Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Portrait of Archbishop William Laud" Attracts Controversy

A couple of weeks ago, the museum issued a press release highlighting its acquisitions in calendar year 2015, including a large portrait of Archbishop William Laud by Anthony van Dyck and studio (pictured above in a low-resolution version). The credit line on the image that ended up going out to the press through UGA's News Service deleted the "and studio" part, for space and because they are not art historians (we don't expect them to be!). When read without that caption, the release suggested that the museum believed the painting was by Van Dyck alone, and a high-profile art history blog quickly picked up on that fact.

From that point, other news sites and newspapers wrote their own versions of the story. Some of them contacted us for information. Others did not.

We have created a FAQ that appears below in the interest of accuracy. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and we will do our best to address them and add both questions and answers to this post.


Q. Who painted this portrait of Archbishop Laud?

A. The painting is attributed to Anthony van Dyck and studio. The credit line for the image of our painting that appeared on the news.uga.edu website was edited to remove “and studio.” Our version of the press release, sent through MailChimp, only included an image of the Frederick Frieseke painting the release also promoted. It is unambiguously listed as “Anthony van Dyck and his studio” in the deed of gift in the museum’s files.

Q. Didn’t you edit your press release after the fact?

A. We did, to make the authorship of the painting clearer, but we included a note saying the release had been edited and why, to be as transparent as possible. We assumed, with the original release, that the credit line appearing with the image would make it clear who painted it, but the image and the release have not always appeared together. Lesson learned.

Q. Did the museum know the painting is one of several versions of the same image?

A. Yes. Contrary to the news stories that have appeared, we were fully aware that this painting exists in several versions, including in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the National Portrait Gallery and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Q. Which is the original?

A. Scholarship tends to agree that the version in the Fitzwilliam is directly by the hand of Van Dyck, but it was not recognized as such until 1982, after cleaning and restoration, when Michael Jaffé made the case that it was by Van Dyck himself. Before that, the Fitzwilliam had catalogued it as “Studio of Van Dyck,” even though the collectors who donated it to the museum (Charles Ricketts and C.H. Shannon) believed it was by Van Dyck alone.

Q. Is the Georgia Museum of Art’s painting a “fake,” as Blouin/ArtInfo says?

A. Absolutely not! There is a big difference between a deliberate forgery and a painting created either as a collaboration between the artist and his studio or by the studio under the supervision of the artist. For example, Gilbert Stuart painted numerous versions of his Athenaeum portrait of George Washington, some with the assistance of his daughters (see, for example, the version at the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Q. Who gets to say whether or not it’s a Van Dyck?

A. This kind of work is what art historians do: research, comparison, careful argument. Our curator of European art believes strongly that the face and hands are by Van Dyck, with the clothing and drapery having been rendered by his studio, but it is rare that a definitive answer can be found, especially with a 17th-century work. The provenance (or ownership history) for the Georgia Museum of Art’s painting dates back to the mid-17th century.

Bendor Grosvenor, an English art historian, contends on his blog that our painting is only “studio of Van Dyck” at best but admits he has not seen it in person. Making judgments from photographs is difficult.

Erik Larsen’s 1988 catalogue raisonné lists the Hermitage and Fitzwilliam versions of the portrait (cat. nos. 896-97, pages 350-51) but writes that both were created with the artist’s studio. He mentions Jaffé’s article but writes, “Considering that Jaffé is the director of the Museum which owns the painting, his panegyric must be taken with a grain of salt.” Larsen then lists five studio replicas on pages 493-94 and writes that “There exist also a number of copies, both contemporary and later,” i.e., the National Portrait Gallery’s painting. Grosvenor, in the same blog entry, refers to Larsen’s work as “perhaps the most inept catalogue raisonné ever.”

Sammy J. Hardman, in his “Sir Anthony Van Dyck: The English Portraits” (1999, privately printed, cat. no. 103, pages 43-44) believes this version of the portrait may be the original or a prototype for it. He writes, “As compared with the other known portraits of Laud, the work is of excellent quality. X-ray studies of this work show emphatic pentimenti in the head as well as in the hands.” Hardman documents this version as having been sold at Christie’s on March 4, 1927 (no. 58), as a Van Dyck (although previously attributed, in 1876 and 1910, to Henry Stone, a contemporary and known copyist of Van Dyck’s; Hardman calls this an “old family attribution” and “without foundation”).

The 2004 catalogue raisonné of Van Dyck, published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at Yale University, lists the version in the Fitzwilliam as the original (IV.153, pages 549-550). It then lists some of the “more important” copies but does not include the painting now at the Georgia Museum of Art.

[Edit 1/26/16 11:35 a.m.] Mary Louisa Boyle's "Biographical notices of the portraits at Hinchingbrook" (1876, Victoria press) lists it as "A Copy of Vandyck in Lambeth Palace. / By stone" on pages 61-62.

Q. Did the Georgia Museum of Art buy this painting?

A. We did not. The painting was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. M. Daniel Byrd, of Atlanta. The museum has a very limited budget for acquisitions, especially high-dollar ones. Any news sources that refer to our buying the painting are incorrect.

Q. How do objects come into the museum’s collection?

A. The Georgia Museum of Art has a collections committee that meets monthly to discuss potential accessions, whether through gift or purchase. The committee carefully assesses various factors, including quality, size (storage space is unfortunately limited), condition and whether a given work fits with the collections plan before agreeing to accept a particular object, even if that object is a gift.

Q. Why would you want this painting if you believed it was by Van Dyck and studio instead of by Van Dyck alone?

A. Our collection of European art, especially 17th-century European art, is very small. Even if the painting should turn out to be only studio of the artist, it would still fill a very large gap in our collection. Considering the fact that the National Portrait Gallery and the Hermitage both own copies of the same painting, we feel we are in very good company. In addition, an important part of our role as a university museum is to participate in and share the results of research. We invite any scholars to come study the painting.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Meet Shawnya Harris, our new Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art

Shawnya Harris, Larry D. and Brenda A.
Thompson Curator of African American
and African Diasporic Art
If it hadn’t been for a vacant seat on a shuttle bus and a welcoming smile, the Georgia Museum of Art might never have had Shawnya Harris as its inaugural Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art. The way Harris tells it, she stepped aboard the bus at the annual College Art Association conference only to be greeted by the grin of Lynn Boland, the museum’s Pierre Daura Curator of European Art, who encouraged her to take the seat next to him. As they chatted, she was intrigued by his ability to pursue academic research, organize exhibitions and work with the public, all at the same time. They spent the rest of the drive talking about the Thompsons’ collection, which she knew from the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland.

Harris holds both master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and she received her bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from Yale University. It was during Harris's undergraduate years that she decided she wanted to work in museums. The way the university integrated its gallery into the curriculum, combined with the enthusiasm of certain crucial professors for visual arts, hooked her. One of those teachers was Robert Farris Thompson, a specialist in Black Atlantic art, and Harris was inspired by his eclectic way of approaching material, fusing fine with vernacular art in an effort to tell a sweeping, inclusive story.

Robert, one of our preparators, and
Shawnya exchanging a laugh.
Harris comes to the museum from Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where she taught courses in African American art, 20th-century art and art appreciation, as well as survey courses on the history of Western art. In addition to teaching at UNC Chapel Hill and Middle Tennessee State University, Harris served as director of the University Galleries at North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and worked as an art consultant at North Carolina Central University’s art museum and as a research assistant at UNC Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum.

Her eyes light up when she talks about what she wants to accomplish in her position at the Georgia Museum of Art. The upcoming reinstallation of the permanent collection, for example, is a way to juxtapose artists of color with their peers, helping them become part of the narrative of art history rather than confining them to their own section in the galleries. 

Harris will start teaching at the Lamar Dodd School of Art next academic year, with Introduction to African American Art, a survey course that will allow her to use the museum’s permanent collection. Here, as elsewhere, she plans on conveying what she learned from her own teachers: an enthusiasm for the subject and for the work. To Harris, that is the most important thing she can pass on.

Adapted from an article in Facet, the museum's quarterly publication. The official press release can be read here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Acquisitions: "The Kitten" by Thomas Waterman Wood

Thomas Waterman Wood, The Kitten, also known as Pompey and the Kitten, 1873

Genre painting in America from the 19th century can appear deceptively ordinary. One such example is the Georgia Museum of Art's recent acquisition, “The Kitten,” by Thomas Waterman Wood, which we mentioned in our last post on new acquisitions. Our curator of American art, Sarah Kate Gillespie, explains why there is more than meets the eye:

While on its surface it seems to smack of overt sentimentality, one can infer deeper political messages based on Wood’s other works. His most well-known series of paintings, “A Bit of War History” (1865–66), features an African American man as contraband, soldier and veteran and was apparently inspired by the sight of a Kentucky veteran on homemade wooden crutches. 
Many of Wood’s subsequent paintings treat politicized subjects, both white and African Americans. When examined in light of Wood’s larger oeuvre and his obvious interest in the politics and shifting social norms of a post–Civil War era, his seemingly innocuous images of African Americans can be read as deliberately reassuring depictions of a newly emancipated population for a white, northern audience. The black man is shown as docile, humane, kind to animals and childrenin short, not a threat. When paired with existing works in our collection from the same era that also treat African American subjects (such as George Henry Hall’s “Boys Pilfering Molasses” and Winslow Homer’s “Taking Sunflower to Teacher”), this image helps us begin to tell a more complete story about visualizations of race in the Civil War period.

Check back in the upcoming weeks to learn more about George Henry Hall’s “Boys Pilfering Molasses” and Winslow Homer’s “Taking Sunflower to Teacher.”

Thursday, January 07, 2016

"Samurai: The Way of the Warrior"

Helmet, first half of 17th century

Earlier this month, our autumn exhibition, "Samurai: The Way of the Warrior," came to a close. During its run, people responded to the show with great excitement and we were thrilled to see many new faces at the museum as well as repeat visitors. There were also many special events that accompanied the exhibition, including a demonstration of Japanese archery by Georgia Kyudo Renmei at our samurai-themed Family Day; an introduction to kendo, the modern Japanese martial art, presented by student organization Kendo at UGA; and a sake tasting hosted by the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta as a thank you to the donors who helped fund the exhibition.

"Samurai: The Way of the Warrior," organized by Contemporanea Progetti in collaboration with the Stibbert Museum in Florence, Italy, was the most comprehensive presentation of Japanese art of the samurai era in Georgia in nearly 30 years and showcased approximately 100 objects, including full suits of armor, helmets, swords, sword-hilts, saddles, lacquered calligraphy boxes, quivers and bows, incense trays, and foldable chairs. We thank our many corporate, foundation, and individual sponsors for their generous support, and a special thank you goes to Professors Hyangsoon Yi and Masaki Mori at UGA for their help in developing programming for this memorable exhibition highlighting the legendary warrior class of traditional Japan and the artistry and highly skilled craftsmanship of Japanese artisans.

"Samurai: The Way of the Warrior." Tag your photos on Instagram with #georgiamuseumofart. 

Click here for a list of exhibitions now on view at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

New Acquisitions: "Winter Morning" by George Washington Nicholson

George Washington Nicholson, Winter Morning, ca. 1880
Happy new year! On this cold winter morning, it seems only right to share this painting recently purchased by the Georgia Museum of Art. This genre scene, "Winter Morning" by George Washington Nicholson, was acquired using funds donated in memory of Board of Advisors member Harry Gilham. 

Born in New Jersey, Nicholson trained in Philadelphia, where he learned academic realism at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1866, he traveled to England and France for further training. Nicholson settled in Philadelphia upon his return to the United States, and his reputation was at its height from the mid-1880s through the 1890s. He painted a mural titled “The Old Homestead” that was on display at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia and another, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” for the Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg (most likely lost when the building burned in 1897).

Nicholson produced works commissioned by patrons who preferred seascapes, exoticized landscapes of Europe and Northern Africa and scenes of daily life in the American countryside. This snowy country scene is an example of the latter. He painted several variations on the scene, usually featuring a house and human figures in bright clothing to draw the eye, but most of them are smaller than this one. Along with the recent purchase of Thomas Waterman Wood’s “The Kitten,” this painting helps us better tell the story of 19th-century American art by enriching our small collection of genre painting from the era.