How many movie stars have been spotted in the Art Institute? Perhaps more than we think and in different ways than we might imagine . . . In fact, a portrait print with a surprising resemblance to Bill Murray will be on view until the end of October in hallway gallery 208a!
No one has identified the sitter for this strikingly modern seeming, but in fact seventeenth-century Dutch chiaroscuro woodcut. The artist, Jan Lievens, was mainly a painter and etcher; most of his early portrait prints resemble the orientalizing designs of his close friend and studio-roommate, Rembrandt.
Lievens’ only woodcut, this work has great immediacy. He achieved this effect by contrasting a stark black outline block with an ochre tone block that highlights the glistening, balding pate. Even without a known sitter, the print was a popular one, with at least one lithograph copy made in the nineteenth century.
The chiaroscuro technique (printing highly-contrasting color in multiple blocks to mimic drawings) became popular in the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic in the early seventeenth century. Another even more intricate portrait done in this technique by the Flemish artist Christoffel Jegher after Peter Paul Rubens is also on view in 208a, but this time the sitter is thought to be a member of the Venetian nobility.
Although we haven’t seen him in the galleries lately, our inaugural celebrity doppelgänger has some Chicago connections. Born in Wilmette, Illinois, Bill Murray was part of Second City troupe in 1973 before moving to New York for Saturday Night Live, and Los Angeles for the comedies and art-house films that followed. Look for more posts on ARTicle featuring Art Institute artworks and their famous twins in the future!
Jan Lievens (Dutch, 1607–1674) Bust of a Man Facing Forward, 1630/40. Chiaroscuro woodcut from two blocks, in black and light brown ink on cream laid paper. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus H. Adams, Frank B. Hubachek, and the Alsdorf Foundation, 1959.542
Bill Murray, in Lost in Translation, Focus Features 2003.
Kara Walker’s Antebellum cutout installation at the Art Institute pushes the boundaries of what black and white silhouettes can do to combat stereotypes. Here’s a look at some of the more curious nineteenth century silhouettes in the Art Institute’s permanent collection that came before Walker’s bold racial re-envisioning of the medium.
Silhouettes based on shadows have been called the origin of the art of painting since antiquity. By the modern era, the most popular function for the silhouette was for single or family portraits in profile, possibly due to theories that the profile and the soul were visibly connected. Valentines with silhouetted imagery and memorial cards were similarly popular. These were made from black paper cut out and adhered to a white background, or white paper laced with holes on a black background. The unknown maker of a nineteenth-century scene from an album in Prints and Drawings narrowly avoided turning their work into a full-fledged doily. Thankfully, instead, they provided the contrast of a bright blue backing to its floral image of a woman tending a funerary urn.
The overhanging tree suggests the cutter might have been German, or familiar with the German Romantic tradition of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. A prominent theme was the melancholy over premature death (as in the suicide of the lovelorn protagonist in Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther), which became a craze.
Another album in Prints and Drawings was compiled around 1837 by the German-born Queen Adelaide of England (1792-1849), who enlisted her female friends at court to provide drawings of children, landscapes and costume balls. One of them, Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg (1770-1840), was apparently English by birth, but traveled with her German husband through the Vogelsberg part of his territories. Her contribution was two black cutouts of peasants she saw working in those fields. The figures wear traditional peasant garb, but some abstracted details have become ambiguous to the modern eye.
Elizabeth has focused on several family interactions coinciding with the workday tasks. A father may be keeping a toy away from his dancing child, or perhaps shaking a tambourine for her during a rest. The children on the ground may be working the fields, or simply playing dangerously with abandoned scythes. In contrast, the child on a leash significantly predates modern apologetic attempts to tether the young. Age-old feudal attitudes seem to remain in full swing when Elizabeth described the figures below the cart as “Group I saw in the field as I visited the Vogelsberg (and) struck me as lovely.” Was the main purpose of these peasants simply to form a charming tableau vivant for the entertainment of the nobility? Perhaps we should have exhibited these two cutout gems near Walker’s, as they so clearly display the assumptions the aristocracy made about the picturesque workers of their farmlands!
POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON March 20, 2013, Comments Off
What do Japanese accent marks and opportunistic online pornographers have to do with each other, and with the Art Institute of Chicago’s rich collection of pre-20th-century Asian art? While raucous behavior (including at least one eye-catching display of bodily function) lurks within the two Chinese painted hand scrolls and one Japanese woodblock printed book that are now available online, nothing truly untoward seems to be happening on the surface.
These three artworks (above and immediately below) reflect an interest in everyday public life—whether in a 14th-century painted scroll of a bustling street, a book of playful woodblock prints of common people going about their business c. 1800 (that was meant for artists to copy), or an important, 13th-century painting of a scholar moving with his family to a new city (viewable in extreme, zooming detail). All of these artworks benefit from the animated movement of the Art Institute’s Turning the Pages™, a roster now thirty fascinating objects strong.
For the first time on our website however, the movement goes from right to left. For the street scene (the top image) in particular, the scrolling motion creates the illusion of actual movement down a real street, whether the figures are parading by, or the viewer strolls along. Take your time to amble through these scenes; recognizable character types from pious to provocative abound, and not everyone is what they may seem, whether beggars, astrologers, or nobles.
While the two scrolls were relatively easy to prepare for the web by splicing together a very long image from photographs, the accompanying text for the street scene mainly consisted of collector’s seals and commentaries about the image dating over several centuries. Yang Pu may well have included such texts, but lost them during remounting. The book below proved more difficult to describe for an English-speaking audience, as it has a lengthy preface, requiring a good bit of research and technical fiddling from intrepid interns Mai Yamaguchi (Asian Art) and Liana Jegers (Prints and Drawings/Turning the Pages). The transcribed Japanese characters have appeared as question marks or empty boxes in the explanatory captions in a rather capricious manner.
So if you made it this far, you might be wondering where the opportunistic pornographers mentioned above come in. Well, consultations with our programmers in London have already resulted in the successful implementation of the needed diacritical mark, a macron, above the ō in the artist, Bumpō’s Romanized name, but consistency failed us once again on our home turf! A technical difficulty resulted in our website being unable to properly display any sort of mark of this sort for fear that it might be html code with nefarious intent! We link to our Turning the Pages™ books through our “My Collections” interface, which allows any viewer to assemble illustrated lists of their favorite Art Institute artworks from the museum database, and then type in comments on their choices. In the past, entirely inadvertently, users gained permission to include any type of formatting in the comments section, including live image and page links. These could be viewed by anyone, and were no longer restricted to referring to artworks owned or sanctioned by the museum. In fact, at least one enterprising individual took this to mean the Art Institute was offering free advertising space for their porn site. It wasn’t pretty. A few missing macrons are a small price to pay for the museum’s digital dignity.
Click below for access to any of the newest Turning the Pages resources:
POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON February 14, 2013, Comments Off
Many people may have spent $50 or more on their Valentine today. But how many would shell out that much for a card with a dead bird on it? In 1860s London, a decorative box with an intricately designed, three-dimensional valentine inside could cost half a guinea ($50 in 2013) with no aphrodisiacs, champagne, or chocolate in sight. The Department of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute holds an amazing and extensive, but little-seen collection of early Valentines. Its star may well be one of these very expensive three-dimensional items. This little white satin pillow is studded with artificial flowers (feather fronds, sprays of wax baby’s breath, acorns, and pink cloth rosebuds), surrounded with perforated printed lace in white edged with gray, and topped with . . . a real taxidermied hummingbird!
While some stuffed-bird valentines from this period have seen better days, and look roughly like something the cat dragged in, this particular specimen was given to the museum relatively early by an Illinois resident in 1937. It was evidently kept free of moisture until then in a box—which, if not necessarily original, afforded it plenty of protective clearance—and so the hummingbird retains its glossy blue, green, and brownish red feathers in their initially sleek, careful arrangement. Its eyes were replaced with beads in the stuffing process, and so lack a little life, but not surprisingly so considering how delicate the task of preparation and preservation must have been for such a small creature. A colorful printed label at the bottom of the pillow (showing musical instruments and even more flowers) marks the concoction as “A tribute of my Love.” Unfortunately, there are no other inscriptions that might give us a clue as to the 19th-century giver or recipient. The care with which the object was maintained, however, suggests the gift was happily received!
Birds, particularly lovebirds, have been tied to romantic love and the selection of a mate as far back as the poetry of the 13th century. Hummingbirds were native only to the Americas, but found immediate appeal overseas once the New World served as a viable trading ground, and the tiny birds became part of costuming and even hairstyles, as well as ostentatious gifts. However, by the 1890s, this style would become not only outdated, but even offensive to certain members of the public, especially those engaged in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England or in various Audubon Societies in the United States. The painter George Frederick Watts created his Sorrowing Angel around 1899 to aid an anti-plumage campaign, which he inscribed with the words: “A Dedication to all who love the beautiful and mourn over the senseless and cruel destruction of bird life and beauty.” Reproduced several times, and quite poignantly in the case of the Art Institute mezzotint with white chalk heightening, this image shows an angel weeping over the bodies of several birds crushed on an altar with a relief design denoting the pure evil of those who would mindlessly buy or sell these bright feathers.
So, this Valentine’s day, consider the full historical significance of the iconography of the birds and the bees, including the comedic bird-themed valentine, whether angry, lovey-dovey, or sophomoric (Owl be Yours?). If your Valentine disappoints, appreciate the fact that their gifts are at least taxidermy-free.
British, possibly Jonathan King (active 1845-1869), Hummingbird Valentine, 1845/69, 1937.1118
Sir Frank Short, after George Frederick Watts, The Sorrowing Angel, 1901, 1991.622.
POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON January 09, 2013, Comments Off
Nearly 200 artworks at the Art Institute of Chicago have the word “dog” in the title, from Ancient to Contemporary, whether Baroque jewelry or Post-Impressionist paintings. Even more sneak into the backgrounds and margins of textiles, prints, and drawings. How did so many canines make it through the museum’s doors unnoticed? More importantly, how can you find them? The solution to this canine conundrum may be found through June 23 in the interactive installation, a rotation of our works on paper, in corridor Gallery 213a: Spot the Dog: Paw Prints! Dogs of all shapes and sizes have appeared in artworks over the centuries. While images of dogs on paper permeate the Art Institute’s collection of every era, this installation capitalizes on the fact that dogs were absolutely everywhere in the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century.
The show coincides with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (February 11-12) in New York City, which will open with a whopping 3,200 already prize-winning entrants this year. But many of the dogs on display here at the Art Institute aren’t exactly purebreds. Nor are they necessarily well behaved, whether they roughhouse, mark their territory in unfortunate places, spread fleas, or simply crash solemn occasions or locations, such as the church in Emanuel de Witte’s painting in Gallery 213. Indeed, depictions of canines sometimes embodied them with very nearly human passions. William Shakespeare’s immortal line from his Julius Caesar, “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war,” suggests that these noble beasts were literally and figuratively important for military tactics. A more explicit take on the other favorite activity of man- (or dog-kind) can be found juxtaposed with war here in a 17th-century Italian print from a book of animals battling at the Harvard Art Museums. While this frank depiction shows dogs in a relatively naturalistic manner, through the eighteenth century, painted and printed tavern scenes and erotica often included marginal images of dogs mimicking their owners’ even more immodest behavior. As Christopher Guest’s Best in Show mockumentary riotously demonstrated, it was the competitive and prestige-hungry owners who were usually at fault for the wild ways of their canine companions.
Not tired of looking for Man’s Best Friend? Take the mini tour to see more covert canines in other media throughout the museum. While the Anubis Jackal is no longer on view in Gallery 154a, pay a visit to the Edwin Landseer Wounded Stag and Dog in Gallery 231 instead!
On March 29 at 2pm I’ll give a half-hour Express Talk on this installation that’s open to the public, so you too can Spot the Dog and ask questions!
Image Credit: Wenceslaus Hollar, after Adriaen Jacobz Matham. A Poodle, 1649. Gift of James Wells.