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Chatsworth House Arrives at BMA

Chatsworth House and Park, ca. 1725, Pieter Tillemans

Chatsworth House and Park, ca. 1725, Pieter Tillemans, Flemish (1684-1734), oil on canvas, Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; purchase with funds provided by the Sklenar Family—Herb, Ellie, Susan and Tisha; and the Art Fund, Inc. AFI4.2013

by Jeannine O’Grody, PhD, Deputy Director, Chief Curator, and Curator of European Art

Thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Sklenar and their family, the Museum purchased a major example of 18th-century English landscape painting. This glorious view of Chatsworth, one of the stately “treasure houses” of Britain, was painted in about 1725 by Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734), a Flemish artist who played an important role in spreading the visual language of landscape painting—already flourishing on the European continent—to the English school. Tillemans was born in Antwerp, emigrated to England in 1708, and became one of the pioneers of landscape painting in Britain. 

Chatsworth, built in the 16th century by the Cavendish family, has remained home to the Dukes of Devonshire through today. It contains a priceless collection of paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, neoclassical sculptures, and books. The house and gardens have been remodeled over the centuries, but this canvas immortalizes this era with a remarkably accurate topographical record. The painting combines the estate with a frieze of 17 horses in the foreground. In the 18th century the second duke was famous as a breeder and owner of race horses, and these represent the cream of the Chatsworth stud. Tillemans captured the unique qualities of several of the horses with an extraordinary naturalism, which has allowed historians to identify some of the legendary racers. 

In the spirit of discovery, we invite you to look closely at our new painting and to become absorbed in the astonishing amount of deftlyrendered details such as the mill with its waterwheel in the foreground, a groom feeding a horse, the grand gardens with fountains and classical sculptures, the various structures on the estate, and perhaps the duke himself on horseback. In contrast, the artist also captured the panoramic view of more than 1,000 acres, counterbalancing the open spaces of sky with the undulating landscape. This iconic work, critical to the development of English landscape painting, was passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family until purchased by the BMA. It is on display in the English Gallery.

 

Caring for Art

From Paper Trails to Digital Delivery

File cards with TMSby Suzanne Voce Stephens, Collections Database Administrator

In the “old days” of Museum Registration, we used to type colorcoded cards to cross-reference our collection records—white cards for object records, pink for donors, green for loans, yellow for media. We started moving away from that in 1989 when we invested in our first collections management software. At the time, we were among the early advocates nationally of computer systems. Now, 24 years later, virtually all museums have automated collection records. We continue to expand our use of the database and have recently completed a major upgrade of our software, The Museum System (TMS), which is widely used by museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chrysler Museum of Art, New York Historical Society, and hundreds of other museums around the world. 

We are working to expand our database to further enhance our access to and understanding of the collections. New features and projects on the horizon include enhancing data related to conservation records, attaching scanned archival documents, expanding our exhibition history records to make them more easily searchable, managing current exhibitions with new features of the software, and continuing to attach images to object records. The database currently includes over 33,500 object records, 5,000 artist records, and more than 30,000 image files. Perhaps the most important aspect of our upgrade has been moving to a virtual server that provides more hard-drive space and speed for faster growth of the collection data. These more robust features of the database are available to curators and museum staff members for research, inventory, and archival use. 

Public access to TMS data is available in the online searchable collection database on the Museum’s website, which offers highlights of the collection as well as greater depth in some areas. The online collection is drawn from TMS data as well as images from the Museum’s digital asset management system (a separate image database). The number of works available online continues to grow at a steady pace as a team of several departments work to edit collection data, photograph works of art, and review copyright issues. Our goal is to make more works of art and search tools available to the public in the coming months and years to expand public awareness and scholarship of the Museum’s best loved works and hidden gems in the collection.

Mystery Object

Summer 2013-Spring 2014: Egg Beater

Egg Beater. Wedgwood, about 1800. Lead-glazed earthenware, creamware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York, AFI451.2008a-b.

Egg Beater. Wedgwood, about 1800. Lead-glazed earthenware, creamware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York, AFI451.2008a-b.

Hungry?  In the mood for an omelet? Eighteenth-century cooks used small, circular, covered vessels like these examples–made by Wedgwood of creamware, a kind of low-fired earthenware ceramic–to beat an egg. A series of spikes, or prongs, pointed toward the center line the inner wall. A cook broke an egg into the main vessel, covered it, and shook.

Art in use

Here is an 18th-century recipe for your omelet:

To make an Omelette. Put a quarter of a pound of butter into a frying pan. Break six eggs and beat them a little, strain them through a hair sieve. Put them in when your butter is hot and strew in a little shred parsley and boiled ham scraped fine with nutmeg, pepper and salt…

—From The Experienced English Housekeeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies, House-Keepers, Cooks, &c.… by Elizabeth Raffald (first published 1769)

Comments from the gallery

Question: “How would you use an object like this in your life?”
  • “To hear faraway sounds.”
  • “To catch fish.”
  • “As a sugar container – spikes help to break up lumps with room in the center for a small sugar spoon.”
  • “To sift through spices that might get stuck together.”
  • “To grind coffee beans.”
  • “As art.”
  • “To hold loose tea leaves.”
  • “To keep kids’ hands out of the cookie jar.”
  • “As a lemon squeezer.”
  • “To protect my Oreos.”
  • “To mix something.”
  • “As a fairy torture device.”
  • “To clean my glass eye!”
  • “To strike fear in the hearts of my enemies.”
  • “As a walnut crusher.”
  • “As a bug catcher.”
  • “As a musical instrument. I’d put beads in it, and shake firmly.”
  • “To hide money in.”
  • “As a trap for pests/rodents.”
  • “Cookie or candy jar if I didn’t want to share.”
  • “To store cotton balls.”
  • “As a home for my pet bug.”
  • “As a cream separator.”
  • “To keep notes and trinkets.”
  • “To julienne vegetables.”
  • “As a jewelry safe.”
  • “To hide precious things that I don’t want anyone to touch.”
  • “To trick my enemies.”
  • “As a Halloween decoration.”
Question: “What are the first three words that come to mind when you look at this object?”
  • “Wow – that’s – cool”
  • “Sand – worm – dentures”
  • “Utility – teeth – old”
  • “Incredible – edible – egg”
  • “Dagger – devour – drum”
  • “I – am – scared”
  • “Grinder – container – unique”
  • “Sharp – dangerous – interesting”
  • “A – musical – instrument”
  • “When – is – dinner”
  • “It – is – beautiful”
  • “Tuna – fish – can”
  • “Sharp – finger – trap”
  • “Awesome – weird – cool”
  • “Sharp – pointy – scary”
  • “Teeth – scary – bad”
  • “Lip – stick – holder”
  • “Old – food – processor”
  • “Tooth – pick – separater”
  • “Drum – milkshakes – blender”
  • “Green – spikes – container”
  • “Grinder – green – spikes”
  • “Fruit – juicer – yum!”
  • “Shaker – grinder -drum”
  • “A – top – hat”
  • “Ouch – shaker – trap”
  • “Sharp – teeth – ouch”
  • “Death – blades – torture”

And one more insightful comment from Abigail, a gallery visitor: “I could see this as somebody’s heart. It is hard to get to, but once you get it, it is amazing!”

 

Spotlight on the Collection

August 2013: Dawn

L’aurore (Dawn). William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1881. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Estate of Nelle H. Stringfellow, 2005.111.

L’aurore (Dawn). William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1881. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Estate of Nelle H. Stringfellow, 2005.111.

L’Aurore (Dawn), William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1881

Dawn – early morning represented by a female figure reaching back to smell a blooming calla lily – exemplifies William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s standards of beauty and technical skill. His attention to detail and smooth finished surfaces produced human figures that are both lyrical and ideal.

Bouguereau studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and classical art at the Villa Medici in Rome, which gave him a chance to explore the human form in depth. Critics praised his images of nudes particularly for the meticulously detailed yet gentle rendering of skin.

Greco-Roman antiquities and Italian Renaissance sculpture often influenced Bouguereau’s later work. Frequently, he portrayed biblical, mythological, and allegorical figures like Dawn. A passage in Homer’s Odyssey that describes the breaking of day as a “rosy-fingered dawn, the child of the morning” inspired him to paint the figure’s fingers and toes with a pinker hue than the rest of her flesh.

Dawn is Bouguereau’s first artwork in a series of the times of day. Others include Dusk (1882; National Museum of Art, Havana); Night (1883; Hillwood Museum and Gardens, Washington, DC); and Day (1884; private collection, USA). Though each allegorical figure’s personality is as different from the others as night is to day, a continuity exists among them – in their poses, loosely draped garments, and the landscapes they occupy. The paintings, a study in complements and contrasts, share a harmony of line, form, and color. Although the artist exhibited each work at the Paris Salon, they never hung together; he sold them to his dealer Adolphe Goupil, who in turn placed them with American collectors.

Bouguereau’s polished academic style fell out of favor in the wake of looser, more expressive styles like Impressionism. Painting, however, was a labor of love for him; he said, “Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come… if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable.”

—Tyler Pratt, education – visitor engagement intern 2013, with Jeannine O’Grody, deputy director and chief curator

See the other works in the series!

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Dusk (1882)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Night (1883)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Day (1884)

Join the conversation!

Though not as much a household name today as other 19th-century French artists like Claude Monet, William-Adolphe Bouguereau was one of the foremost painters of his time. As styles like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism have gained prominence in the 20th century, more traditional artists like Bouguereau have fallen into obscurity.

What more would you like to know about the artist and his times? Academic art, training, or the Salon? Your questions and feedback will help us develop the BMA’s inaugural Museum Lab, opening next fall!

Staff Updates

Staff Updates – July 2013

Dr. Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, The Marguerite Jones Harbert and John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative Arts, has been named Senior Curator. Anne has been with the Museum since September 1999. During her tenure she has curated a number of exhibitions and gallery installations and is the author of the comprehensive catalogue European Cast Iron in the Birmingham Museum of Art. Anne also oversees the Museum’s internship program.

At the National Art Education Association annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas, during the first week of March, Curator of Education Samantha Kelly presented Adrift Without a Guide? Strategies for Engaging Self-Guided Museum Visitors with Toby Tannenbaum, Assistant Director for Education at The J. Paul Getty Museum. The session explored experimental strategies for encouraging visitors to slow down, look closely, connect with, and truly contemplate original works of art. A national audience of art museum educators learned about the innovative strategies newly available to visitors in the BMA including the Meditation Station in the Japanese gallery, the Mystery Object kiosk in the 18th-century English gallery, and interactive iPad apps featuring the permanent collection and exhibitions such as The Look of Love

 On February 28, Assistant Curator of Education for Visitor Engagement Kristi McMillan served as a judge for the 2013 Veterans Fine Arts, Applied Arts and Crafts Competition. This annual program provides veterans receiving treatment at the Birmingham Veterans Administration Medical Center with an opportunity to be acknowledged for their artistic talents and skills. Local first place entries in each category, selected by a panel from the local art community based on creativity, skill, originality, and total presentation, go on to compete in the VA’s national art competition.

Artist-in-Residence Toby H. Richards presented a sumi-e workshop entitled Sumi-e: The Art of Relaxation to students, faculty, and staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on April 12 as part of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Also a form of meditation, sumi-e is classical Asian black ink painting that focuses on simple brushstrokes used to communicate the essence of a subject. Richards has studied, taught, and exhibited her sumi-e work in Japan. She continues to develop and to teach Asian design principles.

Donald Wood, Senior Curator and The Virginia and William M.Spencer III Curator of Asian Art, was recently honored by his hometown of Barberton, Ohio. The Barberton Board of Education inducted Don into the Barberton Academic Hall of Fame on May 2. Don is the first inductee to represent the fine arts in the Hall of Fame. Don had lunch with a number of current Barberton High School students and was joined at the awards banquet that evening by family, friends, and former classmates.

 


 

Spotlight on the Collection

July 2013: Perfume Fountain

Perfume Fountain. Paris, France, about 1710. Porcelain with underglaze blue enamel decoration and gilt bronze. 17 1/4 × 10 inches. The Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection, 1991.22a-b.

Perfume Fountain. Paris, France, about 1710. Porcelain with underglaze blue enamel decoration and gilt bronze. 17 1/4 × 10 inches. The Eugenia Woodward Hitt Collection, 1991.22a-b.

Perfume Fountain, French, about 1710

Porcelain, a ceramic material first made in China, was a staple of trade between Europe and East Asia. Though the present in Europe in the early 17th century, King Louis XIV of France’s affinity for porcelain made it an important facet of French décor. In the mid-17th century, a royal manufactory was established in France, though trade with East Asia continued through the 18th century since French manufactories could not make porcelain of the same quality and durability as China without kaolin, a type of clay.

The Museum’s Perfume Fountain was made in Paris from three different pieces of imported 17th century porcelain. Due to the fragility of the material, imported wares often arrived damaged; European artisans salvaged or repurposed usable pieces. This process of appropriation removed the objects from their original context, prizing them as “exotic” and purely decorative. The Museum’s Perfume Fountain, however, took on a new, uniquely French function upon its reconstruction: the dispensing of perfume.

Fountains were one of many types of perfume dispensers found in the homes of the upper class, but they were by no means the most common. They were likely commissioned by a Parisian marchand-mercier (a merchant-entrepreneur who worked as an antiques dealer and interior decorator) for a particular client. The fountain would likely be filled with hot, fragrant water which could be dispensed through gilt-bronze spigots to freshen a room. Gilt-bronze additions to East Asian porcelain often served a function beyond their aesthetic value; for example, cassolettes (incense burners) and pots-pourris often included perforated gilt-bronze necks or covers through which evaporated perfume could escape.

Perfume dispensers played an important role in hygiene of 17th- and 18th-century France. During this time, it was widely thought that illness was caused by “malignancy of the atmosphere,” or unpleasant scents; it was believed that perfume could improve the atmosphere to prevent even the most devastating diseases. Both perfumery and common hygiene incorporated aspects of alchemy, philosophy, and medicine, and recipe books for homemade perfumes and cosmetics became a booming industry. One such book, The Toilet of Flora (available in the Museum’s Clarence B. Hanson, Jr. Library) contains recipes for cosmetics such as hair dyes, skin cleansers, and weight-loss potions alongside “An excellent Preservative Balsam against the Plague,” which offers protection against the deadly disease by means of overpowering its stench.

—Katherine Ladd and Tyler Pratt, Education-Visitor Engagement Interns 2013

Join the Conversation!

In many ways, the hygiene of 17th-century France is not so different from today; in a chapter on the bathroom in Seventeenth-century interior decoration in England, France, and Holland (available in the Museum’s Clarence B. Hanson, Jr. Library), Peter Thornton argues that the only drastic difference between then and now is that we have running water. How do you see scent functioning in your day-to-day life? How large a role does smell play in modern hygiene? Look for the aforementioned books in the Museum’s library, explore the following articles, and join the conversation!

“Where Everything Smells Bad,” New York Times, March 6, 2013

“Fragrances as Art, Displayed Squirt by Squirt,” New York Times, November 15, 2012

“The Great Unwashed,” New York Times, October 31, 2010

“All About/Deodorants; The Success of Sweet Smell,” New York Times, August 12, 1990

Lauren Reynolds and John Malloch III

Lauren Reynolds and John Malloch, III, both of Birmingham celebrated their wedding with a reception at the Museum on June 22, 2013.  Lauren and John had a perfect reception thanks to the amazing wedding planning team at Mariee Ami.  The Museum was decorated with beautiful flowers and décor by Buffy Hargett and Mariee Ami.   Guests dined on delicious food from A Social Affair, and enjoyed cake from Barb’s Cakes.   Lauren, John, and all of their guests danced the night away with music from The Tip Tops.  At the end of the night, Lauren and John made their way through confetti as they left the reception.  The entire evening was beautifully captured by A Bryan Photo.  We wish Lauren and John a lifetime of happiness!  

Event Spotlight

Lauren Reynolds and John Malloch III

reynolds featureJune 22, 2013

Lauren Reynolds and John Malloch III, both of Birmingham celebrated their wedding with a reception at the Museum on June 22, 2013.  Lauren and John had a perfect reception thanks to the amazing wedding planning team at Mariee Ami.  The Museum was decorated with beautiful flowers and décor by Buffy Hargett and Mariee Ami.   Guests dined on delicious food from A Social Affair, and enjoyed cake from Barb’s Cakes.   Lauren, John, and all of their guests danced the night away with music from The Tip Tops.  At the end of the night, Lauren and John made their way through confetti as they left the reception.  The entire evening was beautifully captured by A Bryan Photo.  We wish Lauren and John a lifetime of happiness!

Spotlight on the Collection

June 2013: Portland Vase copy

Portland Vase Copy. Wedgwood, about 1790. Stoneware (jasperware). The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Wedgwood Collection.

Portland Vase Copy. Wedgwood, about 1790. Stoneware (jasperware). The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Wedgwood Collection.

Portland Vase Copy, Josiah Wedgwood, 1789

A Roman artist carved the Portland Vase from cameo glass around the 1st century AD. Unearthed in the late 16th or early 17th century, it came into the collection of Margaret Bentinck, 2nd Duchess of Portland, in 1783. Since then, it has borne the name of her family’s seat; they donated it permanently to the British Museum, where it has been a cornerstone of its antiquities collection since 1810.

Sculptor John Flaxman suggested that potter Josiah Wedgwood study the Portland Vase and make copies. Instead of cameo glass, Wedgwood used jasperware, a material he developed from barium sulfate. It took him four years to complete the first copy to his satisfaction, which he then put into production.

Several detailed figures form a frieze around the vase. Although many scholars identify one as Cupid, god of love, the other figures are more ambiguous. Some scholars believe that figures are mythological, suggesting that the couple holding hands are the hero Peleus and his sea-nymph wife, Thetis. Others believe these scenes contain both historic and mythological figures, such as the Roman emperor Augustus, his mother, the sun god Apollo (as a snake), and the sea god Neptune. On the opposite side, some scholars identify the handsome Trojan mortal Paris, his mother Hecuba, and Venus, the goddess of beauty.

The Birmingham Museum of Art’s Wedgwood collection includes two first-edition copies of the Portland Vase. When removing them from the kiln, Wedgwood hand-numbered each copy on the inside; the Museum’s black copy is number 12. Sir Joshua Reynolds, painter, wrote about number 12, stating that it was so accurate to the original Portland Vase that Wedgwood thought it his best copy. A year later, he made a few copies in slate blue; the Museum houses one of only five copies known in this color.

 —Katherine Ladd, education – visitor engagement intern spring 2013

Join the Conversation!

Josiah Wedgwood created a number of copies of the Portland Vase. Museums and private collectors around the world collect these copies, as well as other types of multiple artworks like photographs, prints, and cast-metal sculptures. Do you think that copies of the Portland Vase are as important as the Roman original? Why or why not? How does the number of artworks in an edition affect their “authenticity” or value?

Check out these articles, and join the conversation!

“Ruling on Artistic Authenticity: The Market vs. the Law,” New York Times, August 5, 2012

“Statement on Standards for the Production and Reproduction of Sculpture,” College Art Association

“Prints,” International Fine Prints Dealers Association

Portland Vase Iconography

BBC, Josiah Wedgewood (1730-1795)

Spotlight on the Collection

May 2013: School of Beauty, School of Culture

School of Beauty, School of Culture. Kerry James Marshall, 2012. Acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds, 2012.57. © Kerry James Marshall. Courtesy of Kerry James Marshall and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

School of Beauty, School of Culture. Kerry James Marshall, 2012. Acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds, 2012.57. © Kerry James Marshall. Courtesy of Kerry James Marshall and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

School of Beauty, School of Culture, Kerry James Marshall, 2012

For many African American artists born during the Civil Rights Movement, turbulent events they witnessed or experienced growing up during that time affect their later work. Kerry James Marshall, who was born in Birmingham in 1955 and grew up in South Central Los Angeles, experienced two hotbeds of national change firsthand. His body of work responds directly to the Civil Rights Movement, its legacy, and evolving, complicated notions of African American identity.

In School of Beauty, School of Culture, Marshall invites the viewer into a beauty school filled with black female and male figures. As the title suggests, the scene is more than just a beauty salon; this setting, familiar to most African Americans, not only teaches a trade but also educates its clientele about African American culture through fellowship.

Throughout the painting, Marshall strategically places cultural signifiers, such as the poster for Lauryn Hill’s Grammy-award winning album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). Deeply personal, the album chronicles Hill’s struggles with interpersonal turmoil, love, and God, and continue to resonate today.

The clock reflected in the mirror at right reads “Nation Time,” the title of a song by African American tenor-saxophonist Joe McPhee. Mostly instrumental, the question “What time is it?” becomes a constant refrain, to which a crowd responds “Nation time!,” a direct reference to the black power and black nationalism movements of the 1970s.

Also reflected is the title of the painting written on a wall, suggesting that School of Beauty, School of Culture may also be the name of the salon/beauty school. The words sit atop a red, black, and green border, better recognizable as the Pan-African (or Afro-American) flag, a symbol of the black power movement. Each color in the flag has meaning: red represents the blood connection between all Africans; black, the general skin color; and green, the African land.

Besides these cultural references, Marshall further alludes to art history, perhaps to connect African Americans with Western artistic traditions. Seen in skewed perspective, the blond-haired, blue-eyed head of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty recalls the anamorphic skull in Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533). The presence of the head here comments that, to many Americans, the ideal of beauty is a fair-haired white girl; in this environment, though, that image is both literally and figuratively out of place.

Finally, the figures at right, who watch intently as a stylist washes her client’s hair, could refer to Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632). Similarly to how Rembrandt doctor instructs student’s about human musculature, the salon client reclines as the stylist gives instructions about her hair. Both environments are places of learning.

In an interview with Ron Platt, the Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, Marshall said, “My whole orientation as an artist is towards showing people things that they wouldn’t be able to see if I didn’t put them in a picture.” He intentionally leaves some ambiguity in the painting to encourage viewers with questions and find connections – or disconnections – for themselves.

—Katherine Ladd, education – visitor engagement intern, spring 2013

Join the Conversation!

Kerry James Marshall’s life experiences inform his artworks. In an Interview with Public Broadcasting Service’s Art 21, Marshall says “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility.” What do you think that “social responsibility” is, and how does he achieve it? What is your social responsibility?

Take a look at these other works by Marshall, and join the conversation!

De Style,  1993

Better Homes, Better Gardens, 1994

Souvenir II, 1997

“Kerry James Marshall at Secession,” Contemporary Art Daily, November 20, 2012

Art 21: Interview with Kerry James Marshall