Category Archives: Works of Art

Another famous race horse: Iroquois

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

American Pharaoh has won the Triple Crown of American horse racing—the first thoroughbred to do so in 37 years. His name will be remembered alongside that of Secretariat, Affirmed, and other great horses. However, he will not be commemorated in a Stevengraph.

Stevengraphs were woven silk pictures made during the later decades of the 19th century at the firm of Thomas Stevens in Coventry, England. Stevens was a ribbon manufacturer, who faced possible bankruptcy when fashion dictated that feathers rather than ribbons were the proper trim for ladies’ hats. To avoid this fate, Stevens turned his looms to producing woven bookmarks and small pictures in silk. These depicted famous people and events, including the winning of the Epsom Derby in 1881 by Iroquois, an American bred horse. Iroquois and his jockey Fred Archer continued on to win the St. Leger, the second of three races in the English Triple Crown. Despite a second place showing in the first of the three races (the 2,000 Guineas), the horse and jockey enjoyed fame both in England and America. Iroquois’ reputation even boosted attendance at American racetracks. Perhaps that is why Kate Mattingly Edwards of West Virginia had a Stevengraph depicting Iroquois and included it in her elaborate crazy quilt, which is currently on exhibition in the Jean and Allan Berman Textile Gallery at the BMA.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889. Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889.
Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining
Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Grappling with Challenging Topics in Art Museums: Sande Society masks at the BMA

Installation view. (L-R) Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). 1930-1940, Sherbro Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.251 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). Early 20th century, Mende Region, Sierra Leone 1987.149 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask. Early 20th century, Sherbro Region, Bonce Island, Sierra Leone 1989.389 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown . Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.50 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown. Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1991.127.

Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s newly reopened African Art galleries.

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun published an editorial on an important and controversial issue—female circumcision (sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation)—and its relationship to a group of Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s new African art galleries. The masks are worn by senior Sande Society women in Liberia and Sierra Leone during initiation ceremonies for young girls that mark their transition into adulthood.

Like most museum objects, the helmet masks tell multiple and complex stories. For example, their refined carving and harmonious design demonstrate the incredible variety, innovation, and artistic excellence of their makers. Displayed together––as they are in the BMA––the masks counter the prevalent notion of African art as static and uniform.

A second story highlights concepts of idealized female beauty within the Sande Society and the individuality of the masks’ patrons. The broad forehead represents character and wisdom while the sensuously ringed neck signifies fertility and good health. Narrow eyes show focus and introspection and suggest demure behavior, while sealed lips indicate an ability to keep secrets. The smooth, glossy black surface not only evokes good health and grooming but also refers to the dark forest streams in which spirits reside. The elaborate coiffure serves as a personal statement of style and a reflection of social prestige. While all Sande Society masks carry these standard features, each is highly individualized according to its patron’s taste. One mask wears glasses and earrings while others are adorned with birds, cooking pots, cowrie shells and other symbolic motifs that refer to Sande traditions, proverbs, or teachings. In Africa where masks are typically a male tradition, the helmet masks speak to the power and artistic influence of women in the Sande Society.

Yet another narrative addresses the social and cultural context of the masks. Masks like these are performed at masquerades during significant civic events in society including funerals, honoring important visitors, and the initiation of young women into adulthood. A centuries-old tradition, during the initiation process senior members instruct young initiates in their roles as women: proper sexual behavior, childbearing, and child rearing. Some initiations also include the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, an operation that is seen by some as a sacred rite of passage and by many others as a human rights violation. Some societies have stopped this practice of their own accord or because the country has made it illegal, in some cases to help stem the spread of the ebola virus.

Female circumcision has been a topic of international discussion. Just this week, Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson signed a bill that criminalizes female genital mutilation or cutting. According to the World Health Organization, more than 125 million girls have experienced female circumcision, to varying degrees, in the 29 countries where this procedure is concentrated. The practice is also on the rise in the U.S., where according to Newsweek, more than half a million woman are at risk of undergoing the procedure or have already experienced it.

How do we as viewers hold these stories—stories of beauty and creativity, culture and tradition, individuality and self-efficacy, pain and suffering—simultaneously? And what is the museum’s role in negotiating and presenting multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings? How do we tell balanced stories that address both the artistic context and potential contentious human experiences that these objects touch? How do we share controversial information without feeding into negative stereotypes or narrow frameworks often associated with African cultures? These are some of the questions BMA staff are grappling with as we strive to be a responsible, reflexive, and relevant museum.

Works of art embody multiple, complex, and sometimes difficult narratives that span the spectrum of human experience. They speak of beauty and joy, pain and sorrow, love and loss—often at the same time. As stewards of cultural heritage, museums are uniquely positioned to provide a space for inquiry, reflection, and dialogue on important historical and contemporary issues.

Much thought, research, and consultation with experts went into the presentation and interpretation of the Sande Society helmet masks. Our discussions have included how to provide information about the masks that highlights their artistic value and how to provide broader insights about the culture from which they came that extends beyond this one practice. We have also discussed the best format to use in presenting the information. Museums have a variety of tools at their disposal, from printed wall texts, workshops, and lectures to newer technologies and social media.

With every exhibition our goal is to provide accurate, complete, and accessible information on works of art and the ideas that surround them, and at the same time honor the interpretations and narratives that our visitors bring to their experiences with objects. We are taking a closer look at how we present information about the Sande Society masks and other challenging issues in art throughout the museum in order to create the best possible experience for all our visitors. As we work toward finding new and better ways of communicating difficult information, we welcome your response to the questions below.

  • What role should art museums play in presenting difficult historical and contemporary issues?
  • How can we address the different stories that objects can tell us?

We appreciate your interest in the BMA and hope to see you in the galleries.

 

Jay Fisher, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs
Anne Manning, Deputy Director for Education and Interpretation

The BMA acquires Magritte’s ‘Delusions of Grandeur’, 1967.

René Magritte. Delusions of Grandeur. 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. BMA 2014.139

René Magritte. Delusions of Grandeur. 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. BMA 2014.139

While we’re always excited to acquire new works of art, some additions to the collection are particularly meaningful. Today, we’re very pleased to share the news that René Magritte’s 1967 sculpture Delusions of Grandeur was recently added to our collection of modern art.

The work came to the BMA as a gift of National Trustee Sylvia de Cuevas, and is the first sculpture by Magritte to enter the collection. The Belgian artist created this monumental bronze during the last year of his life and there are very few casts of it. It will be displayed, beginning this week, in a gallery with works by Magritte’s contemporaries: Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, André Masson, and Joan Miró.

We are thrilled to welcome this remarkable sculpture into the BMA’s celebrated collection of modern art. This imaginative artwork so well represents Magritte’s unique vision and is sure to become one of the most memorable artworks on view here.
BMA Director Doreen Bolger

René Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967) is best known for his surrealist paintings, which place ordinary objects in unusual contexts, often giving new meanings to familiar things. Delusions of Grandeur is one of a series of large bronzes that Magritte produced at the end of his life with the encouragement of his friend and dealer Alexander Iolas, who was the uncle of de Cuevas.

Much like his 1962 painting on the same theme, the work appears as a classical torso of a female figure emerging as though in telescopic form, or like a Russian matryoshka doll, each of the three segments nestled within one another. He has incorporated the theme of enlargement and reduction in this bronze with more of the figure seen in the smallest segment and less in the largest, creating a strong image of the female form.

Earlier this week, the Guardian published a piece on Magritte to mark the anniversary of his birth. Describing the artist as a “surrealist comic”, it explores the humor found in Magritte’s work. Does Delusions of Grandeur carry on this comedic tradition? You’ll have to come in and see for yourself.

Delusions of Grandeur is on display now at the BMA.

BMA Voices: Using art to explore language

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New  York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. ©  Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician

This artwork is compelling and it confuses me. I like crossword puzzles, cryptograms, brainteasers in general, etymology, and games of language manipulation. It seems obvious that playing with language is a significant part of Bruce Nauman’s artistic practice. Our Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman recently wrote:

In addition to provoking viewers to consider the aesthetic dimensions of a format associated with advertising, Nauman called attention to the idea that visual art can be a means for exploring language.

Especially in his language-based work, Bruce Nauman is SERIOUSLY funny. But he’s serious, too.

It’s easy enough to grasp the progression (spelling and rhyming) of the words in the title. How did he come to those particular words though? Which one came first? Or was it just an immediate kind of thing where the words mentally landed one after the next? I’ve wondered if you’re intended to think of the sad cliché of violins playing? It’s easy then to think of something that might really be sad. VIOLENCE and SILENCE together = what? It could be death. Is the word SILENCE intended to get you to think about the silent nature of the neon itself, flashing in the dark? Or is SILENCE to make you think about VIOLENCE being under-reported or ignored? Could it just be that Nauman heard a great piece of violin music that had a violent crescendo and then got really quiet? Or, maybe the cadence of the words has a natural incline and decline as you think them or say them. But I doubt it’s that simple.

What about the colors? The sequence of words goes like this:  VVSand then the same words, only completely backwards:

SEE
Do the specific individual colors or their transitions make you feel the ideas of the words differently? I think they must. I’m not sure it’s fair to say it, but maybe Nauman assigned the specific colors to each word for a specific conceptual reason, manipulating the gases as if using physics to harness synesthetics. Nauman studied mathematics and physics in college, so I assume his use of the noble gases is pretty well-informed. The sequencing of the words, too, is another aspect entirely that is mathematically specific.

When I moved here in 1989 as a young art student, I first saw this piece and was absolutely astounded by it. I hadn’t seen any of Nauman’s work before then, and it introduced to a whole new genre of artwork. Everything I’ve seen of his since has moved me.

Now that I’ve lived here for 25 years, the way I experience this work is slightly different. I think it’s because it’s located in Baltimore. It’s not pleasant to admit that Baltimore has a reputation for violent crime. Maybe any city where it was installed would summon up the same ideas. Yet there is an impact or echo of a city’s identity on a work of public art. Language manipulated in this way is suggestive politically. Figuring out the suggestion is part of the intellectual challenge in looking at Nauman.

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: Louis Comfort Tiffany Window of the Baptism of Christ: the other side!

Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium

Manufactured by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company from a design by Frank Brangwyn.. Window: Baptism of Christ. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Herman and Rosa L. Cohen, and Ben and Zelda G. Cohen, BMA 1979.5. © Estate of Frank Brangwyn. Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium.

Christine Downie, Objects Conservator

The monument Tiffany Window, Baptism of Christ, has graced the entrance to the BMA auditorium since 1982. When the time came to reinstall the piece in the American Wing, the question arose of which side should be shown. There is no correct side to a stained-glass window since it has viewers from both the inside and the outside of the building.

Looking at the window in its original installation, it became clear that the window had been shown from the exterior viewpoint. For instance, it might have struck the viewer that St. John was baptizing Jesus with his left hand, whereas in a church one might expect to see him pouring with his right hand. All the supporting rods were at the back of the piece, whereas it is traditional in a church for the stained-glass windows to have the supporting rods on the interior. Further investigation showed that the original cartoon by the artist Frank Brangwyn, which Tiffany used for the stained-glass design, has St. John pouring the water on Jesus’ head using his right hand. The decision was made by Dr. David Park Curry, Senior Curator and Dept. Head of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture, to show the Tiffany window from the other side in the reinstallation of the American Wing. Thus began one of the toughest installation challenges in the museum to date.

1979.5 Tiffany Window Baptism of Christ Aug 5, 2013 085 (Small)The piece had been completely restored in 1979 by a New York City stained-glass specialist and separated into four panels for easier handling. In the thirty years following, a few conservation issues developed, such as a brass supporting rod on an upper panel, which had separated from the frame at one end. Fortunately, we had the expertise of Tage Jakobsen of Artisan Glass Works, Inc., Baltimore, who carried out various metal repairs and gave advice on the display aspects of the piece. We were also fortunate to have local mount maker and sculptor Paul Daniel to help fabricate new supports for the window. Under the direction of Dave Verchomin, Installation Manager, the BMA installation team and an army of contract art handlers deinstalled the window and placed it in storage to await stabilization and cleaning.

The first piece I treated was the smallest, and located at the base of the window. You can see the exterior side and the interior side below.

Exterior viewof the glass.

Exterior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

Much to my delight there was a painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view that had some old repairs and was covered in surface grime – further evidence that this was indeed the interior side.

March 27, 2014 006 (Small)

A painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view.

 

July 25th, 2014 005 (Small)

The BMA Registrars and Installation team carefully move the Tiffany Window.

The treatment of each panel was carried out over a few months, with art handling help from the BMA Registrars and Installation team. After extensive research, a new LED lighting system was selected by Lighting Designer Kel Millionie. After much planning and thought the BMA Installation crew and contract art handler army came together again to reinstall St. John Baptist window in November, 2014, just in time for the opening of the American Wing.

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed.

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

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: Melting into Félix Vallotton

Félix Vallotton. The Lie. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.298

Félix Vallotton. The Lie. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.298

Anna Fitzgerald, Temporary Coordinator of Image Services & Rights

Years ago I lived in Charles Village, so I was just a walk away from great art to take me all over the world. I love to wander through museums, letting the art grab me. Vallotton grabbed me.

I loved the way these figures wrapped up around each other; how their bodies were human, but also liquid. They melted into each other and the room. And the title ­– The Lie – that’s a good title.

There is also that red. Vallotton brings this woman to the forefront with her red dress, but the table, and the chair all the way in the back, is red too. The woman not only melts into her lover, but the furniture. It’s as though she could be dusted off, folded up, and put away just like the tablecloth.

I love the reflection of red on her face – on both their faces – after too much wine. I love the shape of her fingers on his back. I love the blob of their hands together, the indistinguishable features of a man all in black. I love the wallpaper, and the light spot in the background where the chairs meet. This gold wallpaper gives this scene a time and a place.

When I first saw this painting, I bought a postcard of it in the BMA Shop. I pinned it to a board near my desk at my home, and later at my workshop, and every now and then fell into it again…

Félix Vallotton. To Edgar Poe. 1894. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.12.375

Félix Vallotton. To Edgar Poe. 1894. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.12.375

During another trip to the museum I went into an exhibition on Edgar Allen Poe. One woodcut in particular seemed to capture the moment of a thought, the direct line to a feeling, in a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe. It was Vallotton again. I would later find out that The Lie, which I love so much, also began as a woodcut, which is in the collection at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. I am drawn to the similarities between The Lie and his woodcuts, where people melt into the background or swirl around like leaves on the sidewalk. We are part of the world, of the sky and the walls, not simply standing out in front of it.

Some years later, when I was studying Puppet Arts at The University of Connecticut, I had an assignment to recreate a landscape painting that would firstly be projected, and must then move. With India Inks and transparencies, I painted Vallotton’s Landscape with Trees. And with a series of blue and orange lighting gels, I could set the painting in motion, completing the sunset Vallotton had started for us. Those colors, too, struck me. He had frozen a sunset, that point in the day when light and color changes every second. Since then, I notice how the color of the sky transforms, how the blues and oranges and pinks warp and melt into each other.

Staring off into the works of Vallotton has changed the way I look at the world. It is that change in me that illustrates one of the many reasons art is important and necessary. As the new year brings new promises for self growth, I invite you to get lost in more art and just see if your perspective doesn’t change.

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: Look up!

Behind a set of bronze doors at the BMA is a sculpture that few people get a chance to see. Angela Elliott, Associate Objects Conservator, introduces a secret gem in the BMA collection.

Naum Gabo. Construction. 1951. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.148.1. The works of  Naum Gabo © Nina Williams

Naum Gabo. Construction. 1951. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.148.1. The works of Naum Gabo © Nina Williams

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: Reflections on Christmas

Eugène Samuel Grasset (French, 1841‑1917). Drawing for Harper's Magazine: Christmas. 1889. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George  A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from  individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.13255

Eugène Samuel Grasset (French, 1841‑1917). Drawing for Harper’s Magazine: Christmas. 1889. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.13255

Suse Cairns, Digital Content Manager

It is strange to spend Christmas in a country on the other side of the world. In Australia, where I am from, Christmas means summer. It is sweltering hot days, and swimming at the beach. It is sunburn, and stickiness. It is sometimes a roast lunch, but just as often a barbeque outdoors, or a seafood platter. It is not a place where Christmas looks like the movies; like Home Alone or Love Actually, all snow and decorations. Rather, Santa Claus often dons shorts and goes surfing when I see him back in my sunburnt country.

Living in Baltimore, then, is a revelation. Here, December brings cool weather, and the possibility of snow. The lights of 34th Street in Hampden sparkle. The streets look and feel like every fictional Christmas scene I’ve ever imagined. It is like living in a dream.

Until I moved here to work at the BMA in May, I didn’t realize just how much my ideas and images of the world had come from America; from the films and fictions made here, from the artists, whose work I had grown up with, but rarely seen in the flesh before now. My ideas about what Christmas “should” look like are all grounded in America. I have friends who write from home, asking whether the streets and houses really are as decorated with lights and decorations as they always were in the media. And, of course, the answer is yes.

I find inspiration in Drawing for Harper’s Magazine: Christmas by Eugène Samuel Grasset for two main reasons. The first is that the image itself is beautiful in its simplicity, and its detail. The second is that it reminds me yet again of how close to the center of the world I moved when I came to Baltimore. Harper’s Magazine is “the oldest general-interest monthly in America,” dating back to 1850. So many important and influential writers have graced its pages; writers like Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Twain. These are the people who have written books that shape the way we see the world – even in Australia.

The artists in the BMA’s collection, too, are those whose influence has traveled incredibly far. To be in a museum with the largest collection of Matisse’s in the world is humbling.

This Christmas will be unlike any I have ever experienced. No one will be out in the yard batting a cricket ball around. There won’t be kangaroos hopping through the paddocks. But I don’t think things will be too unfamiliar… I’ve grown up imagining a wintery American Christmas as long as I can remember.

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: Good Night Good Morning.

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

In 1976, American artist Joan Jonas created the 11-minute video work titled “Good Night Good Morning”. In this piece, Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern, and Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art, discuss Jonas’ piece, her relationship with the viewer and the camera, and the concepts behind the piece.

 

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Presenters: Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art
Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern
Audio recording and editing: Hannah Malloy
© The Baltimore Museum of Art 2014

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: 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.