Escaping Reality with Arthur B. Davies

Arthur B. Davies  c. 1895 oil on canvas

Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928) Rites of Spring, c. 1895 oil on canvas

The Forsyth Galleries is home to paintings by each member of The Eight, a group of artists that gained national attention after a successful exhibition at Macbeth Galleries, New York in 1908.  These artists, which included Arthur B. Davies, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan, were a part of a movement that is now referred to as Americanism.  Most of the artists painted in different styles, however their subject matter all revolved around that of a common world.  They depicted a non-idealized urban life, the poor, immigrants, leisure, entertainment, and landscapes.  Arthur B. Davies focused mainly on landscapes and his piece Rites of Spring, showcases a Symbolist approach to landscape paintings.

Davies trained at several schools, but it was at the Art Students League in New York where he began his journey in painting landscapes.  Initially, he painted in the conventional style of the American Hudson River School.  However, it wasn’t long until he found his own path into the Symbolist world.  The Symbolist movement began by rejecting the ideas of Naturalism.  Instead of portraying the world in a scientific manner, Symbolist painters focus on the emotion of the piece and their aim was to evoke a feeling.  Davies combined influences from the European Symbolist movement with Greek and Roman iconography to create a modernist style with ethereal qualities.

In Rites of Spring, Davies uses soft brushstrokes and pastel colors that together create a fragile feeling.  It almost seems as if a gust of wind would make the image disappear.  The woman depicted in the center has a very delicate pose and appears to be floating in the foreground.  She seems to have wings and could easily be interpreted as an angel, in which case the fragility of the piece creates the feeling that you are viewing a special moment that could easily dissipate.  This differs from the previous movement of American landscape artists, who were more focused on a realistic portrayal of natural elements.

The Eight, and similarly the Symbolist movement, did not necessarily share aesthetic characteristics as most of them painted in varying styles.  However, they all shared a similar distaste for society.  While other members of The Eight chose to try to present the reality of modern urban life, Davies and the Symbolists tried to escape reality by creating their own dream worlds within each piece. Rites of Spring is on display at the Forsyth Galleries in the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University through December 13, 2015.

Written by Taylor Wilson

The Beauty of Realism


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Upon looking at the works of “The Eight”, one may find that there is often a kind of garish beauty in revolutions. Upheavals of tradition can be as poetic as a sonnet or as Robert Henri aptly put it, “The beauty of a work of art is in the work itself.” This group of Realist painters set forth to unveil the art world to the everyday man and reality to the art world. Gilded things flake, foundations break, and the center—as The Eight found—cannot hold.

The turn of the 20th century saw an age unlike any the world had ever known. On the domestic front: America was industrialized, “manifest destiny” was realized at the expense of native peoples, and the immigrant population grew tremendously—all of these factors leading to rampant poverty, disease and highly concentrated wealth. The hope that people held—whether it was the stability of the market or the relative peace in the country—all but vanished. The world was in flux and nothing was certain except the omnipresence of uncertainty. This is the context from which The Eight’s 1908 exhibition and eventually, the Ashcan School arose.

While there are distinct differences between The Eight and Progressive Era “muckrackers”—investigative journalists seeking social, political, and economic change—it is important to note that the subject matter of The Eight’s works were conducive to progressivism in that they revealed some of the struggles and experiences of the 19th and 20th century proletariat. To wit, the occupational backgrounds of many of The Eight lie in journalism. William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan all worked for the Philadelphia Press prior to joining Henri in his artistic quest to depict reality. Borrowing heavily from the palettes and techniques of Hals, Velazquez, and Rembrandt, members of the The Eight refuted and defied academic traditions with their works, but in the process found truth. Traditionally, academic and salon exhibitions were restrictive in the sense that all works displayed were chosen by a jury or selection committee that determined whether or not the art presented was sufficient or insufficient. Art that varied significantly from the academic predilection towards Neoclassism and Romanticism was typically viewed as rebellious and defiant. The content of academy approved works consisted of idealized tropes and clichés, myths, and other subject matter that aligned with the hierarchy of genres. Generally speaking, academic works were considered aesthetically and morally agreeable.

The revealing paintings were abhorrent to the academics, but consisted of the “true grit” of American society, the underside of the golden gilding as it were. In their investigative artistry, The Eight came to know and depict life as it was outside of opulence and luxury in a way that is universally relatable and transcendent.

Written by Sadie Spalding, a senior English major and Art minor. 

The Art of the Printing Press

Text by Gallery Attendant, Rachael C Bible

Print by Winslow Homer

The first printing press with moveable type was invented between 1041 and 1048 in China by printer Bi Sheng. Sheng experimented with both wood and ceramic, but ceramic types very quickly became the preferred medium as wood block printing often showed the woodgrain in the final printed product. The first metal movable type presses showed up during the 1100s in Eastern Asia, and it was not until 1450 that Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical moving type printing press in Germany. For the first time in Europe, books could be mass produced in the language of the people. The use of printing presses became so strongly associated with the quick distribution of information to the masses that the new branch of media still retains “the press” as its moniker.

The mechanical printing press easily fed into this charged social climate and began what scholars call the “democratization of knowledge.” This new ideal meant that knowledge of current events, science, religion, and even literacy itself, was no longer restricted to members of the upper classes. Books and pamphlets containing radical ideas that sometimes went against those in political or religious power could be distributed to the public with ease. For example, in Western Europe the printing press was at the heart of the schism between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation in October of 1517. Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” were printed and spread throughout Germany within two weeks of their release. They then reached an even wider audience and spread throughout Europe by December, 1517. Without the printing press, it is highly unlikely that the debate would have spread past the clergy to the public.

During the Industrial Revolution, the printing press was further mechanized, and printing moved away from an industry passed down from master to apprentice over many years of training. The use of printing presses has now moved away from aiding in the rapid dissemination of current events or radical ideas. However, there has been a resurgence in seeing pre-industrial printing presses (letterpress printing) as an art form. This revival has prompted colleges, museums, and art institutes to offer workshops and courses in the art of using Victorian (and sometimes older) printing technology.

In the mid-1800s, electrotyping was incorporated into newspaper publishing. This process allowed artists to make multiple exact copies of their illustrations that could then be incorporated directly into the printing press with the typeset. Our current traveling exhibition from the Syracuse University Art Galleries includes illustrations by Winslow Homer, published in newspapers such as Harper’s Weekly between 1857 to 1875.  Homer left publishing to focus solely on his painting shortly after this time. Newspaper illustrations were vital to help transmitting information to the American public about the western frontier. The vast majority of Americans could not afford to travel west, but they were much more likely to have access to newspapers. The illustrations brought current events to life in a way that nothing else could accomplish at that time.

Job, Alphonse Mucha


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Job, Alphonse MuchaText by Taylor Cone, Gallery Attendant

Alphonse Mucha, one of the greatest artists of the Nouveau period, created a piece in 1898 titled Job, as an advertisement for a brand of cigarette paper. The name of the brand, Job, can be found at the top of the painting, slightly obscured by the figure in front. Job is also repeated in the background as a creative type of logo. The main feature of the piece is a lovely woman with flowing, golden hair enjoying a cigarette. The radiant hair coils of the woman form spirals and whiplash lines create a backdrop for the cigarette smoke to intertwine with. One theme of the painting is found in the repeated use of mosaic-like tiles that compose the border and title of the piece. This type of built in frame was new for its time and is part of what made the piece stand out.

This very modern piece of advertising reflects today’s use of subconscious advertising, as the painting focuses more on the beautiful pleasure of the woman and less on the cigarette she is enjoying. The popularity of this advertisement eventually led to the coining of the term “Mucha Woman”.

Alphonse Mucha’s “JOB” is currently on display in the J. Wayne Stark Galleries as part of the Inspired by Nature, Art Nouveau exhibition.  This pieces, as well as the larger show, are on display thanks to a generous loan from the collection of John and Cindy Delulio, who acquired “Job” in 1968 from Sotheby’s in New York City.

Mr. Delulio also noted that the painting’s frame is also original, as it also displays a Nouveau style of the era.

Mucha would later go on to paint another advertisement for Job, entitled “Great Job”.

Art and Science: How Archaeological Finds Influenced Victorian Art Glass


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Text by Laura Short, Gallery Attendant
Cypriote Vase, c. 1918 Blown Favrile glass body with 5 pulled feather

Tiffany Furnaces
Cypriote Vase, c. 1918
Blown Favrile glass body with 5 pulled feather
Bill and Irma Runyon Art Collection 988.001.1153

Fueled by explorations and archaeological excavations in Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean, art during the Victorian period was influenced by ancient forms and motifs. A perfect example is cameo glass – an ancient technique revived during the Victorian period – with figures from Grecian mythology. Additionally, it seems that antiquities collectors of the time were attracted to the iridescence of ancient glasses, which was then mimicked by Victorian art glass artists. You can see an example of this in Tiffany’s Cypriote vase, which mimics the pitting found in archaeological glass as well as the iridescence.

As an archaeologist, I’m as interested in the ancient glass that influenced the Victorians as I am by the art glass itself. Now, I use Raman spectroscopy to study chemical residue on stones that were used to cook food. Spectroscopy analyzes the chemical components of an object by looking at how molecules vibrate when they are hit with light. While I look for organic residue, it can also be used to examine inorganic minerals. It is just one method that scientists use when trying to figure out what an unknown substance is.

Now, obviously we don’t have a lot of information about how ancient Romans, for example, made their glass. It’s been a long time and if there are records of how it was done, they have been lost. But we also don’t have a lot of information about how Tiffany or Steuben made their glass – while the basic recipes were recorded, detailed notes on the processes were not. It’s like if someone noted that bread was made with flour, yeast, and water, and neglected to mention the importance of kneading and letting dough rise. So what I think is cool is that a lot of the methods archaeologists use to study ancient glass are the same methods used by art historians to study these Victorian pieces.

Vase with peacock feather design, 1904-1932

Steuben Glass Works
Vase with peacock feather design, 1904-1932
Green and Gold Aurene
Bill and Irma Runyon Art Collection, 988.001.0957

So let’s look at the iridescent quality that Victorians seem to have liked so much. The iridescence in ancient glass was accidental. When the people had used their glasswares, they had been ‘regular’ glass. But left buried over time in the right environment, the glass reacted with the minerals in the ground to form a sheen on the surface of the glass. The weathering process can have a lot of different effects, and has been studied extensively by scientists, usually so they can figure out the best way to preserve ancient glasses from further deterioration.

The exact process that the glass goes through in weathering is unknown, but it seems water is the main requirement, and different minerals in the soil and/or water produce different effects. It seems that the outer portion absorbs water and this somehow produces layers. Different chemical processes can go on these layers – minerals can be leached out or they may recrystallize. This in turn changes the way light passes through the glass, and iridescence is one of visual effects it may create. On the other hand, the iridescence found on Victorian period glass was a purposeful creation to mimic ancient glasses. This was done by applying a film on the glass while it was still very hot.

In 1913 Tiffany filed a lawsuit against Steuben for infringing on his trademarked “Favrile” style of iridescent glasswares, which he had patented in 1890. Steuben had patented his Aurene iridescent glass technique in 1904. The lawsuit was dropped – a) iridescent techniques had been created before, b) the surface decorations were different and c) the forms of the glassware were distinctive. This peacock vase is an example of Steuben’s iridescent work.

This is borne out in the scientific analyses. Stueben’s art glass reflects a standardized production regime using less expensive additives to get similar effects in his glasswork. Tiffany’s art glass, on the other hand, reflect the experimental nature of his program – there is a greater range of variation in his glass formulations and he used more exotic materials.

For more information on Tiffany’s secretive nature of his glass compositions

For more information on weathering in glass

For more information on the scientific methods art historians and archaeologists use to study glass


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