Category Archives: Fine Arts

Video: The Art Connection


We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out on Sunday, April 14 to mark the opening of The Art Connection Annual Student Exhibition! Check out the video to see our student artists hard at work in the museum’s studios as they prepared for this year’s exhibition. Throughout the school year, students in grades 5–9 worked through the creative process with the help of teaching artists in the museum’s galleries and studios. Artworks in this year’s exhibition reflect the influence of recent exhibitions such as White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Art at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939, and Cory Arcangel: Masters.

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Japan is the Key


There is a lot of work that goes into preparing an exhibition, even the relatively small shows that go on view in Gallery One. Much of the work is not exactly glamorous—hours spent in libraries paging through deteriorating volumes covered in 100-year-old dust, or hours spent removing 100-year-old dust from a work of art—but it can still be very exciting (seriously)! When Lulu Lippincott, curator of fine arts, first had the idea to exhibit our early Japanese print collection, she wanted to present the works in a different context than they have been shown at CMOA in the past. Remembering that both our collection and our neighbor’s (Carnegie Museum of Natural History) contained a number of Japanese ivory sculptures in storage, we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to bring the two mediums, woodblock prints and ivories, together in one exhibition exploring the early history of collecting Japanese art at this museum. The exhibition, “Japan is the Key…”: Collecting Prints and Ivories, 1900–1920will be on view March 30–July 21, 2013, in Gallery One.

A key figure in our story is ketchup magnate Henry J. Heinz, an avid collector who donated over a thousand ivory sculptures to the museum. While the majority of these are small-scale works ranging from two to 14 inches tall, there is one that soars above the rest—a life-size ivory eagle measuring nearly four feet tall. Heinz purchased the work for the museum in 1913 during his travels throughout Asia and it had been on continuous view until the early 1990s. For those of us who can’t remember or who have never seen the giant eagle, it is easy to be stunned by the sheer size of it; knowing that it is constructed out of such a precious material only adds to its magnificence.

Having spent nearly 20 years in storage, the giant eagle has accumulated layers of dust and other particulates on its surface. Thankfully, it was kept in the original case built for its display in 1913 which has managed to offer some additional protection over the years—although the two jars of pesticides which were sealed inside offered a rather… malodorous surprise when it was opened for cleaning. Over the next several weeks, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s objects conservator Gretchen Anderson and her team of interns will be analyzing and cleaning the eagle before it goes into our exhibition. As a rare treat, the team will work in full view of the public and, yes, they do take questions! You’ll be amazed by the resourcefulness of objects conservators and stunned to find out their use of common household materials, such as makeup sponges and chunks of a Magic Eraser to remove the grime.

Next time you visit the museum, skip the PaleoLab (just this once) and head up to the third floor’s Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians (at the back of Polar World) where you can see this team of conservators in action. They’ll be there 10 a.m.–4 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays for the duration of the conservation. If you don’t get a chance to see it being cleaned, it will be on view March 30–July 21, 2013, in Gallery One as part of the exhibition!

Installing the Presepio


P1090265Art handler Matt Cummings takes on the delicate task of installing figures in the middle of the scene for the Neapolitan presepio.

Every year on the Monday—Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, Carnegie Museum of Art staff installs the museum’s remarkable Neapolitan presepio. Beloved by Pittsburghers as an annual holiday tradition the presepio is an incredible multi-media work of art, created by 18th-century artisans in Naples.

Monday
We install the stage set within the steps of St. Gilles in the Hall of Architecture. The set is made up of dozens of platforms topped with miniature buildings, bridges, roads, rocks, and a stream. The various pieces are unified by the application of conservation-safe moss cloth.

P1090259A member of the so-called “Turkish band,” a common sight in the bustling Mediterranean port of 18th-century Naples.
P1090264Watch out—his sheep has a wild look in his eye.

Tuesday
In come the figures on rolling metal carts. More than 100 human and angelic characters, plus another dozen animals, and countless finimenti or finishing touches (tiny props like walking sticks, assorted foods for the marketplace, and tiny ceramic and silver jars and platters. If all goes well, we finish the day by suspending the host of angels overhead.

P1090288Museum staff place figures in the foreground, while the yellow ladder at back will help us install the angels overhead.
P1090287During the rest of the year the presepio figures rest in carefully padded and outfitted drawers like this one.

Wednesday
We polish off the installation with a green velvet skirt, gold stanchions, and didactic panels, as well as a special display case that provides an opportunity to see one figure up close.

P1090261The Moorish King Balthazar
P1090262This lady even has carefully crafted miniature earrings.
P1090269The fisherman is the oldest figure in the presepio, dating to 1700. A natural fit for a streamside spot, he also serves as an allegory for Christ, who was called the “fisher of men.”
P1090273This begging dog is quite a character with his upward gaze and wagging tail.
P1090293Art handler Steve Russ arranges items based on photographs from a previous year.

Manet and Zizi


woman-with-a-catEdouard Manet, Woman with a Cat  (Portrait of Mme. Manet), c. 1880, oil on canvas; Courtesy of Tate Images

Last week I took a road trip to Ohio to see the exhibition Manet: Portraying Life, currently on view at Toledo Museum of Art through January 1. While this enthralling exhibition focuses on Manet’s portraiture and figure paintings, a whimsical detail in a portrait of the artist’s wife Woman with a Cat (Portrait of Mme. Manet) especially caught my eye. Sitting prominently and contentedly on Madam Manet’s lap is the same black cat with white muzzle—Zizi—featured in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Still Life with Brioche (below), also from 1880.

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Edouard Manet, Still Life with Brioche, 1880, oil on canvas; William R. Scott, Jr. Fund; Carnegie Museum of Art

Manet’s repeated depiction of this family pet got me thinking about the wider, general role of cats in his oeuvre. Cats were a surprisingly important feature of Manet’s art for decades. Sometimes they are important to the overall meaning of a scene and always they reveal a lighter side to the artist and his genuine interest in these animals.

In Woman with a Cat, Manet vigorously and loosely paints his wife (née Suzanne Leenhoff) ensconced in pink. Zizi’s black fur stands out in stark contrast to the pale colors of the surrounding scene and becomes a prominent, centrally located feature of the composition. In Still Live with Brioche, however, many viewers don’t notice the cat until it is pointed out to them. In the darkly colored still life, Zizi’s head subtly enters the scene at the right edge. In both paintings, Zizi’s markings and facial features are rendered distinctly. This is clearly a cat that Manet knew well. Zizi’s cozy sleeping posture in Woman with a Cat also reveals an artist who was a keen observer and was well familiar with the body language and habits of cats.

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Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas; Via Musée d’Orsay

Perhaps the most important use of a cat in his painting career is found in his notorious Olympia, where the animal’s body language is also emotionally compelling, but in a different way. The angry black cat at the foot of the woman’s bed undoubtedly is a symbol of sexuality, but its presence—glaring defensively and arching its back—also helps make the viewer uncomfortably aware of their own role as an intruder into the scene. Cats and still life components are often important elements of Manet’s figurative paintings. This is true in Olympia and also in a painting such as The Luncheon (below).

E0702 MANET 8638Edouard Manet, The Luncheon, 1868, oil on canvas, 1911 Tschudi Contribution, Inv. no. 8638; Via Alte Pinakothek

In The Luncheon, a cat is seen curled over, one leg in the air in the act of bathing itself as a curious and light-hearted moment in the midst of an enigmatic trio of stoic figures and still life elements, including a partially peeled lemon. In yet another painting from the 1860s, Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, a cat plays with an orange on the floor at lower right in the composition. The trend of depicting cats and fruit together in one composition is continued in the late still life in Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection.

womanreclining
Edouard Manet, Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume, 1862–63, oil on canvas, Bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903, 1961.18.33; Via Yale University Art Gallery

Manet was part of an artistic and literary community enthralled with cats. Occasionally his use of cat motifs were inside jokes or references meant to speak specifically to his writer and artist friends. In this early example of the inclusion of a cat in a major canvas, a dedication to the photographer Nadar appears near the cat; this detail could be part of an elaborate set of personal references between Manet, Nadar, and Charles Baudelaire. Other works in Manet’s career reference his friendship to the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Manet also produced a famous lithographic poster called Cats’ Rendevous in relation to a publication on the history and behaviors of cats by the writer Jules Champfleury called Les Chats, illustrated by many prominent artists.

manet-chats-rendezvous
Edouard Manet, The Cats’ Rendezvous, lithograph, 1868; S.P. Avery Collection; Courtesy of NYPL

Portrayed variously as symbolic, suggestive, humorous, and domestic, the deceptively minor motif of the cat had a surprisingly large place in Manet’s repertoire of imagery and became very much associated with Manet’s artistic persona.

So, when visiting Gallery 6 in the Scaife wing of Carnegie Museum of Art and you see the small black and white head peeking into the frame of Manet’s still-life, it’s interesting to remember that Zizi is part of a rich and long tradition in the artist’s career.

Dogs also played a prominent role in Manet’s art… but that’s a post for another time…

Restoring the Urn of Life


urnscaifeGeorge Barnard Grey’s Urn of Life, now on view in the Scaife Galleries.

ORIGINS OF THE URN

The Urn of Life (c. 1898–1900)  is the unfinished repository for the ashes of Anton Seidl, the Hungarian composer and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Upon Seidl’s death, a group of the composer’s friends asked American sculptor George Grey Barnard to design his funerary urn. Barnard agreed to the commission and worked on the urn for two years. However, before Barnard could complete the sculpture, the original patrons decided the urn was too large, accepting instead a smaller model of one of the figures. The unfinished urn remained in Barnard’s studio until 1908 when he included it in an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

originalurnThe original urn as it appeared in 1908, with four large, chiseled feet. Also, the structural support behind the female figure’s head on the left no longer appears on the work. From the archives of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The urn was purchased by Carnegie Institute in 1919, and today it looks markedly different from when it arrived here in Pittsburgh. Still an unfinished work at the time, the smooth, conical section at the bottom was very roughly textured with point chisel marks and had four large, lobular feet that extended outward from the bottom edge. A letter from the Carnegie Institute archives from then director John Beatty to Barnard mentions: “Your man expects to finish the base on the Urn of Life tomorrow….” And thus the urn was given the form that is visible today.

DSCF1169Conservation technician Tasha Mowery begins the long restoration process.

THE RESTORATION

It had been quite a long time since the urn was on view here at the museum, and our curatorial staff decided it would be a nice addition to the newly renovated Scaife Galleries. At the time of the treatment, the white Carrara marble had become dark greenish-gray with embedded dust and soot; it had likely never been cleaned. Cleaning tests were conducted on the surface of the marble, starting with dry cleaning methods such as vacuuming and rubbing with powdered white vinyl eraser crumbs. Most conservators prefer to start with dry cleaning methods, as the use of cleaning liquids are a comparatively much more aggressive method. Vacuuming did remove a small amount of surface particulate and the eraser crumbs were found to reduce the ingrained dust and soot, but the eraser crumbs were difficult to apply and control on vertical surfaces and in tight recesses.

beforeafter1
Restoring the marble to its original color.

Through systematic testing we were able to develop a cleaning solution which selectively lifted away the dust and soot and left the marble unharmed. The most effective way to loosen the deposits was by poulticing the marble surface with a cotton pad soaked with the solution for several minutes and then gently scrubbing the area with cotton swabs, cotton pads, and soft brushes. Residues of the cleaning solution and any remaining dust or soot particles were cleared from the surface with a pressurized industrial steam generator which directs a concentrated jet of steam from a nozzle. While much of the sculpture had a smooth surface which could be more easily cleaned, there still remained large areas where the tooth chisel and point chisel texture remained. The layer of dust and soot was extremely tenacious in these areas, and they needed to be poulticed numerous times for extended periods. But after many hours and thanks to the hard work of conservation technician Tasha Mowery, we were able to restore the urn to its original color.

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Installing the nearly 1650-pound (!) urn in the newly renovated Scaife Galleries.

BACKGROUND

Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in 1863, Barnard attended the Art Institute of Chicago and from 1883 to 1887 worked in Paris while attending the École des Beaux-Arts. He lived in Paris for twelve years, exhibiting for the first time in the Salon of 1894. After returning to America in 1896, Barnard began to enjoy a successful career as a commissioned sculptor. Greatly influenced by Rodin, his major sculptures appear in cities throughout the eastern United States, including New York, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Among these are the monumental Carrara marble figural groups (completed in 1912) that flank the entrance to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. Barnard once remarked that his work on the Urn of Life guided him in the creation of these much larger works—”I found the seed which, when I planted, grew into the two compositions known as ‘Labor’ and ‘Love’ on either side of the Capitol…” Barnard died in 1938 and was buried in Harrisburg.

barnardBarnard working on The Hewer, one of his best known works, first exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. This photo appeared in World’s Work in 1902, not long after the Urn of Life was completed.