Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Art Eyewitness Essay: A Late Summer's Day Visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art


A Late Summer's Day Visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art 

An Art Eyewitness Essay

Photos by Anne Lloyd
Text by Ed Voves

April 2, 2022 was a noteworthy day in the art world. It was Slow Art Day.

This special day, usually celebrated on the second Saturday of April, is dedicated to adjusting the pace at which we race through art galleries. Slow down. Take time to appreciate and enjoy the works of art which museum curators work so diligently to present to us. What's the rush?

I missed Slow Art Day this year, I'm embarrassed to report. I can't recall what I was doing on April 2, but I made-up for it a few days later.

On April 7, I took part in a press preview of a wonderful retrospective of paintings and prints by Sean Scully at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mr. Scully graciously analyzed key works and answered questions with great good humor. It was truly enlightening to spend an unhurried hour or so with him - and his works of art.

Ed Voves, Photo (2022)
Sean Scully & Timothy Rub, President/CEO of the Phila. Museum of Art

Taking a note from that wonderful experience, I decided to extend the close attention to the general collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) which normally I reserve for special exhibitions.  

My wife, Anne, and I live in Philadelphia. With so many exhibits to cover for Art Eyewitness, there is always the temptation to wait and study local treasures at a later date. We are just a bus ride away from the PMA. We can always come back, in a week, in a month ...

If the Covid-19 lockdowns have taught art lovers one thing, it is to never take museums and galleries for granted. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2021)
View of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The late summer seemed a good time for a leisurely, if focused, tour of the Philly Museum. There being a lull between the Sean Scully retrospective and the big Matisse exhibition planned for October, our attention would be undivided. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana, 1885-86

Our plan was to head for the third floor of the museum, via the  imposing staircase graced by Augustus Saint-Gaudens' statue of the goddess, Diana. This gilded lady once served as the weathervane atop the original Madison Square Garden in New York City. 

Dangling overhead is Ghost, a mobile made by Alexander Calder in 1964 for an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Alexander Calder, Ghost, 1964

Before we began our climb, we decided to check-in with two "friends" on the main floor of the museum, Madame Cézanne and Mary Cassatt.

There are different strategies of how to explore a museum. Anne and I often begin by paying our "respects" to the three portraits of Madame Cézanne at the PMA and to the works by Mary Cassatt at the museum.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
                    Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,                      showing portraits by Paul Cézanne of his wife

Madame Cézanne is in a notably dour mood in these three portraits by her husband. In the center one, however, Madame Cézanne has such a compelling look in her eyes that she seems about to favor us with a nod, if not a smile.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Paul Cézanne's Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1885-86

There is a really important point here, one that slowing down and making repeated visits to a favorite painting makes easier to grasp. 

Great works of art possess a sense of possibility, a charge of potential energy. Madame Cézanne will never change, never smile. But these great portraits invite our close study and emotional engagement. This in turn triggers our thoughts and awareness. And we change, maybe even smile, too.

In the case of Mary Cassatt, I especially cherish her magnificent 1879 painting, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge. But, for quite awhile, I failed to give it the attention it deserved. I thought that the elegant young woman (the model is thought to have been Cassatt's sister, Lydia) is turning in her seat to greet companions as they enter the loge.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Mary Cassatt's Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, 1879

Not so. Look again and we see the back of the young woman's head reflected in a mirror. Reflected too, are other opera fans, in loges or opera boxes on the other side of the theater. Why on earth would a mirror have been placed in the confined space of an opera box?  Was this an artistic device of Cassatt's?

After a bit of research, I found that the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Europe's oldest opera house, has mirrors in its loges. Each is set at an incline to offer a glimpse of what is occurring in the Royal Box. I would assume that loges at the Paris Opera were similarly equipped in Cassatt's day. Yet, the inclusion of a mirror in Cassatt's painting has more to do, I suspect, with the subject of optics than with celebrity snooping.

In Woman in a Loge, Cassatt depicted her protagonist as if we could look directly at her, as she sits in the loge. But the reflections of the audience in the opera boxes across the way show how she would appear to them. The beaming young woman is a singular person, a special "someone" with grace and charm. Yet, seen from the opposite side of the theater, she is a face in the crowd. 

That may be a sobering thought, but a few moment's of meditation before a great painting or sculpture can help us assess our place in the universe. Each of us is a unique individual, one soul among many, many millions of souls.

To apply the same level of attention to all the  works on view in a museum, that we have accorded to Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, is clearly impossible. So how to proceed, having paid our respects to Madame Cezanne and Miss Cassatt?

"Festina lente," as the Roman emperor, Augustus, said. Make haste, slowly.

Several art museum studies have shown that many visitors follow the first part of Augustus' advice. In 2001, the Metropolitan Museum of Art conducted a survey which found that the average time spent looking at a work of art was 27.2 seconds. Fifteen years later, the Art Institute of Chicago repeated the experiment. The findings were similar: 28.6 seconds. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Gallery view of the Phila. Museum of Art, with works by Claude Monet

As Anne and I walked up the steps past the gleaming statue of Diana, we clearly had to do better, that is observe art at a slower and more patient pace. 

Luckily, the Philadelphia Museum of Art put some serious thought into how to  present its collection. When it opened in 1927, the museum's first director, Fiske Kimball, worked on a master plan to transform the third floor into a chronological succession of galleries and period rooms. 

Fiske Kimball's initiative was eventually crowned with success. Today, we can visit the splendid galleries which he and his team installed. These include the Reception Hall from a Ming Dynasty palace, early 1600's, and the Pillared Hall from a South Indian temple to Vishnu, dating to the 1500's. The sculptures and fixtures comprising this incredible gallery were acquired by an intrepid Philadelphia lady, Adeline Pepper Gibson, during a trip to India in the early 1900's and bequeathed to the PMA.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing 
the Pillared Hall from a South Indian temple, 1500's 

Fiske Kimball was notably successful with evoking the religious faith of Christendom during the Middle Ages. Since I discussed the medieval galleries of the PMA in a recent review, Anne and I decided to devote most of our late summer day's visit to the European galleries and period rooms of later centuries.

This historical era, the early modern age, is the time when the "Old Master" painters flourished. Thanks to collectors like John G. Johnson, the PMA certainly has its share of Old Master works of art. One of my favorites is Rembrandt's Head of Christ. Rembrandt used a model from Amsterdam's Jewish population to evoke the face of Jesus, thus promoting greater religious sensitivity.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Rembrandt's Head of Christ, 1648-56

In our tour of these early modern galleries, Anne and I were especially interested in the work of "anonymous." Despite the fame of Rembrandt, Rubens and other titans of brush and oils, unknown artisans active in the folk tradition of their respective countries created inspirational works of art.

   Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
            Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing               Latin American colonial-era art, 1600-1700's

The settings of the early galleries in this wing of the PMA deal with Italy and Spain during the 1500's and 1600's. These are unexpectedly austere from the standpoint of material culture, though well provided with religious art.

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
            Gallery 353 of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing              Spanish doors, furniture and paintings, 1500-1600's.

This period was the High Renaissance and the Golden Age of Spain. Yet the living standards of the great mass of citizens in Italy and Spain were blighted by endless wars, galloping inflation and dreadful outbreaks of the plague. The obsessive - to us - emphasis on art dealing with the sufferings of Jesus and the saints was embraced by the people of that era rather than imposed upon them.

And yet, there were displays of humor in those hard times and a sense of mischief which could border on irreverence. Comic elements are surely to be seen in some of the carvings on a pair of walnut doors made in Spain, 1550-1600, and on a stone fireplace created in Italy around the same time.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Top: Pair of Doors from Spain, with carvings of the Annunciation and Saints Peter and Paul, 1550-1660; Italian Chimneypiece, 1550-1660

The identity of the maker of these handsome Spanish doors is a mystery. It is likely that the doors come from Castile, in central Spain, but beyond that, little is known about them. All of the decorative motifs are inspired by the Roman Catholic form of Christianity espoused by the Spanish monarchy of Philip II. Close inspection of the carving, however, reveals a sense of mirth which could have been explained away to all but the most suspicious officials of the Inquisition.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Details from Pair of Doors from Spain, with carvings of the Annunciation and Saints Peter and Paul, 1550-1660

At the top of the doors, we see an officious-looking Angel Gabriel barging into the room of the Virgin Mary who is poised to flee. The look of alarm on the faces of cherubs above and other details, such as St. Peter with his enormous set of keys, belong to the European folk art tradition which left many traces of wit and humor on the decoration of churches and cathedrals.

In the case of the Italian chimney piece, it is not difficult to grasp how the shadows cast by its carved faces can generate a sense of fantasy and drama. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Details from an Italian Chimneypiece, 1550-1660

The Chimneypiece obviously had a great deal of use. Standing before it today, we can visualize how the dancing, darting flames would have projected the flickering faces of jesters and mythical characters around the room on a winter's night.

More carvings in the European folk tradition appear further on in the 1500-1850 galleries. Three of these works feature in a story of incredible coincidence or of the intervention by divine providence, depending on your point-of-view. 

Three sculptures, choir screen, altarpiece and statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, form an ensemble from the Chapel of the Chateau of Pagny, the Renaissance-era estate of the Admiral of France, Philippe Chabot de Brion, located in Burgundy.

The Chateau Pagny's Choir Screen, made from marble and alabaster, 1536-38, was acquired by the PMA in 1930. It was - and remains - one of the most significant works of art in the Museum's collection.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  
Choir Screen from Chapel at the Château of Pagny, 1533

The Choir Screen extended across the nave of the chapel, purposely shielding the altar and the sacred ritual of the Christian Mass from the gaze of the congregation. This arcane practice is hard for even faithful Christians to grasp today, given the emphasis on openness and participation. Yet, during 1500's-1600's, the concept of the altar as a sanctuary or "holy of holies" was of central importance to Roman Catholics.

The spectacular gilded, carved Altarpiece, now placed behind the Pagny Choir Screen  was purchased fifteen years later. And that is where the story gets really interesting..

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Detail of Altarpiece with Scenes of the Passion, c. 1535

Fiske Kimball and his team of PMA curators purchased the altarpiece in 1945. They did so on the likelihood that it was similar to the one in the Pagny Chapel, of which all trace had been lost. Incredibly, after diligent research into the provenance of this magnificent work, they discovered that it was the actual altarpiece which had been sited behind the Choir Screen of the Chapel of Pagny, just as we see it today. 

I don't know what is the mathematical probability of reuniting the long-separated Choir Screen and Altarpiece, but the author of the Handbook to the PMA's collection is absolutely correct to use the word "miraculously" to describe the whole transaction.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  
Virgin and Child beneath a Canopy, from the Château of Pagny, 1533

The third of the artworks from the chapel of the Chateau of Pagny is a tall, slender sculpture, Virgin and Child beneath a Canopy. Measuring 14 feet 5 1/4 inches in height, it presented a considerable challenge for Anne to get a photo. Luckily, many of the most interesting details of this work - certainly from the European folk art tradition - were down at the bottom, almost at eye level.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  
Detail from Virgin and Child beneath a Canopy, 1533

There we see several carved heads and two small figures.The heads look-out from little niches, their faces a mix of agitation or incredulity. Who are they?  Souls in Purgatory awaiting redemption? Or perhaps, could they be self-portraits of the stone carvers who made the statue? For now, it is mystery. But considering how much we now know about these splendid sculptures, it is not impossible that one day we will learn their identity.

As we proceed with our tour through the European period rooms and galleries, 1500-1850, we see fewer and fewer religious paintings and a diminishing number of quirky, rough-hewn works by artisans of the old school. Occasionally, craft genius asserted itself with demonstrations of individualism and skill. But unforgettable works in the folk art tradition such as a wrought iron flagstaff holder from Italy, made in the 1500's, were increasingly pushed to the margins by the "fine" arts.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
Flagstaff Holder in the Form of a Dragon, Italy, 1500's

In the place of the culture of Christendom and folk tradition, what we observe is the growth of secular society in the West.

The relegation of religion to the realm of the private conscience brought many benefits, but it spawned problems, too. A growing spiritual malaise among the aristocrats and gentry in Great Britain was noted as the eighteenth century progressed. Shockingly, not a few clergyman in England grew lax in their spiritual duties, as well.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
Vicar and Moses, 1782-1795

The decline in religious faith among England's "upper crust" was satirized by this lead-glazed earthenware piece, entitled Vicar and Moses. It is actually a very significant work of art, a very early product from an Industrial Revolution factory in Staffordshire.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  
Period rooms at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
               Top, the Grand Salon from the Chateau de Draveil, 1735;                below, the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House, 1766-1773  

The reconstruction of period rooms such as the Grand Salon from the Chateau de Draveil or the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House brought the polished elegance of 18th century France and England to the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To transfer the fixtures, mirrors, woodwork, furnishings, etc., and reassemble them  in the Philadelphia Museum of Art was indeed a mighty accomplishment, worthy of the Age of Enlightenment.

In 1938, as Fiske Kimball worked on his master plan, four magnificent statues from the eighteenth century were donated to the PMA. They had come onto the art market in 1922, with little information about their provenance. Each statue depicted one of the seasons of the year in the guise of a Roman god or goddess, Autumn as Bacchus, for instance.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
View of Gallery 366, showing two of the Four Seasons statues,1770-1790. From left, Winter as Saturn and Autumn as Bacchus

At the time of their arrival at the museum, the Four Seasons were attributed to the  sculptor, Augustin Pajou (1730–1809), one the masters of that era. This claim is disputed today, but the fact that Pajou was credited shows how superbly carved they are.. 

Today, the statues stand, slightly over-life sized, in Gallery 366. This, for the most part, is a fine placement for viewing them, but the gallery also functions as busy corridor. I can't imagine the times I've walked through on my way to another gallery, without paying attention to these Enlightenment -era masterpieces.

On the day of our "Slow Art" tour of the 1500-1850 galleries, Anne and I did stop to look at the Four Seasons. Or rather, we were stopped in our tracks by the sheer excellence of these statues.

Each of the Four Seasons is an allegorical figure but exudes real human feeling. Look at Saturn, huddled in his robe and you cannot help but believe that he feels the cold of Winter coming on.

 Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Detail of Winter as Saturn from the Four Seasons

Each of the Four Seasons inhabits a natural setting, made believable by incredible attention to detail, the chipped and scaling bark on the stump by the foot of Bacchus, the stalks of grain, billowing in the wind at the leg of Ceres.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Detail from Autumn as Bacchus from the Four Seasons

If you stand awhile in Gallery 366, you will see the shadows cast by the statues on the walls, looming large, looking like the souls of the statues and of the seasons they represent.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Gallery view showing Autumn as Bacchus from the Four Seasons

Each of the Four Seasons is an individual being, a real person rather than a type. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Detail of Spring as Flora from the Four Seasons

When I looked up and studied the countenance of Flora, I recognized the same liveliness which  Cassatt's Woman in a Loge exudes. The same compassion that can be glimpsed in the eyes of Rembrandt's Christ, was there in Flora's eyes.

These Four Seasons are incomparable works, regardless of who carved them. They live in a universe of stone, ready for our summons to spring to life.

But that call to action will have to wait. Our world was summoning us. It was time for us to leave. 

Plenty of great art to enjoy on our next tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art! Plenty to think about and appreciate from this visit.

It's amazing what you see when you slow down - and look. 


Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved    

Images copyright of Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved

All photographed works of art are from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Introductory Image: Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Ed Voves, Photo (2022) Sean Scully & Timothy Rub, President/CEO of the Philadelpha Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2021) Exterior view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana, 1892-94.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Alexander Calder, Ghost, 1964.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,          showing portraits by Paul Cézanne of his wife

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Portrait of Madame Cézanne by Paul Cézanne, 1885-1886. Oil on canvas: 24 3/8 × 20 1/8 inches. The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Mary Cassatt's Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, 1879. Oil on canvas: 32 × 23 1/2 inches (81.3 × 59.7 cm) Bequest of Charlotte Dorrance Wright, 1978.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with works by Claude Monet.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing the Pillared Hall from a South Indian temple, 1500's.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Rembrandt's Head of Christ, 1648-1656. Oil on oak panel, laid into larger oak panel: 14 1/8 × 12 5/16 inches. John G. Johnson Collection, 1917.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing Latin American colonial-era art, 1600-1700's. In the foreground is a silver gilt monstrance created by Franciso de Soria Hurtado (Peru, active 1651-92).

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery 353 of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing Spanish doors, furniture and paintings, 1500-1600's.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Pair of Doors from Spain, with carvings of the Annunciation and Saints Peter and Paul, 1550-1600. Walnut; iron mounts: Dimensions: Including posts: 7 feet 6 3/4 inches × 55 1/2 inches × 4 3/4 inches. Gift of The Rosenbach Company, 1944 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Italian Chimneypiece, 1550-1600 Stone: 7 feet 2 5/8 inches × 9 feet 6 3/16. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. W. Lawrence Saunders II, 1928

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Choir Screen from Chapel at the Château of Pagny, 1533

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Altarpiece with Scenes of the Passion,from the Chapel at the Château of Pagny  :c. 1535. Artist unknown, perhaps from the workshop of Master of the Oplinter Altarpiece, (Flemish) Gilded and painted wood sculptures; tempera-painted panels: Height: 9 feet 8 inches (294.6 cm)  Width (Wings closed): 7 feet 6 inches (228.6 cm). Purchased with Museum funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)  Virgin and Child beneath a Canopy from the Château of Pagny, 1533. Stone:Height:14 feet 5 1/4 inches. Purchased with funds contributed by Mrs. Charles Wolcott Henry from the Edmond Foulc Collection, 1930. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Flagstaff Holder in the Form of a Dragon, Italy, 16th century. Wrought iron: 24 x 7 x 18 inches: Purchased with Philadelphia Museum of Art Funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Vicar and Moses, c. 1782-1795. Made in the factory of Ralph Wood II,  Staffordshire. Lead-glazed earthenware: 9 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches. Gift of Charlotte Zeitlin in memory of David E. Zeitlin, 1999

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Grand Salon from the Chateau de Draveil, 1735. Purchased with Philadelphia Museum of Art Funds.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Drawing Room from Lansdowne House, designed by Robert Adam, c. 1766-1775. Gift of Graeme Lorimer and Sarah Moss Lorimer in memory of George Horace Lorimer, 1931

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gallery 366, showing two of the Four Seasons statues by an unknown artist, 1770-1790. From left, Winter as Saturn, Stone: 6 feet 7 1/2 inches × 27 1/4 inches; Autumn as Bacchus, Stone: 6 feet 7 1/2 inches × 27 1/4 inches. 

The other Four Seasons statues are Flora as Spring, 7 feet 1 1/2 inches × 27 1/4 inches  and Ceres as Summer, 7 feet 1 1/2 inches × 27 1/4 inches.

Gift of Eva Roberts Stotesbury in memory of Edward T. Stotesbury, 1938.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Art Eyewitness Review: The Art of Winold Reiss at the New York Historical Society


The Art of Winold Reiss, an Immigrant Modernist

New York Historical Society, New York City

July 1, 2022 - October 9, 2022

Reviewed by Ed Voves

Original photos by Anne Lloyd

For New Americans, 1913 was a big year. Immigration records show that 1,197,892 men, women and children came to America in 1913 to live, to work and to enjoy the freedoms of the United States. 

One of these immigrants was an artist and designer named Winold Reiss. 

The New York Historical Society is currently presenting a major retrospective of Winold Reiss' creative oeuvre.  This fascinating - and much needed -exhibition is complemented by an outstanding book, The Art of Winold Reiss, an Immigrant Modernist, published by Giles. Together, exhibition and catalog, revive the life of this amazing artist and his world. 

Despite the passage of a century, Winold Reiss (1886-1953) continues to astonish us with the incredible range of artistic media in which he excelled, matched by his prodigious output. 

There was an even more notable trait of Reiss than merely being a driven, modern-day "renaissance man." This was the extremely perceptive insight into American society which Reiss demonstrated very soon after he arrived in 1913. 

This awareness was much more than a case of having a "fresh pair of eyes." Reiss was willing, indeed, eager to examine the cultural diversity of the United States. This vision of a new America was the foundation of his art, which in turn, he shared with students at his New York City school. Among his pupils was Aaron Douglas, celebrated today for visionary paintings such as Let My People Go and his role in the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights movement.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Winold Reiss (1886–1953) Self-Portrait, version 2, 1914

Fritz Wilhelm Winold Reiss was German, as his name clearly shows. He was born in 1886 in Karlsrue. By the time he arrived in America, the number of German immigrants had significantly diminished. For much of the nineteenth century, however, Germans had emigrated to the U.S, in vast waves, approximately eight million between 1800 to 1900.

Prior to World War I, Germans were highly regarded in the U.S. Reiss was welcome in 1913, unlike newcomers from other ethnic groups. These were suspect largely because of their religion, Roman Catholic among Italians and Poles, Jewish in the case of many of the Russian-born. Reiss, however, brought a personal attribute which the U.S. Immigration officers might have found suspect had it been included on the question sheet which needed to be completed before entry was permitted.

Winold Reiss was a Modernist artist. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Composition VII ( Factories) by Winold Reiss, ca. 1917-22

Stepping ashore at Ellis Island, Reiss brought fresh cultural ideas and artistic techniques arising from the many "secession" movements in the Europe of his youth. From the Munich Secession and Berlin Secession, established in the 1890's, to the Blue Rider group, founded in 1911, German-speaking artists were especially notable for their rebellious attitudes and experimental forms of art. Reiss embraced this creative outlook but instead of joining one or another of these "secessions," he headed across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.

Among the early works which Reiss brought with him was Perrot (1909). This oil painting is a brilliant exercise in color handling, the subtle modulation of tones of grey, mauve, olive green and creamy white marking the transition from shadow to highlight with brilliant effect.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Perrot by Winold Reiss, 1909

Perrot's facial effects are key to this work - and to the personality of Reiss. The clown gives us a conspiratorial wink with one eye and a fixed, penetrating stare with the other. Perrot nonchalantly plays his tune, knowing that big changes are coming. Be prepared, a new world is coming, Perrot is saying. That is precisely what Reiss did, when he ventured to America.

Reiss brought an early version of what German art theorists would later call the "new objectivity" when he arrived in the U.S. in October 1913. Modernism had appeared a few months earlier, in February of that year, with the opening of the infamous Armory Show in New York City. Many Americans were appalled, while others cheered the art of "wild beasts" like Matisse and Duchamp. 

Reiss quickly found work in America, creating book covers, magazine illustrations and providing interior design for a chain of New York City pastry shops with the delightful name of Busy Lady Bakery.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Gallery view of The Art of Winold Reiss: Immigrant Modernist exhibit at the New York Historical Society, showing Peacock Gate, 1929

The Winold Reiss exhibition at the New York Historical Society (NYHS) is arranged in four thematic galleries. The catalog book, edited by Marilyn Satin Kushner, a curator at the NYHS, likewise includes four insightful essays. One of these, "Winold Reiss's American Studies", was written by Jeffrey C. Stewart, Pulitizer Prize winner in 2018 for his biography of Alain Locke, "father" of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 City of the Future mural by Winold Reiss for Longchamps Restaurant

These catalog essays provide enlightening commentary on the seemingly unlimited scope of Reiss' art - folk art-inspired furniture, jazz-age restaurant designs, the striking mural, City of the Future, which Reiss painted in 1936, and his stunning portrait sketches, still exuding life and spirit to a startling degree. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Elise Johnson McDougald by Winold Reiss, 1924 or 1925

The high quality and clarity of the illustrations in The Art of Winold Reiss, an Immigrant Modernist, combined with the compelling text, make this Giles publication an exceptional book indeed.

The design commissions which Reiss executed during the 1920's through 1940's helped establish the modern urban identity of New York City. A map in the book pinpoints 46 commercial spaces in New York City designed by Reiss, almost all in Manhattan. As might be expected, Reiss' impact on the "Big Apple" is the focus of the New York Historical Society exhibit.

It should also be noted that Reiss left his signatiure on the layout and ambiance of restaurants, hotels and civic structures across the U.S., all the way to Los Angeles. Indeed, his greatest artistic achievement was a monumental series of mosaics for the Cincinnati Union (Train) Terminal in 1933.

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
                 Gallery view of The Art of Winold Reiss exhibition,                     showing Harlem portraits by Winold Reiss

Later in this review, I will offer some comments on Reiss' commercial designs. But it should be noted that the real "stand-out" works of art in both exhibition and catalog are the portrait drawings in pastel and conté crayon which Reiss created celebrating the Harlem Renaissance.

Noteworthy, too, from the perspective of the Harlem Renaissance, is that this gallery of the Winold Reiss exhibition is a worthy successor to the Augusta Savage, Renaissance Woman exhibit at the NYHS, back in 2019.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Survey Graphic, "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro", by Winold Reiss

In 1924, Reiss was commissioned to provide the cover design and eighteen illustrations for a special issue of a social sciences periodical, Survey Graphic, entitled "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro." Thirteen of Reiss' pictures in Survey Graphic were portraits of African-American notables, many of these currently gracing the deep-red gallery walls at the New York Historical Society.

As well-as Alain Locke and W.E.B. Dubois, these Harlem"notables" included four portraits of African American women.These were unnamed, but very real, individuals. They were identified by their professions, as a testimony of the ability of African Americans to excel in whatever capacity they set their minds and abilities to master. In the rather patronizing terminology of the time, these self-assured women were identified as "types."

                                       Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)                                          The School Teachers, Type Study (detail) by Winold Reiss, 1924-25

Following the publication of "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro", a much bigger selection of African American-themed work by Reiss was displayed at a major Harlem venue. This solo show was staged at the 135th Street Harlem Branch, New York Public Library. Curiously, it once again emphasized "types", being billed as "Exhibition of Recent Portraits of Representative Negroes." 

A laudatory review of Reiss's portraits by Alain Locke reveals just how important the issue of "type" was for the Harlem writers and activists during the 1920's, as they sought to counter sweeping dismissal of the achievements of African Americans as a group.  

Reiss, Locke stated "is a folk-lorist of the brush and palette, seeking always the folk character back of the individual, the psychology behind the physignomy."

   Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Charles Spurgeon Johnson by Winold Reiss, ca. 1925

Regarded in this light, the brilliant sketch of Charles Spurgeon Johnson was as much a portrait of a"New Negro" man of letters as of a specific person. Today, with our emphasis on individualism, it is the indelible "finger print" of Johnson's life which matters. 

And rightly so, because Johnson was a brilliant researcher for the National Urban League and editor of the prestigious publication, Opportunity, before going on to be the first African American president of Fisk University. It comes as no surprise, after closely studying Reiss' portrait of Johnson, to learn that he was a savvy social operator. Johnson funded the operating expenses of Opportunity with financial contributions from a carefully-courted group of donors, including one of the bosses of Harlem's "numbers" racket.

To focus on the issue of individual vs. "type" is important for the insight it provides about Reiss, as well as the Harlem Renaissance. Reiss had been fascinated with Native Americans since boyhood. This interest surely was a deciding factor leading him to come to America. Reiss frequently visited with Native American tribes, especially the Blackfeet of Montana. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Turtle by Winold Reiss, 1920

In 1920, Reiss exhibited a series of Native American portraits, as well as Mexican ethnic "types." Examples are on view in the same gallery with his Harlem notables at the NYHS. Portraits of White Americans of different social groups appear, as well, Jazz Age flappers and grizzled working men. They make for fascinating comparison.

Reiss is likely to have believed in human "typology" since it was such a widely held concept. But at heart, Reiss was clearly an individualist in his art (and in own life). He could not repress the unique nature of each person he drew, rather than concentrating on their "representative" attributes.

We can see this "new objectivity" which Reiss applied to individuals by contrasting two portraits of rising stars of American culture. Reiss sketched  Langston Hughes in 1925, Isamu Noguchi a year later. Both portraits have evocative background motifs in a similar modernist style, which makes them appear to be companion pieces. 

The Hughes and Noguchi portraits are displayed together in the NYHS exhibit. It is an effective curatorial pairing but ultimately this placement only underscores the status of both men as independent masters of their own craft and their own separate destines. The background motifs are of passing interest compared to the superb handling of Hughes' fixed gaze and the sparkle of awareness in Noguchi's eyes.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Langston Hughes, ca.1925 (top) and Isamu Noguchi, ca.1926
Details from portrait sketches by Winold Reiss

Reiss imbued his portrait sketches with such a heightened degree of naturalness that his subjects seem to have been drawn yesterday rather than a century ago. Yet, they also possess aesthetic properties in common with the religious icons of medieval Christendom. 

In 1927, Reiss visited St. Helena's Island on the coast of South Carolina, famous for its Gullah culture which preserves many aspect of African life. There, Reiss did a further series of portrait sketches of African Americans, this time "just plain folks" rather than celebrities like Paul Robeson or Jean Toomer. 

One of these portraits imparts the nurturing quality of a Madonna by Raphael to a father figure. It is my favorite piece in the exhibit and, without exaggeration, a truly "iconic" work of art. 

                                     Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
        Fred Fripp, Graduate of Penn School, with Carol and Evelyn
                                      by Winold Reiss, 1927

Fred Fripp, Graduate of Penn School, with Carol and Evelyn, is such a profoundly moving portrait that I could have gazed, indeed meditated, upon it for hours, as Van Gogh did when he first beheld Rembrandt's The Jewish Bride

Two features of Fred Frip stand out in salient fashion. The first is the powerful life force which Reiss captured in the eyes of the children. Carol and Evelyn, which merits comparison with the peering look of the Harlem teachers shown above. 

And then, even more astonishing, is the evocation of the human life cycle in the way Reiss depicts the hands of these good people, the gnarled and work-worn hands of the father, the tender and trusting little fingers of his daughters, grasping his wrists. 

The "human touch" so evident in this and other of Reiss' portrait drawings appears everywhere in his oeuvre, including his designs for the decor of commercial institutions. Reiss valued human happiness and he knew that this basic, need was even more important following the catastrophic "Great" War and the staggering pandemic of 1918-19. 

In a revealing remark, Reiss stated that the “interiors of restaurants and hotels had to be changed to meet the modern demand. People do not want to eat in places anymore where the color of brown gravy dominates the walls and atmosphere. They want to drink their cocktails in a gay, warm surrounding where they can forget their daily worries.” 

     Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Study for Interior, Longchamps Restaurant at Manhattan House
Designed by Winold Reiss, 1950-51

On first reading, this appears to be a fairly prosaic quote. Yet, there is much more here than an off-hand comment. 

The expression "brown gravy" had been a dismissive rebuke to painters in the nineteenth century who opted for painting in the style of Rembrandt rather than follow the example of the Impressionists. Throughout his long career, Reiss rejected the "brown gravy" school of art for a bold, freewheeling realm of color.

Reiss also skillfully utilized new industrial materials, formica, aluminum, Monel Metal, in the furnishings and implements he designed. Every detail was aimed to create an atmosphere of progress and modern convenience where people could live in ease and harmony, able to be themselves.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) 
Tabletop for Lindy's Restaurant, by Winold Reiss, 1939

"Freedom of choice" is a mantra of modern-day advertising. We see that exemplified in Reiss' 1939 design for a tabletop for Lindy's Restaurant. Deceptively simple, the selection of "liquid cheer", wine class, cocktail, brandy snifter and coffee cup, is set in a diamond pattern which gives the tomato red surface a welcoming, stylish appeal. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022)
 Panel from Medieval Grill Room, Alamac Hotel, New York City
Designed by Winold Reiss & Hans Reiss, 1923

By contrast, Reiss looked back to German folk tradition in a free-standing metal sculpture for the Medieval Grill Room of the Alamac Hotel. Reiss worked with his brother, Hans, a sculptor who followed him to America. This remarkable piece was constructed of five different metals, wrought iron, copper, brass, steel and aluminum, and was fabricated by two master craftsmen, Julius Ormos and Charles Bardosy.

This magnificent panel exerts an amazing presence in the NYHS gallery, as it no doubt did in the Alamac's Medieval Grill Room. What struck me, on viewing it, was the way that the facial expressions of the dancers seem to change, depending on the light. In like fashion, the shifting movement of the shadows fills the room with a sense of lively energy. Is this a pair of metal cut-outs or two real dancers in fancy dress, "cutting the rug" in a Jazz Age Ballroom?

Whatever way you look at the dancing pair from the Alamac Medieval Grill Room, we are lucky to be able to see it in the NYHS exhibition. It is a rare survival, now in a private collection. Many of the commercial works of art, designed by Reiss, have vanished and the rooms whose decor he planned are gone too, victims of New York City's unceasing "turn and overturn" demolition.

Yet, the artistic vision of Winold Reiss lives on, so evident in this dazzling exhibition. And, if we were to visit Glacier National Park, Montana, we might be able to commune with his spirit, as well. 

When Winold Reiss died in 1953, his ashes were given to his friends of the Blackfeet Nation, who scattered them to the winds.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved. 

Original photos by Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved.

Introductory Image: Book Cover of The Art of Winold Reiss, Immigrant Modernist, courtesy of Giles Publishing.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Winold Reiss (1886–1953) Self-Portrait, version 2, 1914. Pastel on paper: 14 7/8 x 10 7/8 in. (37.8 x 27.6. cm) Private Collection 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Composition VII ( Factories) by Winold Reiss, ca. 1917-22. Tempera on illustration board: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm) Collection of Charles K. Williams II, courtesy of Hirschi & Adler Galleries, N.Y.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Perrot by Winold Reiss, 1909. Oil on canvas: 44 7/8  x  33 3/4 in. (114 x 85.7 cm) The Reiss Partnership

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of The Art of Winold Reiss exhibition at the New York Historical Society, showing Peacock Gate, 1929, Private Collection

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) City of the Future mural by Winold Reiss, for Longchamps Restaurant (1450 Broadway, at West Forty-First Street), 1936. Oil on canvas with gold paint: 56 1/2  x  192 in. (143.5 x 462.2 cm) Collection of the Kiki Kogelnik Foundation, New York 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Elise Johnson McDougald by Winold Reiss, 1924 or 1925. Pastel on Whatman board: 30 1/16 x  21 9/16 in. (76.4 x 54.8 cm) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lawrence a. Fleischman and Howard Garfinkle with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of The Art of Winold Reiss exhibition at the New York Historical Society, showing Harlem Portraits by Winold Reiss.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Cover of Survey Graphic special issue, "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro", March 1, 1925, by Winold Reiss. Collection of the Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) The School Teachers, Type Study (detail) by Winold Reiss, 1924 or 1925. Pastel on Whatman board: 31 1/2 x  23 1/4 in. (80 x 59 cm) Fisk University Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Charles Spurgeon Johnson by Winold Reiss, ca. 1925. Pastel on illustration board: 30 1/16 x  21 9/16 in. (76.3 x 54.7 cm) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lawrence Fleischman & Howard Garfinkle with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Turtle by Winold Reiss, 1920. Conté crayon on paper: 19 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (48.9 x 36.8 cm) The Brinton Museum, Big Horn, WY

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Langston Hughes (detail) by Winold Reiss, ca. 1925 Pastel on Whatman board. 30 1/16 x  21 5/8 in. (76.4 x 54.9 cm) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of W. Tjark Reiss, in memory of his father, Winold Reiss 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Isamu Noguchi (detail) by Winold Reiss, ca. 1926 Pastel on Whatman board. 28 7/8  x  21 34 in. (73.3 x 55.3 cm) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lawrence Fleischman and Howard Garfinkle with a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Fred Fripp, Graduate of Penn School, with Carol and Evelyn, by Winold Reiss, 1927. Mixed media on Whatman board. 30 x  22 1/2 in. (76.2 x 57.2 cm) Fisk University Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Study for Interior, Longchamps Restaurant at Manhattan House (corner of Third Avenue at 65th St.), 1950 or 1951. Graphite & tempera on illustration board: 21 x 31 in. (53.4 x 78.8 cm) Private Collection

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Tabletop for Lindy's Restaurant, by Winold Reiss, 1939. Formica with aluminum inlay and metal edge banding: 26 x 26 x 1 1/4 in. (66 x 66 x 3.1 cm) Private Collection

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Panel from Medieval Grill Room, Alamac Hotel, designed by Winold Reiss and Hans Reiss; Jules Ormos and Charles Bardosy, metalwork fabricators, 1923.  Wrought iron, copper, brass, steel and aluminum: 55 1/4 x 52 1/4 x 2 in. (140.3 x 132.7 x 5.1 cm) Private Collection