BMA Voices: Mirror, Mirror

Anthony Nelme. Dressing Table Mirror. 1691/1692. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth S. Battye Fund, BMA 1982.3

Anthony Nelme. Dressing Table Mirror. 1691/1692. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth S. Battye Fund, BMA 1982.3

Dr. David Park Curry, Senior Curator, Decorative Art, American Painting & Sculpture, BMA

Ever since the Venus of Willendorf got her hair done, sometime between 28,000 and 25,000 BCE, human beings have given much thought to personal appearance. Venus’s prehistoric curls — the earliest-known conscious hair style — wouldn’t look all that much out of place in a contemporary night club, although her ample form might cause comment in an era marked by trendy concerns over sugar, butter, eggs, red meat, gluten, and so on. As Bernard Rudofsky’s classic text The Unfashionable Human Body (1971) makes clear, beauty is ever in the eye of the beholder. But we still tend to ponder who’s the fairest.

The Venus of Willendorf, 28,000 – 25,000 BCE. Limestone tinted with red ochre. H: 4.4 inches. Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

Emblazoned with an applied gilt crest initialed JB and topped with a couple of seated amorini (cupids) flanking a somewhat formidable female bust, the museum’s imposing silver mirror once jostled for space upon the dressing table of Judith Bridgeman, daughter of Sir John Bridgeman, second baronet, of Castle Bromwich in Warwick County, England. It must have been a mighty big table. As befit Judith’s aristocratic lineage, the mirror was part of a lavish toilet service, comprising 21 silver-and-gilt pieces, including tazze (footed dishes), candlesticks, brushes, scent bottles, boxes, and even a pin cushion. In the days before zippers and velcro, a lady of rank and fashion was partially pinned into her layers of clothing. Getting dressed in the morning was something of a production number and unlike today’s private ablutions, the daily toilette was a formalized semi-public performance, attended by various chamber maids and/or intimate acquaintances.

For awhile, Judith’s baroque toilet ensemble belonged to American newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. After 1918, his mistress was the Ziegfield Follies actress Marion Davies. Backed by Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures, and relentlessly publicized in the Hearst newspapers, Miss Davies eventually starred in 46 silent and talking films. In between engagements, the couple staged a glamorous social life in their 56-bedroom mansion at San Simeon, California, mixing with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. They also entertained at St. Donat’s Castle in Wales, purchased by Hearst for Davies as a present. On visiting the castle, George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked, “This is what God would have built if he had had the money.” The resplendent silver toilet set, including the BMA’s mirror, was kept at St. Donat’s. Even when out of Hollywood, a legend of the silver screen such as Marion Davies would want her makeup always to be perfect.

Toilet set, Anthony Nelme, London, 1691/1692, now dispersed. Photograph from Catalogue of the Highly Important Collection of Old English and Foreign Silver.  The Property of William Randolph Hearst, Esq.  Removed from St. Donat’s Castle, Wales.  London, Christie, Manson & Woods, December 1938.

Toilet set, Anthony Nelme, London, 1691/1692, now dispersed. Photograph from Catalogue of the Highly Important Collection of Old English and Foreign Silver. The Property of William Randolph Hearst, Esq. Removed from St. Donat’s Castle, Wales. London, Christie, Manson & Woods, December 1938.

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 residue left behind

Stan Shellabarger. Untitled. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.190. Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions

Stan Shellabarger. Untitled (detail). 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.190. Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions

Ann Shafer, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, describes the art that comes from Stan Shellabarger’s walking performances – feats of endurance that are documented in Untitled, a work that acts as the residue of the performance itself.

Stan Shellabarger. Untitled. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.190. Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions

Stan Shellabarger. Untitled (detail). 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.190. Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions

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: Sweet Pea

Ellsworth Kelly. Sweet Pea. 1960. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.4.20. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Sweet Pea. 1960. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.4.20. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

Ellsworth Kelly has called his plant drawings “a kind of bridge to a way of seeing that was the basis of the very first abstract paintings.” He is better known for the large abstract works to which he refers, such as the BMA’s Diagonal with Curve II (1978), or Untitled, the steel sculpture in the Levi Garden. They are large flat planes of canvas and metal with very defined edges. Kelly’s drawings of leaves, branches and flowers are not large, but they are comprised of white shapes whose contours are drawn in spare and elegant lines. The drawings are not abstractions of shapes in nature as each one is a very identifiable plant. Kelly has managed to convey shape, substance and even a sense of motion using little more than a thin outline. I’ve always loved sweet peas and find this drawing astonishing as it captures the delicacy and beauty of these flowers with absolutely no color or shading and only minimal line. He has reduced the plant to its intrinsic form and although detail is removed, the essence is there.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

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 Yellow Dress”, part two.

This is the second of four explorations into Henri Matisse’s “The Yellow Dress” by Jay Fisher, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs.

Featuring:

Henri Matisse. The Yellow Dress. 1929‑1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.256. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse (French, 1869‑1954). Study for “The Yellow Dress”. 1929‑1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Bernice and Donald Levinson in Memory of their Daughter, Nancy, BMA 2001.336. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse (French, 1869‑1954). Study for “The Yellow Dress”. c. 1929‑1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Marguerite Matisse Duthuit Collection, BMA 2008.22. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. Odalisque with Green Sash. 1926. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.253. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard. 1928. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.255. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. The Yellow Dress. 1929 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss  Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.256. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. The Yellow Dress. 1929 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.256. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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.

Reproduction, including downloading of Henri Matisse works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BMA Voices: The hand and mind of James Siena in “No Man’s Land”, 2004

2012.197.7

James Siena and Carol Weaver and Felix Harlan, Harlan & Weaver, Inc.. No Man’s Land. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Sidney M. Friedberg Acquisitions Endowment for Prints and Drawings, BMA 2012.197.1‑7. Courtesy Harlan & Weaver, Inc., NY.

Benjamin Levy, Prints, Drawings & Photographs Curatorial Assistant, explores the different states of “No Man’s Land”, 2004, which give us a glimpse into the artist’s mind and work. 

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: Why does the BMA have a lead drain pipe in its collection?

Pipe and Elbow (#S‑17‑F HOUSE I). Turkey (formerly Syria). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Antioch Subscription Fund, BMA 1940.169

Pipe and Elbow (#S‑17‑F HOUSE I). Turkey (formerly Syria). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Antioch Subscription Fund, BMA 1940.169

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

From 1933 until the outbreak of World War II, Princeton University conducted excavations at the ancient sites of Antioch, Daphne, and Seleucia in Syria (now Turkey). The project was supported by subscriptions from the BMA, the Worcester Art Museum, the Musées Nationaux de France and later, Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard University, with oversight by the Syrian Antiquities Service.

Baltimore’s participation was enlisted and supported by BMA trustee Robert Garrett who was also a Princeton trustee and familiar with the Middle East from travels as a young man. Sadly, the project ended in 1939 due to the lingering effects of the Great Depression, the approach of war in Europe and the secession of Hatay province (location of the sites) to Turkey. As a result of the BMA’s support, twenty-eight major sections of handsome mosaic flooring, as well as a selection of fragments of sculpture, are on display in the Schaefer Court and Cone stairwell of the Museum today.

In addition to these impressive remnants of a long-ago culture there are some amazingly mundane artifacts in storage: buttons, beads, pins – and a four-foot section of lead drain pipe. It is dirt-encrusted, heavy and not the least bit attractive. The first time I encountered it I thought it was funny – a true “ugly duckling” in the collections! And yet, the very ordinary nature of the pipe gives us an immediate connection to the inhabitants of Antioch. We may not have magnificent mosaic floors in our houses, but we all understand the importance of good plumbing!

To my knowledge, the lead drain pipe has only been shown once, in “Diamonds in the Rough”, an exhibition organized by the registrars for the Museum’s 75th anniversary in 1989

A photograph from the Antioch excavation of the water conduits.

A photograph from the Antioch excavation of the water conduits.

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: A New York Night on the Town

Viktor Schreckengost. Jazz Punch Bowl. c. 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2001.459. © Viktor Schreckengost

Viktor Schreckengost. Jazz Punch Bowl. c. 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2001.459. © Viktor Schreckengost

Dawn K. Krause shares her love for an object that radiates a lively energy that truly captures the spirit of America’s “jazz age” of the 1920s & 30s.

Viktor Schreckengost. Jazz Punch Bowl. c. 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2001.459. © Viktor Schreckengost

Viktor Schreckengost. Jazz Punch Bowl. c. 1931. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2001.459. © Viktor Schreckengost

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: A Path through the Woods

John White Abbott (English, 1763‑1851). A Path through the Woods. c. 1785‑1795. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Rhoda Oakley, Baltimore, BMA 2008.9

John White Abbott (English, 1763‑1851). A Path through the Woods. c. 1785‑1795. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Rhoda Oakley, Baltimore, BMA 2008.9

Ann Shafer, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

If ever I turned my attention to making art instead of writing about it, I would pull out my watercolors and brushes and head outdoors. It’s hard to imagine a world when that wasn’t possible – but it wasn’t so long ago that the first paints in tubes became commercially available. The first premixed watercolors were introduced to the market in England in the 1760s, but it wasn’t until the 1840s that those little tubes we know today were invented.

The proliferation of watercolor landscapes in England in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was due in no small part to the introduction of those premixed watercolor paints. Artists began to experiment with the medium and test the boundaries of what could be accomplished. Soon these works found their way into the annual exhibitions of the English Royal Academy, but they were so marginalized that a group of artists split from the Academy in 1804 to found the Society of Painters in Water-Colours. The goal of this new Society was to place watercolors on an equal footing with oil paintings. Artists responded by creating large-scale, highly-finished watercolors displayed in elaborate gold frames. The Museum is fortunate to have an example of one of these by Britain’s favorite son, James Mallord William Turner.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775‑1851). Grenoble Bridge. c. 1824. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Nelson and Juanita Greif Gutman Collection, BMA 1968.28

Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775‑1851). Grenoble Bridge. c. 1824. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from Nelson and Juanita Greif Gutman Collection, BMA 1968.28

In contrast to the highly-finished, exhibition watercolors, many artists created more intimate works in the same medium. Artists went outdoors with sketchbooks and paints to test their skills at portraying the landscape. One such work from a sketchbook (notice the crease down the center) is a favorite (pictured top). The artist is John White Abbott, a country surgeon and apothecary from Exeter, who as an amateur artist painted for his own enjoyment (the term amateur indicates only that the artist did not earn money making art, but is no indication of a lack of talent). After inheriting an estate from his uncle, he was able to devote himself fulltime to painting. Abbott probably drew A Path through the Woods first in graphite pencil on the spot, and then returned to his studio to finish the work with gray washes and pen and brown ink. I continue to be amazed at the quality of light through the dappled foliage painted with just gray and brown. In fact, the execution is so masterful that I see this monochromatic scene in full color. In addition, the peacefulness of the scene always transports me to somewhere else. For me, this work is a figurative and literal breath of fresh 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.

BMA Voices: Standing by the courage of your convictions

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471‑1528). Knight, Death and the Devil. 1513. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alfred R. and Henry G. Riggs, in Memory of General Lawrason Riggs, BMA 1943.32.188

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471‑1528). Knight, Death and the Devil. 1513. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alfred R. and Henry G. Riggs, in Memory of General Lawrason Riggs, BMA 1943.32.188

Ann Shafer, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

One of the best parts of working in a department of prints, drawings & photographs is the range of material in our collection. As curators, we cover works on paper from 1450 to today, from Japan to Norway, and from Mexico to New York. I usually cover American and British works on paper, as well as contemporary works. It may surprise readers, then, that Albrecht Dürer’s Knight, Death and the Devil is one of my favorite prints of all time. Not only is it a glorious example of engraving, but it also carries a universal message to stand by the courage of your convictions.

Albrecht Dürer was a German printmaker, draftsman, painter, observer of nature, and humanist. In 1513 and 1514 he created a trio of engravings that have come to be called his master prints. In addition to Knight, Death and the Devil, the trio also includes St. Jerome in His Study and Melencolia I. Most scholars agree that the former represents the active life, while the two others represent the contemplative life and the intellectual life respectively.

While the three prints together are spectacular, I’m most drawn to Knight, Death and the Devil. The image is a visual feast. It features a righteous German knight resplendent in armor, a horse straight out of Renaissance Italy, a wonderful and faithful companion Fido the dog, and gnarly creatures representing Death and the Devil, all set in a naturalistic landscape. Contemporaries of Dürer would have understood the symbolism of every aspect of this print. But our own unfamiliarity with those symbols doesn’t lessen the impact of the work. Clearly this stalwart fellow is making his way through the forest of temptation and vanitas. He is able to keep to his path, ignoring all that is going on around him and stands by the courage of his convictions. Even if we strip the image of its religious associations of pre-reformation Catholicism, the message of perseverance is clear. Stick to your guns, well, lance, and you can get through anything with grace and dignity.

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: An Ambassador of Goodwill

Friendship Doll with Accessories. 1927. Maker: Takizawa Koryusai II Yoshitoku Doll Company, Tokyo Gofun (powdered shell), human hair, glass; silk and cotton costume. 33 x 12 1/2 x 10 in. (83.8 x 31.8 x 25.4 cm.) Gift of the Children of Hiroshima, Japan, through the World Friendship Society BMA 1928.20.1-2

Friendship Doll with Accessories. 1927. Maker: Takizawa Koryusai II Yoshitoku Doll Company, Tokyo. Gofun (powdered shell), human hair, glass; silk and cotton costume. 33 x 12 1/2 x 10 in. (83.8 x 31.8 x 25.4 cm.) Gift of the Children of Hiroshima, Japan, through the World Friendship Society BMA 1928.20.1-2

Frances Klapthor, Associate Curator for Asian Art

Immigration has often been a contentious subject in America. Who can come here, who cannot, and what people will they do once they arrive: these questions can raise loud arguments or remain unvoiced, silent beneath the surface, yet no less controversial. The early 20th century was a time of intolerance and fear. People from Eastern and southern Europe, and East Asia, were among those groups denied or granted access only in very limited numbers. Restrictions culminated in the Immigration Act of 1924, which excluded the Japanese (among others).

In 1913, the Reverend Sidney Gulick returned to the U.S. after 25 years of missionary work in Japan. He actively opposed discrimination against Japanese Americans and limitations on Japanese immigration. In response to the Immigration Act, Dr. Gulick organized the “Committee on World Friendship Among Children”. The Committee’s first effort was to devise a grass-roots gesture of goodwill: a gift of baby-dolls from the children of America to the children of Japan. Church groups, schools, and clubs joined together to contribute 12,739 American dolls – including 170 from Maryland. The dolls, dressed in hand-made clothes and accompanied by letters from the senders, arrived in Japan in January 1927 where they were received formally and enthusiastically in the capital and new homes throughout the country.

In return, Japanese children gave the equivalent of a half-cent each toward the creation of 58 dolls representing their country’s prefectures, largest cities, and colonies. Master doll-makers in Tokyo and Kyoto created the reciprocal gift. Miss Hiroshima was one of these very special dolls envisioned as a six-year old girl conveying a message of friendship. Along with her passport and half-price steamship ticket, each traveled with lacquer storage chests and other accessories, lanterns, a tea set, and tea-ceremony accoutrements.

After a reception in New York for all the Japanese “Ambassadors of Goodwill”, all but two states welcomed small groups of the “Friendship Dolls” between January and July of 1928. Unfortunately, the tours and handling resulted in many lost identities. Dolls were dressed in the wrong kimono, assigned the wrong display stand, given the wrong set of accessories. Americans, unfamiliar with Japanese traditions and unable to read the language, did not realize that each doll was identified by her stand, and the crests decorating her kimono and accessories. Baltimore’s doll may actually be Miss Yamaguchi, who records show was placed in Chicago and is now in New Mexico. The confusion was only recognized when interest in the dolls revived almost 60 years after their arrival in this country. Of the original 58 dolls, 46 have been accounted for but 12 remain missing.

Miss Hiroshima was given to the BMA in 1928, and placed on view in a glass case in the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Library from 1933 until 1945 when she was removed for safe-keeping. Many of the American baby-dolls were destroyed during the war years, just as the Japanese ambassadors suffered neglect and rejection then. In 1974, Miss Hiroshima returned to Japan for restoration where she was welcomed and repaired by the president of the Yoshitoku Corporation, which had created her. She returned again in 1987 with 19 of her sisters for an anniversary exhibition tour.

Whether Baltimore’s friendship doll is Miss Hiroshima or Miss Yamaguchi, the doll embodies a spirit of goodwill expressed on her passport: “You are Kindly requested to accept the pretty bearer of this Passport of Goodwill as a messenger sent by your young friends in Japan to convey to you their sentiment of warm regard and friendship. Please be good to her, and she will stay with you all her life, always a pleasant companion and a true friend.”

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.