountered on the streets of that city.
November 13, 2021
Gray Day at the Sea
In the vast expanse of sea, a tiny upended ship—perhaps sinking—is visible on the horizon beneath a menacing sky. This work, created in Schlawe (present-day Sławno, Poland), is one of a small group of marine paintings Max Beckmann produced on the Baltic Coast of Germany in the early 1900s. Grains of sand embedded in the paint indicate that Beckmann painted it outdoors, at least in part. Lively brushwork evokes the movement of the frothy blue and green waves.
November 12, 2021
Head of a Gaul
In this dramatic sculpture, the wide-open eyes and animated expression suggest the patriotic fervor of an aged warrior as he sets off for battle. This head is based on the central figure from François Rude’s greatest work, The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, created for the façade of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Rude’s dynamic approach to the modeling of form is particularly evident in the warrior’s swirling, serpentine hair.
November 11, 2021
Pegasus and Warrior (Courage)
This warrior and the ancient Greek mythological horse Pegasus represent courage. Pegasus was the loyal, winged battle companion to gods and heroes. In this sculpture, the warrior’s sure control of Pegasus’ head contrasts with the horse’s opened wings, ready to take flight rather than remain earthbound.
The sculpture is a plaster cast, a scale working model, for one of four monumental sculptures created to flank the entrances to the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis. Though not completed until 1936, the memorial was proposed in 1919 to honor those soldiers who lost their lives in World War I (1914-1918). The four entrance sculptures—courage, vision, loyalty, and sacrifice—all done by Hancock, represent qualities found in soldiers and their families.
November 10, 2021
House Wall Panel (poupou)
Multiple figures intertwine across the surface of these carved panels while the figures’ bodies are also covered with interlaced patterns. The complex composition challenges our ability to distinguish one figure from the other. Between the large figures’ legs, small figures emerge, evoking the act of giving birth or the succession of generations. These poupou, or carved panels, belong to a group of 46 that were created to form the framework of a large Maori meeting house, which ultimately was never constructed. Supporting the rafters, these solid panels would alternate with lattice openwork panels. Wharenui (meeting houses) are considered to be the property of the local community and function as a space for important gatherings, such as weddings and tangihanga, or death ceremonies.
November 9, 2021
On the left of this ivory sculpture, a lion sinks his teeth into the hindquarters of a stag whose head appears at the upper left-hand corner. Farther to the right, a hound bites the back of a reclining goat, which, seemingly unperturbed, munches calmly on a spikey leaf. The medieval carver adapted these animal forms to the rhythms of the undulating vine, inventively adjusting the popular animal interlace pattern to the narrow width of the relief’s border. Ivory, valued for its creamy color and exotic nature, was a favorite material for creating opulent objects in the 13th century. While it is not known what this fine carving originally adorned, it may have embellished a piece of furniture or a musical instrument.
November 8, 2021
Vessel with Sacrificial Scene
Four canine creatures surround a man splayed on his back, baring their sharp teeth in preparation for attack. The man’s vulnerable yet seemingly willing position as well as his elaborate clothing and headgear suggest that this elite figure is offering himself as a sacrifice. This vessel was likely used in rituals that honored ancestors whose deaths established their lineage. Recuay arts often represent confrontations, celebrating moments when opposing forces interact. This emphasis on conflicting states of being is further embodied in the canine creature, which also appears painted in linear profile along the lower half of the vessel.
November 7, 2021
Ankh-pa-khered with Osiris
Here, Ankh-pa-khered, a priest, is shown with a statue of the god Osiris. He places his hands on the statue’s shoulders in a gesture that is intimate and protective. Ankh-pa-khered is depicted as a slim man, yet two wrinkles of fat on his chest indicate that he was prosperous enough to eat very well. And his advanced age is shown by lines that frame the corners of his mouth, yet do not detract from his dignified portrayal (see detail and alternate views).
November 6, 2021
In Nepal, Vajrasattva represents the perfected Buddhist ritual practitioner. Before performing a ritual, priests and meditators establish within themselves the attitude of Vajrasattva in order to ensure that the subsequent ritual will be performed properly and yield the desired results. Although Vajrasattva is ornamented, his jewels do not indicate that he is a bodhisattva. Rather, his adornments show that he is a sambhogakaya Buddha who reveals the splendor and glory of enlightenment. In his left hand, Vajrasattva holds a bell that symbolizes clear insight into the true nature of reality. Vajrasattva’s right hand bears a vajra that symbolizes the compassionate application of that insight to help other beings skillfully. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is only by combining intellectual insight with compassionate activity that true enlightenment is achieved.
November 5, 2021
This table is a composition of elegant contours based on scrolls and circular lines. Paired scrolls suggesting the shape of a lyre make up the table’s base, while an elongated scroll spans its width. These contours are echoed in the semicircular ends of the plinths and the compressed ball feet. The choice of rosewood veneer, a wood admired for its striped figure, and the use of flat, gilded foliate ornament and linear striping also complement the smooth forms and rich surface decoration. Anthony Quervelle received his training in Paris before immigrating to Philadelphia in 1817.
November 4, 2021
In this sculpture, the satyr Pan reclines on a rocky base amid grape clusters and vines. His left hand clutches a goatskin, called a nebris, which he wears around his neck. Such details (view above), together with a small salamander carved amid the rocks, evoke a rustic scene befitting Pan—the half goat-half human ancient Greek god of the woods, fields, and flocks known for his lecherous pursuits.
The reed pipe, or syrinx, in Pan’s right hand is an allusion to the maiden Syrinx, who was changed into a patch of reeds to escape the satyr’s advances. Francesco da Sangallo carved this sculpture from a recycled piece of ancient marble and it once served as a fountain; its water spout is still visible at the mouth of the sack above his right arm.
November 3, 2021
Landscape with a Goatherd
This view of a goatherd overseeing his charges demonstrates Adam Pynacker’s mastery of color as a means to capture the light and atmosphere of the Roman countryside. By contrasting the pale, tan tones of the vines on the right against the darker background, and varying the reds and blues in the fabrics of the goatherd’s coat and belongings, he is able to capture the rich feeling of the dense afternoon sun as it washes across the southern landscape.
November 2, 2021
Interior III depicts the artist’s studio with finished canvases in stacks. Markus Lüpertz represented the studio not as a place of active painting but as a symbol of the artist’s identity and relationship to art history. The most prominent canvas displayed presents an army coat and an oversized cap worn by an invisible occupant. For a German audience, such an image evokes memories of and questions about the army’s role in World War II (1939–1945) and the Holocaust. The empty shell of the uniform suggests the frightening anonymity of evil. Here, the artist confronts the viewer with the issue of collective responsibility while trying to define his own position in connection with the past.
November 1, 2021
Grave Stele of Kallistrate
Modeled after the form of a miniature temple (naiskos), this funerary monument, called a stele, once marked the grave of a woman named Kallistrate. Such monuments were common in Athens. This one captures the deceased in contemplative, somber, yet serene poses. Here Kallistrate, whose name has been inscribed on the lintel above her head, looks down at a necklace of amphora-shaped beads, which may have been a prized possession. The necklace may also allude to the dowry or bride price her father would have paid upon her marriage. Perhaps she died before the ceremony and contemplates the necklace as a symbol of the life she would never have. Her elegant attire, earring, and hairstyle attest to her high status and the wealth of the family who commissioned such a marker.
October 31, 2021
This tomb plaque commemorates Ulrich and Elisabeth von Erbach, the children of Count Eberhardt Schenck von Erbach and his wife Elisabeth. The plaque marked the tomb of both brother and sister, and is inscribed with their names and dates of death on a scroll that unfurls around them to form the border of the relief. Ulrich appears to be a youth, not old enough to be a knight, but perhaps in training, and thus his feet rest on a lion, an illusion to the heraldic symbol above his head and an artistic device representing strength and courage, virtues expected in a warrior. The young siblings are depicted in the height of civilian finery and 14th-century fashion.
October 30, 2021
This painting illustrates Sir Walter Scott’s poem Helvellyn, about a faithful dog that guarded her master’s body after he had fallen while mountain climbing. Though the body went undiscovered for three months, the dog stayed to ward off the ravens and foxes that might have scavenged the remains. Edwin Henry Landseer dramatizes this scene through vivid contrasts of light and shadow, and by placing the man’s body at the bottom of the composition, which emphasizes the great height from which it fell.
October 29, 2021
Layers of dark paint create an expressive surface from which an inverted, white figure emerges. Georg Baselitz based the figure on a photograph published in the journal Stern in 1979 of a Russian woman in Germany after World War II. The woman, who went from prisoner to victor, supervised German women tasked with cleaning up ruined cities. This painting recalls shared memories of Germans who had to construct new lives in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the loss of a war that left poverty and destruction in its wake.
October 28, 2021
German National Library, Frankfurt am Main IV
Sparse decoration and stark geometry characterize the architectural space in this image of a Frankfurt library study room. Devoid of human subjects, Candida Höfer’s photograph highlights the organizational logic of the room itself. Höfer’s photographs of libraries, museums, and universities contemplate the function of public spaces as well as the values and ideals that structure them. Höfer has stated, “These rooms are spaces that are open to everyone. They are spaces of meeting, communication, knowledge, relaxation, and recuperation…All rooms have a purpose.”
October 27, 2021
Lacking carved decoration and lush textiles and trims, this chair’s only ornaments are black-painted rings and machine-like conical finials at the tops and ends of the arms. This patented armchair features diagonal front legs that support a cantilevered seat and fabric-wrapped steel webbing. The chair’s modern mechanical style equals its innovative manufacturing techniques. The maker George Hunzinger received more than twenty patents for mechanical and convertible furniture and improvements to their design and manufacture.
October 26, 2021
Censer with Cover and Stand
Later Chinese bronzes, like this one, often recall the shape and design of vessels from the 7th through 6th century B.C. Bronze casting in China was a complex mixture of art and artifice. New bronzes might be ordered to look old, and artists might make a reproduction bronze similar to an original ancient model in nearly every detail, including corrosion and patina.
This extraordinary tripod vessel is among the very rare Ming works that closely follow archaic ritual bronze design. The visually complex shape and inter-locking dragon decor of this work are based on archaic prototypes. The surface of the vessel appears to be an ancient, corroded patina but is actually skillfully applied paint. The high esteem of early collectors for this bronze is revealed in the elaborately carved cover and stand in matching fine woods that were created for the vessel in the 18th century.
October 25, 2021
Philip Guston examines the dilemma of an artist—what is, in fact, his or her role in society? Guston presents himself here as an abstract blue creature in profile. He looks downward into the bespectacled eyes of composer Morton Feldman, while sculptor Raoul Hague flogs a jumble of shoes. The brow rising over the horizon belongs to Musa Guston, a poet and the painter’s wife. Instead of the certainty of science—represented by geometric shapes, numbers, and rulers—the artist faces ambiguity and endless possibilities in the search for artistic truth.
October 24, 2021
Power Figure (nkishi)
Nkishi such as this served as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine, and in judicial and healing contexts. While western collectors value the visual impact of these power figures, their ultimate importance to the Songye lies in their ability to protect the community from evil forces and disease. The power of such figures depends on their magical ingredients (bishimba), concealed in the abdominal cavity, in the top of the head, or in a horn set into the cranium of the statue. These hidden substances acquire potency and interact with the spirit world when assembled according to a precise formula followed by the nganga, or ritual practitioner.
October 23, 2021
In Deep Thought
The Belgian painter Alfred Stevens was a good friend of Manet and Degas, and like both of those artists, painted scenes of fashionable modern life. Here, a woman in an elegant pink dress looks abstractly out to sea while her straw hat and gloves lie on the table and her pet dog sits nearby. The scene takes place at the Norman port of Le Havre; steamboats, a sign of modernity, are visible in the distance.
October 22, 2021
The Plaza after the Rain
A drizzling rain creates watery reflections on the streets and sidewalks along the Grand Army Plaza in New York City. The rain hampers the view down the vista, though the moody tones of pinks, grays, and blues make up for this loss. The light in the distance offers a hazy glimpse of the southeast corner of Central Park, with its beloved bronze statue of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.
St. Louisian Paul Cornoyer studied in Paris, France before returning to live and work in New York City. He is best known for his park scenes, such as this one, seen through the atmospheric reflections of rain or the soft calm of a snowy blanket.
October 21, 2021
Sunset evokes flames engulfing redwood trees during a wildfire, a distinct memory from the artist’s time living in California from 1955 to 1976. Memory is a central theme of Evangeline Montgomery’s work. She uses travel diaries and photographs to transform her experiences and awe of nature into visual representations. Montgomery traveled extensively throughout her career starting in 1983, when she began work for the Arts America Program at the United States Information Agency. In her role there, she coordinated tours of American museum exhibitions at home and abroad.
October 20, 2021
A solitary cart waits on an empty path receding between gabled cottages; in the distance are a steep mountain and glowing harvest moon. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s mysterious work was inspired by the landscape around the Baltic coast of Germany. The artist represents his scene with vibrant, non-naturalistic colors: the mountain is rendered in intense red and magenta and the houses in ultramarine blue. Schmidt-Rottluff was the youngest member of Die Brücke (The Bridge) and focused largely on landscapes.
October 19, 2021
Tintern Abbey, South Aisle
The composition of this photograph follows the myriad columns and arches down the now roofless aisle of Tintern Abbey, one of the great monastic ruins of Wales. By the mid-1850s, technical advances in photography allowed a large amount of detail to be captured, seen here in the intricate textures of the eroding stone and dense, twisting vines. Depicted in beautiful chocolate-brown tones, this picturesque image shows the building slowly being reclaimed by nature. Tintern Abbey, celebrated by British artists and poets such as J.M.W. Turner and William Wordsworth, had been a popular tourist destination since the late 18th century. The British often felt more of a connection to the European medieval past than to the classical antiquity of Greece and Rome, so they looked to their own countryside to recoup a meaningful architectural heritage.
October 18, 2021
For Cubi XIV, David Smith welded together geometric units made from industrial stainless steel. Welding allowed Smith to produce sculptures without casting or carving. In 1961, Smith began creating his final sculptural group, the Cubi series, whose title refers to the early 20th-century art movement, Cubism. While the structured composition of the sculpture recalls the shifting facets of Cubist art, the textured surface (which Smith created with an electric sander) echoes the gestural energy of Abstract Expressionism.
October 17, 2021
Actor Morita Kan’ya XIII as Jean Valjean, from an untitled series known as “Flowers of the Theater”
Opening in 1908, Tokyo’s Yūraku-za was Japan’s first Western-style theater. In 1920, it staged a production of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables starring Morita Kan’ya, an actor whose repertoire spanned kabuki to Shakespeare. Yamamura Toyonari’s dramatic image of Kan’ya as Jean Valjean, poised to steal the bishop’s silver candlesticks, is based on promotional photographs. These “bromides” had largely superseded woodblock prints as souvenirs of the theater.
As an emerging artist, Toyonari augmented his income by illustrating books and magazines. His first actor prints, published by Watanabe Shōzaburō in 1916, attracted a circle of ardent supporters. With their patronage, Toyonari was able to establish a printmaking practice independent of Watanabe. This print belongs to a series of 12 actor portraits, his debut project as an autonomous printmaker.
October 16, 2021
In the Adirondack Mountains
In this rugged view of the Adirondack Mountains in New York state William Trost Richards portrays dark green foliage, twisted branches, and exposed rock, with the mountains visible in the background. The picture is composed so that the viewer’s gaze may linger over any aspect of it and be rewarded with fresh detail. An eagle at lower right connects this scene of the uninhabited American wilderness with ideas about national identity. The Adirondacks were part of the popular mid-19th century Hudson River Valley tourism route.
October 15, 2021
This figure’s active stance, robust forms, and painted geometric details suggest an ideal portrayal of masculine beauty. An Eket man wore this headcrest during performances called Ogbom, which honored the earth deity Ala and encouraged women’s fertility. While colorful ribbons descended from the basketry cap that supported the crest atop the dancer’s head, the gentleman performer was not otherwise concealed. Thus the dancer and headcrest appeared as a unit, each complementing the other, and perhaps attracting admirers from among an audience of singing and dancing women.
October 14, 2021
Votive Hand of Zeus Sabazios
As today, individuals in antiquity found ways to express their devotion to the gods. Whether maintaining a small altar at home for the worship of a particular deity, or presenting gifts called votives, at sanctuaries or graves, many of the objects that survive from antiquity served a ritual function. This bronze in the shape of a hand represents Zeus in an Anatolian (Asia Minor) guise of Sabazios, who like Zeus was the god of the sky.
October 13, 2021
A Shadow on the Sky
Gray stones float in an imaginary space defined only by the shadows the stones cast against their backdrop. Kay Sage used the technique of collage to create this work, meticulously cutting out each stone and pasting it onto the paper support. In the 1940s Sage painted vast Surrealist landscapes populated by architectural fragments and amorphous objects. Due to the gradual loss of her eyesight and other factors, Sage stopped painting around 1959 and began creating various series of collages and small sculptures. An ominous sense pervades A Shadow on the Sky, as in much of Sage’s work.
October 12, 2021
This simple helmet features large cheekpieces, an adjustable nasal guard to defend against sword cuts, and a flexible neck defense reminiscent of a lobster’s tail. This was the classic headpiece of European horsemen during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). Its name is derived from the Slavic/Turkic term shishak, the name for a similarly formed helmet introduced into eastern Europe via the Ottoman Turks. This example is of finer quality than most others, which were left unpolished or painted black to reduce maintenance.
October 11, 2021
Women at center grasp distinct baskets while men at back rhythmically shake rattles. Tonita Peña devoted remarkable attention to detail in this watercolor. Describing her figures in a letter from 1921, she said, “I paint just the way they wear their dresses.” Peña aligned each dancer in this composition to convey action, depth, and community. This critical artistic achievement defied federal efforts in the 1920s to suppress Pueblo dances. Basket dances, as seen here, contribute to annual cycles of religious performances at many Pueblo communities, including Cochiti. There, Peña lived and worked as the sole woman in the first generation of Indigenous easel painters in northern New Mexico.
October 10, 2021
A rare example of Byzantine church silver, this reliquary, or container for holy objects, has a fluted body and a large rosette decorating the lid. Lathe-cut grooves define the flutes, or parallel channels, on the body and concentric grooves frame the rosette on top, creating a wide rim band. Within the band is a punched Greek inscription that could be translated, “Offering of TIBERINE, the deaconess, to St. Stephen.” The bottom has a graffito, or an inscription scratched into the silver, that repeats the first word of the lid inscription: “Offering: two pounds, two ounces, four grams.”
That the box actually weighs less than indicated by the inscription poses some interesting questions about whether that was the weight for a reliquary set, of which this is just one piece, or whether that was the weight before some of the box’s contents were removed. A more intriguing translation of the inscription might be “Offering of the Tiberine Dioconate to St. Stephen,” suggesting that the monastery of St. Symeon Stylites the Younger in Syria offered relics of that saint to a church or monastery bearing St. Stephen’s name.
October 9, 2021
A young girl in an armchair sits captivated by a book. Her luminous skin, blue dress, and vermilion-red slippers contrast with the mottled curtain behind her and an otherwise dusky interior. Balthus built his reputation by painting intimate scenes, often representing adolescent girls. Here he paints Sylvia Colle, the daughter of an art dealer. The themes of solitude and mystery in Balthus’ art are closely related to Surrealism.
October 8, 2021
Shell and Old Shingle VI
A study in tone and form, this painting’s abstract shapes barely suggest the white shell in front of a gray shingle that the artist propped on a table. The work is the sixth in a series of seven paintings of the same subject, each more abstract than the one before. Georgia O’Keeffe wrote: “Finally I went back to the shingle and shell…the shingle just a dark space that floated off the top of the painting, the shell just a simple white shape under it. They fascinated me so that I forgot what they were except that they were shapes together — singing shapes.”
October 7, 2021
The Felixmüller Family
Otto Dix depicts the family of fellow artist Conrad Felixmüller, who is shown at top facing upward with yellow-toned skin and open mouth. Below him at right is his wife, Londa, who smiles serenely while cradling their baby, Luca. Together the parents form a protective backdrop around Luca, while Conrad’s right arm reaches over to rest atop Luca’s head. A townscape is visible in the background. In this work Dix’s style combines the faceted forms of Cubism with the vibrant color of the Italian Futurists.
October 6, 2021
Wayne Thiebaud presents an array of colorful dishes on display at a cafeteria counter. Cakes, pies, melons, and servings of pudding wait to be purchased and devoured. Thiebaud was featured early in significant Pop Art exhibitions, although he jokingly claimed he was “never a card-carrying member” of the movement. Unlike his Pop Art counterparts, Thiebaud remained committed to the traditions of painting and chose not to explore commercial techniques. He arranges triangular desserts, circular plates, and curved pieces of fruit into rows and columns to emphasize their forms.
October 5, 2021
Isolated against a backdrop of abstract skyscrapers, Eldzier Cortor’s African American woman stands confidently, even though she is now displaced. Cortor used the basic elements of art—the woman’s organic, upright form in contrast to the angular, jagged forms of the city, for instance—to evoke the resolve of African Americans facing social and economic challenges. This painting is typical of the artist’s early work, which centered on daily life in his Chicago neighborhood. In 1941, Cortor helped establish the South Side Community Art Center, an organization that offered the first significant opportunity for Black artists to exhibit in Chicago.
October 4, 2021
This mural fragment shows a richly dressed Teotihuacan nobleman speaking as he carries an incense bag in his right hand. The large scroll coming from his mouth does not contain words, but instead is filled with shell and floral motifs. Directly in front of the nobleman is the small remnant of a glyph, perhaps his title or name. The palette, limited to a range of reds and pinks, suggests that the mural was made during the last years of Teotihuacan’s power. Murals decorated the walls of the city’s large apartment compounds; this one was once part of a larger room with many similarly dressed figures, yet all with distinct name glyphs. Their processional arrangement on the compound’s lower walls may have guided visitors and residents to a small shrine.
October 3, 2021
Wanderer on the Mountaintop
A traveler has climbed a winding path and rests with his staff on a mountaintop to look out over a sea of clouds. Lone, back-turned figures appear frequently in German Romantic art of the late 18th to 19th centuries. These figures represent a longing for unity with the vastness of nature, a characteristic of this art movement. Carl Gustav Carus described his own mystical experience in the mountains, writing “you lose yourself in boundless space…your ego vanishes; you are nothing, God is all.”
October 2, 2021
The first gasoline stations to appear in Ed Ruscha’s work were unremarkable black-and-white snapshots found in his artist’s books. Ruscha soon revealed his flair for casting even the humblest buildings as star attractions. The Standard Oil station became his signature subject, one he repeatedly returned to in both paintings and prints. In both media, the station is glamorized using graphic imagery borrowed from the world of commercial design. Dramatic foreshortening and bold diagonals make it appear larger than life, modeled to fit a Hollywood “standard.”
Mocha Standard is one of several screenprints identical in composition to Ruscha’s paintings of the station. Unlike the paintings, however, the screenprints are characterized by the lush gradations of color seen in the sky. Here, the chosen palette of chocolate brown and burnt orange sound a soft, even melancholic note that tempers the brash angular forms of the building.
October 1, 2021
Marriage of Reason and Squalor
With a housepainter’s brush, Frank Stella methodically applied industrial enamel paint to the surface of this canvas. Thick black bands form concentric rectangles cut off along the bottom edge while thin off-white lines reveal unpainted portions of the canvas. The artist used an extra thick stretcher, a novel decision in 1959, which allowed Stella to emphasize that a painting is, in fact, a three-dimensional object. When asked about the content of his austere works such as this, Stella answered, “What you see is what you see,” underscoring the artist’s matter-of-fact, literal approach to painting.
September 30, 2021
Artemis, goddess of the hunt, is identifiable here by the quiver strap across her chest. The way the dress clings to her body, often called “wet drapery,” while simultaneously billowing around the figure creates an exaggerated sense of movement that is a signature element of Hellenistic sculpture. Known for her chastity and modesty, Artemis cannot escape the dictates of the style and its body-conscious modeling.
September 29, 2021
Gorilla features smooth surfaces, abstracted forms, and a mask-like face. These elements are evidence of Houston Chandler’s search for “the simplicity that brings out the greatest line of expression.” Though the gorilla rests in a hunched pose, its muscular limbs, arranged in diagonals across its body, allude to its physical power.
Born in St. Louis, Chandler was the second African American to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. He returned to teach for many years at Vashon High School, and directed summer classes at the People’s Art Center, the city’s first racially integrated community arts center.
September 28, 2021
Afternoon Tea Party
In this print, two women share tea and conversation in a room depicted in soft colors. Skillful hand-inking techniques create the variety of hues and the hand application of gold paint highlights the rims of the cups and saucers. Mary Cassatt, one of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement, is known for her paintings of women and children in domestic settings. In addition to her success as a painter, Cassatt was recognized as a printmaker. Her greatest achievement in printmaking includes this image, one of a group of 18 color prints she produced during the 1890s, in which her exceptional ability is evident.
September 27, 2021
Jar with Design of Flowering Plants, Grasses, and Insects
When they were brought to Europe bright iron-red enameled wares like this one provided a refreshing change from the blue-and-white porcelains that had been exported there in such great quantity from seventeenth-century Japan. This type of jar, with its well-composed, sedate floral motifs, was far rarer than the countless blue-and-whites and stood in sharp contrast to the highly elaborate surfaces of other wares. The dense, red interlocking lattice and wave patterns of this broad-shouldered pot frame four other panels of plant life rendered in colors of pale straw, green, and blue. The treatment of the pictorial vignettes is more painterly than would be found on other export wares.
September 26, 2021
The American expatriate artist James A. McNeill Whistler created this sensitive etching and dry-point image of young Bibi Valentin. She was the daughter of fellow artist Henry Augustin Valentin, who encouraged Whistler’s printmaking activities during his time in Paris. Whistler’s portrait is skillfully composed, from the girl’s fashionable high-necked dress and buttoned boots to her inquisitive, engaging face. Whistler was renowned as one of the greatest printmakers in the 19th-century, and his early prints from the 1850s often depict children, such as this example.
The Museum also owns the copper plate from which this print was made. Together these objects provide insight into the printmaking process. The image is made up of lines incised onto the plate using either a sharp tool or acid; these incisions hold the ink. When the plate is printed onto a sheet of paper, the resulting image appears in reverse. The plate has been canceled, with vertical and horizontal lines struck through the image, indicating the completion of a limited edition of prints.
September 25, 2021
Amor Caritas features a winged figure in a loose robe holding a text consisting of the Latin words for love and charity. The female figure is an example of the melancholy type Augustus Saint-Gaudens favored. In this case, the grave expression reflects the figure’s origin as part of a tomb monument Saint-Gaudens designed. The artist created multiple versions of this subject, eventually marketing it as an independent piece.
September 24, 2021
This toy cradle consists of hide stretched across a teardrop-shaped wooden board. Across the Plains and Mountain West, Native American girls played with toy cradles that replicated the construction and design of similar full-size works. Here, lanes of beadwork create geometric designs, adorning the hide at top. The light blue ground and abstract beading with outlined forms are hallmarks of a style called Transmontane, shared by artists from multiple Native American groups in the mountainous areas west of the Plains.
September 23, 2021
This ceramic two-humped Bactrian camel was likely part of a set of objects placed in the tomb of an important person to signify wealth and position in society. The hollow sculpture was made by pressing thin sheets of earthenware clay into reusable, fired ceramic molds. Before the clay had completely dried, the sections were removed from the molds and details were incised and stamped onto them. Once the clay pieces were dry enough to support their own weight, they were joined together and attached to a flat base. The seams were trimmed, smoothed, and covered over with clay in preparation for glazing
Glazes are a mixture of tiny crystals and ground minerals, which are added to create different colors. Tang dynasty tomb objects often have multicolored lead-fluxed glazes known as “three-color” (sancai) glaze, as in the vivid amber, straw, and green colors covering this camel. To apply the glaze, the object was first covered with a white slip (clay thinned with water). The glazes were then brushed, poured, or splashed over the piece and allowed to drip down before firing. When fired, the glazes melted into a hard, glasslike finish. Tang artists used lead glazes to create rich, smooth surfaces and added coloring oxides to create pure, bright colors.
September 22, 2021
Clusters of lilies float on a watery surface composed of violets, blues, and greens in this mural–sized painting by Claude Monet. For twenty–five years Monet obsessively illustrated the aquatic flower at various times of day from his home at Giverny in northern France. This canvas originally formed the centerpiece of a triptych or three–panel work. When installed with its counterparts from The Nelson–Atkins Museum of Art and The Cleveland Museum of Art, the large–scale paintings envelop the viewer in a seemingly infinite field of subtle hues and intangible beauty.
September 21, 2021
Two children embrace each other within a pastoral setting in this idyllic view. Adolphe-William Bouguereau, the prominent academic painter, showed Peace at the 1861 Salon, the official state-sponsored art exhibition, to critical acclaim. The artist produced a companion work, War (JAPS Collection, Mexico), in which the same two children are fighting. Peace had previously been identified as a copy after Bouguereau, but recent technical and provenance research has proven this to be an autograph painting.
September 20, 2021
Luke is traditionally shown as an evangelist, an author of a gospel account, accompanied by his symbol the ox. In this sculpture, Luke’s soft cap, voluminous cape, and belted robe portray him as a scholar—appropriate since he was also a physician. Additionally, Luke is the patron saint of artists, and in this work he may be painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary. The desk holds a panel with a curved top, suggestive of a painting rather than a text. Luke’s upturned gaze suggests observation as well as inspiration.
September 19, 2021
Vessel in the Form of an Owl
Intertwining black and red spirals painted on the body of this owl contrast with more realistic facial markings. Artists associated with the ancient city of Paquime, and nearby archaeological sites in present-day northern Chihuahua, Mexico, frequently painted figural vessels with a combination of abstract and naturalistic imagery. Owls represent one form among a staggering range of Casas Grandes vessels, including humans, various animals, and an array of non-figural jar shapes.
Casas Grandes ceramics reconfigure designs from older southwestern painted vessels while using inventive polychrome palettes. This artistic revival likely presented the past as an ideal age, a concept that would support leaders’ claims to distinguished ancestry.
September 18, 2021
Charles Wheeler (1795-1873)
Charles Wheeler is shown in his library filled with law books. Born in Hancock, New Hampshire, Wheeler graduated from Dartmouth College and moved west to Troy, Missouri, to practice law. He was active in the Whig Party, and was elected to the 1845 Missouri state constitutional convention. Both Wheeler’s professional and personal identities are conveyed in this portrait. Likely the Connecticut River and White Mountains of New Hampshire are depicted outside his window, and the envelope on his desk bears the date, August 11, 1835, the day Wheeler was married.
Wheeler is just the kind of self-made, rising, middle-class businessman who sought out local or traveling artists for a portrait. This task was likely easier for Wheeler than most, as his portrait and the companion one of his wife, were painted by his sister-in-law, Lucinda Redmon Orear.
September 17, 2021
Plate, from the Charlotte-Louise Service
This white porcelain plate is decorated with a cobalt blue border enhanced with gilding. The outer design depicts putti (small cherubs) in clouds, interspersed with baskets of flowers and laurel wreaths. In the center are interlocking floral and foliate initials.
This plate comes from a service presented by Louis XV in January 1774 to Maria Carolina Louisa (known as Charlotte-Louise or Marie-Caroline-Louise), queen of Naples and the Two Sicilies, upon the birth of her second daughter, Louise, in 1773.
September 16, 2021
Evening. Melancholy I
A brooding man’s face and hands float in the inky black of night. Made from a hand-carved block of wood, this print shows rough gouges and wood grain, techniques Norwegian artist Edvard Munch used to strengthen his art’s psychological intensity. Members of the German artist group Die Brücke (The Bridge) imitated Munch’s techniques in their early woodcuts, prompting a critic in 1908 to describe the young artists as “spirits who band together around Munch.”
September 15, 2021
Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue
The title of this painting evokes a sense of childlike wonder. Frank Bowling referenced the deep indigo color of the star apple, a fruit native to the Caribbean region and reminiscent of his childhood in Guyana. The artist works the surfaces of his paintings with clear acrylic gel using a spatula and a palette knife, often mixing pearlescent and metallic pigments into the paint. After Bowling graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, he began to work with acrylic paint, which was introduced to the commercial market in the 1960s.
September 14, 2021
The Art Dealers (The Bernheim-Jeune Brothers)
Two of the most prominent contemporary art dealers, the brothers Gaston and Josse Bernheim-Jeune, pose in the viewing studio of their galleries. Gaston perches on a chair in the foreground while Josse reads at his desk further back; high-powered picture lights are visible to the right. Vuillard was a friend of the two dealers and regularly exhibited at their gallery, enjoying considerable commercial success in the early years of the twentieth century.
September 13, 2021
St. John the Baptist
Auguste Rodin depicted St. John the Baptist as a vigorous figure in motion. In fact, the sculptor requested that his model, an Italian peasant named Pignatelli, walk repeatedly about the studio so he could capture the spontaneity of the young man’s movements. Rodin’s representation of natural motion challenged conventional nineteenth century sculptural practices that conformed to an accepted canon of suitable, classical poses. For this reason, St. John the Baptist became a milestone in the development of modern sculpture.
September 12, 2021
Colonel Mendes Cohen
Colonel Mendes Cohen (1796–1879) sits confidently, his arm thrown back over his chair to more fully direct his attention at us. His hair is fashionably swept, and the rich white, yellow, and black of his attire complete this handsome portrait. Cohen was a member of a prominent Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland, that lobbied for some of the earliest rights for Jews, including the right to hold state office. Artist Rembrandt Peale, one of the most sought-after portraitists of the day, painted this portrait. It hung in the Cohen family dining room from the time it was painted in 1838 until 1929, when it was purchased by the Museum.
September 11, 2021
Red, Orange, Orange on Red
A floating field of tangerine orange is bounded at the bottom by an area of acidic orange, and at the top by a line of red. Mark Rothko stained the canvas with several layers of thin pigment, creating an effect that evokes the shimmering luminosity of dawn or sunset. Rothko’s compositions employ the elegant simplicity of rectilinear forms to express human emotions the artist believed to be “tragic and timeless.”
September 10, 2021
Grouping of Dancers and Musicians
The elongated arms of 18 alternating men and women lock together to form a dance circle around four musicians holding drums and rattles. The female figures wear wrap skirts and simple banded headdresses, while the males’ attire consists of waistbands, ear ornaments, and elaborate headdresses. Detailed models such as this one provide unique insight into the costume and ritual performances of ancient West Mexico. Music and dance were central to the region’s festivals held to honor and praise ancestors, appease natural forces, and celebrate victories, marriages, and other significant events.
September 9, 2021
Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner designed this tureen for a dinner service that was presented to Commodore John Rodgers by the citizens of Baltimore to commemorate his defeat of the British at Fort McHenry in 1814. The design combines highly polished forms divided by bands of classical ornament. The tureen’s voluminous round body and the square plinth on which it rests are polished to mirrorlike perfection. Atop the lid, a fruit finial erupts from a rosette of foliage. An appliqué of scrolls punctuated by winged masks and mythological beasts encircles the rim, while pairs of eagles’ heads support the handles. Bands of textured foliage enrich the flared moldings of the stem, and winged lions’ paws elevate the base. The combination of restrained geometric forms with rich ornament embodies a French style of silver design popular in the early nineteenth century.
September 8, 2021
A vizier held the most powerful position in Egypt under the Pharaoh. Similar to a secretary of state, the vizier was in charge of all civil affairs. This figure’s rank of vizier is confirmed by the cord around his neck from which his official badge or seal would have been suspended. The seal would have been tucked into his kilt for safekeeping. Carved from anorthosite gneiss (also known as Chephren diorite, the material associated with the Old Kingdom pharoah Chephren), the stone for this statue was limited to representing pharaonic or royal figures and could be used only by the royal workshop. It is unknown why this figure is unfinished.
September 7, 2021
Still Life, Basket of Apples
Vincent van Gogh suggested the bounty of nature in this view of ten apples in a wicker basket. The red outlines of the apples complement their green texture while the blue-violet shadows offset the dominant golden-yellow color of the composition. Van Gogh rarely signed his paintings, but here used only his first name as a signature, perhaps the first artist to do so in the history of Western art. This work is one of a series of still lifes that the artist painted in Paris in 1887.
September 6, 2021
Sharecropper reveals Elizabeth Catlett’s lifelong concern for the marginalized and the dignity of women. Vivid markings create this anonymous woman’s weathered skin, textured white hair, and broad-brimmed straw hat. Fatigue is evident in her eyes, and a makeshift safety pin holds her lightweight jacket closed. She represents the many sharecroppers who rented land in an agricultural system that Catlett felt kept thousands of African Americans in a cycle of poverty. By focusing on the enduring strength of poor laborers, Catlett hoped to “find a voice to speak for people who do not have one.” In 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico City, Mexico. There, she worked with the People’s Graphic Workshop, a printmaking collective dedicated to using art to promote social change.
September 5, 2021
Alexander Weighing Gifts for his Tutor Leonidas
Enthroned in the center, Alexander the Great (reigned 336–323 BC) oversees the weighing of gifts to be sent to his childhood tutor, Leonidas. The writer Plutarch recounted how, when Alexander’s army distributed the spoils gleaned from their defeat of the Persian ruler Darius III, Alexander had frankincense and myrrh sent to Leonidas. The tutor cautioned Alexander as a child to use both of these spices sparingly. Only after Alexander ruled the lands that produced them could he use these luxuries extravagantly. This account prophesized that Alexander would one day be a conqueror.
This sumptuous plaque, with shields and battle implements drawn in gold behind the figures, displays the late Renaissance interest in depicting the human form. Note the fit physique of Alexander as well as his attending soldier, shown at the right with his back to the viewer.
September 4, 2021
Girl with Mandolin
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was nearly seventy years old and at the height of his considerable fame as a landscape artist, when he painted Girl with Mandolin. Corot employed models and directed them to strike contemplative attitudes, often holding an instrument or a book. Posing in the theatrical space of the studio, this young woman wears an Italian peasant costume and idly plucks the mandolin strings.
September 3, 2021
Factories at Clichy
Vincent van Gogh depicted an expanse of factories billowing smoke into the air in the gritty, industrial suburb of Clichy, northwest of Paris. The scene is divided into three horizontal bands of fields, factories, and sky, while in the middle distance, two tiny figures—perhaps lovers—are visible in the field. Van Gogh’s ordered system of brushwork reflects his awareness of the recent pointillist experiments of French painter Georges Seurat.
September 2, 2021
Part of a Cover with Design of Ogival Medallions
The design on this pieced textile imitates the pomegranate or artichoke patterns of Turkish woven silks. In the main field are twelve units in four horizontal rows, framed at top and bottom by a narrow edging of palmettes. On the left and right is a vertical row of four units set sideways and edged on the long sides with a palmette design. The numerous colors include yellow, green, pale blue, buff, cream, and deep blue-green. There are some areas where the tarnished silver threads are visible, but many of them are gone due to use.
Woven silk was an important part of the Ottoman economy and was a significant commodity yielding much income to the state coffers. It was also an indication of private wealth and ranked along with precious stones and metals as a marker of affluence.
September 1, 2021
The formal elegance and psychological ambiguity of this painting, which is a portrait of the artist’s daughter, combine to make it one of Gerhard Richter’s most riveting works. Captured in the act of turning away from the viewer, or perhaps looking toward an object in the distance, the young girl’s posture expresses both intimacy and withholding: while her face is averted, the figure’s torso actually leans precipitously toward the viewer. The sharp angle of her pose implies that this condition is only temporary and that the dramatically torqued body will soon relax to face us once again.
Betty, like many of Richter’s paintings, incorporates an element of photographic realism, but it also documents the artist’s interest in abstraction; in fact, the dark expanse that preoccupies the girl might be one of Richter’s own monochrome paintings. This painting embodies Richter’s insistence on a practice that weds, without blurring, abstract and realist modes of representation.
August 31, 2021
Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower
A young woman traces a drawing of a tulip against a windowpane; her study lies discarded on the floor, and she has been distracted by her pet squirrel perched on an armchair nearby. This painting may be a self-portrait of the artist at work in her studio. The painting was awarded a gold medal at the 1824 Salon and was then acquired for the prestigious collection of the French aristocrat, the Duchesse de Berry.
August 30, 2021
Head of a Boy
This portrait head of a young boy, perhaps a toddler, captures the child with downturned eyes. His mouth slightly open in a moment of sleepy repose. His full cheeks, delicately arched eyebrows, and diminutive nose confirm his young age. The finely carved and heavy-lidded eyes confer a sense of reverie to the work, which could be a reflection of the sculpture’s original function as a funerary portrait.
Images of children in antiquity are not as common as portraits and images of adults, possibly due to the high rate of infant and child mortality. However, during the Roman Republic (509 BC—27 BC) and continuing into the Imperial period (27 BC—330 AD), there is a marked increase in portraits of children, particularly boys. This increase in popularity has been linked to changing Roman funerary traditions where displaying portraits of deceased relatives and ancestors became a common practice.
August 29, 2021
Bulky, monumental figures fill the canvas of Card Players. The group occupies a cramped room lit by a single lamp, elevating the feeling of suspense as one of the men prepares to play his cards. Artist Charles White was involved with the active community of African American artists in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s. Their influence led him to create artwork that celebrates both the everyday lives and the history of African Americans.
August 28, 2021
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the midst at the March on Washington
In the center of this photograph, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads thousands of marchers, stretching as far as the eye can see. With his arms raised and hands clasped with other prominent civil rights leaders, Dr. King energetically leads the participants forward. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Gathering near the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Over 3,000 members of the press, including Moneta Sleet Jr., were in attendance to cover it.
Sleet is one of the most recognized photojournalists of the civil rights movement. He developed a close relationship with Dr. King and photographed him numerous times throughout the 1950s and ’60s, including Dr. King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and his leadership of the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965.
August 27, 2021
The Palais Royal Gallery’s Walk
In this caricature of French society, men strut like pigeons, pick-pockets eye the jewelry of distracted ladies, and hairstyles are a yard high. The Palais Royal in the center of Paris was owned by Duke Philippe d’Orléans, the King’s cousin, who supported his lavish lifestyle by building a large gallery with shops in his palace’s garden. Considered the prototype for enclosed commercial passages, it was the most notorious and well-attended spot for fashionable crowds to parade.
Philibert-Louis Debucourt was a French painter and printmaker especially known for his innovations in color printing which simulate the look of watercolor. His nuanced and delicate colors are exceptionally well-preserved in this impression. The Palais Royal Gallery’s Walk became one of Debucourt’s most successful printing ventures, leading to the creation of a companion piece five years later, The Public Promenade, also in the Museum’s collection.
August 26, 2021
Box with Design of Auspicious Animals, Plants, and Flowers
This box is decorated in the typical Korean technique known as hwagak (flowery horn). Ox-horn pieces are flattened through soaking and heating and then glued onto a wooden core. Colorful designs, including most of the sipjangsaeng (Ten Symbols of Longevity), were painted on the underside of the transparent ox-horn. The most important motifs are on the lid: two dragons, two phoenixes, and two cranes carrying the fungus of immortality, all shown amidst multicolored clouds. The box was likely made as a wedding gift for a high-ranking lady of the Korean aristocracy, who would have used it to store her jewelry, hair ornaments, and finger rings in jade or amber.
August 25, 2021
The son of a wheelwright, Samuel Gragg patented several techniques for making chairs with bentwood. Gragg’s technique used long strips of oak to form the curved back supports and the concave seat. These parts were made using steam and molds to bend the wood into exaggerated curves. According to Gragg’s patent application, the design rendered his chair “very elastic, very comfortable and agreeable to the person sitting in it.” Decoration such as the painted and gilded peacock feather on the back, and front feet painted like hooves helped this innovative design conform to the taste for classical-style furniture.
August 24, 2021
Bust of an Unknown Man
This bust of an unidentified man exemplifies a very high standard of carving and finish—the marble skin practically glows. The sculptor took advantage of the natural properties of marble by contrasting the smooth polish of the skin with the textured matte hair. The technical skill of the artist and high quality of the marble suggest that this work was created for a wealthy patron.
August 23, 2021
The Colossal Pair, Thebes
Frank Dillon captures the grand statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III and his wife which still stand on the plain of Thebes (today known as Luxor) in Egypt. A sense of desolate solitude is heightened by the inclusion of a camel’s skeleton in the foreground. Dillon produced this painting shortly after his first visit to Egypt in 1854. The frame is original to the picture and is decorated with orbs and eagles’ wings at the center and corners.
August 22, 2021
The Artist’s Brother
By posing the boy looking over his shoulder and by angling his hat over his forehead, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun achieves a lovely image of youthful bravado. The portrait—very likely the artist’s brother Etienne at the age of fifteen—is probably the one the artist described in her memoirs as “my brother in schoolboy’s dress.” She alludes to his interest in letters (he later became a celebrated writer) by including a sheaf of papers and a pen. The artist created this portrait when she was only eighteen.
August 21, 2021
Headrest in the Form of a Reclining Boy
This large earthenware headrest takes the form of a chubby boy reclining with his large head supported by a sausage-shaped pillow with flat-cut ends. The figure has a lively expression, with his open mouth showing detailed teeth and his hair gathered in three small knots behind his ears and high on his forehead. He wears a loose tunic over pantaloons and round-toed slippers as well as bracelets around his wrists and ankles. He supports a gently curved platform on his side to serve as the headrest. Traces of white slip, a mixture of clay and water, on the surface suggest that its maker intended it to resemble porcelain.
August 20, 2021
Ewer and Basin
The beauty of this pitcher and its matching basin is in the skillful balance of curvilinear shapes and rich ornament. The taut scrolls that form the mouth and handle of the pitcher contrast with the flowing lines of the basin’s rim. Bands of parallel grooves, called flutes, encircle the basin and the pitcher, where they also enclose curvaceous panels filled with engraved flowers. Cast foliage envelops the pierced handle, and shells and shell-like motifs ornament the lid. The ornament of shells, reeds, and cattails all evoke a water motif appropriate to the pitcher and basin’s role on the dressing table, where they were used for hand washing.
August 19, 2021
The Edge of the Pond
This painting is notable for its gestural brushwork and touches of color, as in the bright green hills in the distance. Like many of Charles-François Daubigny’s pictures, the scene is animated by the figure of a washerwoman. The artist’s paintings were often criticized for being “impressions” rather than fully realized works. Daubigny was an important early supporter of the Impressionists, and his own work suggests the influence of the younger artists.
August 18, 2021
Male and Female Couple
Male and female couples, as seen here, are a common theme in Dogon art, and suggest the primordial ancestors to whom all Dogon people trace their origins. The vertical orientation of this sculpture, with the male standing atop the female’s head, may serve as a link to earlier sculptures from this region made by a culture known as Tellem. Tellem sculptures, created during the 11th- and 12th-centuries, often feature abstracted couples in which one figure stands atop the other with arms raised. Radiocarbon dating places this sculpture approximately 230 years before the present.
August 17, 2021
In 1873, the prolific illustrator Gustave Doré went salmon fishing in Scotland; the trip provided him with inspiration for a series of grand landscapes. This dramatic work is animated by rays of light bursting through the clouds and falling on the distant lake. A tiny figure in red on the path at bottom left provides a color accent contrasting with the dominant greens of the composition. Doré evokes a vision of the Scottish landscape as sublime and awe-inspiring.
August 16, 2021
This sculpture is both rough and elegant while radically simple and powerfully emotional. It evokes both the natural form of the stone from which it is carved and the living form it represents. John Flannagan was one of the first artists to practice “direct carving,” a reaction to the increasingly elaborate casting or modeling processes traditionally used to make sculpture. Flannagan would follow the shape, structure, color, and texture of a specific fieldstone to determine the sculpture he would make from it. As he wrote, “I would like my sculpture to appear as rocks, left quite untouched and natural, and . . . inevitable.”
August 15, 2021
A Niitsitapi woman decorated this hide while it was still moist, enabling the vivid green, gold, blue, and red paint to saturate the surface rather than remain on top. To prepare the material for painting, the artist first scraped and washed the hide, stretched it horizontally, and coated it with a glutinous wash. She painted the flat hide in specific sections that, when folded in the envelope form you see here, appear solely on front-facing planes. The painted sections align, allowing two rows of diamonds to run continuously across the top and bottom panels.
August 14, 2021
Louise Nevelson assembled found architectural elements such as chair legs, balusters, and moldings within 36 wooden compartments, then painted the construction white. She juxtaposed the geometric grid of the boxes with a lyrical arrangement of curves, textures, light, and shadow. The urban environment of Manhattan provided the artist with the discarded objects that were the building blocks of her sculptural practice. She once said, “When I look at the city from my point of view, I see New York City as a great big sculpture.”
August 13, 2021
Portrait of a Musician
The subject’s moody expression and delicate hands draw viewers into this portrait. Although the identity of this figure is unknown, his occupation is revealed by the instrument he rests on and the pick he holds in his right hand. Music was an important part of courtly life in 16th-century Parma, Italy, the city in which this portrait was probably painted. The musician wears a gold chain hidden by the square neckline of his sleeveless garment. This heavy gold jewelry may have intentionally been placed inside so as not to interfere with his ability to play the instrument. The artist has posed his figure in front of a wall covered in cut velvet; color variations in the background capture the effect of light upon the fabric’s nap.
August 12, 2021
Covered Wine Vessel (fang lei)
The sharp hooks, spurs, and spikes bristling from the body of this extraordinary sacrificial bronze give a sculptural force to its impressive size and architectonic structure. The vessel is further ornamented with taotie (zoomorphic masks) and low-relief dragons in distinct registers arranged in a highly symmetrical decorative order.
The horizontal orientation of the ornamental bands achieves a measured, visual balance that gives the work a stateliness to complement its visually aggressive character. The body of this wine vessel is distinguished by an unusual double taotie on each side (see other views). A very rare inscription of a single character may relate to the royal grant of land to a noble.
August 11, 2021
Elvira Resting at a Table
This woman was one of Amedeo Modigliani’s favorite models, a young worker known only by her first name, Elvira. Her bright blue, almond-shaped eyes reflect the artist’s trademark interest in stylized forms. Modigliani, an Italian by birth, moved to Paris early in his career and became a central figure in the avant-garde School of Paris, an artist group based in Montparnasse. He painted this portrait the year before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 35.
August 10, 2021
Saint Louis in 1846
Steamboats crowd a riverfront lined with warehouses that extend into the distance, evidence of the bustling economy in St. Louis during the 19th-century. Across the river, a wagon train has set up camp. “Bound for Oregon” is written on one of the wagons (see detail).
Henry Lewis came to St. Louis in 1836 to create scenery for the St. Louis Theatre. During his stay, he made several trips to document scenes along the Mississippi River. In 1846, Lewis likely sent this painting to New York City for exhibition. He wrote, “This view is taken from the Illinois shore, and you may rely on it being a correct one of our City as I took great pains in making the sketches and also took advantage of the Daguerreotype [an early form of photography]. . . although this city now contains a population of near forty thousand souls still the opposite shore remains in all its natural wildness.”
August 9, 2021
A visual symphony of layered colors and shapes, Faux Pas represents Robert Blackburn’s gestural mode of abstract art. Blackburn developed this approach, which he also applied to his printmaking, following a year of study in Europe on a John Hay Whitney Traveling Fellowship in 1953. A devoted advocate of the medium, he opened the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York in 1948.
August 8, 2021
Model for Lobby Ceiling, American Stove Company Building
The biomorphic shapes that characterize Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture from the 1940s feature prominently in this model of the lobby ceiling he designed for the American Stove Company in St. Louis. The free-form contours functioned as recessed light fixtures, but they also transformed the ceiling into a sculpted landscape that guided visitors through the lobby, making them “feel better, feel happier to be there.” The American Stove Company building, designed by Harris Armstrong, and this ceiling exemplify the modern architecture commissioned in St. Louis during the mid-20th century. This model was used by plasterers to construct the actual ceiling.
August 7, 2021
A metallic tube covered in wrinkles and creases is twisted into a knot. Lynda Benglis made a series of these knots using aluminum screen covered in cheesecloth and plaster. She tied the materials while wet in a technique reminiscent of historically female modes of artistic production, such as embroidery. The knots were then sprayed with metals, sometimes by airplane technicians. In Delta, Benglis combined the industrial materials common in Minimalist, geometric sculpture of the 1970s with organic, limb-like forms that suggest the softness of the human body.
August 6, 2021
In this satirical painting, George Grosz presents three card-playing men in a Berlin café illuminated by an eerie red glow. The bloated figures represent the well-fed, greedy leaders of capitalist society, whom the artist saw as the source of many social ills. Two of the men glance sideways with beady eyes while the third collects his winnings. Painted in the midst of World War I (1914–1918), this work reveals the artist’s keen sense of social injustice while also showing his fascination with metropolitan nightlife.
August 5, 2021
Bahrām Gūr in the Green Pavilion
This painting shows Sassanian king Bahrām V (r.420–438), ruler of the vast Empire of Iranians, visiting Princess Pari Naz of Khwarazm in the Green Pavilion on a Monday. A famous Persian epic tale imagined that Bahrām married seven princesses, who each lived in a colored, domed pavilion that aligned with a planet and day of the week. The pavilion here is green and corresponded with the moon, considered a planet in the 15th-century.
Bahrām V and Pari Naz are seated on cushions while female attendants serve wine and play music. Other women of his court look in from upper balconies and windows. Passages of Persian script are visible above and below the image. This detached sheet is from an illuminated manuscript of the Khamsa, a collection of five long poems by Ilyas Yusuf Nizami (c.1141–c.1209) from Ganja in present-day Azerbaijan. The Khamsa includes the Haft Paykar (Seven Portraits), a narrative poem composed c.1197, describing the exploits of Bahrām V. Due to his love of hunting wild ass (gūr), he became known as Bahrām Gūr.
August 4, 2021
Feather Cloak (kahu huruhuru)
Feathers from a variety of birds were used to decorate prestigious finger-woven cloaks, such as this one. Made without the use of a loom, but rather from a pair of upright sticks at either side, cloaks were woven by single- or two-pair weft-twining. For this cloak, made as a presentation gift, female weavers combined principally white and green kererū, or New Zealand pigeon, feathers to create a checkerboard pattern. Blue-black tūī, red kākā (parrot), and light green kākāriki (parakeet) feathers add color and beauty. The top of the cloak is trimmed with black wool.
Worn by men and women, these cloaks assumed characteristics or traits associated with particular birds. Kiwi feather capes indicated prestige and rarity, while red kākā feathers alluded to fine oratory skills of the bird and the chief that wore such a cloak. According to Māori belief, birds are the children of Tāne, god of the forest, and act as intermediaries between the sacred realm of gods (atua) and the human world.
August 3, 2021
Tiger Devouring a Gavial
A tiger grips its claws around a young gavial (a type of crocodile native to India) and devours it as the reptile, in agony, shows its fangs; a turtle emerges from beneath the tiger’s right foreleg. Antoine-Louis Barye carefully studied the anatomy of tigers in the Paris zoo, the Jardin des Plantes, and succeeds in rendering the tense energy of the large cat’s form. This bronze is one of several smaller versions of a successful larger sculpture.
August 2, 2021
The Bull Fight
Pablo Picasso uses a tangle of black lines to describe the violent energy of a bullfight. A brown bull is flanked by a rearing stallion on the left and an angular, green matador at right. The artist admired the power and force of the bull, seeing it as a metaphor for the animalistic passions of the unconscious mind. Picasso’s inscriptions indicate this picture was painted at the artist’s chateau at Boisgeloup, just outside of Paris, on August 2, 1934.
August 1, 2021
The thick layers of paint on this canvas capture the play of light and brilliant hues of stained glass on a church wall. In spite of the roughly painted surface, the attentiveness and piety of the worshippers is clear. The time of day is evident from the unlit candles, the late sunlight streaming through the windows, and the title, Vespers, which refers to an early evening prayer service.
July 31, 2021
Mummy Mask of Kay-neferwy
This mask has an extraordinary presence with its combination of glass inlaid eyes, gilt face with shimmering, almost lifelike translucence, and realistic wig. The craftsman who fashioned the wig out of thick resin carefully cut and modeled the plaits of hair in the latest style. The red “gold” coloring of her skin-a result of oxidation on the metal surface-may be purposeful or merely the product of the sulphurous fumes given off by the resinous wig. The band around her head, her eyes, and her nipples are inlaid with glass, surprising because glass was as costly and rare as the turquoise and carnelian for which it was substituted. The roughened surface of the mask’s lips suggests they were once covered with a heavier gold foil. In each hand she holds a wooden amulet to signify strength and welfare. A delicate scene carved in relief on her arms shows her successful ascent into the afterlife on the boat of the Great God Osiris.
July 30, 2021
Rosa Bonheur was known for her careful study of animals and even maintained stables at her Paris studio. She was a pioneering feminist who enjoyed notoriety by dressing publicly in men’s clothes and smoking cigars. This work represents a relay hunt whereby riders would use fresh groups of horses to relieve their exhausted animals. Bonheur has precisely rendered the anatomy of the horses’ forms as well as the sheen of their coats in brown, white, and gray.
July 29, 2021
The Bronco Buster
The Bronco Buster depicts a cowboy breaking in a rearing horse. The horse and rider are at the extreme of a violent counterbalance, with the horse’s neck twisting to one angle in opposition to the sharp pull of the cowboy’s body. Though dramatic, the composition captures in bronze a moment of graceful suspension. The burst of energy is grounded in the many realistic surface details, such as the motion of the whip, dented folds of the hat, and bunched creases in the cowboy’s shirt.
Frederic Remington’s art perpetuates notions of an “old” West characterized by conflicts between Native Americans and soldiers, and adventurous cowboys riding through unfenced land. Although this subject was common in stories romanticizing western life, by the time Remington created his works such events were long past.
July 28, 2021
Faded from a much deeper purple and covered in gold thread and sequins, this dalmatic, a type of Christian liturgical vestment, represents the height of 17th-century opulence. The fine interlacing bands on the tunic’s ground are called strapwork. Its cuffs and square central panel are decorated with arabesques, dense patterns of intertwining plants adopted from the Muslim world by earlier European artists.
July 27, 2021
Landscape with Cows, Sailboat, and Painted-in Figures
A jumble of upside-down and sideways figures disrupts an otherwise pastoral scene of cows grazing in front of a distant lake. This is the only work by August Macke with rotated figures, which makes them a mystery. An X-ray of the painting shows the shadowy traces of an earlier composition. The work began as a conventional lake scene, but only two sailboats survive from this earlier state. Macke never had a chance to continue his experiment because he died two months later in World War I (1914–1918).
July 26, 2021
Amphora with Nike and Youth
The spotlight technique—the use of a single figure featured on either side of a vessel—takes advantage of the round form of this amphora. The viewer must look at both sides (see above) to understand the full story. Here, the goddess Nike, or Victory, flies through the air presenting a musical instrument called a cithara (a type of fancy, large concert lyre) to present to the young man standing on the other side. Taken together we can interpret this scene as a celebration of the youth’s victory at a musical competition. The spotlight technique was favored by this artist, called the Berlin Painter after the city in which his style was first identified. The Berlin Painter represents a high point of ancient painting due to the precise draftsmanship and fine attention to detail especially, in the ears and eyelashes.
July 25, 2021
This portly dog is probably a techichi, a breed of hairless canine. Physical details, from the alert posture of the ears and tail to the wrinkles at the corners of the mouth, are evidence of the artist’s close observation. Numerous legends from ancient Mesoamerica suggest that dogs were companions of the dead on their journeys to the afterlife, making the inclusion of such sculptures in tombs understandable.
July 24, 2021
Under the Awning, Zarautz
A scalloped canopy shades the artist’s wife and daughters on the beach at Zarautz in northern Spain. The strong sea breeze blows back their veils in diaphanous clouds. Joaquín Sorolla painted this work outdoors on the same beach, which allowed him to capture the fleeting effects of the sun, sea, and wind. Paintings like this one earned Sorolla international fame. The Museum presented a major exhibition of Sorolla’s art in 1911, from which Under the Awning was purchased only a year after it was made.
July 23, 2021
Striding Male Figure
Wooden statues from Egypt’s Old Kingdom (2686–2160 BC) were often damaged by the natural conditions of rot and insects as well as the wanton destruction wrought by tomb robbers. This fortunate survivor probably represents a nobleman or an official. Striding forward with assurance, he grasps the loose end of his kilt and pulls it aside in an elegant flourish that may represent a gesture of adoration or supplication.
This delicate figure is remarkable for the subtle modeling of the body beneath the pleated skirt, the careful details in the carving of the fingernails, and the distinctive inlaid nipples of ebony (see details). Wooden sculptures of the deceased, like this one, were placed in various locations within tombs and in varying numbers, depending on the traditions that were popular during different Old Kingdom dynasties.
July 22, 2021
City Lights (Prophet with No Tongue)
This print is constructed of cut paper inked with colors that evoke a city skyline (zoom in). The deep blue is punctuated by bright pinks and yellows—evidence of bright lights in a bustling metropolis—and the irregular shape evokes a silhouetted cityscape. Mary Lovelace O’Neal worked primarily as a painter until 1984, when Robert Blackburn invited her to his printmaking studio. Captivated by the print medium, she created this work at the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia in 1988.
July 21, 2021
The figure of Plenty holding a cornucopia and standing atop this extravagant assemblage embodies the ideal of copious display that characterized eighteenth-century dining tables. From her position above an urn-shaped bowl supported by winged figures, Plenty surveys three tiers of pierced baskets and dishes intended to contain pickles, nuts, or sweets, and pairs of cruets and casters for condiments consumed during the savory courses of the meal.
The centerpiece probably matched the dishes used on the table, since it is made from cream-colored earthenware, which was both inexpensive and extremely fashionable in the mid- to late 18th-century. The architectural motifs and decoration of swags of foliage and flowers signal the reemergence of the classical style as the latest fashion in the late 18th-century.
July 20, 2021
Coupled-column Prayer Rug
Prayer carpets are characterized by a central space featuring a mihrab, or arched niche, at one end. This carpet is distinctive for its pairs of slender columns with stepped bases and stylized capitals that support the arch. These so-called coupled columns were not a known feature of Ottoman buildings when this design was first developed in the 16th-century. Recent scholarship suggests this motif is characteristic of Nasrid architecture from Muslim Spain. It was likely brought to the Ottoman Empire via Jewish weavers who fled persecution during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th-century.
July 19, 2021
Model of a House with Figurines
This miniature version of a house, with a below ground space and lounging dog, conveys many details about Nayarit architecture and domestic life. The activities of the various residents and geometric exterior decoration provide insight into their daily existence. Rather than an anecdotal representation of the everyday, this scene may have had a more symbolic function. The elites of West Mexico often placed their deceased ancestors in shaft tombs populated with ceramic sculptures of humans, animals, and food vessels. The lower level of this intricate house model may link the below ground burial and ancestors with the realm of the living above.
July 17, 2021
I See Red: Migration
In this painting, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith combined imagery associated with Native American identity with marks reminiscent of American mid-century gestural abstraction. A stereotyped depiction of an Indigenous man, an ancient Mississippian vessel, an animal with a heart line from Great Plains paintings, and figures from Columbia River basketry and Northwest Coast textiles appear across the canvas.
In I See Red: Migration, Smith layered concepts and images to address issues facing Native peoples from the 1970s to the present, including land relationships and colonial displacement. Through techniques of appropriation, she foregrounded the rich and diverse history of Native American cultural production while challenging the celebration of Abstract Expressionism as indicative of American artistic exceptionalism.
July 16, 2021
Walchensee, Silver Path
An explosion of brushstrokes hides the idyllic landscape of the Walchensee, an alpine lake located in the far south of Germany. Look closer and you might see the artist’s daughter in a white dress running past a stand of beeches at center right. Behind her, a hotel rooftop marks the edge of the lake’s expanse. The Walchensee was Lovis Corinth’s retreat in his final years and the site of his mesmerizing works that dissolve into abstraction.
July 15, 2021
Pollaxe (mazzapicchio) with the Arms of the City of Venice
Staff weapons, popularly called polearms, were the most typical infantry weapons until well into the 16th-century. Most staff weapons evolved from agricultural or everyday tools modified for military use and simply fastened to long wooden staves. All polearms require the use of both hands and were used exclusively on foot, except for the long spear called a lance, which was used from horseback. Staff weapons were used by commoners and professional soldiers in battle, by knights in armored sporting combats, and by bodyguards of royalty. Like many other arms, staff weapons assumed a primarily ceremonial role by the mid-17th century.
July 14, 2021
Painted with heavy black outlines and primary colors, this cartoonish figure is one of many unique characters artist Jean Dubuffet designed for his performance Coucou Bazar, which premiered in New York in 1973. In Coucou Bazar, life-size sculptures were propelled by motors or manipulated by costumed performers. Named for its cap, or “casquette” in French, Le Casquettador was originally mounted on wheels that allowed it to be moved. It is uncertain whether it appeared onstage, as only some of Dubuffet’s sculpted characters were ever used in productions.
July 13, 2021
In this lithograph, Benny Andrews depicted a bird taking flight within an ambiguous setting. The surreal landscape relates to his Utopia series, in which he imagined an idyllic world without humans—free from all kinds of discrimination. His fantastical scenes, like this one, which fluctuate between abstraction and a representational style, present poignant themes throughout his work. Here, Andrews also explored the perceived textures he could achieve in lithography.
July 12, 2021
Acrobat on the Trapeze
Beckmann’s diaries from Amsterdam recount his numerous visits to cabarets, theaters, and the circus. In this painting, an acrobat in the lofty heights of a circus tent is shown from an improbably close viewpoint. The acrobat crouches on a trapeze and seems to be waiting for the right moment to propel himself back for his next routine. Behind the sturdy figure, which nearly fills the canvas, a second trapeze artist appears in the upper right corner while an audience, suggested by dotted brushwork, fills the middle band of the painting.
Beckmann’s use of bold black outlines and saturated planes of canary yellow and lush turquoise heighten the scene’s energy. To Beckmann, the acrobat’s courageous performance evoked the challenges met by every human: “We are all tightrope walkers,” he said. “We have the desire to achieve balance and to keep it.”
July 11, 2021
Scarf with Design of Floral Motifs
Small flowers and leaves sparkling with metal threads grace this delicate cotton textile. Ottoman embroiderers adopted aspects of botanical naturalism introduced through European art objects, books, and drawings imported in the early 18th-century. The cultural exchange was mutual. Just prior, in the late 17th-century, “little Muslin-Napkins, edg’d with Gold, Silver, and Silk Border[s]” were imported into Europe, along with coffee, according to the French merchant Pierre de La Roque.
July 10, 2021
Spanning this entire painting, a symmetric pattern of interlocking forms in salmon pink is outlined by exposed canvas. Valerie Jaudon’s paintings evoke the motifs and embellishments of wallpaper, upholstery textiles, and decorative arts often associated with notions of femininity.
Jaudon’s work recontextualizes and highlights such intricate forms, challenging long-held perceptions of their inferiority when compared with fine art, in particular the history of abstract painting. Her compositions are derived from systems of simple, repeated forms that are combined differently to create visually complex images with few colors.
July 9, 2021
Archaistic Tripod Censer with Cover
Later Chinese bronzes, like this one, often recall the shape and design of vessels from the 7th through 6th-century BCE. Bronze casting in China was a complex mixture of art and artifice. New bronzes might be ordered to look old, and artists might make a reproduction bronze similar to an original ancient model in nearly every detail, including corrosion and patina.
The features of the large monster mask on the body of this incense burner are enhanced with fine inlays of gold and silver in keeping with the Ming dynasty belief that ancient bronzes were set with precious metals. Although the shape of this vessel is in keeping with ancient tripods, the decorative inlays, fine wood cover, and semiprecious agate knob reveal the highly ornamental style of the late Ming dynasty.
July 8, 2021
The Transformed Dream
Giorgio de Chirico juxtaposes unusual objects within a vast, empty Italian piazza. An arrangement of fruit and a statue of the ancient Roman god Jupiter’s head in the foreground are offset in the distance by a steam train. In the years before World War I (1914–1918), De Chirico was an originator of the Italian movement, Pittura Metafisica (Metaphysical Painting), which sought to explore alternative realities behind appearances. The dreamlike qualities of the artist’s work were a major inspiration for the Surrealists.
July 7, 2021
The subtle palette, diffused light, and exquisite objects in this painting invite the viewer to contemplate its quiet mood. The dry texture of the pods, the elegant floral design of the fan and its delicately shaped sticks, and the refined lip of the cup engage our senses. Time slows to a meditative pace. Emil Carlsen’s still lifes, like this one, express ideals of aestheticism, in which objects and paintings were admired for the refined taste they exemplified. Carlsen’s use of fine Japanese objects also reflects their popularity as decorative elements in American homes at the turn of the 19th century.
July 6, 2021
In the late 17th-century, England became an important ceramic center where entrepreneurs established potteries to meet the growing demand for utilitarian and decorative wares. By the 18th-century, punch bowls had become fashionable symbols of hospitality and generosity. The colorful overglaze enamels on this punch bowl were probably the work of a German or Dutch glass painter, while the inclusion of Chinese figures reflected the Western fascination with Asia. The bowl’s brown sheen and “orange peel” texture were accomplished by throwing salt into the kiln during firing.
July 5, 2021
Extensive Landscape With Travellers on a Country Road
From an elevated viewpoint we see the city of Antwerp at the distant right, a covered wagon in the middle distance, and a marshy stream in the right foreground. The scene is filled with fauna and flora, all finished in the painstaking detail for which Jan Brueghel the Elder is known. The road at left draws us into the painting, while bands of varying greens open up the distant landscape to suggest expansive space. Travelers journey on the left while hunters stalk herons in the marshy grasses at the right. The standing dog on the lower left appears to have a second head, indicating that the artist changed its position.
July 4, 2021
Roman Candles Textile
Fireworks—bursts of orange, yellow, and brown—shower this screen-printed linen designed by A. Joel Robinson for L. Anton Maix Fabrics. Fittingly titled Roman Candles, this textile captures the painterly sensibility and architectural training of its multifaceted designer. Robinson is one of the first African American designers to have gained national attention in the mid-20th century. A 1951 Ebony magazine article described the “youthful New Yorker” as “the most promising newcomer in the creative textile design field.” That same year, Roman Candles was featured in the Museum of Modern Art and Chicago Merchandise Mart’s Good Design exhibitions.
July 3, 2021
Portrait of a Woman
Rounded features, a delicate lace bodice with flowers, and soft wavy hair communicate both the taste and beauty of the sitter, and Edmonia Lewis’s skill as a sculptor. The sitter may be Antoinette Rutgers Thomas, as a similarly sized portrait of her husband, James Peck Thomas, was completed by Lewis in 1874 (Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio). Antoinette was born into one of the wealthiest free Black families in St. Louis, and her husband, who moved to the city in 1857, increased that wealth through real estate. Lewis and the Thomases all had mixed-race heritage—Lewis had African and Native American parentage—and she was drawn to subjects that addressed race and gender.
In 1867, Lewis moved to Rome. She worked successfully among the small group of American female sculptors who found greater renown and patronage there than they could in their own country.
June 29, 2021
Flower Basket (hanakago) in the Form of a Double Gourd with Wood-root Stand
This bamboo basket is shaped like a natural double gourd. An opening in the larger section allows for the placement of a cylindrical insert to hold water and flowers. Several sections of gnarled wisteria root wood, secured to the basket with bamboo ties, form a stand while branching up and around the rear of the double gourd. Three main types of plaiting methods were used to produce this hand-split bamboo object: irregular plaiting (midare ami) in the larger section containing the opening; mat plaiting (gozame ami) in the constricted neck of the double gourd form; and pine-needle plaiting (matsuba ami) in the smaller section.
Bamboo baskets of this kind were used to display seasonal floral arrangements, often in connection with Japanese tea ceremonies. They would have been placed within an alcove space beneath a painting or calligraphy scroll that was appropriate for the season.
June 23, 2021
This sculpture represents the main character of William Shakespeare’s play Othello, written around 1603. The portrait captures the moment when Othello tragically realizes the innocence of his wife, Desdemona, whom he has killed out of jealousy. The handkerchief he holds was planted by an enemy as false evidence of Desdemona’s betrayal. Pietro Calvi’s dignified depiction of the distraught Othello with a tear rolling down his cheek may be based upon the famous performances of Ira Aldridge (1807–1867), the first Black actor to play Othello in England beginning in 1825.
June 22, 2021
Fly Whisk (chauri) with Design of Floral and Vegetal Motifs on the Handle
Fly whisks were symbols of royal authority in both Hindu and Muslim courts in India; this one was made for the sophisticated Mughal court. It was probably crafted in Murshidabad, which served as the Mughal capital of Bengal and had specialized workshops for ivory and woodworking.
The ivory handle of this fly whisk has three separate parts: a tip shaped like a lotus bud, a tapering ropework shaft, and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. The upper portion of the shaft and the sides of the mouthpiece are carved with flowering irises and poppies, flanked by cypress trees. The mouthpiece is surmounted by a pierced double gallery of everted petals. The parts screw together to hold the individual whisk slivers, which are made of whale baleen (keratin-based filters from the mouths of baleen whales).
June 21, 2021
Dish with Design of Two Dragons Chasing a Flaming Pearl amidst Clouds
The interior of this large circular lacquered dish is inlaid with exquisite mother-of-pearl. The bold decoration features two five-clawed dragons amidst clouds encircling a flaming pearl in the center. The rounded sides are divided into eight sections, alternately adorned with four different Buddhist emblems and with hexagonal patterns. The decorative motifs are represented with thin iridescent mother-of-pearl from the shells of abalone, which are found in the waters of the Ryūkyūs, a chain of small islands in the Pacific Ocean between Taiwan and Japan.
The distinctive tradition of lacquerware, seen in this dish, developed in the Ryūkyū Kingdom (1429–1879) through its trade with neighboring countries and became an important export. A government facility in the Ryūkyū royal capital, Shuri, was responsible for managing the production of exquisite objects used as tribute gifts for the emperor of China as well as the shōgun (military dictator) and daimyō (feudal lords) in Japan.
June 20, 2021
Golden and Blue Bolero
Bold strokes of red, orange, and yellow flicker across this man’s bolero vest and reflect in the shadows beneath his chin. The painting’s fiery, primary hues are at odds with its subject’s impassive expression. Walt Kuhn is renowned for his portraits of circus performers, as seen here. His figures are depicted frontally, holding a deadpan gaze contrary to their expected joyfulness. Though anonymous and mysterious, this man conveys a dignity and psychological presence often denied to itinerant performers.
June 18, 2021
Untitled (Frijoles Canyon)
A small tree stands amid a riot of strong colors and boldly outlined forms. This painting depicts Frijoles Canyon, now part of Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico (see images). Józef Bakós lived in the canyon for one year when he worked for the United States Forest Service. While most artists were inspired by the dwellings carved into the canyon’s cliffs by Ancestral Pueblo people over 850 years ago, Bakós instead was drawn to the site’s otherworldly rock formations.
June 17, 2021
Landscape, Sicily, Italy
In this photograph taken in the south of Italy, Paul Strand framed a broad vista so that it became an intimate and self-contained world. The thin trees and their leafless branches in the foreground organize the image, tying the stone farm buildings, pathways, and cultivated plots together in a dense pattern of the organic and geometric.
This view is a mediation on the potential for harmonious relationships between man and nature. Strand saw this condition as a potent alternative to the rapid changes brought on by the modern world in the mid-20th century. He had a humanistic interest in using photography to explore the distinctive character of places that he viewed as uncorrupted by industrial culture. Strand was interested in heightening our sense of reality, often favoring tightly composed views to intensify his subject’s visual significance.
June 16, 2021
A lustrous finish emphasizes the mahogany wood grain that artist Elizabeth Catlett beautifully incorporated into Seated Woman. The figure’s rounded body and firmly placed legs convey confidence and stability. A sense of naturalism merges perfectly with a simplified, abstracted form reminiscent of African masks and Mexican sculpture. Catlett, an African American artist who lived her adult life in Mexico, greatly respected these two artistic traditions. Catlett felt affirmative representations, such as Seated Woman, could support social change because they allow people who are underrepresented to see themselves depicted in art. Female subjects are predominant throughout Catlett’s work. She was moved by “Black beauty, not the female nudes of the European artists, but the women of the African wood carvers and the pre-Hispanic stone carvers.”
June 15, 2021
Total Transparency Filter (Portrait of N)
In this mysterious photograph, the viewer sees a seated figure draped entirely in a gray-and-white checkered cloth. It is recognizable as the default background of image-manipulation software Photoshop—the transparency filter to which the title refers. The subject is a student in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and through this work, Stephanie Syjuco comments on the uncertain position of immigrants in the United States.
Syjuco, a Filipino-American artist, feels immigrants’ identity and path to citizenship are at risk of being erased. She uses fabric props in a way that complicates the legibility of the photographic image. The individual being photographed is present and corporeal but not completely visible. This imbues the picture with a haunting beauty that simultaneously challenges the viewer, subverting expectations of what a photographic studio portrait should convey.
June 13, 2021
St. Louisan Ashley Cooper stands with one hand on her hip in front of a vibrant floral backdrop that winds in front of and around her. Cooper’s pose is based on the stance of King Charles I of England in a 1633 portrait by Dutch painter Daniel Mytens I in the Museum’s collection (see image above). Artist Kehinde Wiley uses the long‑standing practice of portraiture to address absences and erasures of black individuals in European and American art history. In his paintings he replaces white figures depicted in historical artworks with images of contemporary African Americans, Africans, and people of the African diaspora. In 2017, Wiley visited neighborhoods in north St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, where he selected Cooper and other individuals to pose for paintings.
June 12, 2021
Torah Ark Curtain (Parokhet)
A needlework tour-de-force, the azure satin ground of this Torah Ark curtain (parokhet) is extensively appliquéd and embroidered with silk and metallic threads, pressed metal strips, spiral wire, and sequins. The silver and gold embellishment and most of the flowers are worked on thin sheets of vellum, or prepared animal skin, and in some cases padded for added volume. The textile’s opulence reflects the skill and wealth of its young maker, Simhah Viterbo.
Torah curtains hang in front of the ark, a cabinet or structure that houses the sacred Torah scrolls, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. This curtain would have been visible to a synagogue’s entire congregation, including the women who occupied the elevated gallery above the main hall. Its scalloped and scrolling ornament and carefully depicted carnations, bellflowers, and roses follow a European taste for botanical naturalism. However, the curtain’s enclosed floral borders and symmetrical central composition suggest the influence of Ottoman textiles.
June 11, 2021
Sunburst in the Riesengebirge
Sunlight bursts over distant hills as a blue sky dispels gathering storm clouds. The hut at top left indicates a human presence within this vast landscape. Caspar David Friedrich based this scene on the Riesengebirge, a mountain range on the present-day border of the Czech Republic and Poland. Friedrich hiked in this area in 1810, nearly 25 years before he painted this work. Elements of the landscape held strong symbolism for Friedrich and his audience. The fir tree represented life and vitality; the dead tree, mortality; and the illuminated hills, an aspiration toward the promise of eternity.
June 10, 2021
Diamonds radiate a series of cool, serrated lines. Across the red ground, a secondary network emerges and subtly echoes the bold contours of the overall design. These nuanced shifts between a brighter tone and a darker, cool red indicate the artist used yarns from at least two dye batches. Plied, industrially manufactured fibers yield crimson while warmer scarlet hues result from wool the artist dyed and spun herself.
In the last decades of the 19th century, Diné weavers used new materials to create complex, vibrant textiles such as this work. Aniline-dyed yarns initially arrived when the federal government supplied these materials to the Navajo Nation as part of annuity payments following the Treaty of Bosque Redondo in 1868. Later, weavers obtained these yarns as well as synthetic, powdered dyestuffs from trading posts on the Navajo reservation.
June 9, 2021
Woman in Turkish Dress
Loose yet assured brushwork, seen in gold edging along the shoulders, animates this painting of an unknown woman wearing Turkish clothing. Foreign attire was popular in London throughout the 18th century, and Angelica Kauffmann painted several versions of garments that were based on clothing worn in the Ottoman Empire. Western Europeans, including the British, appropriated and exoticized Middle Eastern societies, often using stereotypes, an embodiment of a colonial outlook towards non-European cultures.
For this portrait, the artist depicted a loose gown trimmed in white lace (gömlek), a more fitted long-sleeved salmon-colored garment with buttons down the front (yelek), and an outer long coat edged in lace and fashioned from plum-colored velvet (entari). Dated on the back of the canvas in what appears to be the artist’s own hand, this painting may have served as an advertisement to convince women in London society to have their portraits painted in Turkish dress.
June 8, 2021
Words flow rhythmically across 16 red monotypes, each a separate unique print. A stippling effect eats away at the letters, destabilizing the initial meanings. “Talking Stick” and “Fire Rock” may seem to evoke settings and characters from Native American stories. However, the artist lifted these and other two-word phrases from Native gaming operations such as Lucky Star Casino, owned by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
In the 1980s, legal debates about Native gambling centered on the sovereign status of Native governments and reservations. Following passage of federal legislation in 1988, hundreds of Native nations opened gaming centers on tribally owned land, often along major highways in exurban areas. Casinos may fuel addiction and deepen individual poverty, though gaming profits frequently support cultural heritage programs and infrastructure projects.
June 7, 2021
A cockpit and wings slowly emerge from the array of angular, abstract shapes in Levitator Abstraction. This painting was inspired by the Turboprop Skyshark, a short-lived Navy aircraft carrier bomber designed in the early 1950s. The complex interlocking forms in this work reflect a debt to the artist’s early training in engineering and architecture. However, at times they appear more like a busy scattering of paper cutouts than the volumetric parts of an airplane. This is not surprising given Esphyr Slobodkina was also an experienced dressmaker. Despite the machinelike quality, the painting playfully mimics the proportions and wood-grain surface of the actual drafting board on which she worked. Slobodkina’s creative talents extended beyond painting, dressmaking, and architecture. She was also a well-respected textile designer and children’s book author and illustrator. Her most-loved book is the classic Caps for Sale.
June 6, 2021
Dish with Design of Foliate Motifs
This shallow dish has a thin teakwood body covered on both sides with shaped plaques of mother-of-pearl, which come from the green turban shell (Turbo marmoratus). There may also be inserts of one or two other marine shells, namely the button shell (Trochus niloticus) or the pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), or both. The main body of the dish is decorated with a central multi-petaled flower head with radiating small-shaped plaques of increasing size. These radiating shapes are framed by a narrow circular border around the edge of the bowl. The concave sides are decorated with vertical plaques following the shape of the dish with a narrow undulating rim.
Gujarat, in western India, was the center for artisanal mother-of-pearl production during the 16th and 17th centuries. The allure of this material lay in its versatility, its strength, and above all in its lustrous and beautiful iridescent surface, which reflected light and varied color. Objects covered in mother-of-pearl were given to foreign rulers as diplomatic gifts and were exported to the east coast of Africa, Turkey, and Europe.
June 5, 2021
Chief-Style Blanket, Second Phase Variant
On this blanket, linear designs in a range of colors float over a red ground. The massive red bands balance against thinner stripes in creamy white and dark brown, a pattern sometimes called a chief’s blanket. This term, however, is based on a historical misunderstanding about the use of these blankets among Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains earlier in the 19th century. Rather than marking rank, these textiles furnished Native peoples beyond the Southwest with warm outerwear, striking designs, and a sense of the unfamiliar that is often associated with luxury items from distant places of origin. The green yarns here help date this blanket to the late 19th century, an era when Diné weavers continued experimenting with this long-running style.
June 4, 2021
Portrait of Charlotte Cram
John Singer Sargent painted seven-year-old Charlotte Cram in his London studio. She sits in an oversized chair with the unaffected charm of youth. The sparkle in her brown eyes, barely restrained smile, tilt of her head, and frank gaze are endearing without excessive sentimentality. Sargent perfectly captured her twisted pose and interlaced fingers, as she presses them into the wooden arm of the chair trying her very best not to squirm.
Charlotte’s white taffeta dress and oversized yellow sash and bow reveal the artist’s confident ability. Sargent, one of the foremost portraitists in American art, knew exactly where to place his dramatic brushstrokes to translate the essence of a bow or ribbon or hand into paint. His exceptional technique and aesthetic sensibility were equally matched by his innate grasp of his subject’s genuine emotions.
June 3, 2021
Bright pastel colors and repeated geometric shapes create a dynamic composition; triangular planes transform into vertical stripes from left to right. The title alludes to the photographic technique of double exposure, which combines two separate images to construct a new work. To create his colors and crisp lines, African American artist James Little painted with a heated mixture of beeswax and raw pigments, developing a version of the painting technique called encaustic first used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks (learn more).
June 2, 2021
This cabinet for storing sheet music presents a taut arrangement of vertical and horizontal lines with clear solids and voids. The near-black finish accentuates its minimal form. Stylized flowers of colored woods, pewter, and copper inlaid in the door offer a subtle enrichment.
From 1900 until World War I (1914–1918), furniture maker Gustav Stickley was a leading contributor to the American Arts and Crafts movement. During the 1880s and 90s, Stickley was a successful manufacturer of middle-class Victorian furniture. He first explored consciously artistic furniture in 1900, gradually developing radically spare forms that evoked the sentiments of English designer William Morris, for whom simplicity was the essential requirement of modern furnishings. Stickley renamed his business the United Crafts and, in October 1901, began to publish The Craftsman magazine. In 1903 and 1904, the Stickley style was further refined in favor of attenuated forms embellished with inlaid ornament, as seen in this music stand.
June 1, 2021
Hear Expert Commentary
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Saint Louis Art Museum
Detached III gives permanent concrete form to the empty space within a humble, prefabricated garden shed of a type available in any home improvement store. Whiteread has spoken about her aim “to mummify the air” within architectural structures. When seen from a distance, the sculpture is very minimalist in design. Yet, close up, one can clearly see the imprint of the shed’s wood grain, lending the work a greater sense of intimacy. The imprints of door handles and windows also suggest a latent human presence. Whiteread’s choice of title, Detached III, in fact, relates to her interest in the idea of the shed as a space where artists and writers have gone to find solitary retreat.
Detached III is an example of what Whiteread has called her “shy sculptures,” because she has generally sited them remotely and inconspicuously, often requiring a journey to visit. This sculpture is located alone on the southwest side of the building to reflect this intention. In order to make her sculpture, Whiteread and her team lifted up the shed on all sides on supports and then sprayed its interior from below with liquid concrete. The sculpture is therefore hollow, although with a steel framework, it still weighs the significant amount of 12,125 pounds or 5,500 kilograms. It is a unique piece and relates to a small series of sculptures by the artist that represent other prefabricated sheds.
Detached III was purchased by the Museum in 2017 and complements the Museum’s existing collection of sculpture by prominent British artists such as Henry Moore, Antony Caro, and Andy Goldsworthy.
Detached III gives concrete form to the empty or negative space within an everyday, prefabricated backyard shed (see and hear more above). This sculpture sums up the signature working process of prominent English artist Rachel Whiteread, which she has described as “mummifying the air.” Whiteread captures the intricate wood grain imprint of the shed’s door and sides, as well as the impression of windows. The work’s title alludes to the artist’s view of the garden shed as a space for quiet thought and reclusive study.
May 31, 2021
Ornamental Box with Design of Fig Leaves and Fruit
This covered box features an exterior design of fig leaves and fruit (ichijiku) over a beige lacquer (kawari-nuri) ground on the five visible sides. The leaves are formed of light, loose-textured textile pieces cut and applied to the base before over-lacquering in three shades of green (dark, medium, and light green). The luscious red fruits are highly polished, cut, and carved lacquer inlays, with gold lacquer applied to the carved end openings of the figs, known as the ostioles. The ingenious design is both stylized and evocative of the dense fig tree.
Tanabe Masayoshi’s studio was in the small city of Kuroe, Japan, the lacquer center of Wakayama Prefecture, just south of the Ōsaka metropolitan area. His work was exhibited at the annual Japan Arts Exhibition five times between 1949 and 1958. In 1979, Tanabe received a commendation award recognizing him as a master craftsman of Wakayama Prefecture.
May 30, 2021
Man with a Waterskin
In this delicately balanced sculpture a slender youth stands, legs rooted to the earth, emptying a leather waterskin. Although secular in theme, this figure was originally derived from a depiction of Christian St. John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus. The sack and its contents, the element of water, retained spiritual associations of purity and closeness to nature for the artist George Minne. The abstract effect of this work is characteristic of Minne’s elongated sculptures of the adolescent body. From the 1890s, Minne’s avant-garde output won him international renown.
May 29, 2021
The title of this print, asanegami, meaning “sleep-tangled hair,” alludes to a verse from the 8th-century anthology of poems Manyōshū. The poem’s main character imagines his lovelorn wife refusing to comb her hair in his absence. Torii Kotondo modernized the theme with a young, fashionably dressed woman lying in bed with unkempt hair, brooding upon her lover’s departure. The slightly risqué subject, the striking green of the mosquito net in the background, and the exquisitely detailed execution make this one of Kotondo’s most memorable prints.
May 28, 2021
Fresh News (Men and Machines)
In this image, taken from a photograph and abstracted (learn more), two men in suits supervise a new kind of commercial printing press, the Heidelberg Rotaspeed. Painting in large patches of flat, primary colors, artist Rosalyn Drexler omitted any clues to the figures’ identities, conflating these men with the machine they operate.
In her Men and Machines series, Drexler demystified the promises of 1960s technological progress and corporate capitalism. Exposing lingering anxieties of the Cold War era, such as the loss of human agency in the face of industrial advances, Drexler’s paintings undercut the false confidence of postwar American society in affluence and worldwide leadership.
May 27, 2021
With its undulating seat and supports made of molded plywood, this lounge chair is innovative for its construction and ergonomic design. The chair offered the “scientific relaxation of every part of the body.” Architect Marcel Breuer is best known for developing chromium-plated steel tubing (see image above) as a support for chairs and tables while he was an instructor at the Bauhaus school of architecture and design in Germany during the 1920s.
May 26, 2021
A lush bouquet of flowers is the focal point of this ornamental tabletop. The floral design is composed of small pieces of wood stained with dyes and fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. This technique, called marquetry, was a specialty of Parisian craftsman Joseph Cremer, whose signature is engraved among the scrolling stems and leaves.
A New York cabinetmaker imported the marquetry panel and incorporated it into this painted and gilded table made for an unknown American client. This extravagant object was intended for use in a formal interior to display ceramics, small bronze sculptures, or other precious artworks.
May 25, 2021
Double Diptych Icon Pendant
Like a locket, this artwork served a public and private role for its owner. Worn suspended from the neck, the pendant’s incised crosses on the outside of the small doors proclaimed Christian identity and served indigenous beliefs for deflecting harm. Behind each closed door, vibrantly colored scenes inspired moments of personal prayer and contemplation. On one side, St. George slays a dragon opposite Mary and Jesus. On the other side, the Crucifixion appears opposite two historical Ethiopian saints. Gabra Manfas Qeddus (died c.1400), appearing with a lion and wearing a cloak made from his own hair, was a hermit and ascetic especially gifted with animals. Abuna Ewostatewos (c.1273–1352), bearing a long beard and handheld cross, founded monasteries in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the 4th century.
May 24, 2021
Pheasantry in the Forest of Compiègne
In this atmospheric moonlight scene, Théodore Rousseau depicted a pheasantry, or pheasant farm. Flecks of yellow paint at the bottom right suggest a pheasant in flight. The silhouetted forms of trees offer a flat, surface pattern while depth in the space is created by the detail of a cow drinking from a pond at back left. Rousseau painted this gestural work when he was only 21, demonstrating his early artistic talent. Due to his skill, Rousseau was considered the leading landscape painter of the Barbizon School, an artistic colony southeast of Paris.
May 23, 2021
On this vibrant lustre-glazed dish, eight boats circle the rim with bright white, wind-filled sails, creating a dynamic rhythm. In the center is a whirlpool of undulating forms and linear patterning in shades of saturated blues and greens. Artist and designer Galileo Chini reimagined the historical ceramic traditions of his native Italy and the Mediterranean region with modern flair on this charger, or platter. Chini’s workshop in Florence, Arte della Ceramica, exhibited their ceramics to great acclaim at international expositions, winning a gold medal at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair and a silver medal in St. Louis in 1904.
May 22, 2021
Power Figure (nkisi nkondi)
. . . [T]he nganga pounds on the nkisi . . . to awaken it, that it should arise and go.
—BABUTIDI TIMOTIO, 1916
With alert eyes, head raised, and right arm thrust upward, this figure embodies the character of a hunter. Each iron blade or nail across the torso attests to specific moments when the nganga, a ritual specialist, called the figure into action or “to the hunt.” Directed by the nganga, the figure served purposes of healing, protection, or resolution on a client’s behalf. The figure’s white porcelain eyes, sensitively carved face, and mirrored belly emphasize the body’s spiritual power centers according to Kongo belief. These are also the sites where the nganga inserted plant, mineral, and other matter considered to be medicinal and powerful. The mirror, suggesting the surface of water, evokes Kongo conceptualization of the ancestral realm.
May 21, 2021
Ferns, flowering vines, and woodland plants inspired the ceramics produced by Tiffany Studios, as seen here. This vase with arrowhead plants and a snake winding through the foliage is one of their most original designs. The neck is daringly pierced to form delicate stems that support a ring of flowers around the rim. Overall, a dark umber matte-textured glaze helps to define the low-relief ornament.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was renowned during his lifetime for the versatility of his firm’s creative output in the decorative arts. About 1880, Tiffany’s decorating company began to produce stained glass windows and mosaics. During the 1890s, they added blown glass, leaded glass lamps, and bronze to their lines, and beginning about 1900, ceramics. Following a few years of experimentation, Tiffany seized the spectacle of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair for the first public exhibition of their nature-inspired art pottery.
May 20, 2021
Sunday Morning Breakfast
A kettle whistles on a glowing stove as two children eagerly await their breakfast in this warm family scene. The lively everyday narrative is balanced by the geometric simplicity of the door, curtained window, cupboard, and flat patterns of the apron and rugs.
Horace Pippin was a self-taught African American artist who began painting after he was wounded in World War I (1914–1918). His laborious painting process involved propping up his permanently injured right arm with a poker and guiding it with his left hand. Sunday Morning Breakfast is a scene remembered from his youth in Goshen, New York.
May 19, 2021
Din, Une Trés Belle Négresse 1
In this photograph, Mickalene Thomas captured the strength of the woman’s gaze, her halo of dark hair, and her made-up lips. The vibrant patterns of her dress and the wall textile background compliment her features. The model, Din, was a medical student who regularly posed for Thomas, yet the portrait depicts a character created by the artist through her staging of the setting and costume. Thus, the image becomes a more universal representation of a woman exuding sensual beauty, confidence, and self-awareness.
Thomas’s title, French for Din, A Very Beautiful Black Woman, acknowledges an earlier era with its use of the historically charged term “négresse.” Yet the title demonstrates a desire to create empowering associations with such words. In particular, Thomas employed a visual vocabulary that looks back to the 1970s—an era defined by powerful new images of Black beauty found in popular media.
May 18, 2021
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA
This photograph, taken in 1936 in the central valley of California, became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during America’s Great Depression (1929–1939). The image taps into both the anguish and perseverance of a mother trying to care for her children in a time of economic, social, and ecological crisis. Navigating between the artistic and the journalistic, Dorothea Lange excelled at distilling complex situations into powerful and empathetic black-and-white images with the hopes of motivating social and economic reform.
Lange ran a successful portrait studio in San Francisco beginning in 1919, but with the onset of the Great Depression, she was moved to photograph people that she saw standing in breadlines due to the dire conditions. These works led her to a job with the federal Farm Security Administration, and she crisscrossed the western and midwestern United States by automobile to record the struggles of those most affected by the Depression.
May 17, 2021
Ceiling Lamp, from the Francis W. Little House, Peoria, Illinois
This lamp’s shade is a complex grid of intersecting rectangles and squares overhanging a cube-shaped light box. Large and small squares of colored iridescent glass dot the shade’s perimeter and corners. In its form, the lamp embodies the home it was designed to illuminate. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School structures, like the Little House, are long and low with gently sloping roofs, sheltering overhangs, and projecting terraces. These design features echo the midwestern landscape’s “quiet level.” Leaded glass lanterns, sconces, table lamps as well as windows and screens were important elements in Wright’s Prairie School homes. These and other custom-designed furnishings, such as this ceiling lamp, developed from a shared language of motifs and produced a unified design experience.
May 16, 2021
Louis XIV, King of France
This bronze bust presents French king Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715) as a monarch of stately presence and imperial demeanor. The combination of turned head, diagonal sweep of fabric folds, and intricate hairstyle make for an assertive and dynamic likeness. Louis XIV established the court at Versailles outside of Paris in the 1680s, making it a model for the splendor and elegance that defined princely palaces into the following century. Sculptor François Girardon created several portraits of the king and succeeded in capturing a commanding individual.
May 15, 2021
Every detail of this honorary warrior’s shirt signifies important artistic and cultural principles in Native Plains art. Women skillfully decorated the shoulder and sleeve strips and the triangular neck flap with beadwork. The elongated diamonds and four directional designs reflect earlier quillwork patterns and visually communicate the continuity of Native design. The shirt’s blue paint and lavish fringe convey power and force, appropriate for the most highly regarded male family and community leaders. These men possessed esteemed characteristics in Plains society—compassion, bravery, generosity, and wisdom—and earned the privilege to wear this garment.
May 14, 2021
Portrait of Anne Stafford
This portrait depicts Anne Stafford, a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII of England. Anne is shown as properly devout, holding a rosary in her lap. Her lavish attire is similar to other members of Henry’s court with like social standing. Anne’s delicate linen headscarf, secured by straight pins, her stiff bodice, and pleated sleeves with fur coverings, reflect the fashion of both Bruges (in present-day Belgium) and London, England, in the early 16th century. A companion portrait of Anne’s husband, George Hastings (first Earl of Huntingdon), also painted by Ambrosius Benson is in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (see image).
May 13, 2021
Bust of Emperor Caracalla
This bust is modeled after a famous ancient sculpture of Caracalla, a notorious 3rd-century Roman emperor. The stern features and steely gaze embody the cruelty and abuse of power for which Caracalla was known. Creating busts of ancient rulers and dignitaries was popular among 18th-century sculptors working in Rome who made copies for English travelers. Sculpture Hall, in the center of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s main building, was inspired by the expansive Roman public baths that Caracalla built.
May 12, 2021
Using only a large sheet of white paper, Tom Friedman created this view of the sea by folding the horizon line and adding smaller creases to imitate the appearance of rippling water. This work exemplifies Friedman’s practice of painstakingly manipulating whatever medium he chooses, from pencil, pen, and clay to pencil shavings, hair, and Styrofoam. Friedman, who was born and raised in St. Louis, turns the centuries-old tradition of the painted seascape on its head by creating this view without any additional media, except for the paper itself.
May 11, 2021
For Stone Sea, Andy Goldsworthy drew inspiration from St. Louis geology and the city’s underlying bedrock of limestone, formed in prehistoric times when the Midwest was covered by water. Using limestone from a local quarry, Goldsworthy constructed 25 unique arches employing ancient Roman dry-stone engineering. This dense network of stone arches each measure about 10 feet high and weigh 300 tons in total.
May 10, 2021
Prunus Vase (maebyeong)
This bottle is beautifully formed with the classic round shoulder that gradually swells from the narrow, splayed base. The constricted neck is surmounted by a shallow, incurved, and thin lip. Although the carved decoration is subtle (see detail above), it enhances the shape, drawing attention to the curve of the shoulder with a four-trefoil cloud collar radiating from the neck. The decorative collar is infilled with leafy stems within a double-line conforming border.
Four large incised floral sprays of alternating lotus and peony on thick stems are incised on the sides of the vessel. Upright overlapping leaves encircle the base above a hastily carved zigzag band. The smooth celadon glaze is a bluish-tinged pale sea-green color with an overall crackle and covers the flat base within the unglazed foot rim where the gray stoneware body is visible.
May 9, 2021
One of Tiffany’s most original ceramic designs, this cylindrical vase replicates the jack-in-the-pulpit, a native woodland plant of unusual form. Visible at each side is the projecting curved flap called a spathe that conceals a flower spike, or spadix, within a tubular sheath. That daring design element is matched by clusters of leaves around the rim, which are extensively pierced and supported only by tendril-thin stems. The vase’s pale green glaze helps to define the low-relief stems and leaves modeled on the body. Like many other Tiffany designs in glass, bronze, and enamel, nature was the starting point for their ceramics. Following several years of experimentation, Tiffany seized the opportunity of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair for the first public exhibition of the firm’s art pottery.
May 8, 2021
Setting Sun of Sacramento Valley
This monumental painting depicts a glowing California sunset. In 1909, Chiura Obata worked in the hops fields of the Sacramento Valley, where he was first introduced to the dramatic natural landscape he later represented in this painting. Most of the composition is devoted to the dusk sky, which is energized by flame-like clouds over a blue-tinged landscape. The slightly domed horizon emphasizes not only the vast distance between the viewer and the sunset but also the immense geographical span of the Sacramento Valley, whose terrain encompasses all or parts of 10 counties.
This painting, arguably the most well-known by the artist, resonates with the work of a close contemporary, the American Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), who shared an interest in depicting desolate landscapes of the American West.
May 7, 2021
The Three Trees
Three trees at the center of this composition draw the viewer’s eye as a wealth of activity unfolds around them. A bird in flight bursts out of the tree at left, and wagons, farmers, and livestock dot the low-lying fields in the middle ground (view details). Closer at hand, a man and woman fish quietly on one side of a pond. Deeply buried in the foliage along the opposite bank a pair of lovers, almost invisible to the naked eye, flirt in the darkness.
Rembrandt van Rijn explored and celebrated the countryside of his native Netherlands. The Three Trees is the most elaborate of his landscape prints, rivaling the status of a painting with its ambitious composition and exceptional execution.
May 6, 2021
Bottle in the Form of a Fulling Block
This extraordinary early 12th-century Korean vessel is known by the Japanese term for mallet or fulling block (kinuta). In the past, Japanese and Korean women would use large mallets to pound wrinkles out of fabrics and the shape of this vessel resembles those tools. The color and quality of this vessel’s crackled glaze, which is exceptional, closely relates to examples of Chinese Ru wares (see example) of the Northern Song dynasty. This kinuta also recalls the best Chinese Longquan porcelains (see example) of the Southern Song dynasty.
The elegant simplicity of this bottle, its subtle coloration, and skillful production make it one of the rarest and finest Korean objects in the Museum’s collection. It represents the highest level of design and execution among the porcelains and porcelaneous stoneware of Korea in any period. In addition, it easily holds its own against, and even challenges, the best imperial ceramic wares produced in China during the Northern and Southern Song dynasties.
May 5, 2021
Richard Bellamy Seated
George Segal depicted his friend and New York art dealer Richard Bellamy in a casual pose. With shoulders slightly slumped and arms and legs crossed, Bellamy’s body rests nonchalantly on a metal folding chair. This sculpture was created using Segal’s characteristic method of applying cotton bandages dipped in plaster onto the faces and bodies of his chosen models—usually family, friends, and neighbors. As the director of the short-lived but influential Green Gallery in New York, Bellamy showcased Segal and a number of Pop artists, including Andy Warhol.
May 4, 2021
Grey Space (distractor)
Brightly colored geometric forms float across this canvas, propelling dynamic motion while heightening the illusion of vast space. The artist produced such effects of constant activity and endless expansion by laboriously applying multiple layers of pigment, alternating between ink and acrylic. Through her characteristic use of drawing, the artist built up the surface, mining imagery from maps, diagrams, architectural blueprints, and corporate logos. The result is a visual collision of detailed linearity with bold color, offering the spectator distinct modes of viewing–from up close and from afar.
May 3, 2021
The Great Naval Battle outside the Harbor of Port Arthur: Great Victory of Our Troops on the Early Dawn of March 10, 1904
The brutal weather conditions under which this naval battle was fought provided an opportunity for the artist to create one of the most memorable images of the war. The white of the searchlights and exploding torpedoes provide high contrast with the deep black of the night sky and the gray blue of the water. Falling snow is represented by the liberal scattering of gofun (oyster shell powder). Little is known about the artist Ōkura Kōtō, other than that he was a student of Ogata Gekkō.
Following the preemptive strikes by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the Russian Pacific Fleet on February 8–9, 1904, a number of naval battles broke out in the waters surrounding Port Arthur. This six-panel print depicts the battle on March 10, 1904, outside the harbor, which resulted in the sinking of two Russian destroyers.
May 2, 2021
Solid C2 Chair
French industrial designer Patrick Jouin uses the 3-D printing technique known as stereolithography to produce furniture such as this chair. Jouin drew the chair in a computer program which converts the design into a digital 3-D model. The computer files are then connected to a laser that “prints” the chair, layer by layer, in liquid resin. Contact between the laser beam and resin cures the resin, hardening it to produce a 3-D object that is built up in strata like a stalagmite. The poetic inspiration for C2 was nature, the patterns created by criss-crossing blades of grass that bend, twist, fold, and turn corners.
May 1, 2021
Arria and Paetus
Arria (left) is shown visiting her imprisoned husband Paetus who had joined an uprising against the ancient Roman emperor Claudius. In ancient Rome, soldiers were encouraged to die by suicide if they were captured by an enemy. Arria reminds Paetus that suicide is the honorable option for a Roman prisoner. She will eventually demonstrate what he should do by plunging the knife into her own breast. The painting has focused on the moment just before Arria inflicts her wound.
This story was the sort of subject used by artists like François-André Vincent to demonstrate their mastery of the European 18th-century art movement called classicism. Elements of classicism are evident in the artist’s use of profile poses, a stage-like setting, and carefully defined forms.
April 30, 2021
Zenobia in Chains
The dignity of this figure’s profile, with her head held high, and the intricate details of her ancient dress testify to Harriet Hosmer’s sophisticated carving abilities. Zenobia ruled Palmyra (present-day Syria) for six years after her husband’s death in AD 267. She conquered Egypt and reigned until Roman forces overpowered her armies and captured her. Emperor Aurelian marched her in chains as part of his triumphal procession through Rome.
Hosmer, one of a group of 19th century female sculptors working in Rome, held strong feminist beliefs. She saw in Zenobia an embodiment of a woman’s ability to move beyond the constraints placed on her. Zenobia’s bearing stresses her strength rather than victimization. As Hosmer wrote, “I have tried to make her too proud to exhibit passion or emotion of any kind; not subdued, though a prisoner; but calm, grand, and strong within herself.”
April 29, 2021
Dish with Foliated Rim and Design of Floral Scrolls
During the early 15th-century, blue-and-white wares such as this dish were made at the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, located in southeastern China. These ceramics display extraordinary whiteness of the porcelain body, elegant shapes, beautifully painted and pleasingly balanced designs, and smooth transparent glazes. The center of this dish is visually anchored by a lotus flower and surrounded by five seasonal blossoms (mallow, dianthus, camellia, lotus, and chrysanthemum), all on slender interlaced stems.
Encircling the center are 12 additional sprays of flowers. The foliated rim has a frieze of breaking waves while the exterior is decorated with 12 detached floral and fruit sprays. The underglaze cobalt paint is an inky blue-black tone, with the so-called heaped and piled effect, a reference to the inkiness that results where the applied cobalt was oversaturated.
April 28, 2021
Chartres, Flying Buttresses at the Crossing
Charles Sheeler found dynamic abstract beauty in the curving and intersecting forms of Chartres Cathedral in France as seen in this photograph. He capitalized on the camera’s unique ability to interpret and depict architectural geometries with extraordinary clarity and detail. His close cropping of the image creates a taut and layered design of assertive lines and spatial rhythms.
This image is remarkable for its dramatic and unconventional viewpoint. Sheeler climbed around the building’s exterior with his camera to find a vantage point that would communicate the vertical thrust of the structural skeleton and the transfer of weight downward. There is a wonderful sense of energy and movement as buttresses converge on and radiate out of the central column.
April 27, 2021
Strong shades of red, yellow, blue, and white punctuate the intricate vertical black lines that fill this composition. Despite its abstraction, Twilight Sounds evokes a lived experience, possibly a crowd of active and noisy figures, milling about in the early evening as the sun has just slipped below the horizon. African American painter Norman Lewis compared his working process to the creativity and spontaneity of jazz composition, improvising and riffing off what had previously been laid down on the canvas. The energetic entanglements of the lines might mimic a saxophone climbing through a scale, joined by another instrument whose sounds weave through in red, and bass drum kicks that resonate the dark spaces.
April 26, 2021
Hear Expert Commentary
Simon Kelly, PhD
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Saint Louis Art Museum
This impressive painting highlights the rich and warm palettes characteristic of Degas’ late work. The red of the dress of the working milliner on the left, the orange of her chair, the red-brown of her assistant’s ensemble, and the copper hair of both women all merge together to create a symphony of color.
By this time, Degas was also exploring the possibilities of abstraction. He represents the forms of the women as flat masses of color outlined against the back wall that provides little spatial recession. The Saint Louis Art Museum x-rayed the painting and we found that Degas originally gave a frilly detail to the white apron of the milliner holding the hat. He subsequently painted this over, creating a more generalized color mass, further indicating his interest in abstraction.
It is perhaps no coincidence, a picture such as this, held a deep appeal for the great modern painter Henri Matisse, an important collector of Degas’ work. Beyond its formal qualities, Degas’ painting is a testament to the artistry of the millinery profession in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, highlighting as it the does, the careful focus of the milliner as she works to attach ostrich plumes to the crown of a wide-brimmed straw hat.
Milliners was acquired by the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2007 for the very substantial sum of $10,000,000, the largest purchase in the Museum’s history. It is Degas’ last oil painting on the theme of millinery and its significance is further indicated by the fact that Degas produced several related studies, including drawings in charcoal and a full-scale pastel.
Milliners was painted during the heyday of the Parisian millinery industry. But with the passing of conservation laws and changes in fashion after World War I to much simpler hats, notably the cloche, the millinery industry went into decline. Millinery remains a marginal presence in Paris today with only 41 milliners listed in the Parisian yellow pages. This painting, however, harks back toa time when milliners and their creations were an integral part of everyday Parisian life.
Two milliners in white aprons decorate a straw hat: the woman to the right holds feathers and flowers while her companion pins them in place. Edgar Degas regularly portrayed the theme of milliners and empathized with their creative abilities (hear more above). In earlier works, he used the American artist Mary Cassatt as a model, but in this late painting, his sitters have become abstract and generalized. This abstraction is evident in the flat areas of color and the line of green curling around the women’s heads.
April 25, 2021
Twilight in the Wilderness
A stand of trees and open field are dramatically silhouetted against a vibrant sunset of orange, yellow, and purple. Most likely painted along the front range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, this scene communicated poetic and symbolic meaning to audiences at the time rather than landscape details.
Painted at the close of the Civil War, such a vivid representation of the end of day provided visual affirmation of the profound trauma Americans had endured. Simultaneously, the grandeur of the scene spoke to American democratic fervor that would carry the country through its distress.
April 24, 2021
Irises and Eight-Fold Bridge
This painting on silk depicts luxuriant irises, in various stages of bloom, along a zigzag bridge. The flat surfaces of the bridge are depicted in a technique known as tarashikomi, where ink and colors are applied one over another to create pooled hues and blurred edges. Sakai Hôitsu’s focused view highlights the brilliant blues and white accents of the blossoms, the bright greens of the leaves, and the mottled browns of the bridge. Gold leaf represents the water under the bridge. The painted silk panels were mounted separately with boldly designed paper that has gold and silver sprinkled in patterns to suggest flowing water.
April 23, 2021
Hues of gold, red, yellow, and silver shimmer across the undulating surface of Fading Cloth. Although it looks like a textile, the work is actually made from discarded liquor bottle tops, flattened and stitched together with copper wire (see detail above). By repurposing metal caps, El Anatsui transformed the mundane into something visually mesmerizing. Anatsui’s materials allude to a devastating legacy: For centuries, European traders exchanged textiles and liquor in West Africa for gold and enslaved people. Fading Cloth weaves together a range of political, historical, and visual references to this region significant to the artist, who was born in Ghana and lives in Nigeria.
April 22, 2021
A.Y.O.R. (At Your Own Risk) Chair
A meditation on balance, this faceted steel chair tips forward like a tottering question mark. Israel-born Ron Arad developed an appreciation for humble sheet metal early in his career, creating an influential series of experimental hand-welded furniture in his London studio. This A.Y.O.R. (At Your Own Risk) Chair was meticulously crafted by Arad himself. Its highly polished seams and surface give an illusion of a sculptural whole.
April 21, 2021
Inspired by American artist Jackson Pollock’s technique of working directly on the floor, Helen Frankenthaler poured washes of thinned paint directly onto raw, unstretched canvas, as seen in this example. The resulting forms—broad yet carefully controlled areas of color that flood across the surface of the canvas—reveal her interest in the interaction of colors as well as the painterly gesture. The tiny area of orange at the top of the painting bursts out from the great expanse of blue beneath it.
April 20, 2021
A Harbor in Moonlight
Joseph Vernet’s harbor view presents four distinct types of light: campfire, moonglow, lighthouse beam, and the reflection of light on the water’s surface. European art enthusiasts of the late 17th to late 18th centuries loved a mixture of the scientific and the poetic, and Vernet’s canvas provides just that. A specialist in marine pictures and imaginary landscapes, Vernet visited Naples three times during his life and drew upon his experiences there to create engaging views of the southern Italian city. The painting evokes Naples with its harbor view, lighthouse tower, and shoreline fishermen.
April 19, 2021
Lake with Castle on a Hill
The dark tree silhouetted against the moonlight enhances the romantic drama of this isolated castle tower overlooking a lake. Joseph Wright of Derby also contrasted the glittering water surface with the softer glow of the luminous clouds. Justly famous for his ability to depict light, the artist was adept at capturing a range of effects, from the glow surrounding a volcano fire to the reflection of a gas lamp or, as here, the natural radiance of the moon. This painting was inspired by the artist’s fond recollections of a trip to Naples, Italy, in 1774.
April 18, 2021
Named for its flexible doors that open horizontally across the top, this tambour desk was intended for letter writing and other light work. The sliding doors were made from strips of wood backed with canvas. The desk’s simple function allowed a design of slender proportions, achieved by elevating it on long tapered legs. Contrasting patterns of light-colored satinwood and darker-toned woods like mahogany, rosewood, and purpleheart enliven the surface and lighten the mass of the desk’s geometric volumes.
The desk’s design, construction methods, and numerous inscriptions identify its makers as the father and son cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour. John Seymour was born and trained as a furniture maker in the provincial city of Axminster, in southwestern England, before he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1784. When the Seymours opened their cabinetmaking shop in Boston in 1795, they established a new standard for stylish furniture made with exquisite craftsmanship.
April 17, 2021
Peter and John at the Gate of the Temple
This etching, based on a passage from the biblical New Testament, portrays a scene of miraculous healing. On their way to the temple, Peter and John, followers of Jesus, encounter a man unable to walk since birth asking for money. Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” In the print, Rembrandt van Rijn showed Peter raising his hands to bless the man. The biblical passage goes on to describe how the man then stands and walks. Billows of smoke roll out of the great basin behind Peter, amplifying the miraculous force of his gesture.
April 16, 2021
The blue tones and loose brushwork of this painting typify Henry Ossawa Tanner’s most successful experiments with color composition and application of paint. Tanner, an African American artist, traveled to the Mediterranean region four times, and these trips had a profound effect on his style and subject matter. During a 1912 trip to Tangier, Morocco, Tanner became fascinated with this gateway—the entrance to the casbah, or the historic city area and fortress—and he proceeded to paint the gateway from many perspectives and vantage points.
April 15, 2021
This chair with its pierced and carved back panel, thin seat, and improbably slender legs and posts is as individualistic as its maker, Charles Rohlfs. In the late 1880s this actor, artist, and cast-iron stove designer began to make furniture for his Buffalo residence, and later for friends and other clients. Rohlfs produced multiple versions of this tall-back hall chair, each with variations in the cutout shapes ornamenting the legs, seat and crest rail, and the carved decoration.
He was inspired by many design sources, including plants and other natural forms. At the base of the carved back panel, a vegetal bulb sprouts stems with unfurling leaves and fruits against a screen of bone-like spindles. Rohlfs’s furniture was recognized for its distinctive forms and fanciful carving, and was shown in several important exhibitions, including the 1902 Turin Exposition of Decorative Arts and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
April 14, 2021
Apollo and Marsyas
The ancient Greek satyr Marsyas (left), half-man half-animal, paid dearly for his arrogance in thinking he could rival a god. He found a flute and learned to play it so well that he challenged Apollo, the god of music (right), to a contest. The victorious god cut off the satyr’s skin in punishment for his pride. The surprised look on Marsyas’ face, in shadow, contrasts vividly with the calm and illuminated demeanor of the god who coolly slices the creature’s flesh.
It is no accident that the earthbound satyr stands before a tree, symbolic of the woodland, while the god is silhouetted against the expansive, blue sky. Bartolomeo Manfredi may have been a student of the Italian artist Caravaggio, from whom he adapted the close-up format of the picture and the keen attention to tactile surface qualities evident in Marsyas’ fur loincloth.
April 13, 2021
Tea Table, from the Dining Room of the Hôtel Guimard, Paris, France
Hector Guimard animated his designs with abstract clusters of buds, unfurling plant forms, and writhing tendrils as seen on the legs of this tea table. Nature was the primary source of inspiration for Guimard, a French architect and designer, who embraced a new mode of expression that broke from historical styles. Rather than applying ornament as separate decorative elements, he worked like a sculptor, fusing structure and ornament, often creating bold, curving lines that convey movement and energy. In the early 20th century, architects such as Guimard worked in a variety of materials, designing not only entire buildings and architectural ornaments but their interiors and furnishings as well (see historical image above).
To honor the retirement of Brent R. Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director, from March 23 through June 30, Object of the Day will feature a selection of 100 transformative works of art acquired during his 22-year tenure at the Museum.
April 12, 2021
Precise geometric forms, absence of ornament, sleek reflective surfaces, and elegant proportions characterize this urn. These elements express the new style that came to be associated with progress, optimism, and forward-looking American industrial design in the early 20th century.
Finnish-born architect Eliel Saarinen first designed this urn for a 1934 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled Contemporary American Industrial Art. The goal of this celebrated exhibition was to promote a new aesthetic for mass production and to help foster the development of industrial design in the United States. Saarinen was one of several leading architects in the country invited to design a furnished room for the exhibit. His Room for a Lady included furniture, textiles, fashion, and silver designs. The most famous piece from Saarinen’s installation was a silver-plated urn identical to this one, few of which were ever produced.
To honor the retirement of Brent R. Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director, from March 23 through June 30, Object of the Day will feature a selection of 100 transformative works of art acquired during his 22-year tenure at the Museum.
April 11, 2021
Why Can’t I Stop Smoking?
Thinly painted on unprimed canvas, this work was created in an offhand manner consistent with the deadpan tone of the question written in English at the top. Below, a male figure in a necktie is only partially completed, as if the artist lost interest. Here, Sigmar Polke insulted the tradition of painting by using inexpensive paints on a cheap support and borrowing imagery and text from popular culture. This intentionally sloppy translation of advertising imagery suggests a sarcastic critique of the addictive nature and easy comfort of consumer culture and middle-class norms.
To honor the retirement of Brent R. Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director, from March 23 through June 30, Object of the Day will feature a selection of 100 transformative works of art acquired during his 22-year tenure at the Museum.
April 10, 2021
Pheasant and Pine
The pictorial clarity and crisp, clean style of this shimmering screen contrast with its dark, nighttime theme. High among the golden clouds is a tarnished silver moon, casting its frail light on a late winter scene of pink, blossoming plum flowers and a snow-laden pine. A large, male pheasant with a long, ornamental tail roosts on the trunk while four bush warblers, known for their first song of spring, perch on a bough. Just above them are clusters of soft, gold-streaked pine needles. The splendor of the painting is enhanced by the low relief of a brushwood fence in gold leaf. This fence is balanced by the swirling eddies of an azurite blue stream and a low bank of malachite green. The screen’s spare, abstract style was a particular contribution of Kanō Kōi to Japanese painting.
April 9, 2021
Study for Frankenstein #1 (Study #1)
In his paintings, Glenn Ligon reproduces literary texts that often deal with race and social invisibility. Here, Ligon quoted from Mary Shelley’s 19th-century novel Frankenstein, the tragic story of a human monster shunned by society because of his physical appearance. The words read: “Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” With an oil stick, Ligon stenciled and repeated the letters, gradually obscuring legible text into an abstraction.
April 8, 2021
Number 3, 1950
In Number 3, Jackson Pollock layered multiple strands of paint to create an intricate web of interwoven colors. The result is an “all over” composition that prevents the eye from focusing on any single point. Three years earlier, Pollock first began to drip and splatter paint across unstretched canvas or fiberboard laid flat on his studio floor. Pollock’s creative breakthrough overturned the tradition of upright easel painting, a convention that had remained firmly established for five centuries.
April 7, 2021
Fireplace Tiles, from the John J. Meacham House, University City, Missouri
This fireplace features a panoramic landscape of flowing lines and glowing colors. The scene was made from incised glazed tiles surrounded by a blue-green matte tile border. Agnes and Frederick Rhead created this set of tiles for the home of John J. Meacham in University City, Missouri. The expansive landscape is depicted at dusk, with a cloud-filled sky beyond a screen of trees, rocks, and plants. The tiles were installed in Meacham’s living room inglenook, a built-in seating area surrounding the hearth, which was a popular feature of Arts and Crafts homes from the 1870s until the 1920s.
The graphic clarity and matte-textured glaze palette seen in these tiles are also hallmarks of Arts and Crafts design. In 1910 and 1911 Frederick Hurten Rhead, who had trained in England, joined the internationally renowned ceramic faculty of the Art Academy of the American Woman’s League in University City. He taught and worked at the school, at times with his wife Agnes, also a trained artist. The wooden benches visible in this image are reproductions of originals found in the Meacham house.
April 6, 2021
Hanging Lantern, from the Hallway of the Robert R. Blacker House, Pasadena, California
This lantern features panels of iridescent leaded glass depicting birds in flight, gently stepped contours, smooth edges, ebony pins, and a dramatic overhanging roof. These details reflect inspiration drawn from traditional Chinese furniture and Japanese prints and architecture. This lantern (and another in the Museum’s collection) were made originally for the Robert R. Blacker House, in Pasadena, California, the first of the architectural firm Greene and Greene’s “ultimate bungalows.”
For this expansive home, the Greene brothers designed interior woodwork, furniture, stained glass, and lighting to create an integrated artistic environment (see images). They worked closely with skilled craftsmen like glass artisan Emil Lange and cabinetmaker Peter Hall. Their expert handcraftsmanship distinguishes the Greenes’ furnishings from any other produced during the American Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.
April 5, 2021
The Verdict of the People
Crowds gather around a courthouse to hear voting results. Everyone is here—the well-to-do farmers, laborers, merchants, kids, politicians, immigrants, veterans, women, and enslaved African Americans. The overjoyed man waving his kerchief and the inebriated man sprawled on the ground border a jumble of individuals with varied responses—elated, confounded, argumentative, jovial, intensely serious, and dejected. George Caleb Bingham, an artist and a politician himself, depicted a political process that matched both his ideal of rational discussion and his actual experience of a raucous, unpredictable electorate.
The women in the balcony and the African American in the left foreground represent two populations without a voice in government at this time. These particular women are temperance, or anti-alcohol, reformers. Bingham and many Americans believed that the movements advocating for temperance and for the abolition of slavery were closely linked, as both slavery and drunkenness were viewed as destructive impositions on natural freedom.
Bingham used his personal experience in the Missouri legislature as inspiration for the three-part Election Series, which illustrates various stages of the American democratic system. Political campaigning and the casting of votes are illustrated in the two other paintings of the series, Stump Speaking (43:2001) and The County Election (44:2001).
April 4, 2021
Simple in shape and restrained in ornament, this beautifully crafted and well-proportioned teapot reveals the skills of its maker, Peter Bentzon. Bentzon is the only early American silversmith of African ancestry whose silver has been identified. The teapot’s oval-shaped body is balanced on either side by a C-shaped handle and an S-shaped spout. The only ornamentation is an acorn finial and fine engraving. This simplicity reflects an interest in geometric shapes like circles, ovals, and ellipses, echoing the architecture and furniture popular in America from the 1780s to the 1820s.
April 3, 2021
The shape and decoration of this vase are based entirely on the triangle. Its hand-painted, black zigzag patterns struck against a light background animate the angled planes and accentuate the vase’s diagonal thrust. Created as sculpture, the vase’s dynamic form took precedence over function or refinement of execution.
In the early 20th century, an avant-garde group in Prague founded the Artel Cooperative, an association of experimental craft workshops. Vlastislav Hofman, an architect, designer, painter, and occasional costume and set designer, created several ceramic works for Artel, including this imposing vase.
April 2, 2021
This sofa with scrolled arms and legs in the form of sea creatures, precisely carved from head to tail fin, represents an extraordinary vision skillfully executed. The stylized fish, commonly called a dolphin, became a popular motif in the decorative arts during an era of classical revival fueled by the discovery of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, and especially Rome. The sofa’s double-scrolled crest rail, or top rail, echoes the curvilinear shape of the dolphins. A masterpiece of American furniture, this sofa achieves a supremely dynamic and ornamental effect through a combination of exuberant design and superb carving.
April 1, 2021
Asymmetrical in form, this gourd-shaped ewer is wrapped in its own leaf, secured with twisting vines that encircle the pitcher from top to bottom. Its lush surface is decorated with a thick, putty-colored glaze that enhances its organic form. This ewer is one of the few ceramic works that Louis Majorelle, the son of a cabinetmaker and ceramist, designed. Most likely, Majorelle collaborated with his friend, the sculptor Ernest Bussière, who translated Majorelle’s drawing into a three-dimensional model, which Keller & Guérin then fabricated. Majorelle even discretely formed his initials at the end of one of the twisting corkscrew vines. Only a small number of such ewers were made, each with a different glaze.
March 31, 2021
Townscape Sa 2
While this painting appears to represent an aerial view of a cityscape, Gerhard Richter actually based its composition on a black-and-white photograph of a now-lost architectural model. Appropriating that image, Richter’s painting alludes to the types of streamlined, mass-produced buildings erected throughout Germany in the 1960s following the destruction of World War II (1939-1945). Richter’s brushy, gestural paint application softens the utilitarian, geometric forms of the model buildings, such as flat roofs, horizontal windows, and white walls.
March 30, 2021
Head of a Peasant Woman
Vincent van Gogh always felt deep sympathy for the peasant classes and here tenderly depicted the full, sunburnt features of a young Dutch peasant woman. Her cap, in subtle shades of white and blue, is pulled around her head, while her eyes are enlivened by white highlights. Van Gogh’s muted tones are very different from his later use of bright color that followed his arrival in France in 1886.
March 29, 2021
Gerrit Rietveld’s Steltman Chair is furniture as sculpture. It features an asymmetrical configuration of identical wooden planks juxtaposed vertically and horizontally into a well-balanced composition. The chair’s dynamic sculptural form does not depend on new technologies or materials but on the artistic ideals of the De Stijl movement. This influential group of artists joined forces in Holland during World War I (1914–1918) around the monthly journal De Stijl. Whether in painting, sculpture, typography, design, or architecture, the work of De Stijl artists adhered to three prevailing principles: independent planar and linear elements; primary colors; and asymmetrical compositions. Rietveld was an early member of De Stijl, and toward the end of his life, he returned to the movement’s basic tenets when he designed this chair for the Steltman Jewelry Store.
March 28, 2021
Pair of Vases
The sumptuous blue-and-gold surface of these ornamental vases exemplifies the 18th-century taste for gilded decoration and exuberant color. Rimmed in gold, the top openings resemble precious shells while the handles seem to have been formed by encasing myrtle leaves in gold. The vases carry narrative scenes based on compositions by the French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). Greuze’s Blind Man Fooled, 1755, in the collection of the Pushkin Museum, shows a young woman fooling her blind husband as she attempts to sneak her lover out of the basement and away before her spouse discovers her ruse. The scene on the vase at left, Mommy (La Maman), depicts a mother trying to feed her younger son while the older one grabs at the spoon intended for his brother.
March 27, 2021
Landscape for Yongweng
In this hanging scroll, Shitao depicts a scene of friends fishing and talking quietly together on the river and again in the pavilion on the mountain. Using expressive brushwork, varied ink lines, and sumptuous texture, Shitao conveys the power of nature by contrasting monumental peaks with the small figures. The calligraphic inscription above the mountains promotes the importance of personal style—an individual pursuit of Shitao, exemplified by his production of bold landscapes that differed from contemporary styles. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Shitao focused less on the imitation or inspiration of the great artists of the past, and more on cultivating his own individualistic style that transcended tradition.
March 26, 2021
Standing Male Cupbearer
The large inlaid eyes of this diminutive votive statue are meant to capture the attention of the gods. Statues such as this have been found in temples and were believed to have their own life force. They functioned as an active substitute for the dedicator, whose name was often inscribed along the shoulder. Many other examples of this type of statue clasp their hands together in a gesture of prayer, but this example stands out because it holds a small bowl of lapis lazuli, a valuable blue stone. The bowl likely represents the act of dedicating a liquid offering, called a libation. Similar statues have been excavated from temples throughout the ancient Near East.
March 25, 2021
Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Peony and Lotus Scrolls
Broad-shouldered and narrow waisted, this vase was used to display a single spray of blossoms, traditionally from a plum tree. Bold and intricate designs of lotus and peony, painted with imported mineral cobalt blue, stand out in horizontal sections against the pure white body of kaolin clay. All design elements were fused under a hard, clear glaze. The imperial blue-and-white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) were artistic and technical marvels.
March 24, 2021
Father and Sons
Tina Barney photographs wealthy families in their home and work environments, as seen in this striking example. Using a large-format camera and studio lights, Barney waits for a resonant moment in the interaction between her subjects, and then asks them to hold their positions. The result is an interesting blend of document and artistic arrangement. In this image of an Italian aristocrat and his two sons, power seems to be a central theme. We are keenly aware of the father’s dominant role through his positioning within the picture and the objects at his elbow. The sumptuous interior and suave posture of the two sons in the background creates a narrative that feels familiar, as if we are watching a family drama play out. More than mere documents of a particular way of life, Barney’s images are also psychological portraits that explore the roles people play and the relationships between them.
March 23, 2021
Perseus Rescuing Andromeda
In this scene, the mythical ancient Greek hero Perseus rescues Andromeda, who had been left by her father as an offering to appease an evil sea monster. Perseus, who fell in love with the young princess, prepares to plunge his sword into the creature to free her. The intense blue of the lapis lazuli stone surface represents the sky and some of the water.
March 22, 2021
Painted in pearlescent colors, this wooded landscape is enveloped in shimmering halos. Mottled tones emphasize flatness as they eliminate a horizon line and seem to push forward the squares of open meadow. The artist, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, merged the shifting planes of three-dimensional forms seen in 20th-century European art and the flat backgrounds of Asian art. However, the way in which objects emerge and recede as if conjured in a dream can also be found in the powerful visions and reductive forms of American folk-art paintings and sculpture, which the artist avidly collected. Kuniyoshi immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1906 when he was 13 years old. Though he actively supported the nation during World War II (1939–1945), he was classified by the government as an enemy alien, causing him great hardship.
March 21, 2021
Planes of the forehead, cheeks, and eyes converge at a vertical axis in the center of this carving. Graphite in the paint causes light to shimmer across the surfaces, contributing to an exaggerated sense of depth. This mask portrays Dzunukwa, a giant, bearded figure who dwells in the forest, kidnaps children, and eats them. With pursed lips, the mask appears ready to project the dzunukwa’s “wuu, wuu” call. The Dzunukwa could also bestow great wealth. Kwakwaka’wakw leaders wore finely carved and painted masks such as this, called gikamhl, when displaying or exchanging coppers during elaborate feasts. The Dzunukwa mask and copper reinforced the associations of wealth and power that each object independently conveyed to its audience.
March 20, 2021
Sleeping Woman with Child
With incredible economy of line, Käthe Kollwitz depicted an intimate scene of a mother resting with her baby. It is a rare moment of peace among her subjects, most of which center on the war’s devastating impact on women and children. The artist’s youngest son was killed in World War I at age 18. This knowledge adds a layer of intensity to the image as a personal memory of loss.
March 19, 2021
Before the Mirror
A strong light reflects off the shiny body of a strange figure. Critics described Oskar Schlemmer’s subjects as mechanical dolls for their metallic skin and segmented limbs. They resemble the costumes Schlemmer designed for dances he choreographed at the Bauhaus, where he taught theater in the 1920s. By the time Schlemmer made this painting in 1931, he described his mechanical dolls in terms of a “grand figural style,” in which the abstracted human form achieved conceptual precision.
March 18, 2021
Sorcerer’s Implement (arhiye kaiyam)
This crocodile tooth has been carved to resemble a bird’s head, possibly a Papuan hornbill. Combining traits from two animals, the fearsome crocodile that inhabits land and water, and the hornbill that flies, possibly allowed the owner of this implement to symbolically traverse both the physical and spiritual realms. Magic and sorcery once played a vital role in Melanesian society. These traditions were used to both heal and harm. Potent materials like blood or beeswax could be secretly added to the tooth. In terms of healing, a sorcerer would use the implement to find and return things lost or stolen, such as a soul to a sick owner. To inflict harm, a sorcerer would recite certain words over the implement and symbolically “shoot” it into a victim causing illness or death.
March 17, 2021
William Orpen produced a number of witty self-portraits, most of which depicted him in his role as artist. Here, he stands with brushes in hand, posing with furrowed brow before a large allegorical canvas he produced the same year, Sowing New Seed (Mildura Arts Centre, Mildura, Australia), which is a political observation on the state of the arts in Ireland. William Orpen worked as both an official World War I artist and a fashionable portrait painter in England and Ireland, portraying wealthy and prestigious sitters in a highly polished, traditional manner.
March 16, 2021
This jar’s elegantly curving outline begins at the rim and finishes at the pointed end. Its surface is decorated with a subtle pattern made by pressing twisted cord into the soft clay body before firing. The fine markings are set at diagonals, imparting an ascendant, swirling movement to the work. Water jars like this one were bound with cord and dropped into water, where they slowly turned upright as they filled.
March 15, 2021
The Calumny of Apelles
This superb impression is based on an ancient description of a lost allegorical painting by the Greek artist Apelles. The lost painting, known as The Calumny of Apelles, expresses truths about calumny, or the telling of lies to ruin someone’s reputation. Apelles painted it after he himself had nearly been put to death because of a rival’s slander. Ghisi’s engraving recreates the allegory by depicting a judge with large donkey ears sitting at right. He is advised by two female figures who represent Ignorance and Suspicion. The judge extends his hand to Calumny, who approaches with a burning torch in her left hand and with her right hand drags the youthful Innocence, who lifts his hands in despair. Envy, Treachery, and Deceit bring Calumny closer to the long-eared man. Fortunately, Truth and Time appear as two small figures in a cloud in the background, implying that the unjustly accused will be vindicated.
March 14, 2021
Column with Hieroglyphs
The elaborately carved figures and symbols seen on this column are Maya hieroglyphs, a writing system that mixes pictorial representations with phonetic signs. Most Maya monuments focus extraordinary emphasis on chronological precision as they describe detailed political histories of competing city-states. In Maya writing, dots record single units and bars record five. Texts typically begin in the upper left, moving to the right and top to bottom in double columns. Here, the first nine glyphs record the date in an array of different Maya calendars that correspond to a day in April, 715. On that day, the ruler of Bonampak commemorated the 13th anniversary of his reign. The text goes on to document his status as the vassal of a Tonina ruler known as K’inich B’aaknal Chaak, ‘Great-Sun Bone-Place Rain God’.
March 13, 2021
The Computer Moves In
In this work, artist Sigmar Polke appropriated imagery from a 1983 Time magazine cover that designated the computer “Machine of the Year,” in place of Time’s “Person of the Year.” The cover reproduced a sculpture by George Segal to highlight the increasing availability and advancement of computers in America, fed by the Cold War race toward technological development. Polke’s composition echoes a computer screen: from the fabric strips that frame the central image to the dot pattern and shimmering manganese shavings that recall the pixilation of early computer monitors.
March 12, 2021
Ballet Dancers in the Wings
The four women portrayed in Degas’s pastel were not the sought-after prima ballerinas of Parisian high society, but rather unglamorous junior members of the Opera ballet corps. In this drawing, they are shown out of the limelight, most slumped from exhaustion, awaiting their next cue. As a season ticket holder to the ballet, Degas was one of the few audience members allowed access to backstage scenes like this. Working in luminous pastels, Degas charged the picture with color. Rosy pinks, lemon yellows, and shimmering aquatic blues and greens energize the composition. These are not realistic colors, but vivid emanations drawn from the artist’s imagination. The composition is unusual, as the women are organized laterally in two distinct groups, creating a cascading diagonal of figures from upper left to lower right.
March 11, 2021
untitled (to Ileana and Michael Sonnabend)
Three fluorescent bulbs project blue, pink, and yellow light onto the surrounding walls. In 1961 Dan Flavin began to use fluorescent fixtures as his primary medium, allowing him, as he once said, to “combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.” Flavin referred to his colored light installations as “proposals” or “situations” rather than sculptures. This piece is dedicated to friends of the artist, the important New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend and her husband Michael.
March 10, 2021
Fragmented shapes floating against a tan wall offer few clues to their meaning. Critics in the 1920s saw Willi Baumeister’s abstract paintings as images of the machine age and compared them to architectural plans. Baumeister also frequently depicted actual machines. In Still Life, a rectangle and three circles, at left, is likely an old-fashioned radio with three tuner knobs. Radios, telephones, and wireless telegraphy brought the latest technology into German homes, transforming daily life in the 1930s.
March 9, 2021
Incised arches across a broad forehead suggest the furrowed brow of one who is wise and fierce. This mask represents Sachihongo, a powerful character understood as an ancestral or elder chief, hunter, or diviner. Sachihongo is one of many figures represented in Mbunda masquerades to celebrate young male initiates’ return to the community following a period of seclusion for circumcision and instruction. Feathers and plant fibers were attached to holes around the edge of the mask. The masquerader wore a netted body suit and fiber skirts while dancing to a quick rhythm.
March 8, 2021
Weislingen Captured by Götz’s Men
The knight Weislingen, wearing a yellow coat, is dramatically ambushed by three soldiers serving under his enemy, Götz. In this fictional scene from medieval Europe, Eugène Delacroix created a dynamic composition around the swirling forms of rearing and frightened horses. A great colorist, Delacroix juxtaposed contrasting colors of the blue saddle against the knight’s yellow garment and the soldier’s red tunic against the surrounding greenery. The 1773 play Götz van Berlichingen by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) inspired this painting.
March 7, 2021
A monumental bronze figure stands with feet firmly planted and one arm raised while the other extends straight ahead. Markus Lüpertz modeled the pose of this Titan after an ancient Greek sculpture of the god Zeus preparing to throw a spear or lightning bolt. According to Greek mythology, Zeus led the Olympian gods to victory over the Titans, an older generation of mighty deities, in a 10-year battle for the control of Earth.
In contrast to the balanced proportions and smooth surface of the original sculpture, this work has roughly formed features and a craggy texture that express the brute strength of the Titans. Lüpertz painted a leg and arm of the sculpture green, creating the appearance of an ancient patina (surface finish) that reinforces his references to classical art and mythology.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Bob Hauck of Walter Knoll Florist in 2019. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 6, 2021
Votive Stela of Śākyamuni Buddha and Attendant Bodhisattvas
The central figure of Sâkyamuni (Shijiamouni), the historical Buddha whose halo depicts lotus petals, dominates this stela. This main figure is flanked by the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin), whose left hand holds a flask, and the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (Dashizhi), whose hands are held together. Each bodhisattva is supported by an open lotus blossom. The gray limestone was originally painted in vibrant colors.
Eighty devotees from Chongli village, Ji county, Henan province, commissioned the sculpture as an act of piety. It is dated to 505, the second year of the Zhengshi reign period (504–508) of Emperor Xuanwu (r. 499–515). This ruler was a devout Buddhist, and during his reign, Buddhism effectively became the state religion.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Barb Wehking of Bloomin’ Buckets in 2018. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 5, 2021
St. Helena and the Emperor Constantine Presented to the Holy Trinity by the Virgin Mary
This large sketch for a church ceiling is organized into three main groups of figures to make it comprehensible to viewers standing on the floor below. At the top, Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, holds a flag and kneels in front of a cross, a symbol of his death. Wearing bright blue in the middle, Mary looks up at her son, Jesus, as she beckons to St. Helena, kneeling at the left. The saint presents her own son, the emperor Constantine. In the lowest grouping, the archangel St. Michael vanquishes a group of heretics and topples Satan from his throne.
The artist presented this finished sketch to Pope Benedict XIV (1675–1758) for approval before painting the ceiling of the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, where his work can still be seen today. The painting was a part of the pope’s effort to refurbish the Roman basilica he served before ascending to the papacy.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Jeana Reisinger in 2015. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 4, 2021
The Sentinel at the Sultan’s Tomb
Jean-Léon Gérôme carefully depicted each colorful flag atop a sultan’s tomb as well as the varied gestures of worshippers in prayer. The artist placed his signature on a tablet at the foot of the tomb. This constructed and largely invented image was based on Gérôme’s memories of mausoleums that he had visited in Bursa, a town in Turkey. Gérôme traveled often to Turkey, where he made numerous sketches of historic architecture that informed his work.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Trisha Haislar of Elegant Celebrations in 2016. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 3, 2021
Śiva Natārāja (Śiva, King of Dancers)
Natārāja (King of Dancers) is one of many manifestations of the Hindu god Śiva. He is shown balancing on one leg as he lifts the other in his cosmic dance of creation and destruction of the universe. In his upper right hand, he carries a drum representing creation; his upper left hand holds a flame symbolizing destruction. His two other hands are positioned in gestures of comfort. Surrounded by a flaming aureole, or circle of light, Śiva tramples on the demon Apasmāra, who personifies ignorance. This sculpture is technically unusual because Śiva’s aureole was cast around a circular iron core. Such bronze images were carried around temples during festivals dedicated to Śiva.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Nick Decker of Ken Miesner’s Flower Shoppe in 2017. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 2, 2021
Le Havre, Grand Quai
Boats with orange and pale-yellow sails crowd the busy French port of Le Havre. The setting is the city’s wharf, named Grand Quai, ringed by a line of blue-roofed buildings. Critics accused Maurice de Vlaminck and his fellow artists of being fauves, or wild beasts, who shocked viewers by using unmixed oil paint straight from the tube. The red, yellow, and blue that animate the water are a good example of the strong, artificial colors that define Fauvism.
This work of art inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Christine Anson of S. Finch Florist in 2016. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
March 1, 2021
Short, calligraphic brushstrokes appear in this untitled drawing, reflecting the artist’s interest in East Asian scroll painting with a similar long, vertical format. Norman Lewis’ quick, gestural marks also suggest dispersing figures, like people on a crowded street. After producing artworks for the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a government-sponsored program that provided jobs for Americans during the Great Depression, Lewis migrated away from a representational style. He was among the first African American artists to be associated with Abstract Expressionism, although in early works such as this one, his abstractions still allude to the figure.
The Museum’s collection includes several works by Norman Lewis, including Twilight Sounds, which inspired an award-winning floral interpretation by Ann Rabbitt of Thorn Studio, LLC in 2018. See the arrangement and enjoy this year’s virtual Art in Bloom.
February 28, 2021
A vibrant celebration of color and form, Terry Adkins’ drawing features three geometric arrangements stacked along a central axis. Each is comprised of an upper arc of fanned wedges, some densely toned, and others dappled with stain, resting upon a concave curve. Together, these parts approximate a circle, a shape that remained a recurring and evocative motif for Adkins throughout his career as a sculptor and conceptual artist. For him, the circle became an indicator of sound, and in later works, he often incorporated rounded parts of musical instruments, such as drumheads and horn bells.
February 27, 2021
Young Woman in Green
The pearl tones of this woman’s skin contrast beautifully with the rich jewel colors of green, orange, and red in this setting. The soft brushstrokes favored by William Glackens are equally well-suited to the plush cushion, downy blanket, and hat plume, as to the dreamy mood of the model.
Glackens made a number of paintings that focus on a single female model, with a title that refers to a formal element, such as a color, in this example. In this way, the artist reinforces the poetic quality of the subject.
February 26, 2021
The distinct colors—deep green and mustard yellow—of this mold-made ceramic cup are obtained from a lead glaze developed in the 1st century BCE in the eastern Mediterranean. More fluid and less prone to cracking, this glaze was a distinct improvement over other contemporary glazing technologies. It has been suggested that these colors were specifically selected to emulate the patina of weathered bronze and gilded silver. This vessel shape is common in ceramic, glass, and metal.
February 25, 2021
King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther
This detailed textile depicts the biblical story of brave Queen Esther, seen kneeling at center right, accompanied by two attendants. King Ahasuerus of Persia, Esther’s husband, gestures toward her with his scepter and grants her permission to speak. The king’s chief minister has plotted to kill all the Jews in the kingdom and Esther is a Jew herself. Although the king issued a ruling that no one could approach him without being summoned, Esther has risked her life by entering the King’s presence uninvited in order to protect her people from death. She succeeds as the King agrees to Esther’s request and reverses his minister’s order.
In this scene the central characters are dressed in court attire of 17th-century England. At this time a distinctive style of figurative embroidery emerged in England for creating small pictures and domestic objects, such as mirror covers, book covers, and small storage boxes. This example features a unique form of three-dimensional embroidery called stumpwork. The images depicted were often based on illustrated texts and engravings and were embroidered by girls and women, as well as professional male and female embroiderers. Needlework was a popular vehicle for portraying traits associated with the ideal woman who was brave, pious, and obedient. The biblical Queen Esther was seen as embodying these virtues as defined by 17th-century political and religious beliefs.
February 24, 2021
Curving rivulets of color frame a wide expanse of white unprimed canvas. Morris Louis poured acrylic paint directly onto the surface from the sides, allowing it to run off the bottom edge. Louis achieved these pastel tones by diluting his paint with large amounts of turpentine. Beta is one of the first paintings in his Unfurled series, which Louis considered his most significant artistic achievement.
February 23, 2021
The simple shape of this wine glass, a blown bowl and stem resting on a flared foot, was a popular form often included in 17th-century still-life paintings. The wide stem is typically decorated with bits of glass applied to the surface; sometimes these bits were stamped into shapes resembling raspberries.
February 22, 2021
Hear Expert Commentary
Speaker: Hannah Klemm
Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Saint Louis Art Museum
In this large-scale painting Jörg Immendorff has created a fictitious artist’s studio in which he has depicted himself and three of his contemporary artist friends: Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, and A. R. Penck. He chose this group because he saw them as artists all deeply linked to the politics of postwar Germany.
Immendorff was part of a generation of artists born at the end of World War II. He studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under the famed conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. Beuys’s political activism was a key influence on the young Immendorff. Like Beuys, Immendorff believed that art was inextricable from politics. His paintings and performances called for social change and extended from his radical socialist viewpoints.
In the late 1970s Immendorff began painting imagery that directly confronted the division of Germany, combining autobiography with social and political commentary. In 4 Muses he examines both the politics of Germany at the time and what it means to be an artist, looking at the inherent contradictions between isolated studio art practice and activism.
Closest to the foreground, the artist Georg Baselitz is depicted seated at a table. He is looking at an image of himself in a mirror. In the reflection a crown has slipped down from his head and is situated around his neck, while an inverted figure hangs in the background, a play on Baselitz’s signature style. The most visible table leg depicts an eagle, referencing Nazi symbolism and standing as an emblem of Germany’s traumatic past. Here the eagle is bound and inverted, indicating a loss of its political power, yet it is still there as a reminder never to forget the past.
On the right side of the canvas is A. R. Penck, the only artist of this group who resided in East Germany at the time this work was painted. Penck is depicted in the shadows surrounded by images of State Socialism’s repressive tactics. His table is held up by figures resembling East German border guards. Military personnel and the Berlin Wall loom in darkness.
Immendorff was introduced to Penck in the mid-1970s through their mutual art dealer, and they became close friends and collaborators, often meeting up in East Berlin. Penck appears in several of Immendorff’s paintings on Germany’s division.
The other two figures depicted are Markus Lüpertz and Immendorff himself. Lüpertz examines himself in a mirror resting on a table supported by heads with their eyes covered by German flags. Lüpertz had become known for his artwork that pushed the German population to confront their Nazi past. While Immendorff stands looking at himself in a mirror, the table legs represent his own sculptures.
Through this complex symbolic painting, Immendorff celebrates German artistic achievement while challenging linear narratives and questioning clear understandings of the complex issues surrounding German national identity construction.
Jörg Immendorff, working in West Germany, depicted a fictitious art studio shared by himself and three friends: Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, and A.R. Penck. Immendorff’s painting includes numerous references to the four artists’ works, personalities, and political beliefs (hear more above). Penck, who lived in East Germany, is shown in the shadows, surrounded by imagery of Eastern Bloc communism. Baselitz, also from East Germany, is represented at a table supported by his characteristic inverted figures. Lüpertz, who moved to West Germany as a child, is well-known for engaging with Germany’s past. Here, he sits at a table that rests on heads with Germany’s flag covering their eyes.
February 21, 2021
Thomas Cole made a career painting scenes of the most popular natural locations of the American northeast. Catskill Scenery combines the rugged wilderness terrain on the left with sure signs of encroaching civilization. The farmhouse in the distance and the wooden footbridge were commonly understood by viewers as emblems of the nation’s progress and America’s economic potential.
February 20, 2021
Ilya Bolotowsky contrasts the circular format of this painting with a rigidly angular, abstract composition in shades of teal, ochre, red, gray, and plum. Educated in Russia, Bolotowsky moved to New York in 1923. He experienced the work of artist Piet Mondrian a decade later and subsequently devoted his career to emulating the geometric, nonobjective style espoused by the Dutch artist. Bolotowsky became a pioneer in American abstraction and experimented with a range of canvas formats including diamonds, triangles, and circles.
February 19, 2021
Study for the Surrogate
Atmospheric areas of color shift from a deep shade of black to bright orange, divided by sharp diagonal lines. When working with watercolor, which provides a brilliant luminosity, James Little will often score the surface with a sharp tool to trap color. As a result, there is a satisfying play between precise geometry of straight lines and the free-form washes achieved with watercolor. Little describes his method as “painting ideas” about color and matter, and his drawings, like this one, are a critical step in this process.
February 18, 2021
Green cabbages have gone to seed behind rows of purple cabbages in the foreground of this photograph. Simone Nieweg explores the German tradition of Grabeland, a unique community gardening system practiced on the outskirts of urban centers. The particular subject of cabbage, a food often identified as a staple of the German diet, recurs throughout Nieweg’s work. The only evidence of this garden’s proximity to a modern city is the solitary housing complex nestled between two trees in the upper right corner of the composition.
February 17, 2021
Repose in a Park
Surrounding the seated woman in pink are well-dressed members of the upper class enjoying the pleasantries of a park. Flirtations abound. The kneeling man to the left of the seated woman holds his hand to his chest to signify his affection while the reclining man in the lower right seeks to charm the young lady beside him. Known by the term fête galante, (literally “gallant party”) this type of painting depicts the intricacies of social relationships and courtship within a pastoral setting.
February 16, 2021
Banks of the Oise at Auvers
Colorfully dressed peasants, who fish on the river bank alongside rafts of water lilies, animate this landscape. While this painting was likely completed in his studio, Charles-François Daubigny’s work was informed by devoted outdoor study; he even constructed a studio boat in 1857. Daubigny was considered the greatest river painter of mid-19th century France, and this painting is characteristic of his popular scenes of pastoral calm. The work was exhibited at the 1863 Salon, the government-sponsored art exhibition.
February 15, 2021
Intact for 5,500 years, this ancient Egyptian jar is among the oldest objects in the Museum’s collection. Its shape is a three-dimensional hieroglyph for ib, or “heart.” The durable stone forming the vessel guaranteed the protection of its precious contents, while the red-brown color evoked the blood of life. Typically found in wealthy burials, such containers once preserved oils, foodstuffs, and liquids meant to be used by the soul of the deceased in the afterlife.
February 14, 2021
Long Live Love or Charming Country
A male and female nude are intertwined within a form resembling a hollow tree trunk. Smaller tree stumps are spread through a strange, bare landscape. Max Ernst painted this image soon after moving to Paris from his native Germany in the early 1920s. He lived in a ménage à trois relationship with the poet Paul Éluard and their partner Gala, who may be the figures depicted in this work. It is unclear whether the couple is passionately embracing or suffocating in claustrophobic proximity.
February 13, 2021
This substantial coffeepot is enlivened by the undulating line of its pear-shaped body, the tight curves of its spout and handle, and the upward lift of the finial atop the lid. The dynamic interplay of curving form and line is one characteristic of silver in the rococo style. Another is the rich vocabulary of shells, acanthus leaves, and scrolls that form the cast handle sockets, finial, and spout. The coffeepot’s cast elements were tooled to sharpen the details, add textures, and enrich their surfaces. Finishing of this quality is extraordinary, even for silver made by Myer Myers, a craftsman of Jewish ancestry, who is celebrated as one of the best and most innovative silversmiths of colonial New York.
February 12, 2021
This work by Romare Bearden, which belongs to a small number of large-scale collages he created in the 1960s, exemplifies the artist’s commitment to the African American experience. A woman eats an ice-cream cone in front of a brownstone, a man sits on a chair, and two oversized faces peer from behind window shades. The ice cream and open windows evoke the summer’s heat. The woman’s pose suggests a singer holding a microphone, and the title summons George Gershwin’s lyric that “the living is easy.” Yet the collage’s active pattern of materials, its overwhelming size, and the mask-like faces it presents undermine the simplicity of the scene. Within this work, Bearden successfully creates a tension between content and formal treatment that brings to mind the over-crowded and potentially explosive inner cities of the summer of 1967.
Discover more works by African American and African artists in the Museum’s collection.
February 11, 2021
Murnau with Locomotive
Between 1909 and 1911, Wassily Kandinsky, a central figure in twentieth century art, lived and worked in Murnau, a village in the Bavarian Alps. During this period, the artist turned away from the direct depiction of nature in favor of a more abstract approach and came to believe in the suggestive power of color. In this painting of a winter landscape, however, Kandinsky restricted his palette to subtle whites, browns, pinks, and blues. The choice of subject matter and the way the paint is applied create a tension between stasis and movement in the canvas. In the foliage of the tree in the right foreground, Kandinsky applied oil paint in layers, giving the appearance of ephemeral watercolor washes. White paint mixes with color to create muted tones such as the dirty brown smoke emitted from the small locomotive chugging across the frozen valley.
February 10, 2021
Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object)
Gazing into the distance with mouth open in wonder, a female figure leans forward while her long, nervous fingers encircle an empty space. Her vulnerable face evokes a sense of psychological alienation. Alberto Giacometti joined the Surrealist movement in the 1920s. Poet André Breton, leader of the Parisian Surrealists, described this work as “an emanation of the desire to love and be loved in quest of the true human object and in all the agony of its quest.”
February 9, 2021
A group of lean, muscular field hands harvest grain on a sunny hillside. The rise and bend of their activity through the undulating contours of the land emphasizes the intimate relationship between man and nature. The artist, Missourian Thomas Hart Benton, was known for elevating the life of the working class, making their everyday labors appear heroic. Benton sought to capture images of grassroots America, which he felt was rapidly disappearing due to industrialization. Certainly Cradling Wheat is nostalgic: the cradle scythe used by the farmer on the left to cut the grain would have been old-fashioned by the 1930s. In his description of Cradling Wheat Benton wrote, “Scene in the hill country of East Tennessee in 1928…doubt whether this kind of harvesting can be found anymore—anywhere.”
February 8, 2021
Landscape with Pathos
Hear Expert Commentary
Speaker: Hannah Klemm
Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Saint Louis Art Museum
Hello, I am Hannah Klemm, the associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Landscape with Pathos, at first glance, looks almost abstract, yet artist Georg Baselitz has in fact taken an image of a landscape—blue sky, white clouds, trees, and a rocky outcrop—and flipped it upside down. This painting is one of the first works in which Baselitz inverted his imagery, a formula that became his signature style.
It was in 1969 that Baselitz began inverting his compositions; he wanted to stress the constructed nature of painting by creating a sense of dislocation for the viewer. He also wanted to disrupt traditional visual entry into pictorial space and any easy narrative readings of his paintings, but he didn’t want to create a work that was fully abstract. He often used biography as a starting point for the content of these paintings, either locations from his life or people in it, yet the subjects he chooses were often also part of long art historical traditions—such as landscape painting, in this case.
Baselitz was seven years old at the end of World War II. He spent his childhood in Communist East Germany in the town of Deutschbaselitz in Saxony. In 1957 he fled East Germany and enrolled in art school in West Berlin.
This painting is based on the landscape of Saxony. Baselitz was inspired by multiple sources that documented the landscape of his Saxon home. First, he looked to documentary photographs from a 1939 booklet published by the Saxon authorities that detailed regional landscapes and monuments. Baselitz brought several of these booklets of the Saxon landscape with him when he left East Germany. Second, many of his inverted landscapes of this time were influenced by the meticulous regional landscape paintings of the 19th-century Saxon painter Ferdinand von Rayski. Baselitz had seen the work of von Rayski in Dresden as a child with his father. Nearly a century after they were painted, von Rayski’s paintings had been appropriated by the Nazi party for propagandistic purposes.
Baselitz was interested in using his method of inverting the imagery as a way to examine the problematic history of the German landscape. In particular, he was interested in how the Nazis embraced and utilized the German landscape and German aesthetics to glorify the Third Reich, casting a dark shadow on historic artworks and motifs considered typically German.
In his paintings Baselitz confronts the human and cultural tragedies of World War II. Landscape with Pathos’s layered references and dislocating inversion conveyed the displacement and rootlessness caused by the war and subsequent division of Germany that Baselitz also personally felt through his own exile, while the deft combination of expressive, abstract, and documentary traditions demonstrate how landscapes have been coded and coopted throughout history as symbols of national and cultural identity.
With its palette of soft natural tones, this canvas first appears to be a gestural abstract painting. Upon longer study, representational subject matter becomes apparent: an upside-down landscape with the sky and clouds depicted in the lower half. Georg Baselitz inverted the image to draw attention to the painting as a material object and not merely a window into a scene. He based this painting on a black-and-white photograph capturing a landscape view of Saxony, his native region in Germany (hear more above). After inverting the photographed imagery, he added a large boulder—an artistic invention.
February 7, 2021
Desk and Bookcase
The arched doors, flat columns or pilasters, and scrolled pediment at the top of this desk and bookcase all stem from Roman architecture. This desk is exceptional for the detailed carving of Corinthian capitals on the pilasters and the sprig of acanthus foliage above the doors. The fronts of the lower desk drawers were sawn from thick boards and carved to create a three-part rhythm of projecting and receding volumes. This desk and bookcase provided locked storage for books, business papers, textiles, and other valuables, and it provided a workspace for writing when the slanted lid was opened.
February 6, 2021
Judgment of Paris
The seated knight at left has just finished judging a beauty contest. The story is based on the ancient myth of the Judgment of Paris in which the shepherd Paris is selected to referee an Olympian beauty contest. Cranach depicts a similar medieval legend in which Paris is a knight who goes hunting, tumbles into a bush, and dreams that the god Mercury, here clad in peacock feathers, tells him to judge. Juno (far right) glances coyly at the viewer and bobs her diaphanous wrap while Minerva (center) flirts more demurely by tilting her head. Venus, however, claims the winner’s golden orb, exuding self-assurance in the lift of her chin and her diverted gaze.
February 5, 2021
Jo Baker’s Birthday
This painted quilt tells a story of a fictional African American artist living in France in the 1920s. Throughout a series of such quilts, the character Willia Marie Simone encounters important European artists as well as influential African American women. Through Willia, artist Faith Ringgold reshaped the past to redress the absence of Black figures in art history. In panels of text along the top and bottom of the quilt, Willia explains that she is painting a portrait of the famous St. Louis-born dancer Josephine Baker. In the background at right is a section of French artist Henri Matisse’s painting Harmony in Red. Regarding her choice of the quilt as a medium, Ringgold has said, “Feminist art is soft art, lightweight art, sewing art…Women’s art is less rigid, and it’s open to all kinds of new innovations.”
Discover more works by African American and African artists in the Museum’s collection.
February 4, 2021
Actor Nakayama Tomisaburō as Miyagino
The subject for this woodblock print was Nakayama Tomisaburo, an eighteenth-century actor who specialized in female roles for the Kabuki theater. Known as “Floppy Tomi,” Tomisaburo was famous for his unusually flexible movements and the delicate, nimble gestures by which he conveyed his characters’ femininity. Sharaku featured “Floppy” in a remarkable total of eight print designs and character roles over six short months. In this print, Tomisaburo is portraying the avenging heroine Miyagino, who plots vengeance for her father’s murder in the lively fifth act of the play. Sharaku, who attended the performance, depicts the heroine as she contemplates the final fate of her father’s killer. For Tomisaburo’s fans, the image captured the dramatic moment and consummate skills of their favorite actor in a format made more arresting by its shimmering mica ground.
February 3, 2021
Curtain Panel with Design of Horizontal Bands of Geometric Patterns and Arabic Inscriptions in Kufic Script
From the 8th-century onward, Spanish weavers produced world-famous silks, continuing a tradition brought to Spain under Islamic-rule. The 17th-century writer Maqqar-I noted that the southern region of Spain produced silks that were exported to the far reaches of the Islamic world and beyond. This silk panel preserves a riot of controlled color and design in two joined strips with twenty-one bands of pattern. Two horizontal friezes, consisting of nine bands each, separate the two large pattern fields of elaborate eight-pointed stars in a complicated arabesque ground.
February 2, 2021
Madonna Figure is cast from a small plaster statuette found in a tourist shop in Lourdes, France. Pilgrims, or people traveling to sacred sites for religious reasons, come to Lourdes in hopes of witnessing a miracle. Katharina Fritsch explores the nature of human perception and experience through sculpture. Her alterations of scale, color, and material make otherwise familiar objects seem strange. Fritsch is inspired by aspects of her native German folklore as well as broader consumer culture, which she mines for references. While objects such as this often have autobiographical significance, Fritsch also intends them to hold general, collective meanings, both as symbols of popular culture and as triggers of our own memories and associations.
February 1, 2021
A Blacksmith’s Shop
Richard Earlom’s dramatic large-scale print depicts a group of men forging iron on an anvil in an abandoned church (see detail). This is a stunning example of the mezzotint technique, popular in England in the 18th and 19th-centuries because it yielded rich and velvety blacks. This process required the entire plate to be roughened with a tool called a rocker. The printmaker then scraped and burnished the roughened surface of the plate to the desired degree of whiteness, thus working from dark to light.
January 31, 2021
View from the Window
In this view from his Berlin studio window, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner deftly manipulated color and scale to create a nightmarish effect. The acid-yellow buildings loom precipitously over the pink railyard, blocking out an eerie green sky. Sheds in the foreground are artificially small and sit at a precarious angle. Kirchner aptly described his astringent palette in this period as “iridescent colors, as if seen through a nacreous mist.”
January 30, 2021
Ed Clark produced bands of interfused color, such as those evident in this work, by pushing pigments across the surface with a single, swift stroke. This maneuver, often executed horizontally on a floor, offers Clark the implied motion he desires in his images—a directional force further accentuated by a shaped support. He explained, “It seemed to me that the oval as a natural shape could best express movement extended beyond the limits of the canvas.”
January 29, 2021
Originally part of a set (with a matching bracelet and bell, now in Berlin), this bracelet likely functioned as a betrothal or bridal gift to a woman of high social standing. The central section contains a Greek inscription that reads: “Pretty one, wear [it] in good health.” This intricate bracelet serves as a splendid example of the extraordinary craftsmanship of Byzantine artisans and their use of an open metalwork technique known as opus interrasile.
January 28, 2021
Study of a Cedar
A massive cedar tree, scarred by peeling bark and bristling with ungainly branches, rises dramatically across this small canvas. The intimate perspective and closely observed details reflect ideas promoted by John Ruskin, a British critic who championed botanical and geological specificity.
Johnson described the process of making paintings such as Study of a Cedar in Ruskinian terms: “[it is] an out-door study, painted entirely upon the spot, and is, as far as I was able to make it so, a literal portrait of the place. I placed my easel there and went to work earnestly to find out how Dame Nature made things, divesting myself of all thoughts of picture or Studio effects.”
January 27, 2021
Breaking of the Vessels
In this work, weighing over seven tons, lead book folios and broken panes of glass fill the shelves of a monumental bookcase. The lead books reference the centrality of learning to Jewish culture, while other elements of the sculpture represent ideas put forth in the Kabbalah, a collection of ancient Jewish mystical writings. The semicircular pane of glass suspended above the bookcase represents the spirit of G-d and is inscribed with the Hebrew words Ain Soph Aur, meaning “Infinite Light.” According to kabbalistic tradition, attributes of G-d’s light were divided among 10 vessels not strong enough to hold them. The destruction or breaking of the vessels brought the Divine into an imperfect world.
Anselm Kiefer symbolized these vessels through the lead markers extending from the sides of the bookcase linked with copper wire. The shattered glass projecting from the shelves and littering the floor beneath the bookcase recalls Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) in Germany, when civilians and Nazi paramilitary officers smashed thousands of synagogue windows and Jewish-owned storefronts on November 9 and 10, 1938. Kiefer’s towering installation commemorates the persecution of Jews, and its shattered glass suggests the fragility and imperfection of human existence.
January 26, 2021
Torso of a Female Figure
Without head, hands, feet, or any other attributes or context, it is quite difficult to determine the identity of this figure. Based on the posture and ornaments, it might or might not be the goddess Pārvatī, wife of Śiva. What this sculpture does convey, however, is the consummate importance of the female in Indian art. From nature spirits depicted on architectural decorations to all-powerful goddesses at the center of religious practice, females are considered to represent fecundity, creativity, and power. This figure would probably have appeared on the exterior of a temple, in a sculptural niche alongside other, similar sculptures. The use of sandstone places its origin in northern or central India, and the beautifully detailed jewelry is consistent with 12th-century design.
January 25, 2021
Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland
This portrait of Augustus was modeled from life. The king’s pose, gesture, and Roman-style armor are formulas of state portraiture, intended to affirm the king’s power and virtue by clothing him as a classical hero. Far from formulaic, however, is the richly modeled and chased breastplate, which reveals the king’s substantial torso, the scale-ornamented plates of his skirt, and the plumed helmet at his feet. The figure is a masterpiece of ceramic sculpture, both for its artistic virtuosity and for the technical challenge of firing so large a piece of porcelain.
January 24, 2021
Untitled (Portrait of the Artist’s Father)
Rosemarie Trockel’s oeuvre encompasses a broad range of media and styles, but each piece focuses on a specific detail or theme that is carefully elaborated. The subjects range from hybrid fairy-tale creatures to portraits of friends and family. In this portrait, Trockel finger-painted an image of her uncommunicative father. She was inspired by Freudian therapy, which encourages patients to draw images of family members as a way of releasing hidden emotions. Trockel recalled that the making of this drawing was “pure emotion” and part of an organic process in which all parts were created intuitively.
January 23, 2021
An African American family and their bedraggled cat cling to the roof of a house adrift in the muddy turbulence of flood water. The father’s raised hands beseeching divine aid are silhouetted against a break of light, suggesting hope for their dire situation. The artist, John Steuart Curry, like many of his fellow American Scene artists, believed in the rural family as the bedrock of American values. This painting is based on a drawing by the artist whose title, Mississippi Noah, refers to a flood that plagued the Mississippi Valley in 1927. Covering 27,000 square miles, displacing over 200,000 African Americans and enlarging the Mississippi River to a width of 60 miles below Memphis, this flood was one of the most destructive in the nation’s history. It was, however, only one of the many floods that plagued rural populations in the 1930s.
January 22, 2021
In Abstraction Laszlo Moholy-Nagy explores the formal relationships between light and dark through the photogram, a technique in which light is projected directly onto objects, both translucent and opaque, that have been placed on photographic paper. During his time as an instructor in metal arts at the Weimar Bauhaus from 1923 to 1928, Moholy-Nagy experimented with works from unusual points of view, as if seen through the eye of a worm or bird. His interest in odd perspectives is evident here, where forms appear to float in space, while the winged shape in the center suggests flight. Though he never described himself as a photographer, Moholy-Nagy produced some of the most influential photographs of the twentieth century.
January 21, 2021
Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion
The dramatic subject for this painting came from Tales of the Genii, written by James Ridley and published in 1764. Sadak is a Persian nobleman whose wife is abducted by the Sultan. In exchange for her safe return, Sadak undertakes a perilous journey to get a sample of the Waters of Oblivion.
The painting depicts the nobleman clinging to a rock at the bottom of the painting, dedicating the rest of the canvas to the rocky precipices that Sadak must surmount. Rays of light emanate from the upper left, suggesting that Sadak will ultimately obtain his goal.
January 20, 2021
Rembrandt Peale portrays George Washington in military dress, gazing resolutely off into the distance. Washington was commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and first president of the United States (1789–1797). In the decades following his death in 1799, public demand for his image grew.
We know that Washington had a rather long face and pear-shaped body. In this portrait Peale has squared off the chin, broadened the shoulders, and encircled the leader in stone to better evoke his visionary strength. Peale’s efforts were successful, and over a period of 40 years, beginning in 1824, he completed 79 versions of this portrait.
January 19, 2021
Women in dramatic primary colors of red, yellow, and blue explore a wooded setting. Max Pechstein painted Day of Steel during his second visit to Nidden (present-day Nida, Lithuania), a fishing village on the Baltic Sea. Although Pechstein lived in the metropolis of Berlin, he relished his annual trips to the seaside as opportunities to find artistic inspiration in nature. The painting’s enigmatic title may reference the steely blue sky or, more allusively, nudist bathing as a “steeling” and revitalizing activity, particularly since Pechstein wrote of the dreadful weather that he experienced during his stay.
January 18, 2021
Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Singing in the Rain during the March from Selma to Montgomery
At the center of this photograph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looks out with an expression of unflinching determination. He sings with the rest of the participants in the 1965 civil rights protest in Alabama, known as the Selma march. Photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. purposely portrayed King among the people and highlights him as a leader who walked with the masses. The rain drenches the marchers who continue on, many without any covering. By his side, his wife Coretta Scott King joins in with the singing.
Sleet is one of the most recognized photojournalists of the civil rights movement. Sleet’s career began as a sportswriter for Amsterdam News before he was hired at Our World magazine where he worked for five years. When Our World shut down in 1955, Sleet went on to become a staff photographer for Johnson Publishing, home of Ebony and Jet magazines. His first assignment was to photograph the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During his career, Sleet earned a Pulitzer Prize for the outstanding quality of his work, in addition to a National Urban League award, and the National Association of Black Journalists award.
Today’s Object of the Day is featured in our virtual program: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Celebration: Inspired by a Movement
January 17, 2021
New York Harbor
Symbols of modernity—ocean liners, airplanes, and skyscrapers—intermingle with old-fashioned sailboats and bridges in this stylized view of New York Harbor from 1928. Lillian Glaser, a native of Belleville, Illinois, wove this pictorial textile on a handloom, a slow and technically complex process. Glaser taught weaving at Washington University in St. Louis and was a founding member of the city’s Weavers’ Guild. She likely envisioned the design for this wall hanging on a 1925–26 leave of absence to pursue her artistic education in New York.
January 16, 2021
St. Francis Contemplating a Skull
Saint Francis of Assisi was a 13th-century friar and preacher, famous for having had a vision in which he received the wounds of Christ. The artist has reduced his figure to simple geometric solids, their three-dimensionality enhanced by the use of stark lighting. The saint’s downcast gaze and shadowed face remove him from the viewer’s realm, making his contemplation of the skull a compelling model of religious devotion. Francisco de Zurbarán was a master of the single monumental figure, often based on models that he studied from life. Although the painting was originally part of a larger, multi-paneled altarpiece, it works effectively as a single picture.
January 15, 2021
Standing Śākyamuni Buddha
The serene, introspective gaze of this Buddha is enhanced by the figure’s formal stance and the white, cool character of the marble. Traces of old pigment indicate that this sculpture was originally painted to show the richly embroidered, colorful patchwork silks of a priest’s robe. There are two rare features depicted in this work. The first, just under the left shoulder, is an inverted fan shape that represents the gathering of cloth in a clasp. The second, nestled between the ankles, is a fruit-like motif interpreted as a lotus bud or a wish-granting pearl (cintamani), both symbols of purity (see detail). Based on stylistic analysis and other comparable works, this statue may have been made either during the final years of the Northern Qi dynasty or the early years of the Sui dynasty. This standing statue would have been supported on a lotus pedestal that surmounted a square base, carved from the same marble.
January 14, 2021
This candelabra for 13 candles is often compared to the fanned tail of a peacock when the arms are aligned in this position or to a branching tree when they are rotated. Despite these subtle references to nature, the conical candle sockets and base are ornamented only with lines. They mark a departure from other Jugendstil, or Youth Style, designs that more directly imitate organic forms. Designer Bruno Paul was among the architects, craftsmen, and manufacturers who formed the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, or the United Workshops for Art in Craft. The United Workshops sought to produce affordable modern design and advance the stature of German art industries.
January 13, 2021
Robert Hay Drummond, D. D. Archbishop of York and Chancellor of the Order of the Garter
In this monumental portrait, Robert Hay Drummond wears regalia indicating both his secular and ecclesiastical offices. His massive blue robe, tied with long silk cords, bears the insignia of the Order of the Knights of the Garter (a prestigious group founded in the 14th century in service to the king) on his right shoulder. Drummond wears the traditional linen collar favored by clergy and rests his left hand on an especially elaborate purse, symbolizing the distribution of alms to the poor, one of his duties as Royal Almoner. The frontal pose and voluminous drapery suggest a powerful individual.
January 12, 2021
Layered spirals—a signature motif for Al Loving—create a dynamic vertical composition, which seems to sprout new forms as it ascends the wall. Since his early career, the artist created sprawling configurations of repeated shapes large enough to take over walls. Loving, along with contemporaries such as Sam Gilliam, was interested in producing art that rejected traditional supports such as wooden stretchers or frames (learn more). For this work, he constructed a Plexiglas backing, which gives the collage a free-floating sculptural presence.
January 11, 2021
Carpet with Hexagonal Compartments
The incredibly thick and lustrous wool pile of this rug is typical of Yürük products. Yürük, the Turkish word for “wanderer,” has been used to identify the nomadic people of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Yürük rugs made from local wools are very lightweight for their size. Given the sheen and difference in color saturation when viewed from opposite ends, this rug almost appears to be silk. The design is reminiscent of octagonal ceramic tiles, with interlocking octagonal medallions separated by a twisted-ribbon band in light blue. Connected to this band are rectangular boxes containing smaller hexagonal compartments filled with highly stylized insect forms that may have developed from a floral motif of projecting leaves. Geometric shapes, some with legs, and amulet shapes fill the larger octagonal spaces between the boxes.
January 10, 2021
The Rainbow’s Source
This painting is one of many that John Henry Twachtman painted of Horseneck Falls, the waterfall on his property in Greenwich, Connecticut. Twachtman nearly fills the canvas with the image of the waterfall tumbling into the streambed below. The rough texture of the paint vividly captures the movement and misty spray of the water, and the artist was able to create the impression of a vaporous atmosphere that could at any moment reveal a brilliant rainbow. Twachtman used the Impressionist technique of combining multiple brushstrokes of varying color to produce transient, shimmering light effects. He repeatedly painted this waterfall and other subjects on his property, exploring various light and weather conditions.
January 9, 2021
Renée Sintenis was a prominent sculptor in early 20th century Germany. In this mythological subject, she depicts Daphne changing into a tree. The nymph’s hair turns to leaves while foliage appears around her legs and sprouts from her armpits. Daphne was pursued by the Greek god Apollo and was transformed into a tree in order to escape the god’s unwanted advances. Sintenis affirmed, “I tried to capture the beginning of this magic transformation in plastic form.”
January 8, 2021
This table lamp’s piston-like aluminum base and ribbed fiberglass shade look like spare machine parts. Spurred by a fascination with modern factories, designers and home furnishing manufacturers between World War I and II embraced the pure geometry and honest materiality of industrial forms. Stacked and repeated cylinders and spheres, which supplanted the earlier trend for triangular forms, epitomized American “Machine Age” design.