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. 

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”.

Art and Science: How Archaeological Finds Influenced Victorian Art Glass

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

Everett Shinn: American Realist Painter

Text by Taylor Wilson, Gallery Attendant

Dance is an art in and of itself, but the ability to catch the beauty of it in a piece of art is even more special. Dance has been a common theme for centuries with artists like Degas attempting to capture moments on stage. In our collection at the Forsyth Galleries, we have a pastel drawing from the American realist painter Everett Shinn, who is often described as an American Degas. Shinn is able to portray the power, grace, and beauty of ballet through fluid strokes of the wrist.

Everett Shin was born in Woodstown, New Jersey to rural farmers. He attended the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia to study mechanical drawing and eventually moved on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. By his late teens he was a staff artist for the Philadelphia Press, which he considered the beginning of his art career. Shinn traveled to Europe during his young adulthood to study other painters and was extremely influenced by the Impressionist movement and, it is believed, specifically depictions of the stage by Degas, Manet, and Forain. While in Philadelphia, Shinn was a member of the Charcoal Club, established by fellow artists Robert Henri, John Sloan, and Joseph Laub, which eventually became the origin of the Ashcan School. Shinn was also later a member of The Eight, a group of artists named from a 1908 exhibition. Although others focused on a more idealistic outlook on upper class leisure, Shinn chose to paint realistic depictions of urban life, which often included gritty scenes of tenement life, social and economic diversity, and forms of urban entertainment.

Infatuated with the theatre, Shinn’s depictions were generally of unusual angles, often with the audience as the backdrop. He also liked to take up an aerial perspective or one from the orchestra pit. No matter the angle, Shinn would capture the excitement from the movement on stage. In the pastel drawing On Stage, from our collection at the Forsyth, the viewer is given an aerial perspective with the orchestra conductor in view in front of the stage. The dancer is mid-jump which is evident, not only from the obvious position, but the way Shinn imagines the skirt in movement. By including the conductor, the viewer is left with a sense of anticipation. If the dancer were by herself in the shot, it would seem as if she were frozen in time, but by including the conductor there is the expectation that the music is continuing and you are waiting for her to land. The position Shinn chose for the dancer exhibits not only her grace, but her strength as visible in the delicate placement of her arms juxtaposed with the musculature of her legs.

Though influenced by the Impressionist movement, which strove to capture snapshots of everyday activities, Shinn was not afraid to make a bolder statement with his subject matter. While it is easy to capture moments in the theatre as fantastical, idealistic split seconds of true beauty, Shinn did not shy away from reproducing the scene in a way that allowed the viewer to connect with society at the time, which was riding the rollercoaster of the Great Depression. This set Shinn apart from his peers and allowed him to become a truly wonderful artist.

Everett Shinn, N.A.  On Stage, c. 1918 pastel on paper, Bill & Irma Runyon Art Collection, 988.001.0203
Everett Shinn, N.A. On Stage, c. 1918 pastel on paper Bill & Irma Runyon Art Collection 988.001.0203

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/

Frederick C. Carder and Steuben Art Glass

Text by Madison P. Whyde, Gallery Attendant at the Forsyth Galleries

The Forsyth Galleries at Texas A&M University’s Memorial Student Center features an eloquent and extensive collection of English Cameo Glass. Last month’s article goes into detail about one of our cameo glass pieces and how it was created. However, our galleries also feature a beautiful collection of Steuben Glass, whose history you may be less aware of.Black and White Steuben Vase

Frederick C. Carder was born in Staffordshire, England where he grew up loving the arts. He quit his schooling at a young age and started developing his glass-making skills at various local firms until a few of his designs became commercially popular. In 1903, on a business trip to the United States, Carder met Thomas Hawkes who was familiar with his success. As the president of Corning Glass Works, Hawkes offered to establish and provide funds for a company to be run by Carder in Corning, New York, and soon after Steuben Glass Works emerged as an American art glass company.

Throughout his career with Steuben Glass Works, Frederick C. Carder created more than 8,000 designs, of which one of his more famous types is known as Aurene. To create his patented Aurene glass, Carder would spray clear, malleable glass with a metallic chloride and then heat it in a specific manner; the glass surface would crack into millions of tiny lines causing the light to reflect off it in an unprecedented, exquisite manner.

He was also known for his incorporation of different art styles into his pieces. For the vase pictured here, Carder managed to create almost perfectly clear glass and embellish it with a striking black floral intarsia design. Intarsia refers to an art technique that developed during the Italian Renaissance of decorating a surface with recurring patterns. This vase truly highlights Carder’s masterful ability to manipulate the raw material by combining both the technology of glass making and the expertise of design. In addition to the vase’s asymmetrical nature and improbable rippling rim, its stunning colors and uniqueness highlight the power and expressivity of simplicity.

However, with the onset of World War I, America underwent many raw material shortages, which eventually lead to a decline in Steuben glass popularity.  His company was bought by Corning Glass works, and under new management the Steuben division produced new pieces of art that were instead formed with different, revolutionary techniques. Most notably, a manufacturing process known as 10-M was developed by Corning in an effort to create glass that would transmit, instead of absorb, ultraviolet light; the iron impurities that are found in glass are removed which achieves an extremely high refractive quality that permits the entire spectrum of light and ultraviolet light to pass through. This purifying procedure creates a pure, beautiful finished product unique to the Steuben standard of glass making. Frederick Carder retired in 1932, although the production of his style of glass continued. To exemplify the prestige of his glass, it’s interesting to note that famous persons and dignitaries were awarded Steuben Glass pieces, and in 1951, a piece was even presented to Princess Elizabeth during the opening of England’s “Exhibit of Exhibits.”

Although Steuben glass officially ceased its manufacturing in 2012, it stands as an American symbol of our ability to produce world-class art glass. Carder’s art is rare, and his incredible formulas for glass transformation into extraordinary works of art continue to be recognized in the field. To see more works designed by Carder for Steuben, be sure to visit the Forsyth Galleries and our current “Forsyth Favorites” exhibit that features several of his extraordinary works!

On the Terrace by Thomas and George Woodall

Image

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