Monday, April 27, 2015


The Art Institute of Chicago has announced the largest gift of art in the museum’s 136-year history: the Edlis/Neeson Collection, 42 iconic masterpieces of contemporary art donated by the Chicago-based collectors and philanthropists Stefan T. Edlis and his wife, Gael Neeson. The gift includes nine works by Andy Warhol, three paintings by Jasper Johns, one Robert Rauschenberg Combine, two paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, four paintings by Gerhard Richter, and a painting and sculpture by Cy Twombly. Works by Brice Marden, Eric Fischl, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Charles Ray, Takashi Murakami, Katharina Fritsch, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and John Currin complete the exceptional gift.

The Edlis/Neeson Collection includes an outstanding selection of internationally recognized masterpieces that capture the collectors’ passion for art created at mid-century and beyond: the important work that paved the path to Pop Art, Warhol and the full flowering of the movement, and its imprint on later artists. 

The heart of the collection is nine works by Andy Warhol,

Andy Warhol, "Self-Portrait", 1964. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection. 

Andy Warhol's 'Self-Portrait' (1966) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection
including two self-portraits 

Twelve Jackies (1964), 

Big Electric Chair ( 1967–68),

and the later works 

Mona Lisa Four Times (1978) 

and Pat Hearn (diptych) (1985). 

Jasper Johns is represented by three archetypal paintings: Target (1961) (see below)

Figure 4 (1959), and 

Alphabet (1959). 

Two later Roy Lichtenstein paintings—

Artist’s Studio “Foot Medication” (1974) 

and Woman III (1982)

—trace the legacy of Pop Art into the 1970s and 1980s, a story carried into sculptures by Jeff Koons, included here with Christ and the Lamb (1988) and 

Bourgeois Bust–Jeff and Ilona (1991). 

Works by Gerhard Richter from both the 1960s (Hunting Party and Stadtbild) and the 1980s (Davos and Venedig) offer a view into his evolution as a painter and complement the Art Institute’s own rich holdings of Richter. 

The revival of figurative painting is also a part of the collection, seen in Eric Fischl’s Slumber Party (1983) and John Currin’s Stamford After Brunch (2000). 

Twelve photographs—six by Richard Prince and six by Cindy Sherman—touch on the gender and identity issues critical to art from the 1980s and beyond. 

The Edlis family—a widowed mother and her three children, Lotte (18), Stefan (15), and Herbert (3)—arrived in the United States from Vienna in March 1941. Their journey from their home in Austria had begun four weeks earlier and took them via train through occupied France and Spain, then via ship from Lisbon to a midtown pier in Manhattan. Another branch of the family had been prominent members of Pittsburgh society since the turn of the century, and Edlis’s cousin Jerome provided the necessary guarantees and used his connections to urge the Viennese consul to ensure the European refugees residence, which was very difficult to obtain due to the immigration quota system. They settled in New York with Edlis’s mother’s family, and though their resources were few, jobs were plentiful and it was a happy upbringing.  

At the age of 18, Edlis was drafted into the United States Navy and served in the Pacific. At the end of World War II, he found himself with a military discharge and a girlfriend in San Francisco, making a life in the Bay Area. While there, he worked in a small shop that pioneered the molding process of newly developed plastic compounds—a position that began his career in plastics manufacturing. He moved to Chicago in 1950 and at 25 memorably claimed to be 35 and a plant manager to land a position (which understandably did not last long). Fifteen years later, he had acquired enough experience, capital, knowledge, and customers to build the small but highly profitable Apollo Plastics Corporation, which he sold to a former business associate in 2000. It is still operating successfully in the same location under the leadership of the associate’s sons. 

Edlis and Neeson directed those same energies into their shared passion for arts and culture, not only building a deep private collection but also being active patrons of Chicago’s cultural community. Edlis has been a life trustee and leading donor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for decades, where he and his wife have donated iconic works of art, named the Edlis Neeson Theater, and established a major acquisitions fund.


Jasper Johns. Target, 1961. 

By incorporating found images and objects into his work in the 1950s and early 1960s, Jasper Johns was a catalyst in the shift away from the visual and critical dominance of Abstract Expressionist artists. The Edlis/Neeson gift includes three seminal Johns works from this era—Figure 4(1959), Alphabet(1959), and the iconic Target(1961). Target is an example of one of Johns’ most recognizable and important motifs and captures the play between art, object, and sign that would pave the way for Pop Art. 

Robert Rauschenberg. Untitled, circa 1955. 

Robert Rauschenberg is represented in the gift to the Art Institute by Untitled (1955), one of the most significant Combines of his career. The Combines—hybrids of painting and sculpture incorporating found materials and images—challenged the two-dimensional limits of the canvas and attempted to bridge what Rauschenberg called “the gap between art and life.” This pivotal piece belonged to Jasper Johns for decades; the string hanging from the toy parachute is argued to have inspired Johns’ Catenary series.

 Cy Twombly. Untitled (Bolsena), 1969.

One of fourteen large canvases that Twombly produced by himself in the isolated Palazzo del Drago north of Rome during August and September 1969, Untitled (Bolsena )is both abstract and cryptically graphic—a crucial example ofa transitional moment in twentieth-centuryart. The gift will also include Twombly’s sculpture Untitled(1953), which Edlis and Neeson acquiredfrom the collection of Robert Rauschenberg. That sculpture is widely acknowledged as among the artist’s most important objects.

Andy Warhol. Liz#3 [Early Colored Liz], 1963. The Stefan T. Edlis Collection, Partial and Promised Gift to the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Andy Warhol is represented by nine iconic paintings, including two self-portraits;exemplary images of Jacqueline Kennedy, Liz Taylor, and the Mona Lisa;and a definitive electric chair. This gift allows the Art Institute to now claim the best collection of Warhol’s work in any encyclopedic museum in the world.

The Edlis/Neeson Collection includes works by artists such as Cindy Sherman who, inheriting the formal and conceptual strategies of Pop Art, applied them to mass culture in innovative ways. Six works from Sherman’s most important series, the Centerfolds(1981), join six “appropriations” by Richard Prince to form a portfolio of contemporary photography within the gift.

Jasper Johns' 'Alphabet' (1959) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection
Andy Warhol's 'Flowers' (1964) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection

Andy Warhol's 'Little Race Riot' (1964) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection
Richard Prince's 'Untitled (fashion)' (1982-84) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Collection

Cindy Sherman's 'Untitled #92' (1981) The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edlis/Neeson Colle

Friday, April 17, 2015

Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), from April 15—June 14, 2015

For the first time in Boston, the “most beautiful drawing in the world” and a recently discovered self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) will be displayed. Presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), from April 15—June 14, 2015, Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty features a number of highly admired drawings by Leonardo.

The exhibition, organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art, explores the artist’s concept of ideal beauty through 30 drawings and manuscripts by Leonardo, Michelangelo and their followers. Because he left so few paintings, Leonardo’s drawings have been recognized for centuries as the deepest window into the workings of his mind.

 One drawing,

 Head of a Young Woman (about 1483–85),

has been considered by some to be the “most beautiful drawing in the world,” bringing together his ideal of beauty and convincing naturalism to an astonishing degree.

The Codex on the Flight of Birds (about 1505),

an important loan from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, features

a newly discovered self-portrait. Identified five years ago, the partially hidden portrait depicts the artist at age 50.

Works on view in the exhibition include a rich and varied selection of loans from Italy—primarily from the Uffizi Museum in Florence and the Biblioteca Reale. On view in the MFA’s Lois and Michael Torf Gallery, the exhibition also includes seven drawings by Michelangelo (1475–1564) and one from his studio, offering a unique opportunity to compare a series of these rivals’ drawings. Through the artists’ works, visitors can see how their ideals of beauty were often polarized, with Michelangelo more concerned with abstract, super-human ideals than the natural world that tantalized Leonardo.

Leonardo’s works represent the culmination of the early Renaissance idea of beauty, and reflect his view that ideal beauty could be observed by study of the most perfect human features. He was the consummate “Renaissance Man,” the painter of the Mona Lisa as well as a scientist—designing flying machines and studying anatomy in intricate detail. Dedicated to Leonardo’s artistic style and philosophy, the exhibition is organized into sections focusing on the “Idea of Beauty”—including old age and youth; “Divine and Worldly Beauty;” and “Science and Anatomy.” Every decade in Leonardo’s career is represented, as well as his influence on his pupils—known as the Leonardeschi—and his greatest rival, Michelangelo.

“This exhibition presents a wonderful opportunity to spend time with a number of rarely displayed works, and to appreciate their timeless appeal,” said Helen Burnham, Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings at the MFA. “Leonardo’s drawings offer an intimate view into the workings of his extraordinary mind. They capture our attention with incomparable freshness and immediacy.”

From an early age, Leonardo had the habit of sketching people in profile, observing their faces as they assumed all varieties of appearance and expression. His interest in the craggy imperfections of old age and the loveliness of ideal youth is embodied in the celebrated red chalk drawing,

An Old Man and a Youth Facing One Another (about 1500–1505). The young man may be based on Salai, a servant in the artist’s household who epitomized Leonardo’s notions of beauty. By contrast, the older man is a variation on an imagined warrior who appears often in the artist’s sketches. Working backward from old age to youth, the installation includes drawings by Leonardo and his assistants, as well as examples by Michelangelo and his studio. Two Drapery Studies executed at the very beginning of Leonardo’s career are a highlight of the section, and are among the artist’s greatest accomplishments.

Among a group of drawings depicting “Divine and Worldly Beauty” is Head of a Young Woman (Study for the Angel in the “Virgin of the Rocks”) (about 1483–85) (above). Said to be the most beautiful drawing in the world by art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, the work is a study for the oil painting known as the  

Virgin of the Rocks (in the Louvre Museum)

—representing a universally admired example of Leonardo’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Another drawing, A Young Woman (1495–1500), was also once considered to be among Leonardo’s finest works.

The exhibition offers an opportunity to rediscover this enchanting drawing, which in 1880 was one of only two chosen for illustration in a seminal book on the artist. More than a century later it is relatively little known. The section on “Divine and Worldly Beauty” encompasses a number of Leonardo’s depictions of angels, which appear both divine and earthly in the works on view.

The final section, “Science and Anatomy,” includes the famed Codex on the Flight of Birds, which was recently found to contain a partially hidden self-portrait. The discovery was made in 2009 by a team of Italian journalists, imaging technicians and facial surgeons. The face, isolated from the writing, is convincingly similar to a drawing in the collection of the Biblioteca Reale, long believed to represent the artist in distinguished old age. However, much debate surrounds Leonardo studies, and the team’s conclusion has been doubted by a number of scholars. Aside from the self-portrait, the codex itself is an extraordinary compilation of Leonardo’s sketches and thoughts on flight. The topics covered in the work include the aerodynamics of a bird’s ascent and descent, the fluidity of air as it moves over a wing, and the difference between the center of gravity and the center of pressure on the avian form. Displayed in a sealed case and open to the newly discovered self-portrait, the entire codex includes numerous sketches and drawings.

Leonardo’s practice of drawing from life was on the cutting edge of scientific exploration in the Renaissance. Long fascinated by the “similarities of flight of birds, bats, fishes, animals, insects,” Leonardo’s scientific studies also include drawings of horses—animals Leonardo owned, rode, cared for, and sketched throughout his life—and insects.

Two Studies of Insects (Study of a Beetle) (about 1480-1500) and Study of a Dragonfly (about 1505)

were drawn at different points in the artist’s life, but were mounted together on a single sheet by a collector, perhaps in homage to the extraordinary powers of observation captured by the small studies. Two of the prior owners of this drawing—one, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a well-known British artist—left their marks (identifiable stamps) on the sheet, a tradition in the ownership of Old Master drawings.

Within the exhibition, drawings by Michelangelo and his studio—on loan from the Casa Buonarroti, his ancestral property in Florence—are displayed alongside Leonardo’s works. Both artists were fascinated by ideals of beauty, but looked to different sources for inspiration. Michelangelo more readily departed from nature and valued such incalculable qualities as gracefulness, power and drama as much as representation. Michelangelo’s practice of borrowing and exchanging (and improving) conventional forms of anatomy was an integral part of his approach, unlike Leonardo’s closer fidelity to the original natural source.

Michelangelo’s forceful Study of a male nude for the figure of Naason’s Wife in the Sistine Chapel (1511)

is an example of his relative freedom from anatomical exactness—a criterion that Leonardo never fully abandoned. The MFA previously displayed a number of the artist’s drawings in the exhibition Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Master Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti in 2013.

The Leonardeschi: Leonardo’s Pupils and Followers

No Leonardo exhibition is complete without including works by his close followers, which are sometimes so close in style and quality to his own that it is difficult to tell them apart. Leonardo encouraged pupils to copy his designs, and he would correct and even rework their drawings. A “Leonardesque” style emerged and was disseminated by his pupils as well as a large group of followers and imitators. Together they’re known as the Leonardeschi, and the exhibition includes an important selection of works associated with them. The drawing

Head of an Old Man (about 1515) could be attributed to Leonardo or Cesare da Sesto—one of the more original members of Leonardo’s circle in Milan. This work may belong to a group by Leonardo depicting a similar-looking elderly man at different stages of maturity, or it may be by Cesare, who executed many drawings and paintings based on Leonardo’s designs.

This history explains some of the difficulty in differentiating Leonardo’s works from those of his followers. It also gives a sense of the group’s priorities—what they valued in the teachings of their master. Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty invites visitors to try their hand at attribution, looking for characteristics such as Leonardo’s left-handedness in the works on view.

Italy and the MFA

The exhibition continues the MFA’s ongoing special relationship with Italy. In September 2006, the MFA transferred 13 antiquities to Italy and signed an agreement with the Italian Ministry of Culture, marking the beginning of a new era of cultural exchange. It included the creation of a partnership in which the Italian government would lend significant works from Italy to the MFA’s displays and special exhibitions program and established a process by which the MFA and Italy would exchange information with respect to the Museum’s future acquisitions of Italian antiquities. The partnership also envisaged collaboration in the areas of scholarship, conservation, archaeological investigation and exhibition planning. Other significant loans have included a connoisseurship study of four paintings by, or attributed to, Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio (2014);

the Senigallia Madonna by Renaissance master Piero della Francesca (2013);

the Capitoline Brutus, a rare bronze bust of a Roman statesman dating to around 300 B.C. (2013);

and the marble statue Eirene (Goddess of Peace) (2006);

as well as masterpieces lent to the exhibitions Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane, Master Drawings from the Casa Buonarroti (2013);

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice (2009);

and Aphrodite and the Gods of Love (2011).

Edward Hopper's "Two Puritans" to Lead Spring American Art Sale | Christie's New York, May 21

On May 21, as the star lot of its sale of American Art, Christie’s will offer  

Two Puritans by Edward Hopper (1882-1967).

Painted in 1945 at the height of Hopper’s career, Two Puritans, one of only three canvases by the artist of that year and the only one in private hands,  is estimated to bring in excess of $20 million when it appears at auction for the first time this spring.  The painting has been included in nearly every major exhibition and publication on the artist and, most recently was on view in Paris at the Grand Palais, where the Hopper exhibition broke attendance records, proving that the artist has arrived on an international stage.

Elizabeth Beaman, Head of American Art, states; “Edward Hopper's masterwork Two Puritans can be considered at once an intimate and revealing portrait of the artist and his wife, as well as a testament to his dogged dedication to realism in the face of a changing visual world that increasingly championed abstraction. We are privileged to offer this seminal work, which has never appeared at auction before.”   

Hopper's oeuvre is defined by what is at first glance a seemingly mundane, American subject yet in each canvas, and perhaps most poignantly in Two Puritans, a complex psychological subtext lies just beneath the surface, betraying the simplicity of the scene.  The frisson created in this disconnect between subject and meaning defines his best work and imbues his compositions with an almost haunting permanence, leaving an indelible mark on the mind's eye. This ability to distill time, to freeze a single moment in perpetuity, cemented his legacy and inspired future generations of artists.

Edward Hopper’s choice and earnest representation of commonplace subject matter in works such as Two Puritans set the artist apart from his contemporaries and allowed him to create a new and uniquely American iconography.  In Two Puritans and throughout his career, Hopper painted aspects of America that few other artists addressed.  He portrayed unromantic visions of life in a broad and increasingly modern style. While Hopper's paintings have formal qualities in common with other Modernists, his art remained steadfastly realist.

In recent seasons, prices for Hopper’s paintings have soared at auction, driven by renewed demand for masterpiece-quality works.  In October 2013,

East Wind Over Weehawken

 sold for $40,485,000 setting a new world auction record for the artist and in November of 2012,  

October on Cape Cod 

sold via Christie’s LIVE™ for $9.6 million, setting the world record for an item sold online at any international auction house.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Science shows there is more to a Rembrandt's Susanna and the Elders than meets the eye

Art historians and scientists use imaging methods to virtually "dig" under or scan various layers of paint and pencil. This is how they decipher how a painter went about producing a masterpiece - without harming the original. A comparative study with a Rembrandt van Rijn painting as its subject found that the combined use of three imaging techniques provides valuable complementary information about what lies behind this artwork's complex step-by-step creation. The study, led by Matthias Alfeld of the University of Antwerp in Belgium, is published in Springer's journal Applied Physics A: Materials Science and Processing.

Rembrandt's oil painting Susanna and the Elders is dated and signed 1647. It hangs in the art museum Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, Germany. The painting contains a considerable amount of the artist's changes or so-called pentimenti (from the Italian verb pentire: ''to repent") underneath the current composition. This was revealed in the 1930s when the first X-ray radiography (XRR) was done on it. More hidden details about changes made with pigments other than lead white were discovered when the painting was investigated in 1994 using neutron activation autoradiography (NAAR).

Alfeld's team chose to investigate Susana and the Elders not only because of its clearly visible pentimenti, but also because of its smaller size. Macro-X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) scans could thus be done in a single day using an in-house scanner at the museum in Berlin. These were then compared to existing radiographic images of the painting.

All three techniques (the early X-ray radiography, and the later neutron activation autoradiography and the recently developed macro-X-ray fluorescence scans) reveal considerable changes were made to the painting. Alfeld's team found that the images of the elements used which were acquired by X-ray fluorescence scans are the easiest to interpret. This is because most of the individual elements are clearly separated. A broader range of elements can also be studied, compared to using autoradiography. However, X-ray fluorescence scans can only be used to detect bone black on the surface of a painting and not in sub-surface layers, such as is found in hidden sketches.

Autoradiography is a very suitable tool to study pigments such as bone black, umber, copper-based greens and blues, smalt and vermilion, but not for calcium, iron and lead. It is also the only method capable of visualizing phosphorous, present in bone black, in lower paint layers. With X-ray radiography and autoradiography, single brush strokes can be discerned, which helps with the study of the painting technique employed.

"Given the relatively short time and less effort required for investigations using X-ray fluorescence scans, this technique is expected to be applied more frequently in the future than autoradiography," says Alfeld. "However, due to the capability of the latter method to visualize the distribution of certain elements through strongly absorbing covering layers, both methods ultimately provide complementary information. This is especially true for phosphorous, which was found present in the sketching of the painting investigated."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Edmund Charles Tarbell


Edmund Charles Tarbell was born 26 April 1862 in West Groton, Massachusetts and raised by his grandparents in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. He showed an early aptitude for drawing, studied briefly at the Massachusetts Normal School (1877-1878), and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed at the Forbes Lithographic Company.

After three years at Forbes, Tarbell entered the Boston Museum School where he befriended fellow students Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) and Robert Reid (1862-1929), and studied under Otto Grundmann (1844-1890) and Frederick Crowninshield (1845-1918). In 1884 Tarbell joined Benson and Reid at the Academie Julian in Paris. Among his teachers were Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888), Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911), Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1888), and the American expatriate William Turner Dannat (1853-1929).

In France Tarbell became aware of the work of the Impressionists and was able to study at length paintings by Old Masters in the collection of the Louvre. Before returning to America, Tarbell and Benson traveled through Italy and England.

Once back in the United States, in 1886, Tarbell took a studio in Boston, but also almost immediately went to New York to seek out William Merritt Chase who was at that time president of the Society of American Artists. Tarbell subsequently became a member of the Society and exhibited with them, and at the National Academy of Design, regularly. From about 1886 to 1888 he earned an income as a magazine illustrator and portraitist.

He married Emeline Arnold Souther in 1888 and soon thereafter began teaching at the Boston Museum School, becoming the head of the painting department there upon the death of Otto Grundmann in 1890. Tarbell taught there for the next twenty-three years. Shortly after a conflict that caused his resignation from the school in 1913, he founded and became president of the Guild of Boston Artists. At this time he was already well-known for his contributions to the Boston art world and for his stature as a member of The Ten, the group of established painters that eventually resigned from the conservative Society of American Artists, holding their own exhibition in 1898.

In 1918 Tarbell was chosen for the directorship of the Corcoran School of Art. He spent about seven years in Washington, D.C., but was abroad for a good part of this time, executing portraits. The United States government commissioned likenesses of President Woodrow Wilson and Marshall Ferdinand Foch (both 1920, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.). By 1926 the artist had retired to his home in New Castle, New Hampshire, where he died in 1938.

During his lifetime Tarbell was a tremendously important influence in for Boston artists. His students, and many of his established colleagues as well, were termed "Tarbellites" and adhered to his program of high standards of execution in painting and drawing, and a preference for genteel subject matter. Their style was acceptable to their upperclass patrons who were grudgingly wooed away from a strict belief in the superiority of European artists, to a new appreciation of native talent. Tarbell's own work was widely exhibited and he was the recipient of numerous awards and medals, including the Thomas B. Clarke prize of the National Academy of Design (1890, 1894, and 1900), Columbian Exposition Medal (1893), and Lippincott Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1895).
 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Tarbell, Edmund Charles
, American, 1862 - 1938
Mother and Mary
oil on canvas
overall: 112.1 x 127.5 cm (44 1/8 x 50 3/16 in.)
framed: 130.8 x 146.1 cm (51 1/2 x 57 1/2 in.)
Gift of the Belcher Collection, Stoughton, Massachusetts


Hansom Cab in London


Edmund Tarbell (1862-1938)

Still Life


Edmund Charles Tarbell
(American, 1862-1938)
Still life with flowers and Oriental statue 30 x 25in
US$ 20,000 - 30,000
£14,000 - 21,000


Edmund Charles Tarbell
Estimate 250,000350,000 USD

Edmund Charles Tarbell

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary sale on May 13 2015: LUCIAN FREUD’S MONUMENTAL MASTERPIECE

Building on the success of its record-breaking Lucian Freud sale in 2008, Christie‘s is proud to announce the auction of one of Lucian Freud’s most famous and iconic paintings as the highlight of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary sale on May 13. 

Benefits Supervisor Resting is regarded as Freud’s ultimate tour de force, a life-size masterwork in the grand historical tradition of the female nude, painted obsessively with intense scrutiny and abiding truth. This bold and extraordinary example of the stark power of Lucian Freud’s realism reveals his unique ability to capture the reality of the human form in all its natural force. 

Chosen by Freud as the cover of the definitive monograph about the artist, Benefits Supervisor Resting was included by the artist in every major museum exhibition devoted to Freud, including Tate Britain, London, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the recent survey The Facts and the Truth: Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Benefits Supervisor Resting is poised to break the previous auction record for the artist achieved in 2008 with another portrait of the same sitter, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which sold for $33.6 million, setting a record at the time for any living artist.

 “Benefits Supervisor Resting is recognized internationally as Freud’s masterpiece and proclaims him as one of the greatest painters of the human form in history alongside Rembrandt and Rubens,” states Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Art at Christie’s. “This painting is a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud's love of the human body. The sitter, Sue Tilley, is calm and confident, relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She is  very much in control, taking on the artist and the viewer. A contemporary take on the Odalisque and the fertility goddess, with her head flung back, she exudes an intriguing ambiguity, implying ecstasy, defiance and the deep exhale of peacefulness. Freud described Sue Tilley as an extremely feminine sitter, and he has painted her with an objectivity and sensuality that is brought alive by the incredible use of brushwork and color harmony. He observed every inch of her with an uncritical eye almost daily for more than 9 months. The surface is amazing and almost sculptural in its layering of color.”      

Lying in resplendent repose in the painter’s modest London studio, Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Resting is regarded as one of the most remarkable paintings of the human figure ever produced. Featuring Sue Tilley, a local government worker from London and one of the artist’s favorite sitters, this extraordinary portrait demonstrates Freud’s mastery of the painterly medium as he records the subtle nuances of Tilley’s figure with astute observation and technical brilliance. Painted over a grueling nine month period in 1994, with Tilley sitting for long hours four or five times a week, this remarkably candid portrait is a stunning essay on Freud’s patient painterly practice, in which he undertakes an exhaustive examination of the human form and renders every curve, fold, blemish and contour of Tilley’s body with deeply evocative force.

Sue Tilley was introduced to Freud by the performance artist and designer, Leigh Bowery, another of Freud’s great subjects. Tilley, the author of Bowery’s biography, was nervous on first meeting Freud but like most of his sitters grew more comfortable and confident as she came to know him. After Freud’s first picture of her, Evening in the Studio of 1993, which was originally to have also included Bowery and for which she was forced to lie on the bare floor in an extremely uncomfortable pose, Freud bought the dilapidated sofa that appears in this painting for her to sit on. 

I am only interested in painting the actual person, in doing a painting of them, not in using them to some ulterior end of art. For me, to use someone doing something not native to them would be wrong. If I am putting someone in a picture I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their way: that way they are there not to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of my picture and I am recording them.”

Freud reworked the traditional theme of the nude, using a strong, uncompromising technique. Presented exposed and naked on a sofa set down on a bare wooden floor, this portrait and interior is both monumental and magnificent. Bruce Bernard, picture editor, photographer and friend of the artist stated: the portraits of Sue Tilley “are major contributions to the sum of Western painting of the nude, and may even put the final stop to the classical tradition.”  The undeniable and almost overwhelming physical presence of Tilley’s relaxed and confident naked form demonstrates Freud’s extraordinary depth and apparently infinite richness of stark reality. Going on to state that it is “truthfulness as revealing and intrusive, rather than rhyming and soothing.”

"The task of the artist," Freud once declared, "is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn't free, it can't do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Promised Land: Jacob Lawrence at the Cantor Arts Center April 1–August 3, 2015

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the late Dr. Herbert J. Kayden of New York City and his daughter Joelle Kayden, Stanford MBA ’81, of Washington, D.C., the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University now holds one of the largest collections in any museum of the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000). Lawrence is among the most important artists of the 20th century and is a leading voice in the artistic portrayal of the African American experience. Staunch supporters of Stanford and the Cantor’s educational mission, the Kaydens have gifted to the museum an unparalleled collection of 56 works by Lawrence and one by his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence. The gift is comprised of five paintings, 11 drawings, 39 prints and one illustrated book, all dating between 1943 and 1998 and all given in memory of Dr. Gabrielle H. Reem, who is Herbert Kayden’s wife and Joelle Kayden’s mother.

Jacob Lawrence (U.S.A., 1917–2000), Builders No. 3, 1973. Gouache, tempera and
graphite on paper. Gift of Dr. Herbert J. Kayden and Family in memory of Dr. Gabrielle H.
Reem, 2013.103 © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

With this addition to its collection, the Cantor is now positioned to be a leading resource for students and scholars to study both Lawrence and the social and political conditions of the historical era in which he produced this important work. While long-term academic and community engagement with the Kayden collection will unfold over many years, in immediate celebration of the gift, the museum is delighted to announce the first ever exhibition of these works together. Promised Land: Jacob Lawrence at the Cantor, A Gift from the Kayden Family both honors the Kayden family and marks a revelatory moment in the examination of this great American artist.

Befitting the Kaydens’ entwined commitments to both art and education, the exhibition planning includes a course for undergraduate students at Stanford taught by Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, the Cantor’s Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. This intensive introduction to Lawrence’s career and key aspects of curatorial and art historical practices enabled 12 students to design the gallery layout and write exhibition texts. The resulting installation displays these works together for the first time.

“We feel deeply honored that the Kaydens chose Stanford as the ‘best home’ for the art,” said Cantor Director Connie Wolf. “They decided that the collection could add great value not just for Stanford students and researchers, but for the entire Northern California community as well. With this exhibition and an accompanying publication, we celebrate this generous gift while also providing new insights and perspectives on a great American artist who was such an influential force in 20th-century art.”

Promised Land charts the evolution of Lawrence’s distinctive and dynamic visual style over six decades. Lawrence’s work offers a sweeping panorama of the black experience in America that includes images of the struggle against slavery, the rise of Harlem as a center of black culture, the contributions African American builders made to the transformation of America’s cities in the first half of the 20th century and meditations on the artist’s creative journey. The works from the Kayden family gifts have never before been the subject of a focused exhibition, and the Cantor Arts Center is the exclusive venue for Promised Land.

The exhibition offers the rare opportunity to examine paintings and drawings from this master draftsman renowned for chronicling the black experience in America. Highlights include the searing Civil-Rights-era canvas  

Ordeal of Alice (1963)

and the early Harlem gouache-on-paper painting  

At Times It’s Hard to Get a Table in A Pool Room (1943).

The installation demonstrates Lawrence’s gift for observing life and telling a story, whether he was capturing the everyday details of Harlem or reconstructing critical moments in African American history. His bold, abstract yet figurative style—a hybrid European Cubism and early 20th-century Social Realism—is also apparent in the 39 prints, which include a complete set of his first print portfolio,

 The Legend of John Brown (1978),

Jacob Lawrence, "And God said 'Let the Earth bring forth grass, trees, fruits, and herbs.'", Eight studies for The Book of Genesis, 1989-90, 8 silk-screen prints on Whatman Print Matt paper, Collection of Alitash Kebede, Los Angeles, CA.

(above: Jacob Lawrence, "And God created all the beasts of the earth", Eight studies for The Book of Genesis, 1989-90, 8 silk-screen prints on Whatman Print Matt paper, Collection of Alitash Kebede, Los Angeles, CA.)

 and an artist’s proof edition of Eight Studies for “The Book of Genesis” (1989–1990).

More on the Legend of John Brown graphic series:

Consisting of twenty-two silk-screen prints, the portfolio is based on Lawrence’s same-size gouache paintings from 1941 (owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts) that explore the life of the controversial abolitionist. In 1977, when the paintings had become too fragile for public display and access, the Detroit museum commissioned Lawrence to reproduce them as limited-edition screen-prints. Each painting was originally displayed with the artist’s accompanying text, which builds on the powerful visual narrative. Lawrence’s John Brown series was among the historical epics he produced in the 1930s and 1940s focusing on heroic 19th-century figures like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass as well as the Great Migration of the early 20th-century.

As Lawrence explained: “The inspiration to paint the Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown series was motivated by historical events as told to us by the adults of our community . . . the black community. The relating of these events, for many of us, was not only very informative but also most exciting to us, the men and women of these stories were strong, daring and heroic; and therefore we could and did relate to these by means of poetry, song and paint.”

From a review:

Notable pieces include “The Ordeal of Alice,” a wrenching portrait of a young black girl clutching her school books, shot by arrows like Saint Sebastian, a representation of the racial violence surrounding attempts to integrate public schools. In contrast, Lawrence’s beautiful 1977 painting

University” depicts a utopian mix of races in the hectic rush between college classes. Looking hopefully to the future and respectfully to the past, Lawrence rendered under-appreciated chapters of American history in works like

The Last Journey,” an illustration of Harriet Tubman’s heroic wagon journeys across the Canadian border.

The Publication

Promised Land is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by eight Stanford faculty members, researchers and curators. With a fresh and interdisciplinary approach, the publication examines major works from the Kayden gifts to illuminate the social and political contexts for their iconography and to explore the artist’s significance to American art. The publication features a biography of Lawrence, seven essays and fully illustrated catalogue entries for all of the works in the collection. Catalogue essays include:

• “An Anatomy of an Artist: Notes on Jacob Lawrence” and “Catalogue” by Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Cantor Arts Center
• “The Ordeal of Alice” by Clayborne Carson, Director, Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute; Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor of History, History Department; Member of Academic Council
• “Lawrence’s Plenty” by Alexander Nemerov, Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Department of Art & Art History
• “Lawrence and History” by James T. Campbell, Edgar E. Robinson Professor in United States History, Department of History
• “Coloring the Whitney” by Richard Meyer, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History, Department of Art & Art History
• “Imagining the World of Jacob Lawrence” by Bryan Wolf, Jones Professor of American Art and Culture Emeritus, Department of Art & Art History
• "Images of Higher Learning: Jacob Lawrence’s University" by Harry J. Elam, Jr., Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities; Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
• “Moving Forward Together: New York in Transit” by Michele Elam, Professor of English; Olivier Nomellini Family Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Department of English

Jacob Lawrence 

Lawrence, born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917, was active as an artist from his teen years until he died in Seattle, Washington, in 2000. He arrived in Harlem in 1930 and became deeply integrated into its artistic community. He was then employed by the Works Progress Administration in the easel division and the Civilian Conservation Corps, and served in the Coast Guard on the first racially integrated ship in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Lawrence referred to his work as “dynamic cubism,” with its bold colors and shapes. He was strongly impacted by artist and childhood mentor Charles Alston, artist Josef Albers of the Bauhaus and the artists of the Mexican muralist movement. His narrative paintings often reflect his personal experience or depict key moments in African American history, including the accomplishments of people such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and the achievements of the American civil rights movement.

Lawrence was the first African American artist to be represented by a major New York commercial gallery and the first visual artist to receive the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor.