Author Archives: Nancy Proctor

About Nancy Proctor

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

BMA Voices: William Henry Reinhart’s “Atalanta”

BMA American Wing installation 2014

BMA American Wing installation 2014

Nancy Proctor, Deputy Director for Digital Engagement and Communications

One of the things I love about the BMA’s renovated American wing is the way stories just jump off the walls at you. You don’t have to know anything about the art to start making connections and weaving your own narratives among the paintings, sculpture, and objects that are often juxtaposed in surprising and even provocative ways.

The pristine white marble sculptures in the Maryland Gallery are no exception, but that doesn’t mean these statues are easy to decode. What are we to make of the silent female figures who share our space – one clothed, one nude – both by native son, William Henry Rinehart (1825-1874)? Neoclassical sculpture has always puzzled me, and no less so now after I spent many years writing a doctoral dissertation on it. It seems to want to imitate ancient Greek and Roman art but never quite manages to look Classical, no matter how skilled the sculptor and his or her studio. Modernists considered much of this “Victorian” art cloying and clichéd, so advocated de-accessioning it or at least burying it in museum storage to make room for more contemporary work in 20th century galleries. Some of it looks almost prurient, and indeed 19th century audiences had strict rules about what made a nude “art” versus pornography: if it was carved in white Carrara marble, it represented a Classical ideal, so would elevate the minds of its audiences; tinted to look like human flesh, it was debased.

William Henry Rinehart. Atalanta. 1874. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mrs. Winfield Henry, 1934, BMA 1983.67

William Henry Rinehart. Atalanta. 1874. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mrs. Winfield Henry, 1934, BMA 1983.67

But rules are made to be broken, and as British sculptor, John Gibson (1790-1866), pointed out, the ancient Greeks and Romans painted their statues as well as their buildings: generally ancient sculptures are only monochrome today because the color has worn off with time. Nonetheless Gibson’s Tinted Venus caused a scandal when first exhibited at the London International Exhibition in 1862. For the leading London literary magazine of the day, the Athenaeum, the figure was no more than “a naked impudent English woman,” its color a vulgar stain on the purity of the white marble “to destroy all alluring power, and every sign of the goddess.” Sculptors’ fascination with the ancient practice of painting statues has continued to the present day; Italian artist, Francesco Vezzoli, has also researched and ancient sculpture painting techniques and re-painted a number of Classical heads in the exhibition, Teatro Romano, at PS1 in New York.

Francesco Vezzoli- Teatro Romano

From Francesco Vezzoli: Teatro Romano, On view at MoMA PS1 October 26, 2014–March 8, 2015

Rinehart, who had studied at MICA before immersing himself in the Classical tradition in Rome with the support of his patron, William T. Walters, did not push the boundaries of the acceptable so far. An accomplished stone mason (some are surprised to learn that many sculptors, then and now, did not do their own carving), Rinehart made sculptures of Classical subjects and contemporary dignitaries, as well as decorative bas-reliefs. His mythic heroines at the BMA, Clytie and Atalanta, are a study in opposites: one nude, one clothed; one rooted to the spot for her love, the other fleeing from it, literally.

Clytie was a water nymph who loved and was abandoned by Apollo, the sun god. She spent so long looking after him longingly as he passed through the sky overhead that she turned into a sunflower, always seeking the sun. In Rinehart’s sculpture, she has not yet transformed into a flower but the sunflower she is holding bows its head, echoing her sadness.

Atalanta had quite another spirit. She was raised by a she-bear after her father, who wanted a son instead, abandoned her on a mountaintop. Once she became a celebrity for her hunting prowess and participation in Jason’s crew as the only female Argonaut, her father decided to step into her life again to insist she get married. As cunning as she was fleet of foot, she agreed to marry only the man who could out run her. With the trickery of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, one of her old hunting companions managed to win the race and her hand. But Aphrodite is a fickle mistress: she got annoyed with the couple for not paying her proper respect, so caused them to be seized with an uncontrollable passion just when they were passing a temple of Zeus. The angry god cursed them for defiling his house with sexual intercourse by turning them into lions. The ancient Greeks thought that lions couldn’t mate with other lions, so this was effectively a condemnation to a chaste marriage.

When I look at Atalanta now I admire Rinehart’s “wet drapery” technique and use of the figure’s hand gestures to convey movement and – is that surprise that she has been bested for the first time? But I also like to imagine that there is another statue of Atalanta just outside the museum: which one of those lions do you think she might be?

Adoph A. Weinman. Lion. c. 1929

Adoph A. Weinman. Lion. c. 1929

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.

Your Voices: Big thoughts for the BMA

 

You may have caught some of our #BMAvoices on our blog lately: an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration.

We’d also love to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts about:

  1. Your favorite BMA artwork
  2. Your memory of the BMA
  3. A big idea for the BMA
  4. Or ask us anything!

Download the free STQRY app, featuring crowdsourcing capabilities we developed in partnership with Seattle-based tech leaders STQRY, Inc. to send us an audio message and a selfie.

The BMA will show up on the app’s front page if you’re in the Baltimore area. Otherwise, just search for “BMA” to find us in-app.

You can also send us your thoughts through this blog, to Facebook or Twitter using the #BMAVoices tag. 100 contributors by December 31 will win a $10 gift card to the new BMA Shop. You need to share your response with the hashtag so we can identify you as a winner.

Here’s my contribution. I look forward to hearing yours!

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…