Author Archives: Nancy Proctor

About Nancy Proctor

Deputy Director for Digital Experience @artBMA. I love art, languages, travel, feminist theory, good food & nice people.

Exhibit 5: Piet Mondrian, Composition V, 1927

Painting Piet Mondrian. Composition V. 1927.

Piet Mondrian. Composition V. 1927. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.343
Piet Mondrian began his career as a landscape painter, but abandoned naturalism after being exposed to Cubism. “Composition V” is an example of the austere style he perfected in the 1920s. Restricting compositional elements to the bare essentials, Mondrian allowed himself to use only vertical and horizontal lines, right angles, and the three primary colors, along with black and white. Together with fellow artists of the De Stijl (The Style) art movement, Mondrian sought to purify art by purging all that was extraneous. The group’s goal was to achieve ideal harmony while suppressing individualism, viewed as the underlying cause of World War I.
Saidie May acquired this work in 1946 from French modernist architect and designer Pierre Chareau, who had moved to New York in 1940.

There is only an appearance of too little. Everything fits together simply. Some of the paintings are needlessly complicated. Black, white and primary colors. They fit. They do it all the time but no one has to create disorder. Timing matters.

The idiot had me restored. That means dirty original paint was removed and repainted. Won’t future generations love that. Makes my reds boil but that is individualism.

Exhibit J: Robert Delaunay, Portuguese Still Life, 1915-1916

Painting Robert Delaunay. Portuguese Still Life. 1915-1916.

Robert Delaunay. Portuguese Still Life. 1915-1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.286
“Portuguese Still Life” is one of twelve paintings Robert Delaunay executed while living in Portugal during World War I. Several years earlier, his friend, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, sought to define a new art movement called Orphism, based on Delaunay’s manner of combining vivid Fauvist color with the analytic structure of Cubism. Throughout 1913, Delaunay continued to explore color, and achieved complete abstraction in a series of paintings depicting chromatic disks. However, by the time he painted Portuguese Still Life in 1915, he was again looking at real objects for inspiration.
Saidie May bought this large colorful painting at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, just a year before her death. She felt that it provided a link between the works in the Cone Collection and
her own holdings.

He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

Exhibit I: André Masson, The Metaphysical Wall, 1940

André Masson. The Metaphysical Wall. 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.331. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris André Masson’s otherworldly watercolor, "The Metaphysical Wall" of 1940, revisits imagery he had explored two years earlier in a drawing (illustrated below). Tall male and female figures flank a wall composed of colorful striations. The figures not only stand in front of the wall, but are mirrored in it as well. A crystalline form at the bottom encloses a skeletal being that is juxtaposed with a transparent ovoid womb containing a living figure to its right. These representations of life and death appear to emanate from a structure one writer has called the “temple of a mother goddess,” more clearly identifiable in the earlier drawing. Masson created this work in a period of crisis as Germany invaded France. The artist and his Jewish wife and family moved from place to place, eventually reaching Marseilles and escaping to America with the help of Saidie May. At war’s end, Masson sent "The Metaphysical Wall" to May in gratitude for her generosity.

André Masson. The Metaphysical Wall. 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.331. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
André Masson’s otherworldly watercolor, “The Metaphysical Wall” of 1940, revisits imagery he had explored two years earlier in a drawing (illustrated below). Tall male and female figures flank a wall composed of colorful striations. The figures not only stand in front of the wall, but are mirrored in it as well. A crystalline form at the bottom encloses a skeletal being that is juxtaposed with a transparent ovoid womb containing a living figure to its right. These representations of life and death appear to emanate from a structure one writer has called the “temple of a mother goddess,” more clearly identifiable in the earlier drawing.
Masson created this work in a period of crisis as Germany invaded France. The artist and his Jewish wife and family moved from place to place, eventually reaching Marseilles and escaping to America with the help of Saidie May. At war’s end, Masson sent “The Metaphysical Wall” to May in gratitude for her generosity.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

Read the rest of the continuing story…

Exhibit 4: Juan Gris, Bottle and Glass, 1918

Painting by Juan Gris. Bottle and Glass. 1918. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.305

Juan Gris. Bottle and Glass. 1918. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.305

By Jan Ryan

Yeah, Saidie May would fondly remember her time drinking in Mallorca and her family’s blind eye to it, making and collecting art. No one knew anything she didn’t tell him or her. If she told them how would she remember? How would they remember? Juan Gris’s Bottle and Glass painting could have reminded her of men’s smoky Spanish chats in that independent period in her life but were the spillage tremors an earthquake or a reaction to really good wine? At home wine tasted like a chemical brew.

Read the rest of the continuing story…

Exhibit H: Juan Gris, The Painter’s Window

painting: Juan Gris. The Painter's Window. 1925. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.306

Juan Gris. The Painter’s Window. 1925. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.306
In his short forty-year life, Juan Gris established himself (together with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque) as one of the leaders of Cubism. His work can be distinguished by the tight geometry and bold patterns of his compositions, which always retain identifiable elements. In “The Painter’s Window”, the artist flattens and interlocks a guitar, fruit bowl, sheet music, palette, paintbrush, and playing cards on a tabletop as if they were pieces in an upright jigsaw puzzle. These typical Cubist props, which allude to the roles of chance, play, and the abstraction of music, are arranged in an innovative way. The sheet music mimics the strings of the guitar, while the angular spots of paint on the palette rhyme with the diamonds on the playing cards.
While the Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, provided the foundation of the BMA’s collection of modern art, they did not collect Cubist works. Saidie May’s well-considered gift of this Cubist masterpiece, together with other significant purchases by Picasso and Braque, helped fill a major gap in the Museum’s collection of twentieth-century modernist art.

By Jan Ryan

The thieves made contact. He explained that he was in the market for lesser-known artists like The Painter’s Window. He wanted it but a stolen Renoir from a museum? Too hot. “Not going to touch it but try this guy, he’s an idiot,” and “this guy” was an idiot. He bargained with all the same reasons to not buy then paid cash and disappeared.

They were dealt a better hand. The thieves dyed their hair brown, left their whole stolen collection in Baltimore, went by new names and never returned.

Read the rest of the continuing story…

Exhibit G: Saidie May in Mallorca, Carrying Art Supplies, 1931

Saidie A. May in Mallorca, Spain, Carrying Art Supplies. 1931

Saidie A. May in Mallorca, Spain, Carrying Art Supplies. 1931

By Jan Ryan

Picasso wasn’t in Mallorca in 1931 if that’s what you are thinking. He was up the coast in Southern France illustrating a Balzac story about a perfectionist artist who kills himself after being ridiculed by young artists.

When tourists assumed her paintings were no good Saidie May was ready to kill too.

“Don’t blab that you collect art. They will rob you.” warned the artistic sister.

The family never heard the details of Saidie’s trip but when the robbery happened much later they wondered.

Read the rest of the continuing story…

Women in the arts = leaders in business

Julia Marciari-Alexander, Rebecca Hoffberger, Doreen Bolger and Marin Alsop: presenters of the 2014 Charles J. Busta III Lecture in Business, April 22, 2014 at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

Julia Marciari-Alexander, Rebecca Hoffberger, Doreen Bolger and Marin Alsop: presenters of the 2014 Charles J. Busta III Lecture in Business, April 22, 2014 at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

By Nancy Proctor

I tweeted this equation at the start of the 2014 Charles J. Busta III Lecture in Business, “The Arts Transforming Communities,” delivered on April 22, 2014 by Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony OrchestraDoreen Bolger, Director of the Baltimore Museum of ArtRebecca Hoffberger, Director of the American Visionary Art Museum; and Julia Marciari-Alexander, Executive Director of the Walters Art Museum. What followed was an inspiring series of very personal stories from some of the most prominent leaders in the local and national cultural scenes. I found myself almost envying the young women of Notre Dame of Maryland University who were able to hear from such shining role models so early in life. Without trailblazers and precedents, it is a greater uphill struggle for women to assume leadership roles, even in arts organizations, which are overwhelmingly staffed by women but count few female directors as this ArtsFWD post by Eleanor Whitney noted. Indeed, diversity in all its forms is lacking throughout arts organizations and their audiences as in business in general; Nina Simon wrote and gathered links to other insightful posts and events on the topic this last year, and the conversation is sure to continue.

This year’s Busta Lecture event was an important step along the road to a better place for the arts and their audiences, and a proud night for Baltimore to see its own transformation in the stories of these innovative leaders. Fortunately, the gracious hosts at NDMU posted all their talks online so you can check them out yourself. We’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions!

 

Exhibit 3: Verso of Renoir’s On the Shore of the Seine

Detail of verso of "On the Shore of the Seine" by Pierre Auguste Renoir, c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

Detail of verso of “On the Shore of the Seine” by Pierre Auguste Renoir, c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

 

By Julia Fountain

The thieves will get their money, just as they always do. The police want to protect the people, but not the artist, nor their art.
135 years later pieces will hang on the cluttered walls of museums, boasting names of the histories renowned artists. Millions of eyes will trace the various strokes and contours, but little do they know that beneath the varnish and oil may simply be a rendition, a mere copy of an original.
The art is still being appreciated, the legacy sustained; no one got hurt.

Continue the story…

Exhibit F: William Baziotes, The Drugged Balloonist, 1943.

William Baziotes. The Drugged Balloonist. 1943. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.266. © artist or artist's estate

William Baziotes. The Drugged Balloonist. 1943. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.266. © artist or artist’s estate
Having moved from Pennsylvania to New York in 1933, William Baziotes became acquainted with many young artists who had settled in the city. In 1943, he and his friends Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock were invited by collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim to contribute work to an exhibition of collages that she was planning for her avant-garde Art of This Century gallery. Baziotes, being the most literary of the group, had a deep understanding of Surrealism, and responded with complex images, such as “The Drugged Balloonist.” For him the balloonist symbolized a person who makes a mystical surrender to the will of nature. Baziotes blended images of insects with cut-outs of scientific and astral forms and combined them all with freely applied swirls of ink and wash.
Saidie May was well aware of the exiled European Surrealists’ influence on the next generation of American artists. She purchased this collage by Baziotes, as well as one by Robert Motherwell, from the show at the Art of This Century Gallery in 1942.

By Jan Ryan

Each day with no buyer, after optimism based on the serendipity that scored the Renoir, created a little more doubt as to how to escape from a Baziotes cocoon. If they could only sell the Renoir they could move to New York or putter in a propeller basket to the Caribbean. They read the Real Estate section, picking out an apartment that sold before they had the money to buy it, and the travel section, selecting their tropical island. Semi-consciously they floated, descending, through clouds.

Read the rest of the continuing story… 

Exhibit 2: Three Saints

Three Saints. 16th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Blanche Adler, BMA 1941.141

Three Saints. 16th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Blanche Adler, BMA 1941.141
These embroidered panels portray three saints—Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and St. Catherine. They were originally part of an orphrey, an ornamental strip that decorated the front and back of a religious vestment, such as a chasuble or dalmatic. While the vestment on which this orphrey was originally displayed was probably made of expensive patterned Italian velvet, the embroidery may have been produced in Spain. The architectural detail supports a Spanish origin, while the crisp articulation of the fabric enveloping the figures is in keeping with the representations found in paintings and tapestries of the Northern Renaissance. These panels appear in a photograph (c. 1923–1933) of Saidie May’s New York apartment. An entry in her diary from January 21, 1925, mentions the purchase of a three-piece Spanish orphrey—perhaps these three textiles—while she was in Seville, Spain. They were given to the Museum by May’s sister Blanche Adler, as part of her 1941 bequest.

By Gabriella Russo

I remember the night that bandit came into the apartment, stealthily creeping among the Saints first and then making her way to me. She overlooked the beauty in the intricacy of their portraits and focused in on the vivid, beautiful brushstrokes in my foreground. She looked at me with envy, as if she wished she could be engrossed in my very canvas and that is when she stripped me from my home, carefully tip toeing out of Miss May’s apartment.

Read the rest of the continuing story…