Tag Archives: photography

BMA Voices: Le Violon d’Ingres

Man Ray. Le Violon d'Ingres. 1924. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection; and partial gift of George H. Dalsheimer, Baltimore, BMA 1988.435. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2014

Man Ray. Le Violon d’Ingres. 1924. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection; and partial gift of George H. Dalsheimer, Baltimore, BMA 1988.435. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2014

Thomas Primeau, Director of Conservation and Paper Conservator

In an era where technology allows for the precise reproduction of images and even 3 dimensional objects, why are we still fascinated by the idea of original works of art? In a previous blog post on Albrecht Dürer’s “Ecce Homo,” I noted that woodcut printing, a process for making multiples of the same image, has existed in the West since the early 15th-century. Other posts on the 16th-century engraver Diana Mantuana and the 19th-century lithographer Honoré Daumier, described how subsequent advances in printing technology, revolutionized the visual environment as duplicated images became increasingly sophisticated and omnipresent. When, in the 19th century, optical and chemical experiments led to practical methods of photography, artists found a new way of recording the world and improved methods for creating, reproducing, and circulating pictures. Of course, the question of whether creating a photograph, an image made using a machine, required artistic talent has haunted the medium since its inception and throughout history photographers have continually defended their work as art.

The Philadelphia-born artist Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) was perhaps responding to this challenge when he took a photograph of the model Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), posed nude and seen from the back as a classic odalisque, and manipulated it in the darkroom to make it appear as if she had f- holes cut into her torso. The photograph is compelling in itself as it plays on the similarity between the woman’s silhouette and a musical instrument, but once one understands that it is titled Le Violon d’Ingres, it becomes a humorous and pointed critique on the history of art and traditional representations of women in painting. The photograph is both a homage to and parody on the French neo-classical artist J. A. D. Ingres (1780-1867) who painted romanticized Oriental scenes populated with voluptuous nudes. (The Walters Art Museum has several paintings by Ingres including Odalisque with Slave (1842) which is exactly the type of picture that Man Ray references with his photograph.) Knowing that Ingres was also an amateur violinist and that the expression “Ingres’ violin” was used colloquially to refer to one’s “hobby,” heightens the comedy and focuses attention on the unsettling sexuality of the photograph. More than just a punch-line though, the image questions long-established concepts of what constitutes a work of art and how we see the world in an age of rapidly evolving technologies and philosophies. Man Ray made several prints of the photograph, and it became more well know when it was published in the journal Littérature (June, 1924). Today the work has been so frequently reproduced that it is instantly recognized as an icon of Dada and Surrealist art from the early 20th century.

Verifying the authenticity of a photograph such as this can be complicated: the artist continued to make prints of Le Violon d’Ingres into the 1960s and, due to the high prices that Man Ray photographs command in the art market, forgers have attempted to pass off fakes to unsuspecting collectors. In 1998, the discovery of a large group of forged Man Ray prints attracted worldwide press coverage and prompted conservators to develop new methods for authenticating vintage photographs. The provenance or record of ownership for the BMA photograph indicates that it is one of the originals prints from 1924. However, in order to verify this, the museum collaborated with Paul Messier, a photographic materials conservator, and Walter Rantanen, a forensic specialist, to study the print. They examined the paper composition of the photograph and determined that it was made of all cotton and flax fibers. Significantly, this combination of paper fibers was typical of photographic papers made around 1924. By the late 1920s, manufacturers began incorporating wood pulp into the papers and by the 1930s photographic papers were made exclusively with wood pulps.

When a photograph such as this one is so well known, and can be very easily replicated, is there still much value to seeing an original print? I would argue that when we view an original object, in the medium that it was conceived of by the artist, we gain insights into the processes that inspired the artist. The work of art holds onto its past: it shows signs of how it was made and bears subtle marks of wear from age and handling. In the presence of the original, even a relatively recent photographic print, the viewer is able to make a direct and personal connection with the time of the artworks creation.

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: An‑My Lê, “Target practice, USS Peleliu”, 2005.

An‑My Lê. Target Practice, USS Peleliu. 2005. From the series "Events Ashore". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Women's Committee Acquisitions Endowment for Contemporary Prints and Photographs, BMA 2014.5. Courtesy the Artist and Murray Guy, New York

An‑My Lê. Target Practice, USS Peleliu. 2005. From the series “Events Ashore”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Women’s Committee Acquisitions Endowment for Contemporary Prints and Photographs, BMA 2014.5. Courtesy the Artist and Murray Guy, New York

Ann Shafer, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, describes how the childhood of artist An‑My Lê has impacted her artistic concerns.

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: Spending Sunday at Coney Island Beach, New York

Andreas Feininger. Sunday at Coney Island Beach, New York. 1949. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Friends of Art Fund, BMA 1977.86.2. © Andreas Feininger

Andreas Feininger. Sunday at Coney Island Beach, New York. 1949. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Friends of Art Fund, BMA 1977.86.2. © Andreas Feininger/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

I have never been to Coney Island but I have an image of the place based on Reginald Marsh pictures from the 1930s. Forever populated by buxom women and muscle-bound youths frolicking aggressively, it is a place where Nathan’s Hotdogs (founded there) held annual eating contests, and people visited amusement parks and freak shows. Until I came upon Andreas Feininger’s 1949 photograph, Sunday at Coney Island Beach, New York, I had no sense of how crowded the place might be. The image fascinates me; all those ant-like New Yorkers thronging to the very edge of the continent, launching themselves into the Atlantic Ocean, which many of their parents and grandparents had crossed only a few years earlier. Feininger, himself a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany, had only arrived a decade before. As a skilled photographer he quickly found a job working for Life magazine.

Comparing Feininger’s photograph to a 19th century painting by Alexandre Thiollet (also in the BMA collection, below), a scene depicting a French crowd on a beach, you get a sense of the vast transformation that has occurred in human life: the shift from an agrarian to a mass society. They are worlds apart, Thiollet’s villagers buying fish at low tide, and Feininger’s sweltering multitudes driven from the city by summer heat, entertained, fed and advertised to on an unimaginable scale.

The sense of enormity achieved in this photograph results in part from the use of some modernist strategies. Viewing the masses from an unusually high perspective and cropping the scene below the horizon line causes the individuals near the upper edge of the image to dissolve into a granular haze enhancing a sense of infinite recession. It can also be seen as an attempt to impose an abstract pattern onto his human subjects. Andreas is keenly aware of the large structures of his composition, the repeating horizontal jetties and barriers that push against the shifting diagonals of the boardwalk. Masses photographed from above had already been explored by Italian Rationalist photographers in the 1930s and by the Hungarian photographer László Moholy-Nagy,who in the twenties and thirties taught at the German Bauhaus art school together with Andreas’ father the painter Lyonel Feininger. Moholy-Nagy became the Feininger’s next-door neighbor when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau.

What most draws my attention to this image is the God-like perspective that lets you explore the many mysteries of what we are looking at. In the foreground we can pick out individuals. The boardwalk is astonishingly formal; men wear long pants and women wear dresses well below the knee. The people on the beach are separated and corralled into different enclosures. What are these? The nearest is far emptier than the second which appears madly overcrowded. The near one has almost no sun umbrellas whereas the second one is full of them. Are these different beach clubs, perhaps distinguished economically, or is the beach racially segregated? There seems to be a tension between the conformity of the individuals and the potential frenzy of the clustering mob, an inebriation reinforced by the prominent billboard advertising Seagram’s Seven Crown whiskey. Andreas Feininger’s Coney Island freezes an instant in history that preceded my birth but bears all the veracity of a memory. One is left to wonder how such a spectacular and massive phenomenon, the unique product of a teeming east coast industrial immigrant city, can have vanished.

Alexandre Thiollet. Fish Auction at the Beach of Villerville. n.d.. 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 1996.45.257

Alexandre Thiollet. Fish Auction at the Beach of Villerville. n.d.. 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 1996.45.257

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 Boxer.

Malick Sidibé. Boxer. 1966, printed 1980s, assembled 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2005.9. © Malick Sidibé

Malick Sidibé. Boxer. 1966, printed 1980s, assembled 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2005.9. © Malick Sibide. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

This post is by Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, former Associate Curator for African Art and Dept. Head of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia & the Pacific Islands. She recently took up a position as the Teel Curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

1966 : a year of blue jeans, Black Power, and James Brown, whether you found yourself in Baltimore or Bamako, Mali. Malick Sidibé was the photographer of hip young people, whether at dance parties, beach outings, or in his studio. From its opening in 1958, Studio Malick was a place to document changing fashions and take an informal picture in fun poses with friends. Snapshots taken over the weekend were posted in the window of the shop, creating a constant buzz in front of the studio. In this photograph, Sidibé captures a young man in a boxer’s pose. Whether mimicking a national or international star, or a boxer himself, the subject of the portrait is a cool, modern man.

Youth in newly independent Mali embraced the bell bottoms and other styles sweeping the globe in the 1960s and 70s. In Mali, as in the United States, parents and elders did not always appreciate these changing ideas of proper dress and behavior. In the early independence era, the Malian government considered “untraditional” clothing and hobbies dangerous for national unity. The government created a militia in the 1960s responsible for enforcing socialist ideas that included abolishing traditional leadership positions, but also championed markers of traditional culture. Youth caught wearing mini-skirts, tight clothing, bell bottoms, Afros, or breaking curfew were sent to ‘reeducation’ camps to discourage the adoption of trends seen as foreign, and therefore reminiscent of the colonizers. The young man’s defensive pose in this photograph, therefore, seems like an icon of youth struggles in the period.

The serious expression of the portrait subject contrasts with the colorful frame. The frame was added in the 1990s by Sidibé’s dealer. It is a ‘sous-verre’ or ‘under glass’ painting, a popular 20th century art form from neighboring Senegal, and was not chosen by Sidibé.

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: Mickalene Thomas’ “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires”, 2010.

Mickalene Thomas. Le déjeuner sur l'herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires. 2010. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Collectors Circle Fund for Art by African Americans, and Roger M. Dalsheimer Photograph Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2010.36. © Mickalene Thomas, courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Mickalene Thomas. Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires. 2010. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Collectors Circle Fund for Art by African Americans, and Roger M. Dalsheimer Photograph Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2010.36. © Mickalene Thomas, courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

Helene Grabow, Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant

It’s hard to say whether my initial interest in Mickalene Thomas’ Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010, stemmed from my passion for art history or my guilty pleasure of flipping through style magazines. On the one hand, the work’s play on the iconic painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, by French artist Edouard Manet undoubtedly intrigued me. On the other hand, I cannot deny that I would have been attracted by the saturated color, striking motifs, and stylized models that lend the photograph the air of a fashion spread.

Manet’s painting, long considered a touchtone of modernism, features two fully clothed men picnicking with a nude woman and therefore has often been critiqued for its placement of the female model in a subservient position to the male artist. In her dramatic reinterpretation of the painting, Mickalene Thomas replaces the members of Manet’s luncheon party, all of whom are white, with three chicly dressed, African American women. Gone is the vulnerable, naked woman and in her place are women whose confident poses and arresting gazes suggest that they are engaging the viewer on their own terms. Interestingly, the inspiration for the 70s-style dresses, accessories, and hairstyles comes from Thomas’ mother, who was a model and served as her muse. At the same time that the photograph critiques Manet’s famous painting and the art historical canon, it also serves as a reminder that there are still many contemporary fashion editorials that could be similarly updated through the incorporation of women of color.

These glamorous women could stop passersby in their tracks, and in fact the photograph served as the starting point for a large-scale, three-panel painting encrusted with rhinestones—a commission by New York’s Museum of Modern Art—that was meant to do just that. Thomas shot the photograph in MoMA’s sculpture garden, and managed to position one of the sculptural reliefs from Matisse’s series The Backs as a stand-in for the bathing woman in the background of Manet’s painting. Thomas has explained that the placement of the sculpture was fortuitous but it was not without intent and its presence in the image serves as a symbol of Thomas’ arrival at MoMA, a pantheon of modern and contemporary artists. When the photograph is hanging in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing, the detail provides a special link to the BMA’s exceptional collection of works by Matisse.

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.