Monday, December 6, 2010

More on Velázquez

Attributed to Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez,
The Education of the Virgin,
c. 1617-18, oil on canvas, 66 1/8 x 53 9/16 in. (168 x 136 cm),
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

The Education of the Virgin, a painting recently attributed to Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, will go on view December 9 at the Yale University Art Gallery. The work was given to the Gallery in 1925 along with other Spanish paintings. In poor condition, it remained out-of-view all these years.

In 2002, Laurence Kanter, Curator of European Art, was surveying the Gallery’s storage area and noted the remarkable quality of the painting. It was identified as the work of an unknown seventeenth-century Seville artist. He earmarked it for restoration. Two years later, the painting caught the eye of John Marciari, Curator of European Art and Head of Provenance Research at the San Diego Museum of Art, who was working with Kanter. At the time Marciari was the Nina and Lee Griggs Associate Curator of Early European Art at the Yale University Art Gallery. By 2005, Marciari was convinced The Education of the Virgin was the work of Velázquez. Thus begun some five years of extensive research and analysis.

This past summer, news broke that the painting had been attributed to Velázquez. Marciari published his findings in the 2010 July-September issue of Ars Magazine. His article delivers cogent arguments in favor of the attribution. If it is by the Spanish master, it would be one of the artist’s earliest works in extant and, of course, enormously valuable.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, The Luncheon, c. 1617,
oil on canvas, 42.7 x 40.6 in. (108.5 x 102 cm),
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Marciari links the painting stylistically to Velázquez’s The Luncheon, c. 1617, in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia . He notes similarities in such elements as the way the figures emerge from the dark background, the handling of drapery and still-life depictions. Technical research revealed that the Yale work was mounted like other early paintings by the master.

Although there is loss in size and paint, remarkable passages remain. You have the opportunity to see it as is until February 20. Go take a look and form your own opinion. The jury is still out.

The Education of the Virgin, attributed to Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, will be on view at the Yale University Art Gallery from December 9, 2010 through February 20, 2011.

Yale University Art Gallery
1111 Chapel Street (at York Street)
Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 am - 5:oo pm
Thursday until 8:00 am (September - June)
Sunday 1:00 - 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays
Free and Open to the Public

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Velázquez Portrait Dazzles Once More

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, King Philip IV of Spain,
1644, oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 39 1/8 in. (129.8575 x 99.3775 cm),
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Frick Collection’s portrait, King Philip IV of Spain by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, is resplendent after having undergone a much needed cleaning. Over sixty years had passed since the work’s last major treatment. Although always in good condition, the old varnish had darkened and discolored making the image appear dull and flat. Details were obscured and the painter’s dynamic brush technique was no longer apparent. In the summer of 2009, the painting was sent to The Metropolitan Museum of New York where Michael Gallagher, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge of Paintings Conservation, examined, cleaned and revarnished it. Close study confirmed that changes to the final composition and alterations of the work’s size had occurred.

While this took place, new research by Pablo Pérez d’Ors, former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Frick Museum, uncovered the painting’s complex history and unusual circumstances of use. His findings were published in The Burlington Magazine (October 2010, No. 1291 Vol. CLII) in an article co-authored by Michael Gallagher.

The results of all this is the subject of The Frick Collection’s exhibition, The King at War: Velázquez's Portrait of Philip IV. The painting is superbly installed in the center of the Oval Room facing the Garden Court. There is no glass covering the canvas.

Looking at the painting, the first element that stands out is the vibrant crimson of the King’s costume and the way Velázquez’s colors describe a variety of materials. The fluffy red feather of the Monarch’s hat is clearly differentiated from the red brocade jacket. Shades of grey render silver embroidery as well as the metal hilt of the sword and baton. White denotes sleeves, buttons, collar. Beiges and lavenders enliven the whites. Brushstrokes are vibrant and exciting. Paint is laid thinly here and thickly there. Always associated with a free, audacious technique, Velázquez’s brushstrokes here are even looser and appear to be laid down quickly and confidently.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez,
Detail of King Philip IV of Spain

Revisions and exhilarating dabs and dashes of paint reveal the artist’s creative process and produce a feeling of intimacy between the viewer and the painting. Such closeness to the painter’s mind is more typically associated with drawings. We discern how the King’s hat was lowered along with his left hand and sleeve. The sword was moved toward the bottom and the sash hanging from it narrowed. In addition, the flare on the right side of the King’s coat was covered by background paint while the garment’s left side was broadened. The compositional changes enhanced the iconic quality to the image.

Historically, royal portraits were an important form of public relations. They were the only way the public would have knowledge of their King. Few people had access to him - his family and a limited group of courtiers. In the case of this portrait, contemporary diarists recorded its popularity and subsequently the image was reproduced. Since a little over an inch had been removed from the canvas’s bottom, we know about the missing fringe from the King’s knee-high boots through an extant seventeenth-century copy.

This was a special painting with a political purpose. It was created for a specific function as a stand-in for the King at an important church celebration that took place in Madrid. In 1640, the Catalonia region of Spain had rebelled against the Monarch and sided with France. The King sent troops to regain the territory in 1643. A year later, Philip decided to rally his men at the frontline and moved his court there - some five hundred people. As victory approached and was certain, a major religious celebration was planned in Madrid. It would take place before the King returned since he needed to stay in Catalonia for the surrender. Velázquez, the court painter, had accompanied the Monarch to the front. A small temporary studio was hastily devised for his use; the portrait had to be ready for the upcoming Madrid celebration. Velázquez was surely under pressure to complete the work. Indeed, documents reported the King sat for only three sittings.

The painting was completed in time, sent to Madrid and installed under a gold-embroidered canopy in the church where the victory festivity took place. During the ceremony, a sermon given by the Monarch’s preacher, explained the painting’s meaning. The Monarch is not portrayed in the typical somber, black clothes of the Spanish court. He wears his military uniform as his troops would have seen him. This bright red costume decorated with silver would have been easily recognizable, standing out and glittering in the sun. The King is not portrayed as a stern, powerful commander-in-chief or a triumphant victor. He is seen as a loving, forgiving father whose victory was directed by divine intervention. Since the conflict had pitted countrymen against countrymen, Philip IV did not want to punish his rebellious subjects but bring them back to his fold in peace. It is a remarkable painting.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes,
Regozijo (Mirth), (Album D. 4),
c. 1816-20,brush and ink and wash and chalk,
9 3/8 x 5 13/16 in. (23.8 x 14.8 cm),
Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York

The Frick’s other exhibition, The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya, is also noteworthy. This is the first Spanish old master drawing show to take place in New York although New York’s collections are second only to those of Madrid. Why did we wait so long? The works on view are of the highest quality. There are twenty-two sheets by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes as well as over thirty drawings by Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolomé Estaban Murillo and other artists both familiar and unfamiliar. Besides The Frick’s own holdings, there are significant loans from The Hispanic Society of America, The Morgan Library & Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions. The draftsmanship is extraordinary and the show makes a good case for a distinct Spanish drawing style.

The King at War: Velázquez's Portrait of Philip IV

Through January 23, 2011

The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya
Through January 10, 2011

The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street, Manhattan
10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday
11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays
Closed Mondays and holidays

Friday, October 29, 2010

Connections: Paths Taken

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 
Christ on the Cross, c. 1665–70,

pen and ink with wash over chalk,
 13.2 x 9.3 in. (33.5 x 23.6 cm)
Princeton University Art Museum, Museum Purchase,
Laura P. Hall Memorial Fund

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s drawing, Christ on the Cross is on view in The Frick Collection’s exhibition The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya. There will be more about this noteworthy show at a later date. This poignant Murillo drawing attracted my attention. The figure of Christ combined piousness with with a figurative realism I did not normally associate with Murillo. For the record, I am not a big fan of the artist. I usually find his work cloying, overly sweet and precious. Give me other seventeenth-century Spaniards: Ribera’s earthiness, Zurbarán’s mysticism, above all, Velázquez ‘s brilliance. The Murillo drawing, however, prompted me to reconsider the painter. To begin, I went to The Metropolitan Museum to see Murillo’s small painting, The Crucifixion. It is quite a wonderful painting of a powerful figure of Christ. I thought I could live with this work and enjoy it thoroughly.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo,
 The Crucifixion,
c. 1670-72, oil on canvas,
 20 x 13 in. (50.8 x 33 cm),

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Bequest of Harry G. Sperling, 1971

The painting and drawing have similarities. I do not imply that there is a direct connection. The drawing is not thought to be a preparatory study. Yet, resemblances do exits. Both, of course, depict a man crucified. A figure depicted on a cross, however, can be rendered in many ways - for example, the torso may turn toward the right or left; the legs may appear closer or further apart. Here, the position of the legs were alike: right knees slightly above left ones. Each of the Christ figures have a robust torso that twists a bit to the left. In both, as touch of realism, a wooden wedge is struck into the ground to support the upright of the cross. Furthermore, drawing and painting have a mediative, other-worldly quality that I found quite appealing.

The Metropolitan Museum’s explanatory label informs that the work may relate to a larger Crucifixion in Madrid’s Prado Museum. An online digital image provided me with satisfaction.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 
Christ on the Cross,
c. 1675-1680, oil on canvas, c. 1675 x 27.9 in (54 x 71 cm),
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The Prado’s Christ’s legs look like they are in the same position as those in the other two works but the figure here is slender. The torso curves a bit to the right. There is no supporting wooden block for the cross. On the ground is a skull like the one in the drawing. As for The Metropolitan Museum Crucifixion, the darkened paint made deciphering foreground imagery impossible.

More comparisons can me made. The Metropolitan painting has Jerusalem in the background while the drawing shows no city. The image quality of the Prado Crucifixion prevented detailed examination. You reader may look and make your own observations. For now, I move on to another connection which interested me.

The Metropolitan Museum note explains that the Murillo painting may have been owned by Sebastián Martínez y Pérez, a renowned eighteenth-century art collector and a friend of the illustrious painter, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Goya painted Sebastián’s portrait in 1792 and the portrait is owned by the museum and on view two galleries away.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 
Sebastián Martínez y Pérez, 1792,
oil on canvas, 36 5/8 x 26 5/8 in. (93 x 67.6 cm),

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
 Rogers Fund, 1906

It is a superb portrait of man I immediately took a liking to. We both appreciated the same Murillo painting.

What is all the above about? A drawing by one artist led to one of the artist’s paintings which resulted in a look at another of the same artist’s paintings and then to a portrait from another century by different painter. All four works connected in some way which resulted in different paths of exploration. New roads were taken.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost
The Road Not Taken
(First Publication date: 1916)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An Art Rich Fall in New York

Dancing Ganesh, Pala Period, 9th - 10th century, Nepal,
blackstone, height: 18.75 in. (47.6 cm),
Doris Wiener Gallery

New York in the fall becomes a cornucopia of tempting artistic works. Fashion Week started on September 9th; the New York City Ballet begins on the 14th; the New York Philharmonic on the 22nd; the Metropolitan Opera on September 27th; Carnegie Hall opens on the 29th.

The city’s major museums have their fall exhibition line up. Hundreds of art galleries present new shows. The Asian Art Dealers New York (AADNY) organized a small September version of the big spring Asia Week New York currently on view. Auction houses get into gear with their Asian sales: Sotheby’s and Christie’s September 14th through 16th; Doyle’s on the 13th. Check out their state-of-the-art e-catalogues.

Chelsea Gallery Fashion Show,
February 2010,
Sally Wu, Designer,
Courtesy of Art For Progress

There are also presentations sponsored by alternative organizations such as Art for Progress. This six-year-old non-profit dedicated to emerging artists often stages events in non-traditional settings featuring not only the visual arts but also fashion and music. Catch their “Fashion Interaction” on September 21st which will showcase young designers such as Sally Wu.

At the Asian exhibitions about town, you will see many depictions of the elephant headed Hindu god Ganesh. This popular deity is a god of good things: success, knowledge, wisdom, and wealth. He’s a perfect god for New York’s fall art season. Go enjoy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Pablo Picasso, The Bull, state VII (Le Taureau),
December 26, 1945, lithograph,
composition 12 x 17 1/2 in. (30.5 x 44.4 cm),
sheet 12 15/16 x 17 1/ in. (32 x 44.4 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Visit the Museum of Modern Art now. There are crowds but it is worth the hassle. The Museum is chock full of exciting shows several of which are closing shortly. High on the “must see” list is the Picasso print exhibit, Themes and Variations (till August 30). Drawn from the MoMA’s own holdings, over hundred works of the highest quality illuminate the artist’s unequaled talent in this medium. You will not be bored.

Mark Rothko, Archaic Idol, 1945,
ink and gouache on paper,
21 7/8 x 30 in. (55.6 x 76.2 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Also nearing closure is The Modern Myth: Drawing Mythologies in Modern Times (till August 30). These works on paper, also from the Museum’s own collection, explore the idea and visual imagery of myths and mythmaking. The all star cast of artists include Paul Cezanne, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol. It's an intriguing and thought provoking show.

Bruce Nauman’s site specific piece Days (till August 23), a recent MoMA acquisition, seems to make sound physical. Experiencing this work becomes a contemplation of time. Nauman created Days for the 2009 Venice Biennale when he represented the United States. Presently set up in the Museum’s special exhibition gallery, it won’t be there for long. When it will be seen again is unknown. So go.

The Young Architects Program 2010 (till August 23) presents the project designs of the five finalists for the MoMA PS 1 temporary summer courtyard installation. The innovative plans of these young teams evoke joyful excitement. Judging from their work, architecture has a bright future.

Henri Matisse, Bathers by a River, March 1909-10,
May-November 1913,and summer 1916-17,
oil on canvas, 102 1/2 x 154 3/16 in. (260 x 392 cm),
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

There is more going on at MoMA. Although the Matisse exhibit, Radical Invention, 1913 -1917 (till October 11) doesn’t end in August, seeing this master’s inventiveness and Picasso’s makes for a stimulating comparison. Who wins? You decide.

Viewing hints: MoMA is open late on Thursdays in August until 8:45 p.m. and may be less crowded as well on Friday afternoons before free MoMA Fridays begin at 4:00 p.m.

TheMuseum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, 10:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
(open until 8:45 p.m. every Thrusday in August and on September 2 and October 7)
Friday, 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Closed Tuesday

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meanings Beyond Image and Text: Treasures from the Braginsky Collection

Marriage Contract, Lugo, Italy,
29 September 1841; Border ca. 1775,
parchment, 33.1 x 23.3 in. (84.1 x 59.1 cm),
Braginsky Collection Ketubbah 105

Over 100 rare and unique items are on view in the exhibit, “A Journey through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books” at the Yeshiva University Museum.

The illuminated manuscripts, printed books, marriage contracts, decorated scrolls, liturgical texts and other writings on a variety of subjects come from the Braginsky Collection, one of the most important private collections of this kind in the world. Although René Braginsky has been collecting for the past few decades, this is the first public exhibition devoted exclusively to his collection.

The show is accompanied by an excellent catalogue and Web site, The Web site allows viewers to zoom in and out of digital images and texts as well as flip through pages of manuscripts and books or unfurl scrolls. If the object I mention is available online, for easy linkage I have indicated its Web site section and catalogue number.

The works on display cover over six hundred years but the collection is strongest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries especially the poster-size illustrated Jewish marriage contracts called ketubbot, (ketubbah in the singular). These elaborate contracts which specified dowries along with the names of the bride and groom reflected the wealth and social standing of the families involved. They also protected women in cases of divorce – what the bride came with was documented and was her due should the marriage cease.

These embellished documents incorporated local artistic styles with results that at times mixed Hebrew, pagan, and Christian motifs. For example, an Ottoman crescent moon and star are prominently depicted in a Samaritan Betrothal Contract of 1905 (Braginsky Collection Web site, Marriage Contracts, Catalogue 79); In a ketubbah from Padua, a pagan cupid unites family emblems while two putti make music and two others hold up a crown (Braginsky Collection Web site, Marriage Contracts Catalogue 70); and, a classical personification of charity shows up on seventeenth-century contract from Amsterdam (Braginsky Collection Web site, Marriage Contracts, Catalogue 72).

Of note are the ketubbot that were recycled, a practice apparently limited to Italy. Beautifully decorated contracts were reused by either erasing the earlier inscription and rewriting as in the Paduan Ketubbah (Braginsky Collection Web site, Marriage Contracts, Catalogue 70) or entirely replacing the script area as was done for the marriage contract of 1841 from Lugo, Italy which saved a ca. 1775 Watteau-like border (Braginsky Collection Web site, Marriage Contracts, Catalogue 71). Perhaps the rabbinic sumptuary laws that tried to put a lid on the amount spent on weddings encouraged the purchase of earlier contracts which were probably less expensive than commissioning new ones. Whatever, they are not only aesthetically appealing but also import much history.

Some of the more emotionally moving items include a fifteenth-century handwritten Hebrew Bible (Braginsky Collection Web site, Manuscripts and Printed Books, Catalogue 18) that was begun in Spain in 1491 and completed in Portugal in 1494. The scribe, being forced out of Spain after the Jewish expulsion of 1492, finished his work in a country that also drove the Jews out some three years later. This valued bible was taken to Italy and ultimately to Britain where it was purchased by Braginsky. Next to it, is a fifteenth-century Book of Job with Commentary (Braginsky Collection Web site, Manuscripts and Printed Books, Catalogue 17). It was the third Hebrew book published in Naples and attests to the fairly friendly environment Jews experienced in this city at that time. Moreover, on every page there are sixteenth- or seventeenth-century annotations written in Hebrew and Judeo-Persian. These are fascinating notes on the biblical part of the text.

Miscellany for Life Cycle Events, Italy (possibly Ferrara),
Copied by Leon ben Joshua de Rossi of Cesena,
last third of the 15th century, parchment, 60 leaves,
5.3 x 3.9 in. (13.5 x 10 cm), later quarter-linen binding,
Braginsky Collection 259

Every work in this exhibition significant. There are illustrated Passover haggadot, (haggadah in the singular), which is the text used during the holiday service celebrating the Jews exodus from Egypt. There are miscellaneous books such as an Italian late sixteenth-century Miscellany for Life Cycle Events (Braginsky Collection Web site, Manuscripts and Printed Books, Catalogue 11) which looks at first glance like a medieval book of hours. There are law, prayer and scientific books as well as noteworthy documents like the ones related to the condemnation and burning of Jewish books in sixteenth-century Italy (Braginsky Collection Web site, Manuscripts and Printed Books, Catalogue 1, 16, 3, 23). One glass showcase across an entire gallery wall contains over 2o Esther scrolls along with some of their elaborate cases made of gold, silver, wood and ivory (Braginsky Collection Web site, Esther Scrolls, Catalogue 98, 99, 103, 104). These scrolls were read during the Purim holiday service and since there were no religious prohibitions against decorating Esther scrolls, they were creatively illustrated.

Esther Scroll, India, ca. 1900, parchment, 15 membranes,
2 black columns + 18 text columns, 8 x 276.4 in. (20.2 x 702 cm),
Braginsky Collection Megillah 58

One remarkable Esther scroll from India, c. 1900 (Braginsky Collection Web site, Esther Scrolls, Catalogue 97) shows figures dressed in contemporary and non-western clothes. Men wear fezes, hats associated with the Ottomans, and many females have a bindi, a forehead decoration typically used by Indian women. It is a delightful mix of Indian ornaments and Jewish lore.

The Indian Esther scroll and three other pieces were obtained by Braginsky in the last six months and have never before been available for general viewing. In fact, the recent purchases seen here in New York were not shown in Amsterdam where the exhibit originated. Included in this new group is the earliest known dated decorated Esther Scroll of 1564 from Venice which was written by a woman; a 1668 Circumcision Manual also from Italy which includes the only known representation in Jewish art of Abraham circumcising himself and his son Ishmael; and, a 1755 Diploma for a Jewish Graduate of the University of Padua Medical School. The University of Padua was one of the few European universities that admitted Jews. The Medical School had special diplomas for the Jewish graduates which substituted the phrase, “In the name of God eternal” for the usual “In the name of Christ eternal.”

The Braginsky Collection may not have the breadth and depth of the acclaimed Valmadonna Trust Library of Hebrew books and manuscripts, which was on exhibit at Sotheby’s New York galleries in 2009, but the collection’s quality and merit make it nonpareil.

A Journey through Jewish Worlds:
Highlights from the Braginsky Collection
of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books

Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street, Manhattan
Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday 11 AM - 5 PM
Monday 3:30 - 8 PM
Wednesday 11 AM - 8 PM
Friday 11 AM - 2:30 PM
Through August 1, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Praise of Small Museums

Child Feeding Donkey, Mosaic,
Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi),
Istanbul, Turkey

I like to write about the methodology of looking. I may be analyzing a particular work of art or a gallery exhibit no matter; my intention is always to enhance the experience of seeing. Today I praise one small museum but think about how museums of this size can focus one’s view and open up new vistas.

On a recent trip to Istanbul I was struck by the impact of a relatively overlooked museum in the shadow of the great Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque).

The Mosaic Museum known as the Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi) is just a short walk from the hubbub of Sultanahmet Square and the surrounding preeminent attractions. Its rewards exceed its size. Here are the remains of the largest and finest mosaics to come down to us from late antiquity: the floor of the courtyard and peristyle (open courtyard with surrounding porticos) of Constantine the Great’s palace. The building is basically a cover for the mosaic floor. Constantine the Great (r. 306 - 337 AD) had the palace constructed to rival anything built in Rome. It stretched from the Hippodrome to the Sea of Marmara.

In the mid-1930s and again in the early 50s, excavations of the Arasta Bazaar, a small market close to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, revealed the mosaics. Some 16 retailers lost their shops but a museum was born.

Interior of Great Palace Mosaic Museum
(Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi),
Istanbul, Turkey

The floor’s decoration, which probably dates from the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527-585), is approximately 19.7 feet in width by 29.5 feet in depth. Thousands of colored cubes, each just a bit over 2 inches, make up the compositions. Although only one seventieth of the original surface survives, there remain about 150 human and animal depictions. You see scenes of peasants and herdsmen, wild beasts, children playing, animals grazing, creatures from other countries, hunts and mythological beings. Be warned that what you see is not only enchanting but also at times gruesome.

Leopards Attacking Deer, Mosaic,
Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi),
Istanbul, Turkey

In the museum’s quiet space, you can easily imagine the great court and what this floor would have looked like before the centuries of wear from the countless feet that walked across it and, as an exposed open court, prior to the weathering caused by natural elements. What is extant is remarkable.

The explanatory wall panels, in Turkish and English, are clear and illuminating. You can, however, thoroughly enjoy the compositions without reading anything. While viewing, I heard echoes of the distant court – the chattering of history murmured in my ears as I reflected on the inventiveness and craftsmanship of the imperial artisans.

What a respite from the huge edifices that surround and that can overwhelm. The praiseworthy Mosaic Museum delights and should be visited. It reminds that when in a foreign place, tourists usually concentrate on the so-called required sites such the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace Museum, Yerebatan Cistern, and Hippodrome in Istanbul. Vision and crowd weary, the traveler may find refreshment in a small place of merit – a second tier attraction may offer a first rate experience. Seek these places.

Please note: for information on the sites mentioned above, go to Istanbul city guide/

Great Palace Mosaic Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi)
Istanbul, Turkey

Address: Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi Torun Sokak Arasta Carşisi Sultanahmet
Entrance through Arasta Bazaar
Phone: 0212/518-1205
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (Closed Mondays)
Admission: 5 Turkish Lira (Approximately $3.00 at 1 TK = $.63)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monet at Gagosian - An Alert

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1906,
oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 36 5/8 in. (81 x 92 cm)
Private Collection

Once again, the Gagosian Gallery has mounted a museum quality exhibition, Claude Monet: Late Work. Set against the gallery’s pearly grey walls, Monet’s late paintings resonate with light and color. The setting and space encourages contemplation. This viewer can think of only one other installation that is more illuminating: the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) of the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, which was chosen and arranged by the painter himself.

Here twenty-seven paintings in four gallery rooms are hung in approximately chronological order. All are oil on canvas. Ten are from private collections and the rest from Paris, Japan, Basel, Honolulu and Chicago. None are for sale and no wall labels distract from Monet’s vision. Just two works are under glass which further enhances the joy of looking.

In the first gallery, easel-size paintings shimmer with images of Monet’s famed water lily pond. The effect is often dizzying as reflections of trees and sky mingle with floating flowers and leaves. Yet the palette of pinks, blues, violets and pale greens evokes calm and quiet. One painting, the 1907 Nymphéas from the Musée Marmattan Monet, Paris, is different. Its vertical sun burst of color practically negates any sense of the pond, leaves realism behind and previews what is to come.

Bolder, larger canvases dominate the next room. Here is movement. Touches of vermilions, oranges as well as calligraphic brush strokes excite and activate the works.

The paintings in the third gallery are also big but verge more closely to pure abstraction. From Basel, the Foundation Beyeler’s Nymphéas of 1916-1919, has almost no attachment to nature. We get lost in a swirl of light, color, space and are taken into a sublime state.

Lastly, we enter a space hosting primarily smaller paintings. Concerned with series, The Pont Japonais (The Japanese Bridge) and L’Allée de Rosiers (The Path Under the Rose Arches) are each seen in three versions. Monet takes to masterly impasto technique. Layers of pigment are laid as if he wanted to prolong the experience of painting and capture all of nature’s changeability. Think of Leonard Bernstein’s late penetrating recordings of Mahler’s symphonies - long and thoughtful as though the conductor did not want the music to end.

These paintings testify to Monet’s late in life bold creativity. You want to remain before them, prolong your view, as time reveals the natural world’s fluctuations.

This is a marvelous exhibition. Gagosian is to be congratulated and praised. In 2009, the gallery gave the pubic two matchless shows: Piero Manzoni Retrospection and Pablo Picasso Mosqueteros. The later was curated by the renowned Picasso biographer John Richardson. Now, we have the Monet. In so doing, the Gagosian becomes synonymous with value, distinction and excellence. It is a win-win situation for the gallery and the public.

A couple of hints:

  • Bags must be checked so leave briefcases/computer cases at home. Ladies just take small purses.
  • An exhibition checklist may be obtained at the entrance reception desk.
  • Visit on the early days of the week especially Monday when there are fewer crowds. (Yes, the gallery is open on Monday.)
Gagosian Gallery
522 West 21st Street, Manhattan
Monday - Saturday 10 AM - 6 PM
Through June 26, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

An Abundance of Creativity - Picasso's Prints at the Marlborough Gallery

Pablo Picasso, Visage [Visage de Marie-Thérèse], 1928,
lithograph image: 8 x 5 5/8 in. (20.32 x 14.29 cm),
an impression on large format Japan paper,
aside from the total edition of 225,
Ref: Bloch 95; Geiser/Baer 243; Morluot XXII
© 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso’s genius is abundantly evident at the Marlborough Gallery, Celebrating the Muse: Women in Picasso’s Prints from 1905-1968. A display of over 200 prints – etchings, drypoints, lithograghs, linocuts – organized around the women in the artist’s life, demonstrates once again Picasso’s creative potency. Celebrated works such as La Minotauromachie, 1935, (whose fame and complex narrative brings to mind Rembrandt’s Hundred Guilder Print), Les Saltimbanques, 1905 and Weeping Woman, 1937 as well as those less well known, testify to the artist’s protean talent . Themes appear, disappear then reappear in different guises. His remarkable power for artistic exploration and originality never wanes. Look at the 60 impressions on view from a set of 347 prints, called the Suite 347, that he produced from March 16 thorugh October 5, 1968 at the age of 86!

Another Picasso print exhibition, Picasso: Themes and Variations, at the Museum of Modern Art, is more far ranging in scope but smaller. Although informative with superb examples of printmaking, it is the Marlborough show that impresses more. You leave humbled.

Celebrating the Muse: Women in Picasso’s Prints from 1905-1968
remains through Saturday, May 8, 2010. It can then be seen at the Marlborough Gallery London from June 9 through July 2, 2010.

Pablo Picasso, Femme assise dans un fauteuil
[Portrait de Jacqueline au fauteuil]
, 1966,
aquatint, etching, grattoir, and drypoint,
Plate: 18 3/4 x 12 3/4 in. (47.63 x 32.39 cm),
Sheet: 24 3/4 x 17 7/8 in. (62.87 x 45.40 cm),
Signed in pencil and numbered from the edition of 50,
Ref: Bloch 1394; Geiser/Baer 1416
© 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Celebrating the Muse:
Women in Picasso’s Prints from 1905-1968
Marborough Gallery
40 West 57th Street, Manhattan
Monday - Saturday 10 AM to 5:30 PM
Through May 8, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Masterpiece Paintings Visit The Frick Collection

Rembrandt van Rijn, A Girl at a Window, 1645, oil on canvas,
32.1 x 26 in. (81.6 x 66.0 cm), Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
© The Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery, the exhibition at the Frick Collection,is a gift to all those who respond to picture making at its highest level. Nine important seventeenth- and eighteenth-century paintings from the Dulwich’s renowned European painting collection are displayed in the Frick’s Oval Room and Garden Court. The Dulwich Picture Gallery, located in London, was the first public art gallery in England. Since its holdings do not often travel, this show is a special treat introducing audiences to works of art that may not be familiar. It joins a group of remarkable small exhibits the Frick has mounted from collections relatively unknown here.

The visiting paintings have received well-deserved praise in such informative reviews as “Dreamy Fantasies of Femininity and Nature” by Ken Johnson, The New York Times, and “Fresh Faces in the Family” by Lance Esplund, The Wall Street Journal. Much can be said about each paintings but I comment only on a few of the aspects that partiuclarly attracted me.

The star of the show is Rembrandt’s “Girl at a Window”, placed immediately at the entrance of the Oval Room as you approach it from the Court Garden. She brings to mind other seductive visiting beauties who in past shows occupied this central position – Parmigianino’s “Antea” from the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, in 2008 and in 2005, Rapahel’s “Fornarina” from National Gallery of Art at the Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

The "Girl at the Window" probably depicts a type or figure study rather than a specific individual. Nevertheless, she comes across as real – someone who may speak at any moment. Rembrandt’s masterly painting technique brings her life exquisitely rendering her florid cheeks, the slight tan of her left hand and lower arm and the tiny bug bites on both arms. Marvelous is the way paint describes her gold necklace, the shadowed fingers playing with this ornament and the rope-like decoration on her white blouse. She is at once absorbed in the painting and projected out of it.

In the Garden courtyard, on either side of the Oval Room entranceway, are two delightful eighteenth-century paintings: Canaletto’s “Old Walton Bridge”, and Watteau’s “Les Plaisirs du bal (Pleasures of the Dance)”. Of comparative easel size, these works invite comparison. Numerous characters narrate and animate the scenes. Especially delightful are the images of dogs: the foreground dog in the Canaletto and the four canines in the Watteau.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Samson and Delilah, c. 1618-20,
oil on canvas,59.6 x 90.7 in. (151.4 x 230.4 cm),
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
© The Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s “Samson and Delilah” and Sir Peter Lely’s “Nymphs by a Fountain”, two of my favorite works, are displayed across from each other in the Oval Room.

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah, c. 1609-1610,
oil on wood,72.8 x 80.7 in. (185 x 205 cm),
The National Gallery, London

Van Dyck’s Samson is an early work by the artist inspired by Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s painting of the same subject. The artist had worked with Rubens and most likely knew the Rubens's Samson painting as well as an engraving of it by Jacob Matham.

Jacob Matham, Samson and Delilah, c. 1613, copper engraving,
14 x 17 in. (380 x 440 mm), Rockox House, Antwerp

Such reproductive engraving as Matham’s made works of art available to a wider public. Matham excelled in this medium. His detailed engraving of the Rubens’s Samson was completed just a few years after the painting was finished. Van Dyck most likely worked from the Matham print since the Van Dyck reverses Rubens’s composition as seen in the print. (Using the engraving technique, paper is pressed into the inked incised lines of the engraver’s plate reproducing the recorded image in reverse.)

Hermaphrodite endormi”,
2nd c. AD (Roman copy of Greek statue 2nd c. BC),
marble, 169 in. (169 cm), Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Samsons of Rubens and Van Dyck derive from a classical sculpture of the sleeping Hermaphroditus, a mythological being which combines a female head, breasts, and body with the sexual part of a man. Roman copies of the original Greek Hellenistic statue survive. Rubens could have seen one in Italy before painting his Samson. The Rubens and Van Dyck Samsons are manly and muscular but curiously allude to a figure of ambivalent sex.

Sir Peter Lely, Nymphs by a Fountain, c. 1650, oil on canvas,
50.7 x 57 in. (128.9 x 144.8 cm), Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911
© The Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Sir Peter Lely’s “Nymphs by a Fountain”, displayed across from Van Dyck’s Samson, portrays the near recumbent nymph in a similar hermaphroditic pose. Lely’s nymph is also based on the same ancient source. I spent time in front of this work looking at this nude’s back. At first glance I thought it was male but discerned a slight swelling under the left arm indicating a mammary gland. I posed the question to several viewers, is the figure a male or female? The initial reaction of all in my small sample was a male. Whatever your thoughts, it is a tantalizing work.

By the way, take note of the prominent chafed soles of both the Lely nymph and the Van Dyck Samson. This is superb painting. Such quality painting you will find in all the works of this visually and intellectually splendid exhibition.

One further point: the fully illustrated catalogue by Xavier F. Salomon, Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, is excellent. Pithy explanatory notes illuminate and enhance enjoyment.

Masterpieces of Euopean Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street
Monday - Saturday 10 am to 6 pm
Sundays 11 am to 5 pm
Through May 20, 2010.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Asia in New York - Koichi Yanagi Exhibit Still Here

Kano Tanshin Morimasa, Tamagawa River at Ide,
Edo period, 17-18th century,
Left screen of pair of six-panel folding screens,
ink, color, gold, and gold leaf on paper,
51.6 x 135.8 in. (131.0 x 345.0 cm) each screen

Asia Week New York 2010 officially ended March 28 but plenty of Asian art remains. Still on view until April 15th is the outstanding gallery exhibit at Koichi Yanagi. This six piece show entrances the visitor with the artistry of Japanese art and aesthetic. On display are a pair of folding screens, a painted fan, a pair of male and female Shinto wooden deities, a hanging scroll, a treasured piece of Zen calligraphy framed by rich fabrics, and a Chinese ceramic dish in the shape of Mount Fuji made for Japanese tea masters. Each work is unique and rarely on view.

Tamagawa River at Ide is the theme of a painting on a pair of Edo period six-panel folding screens. It is an exquisite spring landscape with blossoms and animated birds. From every angle, the scene is beautiful. Individualized birds fly about flowers in full bloom. Golden clouds fill the sky. Looking at the work imparts a sense of bliss.

Back of left screen of pair of six-panel folding screens:
Young Bamboo Plants,
ink on gold leaf,
55.7 x 135.8 in. (141.5 x 354.0 cm) each screen

On the back of the screens, delicate bamboo plants are set against a gilded ground. The shoots have much variety. Some are erect, others bend, some are alone, and others are in groups as if communicating. To see this, a friendly gallery assistant had folded one screen panel to reveal the back to me. Ask and I am sure it will be done for you.

The screens are going to a private collection so now is the opportune time to see them.

Suzuki Kiitsu, A Slumber Party at Ōhara,
Edo period, 19th century,
Hanging Scroll,
ink, color, and gold on silk,
22.5 x 33.6 in. (57.2 x 85.3 cm

In the gallery's second room, a nineteenth-century hanging scroll depicts an unusal subject, Slumber Party at Ōhara. The painting illustrates a legend-based story concerning villagers who sought protection at a shrine to escape a man-eating snake. To pass the night, they engaged in play and lovemaking. The participants, dressed in fashionable clothing, are similar to the pleasure district visitors in ukiyo-e scenes or fête galante attendees in western imagery. Their bright colors, which contrast with the gray wash of the surrounding evening landscape, draw the viewer’s attention. The scene enchants as do all the pieces in this exhibit. Go see for yourself.

Kokon Biannual Spring ‘10
March 15 - April 15, 2010
Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6 p
Koichi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts
17 East 71st Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10021
Tel 212 744-5577

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

East Comes East: Asia Week New York 2010

Shakoki Dogu, Final Jomon period, 1200–400 BC,
Tohoku region (Aomori prefecture), Japan,
Obora BC Type, 7 x 5 1/2 in. (18 x 14 cm),
Mika Gallery, New York

The focus is on Asian art during Asia Week New York 2010, March 20 – 28. More than 30 museums, galleries, and auction houses take part in 7 days of exhibitions, public lectures and other activities. New York and international dealers have collaborated to bring about Asia Week and to place on view the highest quality art from China, India, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia. Anyone with an interest in the East should celebrate.

Asia Week’s excellent Web site,, includes a list of participants, calendar and detailed guide. Both map and guide are downloadable.

It is difficult to single out specific shows but I particularly look forward to the
Mika Gallery’s display of early Japanese Jomon period artifacts, the Indian and Southeast works at John Eskenazi Ltd., the Chinese objects at J. J. Lally & Co. and the Korean celadons of the London Gallery Ltd. There are more exhibits on my "must see" list but I don't want to influence your choices. Look around for yourself.

Much of the art brought to New York for Asia Week 2010 is for sale. Many pieces will be purchased for private collections. Keep this in mind. The objects you see this week, you may never see again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Damaged But Not Diminished

Pablo Picasso, The Actor, 1904-05, oil on canvas,
77.2 x 45.4 in. (196.2 x 115.3 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Last month an accident to an important Picasso painting, The Actor, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, brought attention to works of art that have been damaged. In the case of the Picasso, a visitor fell against the work causing a six-inch vertical gash in the lower right part of the approximately six by four foot canvas. Most likely, the tear will be difficult to detect once repaired. (See Vogel, Carol, “Questions Over Fixing Torn Picasso, New York Times on the Web, 25 January 2010, Art & Design.)

Is the painting diminished? I think not. The mishap will become a somewhat amusing but cautionary addition to the painting’s history. In a way, the incident fits the interpretation of the painting’s subject.

The work is from Picasso’s romantic Rose Period and depicts a slender acrobat. It was created at the time circus performers were equated with artists. They were marginalized by society, martyrs to their art - victims of mistreatment.

In a similar manner, we can now look at the painting in the Metropolitan Museum as an object that was a victim of a society that was heedless of its protection. The work becomes a momento mori. The occurrance reminds things happen with age whether natural or random. After all, The Actor is over one hundred years old.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Jan Deyman, 1656,
oil on canvas, cut down to 39.4 x 52.8 in. (100 x 134 cm),
Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historish Museum

A well-known example of an art work that has been marred by misfortune is Rembrandt’s 1656 The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Jan Deyman. Most of the canvas was destroyed by fire in 1723, leaving only a small section of the central area. But what remains is a powerhouse of conciseness. Painted during the highly prosperous age of the Dutch Republic, this group portrait is a startling realization of interior thought overlaid with moral implication.

The seventeenth-century Dutch had developed numerous professional organizations and lots of civic groups that commissioned portraits of their leaders and members for meeting rooms. Portraiture became the most popular and well-paid artistic category of the period. In this genre as in others, Rembrandt departed from tradition. He did not depict static representations where sitters are lined up one next to the other in unmoving compositions. His portraits have action and meaning far more then faithful representation of those portrayed.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, 1632, oil on canvas,
66.7 x 85.2 in. (169.5 x 216.5 cm), Mauritshuis, The Hague

The Dr. Deyman was his second anatomy scene. In 1632, he had painted The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, where he dramatically turned the subject into a lesson on mortality, divinity and knowledge. (For an excellent analysis of both anatomy group portraits and more, see Simon Schama’s Rembrandt’s Eyes, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.)

In what is left of the Dr. Deyman work, we see the surgeon’s hands dissecting the cadaver’s brain. His assistant on the left, shown with a thoughtful gaze, holds the corpse's skullcap. The quite foreshortened corpse is so angled that the viewer has a first hand view into the open stomach cavity. What is one to make of this?

Andrea Mantegna, Dead Christ, c. 1490, tempera on canvas,
26.8 x 31.9 in. (68 x 81 cm), Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Orazio Borgianni, The Pietà, c. 1615, oil on canvas,
21.7 x 30.3 in. (55 x 77 cm), Galleria Spada, Rome

Firstly, Rembrandt’s composition is a reference to the Dead Christ by the fifteenth-century Italian master Andrea Mantegna and similar images by Orazio Borgianni, an early seventeenth-century Roman artist.

Rembrandt turned the secular event, the autopsy, into something sacred by making reference to these earlier images. The painting is interpreted as a religious scene. Dr. Deyman hands make a gesture of blessing over the dead while his nearby assistant holds the Eucharistic chalice.

The viewer focuses on the central figures of the canvas that fortunately have survived. The cadaver’s extreme backward and forward extension in pictorial space and the placement of the dissecting table against the outermost front of the picture plane, persuade, as in the Mantegna, that the feet of the deceased extend into real space beyond the picture frame. The viewer is thus present in the image and participates in the event.

Surely this painting is not diminished.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Things Mean a Lot

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Looking at the Crucifixion panel by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was reminded of the 1950’s popular song title, “Little Things Mean a Lot”.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (ca. 1472-1533) was a Netherlandish painter and designer of woodcuts active in the early sixteenth century primarily in Amsterdam. He was a conservative artist. Although not an innovator, he was an able observer with an eye for details. His work has charm and lyricism.

The Metropolitan Museum Crucifixion is a crowded scene. Some fifteen figures, three on horseback, fill the foreground. Soldiers hold their weapons, finely dressed aristocrats stare, the Apostle John helps the fallen Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene kneels in prayer before the cross.

Many of those depicted are fashionably garbed as if the narrative gave the painter an opportunity to describe the riches of his contemporaries. The viewer gets caught up with the story – the crucifixion of Jesus and the reactions of those present.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of Crucifixion, 1507,
oil on panel, 37 ½ x 30 ¼ in. (95.3 x 76.8 cm),
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Four relatively small angels, three of which are levitating about Jesus’s upper wounds, seem minor players in this drama. But wait. What are they doing? The angels are filling their chalices with the blood emanating from Jesus’s wounds. By their action, the central doctrine of Catholicism comes into focus – the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The angels’s chalices that hold the blood allude to the chalice that contains the wine at Catholic Mass. Believers partake in the body and blood of Christ through the consecrated bread and wine and thus share in the sacrifice of the cross. These lovely angels that may seem insignificant are not so.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Calvary,
c. 1507-10, oil (?) on panel, 40.9 x 34.6 in. (104 x 88 cm),
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I draw your attention to another crucifixion by Jacob Cornelisz in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. This work, entitled Calvary, includes in the background depictions of events that occurred before the crucifixion. The four chalice-holding angels can easily be lost among the forty-plus other characters. Their presence, however, is important.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago,

The Art Institute of Chicago’s The Adoration of the Christ Child, attributed to Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen and Workshop, offers a happy encounter.

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

The individuated actions of the numerous music-making cherubs exhibit uninhibited joy. You can almost hear this painting!

Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Detail of The Adoration of the Christ Child,
c. 1515, oil on panel, 38 3/16 x 30 1/6 in. (97 x 74.9 cm),
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

There is much going on around the main event but don’t omit a look at the small distant figures that set the scene for the Adoration. These diminutive beings matter.