Microscopic ornaments bedazzle a Lilliputian Christmas tree. A tiny dreidel is tucked into a box. Miniscule mistletoe hangs from a chandelier. For the holidays, tiny festive additions have been added to the Thorne Rooms, which delight in their miniaturization of period rooms, to greet the season. In the galleries of European art, a masterwork of miniatures unfolds in the Neapolitan Crèche. But further into the Art Institute, another set tiny treasures is debuting for the holidays.
For the first time in over 50 years, 38 ancient Egyptian amulets are on view in When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great, a special exhibition in gallery 154 of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art. Despite their diminutive size, these amulets pack a lot of power and magic. For the ancient Egyptian, one prepared for life after death by providing all the accoutrements of daily life and assurances for rebirth into the afterlife in the tomb, one’s eternal home. One also needed to guarantee that the body itself would be in working order in the afterlife. The two-centimeter long leg (top image) and foot amulets were typically encased in the wrappings of the mummified body at the ankle to assure the ability to walk. Likewise, a glass heart amulet (image immediately above) was placed on the upper torso to protect what Egyptians considered to be the most important organ of the body. To them, the heart was the origin of thought, emotions, and a storehouse for memories; the heart amulet takes the form of a vessel. One of the most popular amulets was the wedjat (image below), or Eye of Horus, that has the iconic markings of a falcon. In a divine battle the god Horus was blinded by the god Seth, however, the eye of Horus rejuvenated and became a symbol of rebirth. Amulets were also worn by the living as protective, and even magical, talismans.
While a group of spectacularly small amulets glitter in the galleries, there are over 700 Egyptian amulets in the Art Institute’s collection, including a one-inch silver hatchet, many half-inch stone headrests, centimeter-long animals such as cows, frogs, geese, and rabbits. Each of these, though seemingly mundane, carried symbolism of power or regeneration. Amulets were so popular that they were made and used continuously from around 3000 B.C. to the Ptolemaic period (330 B.C.-30 B.C.), which is the focus of the exhibition, and even into the Coptic Christian period in the 4th century A.D.
Because of their minute size, these amulets are actually some of the most complicated types of artworks to display. For the exhibition, each amulet received a custom-made mount, or apparatus that securely holds the object while carefully placed padding protects their delicate surfaces. These mounts are tightly fitted into holes drilled directly into the back of the case. For the smallest amulets, such as the golden Eyes of Horus seen in the above photo, pins coated in plastic to protect the artwork hold the amulets in place. When working on such a small scale, exact measurements are key!
Stop by the exhibit When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, which is open through July 27, and explore the myriad of amulets, including a pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses that can fit in the palm of your hand. But don’t let their diminutive size fool you, the ancient Egyptians made amulets with the design that their power would last unto eternity.
—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art
Leg and Foot Amulet. Egyptian, Late Old Kingdom – First Intermediate Period, Dynasties 5-11, (about 2494-2055 B.C.). Carnelian; 2 x 1 x .25 cm (3/4 x 3/8 x 1/8 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.861.
Heart Amulet. Egyptian, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, (about 1550–1295 B.C.). Glass, rod formed technique; 2.1 x 1.9 x 0.6 cm (7/8 x 3/4 x 1/4 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.855.
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.
Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine opens tomorrow to members (and November 12 for everyone), but we’ve got the first look at what might be the first exhibition ever to combine Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and a recipe for Oyster Fritters.
Art and Appetite explores American art and American cooking through the lens of paintings, sculptures, decanters, teapots, vintage menus and cookbooks, and more over multiple centuries. Take a closer look to learn more about the ritual of the family meal, the rise of the restaurant in what is now a fast food nation, and the history of locavores.
Things are getting grim and grisly here at the Art Institute of Chicago. Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes, has been the star of the show, but it is not the only work in the collection that features spurting blood and severed heads. This Halloween, check out some of the gory and gruesome images of decapitation at the Art Institute.
Artists often depict different interpretations of the same biblical stories, infusing in them their own sense of style and drama. In addition to the tale of Judith, the story of St. John the Baptist and Salome has long been a popular subject for painters. In this story, Salome dances for her stepfather Herod who rewards her with the fulfillment of any request. Per the wish of her mother, she asks for the head of John the Baptist. In the painting below by Guido Reni, we see a rather demure Salome being presented with the decapitated head.
A more graphic interpretation of the same story is by artist Giovanni di Paolo comes from a series of paintings illustrating John the Baptist’s life. In this much bloodier version, we see the moment immediately following the beheading, as the executioner sheaths his sword and blood gushes from his body.
In Arms and Armor you can see all kind of deadly weapons. You can also imagine how they might have been used to make heads roll, such as in this medieval Netherlandish painting, Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia.
Although these jars don’t appear sinister, don’t be fooled. The museum has a collection of pottery and stoneware from Nazca in Peru with painted “trophy heads.” Many of the pots feature warriors and demons clutching the heads of their enemies.
19th century French painters found severed heads a delightful subject for still life. Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault’s Head of a Guillotined Man shows just how dark the French Revolution could be, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue is a chilling departure from his usual subjects of street scenes.
These are just some of the gory and grisly works that can be found at the Art Institute. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments. And don’t lose your head this Halloween!
—Nina Litoff, Public Affairs
Guido Reni, Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1639/42. Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund.
Giovanni di Paolo, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 1455/60. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.
Nazca, South coast, Peru. Effigy Drum in the Form of a Masked Warrior Holding Trophy Heads and Darts, 180 B.C./A.D. 500. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.
Nazca, South coast, Peru. Vessel Depicting a Masked Warrior Holding Trophy Heads, 180 B.C./A.D. 500. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.
Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia, 1460/80. George F. Harding Collection.
Gustave Caillebotte, Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue, c. 1882. Major Acquisitions Centennial Endowment.
Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault, Head of a Guillotined Man, 1818/19. Through prior gift of William Wood Prince; L. L. and A. S. Coburn Endowment; Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.
The tale of Judith slaying Holofernes is inspired by the biblical Book of Judith from the Hebrew Apocrypha. In the story, Judith seduces and beheads Holofernes, an Assyrian general whose troops are besieging Judith’s city. Gentileschi’s version presents a stalwart depiction of Judith as an athletic heroine fully capable of completing the gruesome act. Yet as the Italian prints accompanying the magnificent Uffizi painting attest (in Gallery 202a), most depictions skip directly to the bagging of the severed head and reduce her sword to a seductive fashion accessory, rather than a murder weapon.
In the Hilliard exhibition, Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes (above), a startling drawing from around 1550 by the Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration, completes Judith’s saga by focusing solely on the aftermath. It is an exercise in contrasts and contortions, with black and white highlights dancing atop the Master’s distinctively deep purple ground. The resulting Mannerist excess palpably renders the enemy camp’s turmoil following Judith’s ferocious act. While the artist prepared a related drawing of Holofernes’s demise, he made at least two versions of this much rarer subject. Though she is physically absent, Judith’s recent presence is very much felt in the bloody severed neck on the toppled central body. It leaves no doubt of her peak physical form and commitment to her cause. A tiny detail in the distance further cements her tactical ingenuity. The minute dot at the end of a spike issuing diagonally from the besieged city’s gate in fact represents her dripping trophy. Mounted in plain sight before its owner had even been missed, Holofernes’s head became a rallying point for the Israelites that ended the siege.
This unusual focus on the discovery (rather than the slaying) of Holofernes reappears in a print series by Philip Galle after Maerten van Heemskerck from 1564 that expanded the Book of Judith narrative into eight scenes. Six of these curious prints are on display near the Gentileschi painting. They document each step of the story exhaustively, including Judith’s radical decision to save her besieged home city of Bethulia; her preparation for the seduction; her wily success with Holofernes; her efficient decapitation of the inebriated general; her victorious display of the head to her people, and finally, the discovery of the headless body and its disheartening effect on the Assyrian army (full image above, detail below). Visitors to both exhibitions will note that the diminutive head appears in the distance above the city walls in both instances. Although the Book of Judith explicitly mentions her strategic use of the head, the similarity of the two depictions makes one wonder . . . Did Heemskerck somehow know the Hilliard drawing, perhaps through a painting? If so, he liked what he saw.
Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration (Netherlandish, active c. 1530-1560). Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes, c. 1550. Pen and black ink and brush and black wash, over lilac wash, heightened with white gouache, on cream laid paper, laid down on cream laid paper. Celia and David Hilliard and Harold Joachim Memorial Endowments, 1999.683.
Philip Galle (Netherlandish, 1537-1612), after Maarten van Heemskerck (Dutch, 1498-1574). The Discovery of Holofernes’s Corpse, plate eight from The Story of Judith and Holofernes, 1564. Engraving in black on ivory laid paper. Gift of Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson in honor of Douglas Druick, 2011.1082.
Opening just in time for everyone’s favorite spooky holiday, Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture from the David and Celia Hilliard Collection features 115 drawings, prints, and sculptures spanning five centuries. Extraordinarily generous with strong ties to the Art Institute over the years, the Hilliards have already given or promised 61 of the works on display, which bolster areas of weakness in the Art Institute’s collection and develop areas of strength. The exhibition’s title, Dreams and Echoes, refers to the thematic threads that weave through the collection, from the broad selection of French and British landscape drawings, to important groups by Edgar Degas, Jean-François Millet, and Odilon Redon, and a stunning array of fantastical, psychological, and macabre works from nineteenth-century Symbolist artists.
The array of charming landscape drawings that make up the beginning of the exhibition takes a turn for the sinister, dark, and stormy in George Romney’s A Foregathering of Witches, a Scene from “Macbeth” (above). Two figures whirl around a bonfire, casting their dark magics. The drawing illustrates a moment in Act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth, where the witches rattle off their revolting recipe. Romney’s swirling brush strokes throughout the drawing evoke the frenzy of the witchcraft and invokes the fear of the unknown.
1 WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.—
Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1
The eldritch and eerie theme continues into the spectacular works of Odilon Redon, James Ensor, and Jan Toorop. European Symbolist artists were fascinated with sex and sexuality, life and death, spirituality and myth. Their works are populated by figures ranging from delicate, virginal women to femme fatales, masked beings, and skeletal harbingers of death—in other words, zombies.
The two figures in the opening work by William Degouve de Nuncques, The Servants of Death would not be especially out of place in any of today’s zombie movies, despite being put to paper in 1894. These shambling servants are busy sawing planks over a grave-like hole in the ground, the purpose of which is unknown—but with a title like The Servants of Death and complexions like theirs it can’t bode well for anyone. The dying embers of the fire and the blood red of the setting sun add to the sense of a turn-of-the-century Belgian horror movie about to happen.
Rounding out the collection’s spectral, skeletal elements is a group of masks from Symbolist sculptors, the most recently acquired of which is the skull-like Mask of Death. Presiding over a case of masks with a grin, the Mask of Death by Jules Desbois, seems to shift from benevolent to malignant with a step to either direction. The sunken, decaying features and moldering colors of the ceramic glazes stir up the sensation that this is a head that until recently resided somewhere below ground—possibly excavated from the zombies’ hole. Unlike the crowned skull of the nearby bronze sculpture Nothing!! (Rien!!) by Jean-Baptiste Clésinger, the Mask of Death still appears to have skin and flesh, though it’s not necessarily an improvement.
Dreams and Echoes opened to the public last weekend and runs until February 16. The accompanying catalogue is available in the Museum Shop, so you can gaze upon the Mask of Death or call up your own Foregathering of Witches, whenever you like.
—Melissa L. Gustin, Research Associate
George Romney, A Foregathering of Witches, a Scene from “Macbeth,” early 1790s. Brush and brown and gray wash, over black chalk, on off-white laid paper, laid down on blue wove appear with an added border of ivory laid paper around the drawing; 381 x 538 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard, 2013.
William Degouve de Nuncques, The Servants of Death, c. 1894. Pastel on gray wove paper prepared with a greenish-gray ground, perimeter mounted to canvas, wrapped around a strainer; 930 x 730 mm. David and Celia Hilliard Collection.
Jules Desbois, Mask of Death, 1904. Enameled stoneware; 300 x 220 mm. David and Celia Hilliard Collection.
Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes opens today in galleries 202 and 202A. This small but significant exhibition has as its anchor Gentileschi’s most well-known work, Judith Slaying Holofernes, on loan to the Art Institute from Florence’s Galleria degli Uffizi. This first-ever appearance in Chicago is the latest in a series of notable Baroque loans to the Art Institute, joining Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus in 2009 and The Lute Player, by Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi, in 2010.
The story of Gentileschi’s rape by Italian painter Agostino Tassi and the ensuing legal trial is well-known. The heinousness of those events drove her to Florence, which is where her career blossomed, and this is the true story of Violence and Virtue. Curator Eve Straussman-Pflanzer’s essay in the accompanying exhibition catalogue describes Gentileschi’s eventful and turbulent time in Florence. As a woman in the artistic court of the powerful Medici family—an extreme rarity—Gentileschi’s talent and identity were never in full accord or acceptance. Despite keeping company with renaissance luminaries of the day (Michelangelo’s nephew and bad boy astronomer Galileo among them) she struggled for full acceptance and steady commissions. Her direct, climactic, and violent depiction of the popular Judith story didn’t win her many fans, neither during her life nor for centuries afterward.
Indeed, while Artemisia Gentileschi and her Florentine Judith now hold a firm and celebrated place in the art historical canon, such notoriety was never certain. A 20th century redress of her talent and virtuosity gained much momentum during the 1970s, when Feminist-inspired reinterpretations of art history proliferated. Recognition has grown over the intervening decades, and Gentileschi is now seen as one of the most important artists to emerge from 17th-century Italy.
Image Credit: Artemisia Gentileschi. Judith Slaying Holofernes, c. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, inv. 1567.
When you see the vibrant image above and hear the exhibition title—Shomei Tomatsu: Island Life—you might get the impression that this photography show is all about idyllic tropical living. And while it does focus on Tomatsu’s fascination with Japan’s southern islands, it delves much deeper into life for the islands’ residents.
After World War II ended, the U.S. occupied the majority of Japan until 1952, but maintained jurisdiction over Okinawa (Japan’s southernmost prefecture that includes hundreds of islands) until 1972. Entry into Okinawa was very limited for Japanese citizens during this time. Tomatsu gained entry in 1969 and alternately lived in or regularly visited the southern islands until his death in 2012. Much of Tomatsu’s work from this period discusses both the aftermath of World War II and the Americanization of Japan. The decades-long military presence (that still persists today) in Okinawa provided substantial content for Tomatsu to explore both the complicated confluence of Western products and ideas with traditional Japanese culture, as well as the contradictory feelings that Tomatsu himself had about Americanization. As Tomatsu said in writings on the subject, “love and hate are no farther apart than two sides of a sheet of paper.”
This is Tomatsu’s first posthumous exhibition and his first exhibition in the United States in nearly 10 years. Shomei Tomatsu: Island Life is open through January 5.
With a federal government shutdown in effect, and the staff of the National Gallery of Art locked out of their offices until further notice, it’s looking a lot like 1995. The intricacies of the budget arguments are not germane here, but out of that first stalemate came something surprisingly beautiful, almost miraculous.
At first, the picture looked bleak when the first major U.S. exhibition of the paintings of the Baroque Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer coincided almost exactly with the 1995 financial crisis. Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, which had never been out of Holland, were two of the unprecedented 21 of Vermeer’s 35 known paintings in the show. They joined our national treasures, the Woman with a Balance and Girl with a Red Hat (both pictured) for a luminous display, the likes of which had never been seen in one place. (Even as fine an encyclopedic collection as the Art Institute’s contains no Vermeer paintings.)
National Gallery of Art curator Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. had worked eight years to secure loans and complete research for the exhibition, but it closed on November 13 in the government deadlock—just two days after it opened. The National Gallery stayed dark for only a week on that occasion, but even after drawing such phenomenal crowds that weekend viewing hours were extended to 7:00p.m. and then 9:00pm, the Vermeer exhibition was shuttered again on December 15. The federal budget talks had failed once more, leading to a shutdown with no end in sight. There was no possibility of an extension, as this once-in-a-lifetime show was scheduled to go directly on to Holland to its second venue, the Mauritshuis in The Hague. By then, with blizzards further complicating the issue, the exhibition had already been closed for nineteen days of its precious three-month run. Something had to give.
Private funds were eventually found to reopen the exhibition (the rest of the museum was closed) for the ten days of the remaining federal furlough, and the crowds kept coming. Tickets were free, but all the advance passes were long gone by the time the show reopened, and despite the winter conditions, daily ticket lines increased. As a high school student in D.C. at the time, I couldn’t wait in the morning lines, and might not have seen the show at all, if not for a stroke of luck and some slight subterfuge. My mother and I came to see if we could get in, just at the time someone had left an extra ticket at the visitor desk. She folded it in half in her hand in an attempt to make it look like a pair. By the time the guard stopped me to ask for my ticket, she was already in the exhibition. “My mother has it,” I replied, went in, took the single ticket, and gave it to the guard. Then I disappeared into the luminous prospect that was, against all odds, Johannes Vermeer at the National Gallery.
Images courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632 – 1675. Girl with the Red Hat, c. 1665/1666, oil on panel. Andrew W. Mellon Collection,1937.1.53
Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632 – 1675. Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas. Widener Collection, 1942.9.97
As Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity comes to a close, we decided to take a look back throughout the exhibition with the person who knows it best, exhibition curator Gloria Groom. Gloria graciously answered a few questions for us about how visitors have responded the exhibition and what’s next on deck for her. . .
You’ve toured hundreds of people through the exhibition. What has been the most fun painting or garment to talk about with visitors?
Most visitors are blown away by the Hat Shop—the hat vitrine with the reflected image of the Art Institute’s own Degas’ Millinery Shop. It’s as though they are seeing it for the first time.
Also, the black dress paired with Manet’s The Parisienne. The jet beading built into the fringe is just so amazing that it stops people in their tracks.
What has surprised you most about visitors’ response to the exhibition?
People just can not believe these are the actual fashions worn at the time of the paintings. They’re also amazed that they didn’t know whoJamesTissotwas before the exhibition.
Which painting (or garment) will you be most sad to say goodbye to?
For paintings, it’s a tie between two Manets: Lady with Fans (Portrait of Nina de Callias) (far right in the image immediately above) and Young Lady in 1866 (top image).
For fashions, the aforementioned black dress but also the Worth Robe de Promenade, the last dress in the exhibition with the extraordinary starburst silk damask fabric. I’m in Venice as I write and that fabric is reminiscent of the luxury goods one still sees in textile boutiques.
What’s next for you?
Van Gogh’s Bedrooms coming in September 2015—stay tuned!
Édouard Manet. Young Lady in 1866, 1866. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Erwin Davis.
Formal Dress, c. 1877. France. Gilles Labrosse Collection.
Day dress, c. 1886. Charles Frederick Worth. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; gift of Mrs. William E.S. Griswold, 1941, 2009.300.664a,b.
Who doesn’t love a good glass of wine? The French certainly do. For centuries, wine has been a quintessential part of the French culture, so it makes sense that wine and its less-French, but still popular sidekick, beer, find their way into the paintings in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
Strolling through the exhibition, it’s impossible not to place yourself in the paintings and wonder ‘how would I spend an afternoon in Paris?’ What would I wear, what would I do? And the answer for me is pretty simple—I’ll hop into Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass and straight into that polka-dotted frock any day. In this painting, a fashionable group of people (for the record, they’re not in Paris, but in the forest of Fontainebleau) model their very en vogue summer fashions and picnic and lounge their way through what appears to be a lovely summer afternoon. In the bottom left corner of the central panel, a luncheon is spread out on the blanket, complete with with a bottle of wine and a flagon of beer to wash it all down. The fact that it all seems so realistic speaks to Monet’s aim to represent a scene of present-day life in the open air, presumably recorded as it was being observed.
Since France is sadly out of the question for me, the next best thing is wine. If you feel similarly, treat yourself to a wine flight at Eno in the InterContinental Hotel created in honor of the exhibition. Check in on Four Square to get a discount on the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity wine flight, as well as a free ticket to the museum! Hurry! The exhibition closes this weekend!
—Oksana Schak, Coordinator of Tourism Marketing
Image Credit: Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass, 1865–66. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, acquired as a payment in kind, 1987, RF 1987-12.
It feels somewhat fitting to conclude our series of posts about paintings in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity with a painting that hangs in the final gallery of our exhibition—the Art Institute’s own A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884.
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit the exhibition, this painting is placed in context with three dresses (one pictured below for reference) that all highlight the apogee of the bustle. Bustles first appeared in Parisian fashion in the late 1860s and remained in style until the mid-1870s when the prevailing style moved towards a narrower, tighter fishtail shape. But in 1883, bustles returned with a vengeance. And this time around, ‘the bigger, the better’ was the name of the game. Bustles extended horizontally at nearly ninety-degree angles, creating a shelf-like shape.
Seurat began working on La Grande Jatte in 1884, just after the bustle returned to fashion. In the painting, he features two women with bustles, most prominently the woman on the far right standing with a male companion (and a monkey!). This woman’s dress would have been right on trend. In addition to a voluminous bustle, she also wears a dress with a low waist, high neckline, and tight sleeves, all the more to accent her backside. When Seurat first conceptualized this painting, however, the bustle was significantly smaller. We’ve learned, through conservation research, that as the painting developed from preparatory drawings to the final work, Seurat increased the bustle’s size not once, not twice, but three times, ensuring that this woman stay as on trend as possible. The bigger, the better indeed.
Georges Seurat. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, 1884-86. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
Dress, 1887. American. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
One of the revelations for many visitors to Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity has been James Tissot and his luminous, finely rendered, enigmatic portraits. Raised in Nantes by his drapery-merchant father and hat-designer mother, Tissot was steeped in fashion from an early age, and, like many aspiring artists, sought fame and fortune in Paris. However, unlike many artists, he actually succeeded, having paintings shown at the Salon in 1859, just a few years after his arrival. For reasons not entirely clear, he left Paris for London in 1871 and there quickly replicated his Parisian success. Friendly with many of the Impressionists, Tissot was asked by Degas to exhibit his work in their public debut, but he refused, preferring to remain immersed in London society and his lucrative commissions.
Tissot’s Shop Girl was painted in 1883–85, upon his return to Paris from London after the death of Kathleen Newton, an Irish divorcée who had been, somewhat scandalously, Tissot’s companion for most of his London years (it is suspected that the son she gave birth to in 1877 was Tissot’s). Most likely reeling from her death, Tissot embarked in Paris on an ambitious series called The Women of Paris, from which Shop Girl comes. Unlike his previous paintings of wealthy, beautiful subjects at elaborate balls or in seaside cottages, the series represents women of different stations and classes, like the young and inviting female who opens the door of this Parisian store.
Here Tissot has represented the “modern” Paris, signified of course by the presence of the young and attractive shop girl but also by the shop itself—plate glass windows, freely displayed merchandise, a tumult of ribbons and accessories on the table. These new Parisian shops, working off the model of the new department stores, were a far cry from the dim, family-run retail hovels of the previous generation that Émila Zola depressingly depicted in his novel, Au Bonheur des Dames: “the ground-floor shop, crushed by the ceiling, surmounted by a very low storey with half-moon windows, of a prison-like appearance . . . two deep windows, black and dusty, in which the heaped up goods could hardly be seen. The open door seemed to lead into the darkness and dampness of a cellar.” Tissot’s bright, clean shop is an emblem of the modern Paris, fully reveling in the art of retail.
And so too does the shop girl. She is fashionably dressed, inviting yet assertive, and as much on display as the merchandise to her right. To underscore that point, Tissot has created a vignette in the upper left of the canvas where a man in a top hat appears to be making direct eye contact with another shop girl reaching for a package on an upper shelf. The visual and social dynamics of Shop Girl is a lesson in ambiguity, reflecting the conflicted status of the “new woman”: a consumer force at the center of a revolutionary and lucrative new industry but yet still a confection, a display, as sensuous and inviting as the silks she has packaged for us, the customers for whom she opens the door.
Image Credit: James Tissot, The Shop Girl, 1883–85. The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
How do we use fashion to communicate who we are? In July, 15 teens explored this theme through a 2-day workshop entitled Experimental Fashion: Technology, Identity, and Environment. Starting with self-portraits, they explored how culture, expressed through fashion, informs how we communicate our identity and how we perceive ourselves.
The group began with a tour through Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, with research associate Terah Walkup facilitating a discussion with the teens on how portraiture and fashion from the late 1800s captured the contemporary moment, a snapshot full of fantasy and fiction of both the artist and the subject. The teens were then charged with envisioning headwear in which they could control what aspects of their identity might be revealed or concealed.
In the Ryan Education studios, teens used photography and drawing to design a headpiece concept that was capable of communicating, through technology, social messages to both the wearer and the observer. They worked with teaching artist Jessica Hyatt to combine technology and materials into futuristic, wearable mock-ups of their designs. They also worked in groups to compile their drawings and images into reproducible fashion zines.
To make this millinery come to life, the group learned some fundamentals about materials, shapes, electronics, and programming. As personal electronics and mobile devices get smaller and more ubiquitous, these objects are becoming more like our fashion accessories—think Google Glass. What does it mean when our fashion accessories are ‘smart’ with sensors and Internet access, like many of our phones.
To dig into these ideas, the teens learned the basics of electrical circuitry and sewed with conductive thread. They also learned how to program on open source “microcontrollers” called Arduino Lilypads. We used Protosnap LilyPad Kits from SparkFun Electronics to get up and running quickly. With just a little orientation, LED lights were flashing in complicated patterns, and noises buzzed and boomed out of vibrating motors and speakers. Several participants even had elements that responded to light or temperature sensors—quite a feat for a two-day workshop!
In these two days, the teens designed thoughtful and imaginative headpieces. For example, the image immediately above is inspired by her love of gardens (and is, in fact, a wearable garden) and the headpiece in the top image is inspired by telepathy. Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is on view through September 29, so we invite you to take some time to fashion your own impression.
Pink may seem like a fairly innocuous color, but it became the surprise focus of critics’ response to Édouard Manet’s larger-than-life-sized painting of his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, in a salmon-pink dressing gown. One critic complained that while it might have been Manet’s intention “to engage in a symphonic dialogue, a sort of duet, between the pink of the dress of the young woman and the pink tones of her face… He did not succeed.” Another found the color “delicious” but also commented that her head was “lost in a modulation of pink.”
The arguments over pink, however, were somewhat colored by the piece of clothing that came in that much-discussed hue, the peignoir. Requiring no corset or crinoline, a peignoir was a loose-fitting dressing gown that was worn at home among family and the closet of friends. In spite of its intimate nature, the peignoir could still be quite elaborate and fashionable and was often the outfit of choice in paintings of ladies in domestic settings including Renoir’s Woman at the Piano and even in portraits of fashionable women of means, like the Marquise de Miramon.
Manet’s model, however, is not at home or in a domestic setting, nor is her peignoir terribly au courant, a detail that the ever-fashionable Manet would have intended. Rather Victorine wears her plain gown slightly unbuttoned in the artist’s studio in a setting carefully constructed with various, seemingly incongruous props—violets, a monocle, a parrot. It’s been theorized that these accoutrements can be read as an allegory of the five senses: the half-peeled orange as taste, the man’s monocle around her neck as sight, the nosegay in her right hand as smell, the satin of the peignoir as touch, and the squawking parrot as hearing. Allegory or not, at least two of these props—the monocle and the flowers, perhaps given by the monocle owner—tease at the rather suggestive presence of an unseen man. (The parrot could also be added to this group. Manet was known for making references to other artworks and genres in his work, and the Realist painter Gustave Courbet had just scandalized the 1866 Salon with his painting Woman with a Parrot depicting a nude woman sprawled amid her discarded clothes with a parrot on her finger. The bird was notoriously interpreted as a stand-in for a male lover.)
Add on top of all this the fact that French literature at the time was rife with references to peignoirs in connection to undressing, bathing, and, yes, being sexually available, and you can see why critics were saying that the painting of Victorine—with her confident gaze and coy pose—was “made with a pink that is both false and louche.” Pretty in pink, maybe, but for whom?
—Lauren Schultz, Associate Director of Communications
Image Credit: Édouard Manet. Young Lady in 1866, 1866. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Erwin Davis.
Dyes, hot irons, and gels were just as common in the ancient Roman world as they are today. Well-to-do women had servants who would painstakingly style their hair every day into elaborate confections of braids, buns, and curls that kept pace with the ever-changing demands of fashion.
The elaborate coiffures of stylish Roman women are one of the subjects of Fashion and Antiquity, a series of text panels throughout the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art that focus on fabrics, hairstyles, and adornment in the classical era. Fashion and Antiquity is part of a larger museum-wide focus on fashion in conjunction with the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
Recently, scholar Janet Stephens, a professional hairstylist and experimental archaeologist, rediscovered important tools in the ancient stylist’s kit that had been forgotten over the centuries—a simple needle and thread. Without recourse to elastic hair bands and hairspray, experts had assumed that the Romans’ gravity-defying hairdos were only possible with wigs. Though such hairpieces have been found in archeological contexts, Stephens, through careful analysis of archival texts and lots of hands-on trial and error, realized that Roman women were able achieve the complicated styles by simply having the hair sewn into place.
Empresses and women of the imperial family were the trendsetters of the ancient Roman world of fashion. The second-century A.D. portrait bust of a woman pictured above reflects a style worn by the empress Faustina the Elder (about 100-140 A.D.), as recorded on coins that bear her portrait (below). The long braids that are similarly wrapped around the head of the marble portrait elegantly announced the sitter’s elite status; moreover, the diadem suggests that she’s a priestess.
To learn more about the art of ancient hairstyles, please join us for a special Boshell Foundation Lecture that will be presented by Janet Stephens on Thursday, September 19 in Fullerton Hall at 6pm. During her lecture on Ancient Roman Hairdressing: Fiction to Fact, Ms. Stephens will recreate several fashionable ‘dos of ancient Rome. It will be a lecture like you’ve never seen before.
—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art
Portrait Bust of a Woman (detail), A.D. 140-50. Roman. Restricted gifts of the Antiquarian Society in honor of Ian Wardropper, the Classical Art Society, Mr. and Mrs. Isak V. Gerson, James and Bonnie Pritchard, and Mrs. Hugo Sonnenschein; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bro Fund; Katherine K. Adler, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Alexander in honor of Ian Wardropper, David Earle III, William A. and Renda H. Lederer Family, Chester D. Tripp, and Jane B. Tripp endowments. Photo by Erika Dufour.
Still from “The Hairstyles of Faustina the Younger,” Janet Stephens. Youtube video. (September 18, 2012)
Denarius (Coin) Portraying Empress Faustina the Elder, Deified, after A.D. 141. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William F. Dunham.
We’re going to take a slightly different direction with this post. Because there are too many fun facts about Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children to pass up, in no particular order, here are five pieces of trivia about Renoir’s illustrious painting.
1. In the 1870s and 80s, Renoir was an in-demand society painter and it all started with this painting. Madame Charpentier and Her Children was commissioned in 1878 and first exhibited at the Impressionist Salon of 1879. Viewers and critics instantly recognized socialite Madame Charpentier as the wife of Georges Charpentier, the head of a successful publishing house. Society followers took note and a trend was born.
2. This painting features Madame Charpentier with her son and daughter. Yes, you read that correctly. Her son is in the painting. Paul is seated on the sofa next to his mother while his sister Georgette perches on the family’s Newfoundland. And while it was fairly common for young boys to be dressed like girls while they were very young, it was much less common for a boy to be dressed exactly like his older sister in matching white silk reception dresses.
3. This portrait also reflected the relatively new development in portrait painting of including the subjects’ surroundings. We can clearly see the Charpentier’s luxurious living room decked out in the of-the-moment Japanese style with painted screens and bamboo furniture. If you’ve yet to go through the exhibition, take note. Japanese influence in interiors is evident in several other paintings.
4. The Charpentiers had very close relationships with many 19th-century French luminaries. In addition to Renoir referring to himself as the Charpentier’s court painter, Madame also hosted a very influential Parisian salon, welcoming artists like Degas, Monet, and Manet and writers like Zola (Paul’s godfather) and Flaubert into her home.
5. When the Charpentier’s collection was sold at auction in 1907, The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased it through an intermediary for the unprecedented sum of 92,400 francs. It was thus the first painting added to the Met’s collection of Impressionist art.
Image Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Are we having fun yet? The answer appears to be a definitive “no” in this painting by Frédéric Bazille of his bourgeois family at their country home in Montpelier. But as we’ve discussed previously, most of the subjects of Impressionist paintings aren’t smiling, so just what is it that makes this painting feel different?
It’s due to the fact that each figure can also be read as an individual portrait. All are stiff and posed, as if for a camera. Most of the ten subjects (nine of Bazille’s family members with the artist in the upper left) stare straight out and appear to directly address the viewer.
Compare this with Monet’s Women in the Garden painted the year before. Here the focus is more clearly on the garments and the effect of light on the dresses, not as much on the individuals. Bazille was, however, very inspired by Monet’s en plein air painting and worked closely with the artist, even sharing a studio at one point. He also purchased Women in the Garden from Monet shortly after it was finished, so Family Reunion likely took some sun-dappled influence from Monet’s painting of contemporary fashion out of doors.
—Tricia Patterson, Marketing Coordinator
Image Credit: Frédéric Bazille. Family Reunion, 1867. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
The Impressionists clearly didn’t believe in “all work and no play.” At least not in depicting it. We’ve seen their subjects picnicking, shopping, strolling, and attending balls, circuses, and the opera, among other leisure activities. But not engaging in a lot of work. Until now. Degas’s Portraits at the Stock Exchange depicts bankers and investors furtively whispering tips and speculations on the street in front of the Bourse, the Parisian stock exchange.
And what a uniform they’re wearing. We’re looking at a sea of almost indistinguishable top hats and sack coats. As you look closely, you notice small differences—slight variations in color, small differences in collars—but they’re a rather homogeneous group. Which definitely spoke to the work they were doing. Their plain, sober clothing emphasized their practicality and respectability. These men clearly prioritized professional identity over a more personal one.
Most of the men are anonymous, but we do know that the man in the middle with the beard is the then thirty-four-year-old financier Ernest May. May was a collector and admirer of Degas’s work, and the painting may in fact be commenting on the idea that for businessmen like May, engagement with the art world represented another kind of speculative enterprise.
Image Credit: Edgar Degas. Portraits at the Stock Exchange, 1878–79. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest subject to usufruct in 1923 by Ernest May, RF 2444.
6 hours 25 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Today is National Pastry Day! You can have your cake and eat it too, with over 100 mouth-watering masterpieces, now on view in #ArtandAppetite.
8 hours 25 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago Christmas is fast approaching, and we have the perfect gift idea for your family and friends who love art, culture, and creativity—an Art Institute membership!
Purchase your gift membership by midnight tonight to ensure delivery by Christmas: http://bit.ly/1gT8Dnv