Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Barnes Foundation. Philadelphia

Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia 
October 21, 2018 - January 14, 2019

Reviewed by Ed Voves
Original photos by Anne Lloyd

Art criticism is a notably risky business. Albert Wolff, one of the leading critics of nineteenth century France, permanently damaged his reputation by one infamous review. On the pages of Le Figaro in 1876, Wolff denounced the art exhibition of "five or six lunatics, one of whom is a woman."

The "lunatics" were the Impressionist painters and the woman was Berthe Morisot. A splendid exhibition of Morisot's paintings is now on view at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist is a joint project of several museums: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris - and the Barnes Foundation.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018)  Curators of the Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist exhibition. From left: Nicole R. Myers, Dallas Museum of Art, Sylvie Patry, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and Cindy Kang of the Barnes Foundation.

This long-overdue retrospective is brilliantly organized to present Morisot in all aspects of her creative genius: Impressionist, woman artist and pioneer of Modernism.

Albert Wolff, by comparison, is all but forgotten except for his notorious comments. Yet, it is worth "giving the devil his due" and revisit Wolff's article. He was clearly impressed with Morisot and caught something of the emotional forces which impelled her quest for artistic  success.

"There is also a woman in the group, as is the case with all famous gangs," Wolff wrote. "Her name is Berthe Morisot, and she is interesting to behold. In her, feminine grace is preserved amidst the frenzy of a mind in delirium."

"Frenzy" and "delirium" were wide of the mark as descriptors for Berthe Morisot. Yet Wolff intuitively grasped Morisot's artistic zeal. She boldly - if quietly - explored  the limits of objective, observable reality. Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist might just as well have been entitled Berthe Morisot, Modern Artist.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist

The array of art works on display at the Barnes reveals Morisot to have been one of the most daring and experimental of the Impressionists. Over seventy of Morisot's paintings have been placed on display in this, the first major U.S. exhibition of her work since 1987 and the first in France since 1941!

Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist follows the basic chronology of Morisot's life, but is also structured to enable visitors to grasp the themes which preoccupied her as an artist. 

The exhibition has much to show about Morisot as a woman and as a woman artist. Many of her paintings take place in "threshold" places, windows, balconies, doorways and verandas. The women and girls are poised to go beyond the home boundaries in these paintings, just as women in the the late 1800's began the campaign for female suffrage and a role in the male-dominated professions. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Interior, 1872

Many of Morisot's female protagonists seem pensive and melancholy, as if aware of the emotional price to be paid for reaching beyond the age-old confines of a "woman's" role. The aptly-named Interior, painted in 1872, is a notable example of the theme of Morisot and the modern woman on the threshold.

Some of Morisot's concerns, such as the need to document women as members of the work force or engaged in domestic chores, need to be interpreted in the light the nascent feminism of the nineteenth century.

Morisot, especially early in her career, "appears" to remain focused on the traditional social duties of women, motherhood and "keeping up appearances." Yet appearances were deceiving. There was so much more to Morisot's artistic vision, in contradiction to what was expected of a woman artist.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Serving Girl,1886

By the time Morisot died, aged 54, in 1895, she had erased almost all details of the fashionable world from her paintings. Clothing styles, ornamentation, the surrounding milieu vanished, with only the human essence of her sitters remaining on the canvas.

This is not a posthumous twenty-first century assessment, no revisionist recalibration of her Impressionist achievement. Morisot's fellow Impressionists - Renoir particularly - were in awe of her talent. And so were critics not blinded by prejudice or male vanity.

 "No one represents impressionism with a more refined talent and more authority than Mme Morisot," Gustave Geoffroy wrote in 1881. 

Berthe Morisot began her career in the company of her elder sister, Edma (1839-1921). Both young women were extremely talented and were supported by their parents in their artistic ambitions. This consideration, exceptional for a family of the haute bourgeoisie, was predicated on eventual marriage for their daughters.

That is exactly what destiny had in store for Edma. She and Berthe studied with a private art tutor and briefly with Corot. Edma's 1865 portrait of Berthe demonstrated both her skill and traditionalist oeuvre. Had she continued with her art, Edma would likely have to follow Corot's lead. In 1869, however, Edma married a naval officer in 1869 and abandoned plans for an artistic career.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Edma Pontillon's Berthe Morisot, c.1865

For Berthe, Edma's portrait represented the road not taken. From the start, as Corot realized, Berthe was a more restless spirit. But why did she join the fledgling Impressionist movement?

Thanks to family connections, Berthe Morisot was introduced to a wide circle of rising artists. Her meeting with Édouard Manet was obviously of crucial importance. Manet painted Morisot several times and his elan in pressing forward with his unique vision of art served an an example for her own efforts. But Manet did little in practical terms to encourage Morisot professionally. 

Morisot was also close to the Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898).  who warned her against challenging the art establishment of France. Yet she did not heed his advice nor was she influenced by his allegorical style.

Instead, Morisot surveyed the work of rising artists and found her inspiration in a key work by Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), View of the Village, 1868. This work, one of the masterpieces of early Impressionism, was featured in a recent National Gallery exhibition on Bazille.

Morisot was fond of the tall, generous painter from southern France. "Big" Bazille, as she called him, painted a simple, naturalistic depiction of a young girl sitting on a hill overlooking a valley near his home in Montpellier. What sounds like a banal, unremarkable work was actually a perfect example of a "figure en plein air.”

 Morisot was tremendously impressed with View of the Village. Bazille explored the psychological depths of an "ordinary" person in the setting of her daily life. Morisot responded with several similar paintings set in coastal towns of Brittany. But Morisot did not hit her stride with plein air works until after Bazille's death in the Franco-Prussian War. 

Berthe Morisot, Reading (the Green Umbrella),1873

Two  en plein air paintings by Morisot exemplify how she responded to the inspiration she found in Bazille's View of the Village. Her sister Edma appears in Reading (1873) and again, with her young daughter Jeanne, in Hide and Seek, also painted the same year. These are deceptively simple works, each with subtle touches which note the brevity and preciousness of time.

While Edma is perfectly at ease - or appears to be - with her book, a farm cart trundles by in the distance. This work-a-day image, like the numerous factory smoke stacks which appear in  many Impressionist paintings, reminds the viewer that labor does not cease, even when we pause to relax.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Hide and Seek, 1873

Nor does time stand still - though many would think so from a superficial reading  of Impressionist painting, including works by Morisot. In Hide and Seek, mother and child playfully romp around a sapling tree which will grow, bear fruit and, in time, wither with age. So will young Jeanne. So do all human beings.

The date of these paintings is hugely significant, 1873, the year before the first Impressionist salon. Morisot played an important role in this pivotal event. She did so, however, as mature, fully-formed artist rather than as an acolyte to an established master. Indeed, one may say that she responded to Bazille's work because he embraced spontaneity and personal inclination.

"Every day I pray that the Good Lord will make me like a child," Morisot wrote."That is to say, that He will make me see nature and render it the way a child would, without preconceptions." 

Morisot brought no "preconceptions" to the first Impressionist Salon of 1874. She did bring outstanding examples of her creativity, including Hide and Seek and her most famous painting, The Cradle.

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle,1872

Morisot's The Cradle is a tremendously accomplished and appealing work. It recalls the sensitive portraits of young women painted by her teacher, Corot, which are currently on view in an excellent exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. The painting's theme, motherhood, was one of the traditional standards of Western art, the modeling of the figure was superb (note the exquisite treatment of the fingers holding the veil) and the delicate tracing of the sleeping infant's eyelids is just short of miraculous.

Despite this litany of superlatives, The Cradle did not sell at the Impressionist Salon of 1874. It was Morisot's lot to struggle, just as her male Impressionist colleagues did. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Mr. M(anet) and His Daughter, 1883

Thanks to the emotional support of her husband, Eugene Manet, brother of Édouard, and family financial resources, Morisot never had to fear bill collectors. Yet she faced ceaseless frustration, much of it due to her own exacting standards. Morisot referred to her dissatisfaction with her work as my "mania for lamentation."

 Morisot's nephew, the poet Paul Valéry, noted perceptively:

As for her personal character, it is well known that it was rare and reserved; distinction was of her essence; she could be unaffectedly and dangerously silent and create without knowing it a baffling distance between herself and all who approached her, unless they were among the first artists of her time.

Morisot resolved her "mania" through experimentation. Over and over again in the exhibition were see brush strokes and paint-handling on one canvas, so different from a nearby work that we would have to assume that it was by a different artist.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017), Detail of Berthe Morisot's Mr. M(anet) and His Daughter

In the portrait of her husband and daughter sitting in the garden, Morisot used countless flecks of color. John Constable had used the same technique, half a century earlier, to the incredulity of critics who derided it as "snow." Morisot and Constable both appreciated this approach to capturing the effect of reflected light - and so will you when you study this amazing painting and similar works at the Barnes.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017), Detail of Berthe Morisot's The Milk Jug, 1890

By contrast, Morisot utilized flowing, liquid brush strokes in her depictions of women and children at work. Quite a number of the works on view in the Barnes exhibit are from private collections and one, showing a little farm girl carrying a bowl of milk, beautifully reveals Morisot's painterly treatment of bodies in motion.

Later in career, Morisot painted on pieces of unprimed canvas. Édouard Manet had done so earlier and Morisot borrowed this radical innovation, using it to brilliant effect. She placed bold, "sketchy"  strokes to give the elemental form or framework or her subject and them concentrated on the essentials, as in the face of the sitter in Young Girl with a Vase. This astonishing work is another of the private collection loans which make Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist a tour de force exhibition.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Young Girl with a Vase, 1889

Morisot exhibited in seven of the eight Impressionist Salons. In his review of the final exhibition in 1886, the critic Jean Ajalbet noted the radical manner in which Morisot had reduced all externals to what was crucial in understanding her subject.

 “She eliminates cumbersome epithets and heavy adverbs in her terse sentence,"  Ajalbert wrote of Morisot's daring simplicity. "Everything is subject and verb."

Ajalbert's brilliant assessment was absolutely correct and the evidence to justify his assertion is evident in every work on view in the outstanding exhibition now at the Barnes Foundation. 

Berthe Morisot, no less than Manet, Degas, Cezanne and the rest of the Impressionist "lunatics", made a vital, unique contribution to creating the language of Modern Art.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                                                           
Images courtesy of the Barnes Foundation and Anne Lloyd

Introductory Image:
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841‐1895) Self‐Portrait, 1885. Oil on canvas: 61 x 50 cm (24 x 19 11/16 in.) Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. CMR 169

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Curators of the Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist exhibition. From left: Nicole R. Myers, Dallas Museum of Art, Sylvie Patry, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, and Cindy Kang of the Barnes Foundation.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Interior, 1872. Oil on canvas: 60 x 73 cm (23 5/8 x 28 3/4 in.) Diane B. Wilsey. CMR 26

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Serving Girl,1886. Oil on canvas: 71 x 44 cm (27 15/16 x 17 5/16 in.) Private collection, courtesy of Pyms Gallery, London CMR 199

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Edma Pontillon's Berthe Morisot, c.1865. Oil on canvas: 100 x 71 cm. (39 3/8 x 27 15/16 in.) Private collection.

Berthe Morisot (French, 1841‐1895) Reading (the Green Umbrella),1873. Oil on canvas: 46 x 71.8 cm (18 1/16 x 28 1/4 in.) The Cleveland Museum of Art Gift of the Hanna Fund. CMR 14

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Hide and Seek, 1873. Oil on canvas: 45 x 55 cm (17 11/16 x 21 5/8 in.) Private collection. CMR 27.

Berthe Morisot (French, 1841‐1895) The Cradle,1872Oil on canvas: Oil on canvas: 56 x 46 cm (22 1/16 x 18 1/8 in.) Musée d’Orsay, Paris. CMR 25

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Mr. M(anet) and His Daughter, 1883.  Oil on canvas: 60 x 73 cm (23 5/8 x 28 3/4 in.) Private collection. CMR 138,

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017), Detail of Berthe Morisot's Mr. M(anet) and His Daughter.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017), Detail of Berthe Morisot's The Milk Jug, 1890. Oil on canvas: 45 x 55 cm (17 11/16 x 21 5/8 in.) Private collection. CMR 27

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Berthe Morisot's Young Girl with a Vase, 1889. Oil on canvas: 81 x 100 cm (31 7/8 x 39 3/8 in.) Private collection. CMR 246

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914 at the Neue Galerie

Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914

Neue Galerie, New York City 
October 4, 2018 - January 21, 2019

Reviewed by Ed Voves 

Original Photos by Anne Lloyd

During  the spring of 1915, a hastily scrawled postcard arrived at the office of Der Sturm, the avant garde gallery and publishing firm in Berlin. It was a German Army postcard, a quick message format designed to let family and friends know that their soldier son or husband was alive.

In this case, the postcard was addressed to Herwarth Walden, director of Der Sturm, requesting him to sell a painting, The Yellow Cow, for 900 marks. The sender was Franz Marc, Expressionist painter and co-founder of the Blue Rider art group. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018)
View of the Franz Marc and August Macke exhibit, showing Marc's The Yellow Cow

The Yellow Cow now hangs on a gallery wall in a special exhibition at the Neue Galerie. This outstanding New York City museum is dedicated to German and Austrian art of the early twentieth century.

Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914, is a jaw-dropping beauty of an art show. It tells the story of Marc and his close friend, August Macke, who raised modern art in Germany to a pinnacle of insight, innovation and skill during the glorious interlude just before the opening shots of World War I.

Gallery view of the Franz Marc and August Macke exhibit at the Neue Galerie

Hulya Kolbas, Photo (2018) Courtesy Neue Gallery

In his brief 1915 message to Herwarth Walden, Marc concluded with a remark on the 900 marks he hoped to make from the sale of the painting.

"Of course that is the war price and in no way binding for future times, but only for the time being," Marc wrote. "It would be really worth my while to sell now."

 "The time being" was in fact all the time Marc had. Less than a year later, in March 1916,  Marc was struck in the head by a shell fragment during the murderous Battle of Verdun.

August Macke (1887-1914) did not even have the "time being." A devoted husband and father of two  young children, Macke had been drafted into the German Army at the very beginning of the war. In late September 1914, Macke was killed in action in France. He was one of the 116,750 Germans to be listed on the "official" record of war dead on the Western Front for the first four months of World War I, August to November 1914.

By November 1918, Germany had lost a total of 1,773,700 war dead. It is a sobering thought that two such brilliant artists and compelling human beings should have had their lives cut-short during this futile, insane slaughter.

This tragedy was compounded by Marc's posthumous reputation under the Third Reich. Despite his patriotic service and  death in battle, the Nazis blacklisted him after they gained power in 1933. Why would a German hero suffer such a fate?

Marc had enjoyed warm friendships with Jews like Herwarth Walden.  His collaboration with Vasily Kandinsky led to the formation of the Blue Rider group, the kind of progressive and idealistic collaboration which Hitler detested.  As a result, Marc's masterpiece, The Tower of Horses, was among the paintings vilified in the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. It disappeared afterward and has never been seen since.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018)

  View of the main gallery at the Franz Marc and August Macke exhibit

Despite this catalog of woe, the Neue Galerie's Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914 is a life-affirming experience. It is a brilliantly mounted exhibition with paintings that seem to levitate above the shining floor, rather than hang on the gallery walls.

Indeed there is something of a church-like atmosphere to the exhibition, rather appropriate for these two artists. 

Marc was a notable for his spiritual leanings - he had briefly considered study for the ministry. Following several years of doubt and depression, he journeyed to Greece with his brother Paul, a scholar of Byzantine religion and culture. There he witnessed forms of Christian devotion little changed since the early Church.

Abandoning his Impressionistic landscapes, Marc developed a form of color-coded  symbolism. Animals, rather than humans, embodied the virtues and values of the world as he saw - or felt - it. This was a unexpected turn, given Marc's earlier aspirations to become a clergyman.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's The Dream, 1912

The paintings of Marc's "blue horse" period are more worthy of Rousseau than of the Apostle Paul. Yet there is a psychological sophistication to The Dream, one of my favorite works by Marc, which shows an affinity with the theories of Sigmund Freud.

In 1908, just as he began to paint his now-celebrated blue horses and yellow cows, Marc expressed his views in a revealing letter:

I am trying to intensify my feeling for the organic rhythm in all things, trying to establish a pantheistic contact with the tremor and flow of blood in nature.

For a few years, Marc achieved spectacular results, bringing forth on his easel a vision of Paradise before it was "lost." 

Franz Marc, Monkey Frieze, 1911 

Every manner of animal - deer, foxes, monkeys - migrated across the canvases upon which Marc worked. This is one of the surprises of the Neue Galerie exhibition. Famous for painting horses, Marc embraced the family of creation in a truly Peaceable Kingdom.

August Macke had something of missionary zeal, too, though his subject was not a  spiritual realm. His signature style paintings have a stained-glass effect, with bold, contrasting colors and, quite often, strongly outlined forms.

August Macke, Forest Stream, 1910 

Macke, unlike Marc, used this format to record the world as it is. A quote from Macke neatly sums-up his philosophy:

He who paints must be able to see an object in its uniform tone, in its whole magic, be it a flower or a human hair. All paintings created this way are the mirrors of a soul in harmony. It is quite simply vast and has no need of symbols to paint the sea.

To an extraordinary degree, Macke evoked a Paradise "regained" just as his friend, Marc, was doing. Macke, however, populated his Eden with people. Most often they were anonymous, featureless beings or nearly so. In virtually every scene, there is a sense of well-being, of the world at peace with itself, a world as people have longed for it to be. 

August Macke, Lady in a Park, 1914 

Lady in the Park (1914), awkward, homely, yet endearing, is an inhabitant of Macke's Arcadia. How different she is from Ernst Kirchner's predatory prostitutes "making the rounds" on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, painted around the same time!

There is only the faintest delineation of eyes and expression in Lady in the Park. The erasing of physical features from many of his paintings is a troubling aspect of Macke's oeuvre

August Macke, Portrait with Apples, 1909

In 1909, Macke painted a striking portrait of his wife, Elizabeth, pregnant with their first child. It is a lovely, loving work and one is left wondering why Macke abandoned portraiture.

How the two artists met provides insight into their respective characters. Macke was a dedicated patron of art museums and galleries. Visits to France led him to exhibitions of the Fauves and he enthusiastically embraced the vigorous use of color by Matisse. In January 1910, Macke saw two lithographs by Marc in a Munich gallery. He immediately sought the address of Marc's studio and they struck-up a close friendship.

It was Marc, personable, passionate and visionary, who saw the potential for a collaborative relationship. He wrote Macke, "I consider it a great stroke of luck to have at last met a colleague of so inward and artistic a disposition - rarissme! How pleased I would be if we were to succeed in exhibiting our pictures side-by-side."

The opportunity to jointly exhibit their work came quickly. the Blue Rider group - in reality a breakaway faction from an earlier group, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München or NKM. Kandinsky, who had formed a friendship with Marc that paralleled Macke's, was the presiding spirit of Blue Rider. As much a shaman as an artist, Kandinsky aimed to promote the "spiritual in art." This appealed to Marc, but Macke was dubious.

Despite his doubts, Macke exhibited work in the 1911 Blue Rider exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich along with Marc. By the end of the exhibition, Macke could not restrain himself and wrote to Marc in January 1912:

I have just been thinking that the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) does not really represent my work... All those high-sounding words about the birth of a great spiritual moment still resounding in my ears. Kandinsky can air his personal opinion about that or any other revolution he cares to mention. But I dislike the whole thing...Take my advice – work, and don't spend so much time thinking about blue riders or blue horses.

In keeping with Macke's views, the Neue Galerie exhibition does not linger on the Blue Rider exhibitions. Nor does it examine the celebrated companion volume, the Blue Rider Almanac. Published in 1912 with funds provided by Macke's uncle, the industrialist Bernhard Koehler, this seminal book deserves an exhibition entirely devoted to its development and legacy.

Instead, the Neue Galerie exhibition follows the course of the friendship and artistic development of these two amazing artists. Both of them increasingly ventured beyond their "signature" styles into pure abstraction. 

The exhibition displays several of the abstract works by Macke and Marc. These remarkable experiments show that both artists faced an impasse prior to exploring the realm of abstraction. Macke's investigations of color and light and Marc's symbolism had both reached the point where they must transcend their favored motifs or watch them atrophy. Pure abstraction represented a path to the future. Both Marc and Macke rose to the challenge.

August Macke, Colored Forms I, 1913 (top); Franz Marc, Broken Forms, 1914

These works are amazingly in "sync" given that the two artists saw little of each other from 1913 onward. This was due to conflicting schedules rather than a falling-out over the Blue Rider exhibitions. Macke was planning a painting trip to Tunisia. The future beckoned.

Neither Marc nor Macke had much future remaining when they painted these abstract works. War was coming and Marc appears to have been aware of the ominous developments. In 1913, he combined abstraction with his earlier symbolism in one of the greatest paintings of modern times, Fate of the Animals. A forest fire consumes Marc's beloved beasts. Paradise is lost again - perhaps forever.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's The Wolves (Balkan War), 1913
Fate of the Animals is not on view in the Neue Galerie exhibition. Given its iconic status, it is unlikely to ever travel from its home location in Switzerland. Marc painted The Wolves (Balkan War) around the same time and in the same vein. It is a powerful, haunting painting.

Given these two works, Marc should have recoiled from war when it did come in August 1914. Shockingly, he did not. Instead, he volunteered for military service in the belief that war would "cleanse" Europe. 

Despite his love of French culture and friendship for Kandinsky, Marc believed in Germany's role as leader of Europe and expected Kaiser Wilhelm's well-drilled army to win. Macke went to war reluctantly, Marc enthusiastically.

It is the word "cleanse" that really casts a shadow on an appraisal of Marc. He certainly did not mean any form of ethnic cleansing. In many ways, he hoped that the war would sweep away ossified political forms in the way that the "Generation of 98" had promoted beneficial change in Spain after that nation was defeated in 1898 by the United States.

The implications of his initial pro-war views were not in keeping with Marc's deep sense of humanity or his genuine spirituality. His wife, Maria, was alarmed by his naive, reckless patriotism and so, after a century, are art lovers like myself who hold Marc in high esteem.

Marc was quickly made aware of his folly. August Macke was killed in action on September 26, 1914. Stunned by Macke's death, Marc wrote, “It is truly the cruelest blow this war could have dealt me; I lost a piece of me when he died.”

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) August Macke's Little Walter's Toys, 1912

One of the most affecting paintings in the Neue Galerie exhibition is Macke's Little Walter's Toys. Painted in 1912, Macke shows the playthings of his young son, who was four years old when his father died. The unused toys have taken on a symbolism that was never intended at the time of the painting.

Little Walter's Toys is a precious relic of the "Lost Generation" of 1914-18, of August Macke, of Franz Marc, of the martyred soldiers of all the warring nations. And it is a reminder of all the little Walters, whose hearts were broken by the War to End All Wars.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                                                           
Images courtesy of the Neue Galerie, New York City, and Anne Lloyd

Introductory Image:
Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916) The First Animals, 1913. Gouache and pencil on paper: 39.05 x 46.67 cm. Private Collection

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914 exhibition, showing Franz Marc's The Yellow Cow, 1911. Oil on Canvas: 55 3/8 x 74 1/2 inches (140.7 x 189.2 cm  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection

Hulya Kolas, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914 exhibition. Courtesy of the Neue Galerie, New York City.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Franz Marc and August Macke, 1909-1914 exhibition at the Neue Galerie, New York City

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's The Dream, 1912. Oil on canvas. 100.5 x 135.5 cm Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid Inv. no. 660 1978.15

Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916) Monkey Frieze, 1911. Oil on Canvas: 135.5 x 75.5 cm Hamburger Kunsthalle

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) August Macke's Forest Stream (Waldbach), 1910. Oil on canvas: 24 ¼ x 24 1/8 in. (61.6 x 61.3 cm) Indiana University, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Partial gift of the Robert Gore Rifkind Collection, 78.67

August Macke (German,1887-1914) Lady in a Park, 1914. Oil on canvas: 38 1/2 x 23 1/4" (97.8 x 58.9 cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Henry Pearlman Foundation, 1956   

August Macke (German, 1887-1914) Portrait with Apples, 1909. Oil on Canvas:  66 x 59.5 cm Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich

August Macke (German, 1887–1914) Colored Forms I, 1913 Oil on board, mounted on panel: 53.1 x 38.5 cm. LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, Germany Photo: LWL-LMKuk/Sabine Ahlbrand-Dornseif

Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916) Broken Forms,1914. Oil on Canvas: 44 x 33 1/4 inches (111.8 x 84.4 cm) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's The Wolves (Balkan War), 1913. Oil on Canvas: 70.8 x 139.7 cm  Albright-Knox Art Gallery Buffalo, NY 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) August Macke's Little Walter's Toys, 1912. Oil on Canvas: 50 x 60 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt Germany

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now

Philadelphia Museum of Art
October 16, 2018–March 3, 2019

Reviewed by Ed Voves

If you ask art lovers about the term haute couture, most would likely resort to a list of familiar adjectives to set the visual tone of their reply. Stylish, elegant, classy, exquisite, sensual, hip, sassy, glamorous, etc., etc. Describing "fashion" is easier than achieving a satisfactory definition. 

All of the above "superlatives" are applicable to to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's just-opened exhibition. Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now is a superb exhibit, a feast for eye and mind. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018)  View of the entrance to the Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

There is an element of irony to the term haute couture, certainly relating to its second word. To American ears at least, couture denotes Old World sophistication. The basic meaning is quite mundane, a very "work-a-day" French word.

Couture means sewing.  

To be exact, a French haute couture garment is a unique, hand-fitted dress. However, the incredible amount of work involved in a high fashion "ready made" garment makes the distinction less meaningful than one would think. 

High fashion sewing, in either form, entails a great deal of meticulous work: creating patterns, handling fabrics, cutting, stitching, fitting and all the other delicate tasks involved in turning a fashion designer's concepts into reality. It is this "sewing" which makes these dresses "works" of art. 

In the case of the New Look of 1947, Christian Dior and his dedicated staff helped reawaken a sense of beauty in a war-ravaged world. Other designers, stressing femininity and romanticism, followed suit. Fashion tastes have certainly changed since then and the Sexual Revolution has challenged some of our conceptions of beauty. Yet, when we look to the models coming down the runways, we still expect to see beautiful people and beautiful clothing and our expectations are usually met.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Kristina Haugland, curator of Fabulous Fashion

Kristina Haugland is the Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She organized Fabulous Fashion along thematic lines, much as a fashion house does when a new collection is introduced. Wisely, she begins with a comparison of two signature House of Dior ensembles.

The New Look began in 1947 with a striking two-piece dress (below, right) designed by Christian Dior. The trim waste and full skirt emphasized traditional feminine attributes. Made from pale pink silk and satin (which looks burnished gold in the exhibit), Dior's dress proclaimed that the wartime shortages of rich materials were a phenomenon of the past. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Fall/Winter Suit,1998, designed by John Galliano (left)
 Two-Piece Dress, Spring 1948, designed by Christian Dior  

According to the insightful exhibition text, Dior's New Look dress "redefined high fashion’s feminine ideal. To emphasize his new shape, the shirt has diagonal shoulder seams and stiffened tails that tuck in, while the skirt has a stiff lining and bands of topstitching." 

By comparison, the House of Dior Fall/Winter ensemble from 1998 stressed modern urban living, combining jaunty flair with a sense of luxury. A "ready-to-wear" outfit, it was created  from a wide range of materials, including dyed wool to resemble a fur collar. A lot of effort and skill went into this process, undercutting any negative comparisons about using "faux" versus organic components.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Tina Leser's Sea Fan Fantasy Evening Dress,1947

A surprising number of twentieth century fashion designers worked or were born in Philadelphia. Their creations are featured prominently in the exhibition. I was particularly impressed by the artistry of Tina Leser's hand-painted "underwater" design of large sea fans on a billowing blue blouse and skirt. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Detail of Tina Leser's Sea Fan Fantasy Evening Dress,1947

Made the same year as Dior's "New Look" dress, Leser's Sea Fan Fantasy shows how trends in fashion respond to wide-spread feelings or emotions, in this case a yearning for adventure and romance after the austerity and regimentation of the war years. 

              Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery View of Fabulous Fashion exhibit                  Ralph Rucci's 2001 Stingray Swan evening dress is at center

The full, flowing skirt continues to have a long life, outlasting the "conventional" 1950's by many years. Another Philadelphia-born designer, Ralph Rucci designed the Stingray Swan evening dress for the Chado 2001 spring/summer collection. Shown in striking midnight blue at center, this dress covers everything that the "mini" skirt left bare. Yet, it is one of the sexiest evening gowns of the Fabulous Fashion show.

Another sensational dress demonstrates that an eye for color and integrity of design can work with a short skirt or a long one. In 1952, Ellsworth Kelly utilized the hard-edged color blocks that had figured in his breakthrough painting the previous year, Colors for a Large Wall. The 1952 work was a set of panels made from brightly dyed cotton.

When he had completed his fabric art creation, Kelly had leftover material. With the help of designer, Anne Weber, he juxtaposed leftover strips of color on a simple, yet elegant sleeveless dress that reached down to the calves. Kelly declared his intention of of "getting color off the wall and having it walk around the room.” 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery view showing Brazilian designer, Francisco Costa's reinterpretation of a 1952 dress based on artwork by Ellsworth Kelly

The original dress based on Kelly's design has not survived. In 2013, Brazilian designer, Francisco Costa, reinterpreted the Fifties' classic with a much shorter hem. The result is dazzling in its simplicity, making it one of the most remarkable works on view in Fabulous Fashion.

The 1950's has an undeserved reputation as a "gray decade." Over and over again, when you look at the dates of the works in the exhibition, many of the most colorful and innovative dresses are "Fifties" creations. I was very impressed by a sensual, body-hugging evening dress designed by another Philadelphia-born fashion artist. James Galanos created this sparkling tartan gown in 1957 from beads and sequins meticulously sewn on sheer silk crepe. There is not a hint of being "dated" with this truly classic evening dress.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Evening Dress,1957, designed by James Galanos

Kristina Haugland's thematic approach gives a powerful assist to art lovers like myself who are not especially knowledgeable about fashion. It also promotes a "dialog" among like-minded designers and their dresses. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018)  Fashion designs (left to right) by:
 Norman Norell, Todd Oldham, Geoffrey Beene and Hubert de Givenchy

The array of "metallic" dresses actually works better as a group than would have been the case had each been singled-out for attention. Here four gifted designers - Norman Norell, Todd Oldham, Geoffrey Beene and Hubert de Givenchy - used unorthodox materials like metallized plastic sequins and rhinestones on silk to create fashion "statements" which are also beautiful, wearable dresses.

The Fabulous Fashion exhibition is anchored by a multi-tiered stage which brilliantly evokes the setting of fashion shows. Haugland and the exhibition set designers further enhance the "star quality" of the exhibit by the masterful synchronization of lights. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery views the lighting effects of the multi-tiered fashion display of the Fabulous Fashion exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

In the alternating glow of gold and blue light, we see these dresses in terms of daylight and evening shadow. Even more important, we are enabled to see these fashion creations as the designers envisioned them as they worked out the details of color and form on their drawing boards. Before there was a New Look there was an image in the mind's eye of Christian Dior, as for all great artists.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) "Photo-op" at Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now

The inspiration which empowers the world of fashion, the "haute" of haute couture, is brilliantly explored in this wonderful exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the few American museums with a major costume and textile department. As a result, Haugland and her colleagues were able to mount this major reappraisal of twentieth century fashion exclusively with dresses, hats and accessories from their own museum's extensive collection. Not one item was loaned from another institution.

You don't have to be a fashionista to crave further exhibitions like Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now. And you don't have to be a prophet to make a prediction that we will be seeing many more such shows come down the "runway" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Text and photos: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                                                           
Introductory Image:
Gallery view of Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo shows the "Color and Pattern" section of exhibition.
Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery view of Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Digital film projection of fashion shows dating to the period covered by the exhibition.
Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Kristina Haugland, curator of Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Fall/Winter Suit,1998, designed by John Galliano (left);

Two-Piece Dress, Spring 1948, designed by Christian Dior.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018)  Tina Leser's Sea Fan Fantasy Evening Dress, 1947, from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery View of Fabulous Fashion exhibit. Ralph Rucci's 2001 Stingray Swan evening dress is at center

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery View showing Brazilian designer Francisco Costa's reinterpretation of a 1952 dress, based on an artwork of Ellsworth Kelly. Dress was made by Calvin Klein Collection. Cotton/nylon/spandex double weave. Gift of the artist to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2015-5-1.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Evening Dress, 1957, designed by James Galanos (American, 1924–2016). Beads and sequins on sheer silk crepe. Philadelphia Museum of Art,  Gift of the designer, 1957-103-1

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery View of the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit, Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now. On view, left to right, are dresses designed by:  Norman Norell, Evening Dress, ca. 1967–70; Todd Oldham, “Mirror” Evening Dress, Fall 1992; Geoffrey Beene, “Mercury” Evening Dress, Fall/Winter 1994–95; Hubert de Givenchy, Evening Dress, Fall 1982.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Gallery views the lighting effects of the multi-tiered fashion display of the Fabulous Fashion exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) "Photo-op" at Philadelphia Museum of Art's Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now exhibition.