We discovered this still life at the preview of a Santa Fe estate sale. It was tucked in a dark upstairs corner of the house, far from the Picasso print and treasure trove of art books on prominent display in the living room. Lawrence lingered for a while to take in the flamboyant bouquet with its rich rosy tones. There was an excited glint in his eye.
A few months later, the painting has found a home under the glowing lights of our European art room. We know a lot more about it now than when it first caught Lawrence’s fancy. It’s attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699), a 17th century Franco-Flemish painter who wielded his brush for Louis XIV. Its siblings hang in some of France and England’s most famous estates.
Our adobe art abode is a very different venue, but this 300-year-old artwork gives us the opportunity to transport gallery visitors across the sea and through the ages. Look below to chase Monnoyer through the palaces where he left his mark, and don’t miss the painting’s debut at our opening for FOUR CENTURIES: European Art from 1600 to 1950on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 pm.
Our first stop is the Hotel Lambert on the Ile Saint-Louis, site of Monnoyer’s first Parisian commission in 1650. The artist grew up in Lille, France and trained in Antwerp, but it was the lavish estates in and around Paris that claimed his considerable interior decorating talents. Monnoyer’s floral designs in the grand mansion would delight its many owners and guests for centuries to come, from a famous Polish political salon to Voltaire, Chopin, Balzac, Delacroix and Dali. Unfortunately, the Hotel Lambert was badly damaged in a 2013 fire and is under renovation.
Artist Charles Le Brun, who painted a series of renowned ceiling frescoes at the Hotel Lambert, brought Monnoyer along for a commission at Louis XIV’s Chateau de Marly. The (relatively) small country estate was the king’s escape from the more rigid world of Versailles, and aristocrats fiercely battled for a chance to stay there. Alas, the twelve pavilions that flanked the water and their intricately adorned interiors are long gone, but the commission launched Monnoyer into a new stratosphere.
Monnoyer worked with Le Brun once again on the ornamentation of the Palace of Versailles. For this and other high profile royal projects, he developed a style that was far removed from his training in the subdued still life painting techniques of the Low Countries. The bold, ornamental approach is in full force in our still life, recalling the spectacular garlands of flowers he painted on the ceiling of the Queen’s pavilion at the Chateau de Vincennes. Monnoyer also made reference sketches and etchings for French tapestry workshops, greatly influencing European decorative styles for years to come.
A commission from the Montagu House in London drew Monnoyer away from Paris in 1690. He adorned dozens of panels with fruits and vegetables and painted several portraits, some of which now reside in the state rooms of Northamptonshire’s Boughton House. The artist remained in England until his death in 1699, but his distinctly French style lived on in the artwork of two of his sons.
When it came to marketing himself, art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a pro. He had a knack for scouting out young artists with rockstar potential and he wasn’t afraid to ask for favors later on. Vollard gave Pablo Picasso his very first gallery show in 1901. By 1930, Picasso was world-famous and Vollard enlisted him for a special commission. In exchange for paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, Picasso would create a series of 100 etchings ending with three portraits of Vollard.
What betterway to immortalize yourself? Picasso completed the Vollard Suite over the next seven years, and it would become one of his most famous print suites. The first etchings in the series are in the neoclassical style and show a sculptor in the studio with his beautiful muse. As World War II set in, Picasso turned to darker subject matter culled from Greek mythology. A friendly minotaur appears, but soon grows agitated and violent. By the end of the series the minotaur has lost his vision and wanders aimlessly.
At Matthews Gallery we have the 24th print from the series, titled “Masked Characters and Bird Woman“. In our research on the print, we’ve discovered some pretty weird facts about the Vollard Suite. Five things you (almost surely) didn’t know:
1. Armed Art Critics Attack!
Spanish paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey on the march
Aside fromSteve Wynn 0r Olga Dogaru, Picasso’s most violent critics might just be fascist paramilitary group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey. Picasso finished the Vollard Suite in 1937, but Vollard’s untimely death in 1939 and World War II prevented the prints from going on the market until the 1950s. In the 1970s, the series starred in a short-lived exhibition in Madrid. In protest of Picasso’s political views on the Spanish Civil War the Guerrilleros stormed the show, tore down the prints and burned them with acid. Ouch.
2. Death by Foot
Image from Honore de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece
Sometimes, art kills. Scholars have tied the Vollard Suite to Honore de Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece.” The tragic tale chronicles an artist’s frustration at his inability to capture a model’s supreme beauty on canvas. He manages to paint her foot, but soon gives up and commits suicide in despair. Picasso explores similar themes in his etchings. His lover Marie-Therese Walter appears throughout the series, at first as his adoring model and then as a girlish guide to the blind minotaur. The artist has lost his power to capture his model in his art, and now she nimbly leads him toward death.
3. Sweet Art
Sugar lift aquatint from the Vollard Suite
It seems Picasso had a sweet tooth. The ever innovative artist experimented with new printmaking techniques for the Vollard commission, including dry point and aquatinting. The latter method allows the artist to create varying tones on the print using particles of rosin and an acid. Sugar lift aquatinting is a sweet variation. A layer of sugar syrup is applied to parts of the print and then burned off with acid to create dark fields on a white ground (see the dark patches in the image above).
4. Clairvoyant Pablo
Picasso possessed many artistic talents, but was he also a fortune-teller? One of the Vollard prints shows a model who is a doppelgänger for Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot, though it prefigures their relationship by over ten years. Third eye or not, the artist noted Gilot’s resemblance to his archetypal female figures when he met her. It made quite the flattering pick-up line.
The Vollard Suite in Curitiba, Brazil
In more recent news, the world’s first rotating building is named after the Vollard Suite. The futuristic residential complex in Brazil opened in 2001 with an exhibition of Picasso’s prints. Its design resembles a Greek pillar, a reference to Picasso’s neoclassical style in the suite (check out the bird lady’s perch in our print). The skyscraper’s $400,000 apartments turn 360 degrees every hour. It might sound dizzying, but something tells us the extravagant artist would approve.
Over the next two weeks, we’re paying tribute to 10 painters who changed the course of art history. Our first five picks range from Il Divino to the “painter of light”. Who do you think we missed? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to join the discussion, and click here to read part 2!
1. Giotto (1266/7-1337)
The Italian painter and architect was most likely born in Florence, the city where he would live and work for his entire life. Legend has it that the young Giotto was herding sheep and stopped to sketch the animals on a rock when famous Tuscan painter Cimabue strolled by and took him as an apprentice. One of art history’s most passionate debates centers on whether Giotto completed parts of Cimabue’s frescoes at Assisi. Regardless, it was Giotto’s break from the traditions of Cimabue and his contemporaries that helped spark the Italian Renaissance.
In Giotto’s frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel, the stylized Byzantine figures that were popular at the time are nowhere in sight. His figures are solid and sculptural, their robes draping naturally from their frames. This is a painter who drew inspiration from what his eyes could see. 16th century biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote that Giotto started “the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years.”
In contrast with Giotto, this prolific sculptor, painter, architect, poet and engineer left behind a paper trail that makes him one of the most well-documented artists of his time. Michelangelo completed the Pieta and David before he turned 30 and redesigned part of St. Peter’s Basilica at 74. In between, he completed the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, spent 40 years creating Pope Julius II’s tomb and worked on a multitude of other projects. Even in his time he was known as Il Divino, “the divine one”.
The Last Judgment fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, one of Michelangelo’s final works, is the fulfillment of Giotto’s artistic legacy. His massive figures seem to press from the wall with all of the terriblita (awe-inspiring grandeur) of living giants. Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a biography of Michelangelo during his lifetime, called the artist’s works the apex of the Renaissance. They also inspired Mannerism, the movement that proceeded the Renaissance in Western art.
3. Caravaggio (1571-1610)
It’s no secret that Caravaggio was an unpleasant guy. A public notice from 1604 accused him of crashing gatherings armed with a sword, “ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.” Perhaps that’s why he was swiftly forgotten after his death in 1610 and wasn’t recognized for his great influence on art history until three centuries later.
The artist was born in Milan and grew up in the city of Caravaggio. His parents were both dead by his teen years so he started an apprenticeship with painter Simone Peterzano, who was Titian’s pupil. He moved to Rome in 1592 and rose to fame as he developed the style that would come to define Baroque painting. His figures were incredibly realistic, their skin pocked, their feet dirty and their faces full of emotion. They were illuminated by high key chiaroscuro lighting. Caravaggio fearlessly placed the common people in the spotlight, a coup that would serve the Counter-Reformation well.
4. Velazquez(1599- 1660)
Diego Velazquez’ oeuvre mostly consists of pompous portraits of the Spanish royal family and other powerful and privileged Europeans. It was a twisty play on this genre that would secure his place in art history. Velazquez was born in Seville and educated well. He worked his way up the ranks of painters in his hometown and then hopped to Madrid, where a connection with the king’s chaplain and the timely death of the Spanish royal court painter helped him land the coveted position in 1624.
Four years before his death, Velazquez painted his masterpiece Las Meninas. The painting shows Spanish princess Margaret Theresa standing next to the painter himself, who’s working on a large canvas. In a mirror behind them are the faces of the king and queen. The sophisticated work’s bifurcating viewpoints throw its true subject into question and place Velazquez far ahead of his time. More than two hundred years later the painter’s work would inspire the Realists, the Impressionists and the Modernists.
5. Turner (baptized 1775-1851)
JMW Turner was known as the “painter of light”, but the artist with the ethereal subject matter had a very solid impact on art history. The Romantic landscape painter was born in London to a barber and wig maker. He showed his drawings in his father’s shop as a young boy, and studied under architects and a draftsman before enrolling in the Royal Academy of Art as a 14-year-old. His reputation swiftly grew, and he had his own studio by 18. However, when he verged away from picturesque landscapes in favor of stormier subject matter, Protestant society was shocked.
In his famous oil Rain, Steam and Speed, Turner depicts a locomotive as a surging pillar of tumbling air with a black smokestack as its only identifying characteristic. As details melted away and Turner focused on the continuous flux of air and light, critics started turning against the artist. An 1802 review called his works “too indeterminate and wild”, and writers were keen to tie his chaotic paintings to radical new political and social movements. Turner became increasingly isolated from society and often refused to sell his paintings, but his work had an undeniable influence across Europe, inspiring Claude Monet and other French artists in their steps toward Impressionism.
If you’ve spent any time in Santa Fe, you’ve probably seen something John McHugh made. The young architect was passing through Santa Fe on a cross-country road trip in 1946 when his Ford broke down.
He took a job at a local architecture firm so he could earn enough to fix it. Ten years and several cars later, he started his own company with Van Dorn Hooker and won commissions for the first Santa Fe Opera House, the remodeling of the parish hall at St. Anne’s Church and the Kearny School, among many others.
While John’s largest works are still viewed by thousands of people each year (save the opera house, which burned down and was reconstructed), some of his most colorful creations have been hidden away since his death in 1995.
“Come in, come in,” says John’s widow Gillian when she opens the door to the home they shared. She points me past the living room where a Gustave Baumann painting hangs and down a hallway that leads to a sprawling room. Leaning against every vertical surface are dozens of canvases that will soon grace the walls of the Matthews Gallery.
“When we first moved here, he converted the garage into his studio right away,” Gillian says. There are still traces of the artist all around the room. Tins full of brushes sit on a tabletop, a near-empty cigar box is perched on the mantle and one painting is still on its easel. Hidden in a stack of dusty pictures next to the window is an old invitation to an exhibition of John’s work at St. John’s College, one of the only shows he ever had. Most of the paintings in our exhibition of his work, starting Friday, March 15, have never been seen by the public.
“I felt that it was extremely important to have a show,” Gillian says. “These paintings shouldn’t just be gathering dust.”
John’s path was always architecture, but art naturally came along with it. He was orphaned at 7 years old and spent the rest of his childhood under the care of his aunts in Springfield, Ohio. Though money was tight, he used his earnings as a paperboy to plant a garden in his yard. He graduated cum laude in architecture from the University of Notre Dame in the 1941, and took an apprenticeship in Ohio before serving in the Air Force.
When John returned, he taught in the art department at Notre Dame for two years before heading off on the fateful road trip that would land him in Santa Fe. Gillian and John met in 1953 and married a year later. She’s an acclaimed pianist who was born in Great Britain and traveled to Santa Fe with the International Scouting organization in the early 1950s. While Gillian practiced for hours at her piano, she remembers John spending every spare moment with brush or pencil in hand.
“He would come back from the office and go in the studio. It was very simple,” she says. “He loved painting. He would stand there the entire evening at his easel. He loved the shapes and patterns and colors.”
John’s oeuvre is captivating in its diversity. As I explore his studio, I find landscapes and abstract paintings, a work that was inspired by cubism and another that looks to have been done with Cezanne in mind. One dramatic landscape is signed Baumann-McHugh, and was started by the former and finished by the latter. The thread that ties it all together was John’s strong emphasis on the framework of whatever he was portraying. You can see the hand of an architect in the bold patterns he employed again and again.
“I think the architecture does enter into his paintings a good deal, because of the form and shape that he was always working with, and the fascination with that,” Gillian says. “It could be from anything. It could be something growing by the wayside or it could be a giant building.”
On drives around New Mexico, John would often park the car and pull out his sketchbook. “He’d stop in the middle of nowhere,” Gillian remembers. “If there was a telephone pole that he liked, he’d get out and say, ‘Do you mind if I just draw this?’ All of a sudden half an hour later… something really wonderful would come out of the shape or color.”
All of John’s creative endeavors came to an abrupt halt in 1985, when he suffered a severe left hemisphere stroke. “After the stroke, he was trying to come back to being whole again. He would work in very small ways,” says Gillian.
John could see Sandia Mountain from the windows of St. John’s Hospital, and he challenged himself to learn to draw it again. “Sandia was really his lifeline. The mountain called to him. He was eventually able to draw the whole thing, which took a long, long time. This was a lovely beginning to his route back to health.” Later on, John did a lecture series on art at St. John’s College that further built his confidence. He continued painting and sketching until the very end of his life.
Gillian folds up her walker and takes a seat in the living room next to her piano. One of John’s aspen paintings hangs above her head. She’s 89 years old, but when Gillian talks about John’s upcoming retrospective at our gallery, she seems full of energy. The works are close to her heart, as is the cause that the show will be supporting.
“When I heard about the wonderful work that the Bob Woodruff Foundation was doing for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I was fascinated,” she says. “My brother had been a prisoner of war under a different situation. I thought perhaps…. some of the paintings that John did could be used, and some of the proceeds could be given to this foundation.”
I ask Gillian something I’ve been wondering the whole time I’ve been there: how did John have the time and energy to accomplish all of this?
Gillian shakes her head and smiles. “It wasn’t really hard work, you see. It was total love,” she says. “Architecture and art were his life.”
The Matthews Gallery will present an exhibition of the art of John McHugh from March 15th through March 28, 2013. Gillian McHugh will be in attendance during the opening reception on Friday March 15th from 5-7 pm. A portion of the proceeds of the sales of the artwork will be donated to the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Click here for more information, and follow our Twitter and Facebook feeds for updates.