Quiz of the week: what’s a 7 letter word starting with P that identifies the last name of an artist who used paint from cans to make his pictures?
If you guessed Pollock, it’s a good guess.
But did you know that Pablo Picasso started using ready-mix paints from cans (we call it enamel) well before the dawn of action painting, as early as 1912? Picasso was by far the most influential of the early adopters of this brand new and unconventional medium. If standing in front of rows of paint cans at the hardware store doesn’t seem so revolutionary today, one has to realize that a hundred years ago the fact that you could paint your house or your furniture yourself without having to hire a professional painter who would mix the colors in the base paint was quite extraordinary. After all, the invention of the collapsible metal paint tube as we know it today dated only to a little over a half century prior (around 1840s).
In the early 1900s in France the brand Ripolin was all the rage. The name originated from Riep, its inventor, and lin, which is shorthand in French for linseed oil, the binder of the paint, or, in other words, the stuff that makes it stick to the wall. The brand boasted superior quality and attractive advertising, vestiges of which are still seen all around France today (immediately below is a picture I took one summer in Marseille, in the south of France, with a vintage one below that).
Ripolin was so famous that, much like “to google” today, very soon the verb “to ripolin” (or “ripoliner” in French) was coined. The famed architect Le Corbusier went as far as to say that it was a moral imperative to cover all surfaces with a coat of white Ripolin, for love of purity, and he called this “the law of Ripolin.”
We still don’t know exactly why Picasso picked up the stuff in the first place. Certainly an avant-garde interest in unconventional materials played a role, as well as the possibilities opened by a new kind of paint that dried into a hard, glossy enamel in hours, unmarred by the marks of the brush, but prone to creative “accidents” such as dramatic wrinkling and dripping.
“You don’t tell someone miserable to wipe his tears,” he said to his friend and poet Jean Cocteau in 1953 when Cocteau commented on the numerous drips in the murals for the Chapel of War and Peace in Vallauris.
Ripolin paint also came in a range of very bright colors and dried fast, allowing free range to Picasso’s insatiable creativity without fear of smudging what was already on the canvas.
I cannot help but think that at the beginning the material also responded to an anti-establishment “angst,” or at least that’s how I read his letter of 1912 (Picasso was in his early 30s then) to his dealer Kahnweiler referring to his Ripolin paintings: “Perhaps we will manage to shock and disgust the whole world and we will not have said it all.”
Identifying exactly in which pictures Picasso used Ripolin (he continued to use it until the end of his life together with artist’s tube paints and many other painting materials) is a big deal. So much of a big deal that we, at the Art Institute, have made it a research priority for our team of art detectives (aka museum scientists) to figure out what’s in the paint. We even went on eBay to buy 100 years old cans of paint for reference (yes, you can find that too, and it’s for sale!).
After all Ripolin, together with Magna (used by Roy Lichtenstein among others) and Duco (used by David Alfaro Siqueiros), is one of the very few brand names of paint that is actually noted on labels and exhibition catalogues, as opposed to a generic identification of media.
If you are curious, go see The Red Armchair in the exhibition Picasso and Chicago at the Art Institute until May 12 (tip: it’s painted with Ripolin and oil). Or, to close with another challenge, go find a lid of a Ripolin can stuck to one of the Picasso sculptures in the exhibition.
If you need more visual clues of what to look for, watch the videos and look at the display cases that hold some of those eBay finds. Hopefully you won’t be shocked and disgusted, but perhaps a bit entertained.
—Francesca Casadio, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist
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 Joseph M., ON April 19, 2013, Comments Off
I’d describe today’s weather as February-esque. But the fact of the matter is that it’s almost MAY. So no matter how bad it is, spring and summer are definitely around the corner. It’s always happened like this. I checked some old calendars and summer is for sure on its way. At this point it’s just a numbers game. (Full disclosure: I don’t actually know what that phrase means.)
Reminders help, though—some brief sunlight, a flower here and there, dudes who’ve already switched to cargo shorts and aren’t looking back. The Art Institute has a few reminders on its walls, too, like Georgia O’Keeffe’s appropriately-named Spring from 1923/24, on display in gallery 265. The sun’s coming in at a relaxed 45-degree angle, so you can imagine it’s a mild morning, with a breeze pointing the house’s weathervane to the east. The palette is all fresh greens and purples and bright whites. The whole world is going to look like this soon, trust me.
Not today, though. Sorry. You should spend today inside—at the Art Institute! Bam.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON April 11, 2013, Comments Off
The Art Institute is proud to announce the recent acquisition of Thomas Hart Benton’s Cotton Pickers. Best known for his sinuous lines and frank treatment of rural subjects, the Missouri-born Benton is considered a critical figure in the history of American art for his mediating role between American Regionalism and the emerging forces of abstraction and modernism. He was deeply influenced by the work of the Old Masters , but also energized by modern art, including that by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Paul Signac. In a very rare combination for the time, his work was both formally and politically progressive, as can be seen in Cotton Pickers, which brought into focus the bleak social and economic landscape of the South in the early 20th century in an inventive visual idiom.
Cotton Pickers is based on notes of a trip he made through the South in the early 1900s. Rendered on a relatively large scale, the painting shows the dignity of African American cotton pickers enduring backbreaking labor and southern summer heat. As the workers pick the cotton by hand, to be collected by the horse-drawn wagon in the background, one woman offers another a drink of water from a pail. A makeshift lean-to protects a sleeping child from the relentless sun. Benton renders the unforgiving Georgia clay, the dry fields, and the contorted bodies of the workers in a unified composition, the delicacy of which almost belies the progressive agenda of the work. Cotton Pickers , one of a limited number of large paintings created by Benton, will be shown alongside Grant Wood’s American Gothic and John Steuart Curry’s Hogs and Rattlesnakes at the Art Institute and will complete an important chapter in the museum’s representation of American Regionalism.
Image Credit: Thomas Hart Benton. Cotton Pickers, 1945. Prior bequest of Alexander Stewart; Centennial Major Acquisitions Income and Wesley M. Dixon Jr. funds; Roger and J. Peter McCormick Endowments; prior acquisition of the George F. Harding Collection and Cyrus H. McCormick Fund; Quinn E. Delaney, American Art Sales Proceeds, Alyce and Edwin DeCosta and Walter E. Heller Foundation, and Goodman funds; prior bequest of Arthur Rubloff; Estate of Walter Aitken; Ada Turnbull Hertle and Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; prior acquisition of Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize; Marian and Samuel Klasstorner and Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition funds; prior acquisition of Friends of American Art Collection; Wirt D. Walker Trust; Jay W. McGreevy Endowment; Cyrus Hall McCormick Fund; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions; Maurice D. Galleher Endowment; Alfred and May Tiefenbronner Memorial, Dr. Julian Archie, Gladys N. Anderson, and Simeon B. Williams funds; Capital Campaign General Acquisitions Endowment, and Benjamin Argile Memorial Fund.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON April 05, 2013, Comments Off
Manet’s Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers represents a foray into religious imagery that was rare for the artist and his peers in the French avant-garde. It is in fact only one of only two major works on religious themes executed by Manet in the early 1860s.
In this striking work, Manet depicted the moment when Jesus’s captors taunt him by crowning him with thorns and covering him with a purple robe. According to the Gospel narratives, these soldiers then beat Jesus, but Manet portrays them as almost ambivalent as they surround his pale, stark figure. One gazes at him, one kneels in mock homage, and one holds the purple cloak in such a way as to suggest that he wishes to cover Christ’s nakedness, rather than strip him. This painting would have been shocking to viewers at the time because Christ’s figure is unheroic and unidealized, emphasizing him more as a man.
Image Credit: Édouard Manet. Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, 1865. Gift of James Deering.