Author Archives: Rena Hoisington

About Rena Hoisington

Rena M. Hoisington is the Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs at The Baltimore Museum of Art, where she has worked since 2006. She has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

Rarely Shown Aaron Douglas Watercolor Now On View

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179 © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179. © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The BMA’s stunning Aaron Douglas opaque watercolor, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction, is now on view at the Museum for the first time in nearly a decade. This extraordinary work is being presented in conjunction with the Maryland Humanities 2016 “One Maryland One Book” All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The young adult novel has a character named Rashad who is a high school student inspired by Aaron Douglas’ art:

“Let me describe what his work looks like. Imagine The Lion King. But all the lions are people. Black people. So Simba and Mufasa, are, let’s say, a black king and a prince. Now, imagine that you’re looking at them through the thickest fog ever. So thick that you can’t make out any actual feature on their bodies, but you can still see their silhouettes. So it could be any king. Or any prince. But you can still tell they’re black. That’s Aaron Douglas’s work. And the first time Mrs. Caperdeen [Rashad’s teacher] showed us a slide from his series Aspects of Negro Life, I knew the kind of art I wanted to start making.” (All American Boys, pp. 143-144)

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was a pioneering African-American artist whose style contains a multitude of influences: Art Deco and Cubism, African and Egyptian art, spirituals, and jazz. Hailing from Topeka, Kansas with a fine arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Douglas made his way to New York in 1925. There he fell in with the artists, poets, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance, designing jacket covers and illustrations for publications by the likes of James Weldon Johnson and his good friend (and fellow Kansan) Langston Hughes. Douglas’s striking work led to mural painting—first for private and then for public spaces.

In 1934, Douglas received a commission—the most important of his career—from the Public Works of Art Project, a new federal program, to paint a mural cycle for the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Douglas’s four-part mural cycle, completed by the year’s end, numbered among 1,400 murals depicting “the American scene” that were created under this New Deal initiative for public spaces throughout the United States. Douglas embraced the challenge. Entitled Aspects of Negro Life, Douglas’s four oil paintings depict an ambitious narrative of black progress, encompassing slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Depression while contending with issues of black identity, the search for freedom, and the power of education.

In 2004, the BMA acquired an extraordinary study for the second mural in this cycle, From Slavery through Reconstruction. Although Douglas made several changes between this drawing and the final painting—a more complex composition with twice as many figures—the narrative arc of rising up from oppression and suffering remains the same.

The frieze-like composition of silhouetted, stylized figures is bookended by scenes of horror and sadness: to the left are shackled, toiling slaves; to the right is a family grieving the loss of a loved one to lynching. These groups frame scenes of emancipatory struggle: at center left, we see a woman with broken shackles and a rifle in hand, none other than Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad; at center right marches a group of helmeted Union soldiers with bayonets over their shoulders, an allusion to the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, one of the first African-American regiments. At the work’s luminous center, a man stands holding a book and pointing to a mountaintop vision with twin symbols of modernity: a skyscraper and a smoke-spewing factory. The entire composition is overlaid with an abstract pattern of translucent, concentric circles, the centermost focusing the eye on the pointing man’s confident stance and gesture.

In his powerful treatment of historical, political, and racial themes, Douglas looked back in time, and also cast his gaze at the Depression-era world around him. Some eight decades later, his work—giving visual form to the hardships and aspirations of African-Americans—still speaks to us with its indelible passion and hope.

Due to the light-sensitive nature of works on paper, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction will be on view for a limited time in the BMA’s Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing 20th-century gallery. Stop by and see it through December 4, 2016.

From Russia (& Belarus) with Love

02In the spring of 1991 George Ciscle, the founder and then director/curator of The Contemporary (known then as The Museum for Contemporary Arts), organized a landmark exhibition in Baltimore entitled Photo Manifesto: Contemporary Photography in the USSR (May 19–June 21, 1991). The exhibition included 240 recent photographs by more than 45 artists in the Soviet Union. Ciscle selected these works from a larger group of photographs assembled in New York by Joseph Walker, Christopher Ursitti, and Paul McGinnis, three independent curators and gallerists who were committed to Soviet-American cultural exchange. Walker, Ursitti, and McGinnis jointly edited and wrote for a book that accompanied the exhibition, arguably the most important of a group of publications on contemporary Soviet photography that were published around this time.

The exhibition was installed in Mount Vernon, in the former Greyhound service garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street (now part of the Maryland Historical Society). Ciscle thought its emptied-out interior evoked the alternative spaces in the Soviet Union where these photographers had shown their work. To quote from the special events card that accompanied the invitation to the opening:

Before Perestroika, “unofficial” art was denied access to public viewing. In the more tolerant climate of the Gorbachev era, “unofficial” art that has surfaced is exhibited in “raw” spaces—frequently disused warehouses and industrial sites. The former Baltimore Greyhound Service Terminal, provides an appropriate parallel to these spaces.

Indeed, traces of the 1941 building’s former use were present in the form of old signage and fixtures as well as the worn parking lines on the floor and the dented metal bumper guards on the walls.

Organized according to geographical region, the photographs in the exhibition were installed on temporary aluminum walls designed by architect Steve Ziger and illuminated by natural light coming in through the skylights. Because the staff of The Contemporary then, as now, was relatively small, Ciscle relied on a large corps of volunteers to serve as visitor services and security staff. While working on the exhibition, Ciscle learned that Baltimore had one of largest Russian immigrant communities in the United States; label texts and tours were thus given not only in English but in Russian as well. There was also a small library featuring books on the Soviet Union.

Photo Manifesto: Contemporary Photography from the USSR was mounted only in Baltimore, though initially it was intended to travel throughout the United States. Less than six months after the show closed, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.

One of the visitors to Photo Manifesto was Brenda Edelson, the BMA’s Director of Programming from 1973 to 1985 and currently one of the Museum’s National Trustees. Edelson recognized affinities between the works in the exhibition and the European modernist photographs that she and her late husband Robert Edelson had collected. The Edelsons subsequently began to acquire late 20th-century photographs from Russia and other former Soviet republics.

In 2012, Brenda Edelson gave 47 of these photographs to the BMA. Ranging in date from 1959 to 2000 and encompassing the work of 14 photographers from Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine, this significant gift complements the Museum’s collection of photographs—now numbering more than 4,000—by strengthening its contemporary material and widening its global reach. Twenty of these photographs were recently included in the exhibition New Arrivals: Late 20th-Century Photographs from Russia & Belarus in the On Paper Gallery in the Contemporary Wing (September 20, 2015–March 20, 2016). Through research we have determined that at least one of these photographs, Igor Savchenko’s toned gelatin silver print 11.89-6 from the series Alphabet of Gestures, was shown in Photo Manifesto. Given the importance of this exhibition, mounted in the historical watershed year of 1991, it could not be more appropriate that the photographs Edelson has collected have found a home in Baltimore.

My greatest thanks to George Ciscle for speaking with me about the exhibition as well as providing archival material (including photographs and a copy of Edward Gunt’s article “Parking the Art in a Garage,” published in the The Baltimore Sun on June 9, 1991).

Installation shots and documentation courtesy of The Contemporary, Baltimore.

Some thoughts on prints of still lifes

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

Theodor Matham (Dutch, 1605/6-1676). Vanitas. 1622. Engraving, Sheet (cut within platemark): 225 x 136 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.) Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.3424

The still life is not as common a subject in the early history of printmaking as one might think.  I was reminded of this fact while helping Sona Johnston, then Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, make print selections for The Art of Still Life from The Baltimore Museum of Art, an exhibition that traveled to museums around Maryland in 2007 and 2010.  There were few examples of seventeenth-century still life prints in the BMA’s collection, though happily we did find Theodor Matham’s 1622 engraving Vanitas.  Here, in the composition’s foreground, one sees an assortment of carefully arranged and meticulously rendered objects, including a book of music and several instruments.  The prominent location of the plaque at center, showing the word “Vanitas” topped by a winged skull, reminds us that music, like all earthly enjoyments, offers only fleeting pleasure in the face of our mortality.

Given the relative rarity of seventeenth-century still life prints, it was with great excitement that in 2011 the Museum acquired Wenceslaus Hollar’s Murex haustellum from an untitled series of 38 shells etched by the Bohemian artist in c. 1646.  Unlike Matham, who placed his shells in an elaborate and iconographically significant setting, Hollar presents all his shells in the same straightforward fashion.  By isolating the shells against plain backgrounds, Hollar draws attention to their intrinsic beauty, focusing on their distinctive silhouettes and textures.  Each shell is to scale, with every bump and ridge on its exterior rendered in minute detail; one imagines the artist scrutinizing and marveling at the murex haustellum while slowly rotating it in his hand. Hollar’s etchings lack accompanying text, distinguishing them from scientific illustrations of the time, prints in which the imagery would be supplemented with the Latin name of each specimen, if not other relevant scientific information and a plate number.

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677). Murex haustellum, c. 1646. Etching, Sheet: 100 x 139 mm. (3 15/16 x 5 1/2 in.) Plate: 98 x 137 mm. (3 7/8 x 5 3/8 in.). John Dorsey and Robert W. Armacost Bequest Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society, BMA 2011.120

Although the murex haustellum is readily available today, it was a rarity in the seventeenth century.  Brought to Europe via maritime trade, such shells were collected both as exotic objects and scientific curiosities.  They were considered exemplary items to include in the compendium of knowledge known as a wunderkammer (“hall of wonders”), of which Baltimoreans are fortunate to have a recreation at The Walters Art Museum; there is also the wunderkammer-inspired installation An Archaeology of Knowledge by the contemporary American artist Mark Dion at the Brody Learning Commons at The Johns Hopkins University. As we know from a 1656 inventory of his collection, the Dutch artist Rembrandt owned shells, one of which most likely served as a model for the singular etching and drypoint The Shell (1650).  In etching his series of shells, it seems that Hollar worked from a particular collection, though whose it was we do not know.

Hollar’s and Rembrandt’s shell etchings lead us to one other still life print: a 2002 etching by the contemporary French printmaker Erik Desmazières entitled Register and Shells that is a promised gift to the Museum.  Desmazières is an artist who is steeped in the history of printmaking—he is a regular visitor to the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris—and over the course of his long career has explored various art historical themes in his work (including the wunderkammer).  In Register and Shells, we see a piece of coral and two shells placed on and adjacent to a well-worn tome, their inclusion paying homage to the exquisitely etched creations of his seventeenth-century predecessors.

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948) Register and Shells 2002 Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

Erik Desmazières (French, born Morocco 1948). Register and Shells. 2002. Etching Collection of Nancy Patz, Baltimore: Promised gift to The Baltimore Museum of Art

BMA Voices: The Four Disgracers

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Phaeton. 1588. Plate 3 from the series "The Four Disgracers". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 2013.357

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Phaeton. 1588. Plate 3 from the series “The Four Disgracers”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 2013.357

Rena Hoisington, Curator & Dept Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

In 2013 the BMA acquired a tour-de-force engraving we had long sought for our print collection: Hendrick Goltzius’ Phaeton. The composition, and the moralizing text that elegantly encircles it, draw inspiration from Greek mythology.

Phaeton, son of the god Helios, asked his father if he might drive his sun chariot across the heavens for one day. Helios reluctantly agreed. Phaeton began his journey with eagerness and excitement, but soon lost control of the fiery steeds. The chariot veered too close to the earth, causing it to catch fire. To prevent further destruction Zeus, king of the gods, knocked Phaeton out of the sky with one of his lightning bolts.

In the background of Goltzius’ print one glimpses the plunging chariot, missing one wheel, and four horses helplessly pawing the air. Front and center is the nude figure of Phaeton plunging to his death, his curly locks pulled upwards by the winds swirling around him. The silhouette of his rippling back muscles is echoed in the sinuous lines of the clouds behind him and the billows of smoke from the burning earth below.

Goltzius executed Phaeton in 1588 as one of a series of four engravings entitled The Four Disgracers after the designs of his contemporary Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. The theme of the series is hubris: each of these characters from Greek mythology has been “disgraced” or punished for aspiring to be like the gods. And yet to experience all four of these prints together—which we can now do at the BMA, thanks to the acquisition of Phaeton—underscores that the series is first and foremost about Goltzius’ virtuosity as an artist. The free-falling figures of Tantalus, Icarus, Phaeton, and Ixion demonstrate variations on a pose shown from four different points of view. Two fall in light, two tumble through darkness. Goltzius employed a complex system of tapering and swelling lines to delineate their brawny bodies, producing sculptural effects that are amplified through dramatic contrasts of light and dark; their figures appear to plummet into our own space.

Hendrick Goltzius and After a design by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Tantalus. 1588. Plate 1 from the series "The Four Disgracers". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Ruth Cole Kainen, in Honor of Jay McKean Fisher, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, BMA 2005.47

Hendrick Goltzius and After a design by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Tantalus. 1588. Plate 1 from the series “The Four Disgracers”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Ruth Cole Kainen, in Honor of Jay McKean Fisher, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, BMA 2005.47

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.

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Icarus. 1588. Plate 2 from the series “The Four Disgracers”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of James and Leslie Billet, Baltimore, BMA 1983.11

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Phaeton. 1588. Plate 3 from the series "The Four Disgracers". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 2013.357

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Phaeton. 1588. Plate 3 from the series “The Four Disgracers”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 2013.357

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Ixion. 1588. Plate 4 from the series "The Four Disgracers". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.137

Hendrick Goltzius and After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Ixion. 1588. Plate 4 from the series “The Four Disgracers”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.137

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: “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”

Lepic Install shot

Installation of Ludovic Napoléon Lépic’s “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”, in the exhibition Print by Print: Series from Dürer to Lichtenstein, 2012.

Rena Hoisington, Curator & Dept Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

In 2012 I had the privilege of working with ten undergraduates from Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art to organize the exhibition Print by Print: Series from Dürer to Lichtenstein. Out of the 29 series of prints selected for inclusion in the show, Ludovic Napoléon Lépic’s Views from the Banks of the Scheldt was among the students’ favorites. When this series was installed in the third gallery of the exhibition, the 20 prints, grouped in two horizontal rows, spanned a wall more than 25 feet in length.

All 20 of the prints in this series were created from the same etched copper plate depicting a tranquil river landscape. Only one impression, however, was printed by means of pure etching—that is, the artist worked ink into the acid-bitten lines, then wiped the surface of the plate clean before printing. For the other nineteen impressions, the artist worked directly on the plate’s surface, employing a range of inking and wiping processes to recreate the ever-changing effects of weather, various times of day, diverse topography, and the occasional dramatic event.

Look closely at the following images and you’ll see that certain compositional elements remain constant: the signal post and man in the foreground, the windmills and ships in the background. Ludovic Napoléon Lépic referred to this technique as “l’eau-forte mobile” or “variable etching,” though today it is usually referred to as monoprint. In his 1876 publication How I Became an Etcher, Lépic claims to have printed 85 variations of Views from the Banks of the Scheldt, but aside from the unique group of prints in the BMA’s collection, only one other impression of this composition is known.

The Print by Print exhibition provided the first opportunity for the BMA to exhibit this series in its entirety, and it was indeed revelatory and awe-inspiring to see the range of effects Lépic was able to achieve.

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). View from the Banks of the Scheldt. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Garrett Collection, BMA 1979.201

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). View from the Banks of the Scheldt. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Garrett Collection, BMA 1979.201

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Sunrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.9

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Sunrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.9

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Rain. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.10

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Rain. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.10

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.11

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.11

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Moon through the Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.12

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Moon through the Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.12

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Night. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.13

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Night. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.13

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Dawn. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.14

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Dawn. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.14

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow in the Fog. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.15

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow in the Fog. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.15

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). A Shower. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.16

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). A Shower. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.16

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). After the Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.17

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). After the Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.17

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Calm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.18

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Calm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.18

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.19

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.19

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Evening. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.20

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Evening. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.20

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Trunk of a Chestnut Tree. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.21

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Trunk of a Chestnut Tree. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.21

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.22

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.22

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonlight. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.23

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonlight. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.23

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.24

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.24

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows and Poplars. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.25

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows and Poplars. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. he Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.25

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Mill Fire. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.33

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Mill Fire. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.33

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.34

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.34

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 unfolding pathways of Charles Norman Sladen’s memory and imagination

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norma Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norman Sladen

Rena Hoisington, Curator & Dept Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

One of the most exciting, and challenging, aspects of starting a new curatorial position is immersing oneself in a new collection, especially as opportunities for discovery abound. Imagine my delighted surprise eight years ago when I came across Charles Norman Sladen’s album Great Chebeague Island, Maine. I could tell from its hand-stitched leather and fabric cover that this was no ordinary album of family photographs.

Opening the album past the bright yellow endpapers and the hand-lettered title page, one sees how Sladen has arranged and pasted down gelatin silver prints of family and friends on vacation in 1916 on Great Chebeague Island off the coast of southern Maine. Sladen then augmented these photographs—and sometimes visually connected them—with exquisite pen and black ink drawings.

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norma Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norman Sladen

The emergence of the handheld camera and roll film in the late nineteenth century brought about a meteoric rise in amateur photographers: men, women, even teenagers excited to enjoy and experiment with the new technology. The photographs in this album were probably taken not only by Sladen but also by his wife and his daughters, and perhaps friends.

Like the creators of most vernacular photographs from this period, Sladen himself is something of a mystery. But the images in his album possess an immediacy and familiarity that draw us in. The subjects of these informal snapshots are akin to those we find in our own incessant recording of our lives with digital cameras and smartphones: portraits of friends, family, and pets; landscape views; images capturing the pleasures of leisure; and, of course, silly but inspired moments (such as the picture of a man posing here as a monument).

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norma Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norman Sladen

And yet Sladen’s commemorative album is anything by a quotidian object. Particularly through its remarkable use of drawings, it reveals a sensibility that could transform everyday images into something singular and extraordinary. Slowly turning the pages of this oblong album, one seems to follow the unfolding pathways of Sladen’s memory and imagination with each stroke of his pen.

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norma Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norman Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norma Sladen

Charles Norman Sladen. Great Chebeague Island, Maine. 1916. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2001.289. © Charles Norman Sladen

Watch the pages of the Sladen album turn below.

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 noble portrait of Anne-Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons.

Jean Baptiste Greuze. Anne Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons. c. 1759. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.198

Jean Baptiste Greuze. Anne Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons. c. 1759. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.198

Rena Hoisington, Curator & Dept Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

In 2002, long before I ever suspected that I would work at the BMA, I made my first visit to the Museum. I was a graduate student in the midst of writing my dissertation on eighteenth-century French portraiture. I grew so attached to some of the portraits I was studying that my mother would jokingly refer to their sitters as “my friends.”

Then, as now, Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s beguiling c. 1759 oil painting of Anne-Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons, did not disappoint. An image of a refined woman about to play her guitar, it offers us its own sort of visual music. The Marquise is dressed in sartorial splendor in a short, hooded mantle and dress decorated with ruffles, completed, of course, by fashionable accessories, hair, and make-up. A pearl necklace sets off her luminous skin while her powdered hair is adorned with a floral pompon – an ornament popularized at mid-century by Madame de Pompadour, the official companion to King Louis XV of France. As was customary for the time, the Marquise wears white powder and rouged cheeks, heavily applied to make the eyes look brighter.

In eighteenth-century France, musical training was an integral part of the education of women of the upper middle classes and the nobility. The guitar was a particularly popular instrument in the 1750s and here we see the Marquise displaying her musical accomplishment to charming effect. Instead of showing the Marquise merely posing with her instrument, Greuze depicted her tuning her guitar. Her left hand adjusts a tuning peg while her right hand plucks at the strings, her thumb poised on the top strings to balance the hand. Look closely and you’ll see that Greuze inexplicably painted five courses of double strings above her right hand but six courses of double strings at the bridge. The six-course guitar, however, did not come into use until later in the eighteenth century.

Jean Baptiste Greuze. Anne Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons. c. 1759. (detail.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.198

Jean Baptiste Greuze. Anne Marie de Bricqueville de Laluserne, Marquise de Bezons (detail). c. 1759. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.198

The Marquise draws toward us with her eyes and smile, even as her attention is pulled toward the sounds she is making as she listens for the proper pitch. This tuning action, combined with her welcoming smile, lend such immediacy to the portrait. It is as if we have interrupted the Marquise in her music-making, from which she turns to engage us; the moment of this encounter appears to unfold right before our eyes as rustling fabrics and vibrating guitar strings send their delicate sounds into the air.

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.