This Thorne Miniature Room was designed in the haute Empire style, reflecting the lavish and elaborate Neoclassical tastes of Napoleon, the reigning emperor. The green Roman columns on the walls, the use of materials like marble and simulated gilded bronze, and the stately severity of the lines were all hallmarks of this architectural and decorative style.
And there are Napoleonic references everywhere. Emblems related to the emperor—like eagles, bees, laurel wreaths, and the letter “N”— were often included in rooms like this one. In this case, check out the laurel wreaths in the ornamentation above each set of doors. A bust of Napoleon also watches over the room from the mantle and as you look down the fireplace in the detail below, you’ll see images of the sphinx, which also pop up on chairs and tables throughout the room. According to Mrs. Thorne (who conceived of the rooms) herself, Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt resulted in “a perfect orgy of Egyptian design.”
The bold colors also reflect the prevailing style of the early 19th century. Color schemes that included gold, black, and crimson were popular and in this room, the niche is painted in Pompeiian red and the chairs and curtains in a shade of green called “Empire.” The rug was also copied for a portfolio of designs for rugs that Napoleon commissioned for the palace of Fontainebleau.
But style often comes at a price. As Mrs. Thorne said, “It lacks [a] livable quality, but it is 100 percent Napoleonic, and that is what I was striving for.”
Image Credit: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. E-26: French Anteroom of the Empire Period, c. 1810, c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.
Sophie and I are now in our fourth year of touring the Art Institute’s galleries together. It’s my favorite annual event because she continues to force me to see something I’ve already seen a hundred times in a new way. . . which is exactly what the Surrealists—and especially Magritte—strove to do in their own work.
Magritte wanted to—in his own words—make “everyday objects shriek out loud” and encourage the viewer to continually question the world around them. One of the ways he accomplished this was by keeping some mystery around the narratives in his paintings and letting the viewer use their own ideas, associations, and opinions to develop a story. Sophie loved the fact that Magritte didn’t give anything away and had no problems imagining what might be taking place. She told me tales of acrobatic mangoes and flying turtles and candles turning into snakes.
She also extended her narratives outside the art. In The Secret Player (home of the aforementioned flying turtle), she invented a character off the left side of the painting who was throwing a ball to the men pictured. This makes complete sense as you look at the painting—the figures in white are looking off in that direction, tensed as if they’re waiting for something—but I had never thought to go outside the canvas, to think about what else is out there in Magritte’s strange world.
And so as you visit Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 this summer, I encourage you to think like Sophie and let your imagination run wild. It’s what Magritte would have wanted, after all.
Break out your jean shorts and your flower crowns. . . Lollapalooza starts today! Over the course of the weekend, more than 130 bands will grace the stages of the giant music festival, which is located just across the street from the Art Institute.
And for the fifth year in a row, we’re bringing you our Lollapalooza challenge. Match these works from the Art Institute’s collection with the band name from Lollapalooza’s line-up that you think they represent. The first person to get all eight correct—in the blog comments—will be the winner of an Art Institute prize pack.
Happy guessing and festival-going!
POSTED BY Katie R., ON June 20, 2014, Comments Off
René Magritte’s unexpected treatments of ordinary objects in the first half of the 20th century influenced the next generation of artists, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Ed Ruscha. And now. . . you.
We’ve once again teamed up with Threadless to create a design challenge inspired by our upcoming Magritte exhibition. We’re asking you to reach deep into the darkest recesses of your imagination and create an original—and very surreal—t-shirt design.
And did we mention there are prizes? In addition to your shirt being printed by Threadless, you’ll also receive $2,000, a $500 Threadless gift card, and the ultimate art book library. Plus, your t-shirt will be showcased at an upcoming event at the Art Institute.
For Chicagoans, we invite you to check out the exhibition for some inspiration. Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens to members tomorrow and to the public on Tuesday.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON June 12, 2014, Comments Off
When Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens in less than two weeks, it will include some of the Art Institute’s best known works by Magritte—like Time Transfixed—but it won’t include many others—like The Banquet, pictured above—painted in the decades after 1938.
Magritte developed his artistic vocabulary in the 1920s and 30s, but even 20 years later, you can still see some of the artistic hallmarks that he carried forward to his later career. Similar to much of his early work, this was painted in a straightforward, realist style. You can recognize all of the elements of the painting—an architectural balustrade, a dense forest, and a sun—but in typical Magritte fashion, everything isn’t where you might expect it to be. If you were in fact standing on this terrace, this looming red sun would be hidden behind all of the trees. This is a twist on a Surrealist idea called displacement, or moving something from its proper place.
This painting was part of a larger series in which Magritte experimented with varying qualities of light at different times of day. In one painting, a crescent moon fills the sky and in another, the sky is gray-blue. In this version, the orange-red sky and the strong glow of the setting sun contrasting with the landscape combine to create what Magritte himself referred to as a “charge of strangeness.”
We invite you to the museum for this exciting exhibition, but then we hope you’ll take a walk through the rest of our Modern galleries to see The Banquet and continue the dialogue on Magritte and surrealism.
Image Credits: René Magritte. The Banquet, 1958. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection. © 2014 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.