Friday, March 27, 2015

Wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Here's an exciting discovery for me  - a lively conflation of Persian and Chinese painting in several folios of Hafiz-i Abru’s Majma al-tawarikh - an early 15th C.  history commissioned by Shahrukh from his capital at Herat (Afghanistan).

Unfortunately, the M.I.A. does not show these images online -- and it's difficult to photograph them through the reflective glass cases.  So all I can show is areas of detail.

This scene shows Moses sending a dragon to attack Pharaoh.
It's a beautiful composition, I just wish my photo were better.

Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi, Nasir Al-Din Mahmud Tughluq
, in the winter of 1397–1398, painting dated 1595–1600.

Timur's destruction of Delhi is one of the darker moments in human history -- but here it is gloriously celebrated by Bhora, an artist serving the Mughal emperor Akbar, one of Timur's direct descendants.

BTW - this painting was acquired by the museum at auction last year for about $50,000.  Which seems a small price to pay.  I wish  the Art Institute of Chicago had acquired it - but their priorities appear to be elsewhere.

St. Catherine (and Maxentius), Austrian 1450-1460

This is a very sweet  late Medieval sculpture.  I probably would have noticed it even in a much larger collection, like the Met's.

St. Catherine was brave and studious.  But here, she also appears  insufferably self righteous.
The smart school girl who knows everything.

This face does not feel generic, and  might be a portrait of someone the sculptor knew, Perhaps his daughter?

I actually feel bad for poor old Maxentius who persecuted her. It looks like the wheel has turned.

He appears  surprised - but also gentle.

Is this a self portrait?


Hans Schnatterpeck, Tyrolean, active 1472-1510
Lamentation,  1490's

"Following a long-established buying strategy, the museum is trying to snap up important pieces in fields that are currently unfashionable and therefore less costly"

The above was written by a reporter in 2011 -- and it's quite a tribute to the management of this museum. Apparently, this piece was purchased from another museum who sold it to raise funds to buy a Tilman Riemenschneider, who currently commands a much higher price.

Since it is displayed in a glass case, reflections kept me from photographing the entire piece - so the above was lifted from the internet.

But it's a masterpiece of that strong and expressive late Gothic style that was more popular in the early 20th C. -- and which remains so important to me.


It takes my  breath away.

So much inner vitality


I failed to shoot its label, but I'm guessing that this fine bust is also from the 15th Century. It has that stately innocent feeling of the early Renaissance in northern Italy --  expressed by sculptors like Mino Fiesole.

He's gorgeous.
I don't know whether it was intended to be erotic,
but did Gothic sculptors ever imagine young dudes this handsome?

Jakob Jansz (1474-1509), Netherlands

The above detail was taken from a "Presentation at the Temple" -- because I found the faces so sweet, familiar and alive.  Especially the girl in the center.  The girl with the birds is a very child-like  Virgin Mary.

This scene would lose much of its charm if an intimate space were not created by that column in the foreground.


Ghirlandaio (?) - portrait of a lawyer in the Aldobrandini family, c. 1550


These two fine Renaissance portraits are hung side by side


Moroni, 'Portrait of an Ecclesiastic", 1550-1575

The hands of the attorney are disappointing - and the Moroni is a stronger design - but otherwise they are both good representations of intellectual men - with a strong sense of character and vocation.

I wish Moroni could paint a portrait of me.

Cornelius Jacobsz Delff, (1571-1643)
Allegory of the Four Elements, 1600 (detail)

I'm currently reading a book about the observation of reality in Dutch still life -- and this might  be an example of categorization -- the metallic-ness of pots and the airiness of birds.

Though I'm afraid that here, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649)

These two angels are carrying objects related to the Passion. The one in blue carries a tablet that reads "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", while the one in red carries the basin in which Pilate washed his hands. (and he does seem repulsed by it, doesn't he?)

They both feel like architectural elements - within a great, spacious cathedral
Or, perhaps within an enormous concert hall.
They're quite musical.

Michael Sweerts (1618-1664)
Boy Drawing Bust of Roman Emperor (1661)

Not a great painting - but it does belong in my art club.  And there is something charming about that lively young boy and that dead ancient Roman confronting each other over the millennia.

BTW -- a Sweerts painting also caught my eye at the Met last year.

 Pieter Claesz, (1597-1661)
Still Life, 1643

I'm a bit nervous about whether that tasty crab is still fresh -  but it seems to have been one of the artist's favorite subjects.  Here's a another, very similar version

Jan Vonck (1630-1660)
Still Life with dead birds, 1660

Nothing is quite as dead as  dead birds -- the specialty of this artist who himself died at a young age, soon after making this painting

Henri Lehmann, (1814-1882)
Calypso, 1869

This is the sort of well-made but tired painting that made avant garde contemporaries like Manet look so exciting.  It's  like what Titian might have done -- with the life drained out.  It would make a fine accessory to the board room of a men's club - though I did not notice the aroma of cigar smoke.

It attracted my attention because "Calypso" is the name of our new kitten


Ammi Phillips (1788 - 1865)
Portrait of Katharina Van Keuren, 1819

Like the ancient Fayum mummy portraits, this character feels so present and alive - even if distant from sophisticated urbanity.

It's contemporary with one of my favorite paintings at the Art Institute, though, of course, represents a  more mundane kind of  life.

I'm going to have to agree with what Hilton Kramer wrote about another one of his portraits:

To the modern eye, the portrait of Mrs. Cox particularly speaks with a clarity, precision, and sympathy that places it considerably nearer to our own standards of artistic probity than anything to be found in the common run of 'serious' painting at the time. If this is 'innocent' painting, it is innocent only of those flatulent academic pretensions which remained the curse of so much of our art in the 19th century."

Alexis Jean Fournier (1865-1948)
After Rain on Minnehaha Creek, 1897

A very talented Minneapolis man who enjoyed both local  training and patronage.  The above was done after he studied in Paris.  He would later move from theis Barbizon style to the brighter,  more colorful intensity of Impressionism.

I have spent many happy hours in northern forests just like this one -- and yes, this is how it feels.


Fournier did this more spacious, more American, more heroic landscape in 1890, before he went to Paris.  It's still a good painting, though.  He just had a knack.

Philip Little, (1857-1942)
Portrait of Robert Koehler, 1910

Koehler was the second director of what would become the Minneapolis College of Art and Design-
arriving a few years after Fournier had graduated.  In 1910, he invited Massachusetts artist, Philip Little, to exhibit at the school -- and Little returned the favor by doing this very lively portrait.  It's too bad Little did not do more portraits of men working.  He inherited a fortune, and apparently found other activities more entertaining.

Gari Melchers (1860-1932)
Marriage, 1893

I'm not sure this marriage is going to last!

Melchers appears to be an earlier version of Norman Rockwell -- applying  German pictorial training to stories of daily life - with a touch of gentle humor.  He was apparently quite successful in his day.

 Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
Nude on a Couch, 1880


Looking it up on the internet, this turns out to be quite a popular painting - probably for the same reason that it was not displayed until after the artist's death:  it's too darn sexy.

The composition zeros  in on a  florid, unshaven bush. Not surprisingly, the model soon became the artist's  mistress.  He was born to wealth and status.  She -- not so much.

Alexander Brook (1898-1980)
Peggy Bacon on Sofa, 1922

Here's another woman spread out on the furniture.  With her skirt hiked up and her knickers showing, it's not especially lady-like.  She may be an intimate companion of the artist - but they seem to be  social equals.  (indeed, Peggy Bacon was also an artist, and she had married him two years earlier).

Hats off to the curator who juxtaposed the hanging of these two paintings.

Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1935)
Strings, 2003-2004

Bendoph's quilts first caught my eye in this exhibition at DePaul University . Since she's self taught and appears to have developed  outside the artworld, you might call her a folk artist.  But her work  compares so well with the modernist paintings hanging on adjacent walls in the gallery, that's where this piece belongs.

She swings!

David Park (1911 - 1960)
Ball Game on the Beach, 1953

I've seen this California artist before -- in the Chicago Art Fairs -- and always liked him

It feels like he was educated to be an abstract artist -- but was more fascinated by visual narrative.

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
untitled, 1954  (painted on a raincoat)

The Art Institute of Chicago has a 1944 self portrait of the African American artist -- and he looks quite ill, mentally and physically.

But this piece is ebullient.  Wonderfully and happily calligraphic.

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008)
Billboard, 1957

Apparently the artist cut up a Life Magazine and arranged the fragments  to inspire this painting.

It works for me-- much better than the original- and more enjoyable than most of  the ABX work in the Art Institute.

Theodore Robinson (1852-1896)
Farm among the Hills, 1887

There are lots of paintings of hills and villages -- and I don't know why some really grab me.

The above was done near Giverny.



Antonio Montauti, (1683-1746)
Leda and the Swan, 1710

This should have been a watercolor rather than a sculpture.  It has all  the formal power of a pile of old clothes.

But I do collect  images of this subject matter, so here's a few more.

The MIA also has a figure of Jupiter and Ganymede to complement it -- and it's just as turgid.

Elie Nadelman (1885-1946)
Acrobat, 1916

I love this sculptor!  And this is quite an exciting piece - from the early years of his career.

It snaps into space from every angle.


But then we got the phone call that summoned us to lunch --- and this year's trip to the MIA was over.

The museum also has quite a collection of German Expressionists -- but that's for next time.