MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Bohemians

Alfred Morang Art Exhibition- Matthews Gallery Blog

How did you get this many Morangs together?”

That’s the most frequent question we’ve received from Alfred Morang fans who’ve come to our show in the past few weeks. It’s common to see one or two works by the Santa Fe master in a gallery’s collection, but it’s quite a special experience to view 37 pieces in one place.

Truth is, we called our exhibition MORANG AND FRIENDS because we thought Morang’s contemporaries would dominate the show. It was only through a huge response from the Santa Fe community—private collectors, dealers, galleries—that it all came together. We’re so grateful to everyone involved for working with us, with special thanks to El Farol, Silver Sun Gallery, the Matt Kuhn Collection and our co-curator Paul Parker.

And what a show it was! As we take the paintings down today, we’re feeling quasi-nostalgic for the Santa Fe golden age that Morang’s diverse body of work evokes. For the last 21 days, we’ve been transported to a City Different full of wild saloons and drunken shootouts, free-flowing absinthe and spooky ghosts.

For our final blog post on the show, we thought it would be fitting to spotlight the colorful clique of bohemian artists who surrounded Morang during his time here in the 1930’s- 50’s. Morang was a brilliant art teacher who passed his knowledge to the next generation of Santa Fe artists. They ensured that his influence still ripples through the New Mexico art world today…

Portrait of Alfred Morang by Tommy Macaione- Matthews Gallery Blog

 TOMMY MACAIONE

This portrait of Alfred Morang appeared in the exhibition courtesy of the Matt Kuhn Collection. It was made by another colorful Santa Fe character, Thomas S. Macaione (1907-1992), also known as ‘El Diferente’. Macaione’s mature painting style was heavily influenced by Morang’s teachings, and they also had similar lifestyles. They lived as true bohemians, devoted to art above all else.

“[Macaione’s] passion for plein-air painting was not entirely appreciated at first in the town’s lingering Wild West atmosphere,” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican in 2013. “Once, when painting a garden on Acequia Madre, he was scared off by the property owner, who fired a pistol in the air in his flowers’ defense.” A photograph of this bust appears on the final page of Walt Wiggins’ essential biography of Alfred Morang, A Neglected Master, along with a quote from Margaret Turner Williams:

 [Morang] died as he lived: alone. Yet he was never lonely, for he was a creator, and creators learn early in life to bridge the gap between the pain of loneliness and the peace of solitude.

With no material wealth, he was one of the richest human beings who ever lived. Everyone who knew him, and some who didn’t, feel a sense of loss at his passing.

Alfred Morang- Into Tomorrow- Matthews Gallery Blog

TRANSCENDENTAL PAINTING GROUP

A small group of New Mexico artists including Raymond Jonson, Emil Bisttram, and William Lumpkins formed the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG) in 1938. The collective was inspired by early abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, as well as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism and Dynamic Symmetry. Their goal was to validate and promote abstract art by transcending their senses to explore spiritual realms. The group organized lectures, published articles and mounted exhibitions in New Mexico, San Francisco and New York. Alfred Morang was not a founding member of the group, but he acted as their press secretary for a number of years. An excerpt from Morang’s November 4, 1938 article “Transcendental Foundation Plans Extensive Activities” in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

It is deeply significant that in this time of readjustment in almost every stratum of life, a few people are intent upon an important branch of cultural development. In Santa Fe the founding of the ‘American Foundation for Transcendental Painting, Inc.’ marks the start of a new phase of American art. […] Briefly, transcendental painting is no school or ism. It is a phase of art that, out of many more or less isolated experiments, has evolved toward non-objective painting, the type of painting that is not dependent upon an object, in nature, but is deeply concerned with forms conceived by the imagination.

The TPG only lasted a few years, disbanding in 1942 because of World War II. However, the collective’s influence endures in the Southwest and beyond. Some consider the group an heir to Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus. Morang completed a number of abstract works inspired by the group’s philosophy, including the oil painting above titled “Into Tomorrow“. Click here to see more.

Janet Lippincott- Alfred The Painter- Matthews Gallery Blog

JANET LIPPINCOTT

 “Alfred Morang was one of the few people who encouraged me in my abstract expressionism,” said Janet Lippincott (1918-2007), one of Morang’s  best-known pupils. Lippincott came to New Mexico in 1946 and studied at the Emil Bisttram School for Transcendentalism in Taos. Bisttram was a founding member of the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a collective of abstract painters with a spiritual, non-political approach to art, for which Morang served as press secretary. Santa Fean Magazine interviewed Lippincott for an article on Morang in their April 1978 issue:

He was an excellent painter and inspiring teacher “and he had a good mind,” Janet Lippincott says. She studied landscape painting with him for three months one summer, and she remembers that “he had something about him that could draw out the best you had in you.”

This portrait of Alfred Morang isn’t the only artwork by Lippincott that appeared in the show. Click here to see more.

Dorothy Morang- Untitled Abstract 1935- Matthews Gallery Blog

DOROTHY MORANG

Dorothy Morang (1906-1994) was born in Richmond, Maine. She met Alfred in 1925, and they were married in 1930. They lived in Portland, Maine for a number of years, and moved to Santa Fe in 1937 to alleviate the symptoms of Alfred’s tuberculosis.

Dorothy and Alfred divorced in 1950, but she looked out for him for the rest of his life and arranged the transfer of his estate to a Morang relative after his death in 1958. Dorothy was an impressive painter in her own right—here she draws inspiration from the Transcendental Painting Group, for which her husband acted as press secretary. She worked for many years at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, primarily as a curator. An excerpt from an oral history interview with Dorothy Morang by Sylvia Loomis in the Archives of American Art:

SYLVIA LOOMIS: Were you painting after you got to
Santa Fe?

DOROTHY MORANG: Yes, I started even more seriously. I’d been working quite steadily in Portland, Maine – Alfred and I lived there for about seven years before we came here – and I went on and worked very seriously with some criticism from Alfred and from Raymond Jonson, who was living in Santa Fe then. […] Alfred had also taken up writing, and he was very active, as you know, on radio, too, interviewing artists on the radio. He had an interview program for several years. He was extremely active.

William Vincent Kirkpatrick- Upper Canyon Road- Matthews Gallery Blog

WILLIAM VINCENT KIRKPATRICK

“[Alfred Morang] taught half of us how to paint and the other half how to see,” remarked an unknown Santa Fe artists after Morang’s tragic death in 1958. The Morang School of Fine Art was instrumental in the development of a new generation of Santa Fe artists. At the time of Morang’s death, William Vincent Kirkpatrick (1939-2004), one of his star pupils, was studying at the Taos School  of Art. He returned to Santa Fe, rebuilt his master’s studio and worked on a series of canvases inspired by Morang’s vivid hues and painterly textures. Vincent Kirkpatrick also did a painting on the wall at El Farol near Morang’s series of murals, ensuring that their work would hang side-by-side for years to come!
Learn more about Alfred Morang and his contemporaries on the Matthews Gallery website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news. Also keep your eye out for our 2015 exhibition schedule, which will explore other corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Coming very soon!

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

COLLECTOR’S FORUM: Conservator Matt Horowitz

 Fine art conservator Matt Horowitz will appear at our COLLECTOR’S FORUM workshops
on October 17 and 24. The free events are for anyone who’s ever considered buying, selling or caring for fine art and has questions about the inner workings of the art world. To reserve a seat, make sure to contact us!

Matt-Horowitz-Goldleaf-Framemakers-Conservator

Conservator Matt Horowitz with a 17th century painting he restored for Matthews Gallery

“I came in and they gave me a de Kooning,” says Matt Horowitz. He’s telling the story of his arrival in Manhattan at 24 years old to work for a famed art restoration firm. If he failed this audition, there would be dire art historical consequences.

“A piece of the white paint had chipped away, which is the hardest thing to match, because white is never really white,” Horowitz says, nervously twisting the ring on his finger. “I was like, ‘You don’t even know who the hell I am, and you just gave me a de Kooning and you want me to fix it.'” At the end of the painstaking task, Horowitz had a new job. Eight years later he sits in Matthews Gallery’s front room among paintings he’s restored for us, with a budding reputation as a rare young master in his field.

Horowitz grew up in Santa Fe, where his father Marty founded Goldleaf Framemakers in 1988. One summer in high school he got bored with the family business and asked local art conservator Steven Prins to teach him the tricks of the trade.

After receiving his BFA in painting and drawing at the University of New Mexico, Horowitz returned to Santa Fe to work with Prins, but he’d always dreamed of living in New York. When he got a job offer from Lowy Frame & Restoration Company in Manhattan, he took the leap.

Matt Horowitz- Art Conservator- Goldleaf Framemakers of Santa FeHorowitz at work

“I didn’t go and get my masters degree in conservation because I went for a ‘apprenticeship to working commercially’ route,” Horowitz says. “I prefer it because when you go to school it’s a very different environment. It’s very intellectual.” At Lowy he got hands-on experience with diverse museum-quality work: paintings by Degas, Dali and other legends.

Horowitz had a great job and an apartment in Manhattan, but he was far away from his family. “Things had gotten really rough after the recession,” he recalls. “My dad calls and says, ‘Would you be interested in coming back and helping your old man out?'” It was a difficult decision, but Horowitz left New York behind.

His first winter back in Santa Fe was hard work. Horowitz lived in the family shop and turned out beautifully restored artwork on tight deadlines, building a successful new wing of the business. It’s been four years since his return and a decade since he started working as a professional art conservator, and business is booming.

Still Life Attributed to Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer- Matthews Gallery blogUntitled still life by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, impeccably restored by Horowitz

“Now that I’ve been doing it for 10 years, I really push that,” Horowitz says. “I’ve definitely come up against the ageism, and the people who say, ‘How could you know what you’re doing? You’re too young.'” That’s why he jumped at the chance to collaborate with us on our Art Matters event, COLLECTOR’S FORUM. During our free workshops on October 17 and 24, he’ll discuss the fine points of maintaining and restoring artwork in your collection and tell fascinating stories from his career, including the tale of restoring one of Matthews Gallery’s oldest works of art.

“It’s kind of like being a detective,” he says. “It’s exciting. Something comes in and it’s not always totally straightforward, there’s a combination of things. It can be stressful but it’s exciting. You have to follow the clues and figure it all out.”

Learn more about COLLECTOR’S FORUM on our exhibition page, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery updates.

The Boundless Moment: Words and Images

Eric Thompson- The Photographer- Matthews Gallery blog

 Eric G. Thompson, The Photographer, Oil on Linen

For the past week, excited art pilgrims—determined to visit every gallery on Canyon Road—have marched purposefully into our front room and come to a screeching halt. Our Eric G. Thompson show ‘The Boundless Moment‘ is a little different from most of the exhibitions you’ll see on this famous art route. Accompanying many of Thompson’s serene realist paintings are writings by great American poets, from Elizabeth Bishop to Walt Whitman.

The interplay of words and images has compelled viewers to slow down and look twice, sparking many a fascinating observation. Most notably, journalist Alison Oatman of the Weekly Alibi attended our opening and wrote an elegant, poetry-filled review of the show.

Eric G. Thompson- Coffee Shop Girl- Matthews Gallery blog

Eric G. Thompson, Coffee Shop Girl, Oil on Panel

An excerpt from Oatman’s article:

Robert Lowell’s “Epilogue” [is] paired with the painting “Coffee Shop Girl.” Lowell writes: “I hear the noise of my own voice:/ The painter’s vision is not a lens,/ it trembles to caress the light” [emphasis original]. These lines are reflected in the Coffee Shop Girl’s illuminated face—as pale as rice paper.

Later on, the poem continues: “Pray for the grace of accuracy/ Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination/ stealing like the tide across a map/ to his girl solid with yearning.” Though large sunglasses hide her face and her meager mouth is expressionless, the Coffee Shop Girl is ravenous. We see her frayed emotional state in the feathery brushstrokes in the background, the squirming reddish-brown tendrils of her ponytail, and the sparkling clusters of dandelion-like fur attached to the hood of her puffy coat.

We spoke with Thompson on the phone today to fill him in on the big response his show has received. The artist was in Santa Fe last week for the opening reception, but now he’s back home in Salt Lake City, Utah. The long drive home gave him time to gather some thoughts on the exhibition. Read our interview below, and make sure to come see ‘The Boundless Moment‘ before it closes on August 28!

Eric G. Thompson- Half Light- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Half Light, Oil on Canvas

Describe your studio. 

My studio is just a few feet away from my house. It has windows with good natural light, so sometimes I can turn off the light and still get what I need. Sometimes I’ll set up my daughter‘s easel next to mine, and we’ll work next to each other. She gets to see what her dad does. Most of the time the kids aren’t allowed in the studio, though. I’ll play underground folk music, and when I’m really inspired it feels like the music is flowing straight through my brush.

You work in oil, egg tempera and watercolor. How do you choose which medium to use for a new painting? 

Between the three of them, if I want to capture something a little more loose and light I go for watercolor. If I want to capture something very solid, heavy and thick I’ll go with oil. If I want to capture something a little more photorealistic, I go with egg tempera. It gives you a lot of freedom to express the story or the emotion that you’re trying to convey with each medium.

It can be refreshing, but it can also be almost maddening. They’re all so different, it’s unbelievable. You have to switch your brain around and remember how to use that medium. It can be completely challenging, which I love. That’s one of the greatest thing about painting, is the challenge. I can always let a painting go as long as I have another challenge.

Eric G. Thompson- Nestled- Matthews Gallery

Eric G. Thompson, Nestled, Oil on Panel

Alison Oatman’s review in The Alibi begins with, “One question contemporary realist painters often get is, ‘Why not simply take a photograph?'” Over the course of the article, she critiques that particular line of thought. What’s your answer to that question? 

To a lot of artists, it’s not a great compliment when a viewer says, “That looks just like a photograph.” Maybe to a photorealist that would be flattering, but I think the greatest artists of all time have that balance of, it looks like a painting but it looks so ‘real.’ I’ve made it come to life.

Why does someone need a painting to look just like a photograph? What’s the power in that? Technically it’s amazing, but where’s the artistic freedom? I need artistic license to change things and blur edges and sharpen edges and change value to make it more ethereal.

I can make a painting look like a photograph but then there’s no energy, there’s no life to it. I think just adding a little more energy with brushstrokes or texture brings it more to life.

One of your influences is the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. How would you describe it? 

It’s what an object has been through, who used it, who touched it. It’s the patina objects acquire over time, like the rust on an oil can. It just adds to the whole character of the object—I see them as little characters. A cup on a windowsill, an oil can or even pumpkins can have little lives of their own.

Your works seem still at first glance, but a longer look gives me a sense of ‘unfolding,’ of motion. Is that one of our goals?  

It’s about capturing a moment in time that I’d like to freeze and experience for longer than the experienced moments.

I’ve definitely been experimenting with looser brushstrokes toward the outer edges of the painting to give it some energy. I need to experiment to see if I can get the perfect balance of detail and looseness. It’s a way of pushing myself as an artist, and it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.

Eric G. Thompson- Winter Moon- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Winter Moon, Watercolor

Which paintings in ‘The Boundless Moment’ are closest to your heart? 

A few of the watercolors are very powerful to me in an emotional way. Just reminding me of something in my past, at my Grandma’s house in Idaho. She had a farm with all of these different structures. They just remind me of that time, and different feelings come up from my childhood.

Raven’s Hair is a very powerful piece. It’s capturing this emotion of a woman laying on this bed. Her eyes are closed and she’s having a very pleasant thought. It seems to have some nice emotion to it.”

Morning Cup is a portrait of your wife Hilary, and inspired her to write a poem that we’re featuring in the show. Do you often inspire each other like that? 

 We’ve named my paintings every year for 12 years or more. We try to outdo each other with the most poetic titles. The title can say so much in just a couple words. What’s the best title, or the strongest? Hilary is amazing with words.

To learn more about Thompson’s show, connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

The Boundless Moment: All Together Now

Eric-Thompson-Artist-Family

Eric G. Thompson’s ‘The Boundless Moment
opens Friday, August 15 from 5-7 pm
and closes August 28.

Eric and Hilary Thompson’s daughters dash around Matthews Gallery, exploring their father’s new solo exhibition ‘The Boundless Moment.’ They’ve just finished a long car ride from Salt Lake City but they’re bursting with energy.

Over the past year the children have grown alongside these canvases and panels, watching as thousands of brushstrokes transformed into rolling landscapes and rosy skin. Now these familiar images have magically appeared in our lofty, brightly lit space, sparking the girls’ curiosity. They stop before each work, craning their necks to get a good look.

The girls’ vivacity matches Hilary’s temperament. She keeps an eye on them as she chats and laughs with us. Eric is a quieter presence. He strolls around the gallery, analyzing the arrangement of the work and reading the legendary poems we paired with them. Eric likes to think of his paintings as ‘visual haikus,’ which inspired us to select writings by Frost, Dickinson, Lowell and others to display during the show.

‘The Boundless Moment’ is something of a family act. Hilary was Eric’s model for the painting ‘Morning Cup,’ and wrote an accompanying poem that will debut at the opening reception. ‘The Chiseled Mother’ is a passionate meditation on parenthood and aging. As Eric cradles one of his daughters in his arms, you can tell that he’s just as inspired by the radiant spirit of his children. 

Read Hilary’s poem below, and make sure to attend Eric’s artist reception on Friday, August 15 from 5-7 pm.

Eric G. Thompson- Morning Cup- Matthews Gallery blog Eric G. Thompson, Morning Cup, Oil on Panel

From Hilary Thompson:

The Chiseled Mother

I honor this body
This matryoshka

The delicate lines of my eyes
Like tissue paper
Crinkled from sun beams
Washboards slow the momentum
of tears

These ears, these conches
That entombed the beeping screaming alarms
Echoing endlessly on exhausted drives home
Mercifully quieting with age

Eric G. Thompson- Waiting for a Song- Matthews Gallery blog

 

Eric G. Thompson, Waiting for a Song, Oil on Panel

This mouth
Which broadcasts comforts, screeches, praise
Fractures the tightrope of vexation

These beautiful, perfect arms
That embraced defeat
Carried a child to the surgeon’s knife
Willing arms
That waved, furrowed, aching
Sturdy farewells

This heart that beats out
The anthem of the womb
I Am
I Am
I Am

Eric-Thompson-Art-CoffeeshopGirl

Eric G. Thompson, Coffee Shop Girl, Oil on Panel

A womb
That is the definition of Creation
Bringing forth what does not exist
Into existence
Torn out of me
With upheaval and sanguine waves of nurture

These knees that caught me
When my frame buckled
Unable to support my grief

These marks, stretched
Yawning tiger stripes
Where my body gave room
Shimmer as silver reminders of a past shape

EricGThompson-Art-Evening

Eric G. Thompson, Evening, Oil on Panel

These feet
Planted.  Supporting.
Rooted even in motion, substantial
Pacing halls, hospital rooms
Threshing carpets bare-threaded

I am the red rock slot canyon
Worn smooth, fissured, curved
Sculpted
By this flawed life

This body is a shrine
A Holy place, a pilgrimage
A masterpiece painted stroke by stroke
By the breathtakingly exquisite nourishment
Of not getting what I want.

Breathe that in,
Chiseled edifice of the Mother,
Slather it like salve into your stripes,
You silver tiger.

 Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about Eric G. Thompson.

FOCUS ON THE FIGURE: The good, the bad and the body

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Jamie Chase- Matthews Gallery blog

Two Odalisques by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (left) and Jamie Chase (right)

No matter their preferred medium or subject matter, one of the first things young art students are challenged to do is pick up a pencil and draw from life.

“It’s only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character,” said Camille Pissarro, mentor to the Impressionists.

Of course, Pissarro had a different idea of what it meant to evoke something’s “true character” than, say, Paul Gauguin. As we discussed in our last post, Vermeer and de Kooning painted female figures in oil to highly divergent ends.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE survey show, running now through the end of December, has us pondering the artist’s eye for the human body. History’s verdict on the success or failure of a particular depiction is often entirely based on the culture that first viewed it. Even in the hands of the most technically talented artists, the human body has a unique capacity to spark fiery controversies. Here are some notorious offending body parts:

SKIN

Michelangelo- The Last Judgment detail- Matthews Gallery blog

The Last Judgment (detail), Michelangelo

Believe it or not, that’s a woman in the image above. Michelangelo (1475-1564) had a hard time depicting feminine grace, probably because he used massive body builders as models. That’s not the reason the artist’s Last Judgment mural in the Sistine Chapel drew the ire of the church, though. Michelangelo left many of his buff bodies unclothed and the clergy was afraid they would provoke sinful titillation. After the artist’s death, fig leaves were swiftly deployed.

TEETH

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun- Self Portrait- Matthews Gallery

Self portrait, Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

As chronicled in our blog series 10 Women Who Changed Art History Forever, even fully clothed models (with frilly collars) could show too much. When Marie Antoinette’s court painter Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842) dared to flash a smile for this self-portrait she was roundly condemned for diverging from the style of “the Ancients”. Read what one gossip columnist had to say about it here.

EARS

John Singer Sargent- Madame X- Matthews Gallery blogMadame X, John Singer Sargent

Top Paris socialite and legendary beauty Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau couldn’t resist John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925) offer to paint her portrait in 1883. When conservative viewers at the Paris Salon were scandalized by Gautreau’s bare white shoulder and bright red ear in the painting, Sargent attempted some damage control by painting in a shoulder strap and renaming the painting Madame X. Alas, Gautreau’s reputation was forever damaged.

FACES

Pablo Picasso- Les Demoiselles dAvignon- Matthews Gallery blog

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) always referred to his seminal painting of a group of Spanish prostitutes as The Brothel of Avignon. The canvas sat in his studio for years before he exhibited it under the title Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) in 1916. Even after its rebranding, the painting caused a stir because the women’s faces—influenced by traditional Iberian art, African tribal masks and the art of Oceania—were considered savage and their postures barbaric and aggressive.

After the show, the work was rolled up and stored away for years. It wouldn’t be recognized for its visual innovations until later, when designer Jacques Doucet bought it for 25,000 francs in 1924. “It is a work which to my mind transcends painting; it is the theater of everything that has happened in the last 50 years,” Doucet said.

Our FOCUS ON THE FIGURE show features art by Jamie Chase, Kate Rivers, Eric G. Thompson, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Harold Frank, Pablo Picasso and more. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more news about the exhibition.

START YOUR BIDDING: Colorful lots from our fall online auction

Matthews Art Auctions- Camille Boutet- Artfact

Our European, American and Southwestern Art Auction just started on Artfact.com, and it features a particularly vibrant line-up of lots. The charming image above is a color lithograph from turn of the century France by Camille Boutet. It shows three children peering longingly into a confectioner’s shop, and would make a lovely holiday gift. The best part? Bidding starts at $50. Read about more of our offerings below, and make sure to bid before the auction ends on November 17.

Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe- Artfact Auctions

Lot 41: Frank Morbillo- Arched Axe
Starting bid: $350
Estimated value: $450-$900

Arched Axe” is from Frank Morbillo’s sculpture series inspired by the simple, elegant lines of prehistoric hand tools. Several other glass and bronze works from the set appear in the sale, including “Ceremonial Serpent Axe“, which features an intricate floral motif, and the swanlike “Honing Axe“.

Bertram Hartman- Still Life- Artfact Auctions

Lot 59: Bertram Hartman (1882-1996)- Still Life
Starting bid: $250
Estimated value: $350-$750

Bertram Hartman (1882-1960) was born in Kansas and received training at the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued his studies at the Royal Academy in Munich and Paris, drawing inspiration from Impressionism and other modernist movements. His European influences are clear in this impeccable impasto still life.

Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea- Artfact Auctions

Lot 70: Jamie Chase- Bather by the Sea
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$900

Jamie Chase’s well-known figurative work and his latest experiments with landscape painting combine in “Bather by the Sea“. An abstracted nude  stands on the shore, and the surrounding landscape seems to radiate her serene mood. Jamie’s “Seen” and “Iconic II” are also up for sale in the auction.

Ernest Blumenschein on Artfact

Lot 86: Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960)- Loading
Starting bid: $700
Estimated price: $2,000-$3,500

Ernest L. Blumenschein (1874-1960) was a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, and is known for his stunning portrayals of the Southwestern landscape and people. In “Loading” the artist pays homage to his home state of Ohio. A lone figure smokes a cigarette and watches the activity at the Conneaut Mill across the tracks.

William Lumpkins- The Red Sky- Artfact Auctions

Lot 91: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- The Red Sky
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

William Lumpkins- Pink Handle- Artfact Auctions

Lot 97: William Lumpkins (1909-2000)- Pink Handle
Starting bid: $400
Estimated price: $600-$1,000

The Red Sky” and “Pink Handle” are from a series of never-before-seen artworks by legendary Santa Fe modernist William Lumpkins (1909-2002). The work was recently released from the collection of a Lumpkins family member, and also features a series of serigraphs.

Ed Levin- Kachina- Artfact Auctions

Lot 102: Eli Levin- Kachina (after Louie Ewing)
Starting bid: $175
Estimated value: $400-$600

Contemporary Southwestern painter and printmaker Eli Levin pays tribute to legendary Santa Fe printmaker Louie Ewing (1908-1983) in this silkscreen of a Pueblo kachina doll. In the 1930s, Ewing received a grant from the WPA’s Federal Art Project to pursue printmaking, and is largely responsible for the enduring popularity of printmaking among contemporary Southwestern artists.

Bettina Steinke- Santa Clara Dancer- Artfact Auctions

Lot 106: Bettina Steinke (1913-1999)- Santa Clara Dancer
Starting bid: $50
Estimated value: $400-$500

Bettina Steinke (1913-1999) moved to Taos in the 1950s, where she opened a gallery with her husband and mentored young artists. She moved to Santa Fe in the 1970s. The artist was known for her vivid portraits of the Pueblo people, and was particularly interested in traditional Native dancers. Other historic New Mexico artists featured in the auction include Fremont Ellis, John McHugh and Hannah Holliday Stewart.

Check out the European, American and Southwestern Art Auction on Artfact to browse all 116 lots, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see more highlights from the sale. The auction ends on November 17 at 7:00 pm.