Category Archives: #RenoirReturns

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Exhibit E: Attributed to Caterina van Hemessen, Portrait of a Young Lady, c. 1560.

Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Caterina van Hemessen, c. 1560.

Attributed to Caterina van Hemessen. Portrait of a Young Lady. c. 1560. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.397
Eight portraits signed by Caterina van Hemessen are known. Although this painting is not one of those bearing her signature, the pose of the unidentified sitter, the setting, and the stylish costume and accessories of the young woman are consistent with the artist’s known work. The young sitter wears a richly brocaded cap, as well as an elegant dark dress accented with gold buttons, neck chains, bracelets, and belt. Her delicate hands and slim waist suggest she is no more than a teenager.
This jewel-like painting was purchased by Saidie May in New York in 1924, when she and her husband Herbert were forming their collection of historic and modern works of art. It appears in several photographs of their New York apartment in various locations, and must have been one of her favorite objects. In 1940, the portrait was installed in the Museum’s Renaissance Room, a gallery of historic works of art from Saidie May’s collection.

By Jan Ryan

These kleptomaniacs would steal candles from a church. He pointed and she pocketed. With the ruckus behind the plants (Remus and Romulus basket kidnapping) you may wonder how anyone witnessed anything but I had a higher vantage point.

Newspapers were spread open across the carpet. They LOVED the publicity. They read the news coverage out loud to each other every day. Things were calm with Saidie May and the young lady but forget any peace with these basket cases. They were your feral children.

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Exhibit 1: Photo of Saidie May’s Park Lane Apartment

Photo of Saidie May's Park Lane Apartment showing Renoir hanging on the wall

Photo of collector Saidie May’s Park Lane Apartment. Renoir’s “On the Shore of the Seine” hangs top left.

By Jan Ryan

Honestly, you didn’t protect me well. You let me go out with anyone, the sick woman, anyone, acting like it would be a wonderful experience for me. The patriarch said I was the best thing that ever happened to them. And then I was with them. They were my people. How were you to know that the prettiest one would end up alone and impoverished, discarded in a box of knickknacks at a flea market? Well let me assure you I witnessed plenty of secret adventures before I became too much of a liability.

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Exhibit D: Georges Seurat, Preparatory Sketch for the Painting “La Grève du Bas Butin, Honfleur”, 1886.

Georges Seurat, Preparatory Sketch for the Painting "La Grève du Bas Butin, Honfleur", 1886

Georges Seurat. Preparatory Sketch for the Painting “La Grève du Bas Butin, Honfleur”. 1886. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.357
Georges Seurat’s monumental A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande-Jatte (illustrated below) made a compelling case for the artist’s Pointillist approach to painting, when it was shown at the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. That same year, Seurat spent the summer at Honfleur on the Normandy coast using his revolutionary technique to paint views of the beach and explore the varied color and optical effects produced by the sun on the water and sand. Shimmering little studies, such as this one, served as the basis for the large-scale compositions he created in his Paris studio.
This small oil sketch was purchased by Saidie and Herbert May from the galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris on the same day they acquired Renoir’s On the Shore of the Seine in November 1925.

By Jan Ryan

He stares down at the shore. He saved her, hoisted the carcass from the depths. The fabulous creature laughed at him, at all of them. The rest laughed too as if they understood erasure by water, mockingly floating a bubble up to the distant vague ship. How could she prefer to be hidden/lost/gone from them? Were we imbued to crave beauty only to deprive us… was creation not our assigned mission? Could one greedy, selfish lover, an ocean, incinerator, fireplace or thief be allowed to kidnap her?

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Contours of a thief.

Painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, with man's hand and magnifying glass in foreground.

Pierre Auguste Renoir. On the Shore of the Seine. c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1
“This weekend’s auction of a flea-market find that turned out to be a work by French Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been put on hold, after evidence turned up the painting had been pilfered from a Baltimore museum decades ago.” – Maureen Pao, NPR; image by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/09/27/161911081/renoir-found-at-flea-market-may-be-real-but-its-also-stolen

By Justin Sirois

For thirty-eight years of its secret life, the painting hung in her study, above the hearth that was never lit—sitting there waiting for her cat’s tail dust the frame’s intricate cursive. The study door was always locked. No guests allowed. No husband around. There was a desk and hundreds of books on bookshelves and an austere, but hand-me-down leather chair for reading in. Curtains blocked nearly all daylight.

She, the bandit, would sip tea and stare beyond the painting’s warm foliage. How the gesture of breeze transported her. Prisms of pastel smeared beyond Eden. Men and women walked along the shoreline. Basking and kissing. The bandit sipped and reached into her pocket with her free hand, fingering the study door’s key. She slid the key out and brought her fingers to her lips, kissing the back of her hand.

The cat curled around her ankle—dusting her off too. The painting hummed colorful. Sang inside the study. It was, in a way, a prison. A secret that could only be enjoyed when she fantasied about telling it. The people in the painting walked away.

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Exhibit C: Edgar Degas Self Portrait c. 1856

Self portrait of a young Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas. Self Portrait. c. 1856. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest Fund, BMA 1953.205
Throughout his lifetime, Edgar Degas, like Rembrandt before him, produced a significant group of self-portraits. Here, the dramatic shading on one side of the face focuses attention on the artist’s eye making it, perhaps, a window to the soul, a reference to the artist’s sensitive vision, or more broadly, a symbol of human creativity.
After the theft of Renoir’s “On the Shore of the Seine” from the Museum in 1951, the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company paid the BMA $2500 as compensation for the loss. In 1953, the Museum acquired Degas’ “Self-Portrait” with those funds in addition to monies from Saidie May’s bequest.

By Ken James Guessen

Mauve shadows paint their faces.

Monet tells of her last days. Renoir interrupts. Degas squints, listening to the memory as if it were his own.
***
“Relax your arms like a ballerina.”

She’s goes under. He dives, surfaces.

“Aline!”

Tracing the rope to her waist, he lifts.

She arrives coughing, choking.

“A…line! You must learn to swim.”

“Get this off me!”

“La corda salvato la vita.”

“The rope was just long enough to hang me.”
***
The next morning he taps his razor. His reflection, an echo, his eyes reminiscing.

“I punched a hole in the wall,” he tells her.
***
Laughter erupts. Monet leaves abruptly.

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