Friday, April 30, 2021

Art Eyewitness Review: Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel, 1820-1920


Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel, 1820-1920

Chrysler Museum of Art, Feb. 12-May 16, 2021

Milwaukee Art Museum, June 11-Oct. 3, 2021

Reviewed by Ed Voves

In the late autumn of 1869, Thomas Eakins entered into the final stages of his four years of artistic study in France. Although it had been a productive apprenticeship, Eakins felt he needed something more to set the seal of complete success on his endeavor. Eakins planned a trip to one of the other European countries where he could examine the works of "Old Masters" he had not been able to study at the Louvre.

Eakins selected a surprising destination for his farewell tour of Europe - not Italy or the Netherlands nor Austria-Hungary or Great Britain. On November 29, 1869, Eakins boarded a south-bound train for Spain. 

Eakins' sojourn in Spain began a trend among aspiring American painters during the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth. Now, an ambitious exhibition, jointly organized by Corey Piper, curator of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and Brandon Ruud of the Milwaukee Art Museum, follows the footsteps of Eakins, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, John Singer Sargent and Childe Hassam.

Gallery view of Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel, 1820-1920             at the Chrysler Museum of Art. Photo by Ed Pollard

Spain, as we will discuss, was not an easy country to visit during the 1800's. During the crucial, final year of its preparation, Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel, 1820-1920, often faced daunting obstacles as well.The outbreak of Covid-19, just as the curators of the two museums were finalizing plans to gather the 100 works of art and historical artifacts for display, put the experiences of these nineteenth century American artists in a novel, startling perspective.

Difficulty, tinged by a certain degree of danger (mostly imaginary), imparted a sense of adventure to journeys to Spain during the 1800's. For artists like Eakins, the great traditions of Spanish painting were the primary inducement to venture south from France. The astonishing realism of Velazquez and the ethereal spirituality of Murillo exposed American painters to new dimensions in art which were often lacking in the ateliers of Paris. 

Only few days after arriving in Spain, Eakins explained to his father in Philadelphia the nature of his revelatory experience in his new surroundings:

Since I am now here in Madrid I do not regret at all my coming. I have seen big painting here. When I had looked at all the paintings by all the masters I had known I could not help saying to myself all the time, its very pretty but its not all yet. It ought to be better, but now I have seen what I always thought ought to have been done and what did not seem to me impossible. O what a satisfaction it gave me to see the good Spanish work so good so strong so reasonable so free from every affectation. It stands out like nature itself.

Eakins, after studying major works by Velazquez at the Prado, quickly adapted to the influence of the Spanish Baroque master, notably his concentration on character, accentuated by dark, neutral tones in the background.


Thomas Eakins, James Carroll Beckwith (detail), 1904

This shift in technique is readily apparent in Eakins' portrait of fellow artist, James Beckwith, on view in the exhibition. Created in 1904, this masterful work shows how the lessons of Velazquez had been integrated into Eakin's methodology, shaping, yet not determining, his own mature style.

What Eakin's achieved, his fellow-countrymen aimed to rival. Yet, it was not artists alone who ventured to Spain from the United States. Americans of diverse backgrounds traveled to Spain intent on savoring that nation's reputation for romance, for social customs little affected by industrialism. Spain's rugged landscape was dotted by castles and, yes, windmills. Spanish towns and cities, especially Toledo and Seville, retained much of their medieval character into the twentieth century

These picturesque aspects of nineteenth century Spain came at a price - paid by the Spanish people. The staggering cost in human lives during the heroic war against the Napoleonic invasion, 1808-1814 was followed by a political betrayal of the very people of Spain who had resisted the French. Goya's unforgettable paintings and prints record this tragic conflict as no other works of art were to do of war before photography. 

William Merritt Chase, Spanish Peasant, 1881
Engraved by Frederick Juengling, 1883

The continuing harshness of daily life in Spain, the social and economic malaise which lingered for decades, can be seen in the face of the Spanish peasant, originally drawn by William Merritt Chase in 1881 and then engraved by Frederick Juengling two years later.

American ideas about Spain were initially shaped by a great writer, rather than an artist. The exhibition begins with artifacts related to Washington Irving's 1826 sojourn in Spain. Irving had been wandering around Europe, searching for inspiration, when an invitation reached him from Alexander Everett, the American Minister to Spain. Irving stayed three years, during which he visited - and for a time actually lived in - the famous Moorish palace, the Alhambra. Irving's romantic re-imaging of Spanish history, Tales of the Alhambra, was a huge hit with audiences in England and the United States.

Irving was a close friend of the Scottish painter, David Wilkie (1785-1841). Overshadowed today by J.M.W.Turner and John Constable, Wilkie was very popular during his day, especially for genre depictions of daily life. He painted a charming scene of Irving, immersed in a mighty tome in the Archives of Seville, the resulting information later to appear in his biography of Christopher Columbus. 

David Wilkie, Washington Irving in the Archives of Seville, 1828-29

For the purpose of the present exhibition, it is important to note that Wilkie's evocations of Spain were made into lithographs, appearing in Sir David Wilkie's Sketches, Spanish and Oriental, published in 1846.


   Joseph Nash, Lithographer 
                 Washington Irving Examining the Spanish Records                   in Sir David Wilkie's Sketches, Spanish and Oriental,1846

Lithographs, aimed at a mass audience, later followed by photographs as book illustrations, helped whet the appetite for paintings of Spain and all things Spanish. Also important were spectacular landscape paintings of Spain, part of the mid-nineteenth century mania for "sublime" views of the world. Gibraltar from Neutral Ground by Samuel Coleman (1832-1920) was aimed at an American audience reeling from the horror of the Civil War years.

Samuel Colman, Gibraltar from Neutral Ground, 1863-1866

Such works were the foundation for Eakins and those who followed him to Spain, hoping to gain experience and insights that would help launch their professional careers.

Eakins had just returned home when another intrepid Pennsylvania artist made her way to Spain. Mary Stevenson Cassatt's portraits and genre scenes of Spain are very different from her later Impressionist work. But the marks of budding genius are apparent. Cassatt's handling of lace, gold braid, pleated shirts and other details of texture almost obscure the human drama in Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter (1873). Almost, but not quite.

Mary Cassatt, Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter, 1873  

The panal is a honey comb dipped in a glass of water which is given to matadors before they pit their lives against their fearsome, horned, adversaries. The pro-offered drink and the fantastic regalia, however, are really secondary considerations in this remarkable painting. Cassatt has captured the human chemistry in the exchange, the machismo of the bull fighter and the coy sensuality of the young woman with brilliant effect.

Cassatt's achievement with Offering the Panel was not a matter of beginner's luck. This is confirmed by the discovery of a forgotten work which she executed during her time in Spain. Cassatt's  Spanish Girl Leaning on a Window Sill recently came to light in a private collection in Madrid, thanks to a Canadian art scholar, Betsy Boone. The exhibition in Norfolk and Milwaukee marks the first time that Cassatt's Spanish Girl appears in the United States.

Cassatt captured the passion and allure of the Spanish national character. Attempts by other American artists to dress family members or models in Spanish garb failed to achieve a similar effect. One American artist who did succeed evoking the Spanish identy, with its exotic "otherness" so different from the French, was Robert Henri (1865-1929).

Henri grew up in the American West when it was still open frontier. He nurtured a deep love of Spain that surely can be explained - at least in part - by the epic grandeur of the landscape of both countries. Likewise, the proud, touchy and mercurial nature of the Spanish found a kindred spirit in Americans from the "Wild" West, including Henri's own family. Henri's farther shot and killed a rival rancher in a classic range dispute over grazing rights!

Henri, famed for his Ashcan School urban realism, never tired of Spain. He visited Spain seven times between 1900 and 1926, on several occasions, leading a large group of his students on extended visits to Madrid, where he introduced them to the riches of the Prado.

Two of greatest works of Henri's Spanish oeuvre, Blind Singers (1912) and Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer (1916) are on display. They are among the "show stoppers" in an exhibition rich in masterpieces and richer still in insight.

Robert Henri, Blind Singers, 1912

Robert Henri, Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer (1916) 

These magnificent paintings by Henri and their counterparts by Cassatt, Chase and the other Americans in Spain succeeded because their true subject was the soul of Spain and of the Spanish people. However much these great artists approached Spanish themes in terms of stereotypes - bullfighters, flamenco dancers, humble water carriers with their burros - they ultimately found their way to depict individuals rather archetypes. 

What Henri wrote about Velazquez was true of himself, of Eakins, of Cassatt and the rest. 

I saw the Velazquez pictures. I was in the Gallery for hours, and then wandered the streets thinking much to the glory of Velazquez. His paintings were clear of all the tricks of the art of the Salons ... simple and direct about men rather than the incidents surrounding them. To me they were great compositions.  Each head or figure seemed to tell all the tragedy or comedy possible to man.


Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                             Americans in Spain exhibition images courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Introductory Image:  Mary Cassatt, Spanish Girl Leaning on a Window Sill, ca. 1872. Oil on camvas: 24 3/8 in. (61.9 x 38.26 cm) Collection of  Manuel Piñanes  García-Olías, Madrid, Spain.

Gallery view of Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel, 1820-1920 at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo by Ed Pollard.

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1917) James Carroll Beckwith, 1904. Oil on canvas: 83 3/8 x 48 1/8 inches. (211.77 x 122.24 cm) San Diego Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins, # 1937.30.

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916) Spanish Peasant, 1881. Engraved by Frederick Juengling, 1883. From George Parsons Lathrop's Spanish Vistas. New York: Harper and Brothers. Wood engraving: 9  x 6 9/16 inches. (22.86 x 16.67 cm) Private Collection.

David Wilkie (Scottish, 1785-1841) Washington Irving in the Archives of Seville, 1828-29. Oil on canvas: 48 1/4 x 48 1/4 inches. (122.6  x 122.6 cm) New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leiscester (UK), purchased from Thomas McLean, 1890. L.F2.1890.0.0

Joseph Nash (British, 1808–1878), after David Wilkie. Washington Irving Examining the Spanish Records, from David Wilkie Sketches, Spanish & Oriental, 1846. Lithograph: 17 3/4 × 11 3/4 in. (45.09 × 29.85 cm).  Milwaukee Art Museum # M2019.106.1 Photo by John R. Glembin.

Samuel Colman (American, 1832-1920) Gibraltar from the Neutral Ground, ca.1863-66. Oil on canvas: 26 1/8 x 36 5/16 inches. (66.4 x 92.2 cm) Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Gallery Fund, 1901.35

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter,1873. Oil on canvas: 39 5/8 x 33 1/2 inches. (100.6 x 85.1 cm) Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1947. #1955.1 

Robert Henri (1865-1929) Blind Singers, 1912. Oil on canvas: 33 1/4  x 41 1/4 inches. (84.45 x 104.6 cm) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1966. #66.2434.

Robert Henri (1865-1929) Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer (1916). Oil on canvas: 77 1/4  x 37 1/4 inches. (196.2 x 94.6 cm) St. Louis Art Museum. Museum Purchase. 841:1920

Friday, April 9, 2021

Art Eyewitness Review: David Hockney: Drawing from Life at the Morgan Library & Museum

David Hockney: Drawing from Life

                                The Morgan Library and Museum                                October 2, 2020 through May 30, 2021

Reviewed by Ed Voves

On October 22, 2020, Christies's auctioned a realist-style portrait painted in 1970.  The subject of the work was Sir David Webster, the chief executive of the Royal Opera, who was about to retire. Webster had played a huge role in the post-World War II rise of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet to world-class status. The selling price of the painting, however, was not predicated on Webster's considerable achievements. Instead, it was the identity of the painter which determined its cost.

The price tag of Sir David Webster was £12.8 million, the equivalent of $17 million. It was painted by David Hockney.

Sir David Webster is a masterful work, leaving us to ponder an important question. The pros and cons of the selling price are not the issue. Why did Hockney not devote himself to portrait painting as his primary form of visual expression?

For those fortunate to be able to make the journey to see the current exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, that question will be even more perplexing. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2021) 
Gallery view of David Hockney: Drawing from Life
 at the Morgan Library and Museum

With over 100 works of art on view at the Morgan, the exhibit ranges from Hockney's student self-portraits to iPhone and iPad portraits of recent years. Whatever the artistic medium or stage of his career, David Hockney is one of the great contemporary masters of the human likeness.

As the title of the Morgan exhibition affirms, this is a drawing show. Hockney was trained in the classical regimen of instruction, founded on draughtsmanship.  Approximately 100 drawings, in all media, are displayed. 

Most of the the drawings are finished works of art, but some of the most amazing are preparatory studies. 

David Hockney, Study for "My Parents and Myself", 1974

Hockney's sketch for the joint portrait of his parents recalls Las Meninas by Velazquez but does not seem the least bit affected or derivative. Hockney's mirrored visage, in the very center of the sketch, emphasizes the centrality of his life in the lives of his parents and theirs in his.

Another salient point in the Morgan exhibit is Hockney's embrace of innovative ways and new technology to create images. However, whether using the Rapidigraph technical pen early in his career or the iPad today, Hockney created works of enduring value. The tools or technique Hockney uses are always the means, never an end in itself, of art.

That point is clear from one of the earliest works on view in the Morgan exhibition. Self Portrait, 1954 is a collage on newsprint, made when Hockney was just seventeen. It was created by cutting-up glossy magazine pictures and using the "bits" to piece together an impressionistic image of himself. 

David Hockney, Self Portrait, 1954

In one sense, the young Hockney was experimenting with collage, as Picasso and Braque had done during the early days of Cubism. But more importantly, Hockney was exploring a way to reveal himself, the real David Hockney, to those closest to him.

"What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing," Hockney has said, in a much quoted remark. "You wouldn't be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought."

With portraiture, Hockney aims to share his experiences, his thoughts and most of all, his feelings, with people he knows and loves. It is significant that Hockney, a brilliant student and commentator on art history, prefers the portraits of van Gogh to those of John Singer Sargent,the greatest professional portrait painter of the late 1800's. Like van Gogh, Hockney creates portraits of a very select, very intimate, group of family, friends and confidantes.

The Morgan exhibition focuses on five people who figure prominently in Hockney 's portrait oeuvre: his mother, Laura Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne - and himself.

Ed Voves, Photo (2021)
 Gallery view of iPad self-portraits at the David Hockney exhibit

The Morgan exhibition begins with a digital display highlighting Hockney's series of iPad self-portraits, executed in 2012. These reference another of his artistic heroes, Rembrandt. Hockney captures an almost disorienting range of moods, expressions and states-of-mind

Viewed individually, the individual iPad "selfies" cannot match the level of draughtmanship which Hockney achieved with traditional techniques in other works, such as 1998 etching of master/printer and friend, Maurice Payne. Yet, this new medium,when used in serial form, has enabled Hockney to explore the human face and the psychological complexity behind it with revelatory effect.

David Hockney, No. 1201,  iPad Drawing, 2012 

David Hockney, Maurice, 1998

Before discussing Hockney's relationships with his mother and friends, the influence of a sixth person in his intimate group needs to be noticed: Pablo Picasso.

In 1960, while studying at the Royal College of Art, Hockney visited a major Picasso retrospective and was profoundly affected. For a number of years following the 1960 exhibition, Hockney was much influenced by Picasso's mastery of line.


David Hockney, The Student: Homage to Picasso, 1973

In 1973, the year of Picasso's death, Hockney paid homage to the Spanish master with an etching which also strikes an irreverent note. It was just the kind of subversive touch which Picasso himself often demonstrated. However much he revered Picasso, Hockney served notice that he would follow Picasso's example, but never walk in his footsteps.

Like Picasso, Hockney has embraced the whole world of art and experience, exploring a style or technique when it suited his purpose or interest. We can see this approach in three very different works dealing with the same person, Hockney's friend - and for some years, his lover, Gregory Evans.

David Hockney, Gregory, 1978

The first is a carefully delineated drawing, using colored pencils to brilliant effect. It is realist art in its classical form, but also much more. Just as Hockney uses the blank, negative space to give a sense of volume to Evan's figure, he manages to convey that part of his friend's inner being which is being held in check. One eye looks directly toward the viewer, the other is fixed on another reality, perhaps an interior realm or somewhere else, off-in-space.

David Hockney, Gregory, Los Angeles, March 31st 1982, 1982

Early in the decade of the 1980's, Hockney experimented with composing collage portraits by means of "joiners." These were photos of slightly similar, but significantly different, views of a face or body. Hockney used Polaroid pictures, joining them to create an image, as can be seen above, a profile of Gregory Evans. The resulting portrait is much more nuanced and intriguing than a single photo could achieve.

“The moment you make a collage of photographs,” Hockney commented, “it becomes something like a drawing.”

Hockney  used this composite approach to create a portrait of his mother, My Mother Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov. 82, which is one of the most moving images in the Morgan exhibition.  In a sense, this is a double portrait, as Hockney included the tips of his shoes at the bottom of the image. The shoes could represent himself, his recently-deceased father (who used to visit Bolton Abbey with Hockney's mother) or the viewer who stands before this remarkable work.

Ed Voves, Photo (2021)
 David Hockney's My Mother Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov. 82, 1982

Hockney's photo collages are brilliant works, but given his restless urge to explore the world of art, no one technique could absorb his interest or talents for long. In 1984-85, Hockney created another "joiner" portrait of Gregory Evans, composed of two lithographs. Image of Gregory is one of the comparatively rare instances of a Hockney portrait more focused on technique, in this case a direct reference to Picasso, than on the human subject.

Ed Voves (Photo, 2021) 
David Hockney's An Image of Gregory, 1984–85

Over the decades, Hockney maintained this multi-disciplinary approach in depicting the cherished people in his life. Thus, Hockney's "drawings from life" are also reflections on the aging process and ultimately on mortality.

Hockney charts the passage of time in his depictions of all five protagonists in the Morgan exhibition. In this review, we will look at the way he has portrayed his dear friend of many years, Celia Birtwell. 

A native of northern England like Hockney, Celia Birtwell was the "Mrs. Clark" in one of Hockney's most celebrated paintings, Mr. and Mrs Clark and Percy. A talented and stylish fashion designer of the "swinging sixties" London scene, we see her posing in the brilliant 1971 portrait as a woman of two worlds.

David Hockney, Celia, Carennac, August 1971, 1971

Hockney presents Celia Birtwell as a poised, self-assured woman, filling the moment when she posed for the drawing with her presence. This, in turn, carries over to the present moment when we view her. She dominates the meeting of viewer and viewed, reigning over the exchange with a charismatic appeal that the world would later witness in the all-too-short life of Princess Diana.

There is, however, a fey, ethereal quality in Birtwell's green eyes. This might seem contradictory as her eyes are sharply focused on the person standing before her- Hockney in 1971, us now. Yet, in returning her gaze, one gets the unsettling feeling that it is an "otherworldly" Celia Birtwell who posed for Hockney, exuding a spiritual presence more potent than her very real physical charm.

David Hockney, Celia, 21 Nov 2019, 2019

Flash forward from 1971 to 2019 and there once again is Celia Birtwell, posing for her portrait. Birtwell's careworn face, the added pounds on her frame and slumped posture testify that no one, not even David Hockney's muse, can evade the "cost" of living. Yet, once again, we see that her eyes are still alive with the inner radiance that Hockney had depicted almost a half century before.

"We are always the same person inside," Gertrude Stein, declared long ago. For Celia Birtwell, that does indeed appear to be true. Hockney,with an incredible alchemy of skill and insight, has captured the evasive, unquenchable life force which we see in Celia's eyes in both portraits. 

How does Hockney, after sixty years, continue to achieve such fantastic results in portraiture, when landscapes, some of monumental size, occupy so much of his time and talent?

Hockney provides the answer in his extended interview with Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message (Thames & Hudson, second edition, 2016).  When he looks at people, Hockney takes the time to see them, to really gain their measure. He reaches deep within himself and within them in what can truly be called an "act of seeing." 

"Most people don't look at a face too long; they tend to look away," Hockney told Gayford. "But you do it if you are painting a portrait. Rembrandt put more in the face than anyone before of since, because he saw more. That was the eye - and the heart."


Text: Copyright of Ed Voves. Original Photos:Ed Voves. All rights reserved                                                                                

Introductory Image:
David Hockney (British,born 1937) Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003. Watercolor on paper: 24 x 18 1/8 inches. © David Hockney. Photography by Richard Schmidt.

Ed Voves, Photo (2021) Gallery view of David Hockney: Drawing from Life at the Morgan Library and Museum.

David Hockney (British,born 1937) Study for "My Parents and Myself", 1974. Colored pencil on paper: 14 x 17 inches. Collection of The David Hockney Foundation.

David Hockney (British,born 1937) Self Portrait, 1954. Collage on newsprint:16 ½ x 11 ¾ inches © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: Bradford Museums & Galleries, Bradford, U.K. Collage on newsprint:16 ½ x 11 ¾ inches © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: Bradford Museums & Galleries, Bradford, U.K

David Hockney (British,born 1937) No. 1201, 14 March 2012. iPad Drawing. © David Hockney.

David Hockney (British,born 1937)  Maurice, 1998. Etching A.P.: II/X 44 x 30 ½ inches. © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: The David Hockney Foundation. 

David Hockney (British,born 1937) The Student: Homage to Picasso, 1973. Etching, soft ground etching, lift ground etching, Edition of 120: 29 ¾ x 22 ¼”. National Portrait Gallery, London.© David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney (British,born 1937)  Gregory, 1978, Colored pencil on paper, 17 x 14 inches. © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: The David Hockney Foundation

David Hockney, Gregory, Los Angeles, March 31st 1982, 1982. Composite Polaroid: 14 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches. Collection of David Hockney.© David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Ed Voves, Photo (2021) David Hockney's My Mother Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov. 82, 1982. Photographic collage, (chromogenic prints) on paper: 120.5 x 70 cm (47 7/16 x 27 9/16 inches) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Ed Voves (Photo, 2021) David Hockney's An Image of Gregory, 1984–85. Lithograph with collage additions on two sheets: composition and sheet        (.a, irreg.): 32 9/16 x  26 3/16 inches (82.7 x 66.5 cm); composition and sheet (.b, irreg.): 45 15/16 x 35 11/16 inches  (116.8 x 90.6 cm) Publisher: Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford, New York.

David Hockney (British,born 1937) Celia, Carennac, August 1971, 1971. Colored pencil on paper: 17 x 14 inches. © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: The David Hockney Foundation

David Hockney (British,born 1937) Celia, 21 Nov 2019, 2019. Ink and acrylic on paper: 30 1/4 x 22 5/8 inches. Collection of the artist © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt © David Hockney.