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Paintings Make the Best Tour Guides

POSTED BY , ON June 05, 2015, Comments Off on Paintings Make the Best Tour Guides

Roberts Stormy Landscape

In the wildly popular HBO television series Game of Thrones, the dramatic landscapes match the high drama that plays out on screen. Many of the show’s most memorable scenes are shot on location in Northern Ireland—its rugged terrain, remote beaches, romantic ruins, and tempestuous weather offer the ideal setting for the often grim but always thrilling fantasy. Fans of the show from around the world have taken note and are flocking to key film sites, spurring a robust tourism industry.

That seeing a beautiful vista on screen might make you want to experience the place for yourself is hardly surprising, and thanks to success stories like Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies in New Zealand, travel marketers and tourism boards the world over are looking to brand through television and movies. But long before the advent of film, savvy artists and entrepreneurs marketed Ireland’s scenic beauty to well-heeled travelers through paintings, engravings, and even cartographic board games, examples of which can be seen in Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840.

Early views of Ireland in art were generally detailed drawings of major cities and ports made by draftsmen and mapmakers, but by the mid-eighteenth century, a growing appreciation for nature and a rising interest in landscape aesthetics saw an increase in site-specific works of the Irish countryside.

Fisher View of the Lakes of Killarney

Landowners often commissioned paintings depicting the scenery around their stately homes. In the case of the view of Killarney shown above, local landowner Lord Kenmare and the self-taught artist Jonathan Fisher collaborated to produce a series of large paintings, which Fisher then turned into a book of engravings called A Picturesque Tour of Killarney. The book included specific instructions on how to view the lake from the best possible vantage points and was in high demand with both wealthy sightseers and those who could not make it to Killarney but sought a vicarious experience.

Another tourist locale in eighteenth-century Ireland made more popular by picturesque engravings was the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder on the island’s northeast coast in what is now Northern Ireland. The engravings seen below are based on paintings by Irish artist Susanna Drury, who is said to have spent three months living in the Causeway area while she completed her meticulous pictures. The equally-detailed engravings by François Vivares received wide European circulation.

Causeway West

Causeway East

Ireland’s popularity as a tourist destination was made manifest when Walker’s Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime was published in 1812. This map board game had players take turns progressing around the country from Dublin by spinning a top-like device called a totum and following a carefully constructed route of what were deemed the island’s must-see towns, estates, and landscapes. To win, a player had to land directly on place number 113, the “bold and romantic” Giant’s Causeway.

Walkers Tour

Whether eighteenth-century painters or twenty-first-century filmmakers, artists and in turn, tourists, have been inspired by the Irish landscape for centuries. If a trip across the pond is not in the cards, come be inspired by Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design before it closes June 21.

—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts

Image Credits:

Thomas Sautelle Roberts. Stormy Landscape with Anglers, c. 1820. Private Collection.

Jonathan Fisher. A View of the Lakes of Killarney from the Park of Kenmare House, c. 1768. Private Collection.

Francois Vivares (Engraver). The East and West Prospects of the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, May 1, 1777. Rolf and Magda Loeber.

Published by William Darton Jr. Walker’s Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime, Published March 9, 1812. Rolf and Magda Loeber.


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Insider’s Look

POSTED BY , ON May 18, 2015, Comments Off on Insider’s Look

James Rondeau 2015

James Rondeau, is the Art Institute’s Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and the exhibition curator of the recently opened Charles Ray: Sculpture, He recently spoke with our Member Magazine about some of his earliest artistic memories and why you shouldn’t be intimidated by contemporary art.

Do you remember when you were first drawn to art?

My mother was a Sunday painter, so I remember growing up with her paintings around the house, and I have strong memories of the occasional visit to Boston or New York museums for “blockbuster” exhibitions of Egyptian or Impressionist art. But it was not until college that I was alerted to art history as a discipline.

If you could pick one piece from the Art Institute’s collection for your office, what would it be?

Impossible. One of the great things about my job is that the quality and depth of our collection makes any such game of favorites truly beside the point. Yes, we are proud of our singular masterpieces, but our greatness comes as a whole that is more than the sum of its individual parts.

What were some of the installation challenges with “Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014″?

Every challenge presents an opportunity to learn more about the artist’s work and about our own museum, its incredible possibilities, and its occasional limitations. In this case, the extreme weight of some of Ray’s sculptures presented real challenges. Working with our colleagues in the Department of Design and Construction alongside a team of outside structural engineers, we were able to solve most every issue.

The Art Institute has been committed to collecting contemporary art since its founding. When the museum was first established, Monet was a contemporary artist. Do you feel any kind of pressure given this legacy, being responsible for finding the Monets of today?

Not pressure per se, but a great sense of responsibility. It’s useful to remember that all great art was once contemporary. To be sure, part of our mandate is to embrace the experimental and not to be afraid of risk. That said, we know who we are as an institution, we know our history, and we know the context we provide to artists and objects. All of this makes us different from many of our peer institutions that only collect contemporary art. Hopefully an understanding of these distinctions informs the decisions we make in the most positive sense.

You get to work with living artists. What’s one thing that would surprise people about the foremost artists of today?

Surprise? Not sure. But almost without exception, I am struck by the confluence of great artistic talent with incredibly agile, open, challenging minds and kind and generous personalities. That said, great artists can also be tough. They keep us on our toes.

You curated a major exhibition of the work of the artist and director Steve McQueen the year before he won the Oscar for Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave. Is this a rare crossover or the shape of things to come?

Steve is one of the great artists of his generation working with the moving image. We have presented his work twice here, first in a small exhibition in 2002 and then again with the survey we organized in 2012. I am proud that we recognized his talent early and then showed it in depth. Increasingly, artists who work with media move between formats (film, video, digital) and modes of distribution (the art gallery, the museum, the movie theater, television, the Internet). This fluidity makes things exciting but also makes identifying the differences between “art” and the “everyday” more of a challenge, possibly even irrelevant.

Some people try but struggle with contemporary art. What is your response to that?

Go with your instincts, but most contemporary art emerges from a basic paradox: because it sometimes does not look like traditional forms of expression, we find it alienating or off-putting. But precisely the opposite is intended. The revolutionary freedom inherent in contemporary art—the expanded set of possibilities for what a work of art can look like, how it can function, who can make it, and for what purposes—is meant to be both liberating and welcoming. Hopefully, we can find such an open field exciting rather than vexing.

Which would go best—a hearty red or crisp white wine—with work by the following artists: Roy Lichtenstein, Sol LeWitt, Ed Paschke, Jackson Pollock, and John Chamberlain?

At least one glass of each.


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Orange and Green and Everything in Between

POSTED BY , ON May 06, 2015, Comments Off on Orange and Green and Everything in Between

Musket

In March, Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840 opened at the museum. While the century and a half the exhibition covers is noted as one of relative peace and stability in Ireland, the era was not without its conflicts. About a hundred years after the Battle of the Boyne, an unexpected group of revolutionaries led a major uprising against British rule.

But first, some background. Despite the adage that nothing is black and white, when it comes to historical conflict, we tend to divide those involved into distinct oppositions rather than consider the innumerable subtleties. Such is the case with Ireland, where popular perception of the political and religious division is not black and white, but green and orange.

This cut and dried dichotomy is embodied in Ireland’s national flag (first introduced in 1848), with green representing republicanism, or the tenet that all of Ireland should be an independent republic, and orange representing the supporters of William of Orange and those who felt Ireland should remain subject to Great Britain. Similarly but less militantly, green is also tied to Irish nationalism—the advocacy of a united Ireland and the promotion of Irish culture and language—and orange to unionism, or the belief that Ireland should retain political ties to Great Britain. Each color is also associated with the majority religion on either side—green for Catholics and orange for Protestants. The white at the flag’s center signifies the hope for lasting peace between the two groups.

Green versus orange, republican versus loyalist, nationalist versus unionist, Catholic versus Protestant—these are the dualities that have come to define Ireland’s divisive past, but as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 demonstrates, no conflict is so straightforward.

The 1798 rebellion was a major bid for Ireland’s independence first set in motion not by the Catholic majority but by a group of liberal Protestants who sought to “abolish the differences that had long divided Irishmen.” Founded in Belfast in 1791, they were fittingly called the Society of United Irishmen, and their membership crossed religious and class divides to include Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even some members of the Protestant Ascendancy (those Anglican aristocratic families whose authority in Ireland was solidified by William’s victory at the Boyne).

Inspired by the recent revolutions in France and America, the Society’s main ambitions were radical reform of the Irish parliament and Catholic emancipation. The British government—at war with France and increasingly concerned with the prospect of invasion—felt the United Irishmen’s progressive principles and brazen veneration of the French posed a dangerous threat. Society membership was made illegal, and the United Irishmen were forced underground where they began to plan an armed revolt for independence with French support.

Fighting broke out in May of 1798, but due to a series of mishaps and divided leadership, the rebellion was swiftly and ruthlessly defeated. In response, the Act of Union was passed in 1800, which officially united Great Britain and Ireland, closed Irish parliament, and returned all governing decisions to Westminster in London..

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was very much a “green”—i.e. republican—cause, but its leaders were almost entirely Protestant; a fact that was obscured for many years in Ireland to suit popular versions of history. Several men of this period who defy the color categorization appear in our exhibition:

Cornwallis copy

Charles Cornwallis was a decorated British general who was appointed lord lieutenant—the highest post in Ireland —in the wake of the rebellion. Cornwallis helped pass the Act of Union but pushed King George for Catholic rights. He resigned when his requests went unheeded, but his actions laid the groundwork for future emancipation movements.

Grattan copy

Henry Grattan was a Protestant aristocrat, Irish politician, and renowned orator who devoted his career to Irish legislative freedom and Catholic emancipation.

Visit the exhibition to see these men’s likenesses and learn more about the whole spectrum of Ireland’s colorful history.

—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts

Image Credits:

Dublin, Ireland. Dublin Castle Pattern 1769 Short Land Musket with Bayonet, 1770-75. Walnut, iron/steel, and brass. Private Collection.

Hugh Douglas Hamilton. Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, 1772. Pastel and chalk on paper. Private Collection.

Peter Turnerelli. Henry Grattan, 1820. Marble. Private Collection.


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Why 1690?

POSTED BY , ON March 31, 2015, 3 COMMENTS

Earlier this month, Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840 opened at the museum. For the casual viewer, 1690 to 1840 might seem like an arbitrary span of time, but the choice was quite deliberate. So today we’ll answer the question on everyone’s minds—why start with 1690?

While the century and a half our exhibition covers is noted as one of relative peace and stability in Ireland, the era was not without its conflicts; the period was ushered in by one of Ireland’s most famous (or infamous, depending on your politics) military encounters, the Battle of the Boyne.

But let’s back up just a bit. In 1689, William III, a Dutch Protestant, was crowned King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, deposing the Catholic James II. Protestant nobles in England, fearful of a Catholic royal dynasty, had secretly encouraged William to seize the throne.

When William took the crown, James was exiled to France, but he did not sit idly by. With troops supplied by his cousin, the Catholic King of France Louis XIV, James landed in Ireland hoping to invade England from the Emerald Isle and regain the throne. Ireland’s majority Catholic population rallied to his cause in the hopes that a Jacobite (from the Latin for James) victory would help them regain property they had lost after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland some 40 years earlier and secure Irish sovereignty and Catholic religious toleration.

So on July 1, 1690, the armies of William and James clashed on the banks of the River Boyne, 30 miles north of Dublin, in what was the beginning of the Battle of the Boyne. Among those to fight alongside James was Sir Neil O’Neill, pictured below.

Wright Sir Neil O'Neill

This is not what Sir Neil wore on the battlefield but rather what he chose to portray himself in for his formal portrait painted a decade earlier. Nearly every detail is deliberately pro-Irish: the costume, spear, shield, and headdress are those of an Irish chieftain; the Irish wolfhound a symbol of national pride. Less obvious to today’s audience is the Japanese armor that appears in the bottom left-hand corner, but Sir Neil’s contemporaries would have recognized it as a reference to the persecution of Jesuit missionaries in Japan. So Sir Neil not only saw himself as a guardian of Ireland but as a defender of the Catholic faith.

In the end, Sir Neil, James, and the rest of the Jacobite army were defeated. William remained king, and James returned to exile in France. Sir Neil, unfortunately, died of injuries sustained in the battle. In Ireland, William’s victory ensured that the island’s minority Protestant elite retained their political, economic, and social authority for over a century in what is commonly referred to as the Protestant Ascendancy. But the fight for Irish autonomy did not die at the Boyne. Next time we’ll look at the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and some of its key players who, like Sir Neil, are featured in our exhibition.

—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts

P.S. You might be wondering why someone in the museum’s development department is writing on Irish history. In fact, I started working at the museum shortly after receiving my master’s degree in Irish history from Queen’s University Belfast, not knowing that a major presentation of Irish art was in the works. I’m deeming it a happy coincidence!

Image Credit: John Michael Wright. Portrait of Sir Neil O’Neill, 2nd Baronet of Killyleagh, 1680. Private Collection.


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Free Your Mind

POSTED BY , ON March 25, 2015, 2 COMMENTS

Malevich, Painterly Realism

Let me set the scene. The latest “snowpocalypse” bears down as you exit the CTA or navigate traffic on the I-90.  When you arrive at the museum, there is a check in on Facebook and a text is sent to a friend about dinner. Receipt of an admission ticket grants entry to the galleries and the journey begins. After a few dizzying hours, looking at one amazing artwork after another, your eyes begin to glaze and your stomach begins to grumble. Do you stop? No, you press on because you must see American Gothic, but you haven’t even made it to the Modern Wing yet! * sigh * “Museum fatigue” has officially set in.

A visit to the Art Institute of Chicago can fill you with a sense of wonder about the world, provide a respite from your everyday life, or inspire and educate you all at the same time (at least we hope so)! But with 5,000 works of art spread over one million square feet, a visit can also prove exhausting.

With all of life’s pressures, slowing down to really look at art can be a challenging task. The average museum visitor looks at a work of art for 30 seconds or less. How much can really be seen in such a short amount of time? Is there a way to get our visitors to slow down and take their time? As a museum educator I think about this issue a lot.

So I developed a program called Mindfulness Mondays where instead of looking at a work of art for 30 seconds we look at it for…wait for it… 30 minutes!

(chirping of crickets and the woosh of a tumbleweed rolling past)

I know, I know. . . but hear me out on this one.

As a group we will begin with a 10-minute meditation to calm our minds and prepare for an extended look at an artwork. For 30 minutes we will consider a work of non-representational modern or contemporary art, like the Malevich painting you see above. This “looking exercise” will consist of questions that provoke all participants to look deeply, describe, wonder, and connect. To conclude, we will reflect on the experience and set a positive intention for the week ahead.

If you have ever found yourself rushing through the galleries, multi-tasking your way through life, or experiencing frustration when looking at abstract art, this program is for you.

Start your week off right. Upcoming events meet at 2:00p.m. in Griffin Court and are free with museum admission. Upcoming dates include March 30, April 13, May 4, May 18, June 8, and June 22.

See you soon!

—Emily Beaver, Woman’s Board Fellow, Department of Museum Education

Image Credit:

Kazimir Malevich. Painterly Realism of a Football Player – Color Masses in the 4th Dimension, summer/fall 1915. Through prior gifts of Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection; Mrs. Albert D. Lasker in memory of her husband, Albert D. Lasker; and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.

 


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