MORANG AND FRIENDS: Alfred in Paris

Alfred Morang Portrait- Morang and Friends Exhibition- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, 1952

“After Morang’s death, all of a sudden people started to realize that he was a great artist. People regretted that they didn’t pay enough attention to him,” Santa Fe art collector Paul Parker said at the end of our interview last week.

As Parker will tell you, Alfred Morang’s death in a Canyon Road fire in 1958 was the end of an era in Santa Fe. From his arrival in 1937, Morang had helped cultivate a vibrant art scene in the City Different. His house parties of the 1930’s and 40’s earned him a reputation as “one of Santa Fe’s… most colorful Bohemians,” as the Santa Fe New Mexican dubbed him in his obituary. Morang was a masterful painter who drew inspiration from the French Impressionists, and a talented teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. He was a great writer, musician and radio broadcaster.

However, towards the end of Morang’s life, he and his wife Dorothy divorced and he became increasingly isolated. He spent most of his time fervently painting in his Canyon Road studio. Santa Fe artist Bill Tate had this recollection of a frigid winter in the 1950’s:

Oh my, it was cold! The snow was pouring down unmercifully and as I walked into Alfred’s tiny studio, I pushed paintings aside to make a path, then found them sliding in behind me as I penetrated the cache of completed canvases. It appeared that paintings were everywhere. There in the middle was Alfred, happily painting away, bundled up like a Siberian monk—galoshes, muffler, sweater, heavy top coat which came to his ankles, and a woman’s hat pulled snuggly down over his ears and neck.

The studio had a sky light, but where the glass was supposed to be, there was none. Alfred had hung an old muslin sheet over the opening to shut out the falling snow. Evidently Alfred had let the fire go out in the small space heater. Or maybe had forgotten to pay his gas bill. I don’t know. But it was awful. I had been there just a few minutes when the muslin partially ripped loose from the ceiling and began flopping in the wind. Snow dumped all over Alfred as well as the canvas.

Alfred never looked up, never stopped painting. His blue-cold hands kept mixing painting and dabbing it on the canvas. Occasionally, he would lean back to assess the effect, but throughout, he was totally oblivious to my presence… or the muslin that danced in the bitter breeze.

I attempted to speak, but only a chatter came out. I retreated to the warmth of my own studio. To the day he died, Alfred never knew I was there.

This somber image of an artist in the winter of his life is not how Parker likes to think of Morang. Soon after he first visited Santa Fe in the 1990’s Parker developed a fascination for the Santa Fe icon that has taken him on many adventures, including a national treasure hunt that inspired our latest exhibition. The artifacts Parker discovered will appear alongside artwork by Morang and his contemporaries in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS, evoking an era full of crackling creativity. Morang stood at its warm heart.

In the story below, Parker captures the Santa Fe zeitgeist before and after Morang’s death, and travels to Paris to complete a mission in Morang’s memory:

 Alfred Morang- Santa Fe Hillside 1949- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, Untitled (Santa Fe Hillside) 1949, Oil on Canvas

HUNTING FOR ALFRED MORANG

by Paul Parker

I had been thinking about this mission for a long time and I finally find myself in the library seated in front of this antique microfilm viewer the size of a small refrigerator and I have loaded the reel containing the early 1958 issues of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

I was not sure why I had this unremitting need to know more about Alfred Morang. I had first seen his work painted on the adobe walls across from the bar in El Farol on Canyon Road and in Maria’s on Cordova, but I know the real inspiration came from my good friend Jim Parsons in Taos. Jim was an art dealer and appraiser forever and a friend and mentor for 20 years. When he mentioned that Alfred Morang was one of his favorites I knew I needed to pay attention. It was like Willy Wonka telling me about one of his favorite chocolate bars.

It helps that Alfred was such a compelling man, so well versed in music and literature as well as painting. He was the youngest person ever to perform a solo violin concert in the prestigious Jordan Hall in Boston. He was also an accomplished writer. The London Times once called him one of America’s leading non-political short story writers. Erskine Caldwell was a friend of his and he often visited Alfred and his wife Dorothy in Santa Fe.  Alfred’s short stories and poems were published alongside Frost, Poe and Mark Twain. I do know the main reason I am so drawn to him is that his art touches me. Behind that art is Alfred’s story, his life experience and that is what drove him to create the art that Jim and I and many others enjoy so much.

Alfred Morang- Untitled Portrait of a Woman 1950- Matthews Gallery BlogAlfred Morang, Untitled (Portrait of a Woman) 1950, Oil on Board

There is a very sad part to his story and it is that part that drew me to the library. Alfred Morang died in a fire in his Canyon Road apartment studio on a cold January night at the age of 56. I had wanted to come here to the library and read the January 29, 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican for some time. I wanted to know the details, I wanted to read what people said, I wanted to know what page it was on and how big the article was. I was scrolling through the microfilm and as I started approaching the day he died I realized I was reading the papers that he probably read unaware he only had days to live.

The closer I got to the issue of the paper I had come to see the more time I took reading the articles and I even started reading the ads. I lingered the longest on Tuesday’s edition dated January 28, 1958. That was the last paper Alfred could have read.

There was an article on that day that I am sure must have caught Alfred’s eye and the headline read, “French Ballet loses Backing”. Alfred never made it to Paris, but his heart was there. His heroes were the French Impressionists and he considered himself to be one of them. Monet and Bonnard were his favorites. The article explained that the French Education Ministry had withdrawn the government subsidy for the production of Francoise Sagan’s ballet “The Broken Date”. The ministry’s action followed a storm of protest. Apparently one dance was performed in a bathroom setting designed by painter Bernard Buffet and was described by some critics as scandalously erotic. I would like to have gone to Paris with Alfred and attended that performance. A French ballet with a bathroom setting designed by Bernard Buffet coupled with scandalously erotic, I am sure we both would have enjoyed that.

That Tuesday the Lensic was showing “Pal Joey” starring Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. Kaune’s was having a sale featuring Pork Chops at 59 cents a pound and Swanson’s Pot Pies at four for a dollar with your choice of chicken, turkey or beef. Cherry Motor’s at 607 Cerrillos Road had an ad for the new Rambler American for $1789. The ad proclaimed that one had been driven from New York to Los Angeles using only 80 gallons of gas averaging over 30 mpg. I remembered that time. One week before this ad ran I had celebrated my 12th birthday and becoming a teenager was in sight. Unlike today I was looking forward to getting older and that was the time I began thinking about cars. Chevrolet had just introduced the 283 V-8 a year earlier in the now iconic 1957 Chevy. The fuel economy push left over from the war was fading fast and the Plymouth Hemi and the “Little GTO” were on the horizon. The economical 6 cylinder Rambler American never had a chance.

IMG_0474Alfred Morang, Pecan Grove, Oil on Panel

I read every bit of that Tuesday’s paper. It was as if I felt that Alfred would be okay as long as I did not turn the page, but I knew it was time to see what I had come to see. I took a last look at the classifieds and marveled at an ad for a 2-bedroom adobe with wall-to-wall carpet “close in” for $16,500 and then I hit the button and watched the microfilm reel turn slowly.

The first thing I saw positioned on the top left side of the front page of that Wednesday edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican was a large photograph of a cat crouching on the corner of a charred mattress. The rest of the bed was strewn with papers and tubes of paint. Underneath the right half of the photo was a caption “Mourning for Her Master…This lonely cat was found wandering through the charred ruins of the home of her master Alfred Morang who died in the fire early this morning. The cat is on the bed where he died.” Morang’s friends had commented on his love of cats and noted that he often went hungry himself so he could afford to feed them. Two other cats perished in the fire with him. Unfortunately I discovered that the cat on the mattress in the picture had to be put down because it had extensive lung damage. There was also a picture of Alfred. A cigarette in a holder was hanging from the corner of his mouth dangling over his scraggly beard and he was wearing a black hat with a brim that was tilted slightly to the left making him look decidedly like an artist and decidedly French. The story next to the photo read “Well Known Artist Dies In Home Fire… Alfred Morang, 56, one of Santa Fe’s best known and most colorful Bohemians died at about 1:30 am last night in a tragic fire at his home in the 600 block of Canyon Road.”  Friends reported they had last seen Alfred in Claude’s bar around midnight. His apartment was just up the alley out back.

Five days after the fire the New Mexican noted…“Funeral services were held Saturday at the Fairview Memorial Park Crematorium in Albuquerque for Alfred Morang, widely known Santa Fe artist, writer and critic who was burned to death early Wednesday morning in a fire at his home here. The body was escorted to Albuquerque by a group of close friends, including Randall Davey, Will Shuster, Harlan Lizer, Walter Dawley and William Currie. Alfred was transported in a Spanish Colonial coffin made by Abolonio Rodriguez, custodian of the art museum.”

IMG_0505Alfred Morang, Guadalupe Plaza 1947, Oil on Board

Alfred was born in Ellsworth, Maine in 1901 and came to Santa Fe in 1937. Like many who came here he suffered from TB. He immediately became a fixture in the Santa Fe art scene. He wrote a weekly column for the newspaper and he produced a weekly radio program for 17 years on KVSF called “The World of Art with Alfred Morang.” Most of all he was famous for his enthusiasm for art and his ability to teach and many benefited from “The Morang School of Fine Art”.

Walt Wiggins authored a book published in 1979 appropriately titled “Alfred Morang…A Neglected Master”. Walt uncovered several quotes during his research for his book and my favorites include the following.  “When Alfred Morang’s life came to a tragic end in January of 1958 nothing before or since has so shaken the New Mexico art colony. Some say it was a sense of guilt that struck the community for not having shown a greater sense of appreciation for one who, by destiny, was different.” One Santa Fe artist reasoned, “Why shouldn’t Santa Fe be stunned with the loss of Alfred?  After all, he taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see.”

The February 10th 1958 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican carried the report of the local memorial service for Alfred in Lorraine Carr’s column “It Happened in Old Santa Fe”. Dr. Reginald Fisher, director of the Art Museum spoke first. “Friends this is not a funeral, we are simply gathered here for a creative expression of merit and appreciation of a spirit that has been active in an activity that we in Santa Fe like to call art. Alfred was an inventive, searching and daring spirit as French as Lautrec, yet he never saw Paris. Last week his restless spirit found peace.”

Painter and close friend Randall Davey was next. “I have known Alfred since he arrived back in 1937. He was a kind, a gentle and a humble soul and in all those years I never heard him speak unkindly of his fellow man. He was a great painter; many of you did not think so, because often he sold his work for a mere pittance through necessity. Nevertheless it was great art and the happiest work I have seen in New Mexico. He had a love and a delight for painting and I doubt that anyone will surpass him in this field.”

IMG_0495Alfred Morang, Untitled (Mountain Landscape), Oil on Board

I hope Alfred enjoyed himself on that Tuesday. I hope he spent some time with friends and some extra time petting his cats. I hope he wrote another poem and put the final touches on his most recent favorite painting before he headed down the alley to Claude’s that evening.

Claude James ran the well-known Canyon Road bar where he often spent time and, as legend has it, her rowdy spirit was just what was needed to run that place. I would love to have met Alfred there that fateful night for a few drinks. I’m sure we would have talked through the evening about art and life as we cast occasional glances at the ever present ladies that were often the subject of his paintings and when Claude said “It’s midnight, would you fellows like another one?”  I would nod and say, how about a couple of shots of your best cognac. I would love to take a sip, lean back and turn to him and say “Alfred I know you often say that you don’t believe in art for art’s sake, but you believe in art for people’s sake. Can you explain to me what you mean by that, and please…take your time?”

A few weeks after I finished writing this story I found myself engrossed in the details of planning a trip to Paris. I was not sure why, but suddenly it came flooding over me with incredible clarity. Human life really is very fragile and it really is all going to come to an end someday and we do not know when. I knew then I needed to go to Paris and I needed to go now. Unfortunately most people have that epiphany too late in life. They start thinking about the things they never got to do after it’s too late to do them. I knew then that this sudden obsession with Paris was a message from Alfred. Paris was his promised land, but he never made it there and I was going to go for both of us.

I told a friend in Santa Fe this story and he said, “You should do something for Alfred in Paris.” It was a great idea, but what would I do? I had been in Paris 5 days when I suddenly knew. I found an image of a Morang painting on my laptop. I printed it and wrote a bit on the back about Alfred and headed off to the Musee d’Orsay. This time as I enjoyed the paintings I was also searching for a repository for Alfred’s work and I finally found it. I can tell you that a fine example of the genius of Alfred Morang now has a home in Musee d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine and it will take a jackhammer to find it. He is close to Monet and Bonnard, the masters he so admired. Alfred, you finally made it.

Source: Bill Tate’s tale first appeared in the 1979 book Alfred Morang: A Neglected Master by Walt Wiggins.

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OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.

FOUR CENTURIES: Monnoyer’s Mark

Still life attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery blog

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 1950 on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 pm.

Hôtel Lambert- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

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.

Chateau de Marly- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer-  Matthews Gallery Blog

 

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.

Palace of Versailles- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

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.

Boughton House- Site of artwork by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery Blog

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.

Make sure to attend the opening of our FOUR CENTURIES exhibition on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 pm, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for daily gallery news.

BURST OF BRILLIANCE: Adolph Gottlieb’s Southwestern Epiphany

“It was like being at sea,” said Adolph Gottlieb. The artist had just spent a year in the Desert Southwest- from 1937 to 1938- and returned to his hometown of New York City with a radically altered style. “There’s… a tremendous clarity of light and at night the clouds seem very close,” he continued. This was a very different type of “sea” than the one that carried Gottlieb on his inaugural artistic journey. When he was 17 he dropped out of high school and caught a merchant ship to Europe. He spent two years there, including six months in Paris where he audited art classes and visited the Louvre every day. Back in New York, he studied at The Art Students League and befriended Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Milton Avery. Together they founded the abstract expressionism movement, working to develop color field painting and other innovations. They remained close until Gottlieb decided to strike out on his own to Tucson, Arizona. It was an endeavor that would markedly separate him from his contemporaries, even after his return to the East. Gottlieb’s New York friends called the style he had developed in Arizona simplistic, but the artist refused to look back. He distanced himself from his colleagues and focused on developing a Surrealist style. Experiments with automatism and surrealist biomorphism helped him create an abstract symbol system for his gridded Pictographs series. Finally, in the 1950’s, he started work on two series that would become his most well-known work. Both series are represented in our collection, and their very existence seems linked to the bare, elegant vistas of the Desert Southwest.

IMAGINARY LANDSCAPES

Around 1950-51… I was finally getting away from the pictographs and looking for something… So it was necessary to find other forms, a different changed concept. So finally after a certain period of transition I hit on dividing the canvas into two parts, which then became like an imaginary landscape… What I was really trying to do when I got away from the pictographs was to make this notion of the kind of polarity clearer and more extreme. So the most extreme thing that I could think of doing at the time was dividing the canvas in half, make two big divisions and put something in the upper division and something in the lower section.

The color and texture of the land mass in “Green Foreground” recalls Gottlieb’s sea simile. In this period the artist was consolidating surrealist and abstract expressionist theories by approaching the two movements as different sides of the same coin (hence a “polarity”). Our lithograph implies a fantastical landscape, but works just as well as a flat, wholly abstract composition. If we imagine ourselves exploring this terrain, it would look much like Gottlieb’s surroundings in the Southwest, albeit with a greener tint.

BURSTS

After doing the imaginary landscapes until say 1956, in ’57 I came out with the first Burst painting… There was a different type of space than I had ever used and it was a further clarification of what I was trying to do. The thing that was interesting that it was a return to a focal point, but it was a focal point with the kind of space that existed in traditional painting. Because this was like a solitary image or two images that were just floating in the canvas space. They had to hold the space and they also had to create all the movement – that took place within the rectangle.

Gottlieb’s Bursts are Imaginary Landscapes that have further dissolved into abstraction, though their compositions still root them somewhat in reality. In “Crimson Ground” two discs rise (or set) like a sun and moon from a monochrome tangle with the most ephemeral of horizon lines.

When I started doing the Bursts I began to do part of the painting horizontally. It was necessary to do that because I was working with a type of paint which had a particular viscosity, which flowed, and if it were on a vertical surface it would just run. If it were on a horizontal surface, I could control it… I was using a combination of brushes and knives, palette knives… and spatulas… I’ve tried everything, rollers, rags, I’ve put paint on with everything.

“Crimson Ground” isn’t a painting, but it still has a painterly quality to it. The edges of the discs are uneven and textured, and the forms below are as splattered as a Pollock drip painting. This further highlights the polarity between the surreal landscape and an abstract expressionist painting. One is focused on depth, the other focuses solely on the surface. Learn more about Adolph Gottlieb on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for to-the-minute gallery updates!

ONE WORK OF ART: Marc Chagall’s “Paris L’Opera”

Marc Chagall- Paris L'Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog

Marc Chagall, Paris L’Opera poster, Color Lithograph

When Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was commissioned to redo the ceiling of the Paris Opera in 1963, not everyone in the City of Lights was happy about it. The Russian-Jewish artist didn’t have a drop of French blood, and he was also a modernist. Critics worried that his vibrant palette and “primitive” style would clash with the pseudo-classical interior of the building. It was sure to be “die Faust auf’s Auge“—a punch in the eye—for cultured opera fans.  
Chagall might not have been everyone’s favorite, but he certainly had good credentials. Before moving from Russia to Paris in 1910, he studied under a well-known theatre designer in St. Petersburg. Years later in 1958 the Paris Opera hired him to design the sets and costumes for Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe. That same year, he embarked on his monumental stained glass project for the Metz Cathedral
Paris Opera- Marc Chagall's Ceiling- Matthews Gallery Blog
Paris Opera
After he saw a performance of Daphnis et Chloe, French minister of culture Andre Malraux had no doubt Chagall was capable of covering the 560-square-meter stretch of ceiling surrounding the opera house’s crystal chandelier. Ignoring the bluster of the arterati, he set Chagall to work painting panels for an enormous removable frame that would cover the original Baroque-style mural by Jules-Eugene Lenepvue. 
Chagall divided the space into several color zones and wove together scenes and characters from the most beloved operas and ballets. The mural would honor the works of fourteen composers, from Mussorgsky to Mozart and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky.
Chagall’s ceiling (or, in French, le plafond de Chagall) was unveiled on September 23, 1964 during the finale of a Mozart symphony, the artist’s favorite composer. As the music swelled the great chandelier lit up to reveal the mural. Et voilà:
Marc Chagall's Ceiling at the Paris Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog
Chagall’s critics were (for the moment) struck dumb as opera goers first set eyes on what is now considered one of the great marvels of Paris.
The mural was quite a novel sight, but there’s one portion of the work that Parisians would’ve found familiar. The opera house also asked Chagall to design a limited edition poster for the ceiling’s debut. The artist based the poster on a portion of the mural featuring Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. The famous lovers hover in the air above Paris, perhaps locked in a heavenly embrace after their tragic deaths.
Marc Chagall's Ceiling detail- Paris Opera- Matthews Gallery Blog
Detail of Chagall’s Ceiling showing Romeo and Juliet
Just 5,000 “Paris L’Opera” prints were made. The poster at Matthews Gallery is signed in pencil by Chagall himself.
To get this artwork for your sweetheart, make sure to contact us before February 7 so we can ship it in time for Valentine’s Day. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for more gallery news!
*Special thanks to our friend and fellow art lover Paul, who gave us this idea and provided some of the images*

ONE WORK OF ART: Jean-Pierre Jouffroy

Jean-Pierre Jouffroy- Untitled Modernist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog
Two photographs.

Jean-Pierre Jouffroy - Matthews Gallery BlogOne shows a young artist with a determined look in his eyes, and the other an older gentleman at the opening of an 80-year retrospective of his artwork. What happened in the span between the shots?

Sometimes art by Picasso or Gauguin finds its way to our gallery, but other times we get our hands on an exquisite work that bears a name we’ve never heard before. Such was the case with this lovely 1940’s painting by a man named Jean-Pierre Jouffroy, which reminded us of the artwork of James Brooks and other lyrical abstractionists.

Thank goodness for Google. An image search of the artist’s name brought up these two photos, and some French-to-English translating revealed the fascinating story behind them.

Jean-Pierre Jouffroy was born in Paris in 1933. When he was 11 years old, he saw the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Nicolas de Staël in a gallery and fell in love with modernism. “As a young boy, I dreamed of covering the surface of the earth in paint,” Jouffroy recalls.

Early in his career, the artist created purely abstract work that was heavily influenced by Staël. Then, in the late 1950’s, Jouffroy had an artistic epiphany.

“An abstract painting always shows something, like it or not,” he explains. “The painting is the image of an internal battle. This fight is itself a metaphor for our relationships in the social sphere.” Based on this realization, Jouffroy decided to incorporate the visual vocabulary of abstraction into representational work.

The shift sent the artist on a journey that traced the innovations of modernists like Picasso and Cezanne in reverse. Just like those artists, Jouffroy was experimenting with abstracted figures and landscapes, but he was coming from a wholly nonrepresentational world that his predecessors never explored. In tributes to Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet and Braque, he brought great artists of the past into harmony with a movement they all, in one way or another, helped to inspire.

Jouffroy’s new explorations caught the eye of the art world, and he exhibited at Paris’ Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other renowned institutions. Though he was focused on figurative work, he was often associated with lyrical abstraction (as we suspected) because of his background, his loose brushwork and his inventive use of color.

Our Jouffroy painting represents an interesting phase in the artist’s evolution. Though it predates his representational work, it has undeniable elements of landscape. Perhaps it’s the first sign of the transformation that would send Jouffroy’s career in a spectacular new direction. You can see echoes of the work’s palette and brushwork throughout the artist’s retrospective at the Place du Colonel Fabien that opened in November.

Check out Jean-Pierre Jouffroy’s “Untitled (Modernist Landscape)” on our website, and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for more gallery news.

ONE WORK OF ART: Toulouse-Lautrec’s Heartbreak

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec- La Passagere du 54- Matthews Gallery

“Love is when the desire to be desired takes you so badly that you feel you could die of it,” said Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s a strange perspective on the matter, but not a surprising one when you consider the artist’s difficult life. His parents were nobles and first cousins, a pairing that probably gave Lautrec a rare congenital abnormality called osteogenesis imperfecta. He was particularly prone to bone fractures and broke both of his legs as a teen. Bedridden and bored, Lautrec’s only way to escape his misery was drawing.

By the time Lautrec moved to Paris to study art at 18, his legs had stopped growing and he struggled to support his regularly sized torso. He battled deep insecurities about his appearance, but never dropped an abrasive air of superiority. His first relationship with 17-year-old model Marie Charlet was short and tumultuous, and his second serious lover Suzanne Valadon attempted suicide.

Lautrec immersed himself in the booze-soaked world of Paris’ cabarets and brothels to numb his pain, where he was inspired to produce some of the era’s most innovative images. Many of his works tell tales of longing and lost love, including our lithograph La Passagere du 54. Here’s a sad story from our archives about the 1895 boat voyage that inspired the print:

The story of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec's "La Passagere du 54"- Matthews Gallery blog

No wonder the woman on the poster is giving the viewer the cold shoulder. Most of Lautrec’s sketches must have been completed from this angle, as his haughty subject never gave him a second glance.

Lautrec’s artistic career only lasted a little over a decade, and though he gained considerable fame for his work, his romantic prospects never improved. He died at 36 from alcoholism and syphilis, but left behind a body of work that eternally capture the spirit of the City of Lights.

Do you agree with Lautrec’s definition of love? Sound off in the comments below, or through our Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest profiles.