POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON February 07, 2014, Comments Off
It isn’t every day that George Clooney and an all-star Hollywood cast make a movie about the fate of a drawing now at the Art Institute of Chicago. And yet, The Monuments Men, which is opening today nationwide, is a celebration of the soldiers who saved millions of purloined artworks from willful destruction by the Nazi regime during World War II. These men and women, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, were no ordinary soldiers, but trained art historians, architects, and archaeologists. They went into battle to save the irreplaceable cultural heritage that Hitler had amassed in his progress through Europe. He hid these riches everywhere from Austrian salt mines to Bavarian castles and then instructed his troops to destroy them as the Reich fell. Not only did the Monuments Men save the art, in the years following the war they returned it to its rightful owners, many of whom were Jewish.
The Art Institute rigorously publishes the known provenance of its artworks on our website under “Ownership History.” For one luminous drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, this history is truly the stuff of legend. Not only was the work confiscated from its Jewish gallery owner Georges Wildenstein in Paris in 1943, but a physical card survives marking it as one of the works recovered by the Monuments Men in 1945. Wildenstein took possession again in 1947, and eventually sold the work of his own accord. When the Art Institute purchased the Ingres drawing in 1972, it was free and clear of any connection to the years it was held hostage by the third Reich. (The full ownership history of the drawing is included below.) And most importantly, thanks to the Monuments Men, it survived for us to enjoy.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (French, 1780-1867) Sheet of Studies with the Head of the Fornarina and Hands of Madame de Senonnes, 1814/16. Graphite, with stumping, on light-weight yellowish-tan wove paper. Restricted gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1972.32.
Estate of the artist [Lugt 1477]. Georges Wildenstein (1892–1963), Paris [E.R.R. card]; confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (E.R.R.), before January 15, 1943 [January 15, 1943 is the date the drawing was entered into the E.R.R.’s records at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris]; recovered by the American Forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Service (M.F.A.A.) and processed at the Munich Central Art Collecting Point, June 24, 1945 [Central Collecting Point card]; repatriated to France, September 19, 1946 and restituted to Wildenstein, March 21, 1947 [Central Collecting Point card; Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume (on-line)]. Wildenstein and Company, London, by May 1956 [1956 exh. cat.]. Villiers David, London [according to a letter from Frederick Schab dated March 7, 1972 in the curatorial file]. Sold by the William Schab Gallery, New York, to the Art Institute, 1972.
Sea gods and monsters, shipwrecks, and other dramatic Dutch and British prints from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries are now resplendently on view in Gallery 213a. Northern Renaissance and Baroque artists witnessed a golden age of seafaring expansion, and duly produced a cornucopia of art on paper littered with fantastical sea beasts that they imagined might be encountered, if one were only to travel far enough. As the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1532 map of the world suggests, most of the globe was covered by water, and it was those unexplored areas that might well contain leviathan whales, or perhaps even the proverbial dragon. These tales were the stuff of ancient mythology, and artists continued to tell the same stories with added verve of an ever more real threat across the ocean in the New World. By the nineteenth century, these versatile sea creatures could also express political statements rather than serving merely as excuses for imperiling classical nudes.
Among the works on view is a 1601 engraving by Jan Saenredam after a drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, that envisions the story of the princess Andromeda as a traditional Renaissance nude. The beautifully bare Andromeda has been chained to a bone-strewn rock as food for a ravening sea beast. Just then, Perseus swoops in on Pegasus to do battle with the creature and save the damsel from distress. Andromeda’s nudity is accentuated by her flowing locks, blown dramatically by the wind and waves; she is a comely tidbit for monster or man. Saenredam’s early training was in cartography, and his rendition of Goltzius’s sea beast resembles the hybrid stock characters that populate dangerous uncharted waters of Holbein and other sixteenth-century artists.
Finally, a later adopter of sea creature fright tactics, printmaker James Gillray’s raucous political satires often included biblical and nautical references. This dynamically hand-colored etching from 1806 bears a lengthy secondary title, which may have clarified the subject matter for contemporaries: “Representing an Empty-Barrel tossed out to amuse the great Leviathan John-Bull, in order to divert him from instantly laying violent hands upon the new Coalition Packet.” The monstrous whale with “John Bull” horns symbolizes the British nation (as personified by the heroic and comedic archetype, John Bull), who attacks a packet boat steered by an unpopular new political group.
Mapping the globe or a nation’s ever-changing political vistas evidently each had their own intricate difficulties. These prints will only be on view for a few months, and then, like the irregular and often cruel tides the artists immortalized, they must come back down. Check back in April for a new Gillray etching; its glorious handcoloring only allows it to stay up for half as long as a work in black and white.
After Hans Holbein. Typus Cosmographicus Universalis, 1532, reproduced 1889. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Emily Crane Chadbourne.
Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius. Andromeda, 1601. Engraving on cream laid paper. Elizabeth Hammond Stickney Collection.
James Gillray. A Tub for the Whale!, published March 14, 1806. Handcolored etching and aquatint on cream wove paper. Gift of Thomas F. Furness in memory of William McCallin McKee.
With their carefully-scaled furniture and exacting details, Mrs. James Ward Thorne’s miniature rooms make up one of the most treasured collections at the Art Institute of Chicago. While they range from medieval European church interiors to a 1940s San Francisco penthouse complete with contemporary artworks, none of them include people. Miniaturizing the human figure proved too difficult, and would have disrupted the way viewers find themselves inexorably drawn into the rooms.
But a recent gift to the Department of Prints and Drawings of six shadowboxes created by Mrs. Thorne turns this notion on its head.
These shallow, glazed shadowboxes (or dioramas) are inset into the lids of other boxes. They consist of layered collages of cut-out prints and drawings, many of them hand colored. And unlike the full-blown miniature rooms, all of these include images of people. Mrs. Thorne produced them for charity auctions in the 1930s or 1940s, likely with the help of Eugene Kupjack and other skilled miniature makers connected to her workshop. Two of the most intricate shadowboxes include tiny three-dimensional objects made of other materials (such as a metal chandelier and urns), as well as separately standing paper figures that were glued to the background on small pieces of wood. A number of these components have temporarily come loose in the first box (above), lending a Monty Python-like quality to the scene of bewigged gentlemen bowing at each other. The better-preserved second box (below) shows two couples conversing in front of an elaborate archway.
The men appear in regimental outfits, which are comparatively unchanging, and so, difficult to date, but the women appear in trendy ensembles from the early 1810s that were meant for just such a promenade. Eugene Kupjack’s son, Henry, is still in the business of making miniature rooms, and retains some of his father’s materials that Mrs. Thorne used. Henry suggested that the sources for the prints could be an early nineteenth-century British periodical called Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (below), which Mrs. Thorne had cut apart with relish for use in her charity projects. Interestingly, the figures in these boxes turn out to be several centimeters shorter than the fashion plates in that magazine. And, on closer inspection, they are not printed at all, but are colored drawings! Did Mrs. Thorne continue to be concerned about using proper scale in these boxes so that the figures did not dwarf the architecture? Or did she simply need male characters for her scenes that the magazine lacked? (In the first six years, only half a dozen images of men’s fashion appeared, compared to the requisite two to four female outfits per monthly issue.)
Where then, did these lovely ladies come from? They may still have been inspired by Ackermann’s, even to the point of the color and texture of their dresses. Indeed, this publication was a mixed-media artwork in its own right. Including meteorological and political reports as well as stock tips, each issue also presented British-made fabric samples corresponding to the fashion plates so that women could recreate them. In fact, the Art Institute’s Ryerson Library holds many issues with the fabric samples still intact.
Perhaps Mrs. Thorne used this lovely promenade outfit from June 1814 (above) as a jumping-off point for the frill on the woman on the left, perhaps even imagining one confected from the recommended striped lace muslin. Perhaps these fabric swatches inspired the use of tiny textiles in Mrs. Thorne’s other boxes, including the rugs and microscopic bits of knitting. Indeed, the Repository’s other offerings of fancy work papers and embroidery patterns must have been equally appealing to the architect of the Thorne Rooms in all their meticulous, if strikingly un-peopled glory.
POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON November 27, 2013, Comments Off
The Thanksgiving turkey is America’s most iconic edible fowl, with a prominent role in countless cookbooks, novels, and printed ephemera. It even stars in the exhibition Art and Appetite: American Art, Culture, and Cuisine, now in the Art Institute’s Regenstein galleries. While Thanksgiving celebrates the unifying meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans, it wasn’t until 1864 that President Lincoln made it a national holiday. This dramatic Harper’s Weekly double-spread by Thomas Nast appeared the previous year, in the midst of the Civil War. As a result, the Pilgrims’ harvest festival became a plea for unity between the North and South.
Before the turkey became the mainstay of the Thanksgiving feast, like ducks and geese it was a staple of British holiday meals. George Cruikshank’s lottery ticket showing “The Grand Turk” from 1820 playfully confuses the fowl and the country, even giving the stately bird a turban. Cruikshank was not alone in making this glib connection, as an old chestnut of American culinary puns emphasizes the bird’s global significance: “What international catastrophe occurs when a waiter drops a platter on Thanksgiving? The downfall of Turkey, the overthrow of Greece, and the destruction of China.”
Although the bald eagle became the United States’ national bird, Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey. John James Audubon agreed, and would eventually restore the wild turkey’s dignity by capturing it in two of his massive color plates in his important testament to local avian wildlife, The Birds of America (1826–1838). A smaller and more affordable edition appears here, but Audubon’s fascination remains the same: For its “great size and beauty, its value as a delicate and highly prized article of food . . . render it one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.”
1. Thomas Nast and Harper and Brothers, Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vol. VII, December 5, 1863. (Dorothy Braude Edinburg Art LLC).
2. George Cruikshank, “The Grand Turk,” from Twenty-six lottery tickets, c. 1820. (Prints and Drawings, RX16354/0117).
3. John James Audubon, The birds of America: from drawings made in the United States and their territories. Vol. 5: New York, V.G. Audubon and C.S. Francis & Co., 1855. (Ryerson and Burnham Libraries)
Devouring Books (November 19–January 27), the new exhibition in the Ryerson Library, investigates the relationship of books and food throughout the ages, and complements Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. Examples of books becoming the literal food of bookworms are on view, as are literary treasures with food acting as the catalyst for high adventure. But how early were these commodities linked in the popular imagination? Did literacy (and the advent of the cookbook) improve (and democratize) culinary pursuits? A look at one of the earliest objects in the show and its intended audience may offer some clues toward the most curious literary tastes of all.
“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
This paraphrase comes from a letter the extremely well-read Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote to a friend on April 12, 1500. (In fact, the original Latin phrase discussed his obsession with books written in Greek, not just any books. But the sense remained the same.) Man (particularly a Renaissance humanist) could not subsist on bread alone.
The innovative German printmaker Albrecht Dürer never issued his dramatically illustrated Apocalypse (Book of Revelations) in the original Greek, as vividly imagining the end of the world in Latin and German seemed sufficient.
Yet Erasmus, who was one of the biggest champions of the artist’s prints, likely owned the Latin version of Dürer’s Apocalypse from 1498. One of the most startling woodcuts shows Saint John, who was said to have written this very Book of Revelations, receiving his inspiration from a fiery, disembodied being in the form of a book. This entity demands he eat the book, which he does, simultaneously devouring the knowledge it contains.
“And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open: . . . And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”
(King James Version)
While Erasmus retained his library to the end of his days (and did not have to liquidate or burn it to feed or warm himself), he too took on a proselytizing role. Erasmus even appeared in a much-copied Dürer portrait engraving with seven of his beloved books. Comments like his humorous privileging of books over food made clear his stance on the importance of education to feed the mind. From the beginnings of letterpress in the fifteenth century, printed books, including many by Erasmus himself, fed voracious appetites of all kinds.
Albrecht Dürer. Saint John Devouring the Book, from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–98, published 1511. The Charles Deering Collection.
Albrecht Dürer. Saint John Devouring the Book (detail), from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–98, published 1511. The Charles Deering Collection.