Thursday, May 25, 2017

Highlights from the Permanent Collection: “White House — Summer” by Maurice Prendergast

As summer comes upon us, we highlight “White House  — Summer” by Maurice Brazil Prendergast. Born in Canada and raised in Boston, Prendergast was greatly influenced as an artist by French Impressionism, Paul Cézanne, the decorative patterns of the French post-Impressionist Nabis and Fauvism. Prendergast studied at the Académie Julian and at the Académie Colarossi in Paris during the early 1890s. In 1898, he traveled to Italy, visiting Siena, Florence, Rome, Capri, and Venice. In 1908, he participated in the exhibition of the Eight at Macbeth Gallery in New York — a display of eight “independent” artists organized by Robert Henri following his dismissal from the National Academy of Design. Prendergast served on the organizing committee of the Armory Show of 1913, and seven of his paintings appeared in the exhibition, which introduced Futurism, Fauvism, and Cubism to a mass U.S. audience. Prendergast’s works are in the collections of many major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Maurice Prendergast, White House – Summer, ca. 1910–13
Like many of Prendergast’s large oil paintings and watercolors dating after 1910, “White House — Summer” depicts leisure in a modern and idyllic New England landscape populated by young women. In the immediate foreground, two females adorned in green and yellow converse with each other while a third woman, in pink, reads while strolling. Prendergast communicates the vibrancy of the day and the lush vegetation of midsummer through rich, broad brushstrokes in various shades of green. Billowy pink and white clouds fill the azure sky. In “White House — Summer,” Prendergast juxtaposes “old” New England with the industrialization of the region by visually linking a vertical cypress with a factory smokestack in the distance.

Artist and critic Walter Pach, Prendergast’s friend and a supporter of American modernism, published a tribute to the artist in 1922: “When he comes nearest to creating a new world in his joyous fancy of a summer all of light — clear and radiant. His picture is real for us and consonant with our experience: a thing in harmony with the law that we are conscious of in all art, even though we are never able to formulate it.”

Adapted from “One Hundred American Paintings” by Paul Manoguerra

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Martin Johnson Heade and Cherokee Roses

Beginning June 3, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present the exhibition “The Genius of Martin Johnson Heade,” organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Although the exhibition includes landscapes, seascapes and Heade’s trademark paintings of tropical birds and flowers, it does not include any of his Cherokee Rose images. The Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata) is the state flower of Georgia.

To remedy this situation, Mrs. Deen Day Sanders, a noted art collector, gardener, philanthropist and Georgian, has agreed to lend Heade’s painting of two Cherokee Roses to the museum, along with four other works by Heade. Mrs. Sanders’ paintings will make up a small supplementary exhibition, on view the same dates as “The Genius of Martin Johnson Heade.”

Martin Johnson Heade, Cherokee Roses, n.d.
Nearly forgotten for the first part of the 20th century, Heade’s paintings were rediscovered around World War II and Heade is now recognized as one of the most important American painters of the 19th century. His works are in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which has the largest public collection of Heade’s paintings.

Botanical illustration of the 
Cherokee Rose engraved by 
Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759–1840).
Image: New York Public 
Library Digital Collections 
Heade devoted equal time to landscape, marine and still-life subjects, but is best known for his studies of tropical birds and flowers. He began painting still lifes of flowers native to the southeastern United States when he moved to Florida, in 1884. Heade’s paintings of magnolias (two of which are included in the MFA Boston’s exhibition) date from the same era.

T.E. Stebbins, author of the catalogue raisonné on Heade, writes, “These paintings of Cherokee Roses . . . have a lushness and an aggressive confidence that far surpass [Heade’s] accomplishment in landscape during the same years and are more successful than those of northern roses in the same setting.”

Mrs. Sanders will also lend Heade’s paintings “Apple Blossoms,” “The Meadow,” “Still Life with Glass of Roses” and “A Red Rose” from her collection.

Sarah Kate Gillespie, the museum’s curator of American art, said, “The loan of these important works from Mrs. Sanders beautifully augments the pieces in the MFA Boston’s exhibition, as they feature Heade’s other well-known floral subjects: the rose and the apple blossom. The rose in particular was a significant subject for Heade, as he painted both the red rose and the Cherokee Rose more than any other American artist in the 19th century, and we are thrilled to be able to share these works, as well as the meticulously rendered landscape, with our visitors.”

Hillary Brown
Director of Communications

Thursday, May 11, 2017

New Acquisitions: "Minnehaha" by Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis, Minnehaha, 1868
The museum recently purchased a significant 19th-century neoclassical work with funds from the Collectors of the Georgia Museum of Art. “Minnehaha” is a petite marble sculptural bust carved by artist Mary Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907). Born in Greenbush, New York, Lewis was an artist of mixed African American and Chippewa (Ojibwe) ancestry who was among the few female artists to have worked actively in Rome, Italy. Prior, she studied at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and then moved to Boston. She gained a following there creating busts of prominent anti-slavery activists. Lewis also often portrayed American Indian subjects.

In Rome, Lewis produced several commissioned busts of prominent abolitionists and biblical and mythical figures. She was also known for her American Indian subjects drawn from the popular literature. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855) inspired her to produce several figural groups, of which “Minnehaha” is an example. In Longfellow’s fictional poem, Minnehaha, a Dakota, was the lover of Hiawatha, a warrior among the once enemy nation of the Ojibwe.

Unveiling of "Minnehaha" as part of the annual Black History Month dinner.
This Minnehaha bust represented a rare opportunity to acquire a quality sculpture by this 19th-century pioneer. The purchase fills a major gap in the collection for both American and African diasporic artists who worked in the U.S. and abroad.

Shawnya L. Harris
Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of
African American and African Diasporic Art

Thursday, May 04, 2017

“Kristen Casaletto: The Past is Never Dead” and Contemporary Art

The exhibition “Kristen Casaletto: The Past is Never Dead” opens this Saturday, May 6, and will be on view through Sunday, July 30. The exhibition highlights the works of Kristin Casaletto, a contemporary artist based in Augusta, Georgia, and features many of her prints as well as one three-dimensional object.

Kristen Casaletto, Apocalypse, 2008

Casaletto’s work deals with contemporary American culture and identity by combining visual motifs from both the past and the present. She draws upon a historic and mythic past, employing a complex iconography of American images and ideas. Through these means, she produces an allegorically imagined exploration of life in the 21st century. The title of the exhibition comes from a quote from William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” Like Faulkner, Casaletto’s work insists on the overwhelming impact of the past on the present.

Kristen Casaletto, Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis / Dead Fish, 2010

“Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis / Dead Fish” (not featured in the exhibition but shown here) exemplifies this idea. The piece currently belongs to the collection of the Georgia Museum of Art and was released in Casaletto’s “American Parable” series. The color etching features a depiction of the president of the secessionist Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, next to a dead fish, all embedded within the stars and stripes of the American flag. By positioning the visage of Davis and the form of the dead fish in parallel arrangements, Casaletto introduces a strong juxtaposition of imagery. By doing so, she presents a work open to multiple interpretations. The composition might emphasize Jefferson Davis’s now obsolete position in American culture — like that of a dead fish — while still reinforcing the way in which certain ideas and symbols become a part of a grander cultural narrative. The Confederate States of America, to most a dark part of American history, still looms large in the narrative of the American South. The stars and stripes of the American flag emphasize the role of America’s dark past in its current culture. There are many layers of allusion to the piece, each enhancing its referentially rich yet semantically ambiguous wealth of iconography.

Kristin Casaletto is a quintessential contemporary artist, which we tend to think of as an artist living and working in the 21st century. By nature, contemporary artists are engaged with the present and its cultural dialogue. They often look to current issues in their society and produce art that is engrossed in these problems. Contemporary art in the greater historical context is also defined by a lack of overarching narrative or stylistic form between artists. In other words, there is no singular, cohesive way of producing art but rather a diverse mix of individual practices. For visitors, “Kristen Casaletto: The Past is Never Dead” is an opportunity to contemplate the complex politics of the past and where we are today.

Jamie Brener
Publications Intern