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Wednesday, 30 March 2011 03:29
"The subject is too new a field of research for me to do more than blaze a somewhat imperfect trail," Esther Stevens Fraser wrote in a pioneering 1925 article on painted chests, one of the first studies of southeastern Pennsylvania furniture.1 Although much work has been done since Fraser's early efforts, most scholarship has focused on Philadelphia or particular forms or ethnic groups. William Penn's policy of religious tolerance resulted in Pennsylvania being the most culturally diverse of the thirteen colonies--home to English, Irish, and Welsh Quakers; Scots-Irish Presbyterians; and German-speaking Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Moravians, Schwenkfelders, and other sectarian groups. This diversity was reflected in the region's furniture through locally distinctive expressions of form, ornament, or construction. These localisms, together with the people who made and owned the furniture, are the focus of Winterthur's latest exhibition and publication Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1850, on view from April 2, 2011, through January 8, 2012.
Friday, 04 March 2011 04:40
At the end of the nineteenth century, American artists began to demonstrate not only a preference for gardens as an artistic motif but also a growing appreciation for the art of gardening itself. The importance of the garden as a subject at this time reflects a paradigm shift in attitude toward depicting nature. As America became a settled nation and the frontier closed, artists turned away from large-scale panoramic views of the countryside favored by artists associated with the Hudson River School a few decades earlier. Instead of untamed wilderness, these painters favored intimate and domesticated landscapes. For artists enamored with Impressionism and interested in capturing the effects of light, there was no better subject than a lush garden under the play of summer sunlight.
Saturday, 12 February 2011 03:40
As British North America’s most cosmopolitan seaport, Charleston fascinated and astonished visitors from both sides of the Atlantic. As early as 1709, English explorer and naturalist John Lawson (1674–1711) marveled at the thriving community he found: “They have a considerable Trade both to Europe and the West Indies, whereby they become rich and are...
Saturday, 12 February 2011 03:30
Charleston, South Carolina, has long been a destination for those seeking warm weather, picturesque landscapes, and the charm of a historic city. Artists are no exception to the rule, and a number of well-known names have visited the city and translated their experiences into works of art. Included among this group are such twentieth-century masters...
Saturday, 12 February 2011 03:26
In 2008, Winterthur Museum acquired a spectacular four-part fraktur metamorphosis series, prompting the collaboration of curators, conservators, and scientists to more fully understand the object.1 Made by schoolmaster Durs Rudy Sr. (1766–1843) or his son Durs Rudy Jr. (1789–1850), the drawings have survived in remarkable condition and are dated 1832 and signed by the artist “Durs Rudy”—the kind of Rosetta stone object scholars and collectors dream of finding. A rare form in Pennsylvania German fraktur, the metamorphosis booklets can each portray three different scenes. Each booklet is made of a long strip of paper folded vertically so that the two shorter ends meet in the middle to create two flaps. By raising the top flap or lowering the bottom one, a new scene is created (Fig. 1). Booklet one depicts Adam’s temptation by Eve, booklet two the Crucifixion, booklet three the inevitability of death, and booklet four the joys of heaven. Made in both hand-drawn and printed versions, metamorphosis booklets were used to instruct children in religious and moral values. Three hand-drawn fraktur examples are known to be the work of either Rudy Sr. or Jr., but this is the only one that is signed (Fig. 2).2 The Rudy family emigrated from Germany in 1803, and by 1809 had settled in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where it is believed this fraktur was made.3
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 01:49
Advertised as a “rare opportunity” nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, this was exactly what the present owners felt about the circa-1843 William C. Gatewood House, one of a handful of grand Greek Revival houses in Charleston, South Carolina, that has retained its original historic interior without significant modifications. For six years the couple expressed interest in purchasing the residence, but the reluctant owners were not ready to sell. Finally, the husband wrote a letter reassuring the owners that they appreciated the integrity of the house and their intentions were to restore and preserve it. Another two years passed before the couple received a call notifying them that the house could be theirs.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:51
The early American modernists may be usefully understood as the generation of artists born primarily between 1875 and 1890 who promulgated the new languages of modern art—fauvism, cubism, futurism, orphism, synchromism, expressionism, Dada—both in the United States and abroad. This remarkably small group constituted a true avant-garde; over the course of the twentieth century legions of artists would follow in their wake. Yet as the century unfolded, the contribution of these painters and sculptors to the history of modernism was at times illuminated and at other times obscured. A point of near total eclipse was reached after World War II, with the promotion of abstract expressionism as the ultimate “triumph” of American painting. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, a clearer vision emerged of the early American modernists’ crucial role in the development of a modernist culture both in America and Europe. The Shein Collection, consisting of twenty representative works by nineteen of the most important first-generation modernists, reflects this greater understanding.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:48
When James R. Taylor (1887–1962) of Boston began acquiring paintings and decorative objects in the first quarter of the twentieth century, it was an ideal time and place in which to embark on building a collection. The city’s vibrant art community included the Boston School artists, whose achievements in portraiture and genre depictions earned the admiration and praise of critics and collectors.1 Led by Edmund Tarbell, painters of the Boston School included Joseph DeCamp (Fig. 1), William Paxton, Frank Benson, and two artists of particular interest to Dr. Taylor: Arthur Merton Hazard and William Worcester Churchill.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:45
“Now for Jamaica . . . the scenery is superb,” Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) remarked when he traveled to Jamaica in May of 1865 in search of new tropical material and respite.1 Church was an established artist, known for his monumental landscapes of New World wonders, when in March 1865, he and his wife, Isabel, lost their two children, three-year-old Herbert and five-month-old Emma, in a diphtheria epidemic. To escape from reminders of their tragedy, Church took his wife to Jamaica, where, during their five month retreat, the Blue Mountains and surrounding verdure provided ample inspiration for the artist (Fig. 1).
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:42
I first became acquainted with the work of the early American folk portrait painter I. Gillbert about thirty-five years ago on a visit to the home of noted collector, researcher, and writer Nina Fletcher Little. She bought two portraits by the artist (Figs. 1 and 2) in about 1954 from the Old Print Shop in Manhattan, from Harry Newman, who had been told by their owner that the subjects were from Cazenovia, New York. At the time, the artist’s name was unknown. However, when the paintings were included in the October 1986 Sotheby’s auction catalogue for the collection of Don and Faye Walters, Don being the former curator of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, they carried his attribution to “I. Gilbert.”1 My desire to learn more stimulated me to research this painter and his work.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:37
The Saco River makes its way from its source in New Hampshire’s White Mountains to Maine’s Atlantic coast. Its dramatic course through the Saco River Valley defines a region where people have worked for centuries to make a livelihood for themselves in concert, and sometimes in conflict, with the area’s unique geography. Even the word “Saco” (pronounced SAH-co) was made over time. The native Wabanaki referred to the river and area as “Shawakotoc,” which became “Chouacoit” in Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages of 1613 and ultimately, by 1805, the modern “Saco.”

Differences between natives and Europeans began in 1636 with the settlement in Winter Harbor, located at present-day Biddeford Pool. The outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675 heralded the beginning of years of violent conflict. The “Scamman Jug” (Fig. 1) is a relic from this era. Family legend holds that the jug was left on a table in the Scamman home when the family was taken hostage by native tribes in 1697 and was still in situ a year later when the family returned.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:25
Throughout his long and prolific career, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) observed and absorbed the work of other artists. One artist Picasso particularly admired was Edgar Degas (1834–1917). Although the two lived in the same Montmartre neighborhood for several years, until Degas’ death in 1917, there is no evidence they ever met. Yet some of Picasso’s first images of Paris clearly echoed the subjects — café-goers, cabaret entertainers, and bathers — that characterize Degas’ work. When Picasso met and married the ballerina Olga Khokhlova, his depictions of her and her milieu similarly drew from the vocabulary established by Degas as the painter of dancers. In 1958 Picasso acquired a number of Degas’ provocative monotypes set in brothels, which he considered “the best things [Degas] ever did,” and in a series of etchings from 1971, he envisioned Degas himself within the very setting he had once depicted.

Friday, 21 January 2011 03:21
When my wife and I acquired a portrait at a Sotheby’s Important Americana auction in 1990 (Fig. 1), the catalogue entry read, “According to tradition, this young man is said to be the son of a gentleman and lady whose portraits are in the collection of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little.”1 We acquired the portrait and a day later I called Nina Little to inquire about the children of the couple in question, Rufus and Hannah Lathrop of Connecticut. “What children?” she replied. “They didn’t have any.”

The subject of the portrait, though now lacking a surname, nevertheless presented a pleasing image of a young mariner in a blue coat with large brass buttons and a tri-cornered hat tucked under his arm. In the background is a ship, indicating the means of his livelihood. The young seaman looks confidently at the viewer with his right hand cocked on his hip.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:18
William Merritt Chase: Still Lifes, Interiors, Figures, Copies of Old Masters, and Drawings, is the fourth and final volume of The Complete Catalogue of Known and Documented Work by William Merritt Chase (1849–1916). It completes the life’s work of Ronald G. Pisano, who worked on the project for more than thirty years before his untimely death in 2000. These volumes set the record of the remarkable life and work of an American artist remembered as “… a man with the rare combination in qualities of a gentleman, a human being, an artist and a worker. His ideals for art were all absorbing and his beliefs in its power absolutely unshakable…the ideals for which William M. Chase lived and worked are the eternal truths of the power of art in man’s expression in any materials with which he lives.”1

Best known as an instructor and exponent of Impressionism, Chase began his teaching career at the Art Students’ League shortly after his return from studies at the Royal Munich Academy in 1878. In 1891, he opened the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, near Southampton, Long Island, New York. After closing the school in 1902, he began organizing summer schools in Europe, beginning in Haarlem, Holland, in 1903.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:15
The connection between Winslow Homer (1836–1910) and the Portland Museum of Art is long-standing and intimate. Homer exhibited at the museum in his lifetime, and through the course of the twentieth century the PMA has become a symbolic home for the artist. Winslow Homer and the Poetics of Place commemorates the centennial of Homer’s death and is the first time since 1988 that the PMA’s entire collection of his work will be on view at once.

Winslow Homer lived during a time that saw the United States grow from a young country of small towns to a modern industrial nation. Throughout his lengthy career as a graphic artist, genre painter, and chronicler of the rugged Maine coast, Homer provided the nation with images that helped create a sense of place in an era of rapid change and growth. In particular, Homer’s uninhabited images of crashing waves, moody and existential, created a new way of looking at the Atlantic that proved popular to the generation of artists who followed the painter to Maine.

Friday, 21 January 2011 03:11
In the last half of the eighteenth century, wealthy New England schoolgirls often displayed their stitching skills by executing elaborately embroidered coats of arms.1 One such object (Fig. 1), likely from Boston and dated between 1790 and 1820, is now in the collection of Winterthur Museum. Much of the surface is elaborately embroidered, but in one location the word “Gold” has been written on the silk ground fabric, partially obscured between the worked shield and garlands (Fig. 2). This presented the distinct possibility that the wording was intended as a color instruction for the embroiderer and was provided by the artist who painted the design. Research suggests that the designs for coats of arms used by schoolgirls were typically chosen from books of heraldry and then a sign painter or artist was employed to reproduce and transfer them to the fabric using paint.2 The presence of the word “Gold” was exciting given that little is known about how the color instruction was relayed to the embroiderer when a design was purchased.
Friday, 21 January 2011 03:04
Frank Maresca opens the door of his Manhattan loft and sticks his head into the front entrance in greeting. Behind him is the first glimpse of his collection — a painting for a 1931 poster by French artist Paul Colin that makes visitors do a double take when they look beyond their host. The image — hands in the act of putting on a pair of round black spectacles — looks as though it were modeled on Maresca and his signature eyeglasses.

Provocative and personal, it sums up Maresca’s feelings not only about art but also about the art of collecting. “Art’s all about having a strong reaction,” he says. “I don’t care if you have a negative or positive reaction; you can love it or you can hate it. I want you to have some kind of reaction because that’s the beginning of the discussion.”
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 15:55
Behind the facade of a sprawling Mid-Atlantic stone house is one of the foremost collections of American folk art. Exuberant color and an affinity for sculptural and playful forms characterize this astonishingly layered gathering of objects. The common element uniting this collection is the extraordinarily fine quality of every piece. The collectors have meticulous instincts and have sought out the very best.

The adventure begins at the front door, which opens to an entry hall that is a blaze of color, the result in part of painted leather fire buckets that line the stairs and a pyramid of parade fire hats; a rare Shaker shelf clock and tailoring counter act as subdued foils. The ensemble hints at the treasures beyond. It is fitting to see Shaker pieces upon first entering the house; the couple began their collection acquiring furniture crafted by Shaker artisans whose intent was to create works of beauty and perfection.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 15:29
Nearly half a century has passed since Clarence L. Prickett drove by a handsome 1800 stone farmhouse for sale in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and got out to take a look. A peek through the dining-room window revealed handsome beamed ceilings; then and there he realized it was the house for which he had been looking. In short order he moved his wife and three young children into the house of his dreams.

The large barn on the property provided ample space for his burgeoning antiques business. Soon he was spending time in New York at Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses, often on the floor studying the furniture from the bottom up. He has fond memories of the heady sixties and seventies, buying and selling with Harold and Albert Sack, John Walton, and Bob Skinner, among other leading lights of the trade.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 15:06
When he was twenty years old, William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) set out to become an artist. That he became one of the most honored and respected American artists of his day was the result of extraordinary talent, determination, and canny self-marketing. However, he kept no known records, daily calendar, list of sitters, or diary; very few letters survive; and, except for early paintings, Chase rarely dated his work. It is only through lifetime exhibition and auction records, and periodicals and books of the period that his paintings can be arranged chronologically, and as a by-product, the original titles of many of the works confirmed.

Chase's earliest landscapes date from his years as a student at the Munich Royal Academy (1872–1877). Somewhat tonal in nature, they mainly record streets and buildings in the small towns where Chase and his fellow students spent the summer months away from the academy. In the fall of 1877, Chase went to Venice with two of his classmates, Frank Duveneck (1848–1919) and John Twachtman (1853–1902). Although ill for much of his time there, he completed several paintings of which Venice, 1877 (Fig. 1) is a prime example. It wasn't until he returned to New York in 1878 and joined the Tile Club that he pursued landscape painting as a more disciplined pursuit. The club was the first plein-air sketching club in America, and over its ten-year life organized four summer painting expeditions, three to Long Island and one along the Hudson River to Lake Champlain. It was on the second trip to Long Island, in 1880, that Chase painted A Subtle Device (Fig. 2), a portrait of himself seated under a jerry-rigged net studio on the beach near Sands Point—the netting device being a means to avoid a plague of mosquitoes. During these early years, Chase also painted the beach at Coney Island, and the Hackensack River in New Jersey, the latter when he visited the summer home of the Gerson family—specifically to see young Alice Gerson whom he would later marry.