New Mexico Connections: Hondius and Cowles

Cowles-Dasburg-Hondius-ArtistsFrom top: Cowles, Dasburg and Hondius 

You’d be surprised at how often we find New Mexico links in the biographies of our historic artists, even if they never lived here. The latest paintings to appear on our walls are good examples. Gerrit Hondius and Russell Cowles were celebrated modern artists in New York: both exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the World’s Fair, and their works are now part of the permanent collections of numerous major museums. Their mutual friend Andrew Dasburg, whose career also took off in New York, would move to Santa Fe in 1921 and help usher in the region’s modernist period.

It goes to show that New Mexico was a major player in the American modernist movement, far beyond Georgia O’Keeffe’s significant contributions. Read on to learn more about these influential artists and their ties to the Land of Enchantment…

Russell Cowles- Untitled Modernist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog

Russell Cowles, Untitled (Modernist Landscape), Oil on Panel

“When an artist sees something he wants to paint, his first step should be to look- to look long and sensitively- to feel what nature has to say,” said Russell Cowles (1887-1979). Wherever the modernist set up his easel—from New Mexico to East Asia—he followed this philosophy with the passion of an artist and the intellectual focus of a scholar.

The Iowa-born artist graduated from Dartmouth College in 1909. He studied painting in Paris and Rome, drawing inspiration from the artwork of Cezanne and Gauguin. Cowles returned to the United States in 1920, exhibiting his artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art soon after. In 1925, he received a medal from the Art Institute of Chicago. These honors marked the beginning of a long and illustrious career that took Cowles as far as China to study with a master of Chinese painting, and Bali to experiment with abstract painting.

Cowles began living in Santa Fe for part of each year in 1930, and befriended John Marin, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley and other New Mexico modernists. He received a prize at the World’s Fair in New York City in 1937, and his artwork appeared in LIFE Magazine in 1948. He died in New York City in 1979.

Gerrit Hondius- Untitled Modernist Landscape- Matthews Gallery Blog

Gerrit Hondius, Untitled (Modernist Landscape), Oil on Panel

Gerrit Hondius (1891-1970) was born in the Netherlands and studied painting at the Royal Academy in The Hague. It was there that he developed a passion for Georges Rouault and the French expressionists, but he found a true match for his style and creative energy in New York City.

Hondius moved to New York in 1915, and studied at the Art Students League with Max Weber and Andrew Dasburg. He first caught the eye of the art world with a massive WPA mural in brilliant Fauvist and expressionist hues. In the mural, colorful city people tangled with masked figures, clowns and ballerinas, inviting Old World allegorical figures to frolic in the capital of New World modernity.

In the following years, Hondius split his time between New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, and exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the World’s Fair, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center and over fifty other venues across the United States and Europe. His artwork is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and other institutions across the world. His wife Paula donated his sketchbooks, letters and other personal effects to the Smithsonian Institution after his death.

Check out our website to learn more about Gerrit Hondius and Russell Cowles, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.

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Picasso: Past, Present and Future!

Pablo Picasso and sister Lola- Matthews Gallery blogPicasso and his sister Lola. He was about 8 years old
in this picture,
and already had some swagger.

In the art world, it’s a holiday. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. In the 133 years since, the artist has irrevocably changed the way we look at art— and the world around it.

We’re frequently struck by the way Picasso would capture an artist’s attention and radically alter his or her course. Just look at this 1955 lithograph by Italian futurist Gino Severini, which is often mistaken for a Picasso by gallery visitors. French artist Jean-Pierre Jouffroy shifted from figurative artwork to pure abstraction after studying Picasso and his contemporaries, and Robert Motherwell‘s decision to become an artist hinged on a European tour of modern masterworks.

On this momentous day, we’re looking back at every Picasso that has passed through our gallery. Each one has a fascinating story… Pablo Picasso- Les Saltimbanque- Matthews Gallery blog Les Saltimbanques is the earliest work by Picasso we’ve ever exhibited. It’s a drypoint from 1905, when the artist was about 24. It was commissioned by legendary art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who gave Picasso his first gallery show in 1901. The frolicking figures are characters from an opera-comique about a circus troupe. An early appearance by the harlequin (far right) is notable, as the archetype would become one of Picasso’s most-used personal symbols.

Pablo Picasso- Personnages Masques et Femme Oiseau- Matthews Gallery blog

Fast forward to 1930. With the help of Vollard, Picasso had built his name into the first true global artistic brand. In yet another stroke of marketing genius, Vollard commissioned Picasso to create a series of 100 etchings—including several portraits of the dealer himself. The star of the Vollard Suite is the minotaur (second from left), another one of Picasso’s personal symbols. At the beginning of the series the minotaur is a virile beast, but by the end he is blind and weak, relying on a beautiful young muse to guide him. Completed in 1937, it’s the middle-aged Picasso’s meditation on his waning virility.

Pablo Picasso- Alex Maguy Gallery- Matthews Gallery blog

A youthful face peers from this offset lithograph Picasso designed for the Alex Maguy gallery in 1962. The exhibition was a retrospective of his artwork, but those captivating, wonder-filled eyes hardly hint at the darker themes the octogenarian turned to in his later years.

Pablo Picasso- 156 Suite- Matthews Gallery blog Picasso created the 156 Suite in 1971, not long before his death. Some consider the etchings to be his most personal series, a diary of a man struggling with impotence and pushing helplessly against the inevitable.

In contrast to our print from the Vollard Suite, women take the dominant role in these works. Models turn on artists, witch doctors stab at their patients and—in the case of this print—prostitutes tangle at a brothel while a man looks on, paralyzed. The gentleman is Degas, who appears in several prints in the series and with whom Picasso felt solidarity in his struggles.

Pablo Picasso 1971- Matthews Gallery blog Check out our Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest profiles today for more insight on Picasso, and learn more about all of the artwork in this post on our homepage.

Eric G. Thompson: Seeking ‘The Boundless Moment’

Eric G. Thompson- Spring City House- Matthews Gallery blogEric Thompson, Spring City House, Oil on Canvas

“He halted in the wind, and — what was that/ Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost?”

So begins Robert Frost’s poem A Boundless Moment, the inspiration for the title of Eric G. Thompson’s upcoming solo exhibition. The show will feature the Utah Valley artist’s contemporary realist paintings alongside the writings of Frost, Dickinson and other well-known American poets.

Thompson isn’t necessarily inspired by these figures, but as you’ll see below, there’s a uniquely American sense of solitude and yearning that unites his contemporary images with their legendary words.

Read Frost’s couplet again and savor the mystery of it, which subsequently unravels over three sensuous stanzas. Thompson’s paintings also evoke questions, but his enigmas come in the form of foggy memories. An aching sense of familiarity pervades his work, encouraging us to pause, ponder and lose ourselves for a moment… however long that may be.

Scroll down for a special preview of Thompson’s new artwork, interspersed with lovely poetry selected by Lawrence. Make sure to attend the opening of ‘The Boundless Moment: New Paintings by Eric G. Thompson‘ on Friday, August 15 from 5-7 pm.

Eric G. Thompson- Raven's Hair- Matthews Gallery blog Eric G. Thompson, Raven’s Hair, Oil on Panel

A Boundless Moment
Robert Frost

He halted in the wind, and — what was that
Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost?
He stood there bringing March against his thought,
And yet too ready to believe the most.

“Oh, that’s the Paradise-in-bloom,” I said;
And truly it was fair enough for flowers
had we but in us to assume in march
Such white luxuriance of May for ours.

We stood a moment so in a strange world,
Myself as one his own pretense deceives;
And then I said the truth (and we moved on).
A young beech clinging to its last year’s leaves.

Eric G. Thompson- Strong Bones- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Strong Bones, Oil on Panel

Eric G. Thompson- Back Door- Matthews Gallery blogEric G. Thompson, Back Door, Oil on Panel

I dwell in Possibility — (466)
Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of eye —And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —The spreading wide my narrow Hands —
To gather Paradise —

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

The Old Flame
Robert Lowell

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds? One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill—

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything’s changed for the best—
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill—
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

Eric G. Thompson- Spring Blossoms- Matthews Gallery blog

Matthews Gallery, Spring Blossoms, Oil on Panel

I Am in Need of Music
Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Learn more about Thompson’s show on our exhibition page, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more gallery news.

FAMILIAR STRANGERS: The Orphanage

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Palace of the Governors Image Specialist Hannah Abeldeck sifts through the archives

“I think what you’re referring to is what we call ‘orphan photographs,'” said Palace of the Governors Photo Archivist Daniel Kosharek over the phone. “We have boxes and boxes of them.”

We contacted Kosharek last week in hopes of getting another angle on vernacular photography for our upcoming FAMILIAR STRANGERS show, which opens this Friday. The private collectors we had interviewed so far seemed delighted by the often unsolvable mysteries of found photographs. Did a professional archivist find an unknown image intriguing… or annoying?

A few days later, Daniel’s colleague Hannah Abeldeck ushered us onto an elevator and down to the basement of the Palace of the Governors. Abeldeck works as an image specialist for the archives, cataloguing, scanning and researching images in the collection of about 1,000,000 objects. The main room of the archives is packed with file cabinets and bookshelves. Sunlight streams down from a stairwell, making the subterranean space surprisingly bright.

“We weren’t a hundred percent sure what you were interested in, so I pulled some stuff to give you examples,” Abeldeck said, pointing to a teetering stack of files and a big green box.

To be honest, we weren’t sure either. We had no specific criteria when we were compiling photographs for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, which features compelling, mysterious images of diverse people and places. Unlike the scholars and history enthusiasts Abeldeck usually works with, we were more interested in questions than answers. In the following excerpts of our Q&A, Abeldeck provided us with a healthy helping of both as we explored a small corner of the “orphanage”.

Tools- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives The archivist’s toolkit

 

You started at the archives last October. Was it intimidating to approach such a large collection? 

I’ve worked in archives before, and for a rare book dealer. There are things about it that are not intimidating, but there are plenty of things that are. Partly, it’s the size of our collection. It’s huge. There’s stuff that’s really well processed, and then there’s stuff that’s hardly processed at all. There are so many different filing systems, so an original photograph can get put somewhere and be difficult to find again. There are systems by medium, by size, by when it arrived, by collection number.

Why were you interested in archival work? 

I think that our ideas about the past are often very simple. They’re based on things like summaries that people wrote about what they think happened. Sometimes photographs are a way of going back and re-looking at the past that you can’t do with words. You can get some idea of the complexity of the past. There’s a book that I read called “The Past is a Foreign Country.” In some ways, this job is like being a tourist. It’s interesting to see what is the same and what is different, what has changed and what is new.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Orphan photos are catalogued in several ways: by location (left, New Mexico), collector (center, Forrest Fenn) or subject (right, portraits)

 

Where did the stack of orphan photos we’re looking at come from? 

We have a set of collections that exist in this limbo land between the old cataloguing system and the new cataloguing system. We might know something about them, or they might just be a box of photographs sitting on a shelf. This box says “Forrest Fenn“, so he probably donated them. Some have a photographer’s name on the back and some don’t. The stack of files is catalogued by location or subject— “New Mexico Towns” or “Portraits”.

Is there a way to estimate how many of your photographs are “orphaned”?

No, there’s not. Most of the stuff that we have, we know at least one thing about, so they’re not completely orphaned. Usually we know the photographer. Their name will be on the back, or the collection will be from their studio. Sometimes we don’t know anything about the photographer, but we know the location. When we seek things out for our collection, we’re usually looking for things where we know the photographer or the subject matter. But people also donate stuff to us. Those items that come in bulk collections, we know less about. The date is usually the thing that is the least identified about a photo.

What is the attitude among archivists towards orphan photos? 

Over the past 20 years, a lot of people who work in archives have adopted a philosophy called “MPLP.” That means “More Product, Less Processing.” It’s a way to deal with the huge volume of material that’s coming in. The volume of records that got created over the 20th century exponentially increased as the technology of production became cheaper. In the 1960s a photo archivist here might have spent four hours trying to identify a building in a photo. Now, we just don’t have time to do that. That’s one reason things get orphaned.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Mysterious beauty

 

The found photo collectors we interviewed find the element of mystery alluring. Do you get excited sometimes when you’re looking through orphan photographs, even though you don’t know their origins? 

Yeah! I’ll be looking through 100 unremarkable photographs from the past, and there’s one that seems more interesting or outstanding than others. There might be something aesthetically different about that photograph, but we’re also looking for historically interesting things. It doesn’t have to be a historical event, it could be about social history: why are these people together in this scenario? There are all sorts of social or technological things that could be interesting, even with orphan photographs.

In a blog post for FAMILIAR STRANGERS, we wrote about different roles people take when they’re looking at vernacular photographs: voyeur, detective, surrealist, even humanist. What would you add to that list? 

I’d add sociologist or social historian, particularly with the vernacular photography. We have a book called “Dressed for the Photographer” that’s a huge study of what people were wearing in daguerrotypes. You can date them based on their class and their region, so you can pin it a little more closely to the decade. It’s a way to find out what kinds of people passed through different places. We have portraits of Chinese men from Las Vegas, New Mexico that we don’t know much about, but their presence captures a bit of railroad history in the Southwest.

The photo collectors we interviewed also talked about the importance of bringing long-forgotten memories into the digital world. Do you feel similarly as an archivist? 

One of my main job duties is digitization. If you wanted to see and study some of these things, you would have to come to Santa Fe, New Mexico on an afternoon between Tuesday and Friday. Through digital cataloguing, we can post that stuff online and people can search from their houses. However, we have over 1,000,000 images and we’ve digitized maybe 30,000 of them. There’s still a huge mismatch between what we have and what is searchable online.

Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

Adelbeck flips through photographic glass plates in the archives. “As long as you don’t drop them, these will last forever.”

 

On the flip side, photo enthusiasts also stressed the importance of holding the physical object in their hands.

Having the original copy is very important for us in our ability to archive things. There’s something called digital obsolescence. For a physical photograph, if we put it in an archival mylar sleeve and keep them in a climate controlled environment, that is 95% of the preservation job. Digital objects are not that way, they need constant babysitting. Things periodically need to be switched over or upgraded. The CD is already an obsolete technology, so if you created a digital photograph in that format you have to migrate it to something else. With digital objects, there is a risk of the object disappearing within 15 years.

Do you have any stories of people identifying themselves or family members in an orphan photo? 

I just posted a picture on Facebook last week of two kids playing baseball. We knew the photographer and the date, and we knew it was in New Mexico somewhere. Someone recognized his brother in the photo. It’s really cool when that happens, but it’s bound to happen sometimes. We have all of these photos of unidentified people, and someone out there must know who they are. Those people existed at some point.

Is it frustrating when you encounter photographs that have recently left the range of “living memory”? 

It’s kind of interesting, because you start to understand the process by which photos get made, and how that affects what we can recover from the past. In the past, the occasions of photography were more constrained. You got a photo taken at an important event, like a wedding. As technology makes photography more accessible to the average person, you see a much larger growth of everyday captured moments that are not remarkable. At the same time, even within the proliferation of photography, there are things that happen that people don’t think to take pictures of. The process of painting a house might be interesting to future historians, but no one bothers to document that. There are a hundred billion photographs taken of the Santa Fe Plaza or the Palace of the Governors—and people are still taking them today—but there might be a storefront somewhere that no one has really photographed. It’s really interesting what people are choosing to document, and what they don’t document. We try to fill in those gaps by collecting photographers like Robert Christensen, a deliveryman who captured obscure stretches of road in rural New Mexico.

So this is just the tip of the iceberg?

Oh, yes. We have many, many, many more unidentified photos. If you needed pictures of ancestors and didn’t have any of your own, you could just come pick some. (laughs) “This is my great grandmother.”

Burro Photograph- Palace of the Governors Photo Archives

 Caption: Leaving Las Vegas During the Small Pox Scare, 1898; filed under Transportation, Land, Burros

You can follow Abeldeck and Kosharek’s exploits on the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives Facebook and Tumblr pages. Also, make sure to come to the opening of FAMILIAR STRANGERS: Vernacular Photography this Friday from 5-7 pm. Read more about the show in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter.

LOR’S LORE: Introducing Artist Lor Roybal

Lor Roybal- Dodge's Disbelief- Matthews Gallery

Lor Roybal, Dodge’s Disbelief, acrylic on paper
When Lor Roybal‘s big blue van pulls up in front of the gallery, we’re never quite sure what’s in store. She’s a blur of swirling textiles as she bursts through the door with something bright and colorful in tow. Her specialty is portraits, usually of characters from dreams or her vivid imagination. Sometimes she carries a box packed with miniature paintings and other times she holds a large frame in her hands. Once she brought by a loose stack of old sketches and wild free verse poems.

Lor is a familiar face in Santa Fe’s art community, but no one seems to know much about her. She lives somewhere along the Pecos River north of Santa Fe. Her two-room house is off the grid so she heats it using firewood in the winter. Her dog is her closest companion and painting is her favorite pastime. She is a scholar of art history.

“When I first started showing people my little paintings, I would say, ‘Here’s my treasure chest of gems,'” Lor once told us. There’s definitely something precious about Lor’s colorful faces. Each subject has a name and thorough biography. There are daring circus performers and pensive poets, gossipy grandmothers and mischievous little boys, cherubic elves and long-departed spirits. Some of the figures are intelligent riffs on other artists’ styles, from Picasso to Chagall to Renoir, but all possess a wild twist of Lor’s style.

Lor is now officially part of our stable, and we couldn’t be prouder to represent her. As you’ll see in her latest batch of acrylic paintings on paper, the artist is truly one-of-a-kind. Check out some of the work below, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for continued updates.

Lor Roybal- Posi- Matthews Gallery

Lor Roybal, Posi, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Emiles Incredulity- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Emile’s Incredulity, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Stendhals Boat- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Stendhal’s Boat, acrylic on paper

Lor Roybal- Young Clown Lujo- Matthews Gallery blog

Lor Roybal, Young Clown Lujo, acrylic on paper

MEMORY IN BLUE: Jan van Leeuwen

Jan van Leeuwen- Barbed Wire Number 1- Matthews Gallery Blog

Jan van Leeuwen, Barbed Wire No. 1 (Cyanotype), Matthews Gallery

What color is memory? Is the human soul tinted by life’s great joys and sorrows?

Jan van Leeuwen‘s darkest recollections are a deep blue tide. His self-portraits take shape much like memories do. It’s a long process with details fading in and out of focus, projecting visions of the self that never feel quite complete. It took a lifetime for the photographer to discover his medium, but when he did the images came spilling out.

Jan van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Leeuwen was born in Amsterdam in 1932. In 1940, when the artist was 8 years old, the Dutch surrendered to the Nazis and Leeuwen watched as his community fell apart. Jewish neighbors and schoolmates fled or were taken. Over the course of the four-year occupation, the young boy’s confusion turned to anger, frustration and guilt.

Leeuwen’s first career was as a kitchen wares distributor, and he learned how to work a camera by photographing the products. He took his first serious stab at the medium in 1986 when he was in his 50’s, mostly so he’d have something to do when he retired.

Jan Van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Drawing inspiration from the innovative spirit of the Dutch Renaissance masters, Leeuwen developed his own method of producing photographs. He uses a 100-year-old wood camera to capture an image on resin-coated paper, creates a negative and then makes a contact print using a UV-B lightbox.

The process of capturing and transferring the images echoes the artist’s struggles with the trauma he experienced in his youth and the impact it has had on his identity. For the cyanotype in our collection, the artist used a long exposure to fracture himself into eight meshed figures. The only thing starker than their furrowed brows is the strand of barbed wire that stands in their way.

Jan Van Leeuwen- Cyanotype Portraits- Matthews Gallery Blog

Leeuwen created Barbed Wire No. 1 in 1993. A year later he quit his job to pursue photography full-time. Since then he’s had a stellar contemporary art career, with shows across the world and artwork in The Photo Review, Art in America and many other publications.

The artist’s success hasn’t dampened the intimacy of his self-portraits, or lightened the burden of his memories. However, Leeuwen reminds us that sadness is accompanied by beauty, and creation always surmounts the pain of destruction.

Learn more about Jan van Leeuwen’s art and life on the Matthews Gallery homepage, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more gallery news.

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.