MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Fire

Santa Fe Master Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

Alfred Morang’s life ended with a fire. That’s where the story of our upcoming exhibition begins.

It was a frigid January evening in 1958, and Morang was up late at Claude’s Tavern. The saloon was on Canyon Road’s 600 block, just down the street from Matthews Gallery. Its owner Claude was a burly woman known for ejecting unruly patrons by slinging them over her shoulder. She presided over a wild scene: legend has it someone once rode a horse straight through the bar.

Alfred Morang- Dancers at Midnight- Matthews Gallery Blog

This was a fitting final evening for Morang. Claude’s was one of his favorite haunts, a place that still captured the dwindling spirit of his legendary house parties of the 1930’s and 40’s. Back then, he and his wife Dorothy were the toast of the Santa Fe art colony. Morang was a revered painter, art teacher, art critic and radio personality. His impressionistic paintings of colorful soirées filled with dancing ‘Ladies of the Evening’ and skeletal gentlemen had earned him the nickname ‘Santa Fe’s Toulouse’.

Morang’s studio apartment was directly behind Claude’s, and he returned there around midnight. It was a tiny space so packed with canvases that you could barely navigate it. Sometimes the heating broke, and when it snowed Morang would haphazardly pin a muslin cloth over the open skylight.

At around 1:30 am, smoke filled the air. Here’s Santa Fe artist Drew Bacigalupa‘s account of what happened next:

I was in the neighborhood bar the night his house caught fire. An old army buddy from Chicago had come to town and wanted to down cognac while viewing local color. There wasn’t much to view. It was a bitterly cold night, the streets deserted, the bar almost empty and quite cheerless. My bachelor friend dredged up memories of a thousand other cafes in France and Germany while my thoughts strayed to demands at home. Three weary women at the other end of the long bar seemed to be nowhere waiting for nothing.

The sound of sirens startled us all. Fire engines skidded past the door, we could hear them screeching to a halt in a compound behind the bar. I knew Alfred’s small adobe casita was there.

Nothing could be done. The roof had already crashed in and flames leaped high in the sky. I was thinking how very, very strange it was to be standing beside this war comrade watching helplessly, just as we’d done in Europe, as property and life were devoured by fire. And even stranger—later—when stretcher carriers fled the still-blazing ruin and rested their burden on the frozen ground. For firelight, like streaks of red and yellow pigment, crawled erratically over the sad tableau. And looking up from the bearded profile on the stretcher, I saw the women from the bar had joined us. Harsh, bright colors spiraled over their tawdry dress and hennaed hair, highlighting them against the black night. They were exactly like his painting […] his Ladies of the Evening.

Alfred Morang- Mitzi Cat- Matthews Gallery Blog

The next morning, the Santa Fe New Mexican printed a photo of one of Morang’s cats perched sadly atop a blackened mattress. The caption read, “Mourning For Her Master… this lonely cat was found wandering through the charred ruins of the home of her master Alfred Morang. The cat is on the bed where he died.”

The Santa Fe art community was distraught. There was a sense of guilt among Morang’s closest friends, a grave regret that the masterful artist had received only a fraction of the recognition he deserved. “Why shouldn’t Santa Fe be stunned by the loss of Alfred?” said one local artist. “After all, he taught half of us how to paint; the other half how to see.”

Art luminaries Randall Davey and Will Shuster helped escort the body to Albuquerque for the funeral, and Davey spoke at the Santa Fe memorial service in early February. “He was a great painter; many of you did not think so because he sold his art for a mere pittance through necessity,” said Davey. “Nevertheless it was great art and the happiest work I have seen in New Mexico. He had a love and delight for painting and I doubt that anyone will surpass him in his field.”

Alfred Morang- Gormley Lane Santa Fe- Matthews Gallery Blog

Meanwhile, the City of Santa Fe was having a hard time finding Morang’s heirs. He and Dorothy had divorced in 1950, and he wasn’t close to any of his relatives. Morang’s ashes sat in a closet in the New Mexico Museum of Art for two years before they were scattered over Canyon Road. Eventually, Dorothy helped locate a distant family member to send a box of Morang’s possessions that had been plucked from the ashes of the deadly fire.

Decades after Morang’s death, local art scholar Paul Parker conducted a national search for that box, which had passed down through the Morang family. The ephemera he discovered—including a charred violin, sketches and extensive writings—will appear alongside artwork by Morang and other New Mexico modernists of the period in our December 12-26 exhibition MORANG & FRIENDS.

As the show approaches we’ll tell the story of Parker’s treasure hunt, and recount colorful chapters from the life of Alfred Morang. Make sure to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for additional updates on this exciting project.

Source: Drew Bacigalupa’s tale first appeared in the 1979 book Alfred Morang: A Neglected Master by Walt Wiggins

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FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Be a Voyeur, Detective, Surrealist, Humanist!

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

  Untitled, Unknown

“A photograph is usually looked at—seldom looked into,” said Ansel Adams. When it comes to the pictures in our upcoming show, there’s no other option but to dig a little deeper.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16, is not your typical Matthews Gallery show. The artists who created our collection of found photographs never got the recognition that Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec or Renoir did, but there’s no denying their aesthetic sensibilities.

That’s what has kept us digging through estate sales, thrift shops, antique stores and attics for years. We’ve amassed quite the collection of vernacular photographs, also known as “found” or “orphan” photos, and we’re not alone in our scavenging habits. Our friends on social media understand the great allure of the hunt.

Looking at so many old and found photographs I often think that, ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,'” writes Paul Jackson, who maintains the Flickr group Found Photographs.  “The person behind the camera has seen these things, lived that life..you know, we can sometimes almost taste it.” We asked several other photo finders what they love about the pursuit, and they all had equally passionate answers.

Vernacular photography presents unique challenges to the viewer, asking us to shift between different roles to grasp what we’re seeing. Our first impulse is often voyeuristic. We can’t resist a peek at someone’s intimate moment, and we swiftly draw conclusions about what’s going on. In the image above a baton girl gawks open-mouthed at a band boy, but he looks resolutely away. Is this a tale of unrequited love?

Society often slaps us on the wrist for our voyeuristic tendencies. In his brilliant essay on found photography Dr. Barry Mauer of the University of Central Florida says this instinct is something we should indulge.

“At first sight, most of these pictures are hilarious or tragic or both,” writes Mauer. “Voyeurism allows me to experience these reactions from a comfortable distance.” However, Mauer cautions against stopping there. Voyeurism often comes hand-in-hand with judgment and categorization. Stereotyping these mysterious individuals cuts us off from a rich world of visual mysteries. Time to pull out the magnifying glass.

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

 

Untitled, Unknown

If we act as detectives, this simple portrait holds a lot of hints about the bicyclist and her photographer. Did you notice the bandages on her knee and arm? If those are recent wounds, perhaps she’s just learning how to ride. It’s difficult to tie a forearm bandage on your own. Maybe the person behind the camera is her teacher and medic? On the other hand, the bags on the handlebars hint at a different adventure. One of them looks like a canteen. Could the other hold snacks for a picnic?

Teasing out these details is invigorating. To take it one step further, note the composition of the photograph. The front wheel is cut off and part of the path is visible behind the girl. This perspective, when combined with the subject’s bent posture and excited face, lends the photo a sense of forward movement. Our mysterious photographer has imbued a picture of a static bike with surprising dynamism. Was that his or her intention?

Found Photograph- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Untitled, Unknown

Of course, in the end we’ll probably never know if our inferences are correct. Who better to help us surmount our fear of the unknown than the surrealists? André Breton and his friends were inspired rather than daunted by impenetrable mysteries. They sought out fragments of culture, watching films from between their fingers to try to catch discreet details and writing stories based on dreams they had about real experiences.

Both techniques allowed them to focus on details they otherwise would’ve ignored. In the photo above, our interest in the group in the foreground distracts from the odd figure standing in the far background. Cropping the photo brings up a whole array of new questions.

Found Photograph Detail- Familiar Strangers Show- Matthews Gallery

Detail of previous photo

In a broader context the entire photo is a fragment. The man in the foreground’s stern expression stands alone, isolated from what happened before or after. Perhaps he cracked a smile a moment later, but this short glimpse of his day at the pool has a foreboding air to it.

“The surrealists used fragmentation as a means to knowledge, discovering significance in the fragment that had been concealed in the contextualized whole,” Mauer writes. It’s not hard to trace the progression of this thinking to Marcel Duchamp’s use of found objects, or to the Dada artists’ repurposing of vernacular photos in collages (more on all of that in an upcoming blog post).

In the end analyzing and relating to the “characters” in these photographs helps develop our skills in another field: humanism. It’s amazing how connected we can feel to a person we’ll never meet, and how powerful our feelings of empathy and sympathy can be when we exercise them. Look long enough, and you’ll start to imagine that these familiar strangers are looking right back.

Step into the shoes of a voyeur, detective, surrealist and humanist at FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography, opening Friday, May 16. Also, make sure to check out our fascinating interview with four found photography collectors and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr for more gallery news!

LET THE HUNT BEGIN…

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“Where did you get that?”

That’s a common question among Canyon Road visitors when they see historic work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Salvador Dali and other famous artists on our walls.

There’s no supermarket for art like this. Finding and authenticating it is an elaborate process, and the treasure hunt often begins where you’d least expect it. If you’ve ever wondered about the value of that painting or print on your wall (or in your attic), we might be able to help.

We’ve been in the fine art business for over 15 years, and have assisted hundreds of clients in selling their historic and vintage art. Whether you own a Renoir lithograph or an exquisite painting by a little-known American modernist, a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro or a watercolor by an anonymous 19th century artist, we’d be delighted to take a look at it.

We’re primarily interested in art from four categories: European, American, Southwest and Contemporary. It could be a single work or a collection within any price range. If you’re looking to sell or consign, we offer fair prices.

Contact us at info@thematthewsgallery.com to get the process started, and check out our website and Facebook page to learn more about us.

Matthews Art Group- Sell your historic and vintage art

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.

LEGENDS OF THE LOTS: Matthews Gallery Online Art Auction

March Chagall- L'Opera Poster (1964)- Matthews Gallery auction
L’Opera Poster, Marc Chagall

We’re very excited to announce the European Masters, American and Southwestern Art Auction, an online-only Matthews Gallery event running July 25-29. It’s our very first auction, and we’ve been working on it for more than a year. Of course, the works we’re putting on the block have stories behind them that are much older than that. Click here to browse the diverse catalogue, and read on to learn the legends behind four of the lots.

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

Lautrec was on a steamship cruise from Le Havre to Bordeaux when a beautiful woman who was staying in cabin 54 caught his eye. He became infatuated with her but she was so aloof that he never got a chance to introduce himself. Lautrec refused to disembark until the ship reached Lisbon, where his friend Maurice Guibert finally dissuaded him from sailing on to Dakar, the mystery woman’s destination. The sketches he made of her on the boat would inspire La Passagere du 54.

Lithograph, on wove paper, Wittrock’s third (final) state, the full sheet, with green lettering. 

Click here to see this work in the catalogue.

Joan Miro- Dog Barking at the Moon- Matthews Gallery auction
Dog Barking at the Moon, Joan Miro

This lithograph has one of the longest titles of any of Miró’s art works. In french it is: “Le chien aboyant à la lune reveille le coq le chant du coq picote le crane du fermier Catalan posé sur la table à coté du pourron”. In English: “The dog barking at the moon wakes the cock, the song of the cock pecks at the head of the Catalan farmer resting on the table by the flask of wine”. Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a leading pioneer and proponent of surrealism. His work has a childlike style that at its heart is a sophisticated play of color, line and forms. Miro was a consummate master printmaker and over his lifetime he completed more than 1,000 fine art prints.

Lithograph in colors, number 12 from the edition of 80.

Click here to see this work in the catalogue.

Pablo Picasso- Untitled (From the 156 Suite, 16 mai 1971)- Matthews Gallery auction
Untitled (From the 156 Suite, 16 mai 1971), Pablo Picasso

Degas visits a brothel in this etching by the legendary Spanish modernist.

Number 23 from the edition of 50.

Click here to see this work in the catalogue.

Paul Gauguin- Mahana Atua (Noa Noa woodblock)- Matthews Gallery auction
Mahana Atua, Paul Gauguin

Gauguin sailed from France to Tahiti in 1891 and didn’t return home until two years later. He went there in search of an untouched beauty far away from “everything that is artificial and conventional”. Upon his return to Europe, he carved a series of ten woodblocks to illustrate a written account of his travels called Noa Noa. The prints, which were only his second attempt at printmaking, are considered some of his most innovative work. “Gauguin’s current effort will tomorrow provoke a complete revolution in the art of printmaking,” wrote critics Julien Leclerq and Charles Morice. This is presumed to be a proof apart from the signed and numbered edition of 100 published by the artist’s son, Pola Gauguin in Copenhagen in 1921.

Woodcut, 1894-5, on chine

Click here to see this work in the catalogue.

Make sure to check out the entire auction catalogue here, and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter for more legends behind the lots!