Category Archives: She Poses for Moses

Acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started the first tale of the purloined painting, “She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner)” in The BMA’s Renoir Returns continuing story challenge. Start at the bottom of this page to read it from the beginning and add your 500 characters to the latest posted “evidence”!

She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner), the final pages…

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

In March, acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner) – the first continuing story in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the beginning of that tale, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it.

By David Simon
Nine months of loose-fitting robes and girlish misdirection were coming to a head, right here, at the low tide of morning.

“Hey,” said the princess to the most trusted handmaiden,  ”what’s that over by those white flowers.”

“It looks like a basket,” said her servant, dry as dirt.

“I wonder what’s in it?”

An infant’s cry answered, as if in reply.  Or, maybe, that was laughter.

By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.

Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.

“Wolves!” she gasped.

The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.

“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”

The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

By Jan Ryan
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.

By Jan Ryan
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

By Jan Ryan
I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

This is the final post for She Poses for Moses. The Renoir Returns exhibition is on display in the Museum until 20 July 2014. Examine all the evidence in the Renoir Returns Flickr group, and visit the BMA to see the all the works of art shown in this story in person.

Exhibit L: Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

This is the final piece for She Poses for Moses, one of two stories in the Renoir Returns Story Challenge that have taken us on a journey inspired by weekly “evidence” inspired by the purloined painting.

I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

Exhibit K: Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.292

Theo van Doesburg was a founding member of the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), formed in 1917. The group, which included artist Piet Mondrian, sought to express ideal spiritual harmony by radically simplifying form and color. This idea led to compositions based exclusively on vertical and horizontal elements and a palette limited to the three primary colors, as well as black and white. “Interior” appears more relaxed and painterly than many De Stijl works, and includes diagonals and curves, as well as strong earth tones. These features have led some scholars to date the work earlier than its 1919 inscription (which would place it in the period just prior to the self-imposed restrictions of full-fledged De Stijl).

“Interior” is one of only two works of the important De Stijl movement in the BMA’s holdings. Both were purchased by Saidie May in the late 1940s, proving her foresight as a collector of modernism.

The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

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 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…

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 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.

Read the rest of the continuing story… 

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?

Read the rest of the continuing story…