Two Extraordinary Museum Collections Join Forces To Create A Landmark Exhibition of Sargent Watercolors
The Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston both purchased significant works in watercolor by John Singer Sargent. Sargent only participated in two major watercolor exhibitions in the United States during his lifetime (1856-1925). The first, in 1909, was very well received and was seen in New York at the Knoedler Gallery and the entire exhibition was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum. It was in 1912 that the second Knoedler exhibition presented works which were equally praised and this time it was the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which purchased all of the exhibited works (before the exhibit opened.)
Now for the first time these two collections come together, with almost 100 watercolors being exhibited, first at the Brooklyn Museum (4/5 to 7/28, 2013), then to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (10/13 to 1/20 2014) followed by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (3/2 to 5/26 2014). The exhibition also presents nine oil paintings, including Brooklyn’s An Out-of-Doors Study, Paul Helleu and His Wife (1889) and Boston’s The Master and His Pupils (1914).
Sargent’s Background, Training, and Professional Practice
John Singer Sargent, self portrait
John Singer Sargent was born in Florence, Italy in 1856 to American parents. He was descended from a New England family of merchants and shipowners. Sargent’s mother, from a prominent Philadelphia family, persuaded her husband, a promising physician, to move to Europe, where they led a nomadic life as expatriates. His mother encouraged John’s natural ability at drawing and so he kept many sketchbooks during their travels.
It was in Rome in 1868 that he received his first instruction from a professional artist. In 1870 Sargent entered Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence.
The family moved to Paris in 1874, where he first entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts at the age of 18, then soon transferred to the private Studio of Carolus-Duran. Through this tutelage, Sargent became focused on portraiture. Carolus-Duran’s teaching was considered progressive among academic instructors because of its painterly, direct handling. There was more of an emphasis on form and color rather than line. Duran was a fervent admirer of Velazquez and a friend of Manet. Sargent painted his mentor in 1879.
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Carolus Duran
In Paris, at this time there was a great deal of artistic energy. It had been in April of 1874 that there had been an exhibition by a revolutionary group of painters, which an angry critic had termed “Impressionists.”
In May of 1876 Sargent accompanied his mother and sister on his first trip to the United States, where at the age of 21 he established his American citizenship. He steadfastly clung to that status, despite living abroad for his lifetime, and despite being offered many foreign honors.
At the age of 22, Sargent was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Salon of 1878, with a painting in the landscape genre. Then, in 1879, Sargent first began to be seen as a portraitist in his own right, and less connected to the study with Carolus.
In the fall of 1879, Sargent visited the Prado in Madrid in order to study the Velazquez paintings first hand. Music as a theme became a primary theme of two important works whose foundation can be traced to the 1879 Spanish trip. El Jaleo was the second of these (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.)
Sargent, Paris Studio, Madame X, 1885
Sargent’s painting career in Paris came to a close soon after his painting of the portrait of Madame X, (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This painting created quite a scandal after he exhibited the work at the Salon of 1884. This public and press indignation resulted in driving away prospective sitters.
In 1885, Sargent moved to London. England promised to bring new prospects for his career. He also resumed interest in plein air painting during that time. During 1888 and 1889 Sargent was deeply influenced by Monet, who had been a friend when he was in Paris. There was a relaxation of his attitude toward subject matter. And about 1887 he renewed an old interest in watercolor painting, though without the zest of his later work.
Sargent’s Period of Transition and Production of Watercolors
John Singer Sargent, A Tramp, circa 1904–6
Sargent’s best period of production for watercolors began about 1902. He was 44 years old in 1900, and had become well established as the greatest Anglo-American portrait painter of his time. By then he had finished the first phase of the mural for the Boston Public Library and was progressing with the second. He was residing in his own house in London. However, as he had grown weary of the professional pressures of the portrait commissions, he sought refuge through travels to remote locations where he could paint figure and landscape subjects.
Sargent is said to have created about 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors plus sketches and charcoal drawings. He created watercolors as he traveled worldwide, to Venice, to marble quarries in Italy, Corfu, the Middle East, and North Africa.
There were hundreds of watercolors based on Venice, its gondolas, and spectacular light. In his last decade he produced many watercolors as he traveled to the American West, Maine, Florida.
John Singer Sargent, Santa Maria della Salute, 1904
Themes And Subjects Of The Exhibition
John Singer Sargent, Bedouins (1905-06)
The works from the Brooklyn Museum are smaller in scale, and looser in style, while Boston’s collection includes larger works, which are more finished in execution. The visitor will see many water views of Venice, as seen from the perspective of a gondola, and Venetian architectural scenes in shimmering light. There are also Italian gardens with statues highlighted through shimmering trees.
A distinct group of the Brooklyn watercolors are of the Bedouins, a nomadic Arab tribe. In writing about his forthcoming New York exhibition of 1909, Sargent stated that “Those Bedouin things would make a sort of piece de resistance.”
There are landscapes and figurative works painted during summers in the Alps. Sargent often traveled with relatives or friends; there are many figures populating the landscapes.
A group of works from the Boston archives were created from his visits to the work sites of the Carrara marble quarries, near Florence, where he was inspired by the quarries’ strange and dramatic landscapes.
John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass, Avalanche Track, c. 1909-11
Sargent’s Technical Approach To Watercolor
John Singer Sargent, Gourds, 1908
In many ways Sargent’s approach to watercolor was considered unconventional. One of the more unusual aspects of the documentation of this exhibition is a focus on tools, materials, and the techniques employed in Sargent’s paintings. The outstanding publication, which accompanies the exhibition, has a special chapter which analyzes specific techniques which were used, the kinds of tools and materials which Singer utilized in creating his watercolors. Questions are addressed such as whether there was underdrawing in specific works, whether papers were from blocks or single sheets, and which kinds of brushes were used.
In addition to the works of art, the exhibition features a special section that deconstructs the artist’s techniques, based on new discoveries about his pigments, papers, drawing techniques, paper preparation and application of paint. And selected works throughout the exhibition are paired with videos that show a contemporary watercolor artist demonstrating some of Sargent’s working methods.
It is indicated that Sargent used a variety of means to achieve the luminous effects. He sponged wet washes into each other while preserving the white of the paper for the lights. Sometimes he washed over wax resist to create textures, or scratched out lines with the end of a brush or a knife, and to finalize a painting he might employ gouache or China white for the highlights. All in all his technical virtuosity and spontaneous methodology did not leave much room for making corrections or major changes. He was more reliant on his initial perception, choice of subject and location, and his considerable level of skill, so that he could produce work with speed and clarity.
In the following three examples, descriptions are provided by the Brooklyn Museum which supply information about the technical approach to the respective paintings:
John Singer Sargent, White Ships, circa 1908
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). White Ships, circa 1908. Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 14 x 19 3/8 in. (35.6 x 49.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.846
“In this work, one of the latest of the watercolors in the 1909 purchase, Sargent used a small amount of clear wax on the right side of the larger boat in order to repel the blue washes and create highlights. This is the only watercolor in the collection from the 1909 purchase in which wax resist is found. Sargent’s use of this technique later increased significantly; most of Boston’s watercolors purchased in 1912 contain wax.”
John Singer Sargent, Corfu, Lights and Shadows, 1909
“Sargent evoked the animated play of shadows across the form of a small outbuilding in this aptly titled watercolor. He added zinc white to nearly all of the washes used to represent shadow, lending them a chalky feel suggestive of the whitewashed stucco surface. Both unpainted reserves of white paper and strategic color lifting create the effect of light emerging from the violet, tan, and blue shadows on the building. The acuity of Sargent’s eye and hand is especially evident in the transitions in color along the edge where the two walls meet.”
John Singer Sargent, Villa di MarVilla-di-Marlia-Luccalia, Lucca, A Fountain, 1910
“In his seemingly incidental, snapshotlike views of the Villa Marlia pool garden, Sargent celebrated mossy balusters and potted lemon trees more than the imposing fountains of the river gods Arno and Serchio. At least one photograph taken by Sargent at Marlia suggests that he may have employed photography to test or record his compositions. He began the Marlia watercolors by defining the sculptural foreground elements with loosely sketched layers of contrasting colors. He then roughed in the backdrops of dense greenery to throw the glare-struck forms into even stronger relief.”
Honors And Awards
Over the years Sargent received many honors. In 1889 he was awarded the title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. In 1896 he was elected full Academician, National Academy of Design, New York; Royal Academician, Royal Academy, London; Officier of the Legion of Honor, Paris. In 1903 the degree of L.L.D. was conferred by University of Pennsylvania. and in 1904 he received the D.C.L. from Oxford University. In 1909 he was awarded the Order for Merit by France and Order of Leopold of Belgium; L.L.D. conferred by Cambridge University. These latter honors came at a time when Sargent decided to abandon portrait painting. In 1916, Sargent was awarded L.L.D. from Yale University and the Doctor of Arts from Harvard University.
John Singer Sargent, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection-Charles Henry Hayden Fund
John Singer Sargent catalog
John Singer Sargent Watercolors is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition is co-curated by Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, and Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
John Singer Sargent: Watercolors (publication)
By Erica E. Hirshler, Teresa A. Carbone. Text by Richard Ormond, Annette Manick, Antoinette Owen, Karen A. Sherry, Janet Chen, Connie Choi.
VIDEO: Teresa A. Carbone, Curator, Brooklyn Museum in conversation with Richard Ormond, Sargent’s grandnephew and co-author, catalogue raisonné
“John Singer Sargent was a portraitist to royalty, a dazzling watercolorist, an obsessive traveler, and an accomplished pianist and chess player. Join us for a conversation with Richard Ormond, Sargent’s grandnephew and one of the foremost authorities on the artist and the man. Coauthor of the exhaustive catalogue raisonné of Sargent’s works and contributor to the catalogue for the exhibition John Singer Sargent Watercolors, Ormond will share his unparalleled knowledge of Sargent’s life and art with Teresa Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, and cocurator of the exhibition.”
This event took place at the Brooklyn Museum Thursday, April 4, 2013
Christopher Finch. American Watercolors. Abbeville Press, 1986
Donelson F. Hoopes. Sargent Watercolors. Watson Guptill, 1970
Hills, Patricia. John Singer Sargent. New York: Whitney Museum of Art, 1986
Little, Carl. The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent. University of California Press, 1999
Morgan Lehman Gallery presents “Boys & Girls”, a solo show of new watercolors by Kim McCarty. This is the artist’s first solo show with the gallery.
After working for many years in oil paint, McCarty began using watercolor when her California studio was destroyed by wild fire. Since then, McCarty has embraced it as her primary medium and has set out to execute her works on a larger-than-life scale.
McCarty uses a wet-on-wet technique, saturating the form with water before applying pigment with a loaded brush to the paper. When the pigment hits the water-laden paper, it creates soft ripples of color and gradations of value, expressing both flaws and perfection, and the dichotomy between uncertainty and focus.
Kim McCarty, 3 Figures Darker, (2012) 22h x 30w in
McCarty’s imagery and compositions are derived from personal photographs. She uses these images as specific references to develop a particular pose or composition. The figures or “beings” all seem related, familial – perhaps a human subspecies.
They are capable of communicating a feeling or a mood that is universal, yet deeply intimate and personal. Some figure’s express longing, others seem sexy and intriguing, some innocent and unaware of our voyeurism. In these boys and girls we see our emotional selves reflected, and catch a glimpse of the fragility and tenuousness of the human experience.
Kim McCarty, Alex (2010) 76h x 45w in
Kim McCarty: Statement
“I have always been interested in identifying an expression that suggests both longing and loss. My work has gone through stages of subject matter from images of adulthood to the recent exploration of adolescence. I’m interested in the adolescence expression of fragile vulnerability and their knowing and questioning gaze.
By using a “wet into wet” watercolor medium and without specific subject, I wish to convey the transitory and emergent state. The figures heads become too large for their small, narrow bodies, their hands too large for their arms. The watercolor is so translucent that the medium expresses both flaws and perfection.
The process is extremely fleeting and an image is either created or lost within seconds. It can sometimes take weeks to create a watercolor that has the delicate balance of realism and abstraction. In many ways this watercolor process feels much like the immediacy of childhood and adolescence itself. By this process I attempt to explore the dichotomy between uncertainty and focus, and the emotional state that lies beneath the surface.”
FP: The organic medium of watercolor is so fitting for your ethereal style and for the delicacy of both children and flowers. Have you always used watercolors? And are there drawings first or just paint to paper?
KM: “When I was in graduate school and for sometime after I only worked in oils. I was searching to create a more aggressive, painterly effect. I was also influenced by the figurative expressionism of Julian Schnabel, George Baselitz, and David Salle. It wasn’t until our house burned down in a Malibu fire and I lost my studio that I primarily concentrated on using watercolors. By coincidence it was also during a time when I was ready to explore other art materials.”
“With the transparency, immediacy and unforgiving qualities of watercolor it continually forces me to dig deeper into my subjects. I use a wet and wet technique that is impossible to control so I’m continually starting over. By trying to keep the work fluid, there’s no way to prepare for the resulting image. The work is lost or gained within minutes. Needless to say it’s a very, costly pursuit. I go though reams of paper before I get anything that I might partially like. Everything goes into the trash. Oils are much easier to manipulate and much more forgiving, but unfortunately watercolor creates the effect I wish to achieve.”
“If Marlene Dumas‘ subjects had a ghostly doppelgänger, we imagine they’d look something like Kim McCarty‘s watercolors. Her portraits of youth are both innocent and unsettling, suffusing the unexpected qualities of humanity with an alien radiance.
The pale bodies, swirling with washed out pigment, resemble the fragile identity of an adolescent, pushing and pulling in infinite directions at once. Her boys and girls are barely held together at all, their tie-dyed interiors threatening to gush outside their thinly-drawn outlines.
McCarty invites strangeness to permeate personal portraits, which are inspired by photographs. The young subjects, fading away before your very eyes, embody the uncertain futures awaiting us in our youth. There is a noticeable hint of sexuality to the works, amplified by the exhibition’s title, “Boys & Girls,” and yet the gender of her subjects is arguably fluid. The works, light in texture and hue yet possessing darker undertones, ask us to look closer at those uncertain moments of adolescence.”
Kim McCarty, Installation, Boys and Girls
Kim McCarty Installation, Boys and Girls
Kim McCarty studio
Like blurry afterimages drifting past closed eyelids, Kim McCarty’s watercolors hover between presence and absence, innocence and wisdom, and past, present, and future. Working rapidly, at times using only a single color and at others a haunting, bruise-inspired palette of acid yellows, greens, and browns, McCarty’s portraits evoke the sense of uncertainty, ambivalence, anxiety, and loss with which we view today’s generation. A graduate of UCLA (MFA) and the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena (BFA), McCarty has upcoming solo exhibitions with Morgan Lehman Gallery, and David Klein Gallery. Past exhibitions include Kim Light Gallery; Cherryandmartin, Los Angeles, Briggs Robinson. Recent group exhibitions include, Sex Sells, Showstudio, London, Eve, Subliminal Projects, Los Angeles, LA Emerging Artists, at the Dominique Fiat Gallery. Liquid Los Angeles: Contemporary Watercolor, Pasadena Museum of Art. Erotic Drawing, Aldrich Museum of Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut. McCarty is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, UCLA Hammer Museum and the Honolulu Academy of Art.
Works By Noted Chinese Artist Receive New Recognition in Hong Kong Gallery & French Museum!
Zao Wou-ki, is 92 and he’s the top-selling living Chinese artist at auction.
He is well known for melding the application of Western brushwork to traditional Chinese landscape painting of the East. But at 92, he is too frail to continue painting. But before Zao Wou-ki hung up the brushes, he created a round of vivid watercolors.
Now, both a Hong Kong gallery and a French Museum (Musée de Rouen, see below) are capitalizing on these last works which were produced by the artist, who has had his studio in France for many years.
Zao is a unique cross-cultural figure. Born in Beijing in 1921, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou before moving to Paris in 1948. His early work was heavily influenced by painters like Paul Klee and Othon Friesz, but he eventually shifted towards an abstract approach, especially after he spent time in New York, Hong Kong and Japan in 1958.
By the 1960s, Zao had developed his own, distinctive style, which often reflected an expressionist take on Chinese landscape painting.
FEAST Projects’ Exhibition Zao Wou-Ki – Beyond
Director Philippe Koutouzis’ interview is featured in RTHK TV programme : The Works, broadcasted on 30th October 2012, titled U-Theatre.
Painter Zao Wou-Ki was born in 1921 in Beijing, but moved to France in 1948. Now in his nineties, he no longer paints, but during his working life he has already created a massive legacy of abstract work, much of which seems to reflect the process of creation itself. Currently showing in Hong Kong’s FEAST Projects is “Beyond”, a selection of the water colours to which he returned in his later years.
Zao Wou Ki Untitled (Quiberon), 2004, watercolour 12.2×16.1 in
On view in the “Beyond” exhibition in Hong Kong are a group of exceptional, large watercolour paintings coming directly from the artist’s studio, dated from 2004 to 2009.They belong to the most recent period in Zao Wou-Ki’s work: a series of large format watercolours that have dominated his pictorial output since 2004.
The works show a masterly control mixed with a spontaneous fluidity. Some were painted from nature, directly observing subjects such as flamboyant flowers, intertwining branches or a symphonic landscape. They convey with freshness and immediacy Zao’s intimate appreciation of Chinese and Western culture.
Zao Wou Ki, Untitled (Paris, May), 2009, watercolour 26.4×40.2 in.
Zao Wou-Ki declares, “Although the influence of Paris is undeniable in all my training as an artist, I also wish to say that I have gradually rediscovered China. It has affirmed itself as my deeper personality. In my recent paintings, this is expressed in an innate manner. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest origins.”
Zao Wou-Ki, Untitled (Paris, October), 2007, watercolour 26×40
From an essay for an exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, NYC:
By the end of 1957 he had committed to abstraction, on terms which from the beginning set him apart from the other artists of his circle—Mitchell, Riopelle, Vieira da Silva, Soulages—as much as from his great supporter Henri Michaux. His cypher-like signature, to which he has remained faithful for over fifty years, gives his first name in Chinese characters and his last in a Western orthography. It is emblematic of a stranded cultural identity, recognized from the first by sympathetic critics as the key to his artistic direction. The recognition, however, took the form of a view of Zao’s painting as an exemplary reconciliation of Chinese and European aesthetics, in which the language of modern Western abstraction is enriched by a Chinese sensibility rooted in the past.(From the essay by Jonathan Hay)
Zao Wou Ki, Untitled (La Cavalerie), 2008, 26×40.2 in
When an exhibition of Zao Wou Ki’s works was arranged last year (2011) at a new gallery in Hong Kong, the gallery dealer described the artist in this way: “He’s one of the few Asian artists who kept his roots intact,” says de Sarthe. “Nowadays, we see so many artists who are doing the same thing as everyone in New York or elsewhere. It’s a shame because artists are a reflection of their culture. Even if we’re becoming more alike, Chinese people still don’t live the same way as Americans, and their work should reflect that.”
Zao Wou-Ki: Hommage à Claude Monet et Aquarelles Inédites Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France
When Zao Wou-Ki arrived to live in Paris at age 27, Claude Monet was among the artists who was most inspirational to him. Zao created a magnificent tryptych in 1991, which he dedicated as an homage to Monet.
As he was sensitive to the particular links to the Musée de Rouen as a bellwether of Impressionism, Zao decided to place this exceptional work within their collection. To show appreciation for his generosity, about fifteen, watercolors, which were painted between 2003 and 2009, are being presented for the first time in a new exhibition. These watercolors reveal how Zao, in recent years, has restructured his response to the landscapes and nature.
Zao Wou-Ki, Homage to Monet, Musée de Rouen
Special Event at Asia Society in Hong Kong: Panel on Zao Wou-ki
On Tuesday, November 20, Asia Society Hong Kong gave audiences an opportunity to become acquainted with one of the major figures in contemporary Chinese art, when panelists discussed the life and career of Zao Wou-ki.
Born in Beijing in 1921, Zao has lived almost exclusively in France since 1948. His oils and ink paintings are in the collection of the Guggenheim, among many other museums worldwide, and have sold at Christies for as much as $5.89 million U.S. A 2009 Hong Kong exhibition of Zao’s recent work led the New York Times to call him “arguably China’s most important living artist.”
One of the featured panelists at Asia Society Hong Kong is art historian and curator Melissa Walt, the author and co-author of several monographs on contemporary Chinese art and currently a Visiting Scholar at Colby College in Maine, who is also collaborating on an exhibition of Zao’s work. Walt explained some of the traits that make Zao’s art so distinctive:
I believe Zao Wou-ki to be one of the giants of modern and contemporary painting. Nurtured in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of pre-war Shanghai and post-war Paris, Zao’s artistic development has drawn on a rich variety of inspirations and friendships, from Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu, to Paul Klee and Henri Michaud.
A woman walks past the world’s largest triptych ever, produced by painter Zao Wou-ki and displayed at the Christie’s Hong Kong Spring Auction preview in Hong Kong on May 26, 2005. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Zao Wou-ki: More Biographical Information
ZAO Wou-Ki, at 92 years old, is a Chinese French painter and one of the world’s most prominent contemporary artist. Highlights of his life long achievements include: election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in France, the decoration of Grand Officier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur by the President of France, the Praemium Imperiale Award for Painting by the Japanese Art Association in Tokyo, Japan and numerous important solo and retrospective shows in museums throughout the world, the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in France; the National Art Museum of China; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, to name a few.
Born in 1920, Zao began his training at the age of 15 at the School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, under its founder Lin Fengmian. In 1948 he left China for Paris to study modern painting. Zao is part of the second generation of Chinese modern artists who went to Paris. With his two contemporaries Chu Teh-Chun and T’ang Haywen, he belongs to a group of “overseas” Chinese painters who merged Chinese and European philosophy of art and aesthetics by inventing their own new abstract language. Once established in Europe, Zao found resonance in the creative journeys of both Paul Cézanne and Paul Klee. He worked towards representing subconscious levels of experience, leading to a penetrating form of artistic expression that transcends east and west, and melds intuition and consciousness. The result is a new perception of the meaning of art.
Yayoi Kusama, Full Circle: From Japan, To New York, and Back
The Studio, The Streets, The Mental Hospital, and The Museum Retrospectives
A retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum presents a selection of works created over 60 years by Yayoi Kusama. The exhibition was presented at the Tate Modern in London prior to arriving in New York City. The London venue produced an extensive catalog which is available at the show. The exhibition was previously seen in Madrid at the Reina Sofia Museum where it had its debut and then travelled to Paris at the Centre Pompidou.
It is worth noting that in 1998, a 10 year retrospective: “Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968″ featured Kusama’s major New York years.
‘Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958–1968’ opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition toured to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
However, the current exhibition is the only major one to cover a full range of her working career. The Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York reveals a huge range of media, methods, themes, documentation and directions. The exhibition reveals the breadth of Kusama’s production, focusing on some of the most important areas of innovation through selections from the artist’s own collection, galleries, private collections and some of the most important museums. A range of time periods and approaches are shown through varied media and techniques –drawing, painting, collage, assemblage, installation, performance, editions and design.
Kusama Catalogue: Edited by Frances Morris. Text by Jo Applin, Juliet Mitchell, Mignon Nixon, Midori Yamamura
The curator for the Kusama retrospective was Frances Morris, Head of Collections, International Art, at the Tate Modern. She worked closely with Kusama during numerous visits to Japan to bring the show to life.
She tells Phaidon because of the sheer amount of work to choose from – hundreds of thousands of pieces over seven decades of creation – she has had to be incredibly selective.
“We’ve chosen to chapterise her career and focus on the unfolding of particular moments in time,” she says. “Rather than focus on everything she ever made we’ve focused on the paradigm shifts and each room focuses on one type of work.”
In the material that follows we include links to many sources of information, reviews, viewpoints, and interviews, which will provide insights and opinions concerning Kusama’s artistic activities.
Following an overview of biographical highlights, we present a particular focus on Kusama’s works on paper from the 1950′s and the 1970′s.
Plus, scrollto the bottom of the article to find video features on Kusama’s works and the museum installations.
Kusama’s Unique Background: An Abbreviated Biography
Kusama is considered to be one of the most famous living artists in Japan–often referred to as the most famous. She was born on March 22, 1929, in Matsumoto City, which was a small provincial town about 130 miles from Tokyo. The youngest of four children, the family’s livelihood was from managing wholesale seed nurseries.
Kusama as a child
For those who haven’t been aware of her history, Kusama grew up in a troubled family situation, which did not support her artistic interests. However, she drew from an early age.
An article from the Tate Blog speaks to her early influences:
“Kusama’s family made their living by cultivating plant seeds and she grew up surrounded by fields full of flowers. This formative environment has been a touchstone for the artist throughout her life. From her earliest sketches to her most recent large-scale sculptures, Kusama has been fascinated by the plant world.”
“In the 1980s and 1990s she made a series of large-scale paintings and sculptures that continue this fascination with plant motifs. Tendrils spill out of boxes in Heaven and Earth. The triptych Yellow Trees features a writhing mass of polka dot covered tubers snaking around and through one another.”
“One of Kusama’s earliest surviving works is a sketchbook she kept as a student, the pages of which are full of detailed drawings of peonies.”
Yayoi Kusama, ‘Study of a Peony from a sketchbook’ 1945
“These precise depictions transformed into more allusive imagery in her works of the 1950s. Stumps and roots rising out of the parched ground in Earth of Accumulation are suggestive of bones, while the sprouting form in Flower Bud No.6 is rendered in lines that evoke a calligraphic character.”
“In the 1980s and 1990s she made a series of large-scale paintings and sculptures that continue this fascination with plant motifs. Tendrils spill out of boxes in Heaven and Earth. The triptych Yellow Trees features a writhing mass of polka dot covered tubers snaking around and through one another. More recently Kusama has made large-scale sculptures depicting colourful polka-dotted, eye-bedecked flowers.“
Study in Japan and Exhibitions in the 1950′s
It was in 1948 that Kusama began to study Nihonga painting in Kyoto. This was characterized as a particular Japanese style of painting, tied to Japanese nationalism. However, since Kusama became dissatisfied with these conventions of teaching, she sought out information about the prevailing European and American art, including the avant-garde.
Kusama works on paper
During the early 50′s Kusama continued to develop her skills and directions through hundreds of works on paper.
She produced these works through a variety of media which included watercolor, ink, pastel, gouache and tempera. In the early to mid-1950′s, she held several solo exhibitions, first in Matsumoto, followed by Tokyo. By 1955 Kusami had achieved recognition as a prominent artist in Japan.
“Arriving in America in 1957, the young Japanese artist had, by the mid-1960s, become one of New York’s most prolific, provocative and notorious characters. Yet in 1975 she returned to Japan and voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, where she still creates obsessively and therapeutically. Kusama’s autobiography, first published in Japanese in 2002, is finally available in English and may settle some key questions about her private world.”
Kusama spent many years in New York City, where her career blossomed from obscurity to fame and notoriety. She even rivaled the attention and press which Warhol received at the time.
With Happenings, Performance Art, Installations, Films, and Fashion, she augmented the traditional painting, drawing and sculpture media and captured great attention for her work.
Kusama recalled those days in New York in a recent interview, “I had a lot of fun with Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. It was one of the best times in my life.”
Yayoi Kusama with Joseph Cornell in New York, 1970
She was also friends with Eva Hesse, and had a 10 year intense, but platonic relationship with Joseph Cornell.
Infinity Net Paintings
The first Infinity Net paintings were originated in the early 1960′s and represented a radical shift of direction in her painting, and the insistent characteristic of the marks was said to be both obsessive and meditative.
Just as her paintings were starting to achieve recognition, Kusama initiated her first three dimensional works, known as the Accumulation sculptures.
In 1962, the Green Gallery in New York first exhibited these Kusama’s sculptures along with works by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, and James Rosenquist. An early supporter of her work was Donald Judd.
It was in 1963 that the Gertrude Stein Gallery in New York exhibited the sculptural work Aggregation: One Thousand Boat Show, which was Kusama’s first complete room installation, which initiated another direction which would be repeated many times in her career.
Subsequently, Kusama returned to the venue of the full-scale environment. In the early 1980′s she initiated a new series of sculptures based on Aggregation.
One of these is Walking on the Sea of Death (1981) which is included in the current exhibition.
Kusama, ‘Dot Happening’ 1960′s
Happenings And Performances
It was in the mid-sixties during the period of the cultural turmoil, the hippie movement, and experimental life styles that members of the artists’ community also initiated performances, and happenings, which included participation from audiences. Kusama actively involved herself in these new directions, creating Body Festivals, wherein active participants painted polka dots on other people’s bodies.
Films were made of these projects which were seen in art festivals. And Kusama, in addition to promoting screenings, set up a company to sell copies by mail.
Documentation and Archives
Kusama,’Self-Obliteration No.2′ 1967 Watercolor, pencil, pastel on paper photocollage
Kusama’s own image began appearing in photo-collages and mixed media works in the mid to late 1960′s. These works presented photographs of Kusama, as a participant in these works. The retrospective exhibition includes documentation from Kusama’s personal archives as a relevant part of her work and history.
Over the years Kusama has carefully collected a large archive, which includes a record of her early years in Japan, her active involvement in the New York art world in the 1960′s, gallery announcements, reviews, photographs of her happenings, etc. Kusama also strategically stage managed her own image in conjunction with the production of her artworks, not only by having professional photographs documenting herself with her work, but she also wore outfits that matched, or were an extension of her images in painting, sculpture and other works.
These archives have been prolifically continued by Kusama and her studio in Japan.
A Retreat to Japan in 1973
After making a huge splash in the New York art world, she retreated to Japan in 1973. She attempted to introduce some of her Happenings to a conservative audience in Japan, without success. And her efforts to create an art-dealing business also failed after a short period. From an apartment in Shinjuku, she retreated to making objects and she started a series of works on paper in mixed media.
Home in a Psychiatric Hospitalin Tokyo
Kusama in her studio, Tokyo, Japan, December 2010
In 1977 Kusama took up voluntary residency in a psychiatric hospital (where she still lives) and built a large studio nearby where she could work daily.
During these years she also started making small, enigmatic paintings and collages, with luminous colors blooming against nightshade-colored grounds. In touch and mood they’re very much like what she was doing before she came to America. (nytimes)
“I was hospitalized at the mental hospital in Tokyo in 1975 where I have resided ever since. I chose to live here on the advice of a psychiatrist. He suggested I paint pictures in the hospital while undergoing medical treatment. This happened after I had been traveling through Europe, staging my fashion shows in Rome,
Kusama in studio in Tokyo
Paris, Belgium and Germany.” . . .
YK “I work at my condominium-turned-studio near the hospital as well as at a studio I’ve been renting for some years, which is just a few minutes walk from the hospital.”
The Other Art: Novels, Poetry, and Autobiography: 1978-2002
“Between 1978 and 2002 she produced 14 novels, a collection of poetry and an autobiography. However, her writing activities are barely touched upon in Tate Modern’s retrospective exploring seven decades of prolific output. Indeed, the survey can offer only a cursory glance, so there’s little sense of transition as Kusama seems to skip effortlessly through a number of different styles in a wide variety of media.”
“Available for the first time in English, Infinity Net paints a multilayered portrait of this fascinating artist. Taking us from her oppressive childhood in postwar Japan to her present life in the psychiatric hospital where she voluntarily stays—and is still productive—Kusama’s autobiography offers insight into the persona of mental illness that has informed her work.” University of Chicago Press
The 1980′s and 1990′s, Retrospectives and Venice Biennale, 1993
Kusama, Venice Biennale, 1993
When Kusama left New York she was nearly forgotten as an artist until the late 1980s and 1990s, when a number of retrospectives revived international interest.
Following the success of the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 – a dazzling mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures in which she resided in color-coordinated magician’s attire – Kusama went on to produce a huge, yellow pumpkin sculpture covered with an optical pattern of black spots.
The pumpkin came to represent for her a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait.
This image of the pumpkin also involves memories from her youth, when her mother’s family were merchants, and Kusama recalled warehouses stacked to the ceiling with pumpkins
The Kusama Market: All Time Record Sale For A Living Female Artist: 2008
Kusama sale at Christies, ‘Infinity net’ drawing, No. 2 (1959) 72 x 108 in.
In 2008, Christie’s sold one of Kusama’s works for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist. The large work (72″ X 108″) was once owned by Donald Judd.
And, thanks in large part to Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton and the media machine of luxury fashion, her dots are everywhere again.Yayoi Kusama is the artist who filled up her world up with brightly painted spots. Suffering hallucinations and obsessive thoughts since she was a child, her career has been characterised by abrupt shifts in the areas in which she works – film, painting, poetry and ‘happenings’ to name just four of them.
By 1977 Kusama had herself admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she still lives. However, while that facility serves as a residence, her life still is not typical for one in such circumstances. Kusama built a large, commodius studio nearby, where she works daily, has assistants, stores her work and retains vast archives and documentation. In 1973 she moved back permanently;
Kusama’s presence at two Venice Biennale’s reflects the respect she has gained from the wider community on her fantastical journey into the depths of the human condition and beyond.
Yayoi Kusama is an artist reclaimed. Once apparently more prolific than Warhol, Kusama faded from view after critics grew impatient with her late ’60s publicity-mania, and she retreated to Japan, having “failed.” In the ’70s, she checked herself into a mental institution. She missed the whole ’80s art market boom and, a testament to just how devalued her work became, in 1996, an intern at the Paula Cooper Gallery found one of Kusama’s ’60s “Sex Obsession” phallus peppered chair-sculptures (on view at the Whitney) in a junk shop in the East Village for just $250. Just over a decade later, after major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and now at the Whitney, Kusama is back. In 2008, Christie’s sold one of her works for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist. And, thanks in large part to Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton and the media machine of luxury fashion, her dots are everywhere again.
Hallucinations and Obsessions Translated to Images
GT You say your art is an expression of your mental illness. How so?
YK My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.
Kusama portrait 2011
“One day I was looking at a red flower-patterned table-cloth on a table and, then when I looked up, I saw the ceiling, the window panes and the pillars completely covered with the same red flower patterns. With the whole room, my whole body and the whole universe covered entirely with the flower patterns, I would slide towards self-obliteration…and be reduced to nothingness (…). I was stupified (…) painting was the only way to keep myself alive, or on the contrary was a fever that drove me to despair.”Yayoi Kusama
Installation: “Fireflies on the Water” (2002) at The Whitney Museum Retrospective
Fireflies on the Water, a work in the Whitney’s collection, is being shown in conjunction with the retrospective of Yayoi Kusama.
Yayoi Kusama ‘Fireflies on the Water, 2002′ Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
“Yayoi Kusama’s depictions of seemingly endless space have been a central focus of her artistic career. Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water (2002)—with its carefully constructed environment of lights, mirrors, and water—is one of the outstanding examples of this kind of installation, which creates a space in which individual viewers are invited to transcend their sense of self.” The Whitney Museum
“Aside from her obsession with the dot, Kusama has returned again and again to the motif of the “infinity net,” an ever-reaching field that when realized, obliterates the self. Her retrospective features an infinity net of sorts with “Fireflies on the Water,” a stunning installation in which the viewer stands alone in a room full of mirrors and twinkling lights atop a sheet of still water. Experiencing the illusion of fireflies glittering in a dark pocket of the universe, Kusama invites us to leave New York City and enter the abyss — until a museum docent opens the door and reminds you that your minute is up. Her nets recall the vast yet illusory expanse of the internet, where you become a speck, a dot.” Huffington Post
Kusama’s Early Watercolors & Works on Paper: The 1950′s
Yayoi Kusama, ‘The Germ’ 1952. Ink and pastel on paper
Within the wide range of the work, it is worth taking a smaller focus and reviewing the history and development of her works on paper, many of which include watercolor as a major component.
If one looks back to Kusami’s entrance into this country, it was through the pathway of her watercolors. It was in May of 1955 that three of Kusama’s watercolors were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum’s “International Watercolor Exhibition: Eighteenth Biennial.” Reportedly the painter Kenneth Callahan
Connecting with Georgia O’Keeffe
By 1955 Kusami had achieved recognition as a prominent artist in Japan, but felt that her art needed a wider world of exposure. While she didn’t really know anything about American Art, she had randomly picked up a monograph about Georgia O’Keeffe in her local library. She made a long train ride to the American Embassy in Tokyo to look up O’Keeffe’s address in Who’s Who. After sending her a fan letter and her watercolors, O’Keeffe replied with words of caution about how hard it was for artists to make a living in this country, but she wished her well. (The O’Keeffe correspondence is included in the extensive documentation shown in the Whitney exhibition.)
Kusama, ‘Phosphoresce in the Daytime’ c. 1950, Ink and Pastel on paper
“In May 1955, three of Kusama’s water-colors were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum’s “International Watercolor Exhibition: Eighteenth Biennial,” and upon seeing them, painter Kenneth Callahan introduced her work to Zoe¨ Dusanne (owner of the Dusanne Gallery in Seattle), who had helped launch Mark Tobey.
The dealer offered Kusama a solo, and she arrived in Seattle from Japan in November 1957.
The next month, she exhibited 26 watercolors and pastels, before moving on to New York in June 1958.”
In an interview, Kusama, spoke about this period, and acknowledged that she had destroyed a lot of her early work when she left Japan for the U.S.A.: “The pieces that I saved were all completed ones, similar to those I had sent to Kenneth and Georgia O’Keeffe. (When I first wrote to O’Keeffe for advice, she discouraged me from moving to New York. After I arrived in New York, though, she was very supportive of me, visiting me at my studio to see how I was doing, trying to find galleries that might be interested in my art and buyers of my work. She even invited me to stay at her place.) Those pieces I saved were excellent pieces that already showed some signs of dots and Infinity Nets.” Read more of this interview.
Holland Cotter, critic, New York Times
in his review of the exhibition at the Whitney, Cotter notes:
Kusama ‘Fish’ watercolor, ink & pastel, 1953
“Two dozen small drawings from the early 1950s . . . are among the exhibition’s highlights. Done in ink, watercolor, pastel and collage, they include references to vegetal, animal and cellular forms. At the same time, each work is abstract, the sum of repeated, labor-intensive details: fields of minute dots, clusters of radiant lines, networks of slug-shaped strokes.”
“Despite the micromanaged intricacy of the drawings, she turned them out fast and in bulk, establishing a rhythm of productivity she still maintains.”
The London Telegraph
An art critic from the Telegraph in London responded to the early works which he saw at the Tate Modern:
“The first works we see are rather beautiful, surreal watercolours from the 1950s, which occasionally echo Klee and Miró, but are far from entirely derivative. Kusama’s childhood, spent drawing flowers in her parents’ seed nurseries, gave her a taste for teeming proliferation which found expression in her large white ’infinity paintings’. Endlessly repeated semicircular brushstrokes are covered in veils of thinner paint, creating a weblike effect which extends Pollock’s idea of the “all over” composition, with the sense that we are seeing just a fragment of apotentially endless work.”
Notes From The Tate Modern Curator, Frances Morris
Kusama, ‘The Woman’ 1953. Pastel, tempera and acrylic on paper. The Blanton Museum (Texas)
Frances Morris, the Tate’s Head of Collections, International Art, is the woman who organized the massive Yayoi Kusama retrospective that opened at Tate Modern before coming to the Whitney. In an interview, she spoke of her interest in the early works.In an interview with Phaidon, she states:
“I do find the small works on paper from the Fifties and Sixties has this world in a grain of sand, this minute but galactic quality to it.
When looking, you have that feeling of, ‘my God what scale am I?’ You get lost in this extraordinary cosmos and then are taken aback when you consider that they’re only four inches wide. I think these macroscopic realms are really extraordinary. And they’re incredibly beautiful. I was completely stunned when I first saw them.
I think it’s extraordinary that somebody so young, so far away and brought up in such a traditional environment was so able to absorb the influence of Miro and Ernst and Klee whose work she probably only saw in reproduction, then taking it all on and going on to produce work of such originality and in such great quantity. What I love is the idea that all the dayglo “brandiness” of her spots all comes back to this incredible energy from her early twenties.”
“Her very earliest work is really her own personal take on the traditional Japanese paintings which she did in her twenties – then she breaks with it. It’s like the doors have opened on a new way of looking which embraces this idea of covering the surface very densely.
You see it in her early watercolours and gouaches, the complete covering of the paper with spots, patterns, dashes, patterning repetition, texture and space encapsulated on the page – the idea of the drawing going off the page. It’s not bound by the notion of centre. That potential for the work to invade the space it occupies you see right in the early tiny drawings. So the potential is there from the 1950s onwards.”
Yayoi Kusama, Tate Modern: Review, London Evening Standard
Kusama, ‘The Coral Reef in the Sea’ 1954, Watercolor
“The first two rooms are a revelation. They reveal Kusama’s speedy escape from Japanese Nihonga traditions into an idiosyncratic adoption of Western modern art, in paintings heavy with the apocalyptic mood of post-atom bomb Japan.
A group of drawings from the early Fifties are so densely woven and exquisite that they could occupy hours of your time. Influenced by surrealism, they see Kusama formulating her lifelong artistic language, including the polka dots.”
Collages, Watercolors, Mixed Media on Paper in the 1970′s
Kusama, ‘Self Portrait’ 1972, collage, pastel, pen & ink on paper
After returning to Japan, Kusama produced a series of mixed media works on paper. She used collage elements which included magazine cut-outs and miscellaneous found materials which had been given to her by Joseph Cornell before her departure from New York.
Cornell’s death in 1972 had seriously affected her, and so the use of the materials he had given her was intended to be a kind of tribute to him.
These collage pieces were utilized and were painted over to create images, of birds, insects, and plant forms.
Yayoi Kusama ‘Flowers and Self-Portrait’ 1973. Collage, watercolor, and ink on paper
“In wandering through Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at the Tate Modern, I walk into a section of works by Kusama from the mid-1970s, shortly after the death of American artist Joseph Cornell. Highly affected by his passing, she started a series of works featuring elements of his style including surrealist cutouts, collages, layered with her signature pattern of polka dots and infinity nets.
These works revert back to her interest in her early active years of organism-like tentacles, spermatazoids, cilia, and microscopic shapes. The works are darker in color with an eerie, melancholic tone but calm in feeling.
Cornell’s influence on Kusama’s works was apparent and illustrate a relationship in which two isolated visionaries found solace in each other’s equally mad worlds.”
Video Introduction At The Whitney
Yayoi Kusama retrospective at the Whitney Museum, as described by Whitney director Adam Weinberg and curator David Kiehl. July 10, 2012
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama lived and worked in New York from 1958 to 1973 among some of the time’s most influential avant-garde artist, like Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell, and Claes Oldenburg, Eva Hesse. Now a major retrospective of the 84-year old artist is on view at the Whitney Museum. The exhibition runs through September 30th.
Video From The Tate Modern
In these excerpts from Kusama: Princess of Polka Dots directed by Heather Lenz, artist Yayoi Kusama, gallerist Richard Castellone, and Tate Curator Frances Morris discuss Kusama’s childhood in Japan, her move to New York, and the themes of infinity and accumulation in her work.
‘KUSAMA: Princess of Polka Dots’ produced by Heather Lenz and Karen Johnson; Directed by Heather Lenz
Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, Watercolor, 15h x 15w in
CONTEMPORARY WATERCOLOR, Morgan Lehman Gallery, NYC
Curated by Veronica Roberts (July 12 – August 17, 2012)
In Chelsea, during the summer, an exhibition of contemporary watercolors set out to change the way that we look at the watercolor medium. “Starting with the premise that the medium has suffered from perceptions ——Watercolor has been saddled with a bad rap. It hasn’t even earned the status of being uncool enough to be cool. With its history as a preferred medium of amateur painters, watercolor is all too easily overlooked or disparaged for its frequent association with trivial subjects and saccharine clichés.”
This exhibition demonstrates the impressive range of contemporary artists who are engaging the medium in compelling ways. The exhibition features a group of both emerging and established artists from around the country and abroad who approach watercolor in diverse, often political ways that move beyond, and often deliberately subvert, the medium’s traditional links to ‘plein air’ landscapes.
Contemporary Watercolor was curated by Veronica Roberts, a New York-based curator. Her recent exhibitions include Eva Hesseand Sol LeWitt at the Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York (2011) and Lee Bontecou:All Freedom in Every Sense at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010).
Kelly Inouye, On Patrol (2012) 22h-x-30w-in
Works in the show encompass a broad range of other interests and approaches to watercolor.
Kelly Inouye depicts iconic characters from the television sitcoms she grew up with during the 1970s and 1980s.
In On Patrol (2012), she loosely conjures Ponch and Jon from CHiPs, harnessing the nostalgic potential of the medium, while underscoring how few details are necessary to create a recognizable portrait of a famous person.
Russell Crotty and Mark Fox transform watercolor into a sculptural medium. Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, Sam Messenger, Laurie Reid, and Nick Terry present rigorous abstractions steeped in history of minimalism.
Firelei Baez, Demetrea, from the Geographic Delay Series (2010-11)
Brooklyn artist Firelei Báez, for example, focuses on representations of race and gender in her work, looking at the politics surrounding the female body, hair, and clothing among women of the African Diaspora, in particular.
Her life-size portrait, Demetrea (2010-11) depicts a woman of Jamaican and Haitian descent in an elaborate headdress made of vulture feathers, striking a self-assured, regal pose. Part of a larger series called Geographic Delay, the series celebrates the women of diverse ages, body types, and heritages who process in Brooklyn’s annual West Indian Parade to celebrate Carnival.
Contemporary Watercolor installation
Together with works by other artists in the show, Contemporary Watercolor demonstrates the fresh and wide-ranging ways artists are animating this overlooked medium in the 21st century.
Emilie Clark, Untitled (EHR 13) from Sweet Corruptions (2012)-001
The Artists Included:
Works by: Firelei Báez, Laura Ball, Errol Barron, Ben Blatt, Nina Bovasso, Sarah Cain, Mark Chamberlain, Emilie Clark, Russell Crotty, Nicole Phungrasamee Fein, Mark Fox, Orly Genger, Cliff Hengst, Kelly Inouye, Kysa Johnson, Aubrey Learner, Ellen Lesperance, Carey Maxon, Kim McCarty, Sam Messenger, Aaron Morse, Amy Park, James Sterling Pitt, William Powhida, David Rathman, Laurie Reid, Maki Tamura, Nick Terry, and Julia von Eichel.
The following galleries lent work to this exhibition: ACME./Los Angeles, Ambach and Rice/Los Angeles, Anthony Meier Fine Arts/San Francisco, CRG/New York, Davidson Contemporary/New York, Eli Ridgway Gallery/San Francisco, Gallery Joe/Philadelphia, Halsey McKay Gallery/East Hampton, James Harris Gallery/Seattle, Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts/New York, Larissa Goldston Gallery/New York, Mulherin + Pollard/New York, Postmasters Gallery/New York, and Stephen Wirtz Gallery/San Francisco
New Moran Watercolor Acquisition at the National Gallery: “The Mountain of the Holy Cross”
The National Gallery in Washington announced a group of new acquisitions, which included the Gallery’s first watercolor by Thomas Moran.
There is a mountain in the distant West That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
– Longfellow, “The Cross of Snow”
Thomas Moran, ‘Mountain of the Holy Cross,’ 1890, watercolor over graphite; 17¾ by 12¼ inches.
The extraordinary watercolor “Mountain of the Holy Cross” (1890) by Thomas Moran (1837–1926) is the most important work by the artist to come to light in many years.
It was unknown at the time of the National Gallery’s 1997 Moran retrospective and has never been exhibited publicly or published.
Commissioned in 1890 by philanthropist Caroline Phelps Stokes, the painting remained with her descendants for more than 100 years. This stellar watercolor joins three oil paintings, one drawing, and 15 prints by Moran in the Gallery’s collection, including an 1888 etching of the same scene.
The acquisition of Mountain of the Holy Cross was made possible by the Avalon Fund, Florian Carr Fund, Barbara and Jack Kay Fund, and Gift of Max and Heidi Berry.
Before this watercolor was commissioned, Moran painted a very large oil painting of the same subject and it’s history is fascinating.
The Stories Behind The Original Oil Painting by Moran:
The Mountain of the Holy Cross began as a myth and became a rumor. Then it became a report, a photograph, and a painting. In time it became a destination for pilgrims and tourists. Shortly after that it ceased to exist….
Mountain of the Holy Cross photo
But a black and white photograph from the far west only whetted the public’s appetite for a work that would evoke the spell of the place as well as the look. For that it would take the painter Thomas Moran of the Hudson River School. He accompanied the next Hayden expedition to the mountain in 1873. Upon his return to the studio he created a large oil landscape from memory, a few coarse sketches made on location, and a desire to communicate the feeling of seeing the mountain rather than the mountain itself. He called this kind of painting the making of a “true impression.”
In an attempt to capture the “true impression” of the scene rather than a topographical view, Moran freely invented the foreground waterfall in his painting. Forthright about his approach, Moran declared, “I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature. My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization…. Topography in art is valueless.”
Thomas Moran, The Mountain of the Holy Cross, 1875, 7′x5′ Oil
The resulting “impression” was the 7 by 5 foot painting. It was an impression that impressed hundreds of thousands with the indelible image of a “Sign from God” blessing America in the heart of the West.
The painting was first exhibited in New York to high praise from the public and the critics.
It then spent years touring the major cities of the United States and Europe before being purchased by wealthy Irish/Canadian doctor who hung it in his Manitou Springs, Colorado mansion.
The mansion caught fire in 1886 but the painting was saved by being cut from its frame, rolled up, and passed out of the burning building through a window. From there the painting passed through a number of hands until today it resides in the collection of the Museum of the American West, part of the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, California.
Over 3000 Watercolors Create “Blade Runner” Frame By Frame
Blade Runner, Voight-Kampff Machine, a polygraph-like device used to test individuals to see if they’re replicants or not
In its first incarnation in 1982, Ridley Scott’s science fiction adventure was considered a flop, poorly attended and profusely put down by the critics. However, the past few decades have miraculously altered the judgment until this film became proclaimed by many to be the premier Sci-Fi film of all time, even trumping Scott’s own revolutionary “Alien”.
Blade Runner aquarelle
Now, a new version, created by Swedish artist Anders Ramsell, presents frame by frame scenes rendered in watercolor (aquarelle in French) from an early version of “Blade Runner” the 1982 action blockbuster starring Harrison Ford.
While the scenes may sometimes be difficult to recognize, their continuity conveys the scenes and story line in a very different light, and renews the experience for those who are familiar with the film. Note these frames from Ramsell’s animation which showing the moment when Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) tests Rachel (Sean Young) to see if she’s a replicant. You can compare the two versions for yourself.
In this new version, presented on YouTube, the original scenes, whose spiritual predecessors were the noir films of the 1940′s and 1950′s, which relied on light and shadow to create mood, are replaced by Ramsell with a series of sequential water color images.
Blade Runner Rachael original detail
The transfixing 13-minute tribute, created by Swedish artist Anders Ramsell, uses 3,285 images drawn using watercolor pencils. The technique which was utilized creates gauzy images that look practically transparent on paper.
Blade Runner Rachael aquarelle detail
Ramsell paired original audio from Blade Runner with his ethereal visuals. The effect is quite impressionistic, and this is enhanced by the low-fi quality of YouTube, which makes the animation seem even hazier. The result is rather hypnotic, and slightly disorienting — Blade Runner’s futuristic and dystopian cityscapes are portrayed by a dreamlike aura in soft colors and softly defined edges.
Blade Runner, watercolor version
The YouTube version (see below) has been confirmed by Ramsell to be just the prelude to the full length feature, so the completed project will be a long time coming. This is certainly an example of a projected long term obsession. At this rate the completion could take several years.
In Ramsell’s video (above), he masterfully illustrates Holden’s interrogation of Leon using the Voight-Kampff test (see the original scene below). When Leon shoots Holden, revealing himself as a replicant, we see the gunshot frame by frame, and the screen suddenly turns black.
In summary, the “Aquarelle Edition,” the first part of the movie’s recreation is made up of 3285 aquarelle –watercolor paintings created over the course of 11 months. To complete the whole movie — only 111 minutes or about 30,400 frames to go!
Grosz, was an expatriate German artist, known for satirical works which depicted the rise of fascism in his home country. Grosz left Berlin in 1933 and eventually settled in New York.
The exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art presents a series of twenty paintings from 1952 which capture Dallas as the city was expanding with more skyscrapers, and includes images of street scenes, theatre, cattle, an oil refinery, etc,
Seventeen of the works in the exhibition are watercolors on paper.
George Grosz 'Dallas Skyline' oil on canvas, 1952
Leon Harris, left, welcomes George Grosz, right, Dallas, 1952
The occasion for the production of this series was the invitation by Leon Harris, Jr. the young vice president of the Harris and Company Department Store. Harris commissioned Grosz to create a series of paintings depicting the landscape, economy and society of Dallas on the occasion of the store’s 65th anniversary celebration.
Grosz visited Dallas for five days in May, 1952, 60 years ago this year. However, most of the works in the series were produced after he returned to his studio in Huntington, New York over a period of five months.
The series, entitled “Impressions of Dallas” was exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (the predecessor of DMA) in 1952 and later in New York City in 1954.The curator for the current exhibit, Heather McDonald, indicated that the series captures a moment in the city’s history that vanished within a decade as the city grew. The exhibition indicated that the city expanded from 50 square miles at the end of World War II to 198 square miles in 1955.
George Grosz, 'Dallas Broadway' 1952, watercolor Dallas Museum of Art
Maxwell I. Anderson, the Director of the Dallas Museum, spoke about Grosz’s interest in the American West. “He was struck, of course, by the skyscrapers and all the muscularity and growth of our infrastructure downtown and he was also fascinated by the cowboy legend.”
Grosz’s watercolor “Dallas Broadway” portrays a very colorful street scene which seems crammed with dozens of theaters and figures. The exhibition comments that by the 1970′s most of those theaters, except one, had been destroyed because of the competition of various entertainment venues in the suburbs.
There are three works which reveal some of the sources of income in the city. There is one showing cattle, another focusing on an oil refinery while a third shows people picking cotton.
The cowboy topic was revealed as well in a watercolor entitled “Refreshments on the Way.” In this work we see a man wearing a cowboy hat outside of a restaurant famous for a pork sandwich.
George Grosz 'In Front of the Hotel' watercolor 1952
In another watercolor, “In Front of the Hotel,” a scene is depicted in front of The Adolphus, a downtown historical hotel where Grosz stayed while in Dallas working on this project.
By the early 1960′s most of the works in the “Impressions of Dallas” series had been acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art or Southern Methodist University.
The Dallas Museum of Art notes that the “exhibition also examines the context for the Impressions of Dallas series with twelve of Grosz’s works made earlier in his career, including graphic work and watercolors made in Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s, and paintings and watercolors made in New York during the late 1930s and 1940s.”
One work from 1935, entitled “Nazi Interrogation” is a watercolor over ink which presents a particularly brutal scene.
The exhibition is accompanied by the Dallas Museum of Art’s first e-catalogue, an electronic publication describing the history of Grosz’s Dallas paintings.
George Grosz 'A Glimpse into the Negro Section of Dallas' 1952
The catalogue features an essay by exhibition curator Heather MacDonald and additional contributions by Andrew Sears describing Grosz’s career in the postwar years, relating the history of the “Impressions of Dallas” commission, and offering a rich portrait of Dallas in the early 1950s.
The catalogue reproduces the Impressions of Dallas series in its entirety for the first time, and illustrates many other paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints by Grosz, as well as many historic photographs of Dallas.
Leon Harris Jr. died in 2000 at age 74. A. Harris & Company merged with rival Sanger Brothers in 1961 to form Sanger-Harris, which was absorbed by Foley’s in the mid-1980s. That chain was later taken over by Macy’s.
Grosz died in 1959 at the age of 65.
“Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas:” Exhibition runs May 20 through Aug. 19 at the Dallas Museum of Art.
George Grosz 'Flower of the Prairie' watercolor 1952, Collection-Southern Methodist University
Van Gogh Museum Unveils New Acquisitionof Van Gogh’s ‘Pollard Willow’ Watercolor
On Thursday May 10th, The Van Gogh Museum revealed the watercolor, depicting a dead willow, “lonely and melancholy” over a pond near the Hague. In July 26, 1882, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo that he had to paint it the next morning. The work was purchased at an auction in London earlier this year for $1.9 million.
“For the first time in five years, the Van Gogh Museum has purchased a work by Vincent van Gogh: a watercolour entitled “Pollard willow”. Van Gogh completed the work during the summer of 1882 in The Haque, near his house on the outskirts of the city. The powerful, graphic work shows a pollarded willow tree, a ditch and a rough track, with the Rijnspoor rail depot in the background.”
Director Axel Rueger revealed the painting to the media and said that the painting, filled a gap in the museum’s collection of Van Gogh works.
In the following video curator of prints and drawings Marije Vellekoop explains why this watercolour is a crucial addition to the Van Gogh Museum’s collection .
“It’s a very elaborate, well done watercolor and that’s quite extraordinary in this period of Van Gogh’s oeuvre,” said Marije Vellekoop, the museum’s curator of prints and drawings. “Out of the blue, in the summer, in July, he makes a series of watercolors … with a lot of detail, but also very painterly, fluent.”
A few days after completing the painting, Van Gogh wrote enthusiastically to Theo and he included a sketch of the watercolor.
The letter, on faded brown paper, hangs next to the completed painting in the museum.
In it, Van Gogh says he considers the willow the best of a series of watercolors he painted that summer.
See Video below for introduction of the Van Gogh painting at the Van Gogh Museum.
About The Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the largest collection of art works by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world. The permanent collection includes more than 200 paintings by Vincent van Gogh, 500 drawings and more than 750 letters. The museum also presents exhibitions on various subjects from 19th-century art history.
Rare Cezanne Work Discovered in Private Collection
A rare watercolor by Paul Cezanne, which had not been seen in public for decades, sold for a stunning 19.12 million, which is an amazing price for a work on paper.
The work sold at auction at Christie’s and had received very ambitious estimates of expected price at $15 to $20 million. The buyer preferred to remain anonymous.
The particular watercolor, Cezanne’s “Joueur de Carte” which was painted somewhere between 1892 and 1896, depicts a card player, who appears in three of the five paintings titled “Les Joueur de Cartes” It appears to be the most similar to the version which hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which is considered to be the most accomplished of the seminal Card Players series.
The Courtauld Gallery in London exhibited the five-painting series in 2010; the exhibition traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year.
The preparatory watercolor study offers a rare glimpse into Cezanne’s creative process. The figure in the painting is that of Paulin Paulet, a gardener on Cezanne’s estate near Aix en Provence, France. It was last displayed at a New York gallery in 1953.
So where had this watercolor been for decades?
It was discovered by Christie’s Auction House when they were working with the estate of Dr. Heinz Eichenwald, who died in September, at age 85, at his Dallas, Texas home.
The late 19th-century work on paper is one of Cezanne’s preparatory studies for his seminal Card Players series of five paintings, ‘Joueurs des Cartes.’ Its whereabouts had been unknown for decades until it re-emerged from the collection of a doctor in Texas. The auction house found the drawing when it was working with the estate of Dr. Heinz Eichenwald, who died at his Dallas, U.S., home in September at the age of 85.
Paul Cézanne, c. 1861
For nearly six decades this watercolor, depicting Paulin Paulet, a gardener on Cézanne’s family estate near Aix-en-Provence, France, was familiar to scholars only as a black-and-white photograph. No one knew if the actual work, a study for Cézanne’s celebrated Card Players paintings, still existed and if it did, who owned it.
About The Collector
It is thought Eichenwald’s parents brought the drawing with them to the U.S. when they fled the Nazi occupation of Europe. The deceased doctor was a keen art enthusiast and collector, and it is expected there will be many more items to feature in the Christie’s sales.
Eichenwald is said to have ‘transformed medical care for children across north Texas and around the world for more than 40 years,’ according to The Dallas Morning News.
Watch the video below to see inside the Christie’s Auction for the Cezanne watercolor.