Author Archives: Laura Albans

About Laura Albans

Laura Albans is the curatorial assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation. She studied art history and studio art (with a focus on sculpture) at the University of Maine; she has been with the BMA for 12 years, and has assisted with many permanent collection installations, traveling exhibitions, and catalogues. She hails from Bangor, Maine, and is the BMA’s go-to-gal when it comes to all things New England.

BMA Voices: Birds

Thomas Coke Ruckle. Birds. 1842. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Louise M. Carr; Gift of Edward P. Crummer; W. Clagett Emory Bequest Fund, in Memory of his Parents, William H. Emory of A and Martha B. Emory; Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch; Gift of a Group of Friends; Gift of Mrs. Oliver Iselin; Gift of E. Carolyn and Rosa E. Nicholson; Special Purchase Fund; Gift of Mme. A. W. L. Tjarda Van Starkenborgh-Stachouwer; and Gift of John Vanderbogart, BMA 1985.20

Thomas Coke Ruckle. Birds. 1842. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Louise M. Carr; Gift of Edward P. Crummer; W. Clagett Emory Bequest Fund, in Memory of his Parents, William H. Emory of A and Martha B. Emory; Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch; Gift of a Group of Friends; Gift of Mrs. Oliver Iselin; Gift of E. Carolyn and Rosa E. Nicholson; Special Purchase Fund; Gift of Mme. A. W. L. Tjarda Van Starkenborgh-Stachouwer; and Gift of John Vanderbogart, BMA 1985.20

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation

Although I work in the Curatorial Division at the Museum, I do not always have the opportunity to walk through the galleries and truly study the installations, as I would if I were visiting another museum. I am very fortunate to work for two departments within the Museum—European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation. Working in the European Painting and Sculpture Department allows me to fully learn a collection, while working in the Conservation Department introduces me to new works, allows me to become familiar with objects from other departments, and, most importantly, opens my mind to works or styles I may not otherwise notice.

Thomas Coke Ruckle’s small painting came into the Conservation Lab several years ago, where, as an amateur birder, it immediately caught my attention. Prior to working in the European Painting and Sculpture Department, I had worked closely with the Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture Sona Johnston, but I was not familiar with this image from the American paintings collection. The painting stayed in the Conservation lab for several months, and I was able to see it on a daily basis. It wasn’t just the bird motif that captured my interest, but rather, it was the style that intrigued me, as well. I love how Ruckle captures the identity of the birds with such detail, yet he does not give any indication to the birds’ surroundings or landscape. This simple composition, with its naïve feeling, is fastidious in a painterly manner, creating quite a beautiful little masterpiece.

I am also continually surprised at the early date of Ruckle’s composition. I have to remind myself that it was completed in the middle of the nineteenth century, and yet it looks so fresh and modern! However, this example of these familiar North American birds was painted just one year after Ruckle’s return to Baltimore after studying at the Royal Academy from 1839-1941, nine years prior to the death of John James Audubon (1785-1851), and several years after Audubon’s publication of The Birds of America (1827-1839). I am very curious to know as to whether Ruckle referenced this illustrated tome for his artistic study.

Like Audubon, Ruckle captures the birds’ identity in great detail, but in using a bit of artistic license, he places all the birds on branches of a budding and blossoming apple tree, while seemingly depicting each with individual personalities. I am happy to note that all the birds seen in this composition are common visitors to my Baltimore backyard. Illustrated from top to bottom, left to right are (all males, most likely for the use of vibrant color and immediate identification): a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Flicker, and an Eastern Bluebird.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: The enthralling and complicated work of Marcel Duchamp

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation, discusses the enthralling and complicated work of Marcel Duchamp, whilst looking through his impressive Boîte‑en‑valise (From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy), 1958.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BMA Voices: Seeing Leon Kroll’s “Landscape – Two Rivers” through the eyes of a child

Leon Kroll. Landscape - Two Rivers. 1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.343. © Estate of Leon Kroll

Leon Kroll. Landscape – Two Rivers. 1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.343. © Estate of Leon Kroll

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation

Leon Kroll’s Landscape – Two Rivers was first brought to my attention by my then-10-year-old son, who discovered it in a 2001 visit to the Museum. I clearly remember him standing in front of this majestic painting extolling its beauty. It was amazing to see my young child completely engaged in a work of art, absolutely mesmerized by its magnificence and unable to take his eyes off the canvas—just standing in front of it and saying, “Now that’s a beautiful painting.”

Ever since that experience, Landscape – Two Rivers has remained very special to me. So, when I started working at the BMA, and later assisted with the Cézanne and American Modernism exhibition (2010)—where Leon Kroll’s composition was to be included in the project—it all came full circle. I distinctly remember where the painting was installed in the exhibition—holding the wall ever so strongly among the French master’s stunning works. Seeing the painting through my son’s young eyes and mine, Landscape – Two Rivers continues to resonate with me.

With its motif, rich palette, complex, yet mindful, execution, and monumental scale, Kroll has unmistakably created a very Cézanne-inspired composition—another reason as to why my attention is drawn to the painting. Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry is one of my favorite paintings in the BMA’s collection, not only because it is the best example of this motif, but mostly because it reminds me of my beloved state’s highest mountain—Mount Katahdin—in Northern Maine. Although Cézanne’s inspiration can be seen in its execution, Kroll made the composition his own, as he later wrote, “If you copy directly, it’s kind of a swipe, you know. It doesn’t belong to you, it’s a secondhand thing.”

Paul Cézanne. Mont Sainte Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.196

Paul Cézanne. Mont Sainte Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.196

Kroll, born into a family of musicians, began studying painting at a young age at the Art Students League under John Henry Twachtman in New York. He later attended the National Academy of Design, where he was quite successful, having his first solo exhibition in 1906. In 1908, following in the footsteps of Baltimore artist Charles Walther, Kroll traveled to France to study at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. It was during this time in Paris that Kroll was introduced to the work of Paul Cézanne, after stumbling upon a gallery window displaying a group of the French master’s paintings. The American artist was completely inspired by Cézanne’s technique and color palette, which can be seen in his landscape paintings from his expeditions to Eddyville, New York, and Monhegan Island, Maine.

Upon returning to the States, Kroll exhibited his Paris paintings in the famed 1913 Armory Show, successfully selling all of his works. In the 1920s, he taught at the National Academy of Design, as well as the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The American modernist is mostly known for his figurative works, and was commissioned to paint murals for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall in Baltimore, and a war memorial in Worcester, MA. Kroll had a successful career throughout his life.

The Cone sisters of Baltimore were not only patrons of Kroll, but had a close friendship with the artist and his wife. Between the two sisters, they collected one print, nine drawings, and three paintings by Kroll, including Landscape – Two Rivers. It should be noted that Claribel Cone purchased Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, so one can easily see why Etta Cone would have purchased Landscape – Two Rivers.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: A Baltimore artist with an international aesthetic

Charles H. Walther. Attic Plant. 1925. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.376

Charles H. Walther. Attic Plant. 1925. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.376

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation.

Charles Walther’s painting Attic Plant caught my attention when it came into the Museum’s conservation lab for some light cleaning in 2007 in preparation for a traveling exhibition. The work appealed in size and palette with its small canvas and compelling composition featuring a simple potted plant. I was also intrigued by Walther’s name. Every day, I drive up Walther Avenue to my Northeast Baltimore home. I would love to believe Walther Avenue was named after this regional artist; however, at the time of writing, I have yet to confirm it.

Walther’s techniques are reminiscent of the French masters Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse. He was intrigued with Matisse’s fauvist aesthetic of a bold and vibrant color palette. Although Attic Plant appears to use a more conservative palette, like Matisse, the American modernist uses an abstract background with definitive bold horizontal and vertical lines found in the French master’s earlier works. The tilted tabletop and patchy brushstrokes on the terracotta pot can be seen as lessons learned from Cézanne. With these similarities, it is easy to understand why Claribel Cone would have purchased this local artist’s painting.

Walther’s capacity to unite his personal artistic vision with an international aesthetic can be understood through a quick history on the local artist. Born in Baltimore, Walther studied and later became a professor at The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Taking a sabbatical from teaching, he traveled to Paris to study under Jean-Paul Laurens at the famed Académie Julian, where other notable artists studied, such as Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Bourgeois, Stanley William Hayter, Käthe Kollwitz, Henri Matisse, and Édouard Vuillard.

Returning to his alma mater in 1908, Walther was interested in Modernism and experimented with Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism. Attending the 1913 Armory Show in New York, his contemporaries Walter Pach, Maurice Prendergast, and Charles Sheeler implored Walther to join them in organizing the Society of Independent Artists. Instead, Walther chose to stay in Baltimore to impart the new modernist aesthetic to MICA students.

Walther courted controversy throughout his career. A 1914 exhibition of abstract works exhibited at the Peabody Institution scandalized Baltimore’s conservative public. Years later in 1929, Walther’s radical thinking, and avante-garde approach to art and teaching cost him his faculty position at MICA. However, he continued to teach out of his Middletown summer home in Western Maryland. These Middletown Valley courses became known as The Snallygaster School, which garnered the attention of Alfred Barr, the then young Director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Duncan Phillips, collector, critic, and founder of The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

The American modernist exhibited his work until his sudden death in 1938. He was killed in an automobile accident on Liberty Road, returning home from a fishing trip; Walther is buried at Druid Ridge Cemetery.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.