Saturday, July 28, 2018

A World of Art: Art Eyewitness Fifth Anniversary

A World of Art 

Art Eyewitness Fifth Anniversary


By Ed Voves
Photos by Anne Lloyd

Why do people create? Why do people "do" art? After five years of working on Art Eyewitness, I'm no closer to understanding the wellspring of creativity than when I started this blog in 2013.

Five years, on a human timeline, is both a short interval and a sizable chunk of life. It seems appropriate to reflect upon what have I seen and shared about art in these five years. But in taking stock of how much more I "know" about creativity, then I'm forced to confess to being "five years older and not a bit wiser." 

I am not alone when it comes to being mystified about creativity and the arts. Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being celebrated with a wonderful exhibit at the National Jewish Museum in Philadelphia, reflected upon the spark of creativity and declared:

That, thank Heaven, is still a glorious mystery; and it is a mystery that enshrouds every good artist I know, rich or poor, successful or not, old or young. They write, they paint, they perform, produce, whatever, because life to them is inconceivable without doing so.

Bernstein went on to plead with God to " leave us this one mystery, unsolved: why man creates."

The great maestro's prayers have so far been answered. The mystery of human creativity still eludes us, as it did during Rembrandt's final, tragic decade. 

Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride, 1665

Why did Rembrandt continue to paint, as his world crashed down about him during the 1660's? Bankrupt, his style no longer popular with middle class patrons, haunted by the death of his son,Titus, the chain of disaster was only broken by his death in 1669. Yet, during this time of woe, Rembrandt created the supreme masterpieces that were displayed in the 2014 exhibit at London's National Gallery. 

How Rembrandt painted such works is no mystery. Why he did it, is.

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments of Bernstein's plea that the question of creativity remain unresolved. Art Eyewitness is an attempt to understand how people create in the realm of the visual arts rather than why they do so.

Yet, the voice of why keeps trying to make itself heard.

Bernstein's comment that "life to them (artists) is inconceivable" without art is absolutely true. I would add that art is also a way for human beings to make death conceivable.

        Anne Lloyd, Photo (2016) Gallery view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art        (Center) Fragmentary Colossal Marble Head of a Youth, 2nd century B.C.

So much of the art that I have studied and written about over the past five years can be traced to the effort to comprehend the mysteries of life and death - and life hereafter.  The ancient Greek quest to "know thyself" constantly encounters the even more ancient Egyptian concern to secure the eternal well-being of the soul, the ka.

Transience or transcendence. We see these epic themes on display in great art museums and their wonderful special exhibits. We see these themes at work in our daily lives and in the special challenges that life sends our way. To properly understand art, you need to see works of art in person and in the company of other people, who are grappling with their own daily dose of "outrageous fortune."

    Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018)
   Gallery view of the Greek & Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art           
A quiet moment at the Metropolitan Museum a few months ago reinforced how vital is the companionship of other museum patrons to appreciating art. Here in the Greek and Roman galleries, some students were sketching a statue of Hercules. Here, I could see the Greek and Egyptian quests for self-awareness and spiritual transcendence taking place. Art was happening.

Down the hall, curators at the Metropolitan were at work setting mannequins in place for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit. I was struck by the subversive thought that the draped mannequins had a tale of their own to tell before being adorned in high style for the exhibit.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of preparations for the Heavenly Bodies Exhibit

The sight of those mannequins, "blithe spirits" hovering in the Met gallery, made me think of all the generations of patrons and art lovers who have climbed the steps and thronged the galleries of the Met, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, of your favorite art museum wherever it may be. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018)
Modern Times: American Art, 1910-1950, Phila. Museum of Art

Patrons come to art museums to sketch or to paint, to commune with the higher spirits, to know themselves, to write a school term paper, to record their experience with digital photos, to have fun.

All of these activities are part of the process of sharing in art. I plan to do an essay at some point about the role of the art patron, but for now I can't think of a better work of art to symbolize the paramount importance of the art lover/patron than Woman Viewed from Behind (Visit to a Museum) by Edgar Degas. 

Edgar Degas, Woman Viewed from Behind (Visit to a Museum), c. 1879-1885

In true Impressionist style, Degas gives a only suggestive hint of the paintings on the gallery wall. Here - and always - it is the interaction of the art lover with the work of art that really matters. Art appreciation is how a patron experiences art.

It is a rich and rewarding experience to be able to view, study and reflect upon a work of art and then come back for another look. I always pay a visit to Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Joan of Arc, 1879

Painted in 1879, this image of the Maid of Orleans and her heavenly visitors is one of the oldest works of art in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a favorite of my mother's and I always experience something new or meaningful about life when I see it.

The "experience" of art in special exhibitions is even more compelling and immediate because there will never again be an exhibit quite like the one you are seeing right now. This moment.

Special exhibitions at art museums take years to plan and organize. In the case of the fantastic 2017 Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, the curator, Dr. Carmen Bambach, worked for eight years to secure the nearly two hundred works of art which appeared in the exhibit. Never before had so many of Michelangelo's drawings and smaller sculptures appeared in one exhibition. Never have the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel been so convincingly evoked than by the lighted scale model on view in the Met's exhibition galleries.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Gallery view of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer

"This moment" for Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer lasted three months. It is safe to say that there will not be such a vast and brilliantly curated exhibit devoted to the work of Michelangelo for many years, perhaps decades. Eight years work for a three month display is a sobering thought.

That's where Art Eyewitness comes in. The aim of this blog is to spread the word about great exhibitions like Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. We encourage art lovers to make the pilgrimage to see for themselves. Just as importantly, Art Eyewitness aims to make available a "virtual visit" to these exhibits for those unable to make the trip.

It has been - and continues to be - a great experience to recreate the sights and spirit of these magnificent evocations of human genius and creativity. Beginning with a visit in July 2013 to Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929 at the National Galley in Washington D.C., Art Eyewitness aims to share the appreciation of art from all cultures and historical epochs.

Valentin Serov, Ballet Russes poster showing Anna Pavlova from Les Sylphides, 1909

It is rather ironic that the first review of Art Eyewitness dealt with Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929). Before he became the impresario of the ballet world, Diaghilev co-founded the art magazine, Mir iskusstva in 1899. Diaghilev's endeavor included mounting art exhibitions and lectures in order to promote liberal cultural values in Russia and ultimately throughout the world.

Mir iskusstva  translates as "World of Art." What Diaghilev and his colleagues, the miriskusniki, endeavored  to achieve, the curators and exhibit design teams of our great museums are doing now. These visionary and incredibly accomplished people open up the World of Art to us.

Trying to pick "stand-out" exhibitions from the crowded canvas of Art Eyewitness reviews is a foolhardy enterprise. I won't try to do so. Instead, I will highlight three: Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculptures of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2014), Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (2015) and Charlotte Brontë: an Independent Will at the Morgan Library and Museum (2016).

Buddha Offering Protection, Pre-Angkor period, 6th century

These exhibitions opened a portal to the respective historical periods being surveyed. I knew little about the art of the bygone realms of ancient Asia when I walked into the astonishing Lost Kingdoms exhibit gallery at the Met. When I left, I felt as if I had been transported to these Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms and I wanted to learn more.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2016) Gallery view of Charlotte Brontë: an Independent Will

Though I am more familiar with Victorian England and a huge fan of the Brontës, my mental and spiritual universe was expanded by the sensational Morgan exhibit celebrating the two hundred year anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë. That might sound like extravagant praise but in the case of Charlotte Brontë: an Independent Will it was thoroughly deserved.

There was a powerful religious element to Lost Kingdoms. Likewise, Charlotte Brontë was not just a strong-willed woman, an early feminist according to current views. She was a devout Christian. Divinity and the human craving for transcendence cannot be ignored. 

This phenomenon accounts for the rejection of classical art forms during the later stages of the Roman empire. Depictions of the Greek ideal of the "body beautiful" were discarded for a less sophisticated, yet intensely devotional art. 

Unknown Artist, Portrait Statue of an Aristocratic Boy, 27 BC-AD 14

For over a thousand years, religious icons and images were the supreme statements of Western art. This was a theme I addressed in several Art Eyewitness posts, notably Power and PathosBronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World.

Crucifixion, Panel of the Maskell Passion Ivories, C. 420-430 AD

To offer a "virtual visit" to these great exhibits, as I mentioned earlier, would be an empty gesture were it not for the phenomenal photos which my wife, Anne Lloyd, has been taking for Art Eyewitness since the summer of 2014. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rodin's Thought is in the foreground, Renoir's Portrait of Madam Renoir behind

Anne is an accomplished artist in several media. Thanks to her skill with a camera and her artist's eye, Anne has raised the level of visual reportage of Art Eyewitness to a superlative degree.

It was thanks to Anne's ability and determination that Art Eyewitness achieved what I (humbly) claim is a "show-stopper" caliber photo of the great David Hockney. The legendary Yorkshire painter appeared, unannounced, at the press preview of the Metropolitan Museum's Hockney retrospective in November 2017. Hockney was an illusive subject but Anne was not to be denied. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) David Hockney at the Metropolitan Museum, Nov. 20, 2017

"Astound me!" That quote from Serge Diaghilev to the set designers of the Ballet Russes were the opening words of my first review for Art Eyewitness five years ago.

Astound me!

Well, I have been astounded and inspired many times in the last five years. I hope for more such moments to come. It may, however, be outrageous to say in this blog devoted to art exhibitions, that you don't need to go to museums to be astounded by beauty. Just look out your front door.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Butterfly Garden, 2017

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                              Photos courtesy of Anne Lloyd, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Introductory Image
Anne Lloyd (2016), Gallery view of Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016. Painting shown is Pieta in the Desert by Manuel Rodriguez Lozano. Fresco (removed by strappo from Lecumberri Prison) 6 ' 6 3/8" x 7'  9/16" (2.6 x 2.3 m) Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, INBA, Mexico City

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1604-1669) Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, known as ‘The Jewish Bride’, about 1665 Oil on canvas 121.5 x 166.5 cm Rijksmuseum, on loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest) © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2016), Gallery View of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, showing Fragmentary Colossal Marble Head of a Youth, Greek, Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C. Discovered at Pergamon, on upper terrace of gymnasium, 1879. On loan from the Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (AvP VII 283) Cat. 58

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Gallery View of the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018), Gallery View of Preparations for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Modern Times: American Art 1910–1950 exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.

Edgar Degas (French,1834 1917) Woman Viewed from Behind (Visit to a Museum), c. 1879-1885) Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 75.6 cm (32 x 29 3/4 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, # 1985.64.11

Jules Bastien-Lepage (French, 1848–1884) Joan of Arc, 1879. Oil on canvas, 100 x 110 in. (254 x 279.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Erwin Davis, 1989 (89.21.1 ). Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Gallery view of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer exhibition at the Metroplitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Valentin Serov (Russian, 1865-1911) Anna Pavlova from Les Sylphides, poster for the first Russian season, 1909. Color lithograph framed:  256.2 x 201.5 cm (100 7/8 x 79 5/16 in.)  V&A, London. Displayed at the Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, 1909-1929 exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2013)

Buddha Offering Protection, Southern Cambodia, Pre-Angkor period, second half of the 6th century. Sandstone with traces of lacquer and gilding. Lent by the National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the 2014 exhibit, Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculptures of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2016) Gallery view of Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will (the "Thackeray dress") at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York City. 2016.

Unknown Artist, (Hellenistic Bronze), Portrait Statue of an Aristocratic Boy, 27 BC-AD 14, Bronze, H 132.4 cm; W 50.8 cm D 41.9 cm Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no 14.130.1

Unknown Artist, Crucifixion, Panel of Maskell Passion Ivories, Circa 420-430 AD, Carved Ivory, H: 75 mm W: 98 mm W: 106 grams, British Museum, 1856,0623.5

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) David Hockney at the Metropolitan Museum, Nov. 20, 2017

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Butterfly Garden, 2017.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Salt and Silver, Early Photography, 1840-1860 at the Yale Center for British Art

Salt and Silver, Early Photography,1840-1860

The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven CT.

June 28, 2018 to September 17, 2018

Reviewed by Ed Voves

In art, as in the rest of life, timing is everything.

The Yale Center for British Art is currently presenting an exhibition on the birth of photography during the years following 1839. In that year, two distinct forms of "fixing an image" were created. The timing of these startling innovations was impeccable, just in time to record the Victorian age!

The Yale exhibition, Salt and Silver, Early Photography, 1840-1860, showcases rare early photos from the collection of the Wilson Center of Photography in London. The exhibit focuses on the photographic innovations of the English aristocrat, William Fox Talbot (1800-1877) and notable successors including Robert Adamson and Roger Fenton. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2018), Gallery view of the Salt and Silver exhibit
 at the Yale Center for British Art.

During the 1830's, as we will comment upon in some detail, Talbot experimented with creating or "fixing" an image. Talbot initially called his endeavor "photogenic drawing." 
Using a small, crude box camera, Talbot focused the lens to project an image on to a piece of paper, placed inside. The paper had been soaked in salt water and then brushed with a solution of silver nitrate. This recipe rendered the paper photo-sensitive - thus giving the Yale exhibit its unusual name.

Talbot was a true polymath, what we would call a Renaissance man. He was expert in solving mathematical equations and the study of ancient cuneiform writing. For good measure, Talbot was elected to Parliament in 1832.

As a result of his wide-ranging interests and duties,Talbot devoted only a portion of his time to experiments with "photogenic drawing." He only went public with his discoveries after the French artist, Louis Daguerre, introduced his method of "fixing" an image on silver-plated sheets of copper. 

Daguerre was something of an opportunist, but to be fair, he had been at work on finding a photographic process longer than Talbot. Beginning in the mid-1820's, Daguerre collaborated with a brilliant French scientist, Nicéphore Niépce. A "light painting," the world's first experimental photograph, was made by Niépce in 1827 but he died in 1833. Daguerre carried on with the research and in January 1839, he demonstrated his photographic technique.

Talbot was rather chagrined to be bested in a competition that he had not realized even existed. Moreover, his salt-based images compared unfavorably with the clarity of Daguerre's photos. Talbot introduced a more light-sensitive paper and, at the suggestion of Britain's leading scientist, Sir John Herschel, he used hyposulfite of soda as a "fixer" for his images. The September 1840 experiment was a complete success. “Hypo" is still used today in the process of keeping black-and-white prints from fading.

Talbot called his new and improved process, calotypes, from the Greek word for beautiful, kalos. Calotypes, also called "Talbotypes," marked the introduction of the negative-based version of photography. Many prints of a photo could be produced from a negative rather than just one, as was the case with Daguerreotypes.

Despite these improvements, calotypes remained vulnerable to fading. Talbot was vigilant with quality control and actually convened a group of experts called the "Fading Committee" to deal with the problem. He also spent much of his later years developing the photogravure process which enabled photos to be reproduced and printed as illustrations in books and magazines. 

With the massed production methods of the Industrial Revolution now underway, William Fox Talbot’s techniques were unveiled at the most propitious moment that could be imagined. He was a true scientific revolutionary, while remaining emotionally rooted in the Romantic-era mindset of his personal hero, Sir Walter Scott.

William Fox Talbot, The Photographer’s Daughter, Ela Theresa Talbot, 1843–44

Talbot's calotypes, like the 1843 portrait of his daughter, Ela Theresa, combine startling realism with an otherworldly nuance. When you focus on little Ela's well-delineated hands, you can almost sense the feel of the fabric of her dress on her hands. Yet her face, with its deep-set eyes, belongs in a different dimension of reality.

These comments are based on a subjective interpretation of the circumstances of the "fixing" of this image. Ela Theresa was eight years old when this photo was taken. It must have been an excruciating ordeal to hold her pose long enough for her father to "fix" her image. Likewise, the fact that Talbot used salted paper accounts for its hazy, ghost-like aspect.

It has to be admitted, however, that all photos are "ghosts" of the image they fix. Regardless of the technique or materials used, photographs are but faint traces of what was.To achieve that effect motivated Talbot to set about trying to discover a way to "cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper."

In 1833, Talbot endeavored to use a camera lucida, a draftsman's tool which projected an image on a sketchbook so that it could be more readily drawn.This experiment was not a success. Talbot was grieved that he could never fully capture “the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus — fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away.”  

William Fox Talbot, Scene in a Paris Street, 1843

Talbot's calotypes retained an element of "fairy pictures" even as he increasingly found ways to make these images more durable. Yet, he was a man of science and he set about "fixing" all manner of images from the construction of the column honoring Lord Nelson in London's Trafalgar Square to Paris street sciences to botanical specimens and classical busts in the British Museum. 

William Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature,1844–46
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - Not on view in Salt & Silver exhibit

Talbot may have come in second to Daguerre but he was the first to publish a book illustrated with photos. Published as a series between 1844 and 1846, The Pencil of Nature, is recognized today as the "Gutenberg Bible" of photography.

The decade of Talbot's great achievements was not a time for relaxed, ivory-tower research. The "Hungry 40's" were marked by deadly cholera epidemics, the Irish Potato Famine and the beginning of organized labor centering on the Chartist petition to Parliament. The ideal of "the People" was making itself felt.

Talbot's calotype methods was used by two Scotsmen, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, to document the lives of Scotland's "people."  A colleague of Talbot, Sir David Brewster, taught the calotype process to Adamson, barely into his twenties and looking to make his mark. Hill, a veteran painter, was more dubious. But Adamson convinced him to use photo portraits of Scottish clergymen as source material for painting a group portrait. In short order, Hill embraced photography with the "faith of the converted."

The painting, when it was completed years later, was a "dud." But the calotype portraits were hailed as an immediate triumph.

“The pictures produced are as Rembrandt’s but improved,” declared the  watercolorist John Harden after seeing Hill and Adamson’s calotypes. He was only slightly exaggerating.

David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson, Newhaven Fisherman, ca. 1845

Hill and Adamson next focused their attention on the fishing village of Newhaven, home to some of Scotland's most rugged seamen and their redoubtable wives. This extraordinary documentation of the nobility and humanity of everyday people - the "laboring classes" - has never been surpassed, even by the WPA photographers during America's Great Depression almost a century later.

David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson, Mrs. Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall, ca. 1843-45

The possibilities and potential of photography were being explored and tested in ways that were strikingly modern and democratic. In a few short years, the dynamic team of Hill and Adamson made over three thousand photographs. 

Then tragedy struck. Adamson died in 1848, aged twenty-six. One of the great artistic partnerships of all time was cut-short in its first flowering.

In 1855, at the suggestion of Prince Albert, Roger Fenton was sent to record the military campaign against Russia in the Crimean War. For the first time, an authentic view of the insanity of war was made possible.

Roger Fenton, Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards,1855

That is exactly what we see on the beleaguered face of Lord Balgonie of the Grenadier Guards. Much of the Crimean War was fought in trenches similar to World War I, with bone-numbing cold adding to the horror. Lord Balgonie looks out at us with what modern psychologists call the "thousand-yard stare." He died shortly after the war from his wounds.

The sharpness of Fenton's images was the result of a new innovation in photography. Glass plates were used as negatives, despite their bulk and fragility. Amazingly, a British officer in India, Linnaeus Tripe, used glass plate negatives under very difficult conditions for his topographical study of the ancient temples and buildings of India and Burma. 

Linnaeus Tripe, Puthu Mundapum, View of the Nave.Trimul Naik’s choultry, 1858

Tripe also used waxed-paper negatives, another in the proliferating innovations of photography. By 1860, the point at which the Yale exhibit ends, Talbot's calotypes were seldom used. In 1858, John Wheeley Gough Gutch "fixed" the image of the ruins of Tintern Abbey, using a glass plate negative. It was very much in the spirit of Talbot's work, modern in technique, romantic in spirit.

John Wheeley Gough Gutch, Abbey Ruins [Tintern Abbey], ca. 1858

In later life, as we have seen, William Fox Talbot devoted most of his available time and energy developing the photogravure process. Considering the flood of images which now engulfs the modern world, Talbot's accomplishments in the realm of printing are almost as important as his innovations in photography.

The curators of Salt and Silver wisely refrained from prolonged study of the development of photogravure. The exhibit also does not examine the way that Victorian painters used photography as an inspiration for their work. A recent Tate Britain exhibition, Painting with Light, covered that topic with a comparative display of Victorian paintings and photos in 2016.

Because of their sensitivity to light, calotypes can rarely be shown. We therefore have a lot to be grateful for to the Yale Center for British Art for presenting this wonderful display of the founding works of photography.

Salt and Silver is a magical exhibition devoted to a truly "magic" moment in the history of art.The birth of photography occurred just as the modern world made its presence felt in the shape of the Industrial Revolution. Photography was there, at the ready, to make a record. 

William Fox Talbot opened our eyes just in the nick of time.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved  
Introductory Image:                                                                                               
William Henry Fox Talbot (British:1800–1877), Nelson’s Column Under Construction, Trafalgar Square, April 1844. Salted paper print from paper negative, courtesy of Wilson Centre for Photography

Ed Voves, Photo (2018), Gallery view of the Salt and Silver: Early Photography, 18401860 exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art.

William Henry Fox Talbot (British:1800–1877), The Photographer’s Daughter, Ela Theresa Talbot, 1843–44. Salted paper print from paper negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

William Henry Fox Talbot (British:1800–1877), Scene in a Paris Street, 1843. Salted paper print from paper negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

William Henry Fox Talbot (British:1800–1877), The Pencil of Nature,1844–46. Subscription book issued in separate fascicles. Illustrated with salted paper prints from paper negatives. 15.2 x 20.3 cm (6 x 8 in.) Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Jean Horblit, in memory of Harrison D. Horblit, 1994. #1994.197.1–.6

David Octavius Hill (British:1802-1870) & Robert Adamson (British:1821-1848) Newhaven Fisherman (Alexander Rutherford, William Ramsay & John Liston), ca.1845. Salted paper print from paper negative, Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

David Octavius Hill (British: 1802-1870) & Robert Adamson (British:1821-1848) Mrs. Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall, Newhaven Fishwife, ca. 1843-45. Salted paper print from paper negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Center of Photography

Roger Fenton (British: 1819–1869), Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards,1855. Salted paper print from glass plate negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

Linnaeus Tripe (British: 1822–1902), Puthu Mundapum, View of the Nave.Trimul Naik’s choultry, 1858. Salted paper print from glass plate negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

John Wheeley Gough Gutch (British: 1809–1862), Abbey Ruins [Tintern Abbey], ca. 1858. Salted paper print from glass plate negative. Courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Baseball Americana at the Library of Congress


 Baseball Americana

The Library of Congress 

  Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington D.C.

June 29, 2018 -  Summer 2019

Reviewed by Ed Voves

What would you pick as a great work of art? Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring or Turner's Rain, Steam Speed? Rodin's Burgers of Calais
How about Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch of the long fly ball hit by Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series? Or would you prefer Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak during the summer of 1941?

Normally, great moments of sport and of art don't mix. This summer is an exception as the Library of Congress is mounting a hugely enjoyable exhibition entitled Baseball Americana. Coinciding with the 2018 All Star Game, which will be played in Washington D.C., the exhibit is an insightful look at a form of athletic competition that is indeed a form of art.

American League All Star team, Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., July 7,1937. At far-left is Lou Gehrig, who died tragically in 1941.

The Library of Congress has a vast trove of baseball-related documents, pictures, posters books and memorabilia. These include the two first edition copies, required by U.S. law to be deposited at the Library of Congress, of the lyrics and sheet music of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Baseball goes back a long way in time before Katie Casey's obsession with America's national pastime. This is recounted in the verses of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, written in 1908 by the Tin Pan Alley veteran, Jack Norworth. The only part of Take Me Out to the Ballgame which is sung today is the chorus.

Sheet music cover of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, 1908

Take me out to the ball game,                                                                                          Take me out with the crowd;                                                                                            Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,                                                                           
 I don't care if I never get back.
According to the exhibit text, ball and bat games can be traced back to the Middle Ages. There are some references to ball games in letters written by Revolutionary War soldiers. But the first definitive account of a baseball game occurs in a 1786 diary by a student at the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University.

John Rhea Smith enjoyed the March 22, 1786 game but he did not have much luck either fielding or hitting. In his diary, Smith wrote, "A fine day play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the Ball.”

Ed Voves, (Photo 2018) A Little Pretty Pocket Book (1787)
The first illustration of a baseball game appears on the right-hand page.

A year after Smith's less-than-stellar "baste ball" game, a publisher in Worcester, Massachusetts, printed an illustrated children's book, A Little Pretty Pocket Book. Originally published in England, it shows the first-ever picture of a "Base-Ball” game. Wooden posts serve as the bases. Despite American mythology to the contrary, it is clear that baseball is English in its origins. That might seem "not quite cricket" but the evidence in the Library of Congress exhibit is fairly conclusive.

During the years of the early Republic, a number of forms (and spellings) of baseball were played. One set of rules stipulated that the game be played until the first team scored twenty-one runs. But as the United States split into two feuding camps, North and South, the "republic" of baseball witnessed the face-off of two major rivals, the Massachusetts Game and the New York Game. The Massachusetts version had a long pedigree but the New York Game eventually gained public favor.

The key date in the triumph of the New York Game was January 22, 1857. On that day, representatives of fourteen New York area teams met to create “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball.”

Baseball's Magna Carta, the rules composed by Daniel "Doc" Adams,1856

The captain of the Knickerbockers, Daniel Adams (1814-1900), submitted a succinct, forceful set of rules which was then debated. "Doc" Adams - he was a medical doctor - carried the day, since most of what he proposed was adopted.

Point #4 illustrates the clarity and practical genius which the good "Doc" brought to his set of proposed rules.

4. The Base from which the ball is struck shall be designated the "Home" Base, and must be directly opposite to the second base. The first base must always be that upon the right hand, and the third base upon the left hand of the striker, when occupying his position at the Home base.

What Adams proposed, the team representatives debated, pro and con. Their decisions have stood the test of time. Each game would be played for nine innings by teams of nine players. The team which scored the most "aces" (as runs were called in that era) by the end of the ninth inning would be the victor. It was also decided that the playing field would be diamond-shaped, with bases set 90 feet apart.

Miss Schnall sliding to first. Miss Morgan on bag, 1913
Vintage photo from the archives of the Library of Congress.

By the time the meeting of the New Yorkers concluded, the game of baseball as we know it had been created.

Another Knicks representative, William H. Grenelle, recorded the debate on pages of light blue stationary. This document, along with Adams's proposal, remained in Grenelle's possession. When he died in 1890, these pages covered in cursive penmanship were preserved by his family. The Grenelle family evidently was not aware of the enormous historical significance of the documents.

The New York 1857 rules are nothing less than the Magna Carta of Baseball.

When the New York 1857 rules were auctioned in April 2016, Hayden J. Trubitt, a corporate lawyer in San Diego, did grasp their importance. Trubitt took a mortgage on his house to buy the documents for $3.2 million.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Display of the 1856-57 rules for Baseball.

Mr. Trubitt graciously loaned his treasure to the Library of Congress where it anchors the Baseball Americana exhibition. These “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball” are so crucial that it would seem beside the point to emphasize their importance. Yet, there is so much to see and enjoy in this exhibit that is easy to pass-by these hand-written documents with hardly a notice.

As you might expect, there is a massed array of baseball gear on view: vintage fielder’s gloves that look like oven mitts, a “then and now” face-off of catchers’ masks and a pair of Babe Ruth’s shoes with cleats better suited to climbing Mount Everest than playing in the outfield of Yankee Stadium.

I was particularly impressed with a poster advertising an Independence Day Game back in 1879 between two Boston-area teams. Note that the archaic spelling, “Base Ball,” continued in use for a long time during the 1800’s.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Poster for "Grand Baseball Match!", Concord, Massachusetts
 Diamond Base Ball Club of Boston vs.Concord Base Ball Club

Note also the emphasis on the words “Official” and “Executive Committee.” Constant resort to authority was needed to prevent “Base Ball” players from backsliding to early versions of the game. It took a long time and plenty of umpires to suppress the temptation to throw-out a base-running “striker” by throwing the ball at him!

African-American baseball team from Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia, c. 1900

It took even longer for African-Americans to gain recognition for their playing ability. A compelling photo from 1900 of a baseball team from Morris Brown College in Georgia illustrates the pre-Jackie Robinson era of baseball history.

As a result of Jackie Robinson's epic 1947 success breaking the “color bar,” the door opened for other outstanding African American players to make their mark in baseball's Major Leagues. It was a poignant moment at the press preview to see the current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, posing beneath a photo of her favorite player, Willie Mays.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018)
Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, at the Baseball Americana press preview

Carla Hayden is the first woman, as well as the first African American, to hold the post of Librarian of Congress. It is doubly significant, then, that the role of women in playing the game is highlighted in the Library of Congress.  Baseball-crazy women have never just cajoled boyfriends to "take me out to the ballgame" as Katie Casey did in the song. They want to get in on the action too.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Display of women's baseball memorabilia.
The uniform of "Dottie" Keys of the Rockford Peaches is at right.

The curators of Baseball Americana have done an outstanding job covering both the wide-range of America's national pastime and focusing on key features of the game. Little League, sandlot teams, softball, El Béisbol, the great films about baseball like Pride of the Yankees, baseball "bloopers", an interactive exhibit designed by ESPN's Statistics and Information Group which enables visitors to check on significant batting and pitching achievements. Everything about "Our Game" is here.

My visit to Baseball Americana at the Library of Congress brought back many vivid baseball memories. Memories of the games I've watched, of trips to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, of "swingin' and missin'" at picnic games just as John Rhea Smith enjoyed "a fine day play baste ball" back in 1786. Most of all, Baseball Americana prepared my mind and heart for the special magic of the umpire's words:

"Play ball!"

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved 

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Introductory Image:

Walter Johnson, Washington Nationals, baseball card portrait, 1911. American Tobacco Company.  1 print : chromolithograph with hand-color.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
American League All Star team, Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C., July 7, 1937. Photograph by Harrison & Ewing. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Sheet music cover  of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, by Albert Von Tilzer (composer) and Jack Norworth (lyricist), 1908. The New York Music Co., New York, 1908,  Sheet music:  6 p., 11 x 14 in. Library of Congress Music Division

Ed Voves, Photo (2018) Photo of “Base-Ball,” from  A Little Pretty Pocket Book, 1787. Worcester, Massachusetts : Isaiah Thomas, Publisher, 1787. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Manuscript of the  "Laws of Base Ball”, composed by Daniel “ Doc” Adams, December 1856. On loan to the Library of Congress, courtesy of Hayden Trubitt, San Diego, California .

New York female "Giants". Miss Schnall sliding to first. Miss Morgan on bag,  c.1913. 1 photographic print. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018), Gallery view of the Baseball Americana exhibit, showing the draft manuscripts of “Laws of Base Ball” by Daniel “ Doc” Adams, December 1856, and William Grenelle’s “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball,” 1857. On loan to the Library of Congress, courtesy of Hayden Trubitt, San Diego, California .

Concord Base Ball Club. 4th of July, 1879! Grand Base Ball Match! Broadside. Concord, Massachusetts, June 26, 1879. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00)

African American baseball players from Morris Brown College, with boy and another man standing at door, Atlanta, Georgia, c. 1900. From the album (disbound): Negro life in Georgia, U.S.A., compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 4, no. 337.  1 photographic print : gelatin silver.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018), Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, at the press preview for the Baseball Americana exhibit, June 27, 2018.

Ed Voves, Photo (2018), Gallery view of the Baseball Americana exhibit, showing memorabilia relating to women’s baseball, including the uniform of Dorothy Ferguson Key (1923–2003), Rockford Peaches, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, 1945–1954. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum