Tag Archives: painting

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: A most handsome portrait

Thomas Eakins. Jane Dean Kershaw (Mrs. Samuel Murray). c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase Fund, BMA 1955.176

Thomas Eakins. Jane Dean Kershaw (Mrs. Samuel Murray). c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase Fund, BMA 1955.176

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

I like Jane Dean Kershaw. The Thomas Eakins portrait is a wonderful painting and I’ve always loved portraits, but not necessarily the sitter. In this instance I really like the person depicted. She doesn’t engage the viewer directly but rather gazes off to the side with a thoughtful and slightly bemused expression. The brushwork of the figure and background is loose and expressive while the face has a wonderful structure and translucent skin, the slightly protuberant eyes set off by brushstrokes of red.

When this portrait was painted Thomas Eakins had been teaching at the Art Students’ League for ten years – an organization founded by a group of his former Pennsylvania Academy students. Eakins resigned from the Academy having created a scandal by allowing young female students to draw nude male models. Ten years prior he managed to offend Victorian viewers with his now famous painting, The Gross Clinic – a graphically realistic and bloody depiction of an operating theater. Eakins was interested in realism and his early training with Jean Leon Gérôme and Leon Bonnat in Paris gave him a solid grounding in anatomy. His portraits are straightforward and unflinching and, unlike those of many of his contemporaries, not the least bit flattering.

To me, his depiction of Jane Kershaw is different. She was only 31 at the time and Eakins’ photograph of her shows a much younger and more timid woman. The eyes are arresting but she could be described as “mousy”. The figure in the painting, however, is of a handsome, older, and more assured individual. Her features are chiseled and the gaze, steady and calm. Thomas Eakins was notoriously difficult to sit for but the Murrays (Jane Kershaw finally married Samuel Murray in 1916) were long-time friends and his portrayal of her seems to reflect that. I hope Jane “grew” into her portrait.

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: It’s always 5 A.M. somewhere…

Mark Tobey. Five A.M.. 1953. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 1960.3. © Estate of Mark Tobey / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Mark Tobey. Five A.M.. 1953. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 1960.3. © 2014 Mark Tobey /Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dawn K. Krause, Curatorial Assistant for American Painting & Sculpture and Decorative Arts

It’s 5:00 a.m. in your favorite Big City. The sky is still dark. It could be anywhere in the world—New York, Singapore, London, Tokyo—the list is endless. While most of us are catching some last minutes of blissful sleep before the alarm clock jangles us awake, the City is already buzzing at a rapid pace.

I love Mark Tobey’s Five A.M. because it captures the energy of a busy city already in motion in the wee hours of the morning. I have always been fascinated by cities, probably because I lived two-thirds of my life on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The first time I went to New York I was spellbound. When I move to Baltimore 5 years ago to work at the BMA, Five A.M. quickly became one of my favorite paintings.

Mark Tobey was also fascinated by cities and painted numerous city themed works with such titles as Broadway Norm, City Punctuation, City Reflection, and San Francisco Street. Born in Wisconsin in 1890, at age 16 Tobey went to Chicago and studied for two years at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was be his only formal art training. Shortly after, he moved to New York and found a job as a fashion illustrator with McCalls magazine, the beginning of his successful lifelong career as an artist.

Although Tobey experimented in many different styles and techniques, he was not a member of any particular “school” or “movement.” He was self-defined, largely self-taught, and followed no master. He once wrote in a letter to one of his students,

I keep very much to myself. I hate the avant-garde stuff…I feel and want to be left alone. I have my own dreams.

Earlier I pictured Five A.M. as a street of any big city, but when the painting came to the BMA in 1960, it included a letter from its previous owner identifying it as “Street Scene, Seattle, Washington.” This makes sense considering Tobey lived in Seattle for many years and was indeed living there in 1953 when this work was painted.

Whenever I look at Five A.M. I imagine that Tobey had a lot of fun painting it. He started with a black background on top of which are bold wide brushstrokes of blue, green, red, and yellow. Smaller scribbles and blocks of white suggest the motion and rhythm of early morning traffic in a city that is already wide awake.

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

BMA Voices: “Which way is up?”

Yves Tanguy. The Earth and the Air. 1941. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.363. © Estate of Yves Tanguy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Yves Tanguy. The Earth and the Air. 1941. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.363. © 2014 Estate of Yves Tanguy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Kyle Bauer, Conservation Technician for Paper

As the person who is responsible for framing and matting all the works on paper from the BMA’s collection, it might be surprising that I have chosen Yves Tanguy’s painting The Earth and the Air to write about. I first came to this painting working as a BMA security guard in the fall of 2011. Standing on one’s feet for eight hours a day leaves one looking for a retreat. The Earth and the Air did exactly that for me. As an artist myself – a sculptor and installation artist to be specific – the forms, shapes, and space moved me from a place of standing all day to constructing formal compositions in my head, which I then recorded in my sketchbook. To say I am influenced and work with my subconscious would be an understatement.

Yves Tanguy, the son of a French Navy Captain, was a member of the Paris-based surrealists who took up painting after seeing the works of Giorgio de Chirico. He was best known for his vast and meticulously painted scenes of abstract landscapes or seascapes. His paintings are filled with abstract and oddly shaped objects floating in a static dream-like space. Landscapes of sharp angular pieces, placed next to amusingly organic forms, are perfect if you are trying to find an escape from reality!

My favorite thing about The Earth and the Air is Tanguy’s precision in his painting technique. The clean lines and the seamless blending of light and shadow, providing a visual sense of space, continue to draw me into the composition. I completely gravitate towards Tanguy’s methodical practice, and appreciate the craftsmanship he demonstrates through his materials.

Any time I pass by The Earth and the Air, I am in a constant debate as to “which way is up.” The title alludes to the earth and air, and Tanguy’s color choices for each suggest the vertical presentation of earth on bottom with the air on top, but his shifting and manipulating of the perspectives illicit a real sense of floating. The painting’s composition is full of static tension, asking me to figure out “if the cord is cut, where will everything go—will they float or fall?”

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