The Beauty of Realism

The Beauty of Realism

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. 

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Job, Alphonse Mucha

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”.

In Company with Angels

Text by Michael Rugh, Gallery Attendant, Forsyth Galleries

“The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

In 1885, Louis Comfort Tiffany created the renowned Tiffany Studios which went on to produce exquisite decorative glass that captivated connoisseurs and laymen alike. The seven stained glass windows which are now traveling under the exhibit name “In Company With Angels” were originally part of a small Swedenborgian Christian Church in Cincinnati. When the church was leveled in 1964 to make way for highway expansion, the windows were removed and eventually stored in a barn in Pennsylvania.

Ten years later, Rev. Susannah Currie discovered the windows and established an organization to maintain and restore the works of art. A generous donation of $50,000 from Ms. Helene Tripier helped begin this process. In 2007, “In Company With Angels” began traveling across the country. To witness a portion of the restoration process, continue to the YouTube link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDtc_NMp3GA

The seven windows depict the seven angels of seven churches referenced in Revelation 2-3. Each of the seven churches must overcome tribulations to receive a gift. The gifts listed in Revelation are clearly depicted in the glass. The following are in the order in which they appear in Revelation.

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). The first window shows the angel of the church of Ephesus. A lively branch is held delicately by an angelic hand. The first section of Revelation 2 praises the people of Ephesus for their hard work and their avoidance of evil. However, they are asked to remember the reason that man first fell and repent for forgetting. They are rewarded with the tree of life for completing this.

A bright royal crown rests on the hand of the angel of the church of Smyrna. The people of Smyrna are promised to be rewarded if they remain faithful until death.

A brilliant white stone stands out strikingly in the hand of the angel of Pergamos. In this section of Revelation, the people or Pergamos are warned to repent of their sins and to avoid following the teachings of a different doctrine which is causing them to commit sins against God.

In the fourth window, the angel of Thyatira holds a star which could be said to represent “intelligence and wisdom given by the Lord”. The people of Thyatira are asked to reject a false prophetess who is luring them into sin.

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels” (Rev 3:5). As the passage suggests, the angel of Sardis is clothed in a garment of bright white glass. This section of Revelation warns the people of Sardis to work to triumph over spiritual death by being watchful and to remember His words.

The pillar that stands by the angel of Philadelphia represents the promise that, by keeping God’s word, one can become part of the everlasting temple. In this section of Revelation, God promises to protect the people of Philadelphia who are not strong enough to protect themselves but have kept His word.

A scepter rests in the hand of the angel of Laodicea, representing the sovereignty of God that can be shared with those who overcome sin. The people of Laodicea are urged to be diligent in keeping the Lord in their hearts and on their minds and avoid being blinded by luxury and a life of earthly goods.

When you look at the angels, notice the delicate thought that went into making each gift stand out. Some Tiffany windows were made with up to 7 layers (Tiffany also called them plates) to create a deeper color. These particular windows use up to 4 layers to create the various effects. Notice how the clothing made of glass seems to bend and fold like real fabric. Consider the coloration of the wings as they stand vibrantly against the light.

Don’t miss your chance to experience these discovered jewels of Tiffany Studios. “In Company of Angels” will be coming to the Forsyth Galleries May 30th and will close October 12th.

For more information about this exhibition, visit: http://www.incompanywithangels.org/

On the Terrace by Thomas and George Woodall

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Text by Taylor Wilson, Gallery Attendant at the Forsyth Galleries

When someone mentions cameo, the first thing that comes to mind for most is the brooch.  However, cameo actually refers to a technique of engraving.  Usually, the engraving is done on gemstone so that the outer figure is of one color and the background is of another; however, this process is not limited to two layers.  Often times, cameo glass is very colorful.

The creation of cameo glass is just as much an art as the finished product.  A blank is first created through a delicate process and then given to a designer.  The designer will then draw on the blank with acid resistant material, covering the area that is to remain white.  The blank is dipped in hydrofluoric acid which removes the area that was not covered by the designer.  Finally, a carver will complete it by refining the design through the use of engraving wheels, acids, and small steel chisels.  The refining portion of the process is where true talent becomes visible.  Before refining, there is only a rough idea of the intended result.  The artist must turn a caterpillar into a butterfly by taking the draft done by acid and use their tools to add the detail.

On the Terrace is a cameo plate done by Thomas and George Woodall in 1895.  It is opaque white on a flashed blue layer on plum glass.  It is a stunning piece, but the amazing part is the amount of detail that was managed on such a small scale.  The piece itself is not very large, measuring only about a foot tall and six inches wide.  Yet in that small space, an entire scene was crafted.  A woman sits alone painting in what appears to be Greece.  Upon first glance, that is all a viewer might notice.  However, with a more careful inspection, you begin to see that the background behind the woman is immaculately detailed.  The tiniest of buildings are easily recognizable.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the detail is the canvas on which the woman is painting.  The engraver managed to create an entire painting on the tiny canvas that isn’t visible at first, or even second, glance.  You may even have to adjust your positioning, but when the light hits it just right, the canvas comes to life.

If you would like more information on the process of making cameo glass, you can watch this video from the Corning Museum of Glass: www.cmog.org/video/cameo-glass

 

Toilet of Venus- George Woodall

Text by Kenya Hadnot, Gallery Attendant for the Forsyth Galleries

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Born into a family of talent in the mid 1800s, George Woodall naturally drifted toward figurative work, life drawing and soon became a skilled craftsman. Between 1881 and 1882, George and his brother experimented with the production of carving cameo glass, soon specializing in this work. George was determined to refine the process used by John Northwood, the first major carver of cameo glass. George was quickly recognized as the greatest cameo carver of his time, as he surpassed the amount of work ever completed by Northwood. As a perfectionist, he was unhappy with the work of other engravers on his team. So he increasingly worked alone, sketching his own designs and carving his own vases; however, he occasionally collaborated with his brother to create highly valued work. He received much attraction for his solo works, not only because of the elaborate, decorative quality, but also because George’s love for photography marketed the glass very well and added to their commercial success.

The cameo technique refers to the art of carving or engraving a figure on a surface made up of at least two layers of different colors. The design is drawn onto the outer, opaque white layer of the vessel while the area that is meant to remain white is coated with an acid resistant agent. A great deal of skill, experience, and patience allowed engravers to endure the slow working process.

The colored plate I chose, Toilet of Venus by George Woodall, is white on blue on plum plaque (three layers) and is 17 1/4 in. George completed this piece in 1898 only after the artist discovered a flaw in the glass, and the whole of the work (which occupied him for many months) had to be recommenced on a fresh piece of glass. This beautiful piece stood out to me because of the hues and shadows that allowed the girls to come forth as angelic. The inner plate stars his daughters, two of whom are interacting with one another, and the third sitting on the floor in her own world. The depth of the photo along with the dark cobalt blue background give the girls an up-close, magnified view, though detail can be seen throughout the picture. The girls themselves look as if they could be statues as they stand amidst fountains, doves, fruit, bodies of water, plants, and other statues. Superb detail encompasses not only the inner plate, but the border as well. The outer plate consists of mythical creatures patterned in such a way that similar heads face the opposite direction, unless of course it is the lion head. These creatures are surrounded by floral designs and vines.

The tiniest flower was shaded to perfection and I am amazed by the amount of hard work George and similar engravers must have put in during their commercial peak. Every piece I’ve seen is amazing, whether it be simply floral designs on a vase or detailed mythological figures referencing Ancient Greece and Rome. Several of George Woodall’s cameo glass pieces are in possession of the Forsyth Galleries at Texas A&M University, including “Love’s Awakening” featuring Cupid, “Aurora” completed by George and his brother, and numerous vases such as “Wild Waves”, “Diana”, and “Sea Gulls”.

Forsyth Guest Lecturer Violet M. Showers Johnson

Text by Lynn C. McDaniel, Communications Specialist for the University Art Department

This past Thursday, February 21st, at our monthly brown bag lunch and lecture, Professor Violet M. Showers Johnson presented an extremely interesting lecture which she called Ambivalent Aesthetics: West Indians, Garveyites and the “New Negro Art” of the 1920s and 1930s.

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The Forsyth Learning Gallery was filled with guests, who listened as Professor Johnson discussed the emergence of the “New Negro”.  She explained that, following the Civil War, the failure of Reconstruction, and the black migration to the Northern States, black people began questioning who they were.  Were they African?  Many black people came from places other than Africa (such as the West Indies), and many were born in America—a generation or two away from Africa.  Were they American?  Technically, yes, but they were culturally undervalued in a nation deemed to be “white, Euro-American.”  Were they slaves?  No, they had their freedom, and yet they were still looked upon as inferior and were segregated in society, even by the Northern black people, who considered them trouble-makers.

Photo of Professor Violet M Showers Johnson
Professor Violet M Showers Johnson

The 1920s and 1930s represented an age of vibrancy, energy and change.  It was the era of The Cotton Club and similar clubs in Harlem, where largely white audiences enjoyed shows performed by black entertainers.  Called “the Harlem Renaissance,” this period represented a time of growth and self-reflection for black people who asked themselves, “Who am I? What does it mean to be black?”  The “New Negro” discovered a newfound self- and racial-pride, and expressed that confidence through music, literature, theatre, dance and the arts.

In her description of what her presentation would be about, Professor Johnson stated, “The diverse creations of the New Negro Art validated and highlighted the African past of African Americans while situating them at the center of contemporary American life and culture.  At the same time that African American artists, scholars and activists were advocating this hybrid art movement, immigrants from Caribbean British colonies (the West Indies) were grappling with their multiple identities as British subjects and Blacks in America.  Nevertheless, as staunch adherents of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Jamaican Marcus Garvey, many West Indians were in the forefront of Black Nationalism and the celebration of black aesthetics. This presentation will describe, discuss and illustrate the immigrants’ conflicting encounters with American ‘New Negro Art’ while balancing imperial belonging and the Black immigrant experience.

Loïs Mailou Jones’ painting, Les Fetiches, 1938
Loïs Mailou Jones’ painting, Les Fetiches, 1938

Professor Johnson offered two examples of visual art which depicted the energy, vibrancy, and conflict of the “New Negro” movement.  The first, Loïs Mailou Jones’ painting, Les Fetiches, 1938, is a powerful painting of an African mask, which was a perfect symbol for this time of self-evaluation, question and discovery.

Aaron Douglas’ Study for Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting, 1934
Aaron Douglas’ Study for Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting, 1934

The second example was Aaron Douglas’ Study for Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting, 1934, again, a vivid portrayal of dynamacism, joy and life that was evident in the “New Negro”.

Without question, the cultural impact of this movement–on all forms of the arts–was significant, and helped give a mighty voice to black people that they had never had before.  In the two decades that it lasted, the New Negro Art movement inspired significant changes in numerous other aspects of society as well, slowly contributing to the breaking down of racial barriers and integrating society, proving that art truly is the universal language.

Guests of the brown bag lunch and lecture series, which is held from Noon to 1:00 every third Thursday, are always encouraged to bring their lunch to enjoy during the lecture, and then participate in a lively discussion afterward.  The Forsyth invites you to join us and learn more about art and how it affects our world.

Violet M. Showers Johnson is Professor of History and Director of Africana Studies. She is the author of The Other Black Bostonians:  West Indians in Boston, 1900-1950.  For more information about the Africana Studies Program, please contact Ms. Johnson.

Caffey Eying Rare Homer Painting from Forsyth Gallery Collection “Winding the Clock,” by Winslow Homer.

Written by Guest Author Richard Nira

Photo of Dr. Stephen Caffey
TAMU College of Architecture art historian Stephen Caffey

A rare work in Texas A&M’s Forsyth Galleries by Winslow Homer, a preeminent figure in U.S. art history, is receiving its first-ever scholarly attention from Stephen Caffey, assistant professor of architecture at Texas A&M.

“His work captured the complexity of American identity in the late 19th century because, beginning with the Civil War, he was able to represent the conflict between North and South and changing gender roles without taking a stand,” said Caffey.

Photo of Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer

The largely self-taught, Homer (1836-1910) was a versatile artist who worked in a wide range of subjects, styles and mediums.

Last year, after being asked to participate in the Forsyth Gallery brown bag lunch and lecture series, Caffey learned of a Homer piece in the collection and opted to make the painting his lecture topic.

Caffey, who studied Homer’s work extensively in graduate school and is familiar with his catalog, was expecting to see a watercolor from Homer’s Adirondacks series, which depict deer hunting and fishing scenes created for businessmen who felt disconnected from nature because they were working in office buildings on the East Coast.

“As soon as I saw the piece in the Runyon collection my heart leapt because I knew no one had done any scholarship on it at all,” said Caffey. “I didn’t even know it existed.”

Winslow Homer's painting "Winding the Clock"
Winslow Homer’s “Winding the Clock” (click to enlarge)

Caffey has since learned that the piece, “Winding the Clock,” was published only once, prior to an 1881 New York watercolor exhibition.

The painting depicts a single woman in a claustrophobic interior space standing on a stool, blowing the dust off a key she’s holding to a grandfather clock.

“In addition to being technically astonishing because it shows a woman in a white dress with a lot of detail, which is almost impossible to do in a watercolor, it also presents a woman in a way we’d never seen before in American painting,” said Caffey.

Among the topics “Winding the Clock” addresses, he said, are single women in wealthy and well educated households, the potential symbolic meaning of winding the clock and the passage of time.

“The fact that it’s part of the Runyon collection is like finding the Titanic in terms of its potential to improve scholarly understanding of Homer’s work and also to draw attention to the fact that Texas A&M owns this really important and little-known Homer painting,” he said.

Caffey and Nan Curtis, who was director of the Forsyth Galleries at the time, agreed to collaborate on a journal article  which would  detail the painting’s place in the broader series of Homer’s work and do research, partially funded by the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, investigating its path in private ownership to the Runyon collection.  Since Curtis’ departure, Caffey has continued his research alone.

Caffey‘s effort will involve a trip to the Harvard University library, where the family papers of a Union Civil War officer who originally acquired “Winding the Clock” from Winslow are housed, the Boston Public Library, where a portrait of the officer is located, and Homer’s papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

After the Civil War, the Union officer told Homer he wanted to buy “Winding the Clock” after seeing it at Homer’s studio, where he was arranging a portrait session. Homer agreed on the condition the sale was completed after the 1881 New York watercolor exhibit.

Caffey said Homer began to attract attention internationally with a painting called “Prisoners From the Front,” displayed at the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris, which drew raves from French art critics.

“It depicts a Union commander with a group of Confederate prisoners,” he said. “In precise and nuanced ways he conveys the complexity and the ambivalence of the lingering tensions inherent after the Civil War.”

Homer’s not saying, continued Caffey, that the Confederate side is “right” or the Union side is “right”.

“What he’s saying is ‘this is a really complicated situation, so let me articulate that complexity in a way that’s permeated with ambivalence,’” said Caffey. “In his work,” he said, ‘I’m not advancing any sort of argument about it, I just want to observe it and present it to you.’”

Many in the U.S. are unaware of Homer’s stature in art history —a reflection, Caffey said, that’s characteristic of the field.

“Art history emphasizes the most obscure, the most esoteric, and most isolated,” he said. “It’s an interesting distortion we really don’t experience in any other type of history, where you always look at what was most popular, most influential, most widely understood.”

Because Homer was working in a traditional academic style, he wasn’t highly regarded by the intelligentsia, the avant-garde,” said Caffey.

The piece was recently on display,  during the grand opening of the newly renovated Forsyth Galleries, located on the 2nd floor of the MSC.

The research project was noted in the Museum Education Monitor, which tracks and records research and resources in museum education with an aim of enhancing the development of theory and practice in the field by academics and museum professionals.

Posted September 2, 2011 in ArchOne: The Newsletter for the Texas A&M College of Architecture. Reprinted with edits by permission of Phillip Rollfing.

Website:  http://one.arch.tamu.edu/news/2011/9/2/homer-painting/