Category Archives: Fine Arts

Manet and Zizi

Edouard 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.

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.

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).

Edouard 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.

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.

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

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


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.

The 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.

Conservation technician Tasha Mowery begins the long restoration process.


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.

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.

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


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.

Barnard 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.


As you walk around the urn, the figures appear as one continuous group, flowing seamlessly into each other around the circumference of the sculpture. But Barnard conceived the figures as seven groupings of mystical beings representing distinct stages in the cycle of birth and death. (Inspired by Gothic sculpture and historiated capitals, Barnard originally intended to fill the surface of the urn by carving a second register of figures below the existing ones, but the work was never completed.)

Read Barnard’s own descriptions of the seven figural groups in the gallery below (the images move around the urn counterclockwise):

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Quotes from “The Urn of Life by George Grey Barnard,” undated handbill, George Grey Barnard Papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.


What Was Lincoln Really Like?

David Gilmour Blythe, Abraham Lincoln, Rail Splitter, 1860, oil on canvas, Gift of Paul Mellon, 63.19
David Gilmour Blythe, Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, oil on canvas, Museum purchase: gift of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Walton, 58.56.2

This weekend marks the opening of Lincoln, a film examining the last months of the president’s life. If you haven’t yet seen the newly renovated Scaife Galleries here at the museum, we currently have four portrayals of this great American figure on view. Two by Lincoln’s contemporary David Gilmour Blythe were painted during the heat of Lincoln’s campaign for the presidency in 1860 and in the aftermath of his famous Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (above). They depict Lincoln as his contemporaries knew him: an ambitious young politician surrounded by symbols of his messy fight for the Republican presidential nomination, and then in his notoriously disorganized White House office, in shirt sleeves and slippers as he drafts the document that would define his presidency. Blythe died in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s assassination.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Abraham Lincoln: The Man, 1884–1887, bronze, Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 43.8

The Museum’s other portraits reflect the transformation of Lincoln into a national hero and paragon of virtue following his death. Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze Standing Lincoln is a small scale version of a monument erected in Chicago in 1887. The contrast with Blythe’s casual portraits could not be greater—the formal attire, dignified posture, and oversized chair decorated with a symbolic eagle represent Lincoln’s moral character and his place in American history. The enduring power of this portrait is suggested by Teenie Harris’ image of two students in Pittsburgh’s Rochester High School in 1950, carefully posed with a photograph of the Chicago monument. This work is not currently on view in the galleries, but here it is:

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Ray Whittington and Gloria Puryear, at drinking fountain, with picture of Abraham Lincoln above, in Rochester High School, December 1950, photographic negative, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23961.

As the president who ended slavery, Lincoln had special significance for African American painter Horace Pippin, who ranked him with Jesus Christ and John Brown as one of the three greatest men in history. Pippin chose to depict a story from Lincoln’s youth that neatly encapsulates his moral and political virtue. He shows the young Lincoln in his garret late at night, tucking away a borrowed book about George Washington which he has been reading by candlelight. When the book was ruined by rain, “Honest Abe” repaid its owner with hours of free labor.

Horace Pippin, Abe Lincoln’s First Book (detail), 1944, oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James L. Winokur, 68.20

Lincoln continues to fascinate us as an exemplar of personal virtue and political courage, especially when times are hard. To what extent does the new film Lincoln embody the concerns and desires of the 21st century—or perpetuate the stories, legends, and myths found in the art of Blythe, Saint-Gaudens, and Pippin? Send your comments to, and we’ll post some responses on our blog and Facebook page—we’d love to hear your thoughts!

New Hire: Lauren Buches

What is your official title, and what are some of your general responsibilities? 

I’m the Marketing Assistant for both CMA and CMNH. This essentially means that I take care of all of the fun stuff like budgeting, working out contracts and advertising deals with advertisers, social media (I am the Facebook and Twitter voice of Dippy the Dinosaur), and helping out with any additional manpower the marketing staff needs for a project or task on a daily basis. Once a new Marketing Director is hired I will also be that person’s assistant.  

What were you doing before joining us at CMA?  

I was a personal assistant to a small business owner here in Pittsburgh. Before that I was the museum facilitator at Bushy Run Battlefield in Jeannette.

What’s your favorite exhibition that you saw this past year (at any museum/event)?

Carnegie Museum of Art’s Impressionism in a New Light touches many personal chords with me. Not only does it feature artwork from one of my favorite social history periods—the late 19th century—but I remember seeing Monet’s Water Lilies and Paul Signac’s Place des Lices, St. Tropez as early as the age of five. 

If you could steal one artwork from our collection, what would it be?

Jean-Théodore Dupas and Jean Dunand’s Chariot of Aurora. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit beneath my trenchcoat…  

Jean-Théodore Dupas and Jean Dunand, Chariot of Aurora, 1935, lacquer and metal leaf on plaster relief, Gift of Frederick R. Koch, 94.242.A-FF 

Describe Pittsburgh in five words or less.


Favorite timewasters?

“Vile Victorians” clips from Horrible Histories:

La Belle Époque Cabaret: An Evening in the Bohemian Style

A grand, opulent setting for a cabaret

Oh, what a night! Here at CMA we are still in awe of the festive evening presented on July 27 together with the Pittsburgh Song Collaborative to evoke the spirit, history, and sounds of bohemian cabaret culture in La Belle Époque Paris. With a whiff of Pernod absinthe filling the air in the grandly ornate Music Hall Foyer, famous late-19th-century cabaret singer Aristide Bruant with his trademark red scarf, black hat, and bawdy, provocative sense of humor (portrayed by tenor Rob Frankenberry) acted as emcee and led us through an evening of songs, skits, and imagery. Tenor Joseph Gaines, mezzo-soprano Olga Perez Flora, and pianist Benjamin Binder (artistic director of the Pittsburgh Song Collaborative and assistant professor of music at Duquesne University) brilliantly brought to life songs from late-19th-century Parisian cabarets by writers and composers including Aristide Bruant, Claude Debussy, Paul Verlaine, Ludovic Halévy, Yvette Guilbert, and many others in a two-hour program. The performances were augmented by a colorful slideshow presenting paintings, photographs, song sheets, and lyrics to help illustrate the fascinating and rich history of Parisian cabarets, café-concerts, the opera, and music halls. Discussions of historic venues such as Le Chat Noir also were interspersed. It was truly a magical and fun-filled event complete with lots of laughter, delicious food, and drink.

Absinthe provided by Pernod

The cabaret evening was a fitting way to celebrate the exhibition Impressionism in a New Light: From Monet to Stieglitz (now on view through August 26). Impressionist artists banded together in alternative spaces—separate from the official academies and exhibition venues of the time—such as cafés and cabarets, to develop their artistic ideas and to engage in stimulating debates amongst themselves and the writers, actors, musicians, models, and other bohemian types that made up their social world. The cabaret program helped provide a sense of the context that was so important to the development of the art on view in the exhibition. The role that the cafés and cabarets played in this art world was well recognized and frequently discussed by the artists themselves.

Great thanks goes out in particular to Lucy Stewart, associate curator of education and adult programs for her enormous efforts organizing this beautiful and elaborate event! Additional thanks to Pernod Absinthe/Pernod Ricard for sponsoring the cabaret, and to Steinway Piano Gallery in Pittsburgh for providing the piano and to Kenneth Chu, Ryan McMasters, Stephen Baum, Anne Gaquere, and Emily Hipchen for helping to make this program possible. All photos by Jim Loomis Photography.

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