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January 18, 2021

Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Singing in the Rain during the March from Selma to Montgomery

Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Singing in the Rain during the March from Selma to Montgomery

Moneta Sleet Jr., American, 1926–1996; Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Singing in the Rain during the March from Selma to Montgomery, 1965, printed c.1970; gelatin silver print; 19 3/4 x 13 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Johnson Publishing Company 395:1991; © Johnson Publishing Co., Inc.

At the center of this photograph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looks out with an expression of unflinching determination. He sings with the rest of the participants in the 1965 civil rights protest in Alabama, known as the Selma march. Photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. purposely portrayed King among the people and highlights him as a leader who walked with the masses. The rain drenches the marchers who continue on, many without any covering. By his side, his wife Coretta Scott King joins in with the singing.

Sleet is one of the most recognized photojournalists of the civil rights movement. Sleet’s career began as a sportswriter for Amsterdam News before he was hired at Our World magazine where he worked for five years. When Our World shut down in 1955, Sleet went on to become a staff photographer for Johnson Publishing, home of Ebony and Jet magazines. His first assignment was to photograph the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During his career, Sleet earned a Pulitzer Prize for the outstanding quality of his work, in addition to a National Urban League award, and the National Association of Black Journalists award.

Today’s Object of the Day is featured in our virtual program: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Celebration: Inspired by a Movement

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January 17, 2021

New York Harbor

New York Harbor

Lillian Glaser, American, 1888–1931; New York Harbor, 1928; wool and linen; 60 1/4 x 27 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of St. Louis Weavers' Guild 141:1952

Symbols of modernity—ocean liners, airplanes, and skyscrapers—intermingle with old-fashioned sailboats and bridges in this stylized view of New York Harbor from 1928. Lillian Glaser, a native of Belleville, Illinois, wove this pictorial textile on a handloom, a slow and technically complex process. Glaser taught weaving at Washington University in St. Louis and was a founding member of the city’s Weavers’ Guild. She likely envisioned the design for this wall hanging on a 1925–26 leave of absence to pursue her artistic education in New York.

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January 16, 2021

St. Francis Contemplating a Skull

St. Francis Contemplating a Skull

Francisco de Zurbarán, Spanish, 1598–1664; St. Francis Contemplating a Skull, c.1635; oil on canvas; 36 x 12 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 47:1941

Saint Francis of Assisi was a 13th-century friar and preacher, famous for having had a vision in which he received the wounds of Christ. The artist has reduced his figure to simple geometric solids, their three-dimensionality enhanced by the use of stark lighting. The saint’s downcast gaze and shadowed face remove him from the viewer’s realm, making his contemplation of the skull a compelling model of religious devotion. Francisco de Zurbarán was a master of the single monumental figure, often based on models that he studied from life. Although the painting was originally part of a larger, multi-paneled altarpiece, it works effectively as a single picture.

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January 15, 2021

Standing Sâkyamuni Buddha

Standing Sâkyamuni Buddha

Standing Sâkyamuni Buddha, late 6th century; Chinese, Northern Qi dynasty, or Sui dynasty; marble with traces of pigment; 63 3/4 x 18 1/2 x 12 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 182:1919

The serene, introspective gaze of this Buddha is enhanced by the figure’s formal stance and the white, cool character of the marble. Traces of old pigment indicate that this sculpture was originally painted to show the richly embroidered, colorful patchwork silks of a priest’s robe. There are two rare features depicted in this work. The first, just under the left shoulder, is an inverted fan shape that represents the gathering of cloth in a clasp. The second, nestled between the ankles, is a fruit-like motif interpreted as a lotus bud or a wish-granting pearl (cintamani), both symbols of purity (see detail). Based on stylistic analysis and other comparable works, this statue may have been made either during the final years of the Northern Qi dynasty or the early years of the Sui dynasty. This standing statue would have been supported on a lotus pedestal that surmounted a square base, carved from the same marble.

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January 14, 2021

Candelabra

Candelabra

designed by Bruno Paul, German, 1874–1968; made by K. M. Seifert & Co., Dresden-Löbtau, Germany; associated with Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, Munich, Germany, 1897–1991; Candelabra, 1901; brass; 17 1/8 x 27 1/8 x 9 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund 169:1995

This candelabra for 13 candles is often compared to the fanned tail of a peacock when the arms are aligned in this position or to a branching tree when they are rotated. Despite these subtle references to nature, the conical candle sockets and base are ornamented only with lines. They mark a departure from other Jugendstil, or Youth Style, designs that more directly imitate organic forms. Designer Bruno Paul was among the architects, craftsmen, and manufacturers who formed the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, or the United Workshops for Art in Craft. The United Workshops sought to produce affordable modern design and advance the stature of German art industries.

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January 13, 2021

Robert Hay Drummond, D. D. Archbishop of York and Chancellor of the Order of the Garter

Robert Hay Drummond, D. D. Archbishop of York and Chancellor of the Order of the Garter

Sir Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723–1792; Robert Hay Drummond, D. D. Archbishop of York and Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, 1764; oil on canvas; 50 x 40 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of James F. Ballard 46:1930

In this monumental portrait, Robert Hay Drummond wears regalia indicating both his secular and ecclesiastical offices. His massive blue robe, tied with long silk cords, bears the insignia of the Order of the Knights of the Garter (a prestigious group founded in the 14th century in service to the king) on his right shoulder. Drummond wears the traditional linen collar favored by clergy and rests his left hand on an especially elaborate purse, symbolizing the distribution of alms to the poor, one of his duties as Royal Almoner. The frontal pose and voluminous drapery suggest a powerful individual.

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January 12, 2021

Zayamaca #4

Zayamaca #4

Al Loving, American, 1935–2005; Zayamaca #4, 1993; collage of painted paper mounted on Plexiglas; irregular: 50 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 172:2017; Courtesy the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York © Al Loving

Layered spirals—a signature motif for Al Loving—create a dynamic vertical composition, which seems to sprout new forms as it ascends the wall. Since his early career, the artist created sprawling configurations of repeated shapes large enough to take over walls. Loving, along with contemporaries such as Sam Gilliam, was interested in producing art that rejected traditional supports such as wooden stretchers or frames (learn more). For this work, he constructed a Plexiglas backing, which gives the collage a free-floating sculptural presence.

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January 11, 2021

Carpet with Hexagonal Compartments

Carpet with Hexagonal Compartments

Carpet with Hexagonal Compartments, early 19th century; Ottoman period, Turkey; wool; 71 1/4 x 49 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of James F. Ballard 89:1929

The incredibly thick and lustrous wool pile of this rug is typical of Yürük products. Yürük, the Turkish word for “wanderer,” has been used to identify the nomadic people of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Yürük rugs made from local wools are very lightweight for their size. Given the sheen and difference in color saturation when viewed from opposite ends, this rug almost appears to be silk. The design is reminiscent of octagonal ceramic tiles, with interlocking octagonal medallions separated by a twisted-ribbon band in light blue. Connected to this band are rectangular boxes containing smaller hexagonal compartments filled with highly stylized insect forms that may have developed from a floral motif of projecting leaves. Geometric shapes, some with legs, and amulet shapes fill the larger octagonal spaces between the boxes.

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January 10, 2021

The Rainbow’s Source

The Rainbow’s Source

John Henry Twachtman, American, 1853–1902; The Rainbow's Source, c.1890–1900; oil on canvas; 36 x 25 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 124:1921

This painting is one of many that John Henry Twachtman painted of Horseneck Falls, the waterfall on his property in Greenwich, Connecticut. Twachtman nearly fills the canvas with the image of the waterfall tumbling into the streambed below. The rough texture of the paint vividly captures the movement and misty spray of the water, and the artist was able to create the impression of a vaporous atmosphere that could at any moment reveal a brilliant rainbow. Twachtman used the Impressionist technique of combining multiple brushstrokes of varying color to produce transient, shimmering light effects. He repeatedly painted this waterfall and other subjects on his property, exploring various light and weather conditions.

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January 9, 2021

Daphne

Daphne

Renée Sintenis, German, 1888–1965; Daphne, 1930; bronze; 56 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 672:1949; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Renée Sintenis was a prominent sculptor in early 20th century Germany. In this mythological subject, she depicts Daphne changing into a tree. The nymph’s hair turns to leaves while foliage appears around her legs and sprouts from her armpits. Daphne was pursued by the Greek god Apollo and was transformed into a tree in order to escape the god’s unwanted advances. Sintenis affirmed, “I tried to capture the beginning of this magic transformation in plastic form.”

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January 8, 2021

Table Lamp

Table Lamp

made by Pattyn Products Company, Detroit, Michigan; Table Lamp, c.1935; aluminum, plastic, brass, and fiberglass; 19 3/4 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Victor Porter Smith 30:2017

This table lamp’s piston-like aluminum base and ribbed fiberglass shade look like spare machine parts. Spurred by a fascination with modern factories, designers and home furnishing manufacturers between World War I and II embraced the pure geometry and honest materiality of industrial forms. Stacked and repeated cylinders and spheres, which supplanted the earlier trend for triangular forms, epitomized American “Machine Age” design.

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January 7, 2021

St. Ives Cornwall, Composition

St. Ives Cornwall, Composition

Ben Nicholson, English, 1894–1982; St. Ives Cornwall, Composition, 1934; oil on canvas mounted on board; 21 1/2 x 25 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 118:1969; © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / DACS, London

Overlaid planes of bright color evoke the sea, sand, and brilliant light of the coast in Cornwall, England. This landscape was an important retreat for Ben Nicholson throughout his life. The same year in which Nicholson painted St. Ives Cornwall, Composition, he visited the studio of Piet Mondrian, where he was deeply affected by the older artist’s careful arrangement of strict, geometric forms. This work highlights the nature-inspired and lyrical elements which were distinctive to Nicholson’s abstract compositions.

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January 6, 2021

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi

follower of Hugo van der Goes, South Netherlandish, c.1440–1482; Adoration of the Magi, c.1505; oil on panel; 50 3/4 x 40 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 93:1926

Before a magnificent landscape of hills and cliffs, three opulently dressed Magi present the Christ Child with exotic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The flamboyant kings contrast with the two simple shepherds who strain to observe the scene as they peer on either side of the half column behind the Holy Family. The three different ages and nationalities of the Magi, as well as the distinction between the poor shepherds and wealthy kings, symbolize the universality of Christ’s mission. Following Northern traditions of architectural symbolism, the dilapidated building at right denotes the collapse of a previous religious order. The stone steps on which Mary and her baby sit suggest the foundation of a new one.

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January 5, 2021

Headrest in the Form of a Theater

Headrest in the Form of a Theater

Headrest in the Form of a Theater, late 13th–mid-14th century; Chinese, Yuan dynasty; Jingdezhen ware; porcelain with carved and applied decoration under bluish-white (qingbai) glaze; 6 3/4 x 12 x 6 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Spink Asian Art Collection, Bequest of Edith J. and C. C. Johnson Spink 148:2014

This is a rare porcelain headrest in the form of a theater with a surrounding balustrade. The object is modeled in high relief on all four sides with figural and architectural details (see detail). The shaped top is slanted toward one of the long sides and decorated with a design of interlocking coins within an undulating border. During the Yuan dynasty, drama attained such a high point in the history of Chinese literature and performing arts that theatrical structures inspired the production of ceramic headrests.

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January 4, 2021

Siempre (Always)

Siempre (Always)

Frank Wimberley, American, born 1926; Siempre, 1998; collage of cut painted paper with pastel; 22 1/4 x 27 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 184:2017; © Frank Wimberley

Energetic gestures of vivid red, yellow, white, and silver seem to fight in a messy brawl against a black background. To achieve this effect, Frank Wimberley incorporated cut pieces from other examples of his work. This technique was utilized by some of the earliest collage artists in the 20th century. Deckled edges, splattered paint, and scratches into existing brush marks (see detail) add further dimension to the varied surface.

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January 3, 2021

Infant

Infant

, mid-1st century BC–mid-1st century AD; Greek, Late Hellenistic, or Roman, Imperial period, Egypt; bronze with silver inlay; height: 24 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 36:1926

This sculpture’s sturdy figure, solid stance, and mature face are at odds with the idea of a helpless, innocent child. Made at a time when accurate depictions of age, both old and young, were popular, this sculpture seems somehow supernatural and suggests a mythological figure rather than an anonymous depiction of an infant. Zeus, king of the gods, had two sons, Herakles and Dionysus who were sometimes depicted as babies. The infant, Herakles survived an assassination attempt by gleefully strangling the snakes sent to his bed. Baby Dionysus was fostered as an infant far from the prying eyes of Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. Without the arms or any characteristic attributes, it is impossible to securely identify who this sculpture represents.

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January 2, 2021

Christ and the Sinner

Christ and the Sinner

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950; Christ and the Sinner, 1917; oil on canvas; 58 3/4 x 49 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Curt Valentin 185:1955

  • Speaker: Melissa Venator
    Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow for Modern Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    This is a painting titled Christ and the Sinner, made in 1917 by Max Beckmann. It shows a passage from the Gospel of John from the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In the passage Jesus is asked to determine the fate of a woman accused of adultery. The law called for her to be stoned to death, but Jesus responded, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” the source of the familiar expression, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s interpreted as a lesson in the virtue of forgiveness and a warning against hypocrisy. After all, are any of us so good that we can judge the action of others?

    Beckmann often depicted scenes from the Bible, but he wasn’t a particularly religious man. For him, biblical stories represented universal themes, like the idea of forgiveness, easily understood by the average German. And that’s an important point to remember. In the German census of 1910, over 98 percent of Germans identified as Christian, either Protestant or Catholic. They would be familiar enough with Bible stories to identify the subject of this painting from the figures alone, and they would also know its moral lesson.

    But while Beckmann refers to the biblical account, he also departs from it. Jesus stands at the center in a white robe, but Beckmann shows him beardless and bald, looking, in fact, very much like Beckmann himself. The woman at his feet is the woman accused of adultery, kneeling in prayer and thanking Jesus for his intercession. The other figures are harder to identify. One may be a soldier, another in tights and a red pointed hat and apron is a complete mystery. And they all make bizarre hand gestures. These are puzzles with no clear answers, which leave us with unresolved curiosity, a response I regularly have to Beckmann’s art.

    As we try to understand Christ and the Sinner, its date helps a lot: 1917, the middle of World War I. By then Beckmann’s war was already over. He volunteered as a medical orderly in early 1915 and spent a year in occupied Belgium caring for wounded soldiers. In a letter home, he described how the wounded men reminded him of the sufferings of Jesus, likely the only example of a heavily wounded man he had ever encountered in his life before the war.

    Beckmann’s constant exposure to pain and death led to a breakdown and discharge on medical grounds. While recuperating he began to paint large biblical scenes in a new angular and more abstract style, paintings including Christ and the Sinner. For Germans in the midst of war, not just Beckmann, the Bible’s apocalyptic narrative seemed a wholly appropriate metaphor for the large-scale human loss and environmental devastation.

In this unconventional depiction (hear more above), Jesus stops an angry mob from stoning a woman to death. The biblical story’s message of non-violence expresses Max Beckmann’s pacifism after his wartime service. Beckmann volunteered as a medical orderly during the war, but constant exposure to dead and dying soldiers traumatized him. This is one of the first paintings he made after his discharge in 1917. Twenty years later, Christ and the Sinner appeared in the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) show, a propaganda exhibition organized by the Nazi government to indoctrinate Germans against Expressionist and abstract art.

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January 1, 2021

Reliquary Guardian Figure (mbulu ngulu)

Reliquary Guardian Figure (mbulu ngulu)

Kota artist, Gabon; Reliquary Guardian Figure (mbulu ngulu), late 19th–early 20th century; wood, copper, brass, iron; 25 1/2 x 16 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by The May Department Stores Company, and gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin S. Novack, Morton D. May, Ernest Anspach, Thomas Alexander, Michael Roth, J. Lionberger Davis, Jerry O. Wilkerson, and bequest of Morton D. May, by exchange; Museum Purchase and Friends Fund 23:1989

Kota reliquary guardian figures (mbulu ngulu), such as this one, are unique among African sculptural forms in their combination of wood and hammered metal. It is thought that the figurative form of the mbulu ngulu was intended to reinforce and communicate the reliquary’s intense power. The Kota used reliquary guardian figures to protect and identify the revered bones of family ancestors. The Kota believed that the relics of important men and women retain power after death, providing protection and good fortune to an individual’s descendants. The remains were preserved in containers made of bark or basketry. The mbulu ngulu stood atop this bundle, bound to it at the figure’s lozenge-shaped base.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 31, 2020

Puppet

Puppet

Bamana artist, Mali; Puppet, 1960s; wood, pigment, animal hair, metal, cloth, fiber; 24 x 36 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Partial gift of Thomas Alexander and Museum Shop Fund 189:1994

This puppet is constructed with moveable joints, allowing both the horse and rider to strike a variety of gestures and poses. Puppeteers work from behind a cloth screen to operate the puppets, up to five feet from the ground. Part of a genre known as “the animals come forth” (sogo bò), this puppet was used to entertain children and young adults. Sogo bò is a tradition shared among several cultural groups in the Ségou Region of central Mali. This type of puppetry, which originated prior to 1890, is particularly suited to inventiveness and change, and continues to evolve through new performances into the present day. Secular in character, the performances are owned and enacted by members of the kamalen ton, the young men’s society.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 30, 2020

Crown (adenla)

Crown (adenla)

Yoruba artist, Nigeria; Crown (adenla), 20th century; glass beads, cotton fabric, rattan; 34 x 8 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Jeffrey and Jackie Hammer 52:2009

Lavish glass beading on this crown emphasizes the wealth and power of a Yoruba oba (king). Glass beads, imported from eastern Europe and northern Italy via transatlantic trade, became an important signifier of wealth. This crown’s veil concealed the face of the oba; the luxury of bountifully beaded ornamentation further underscored the separation between a semidivine king and his constituency. The crown’s principal conical shape highlights the significance of an oba’s ori inu, the “inner head,” which in Yoruba belief holds one’s character, intellect, destiny, and spiritual essence. The ori inu takes precedent over the ori ode, one’s physical “outer head.”

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 29, 2020

Chief’s Chair

Chief’s Chair

Chokwe artist, Angola; Chief's Chair, 19th century; wood, brass, hide; 29 1/4 x 11 x 17 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 7:1943

This chair is a symbol of political power and social hierarchy. The top of the chair back features the heads of five Chokwe chiefs in royal headdresses. Below the chiefs, on the lower back are carved images of three initiates of the young men’s masking society (see detail), an association controlled by the chief. Underneath the initiates, on one side are a pair of musicians who carry and play a wood slit drum. On the opposite rung are two women with tall pestles pounding food in a mortar. The other two rungs feature carvings of scenes from Chokwe life, including a man leading a cow. From the 16th century, Portuguese traders imported European-style joinery chairs and presented them as gifts to their African trading partners. As the chairs were traded into the interior, they became prestige objects and eventually served as prototypes for chairs used by Chokwe chiefs.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 28, 2020

Crest Mask (ci-wara kun)

Crest Mask (ci-wara kun)

Bamana artist, Mali; Crest Mask (ci-wara kun), early 20th century; wood, pigment, metal tacks; 17 1/2 x 25 x 3 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund 68:1998

This headdress, called ci‑wara kun, primarily represents an antelope, an important animal in Bamana culture. The antelope’s power is a metaphor for the successful farmer who tirelessly tills his fields. Worn on the heads of male dancers, these headdresses are always performed in pairs­—one male and one female—to symbolize the fertility of both land and animals. A male mask such as this would have been joined by a female mask and danced together to the sound of drums in order to bring forth the rain, clear the fields, and harvest the crops. Music and entertainment by the masked performers would inspire the young men to work efficiently and in harmony.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 27, 2020

Veranda Post

Veranda Post

Yoruba artist, Nigeria; Veranda Post, 20th century; wood; 82 11/16 x 5 1/16 x 3 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 273:1972

The warrior-hunter, recognizable by his gun and long-tailed headdress, appears twice on this veranda post, standing atop a ram’s head above, and with his feline prey below (see detail). The sculpture communicated that its owner was a cosmopolitan individual who honored Ogun, the Yoruba god of warriors and chiefs, observed Islamic teachings, and maintained political ties with the British colonial administration. A Muslim teacher below is identifiable by the turban he wears and the Koranic writing board and prayer beads he holds. Above him, carved in relief, is a seated European colonial official, recognizable by his pith helmet, pipe, and book. Thus, leadership, in the forms of warriorhood, education, and politics, represents the values of the owner whose residence this post once adorned.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 26, 2020

Shrine Object

Shrine Object

Yoruba artist, Nigeria; Shrine Object, first half 20th century; wood, leather, cowrie shells, glass beads, fiber, metal bells; overall height: 27 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Dr. William Harvey 18:1983

These figures, one male and one female, suggest the Yoruba god Eshu’s ability to bring opposites and complementary entities together. Eshu is known as the messenger between this world and the spiritual realm of the orishas and ancestors. The figure pair also emphasizes the duality inherent in Eshu’s personality. Known as a trickster, Eshu represents unpredictability and uncertainty in the universe. When this object was not set up as a shrine dedicated to the god, a devotee danced with it, activating its dangling bells and shells, at Eshu festivals held in the marketplace. Eshu is also considered the guardian of the markets and crossroads.

Throughout this week, Object of the Day will feature a series of African works of art in celebration of Kwanzaa.

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December 25, 2020

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Sts. Peter, John the Baptist, Dominic, and Nicholas of Bari

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Sts. Peter, John the Baptist, Dominic, and Nicholas of Bari

Piero di Cosimo, Italian, 1461/62–1521; Madonna and Child Enthroned with Sts. Peter, John the Baptist, Dominic, and Nicholas of Bari, c.1481–85; tempera and oil on panel; 105 1/4 x 63 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 1:1940

In a lifelike rendering, this large panel portrays a sacra conversazione (holy conversation) where saints surround the Madonna and Child in a unified pictorial space. Saint Peter presents the kneeling Saint Dominic (left) while Saint John the Baptist announces Christ’s ministry, and Saint Nicholas kneels in devotion (right). The three smaller panels, called a predella, depict scenes from the lives of Saints Dominic, John, and Nicholas (see detail). The Pugliese coat of arms adorns the frame, identifying the Florentine family who commissioned the work for its private chapel.

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December 24, 2020

Ankh-pa-khered with Osiris

Ankh-pa-khered with Osiris

Ankh-pa-khered with Osiris, 664–610 BC; Egyptian, Late Period, or Dynasty 26 (Saite); greywacke; full figure height: 16 1/4 inches, base: 2 3/16 x 3 3/16 x 7 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 222:1924

Here, Ankh-pa-khered, a priest, is shown with a statue of the god Osiris. He places his hands on the statue’s shoulders in a gesture that is intimate and protective. Ankh-pa-khered is depicted as a slim man, yet two wrinkles of fat on his chest indicate that he was prosperous enough to eat very well. And his advanced age is shown by lines that frame the corners of his mouth, yet do not detract from his dignified portrayal (see detail and alternate views).

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December 23, 2020

Untitled

Untitled

Sam Middleton, American, 1927–2015; Untitled, 1990; collage of cut and torn printed and painted papers, with paint and graphite; 19 3/8 x 25 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 174:2017; © Sam Middleton estate, courtesy of Spanierman Modern

This work is populated with layered references to the artist’s life in the Netherlands, where he relocated in 1961 (see detail). Cut and torn ephemera form a textured collage: stamps, receipts, and musical scores with Dutch text, along with a small black-and-white image of windmills and a map of the Netherlands. The primary colors—blue, red, and yellow refer to important Dutch artists active in the early 20th century. The underlying blue and image of a seagull suggest traditional Dutch seascapes.

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December 22, 2020

Sallet Helmet

Sallet Helmet

Sallet Helmet, c.1480; probably Austrian; steel, iron, and leather; 9 3/4 x 9 x 15 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 58:1939

Characterized by their horizontal profile and long pointed tail, helmets known as sallets cover the upper half of the face. They were often supplemented with a bevor, a separate guard that protected the chin and throat. This helmet was beaten from one large sheet of metal, requiring great skill and finesse to hammer the smooth sweeping form. The pristine curve of its surface deflects weapons and, pierced with a vision slit, the sallet exudes a mysterious, mask-like presence. Although a helmet was only one element of a knight’s armor, it was the crowning glory of military garb, and its form, construction, and decoration provide clues to its use, date, and place of manufacture.

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December 21, 2020

Flask with Flattened Sides and Design of Fish and Flowers

Flask with Flattened Sides and Design of Fish and Flowers

Flask with Flattened Sides and Design of Fish and Flowers, 15th–early 16th century; Korean, Joseon dynasty; buncheong ware; stoneware with incised and sgraffito decoration under transparent glaze; 8 7/8 x 7 3/8 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 253:1919

The flattened sides of this flask are boldly decorated with fish in the sgraffito (scratched) technique. The outlines were incised through the white surface to reveal the darker body below. The narrower sides have stylized floral motifs produced in reverse through removal of the white surface over the body, along with some incised details. The term buncheong is a contraction of bunjang hoecheong sagi. First used in the 1930s by Korea’s earliest art historian Go Yuseop, it means “gray-blue (or gray-green) stoneware with powder.” The “powder” refers to the layer of thin white clay brushed onto the formed vessels before they are decorated with painted, incised, or stamped designs. The pale shade of blue or green comes from iron in the glaze applied prior to firing.

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December 20, 2020

Venus Anadyomene

Venus Anadyomene

Arnold Böcklin, Swiss (active Germany), 1827–1901; Venus Anadyomene, 1872; oil on panel; 23 1/4 x 18 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Lester A. Crancer Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Stephen F. Brauer, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence E. Langsam, an Anonymous Friend, and Mr. and Mrs. Christian B. Peper 45:1993

The newborn Venus, ancient Roman goddess of love and beauty, rises from the waves on the back of a sea monster. Cupids with butterfly wings clothe her in sea foam and crown her with a wreath. The Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin worked in Germany intermittently throughout his career, spending several years in Munich. His light, frothy brushwork and imaginative depictions of mythology made him one of Germany’s most popular painters. Böcklin’s success inspired younger German artists to paint scenes from ancient Greek and Roman mythology.

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December 19, 2020

Fowler

Fowler

after Giambologna (Jean Boulogne), Flemish (active Italy), 1529–1608; probably cast by Antonio Susini, Italian, active 1580–1624; Fowler, late 16th–early 17th century; bronze with gilding; 11 1/2 x 4 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 284:1951

Cautious and alert, the fowler prepares to cage a bird using a small lamp and a stick (originally a racquet) to flush them from their nests. Among one of the best examples of the approximately ten variations of the subject known today, this bronze cast has a meticulously crafted surface, and shows the artist’s great attention to details and sensitive modeling. This version was probably cast by skilled bronzeworker Antonio Susini. Susini assisted Giambologna, a renowned Flemish artist born in Douai, Flanders, in the 16th century (now Douai, France) who spent most of his career in Italy.

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December 18, 2020

Little Briar-Rose, from the Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Little Briar-Rose, from the Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Eugen Napoleon Neureuther, German, 1806–1882; Little Briar-Rose, from the Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 1836; etching; 27 x 21 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund 1:2003

An impenetrable wall of thorns encloses a castle where everyone is asleep except for a prince poised to kiss the sleeping princess (see detail). Eugen Napoleon Neureuther’s print illustrates the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Little Briar-Rose, more familiar to Americans as Sleeping Beauty. The Brothers Grimm recorded their fairy tales, first published in 1812, in an effort to document Germanic folk stories. Neureuther’s print shows the growing popularity of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Without political unity, Germans embraced art, literature, and folklore that reflected a common cultural heritage.

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December 17, 2020

Urbis II

Urbis II

Joseph Beuys, German, 1921–1986; Urbis II, 1972; chalk on blackboard with wood stand; chalkboard and stand: 70 7/8 x 58 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Donald L. Bryant Jr. Family Trust 189:2003; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

  • Speaker: Hannah Klemm
    Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Joseph Beuys holds an almost mythical position in the pantheon of postwar German art. He was an important teacher, political activist, and artist. Beuys believed that art and life were inextricable, that art could change society, and that everyone could be an artist. Beuys was a multimedia and multidimensional artist, never intending his practice to be singular in its interpretation or presentation. In his work Beuys endowed humble, everyday objects and actions with spiritual meaning. He was famously charismatic and created an iconic public persona, combining the performance of self with political action.

    Beuys served as professor of monumental sculpture at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1961 to 1972. He believed that art should compel conversation, communication, progressive social action, and be open to everyone. Acting on this belief, throughout the 1960s Beuys implemented an open enrollment policy in his class, accepting any student who wished to study with him.

    Throughout the 1970s, as part of his performance art practice, Beuys lectured extensively on art and politics—specifically, on the task of creating a genuinely democratic society. He started using blackboards to write on during his lectures. While the blackboards played an important didactic function as a site for information during the lecture, Beuys deliberately saved the blackboards with their writing, often exhibiting them as autonomous works of art almost as soon as they were created.

    This work, Urbis II, was a blackboard drawing from a performance Beuys did in Rome in 1972. These public discussions exemplified Beuys’s role as artist, teacher, and activist. On this chalkboard Beuys sketched out the points of this talk. At the center he wrote LIBERTÀ, which is Italian for freedom. Beuys often linked freedom to creativity, art, and expression. The three main headings for this lecture are, from left to right: Freiheit, or freedom; Demokratie, or democracy; and Sozialismus, or socialism. Beuys was an avid supporter of and activist for Democratic Socialism, believing that the state should take care of people’s basic needs. He felt this would allow individuals the freedom to develop innovative ways of thinking and would, in turn, support overall societal well-being.

    With the blackboard drawings such as this one, Beuys liberated drawing from associations with private, individual artistic acts. Rather, it became a function and document of a communal action. The blackboard drawings also take on performative meaning—functioning as a lasting document of the relationship between artist, audience, and artwork. It was really social relationships that were Beuys’s primary area of concern, and works like Urbis II allow us to continue to explore and discuss fleeting, collective performative moments long after the lecture is over.

Words and arrows flow across the surface of this blackboard. Joseph Beuys used it during one of his legendary “chalk talks,” performances and lectures he gave throughout the 1960s and 70s (hear more above). Beuys understood his presentations on European politics and society as works of art—particularly as sculptures. He held a strong conviction that ideas, and not objects, were the most important form sculpture could take. Already notorious for his use of materials like felt and fat, Beuys turned to words to mold and express his creative goals.

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December 16, 2020

Birch Trees at Dawn on Lake George

Birch Trees at Dawn on Lake George

Georgia O'Keeffe, American, 1887–1986; Birch Trees at Dawn on Lake George, 1925; oil on canvas; 36 x 30 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Ernest W. Stix 14:1964; © 2020 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In this painting, curving, tubular shapes and light colors evoke not only breeze-struck birch trees in early morning light but the sensuous lines of the human torso as well. Georgia O’Keeffe developed a personal language of semi-abstract forms to suggest the moods of nature. Her in-laws kept a summer home at Lake George in upstate New York, which was the site for the imagery seen in this work.

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December 15, 2020

View of the St. Anne’s River

View of the St. Anne’s River

Robert Seldon Duncanson, American, 1821–1872; View of the St. Anne's River, 1870; oil on canvas; 21 1/4 x 40 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 163:1966

Pervasive golden light, reflected in the smooth surface of the river, establishes the tranquil mood of this landscape. A small herd of cattle wades in the shallow water, undisturbed by the fishermen in the distance. Robert Duncanson created this painting from sketches he had made on a trip to Canada in 1869. Duncanson was one of the first African American painters to experience success not only in the United States, but in Canada as well.

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December 14, 2020

Moonlight Coastal Scene

Moonlight Coastal Scene

Robert Salmon, American (born England), 1775–after 1845; Moonlight Coastal Scene, 1836; oil on panel; 16 5/8 x 24 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Duncan C. Dobson, the Eliza McMillan Trust, and anonymous donors in memory of Henry B. Pflager 95:1973

Robert Salmon was hailed for his masterful renditions of moonlight as it permeates moist sea air. The effect imbues this port scene with a quiet solitude and sense of mystery. The fishermen, absorbed in the practical tasks at hand, seem indifferent to the romance of distant travel that the merchant ships in the misty distance evoke.

Salmon, known as an eccentric, solitary man, had a studio overlooking Boston Harbor during its heyday as a shipping and trade center. Salmon’s patrons were wealthy men, mostly engaged in the merchant trade that moved through the port from all parts of the globe. It is easy to see how a painting such as Moonlight Coastal Scene would appeal to their tastes.

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December 13, 2020

The Silver Goblet

The Silver Goblet

Jean-Siméon Chardin, French, 1699–1779; The Silver Goblet, c.1728; oil on canvas; 16 7/8 x 19 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 55:1934

This seemingly simple still life features a silver goblet, a subject Jean-Siméon Chardin painted often. The dark background contrasts with the goblet’s polished surface, which reflects the objects clustered around it. Chardin produced many evocative still-life paintings in which individual elements contribute to a feeling of quiet solitude and ethereal beauty.

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December 12, 2020

Maquette for Sculpture Screen at Lambert-St. Louis Airport Terminal

Maquette for Sculpture Screen at Lambert-St. Louis Airport Terminal

Harry Bertoia, American (born Italy), 1915–1978; Maquette for Sculpture Screen at Lambert-St. Louis Airport Terminal, 1954–55; metal and paint on metal; 8 x 48 x 2 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mrs. Charles W. Lorenz, the E. Reuben and Gladys Flora Grant Charitable Trust, and the Gary Wolff Family 39:2001; © 2020 Estate of Harry Bertoia / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This scale model is of a sculpture that was designed by Harry Bertoia for the Lambert-St. Louis Air Terminal when it opened in 1956. The 48-foot-long screen delineated the space between the main lobby and the Kitty Hawk dining room. Vividly colored panels suspended within the screen’s framework appeared to flutter as people walked by, creating a delightful sense of rhythm and movement. On one side the panels were painted in oranges, reds, and yellows; the other side had cooler reds, blues, and fuschias. The screen was removed from the terminal sometime between 1965 and 1967 when the airport expanded. This maquette is the only surviving document of both the sculpture and the original paint scheme.

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December 11, 2020

Acrobat on the Trapeze

Acrobat on the Trapeze

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950; Acrobat on the Trapeze, 1940; oil on canvas; 57 3/8 x 35 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 852:1983; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Beckmann’s diaries from Amsterdam recount his numerous visits to cabarets, theaters, and the circus. In this painting, an acrobat in the lofty heights of a circus tent is shown from an improbably close viewpoint. The acrobat crouches on a trapeze and seems to be waiting for the right moment to propel himself back for his next routine. Behind the sturdy figure, which nearly fills the canvas, a second trapeze artist appears in the upper right corner while an audience, suggested by dotted brushwork, fills the middle band of the painting.

Beckmann’s use of bold black outlines and saturated planes of canary yellow and lush turquoise heighten the scene’s energy. To Beckmann, the acrobat’s courageous performance evoked the challenges met by every human: “We are all tightrope walkers,” he said. “We have the desire to achieve balance and to keep it.”

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December 10, 2020

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Scattered Peach Blossoms

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Scattered Peach Blossoms

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Scattered Peach Blossoms, 13th–14th century; Chinese, Southern Song dynasty, or Yuan dynasty; Jizhou ware; stoneware with biscuit-reserved decoration and dark brown glaze; 11 x 6 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Samuel C. Davis 947:1940

Visible in white against the dark brown glaze, 24 stylized peach blossoms, each with five petals and five glaze dots to mark the stamens and pistils, embellish this vessel’s exterior. This vase was wheel-thrown in sections that were luted, or joined with a slurry of water and clay before they were fired. Once the vessel was assembled, the 24 discrete stencils of cut paper that produced the design were affixed to its surface, and it was immersed foot-first in the glaze slurry. The bottom of its foot-ring was then immediately wiped free of glaze. When the glaze had stabilized but was still moist, the stencils were removed, leaving the reserved decoration.

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December 9, 2020

Landscape

Landscape

Helen Matilda Kingman, American, 1830–1912; Landscape, 1845; oil on canvas; 22 7/8 x 29 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 79:1968

An artist balances his sketchbook as he captures a scene filled with the red glow of dusk. This landscape presents a sense of both the exotic, with tropical plants and palm trees, and the pastoral, as canoes and sailboats dot the river.

Helen M. Kingman signed the back of the canvas with her name, the date, and her age—15. This is the only painting from her brush that is known to survive. In the same year it was painted, the itinerant portraitist Susan Catherine Moore Waters (1823–1900) had visited the Kingman family in New York. She likely inspired Helen to show off her sure hand at drawing and her fondness for rich jewel tones.

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December 8, 2020

St. Lawrence Distributing the Riches of the Church

St. Lawrence Distributing the Riches of the Church

Bernardo Strozzi, Italian, 1581–1644; St. Lawrence Distributing the Riches of the Church, c.1625; oil on canvas; 48 3/8 x 64 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 37:1944

Through vivid color contrasts, selective highlights, and the saint’s extended left hand, the artist draws us into this scene where the third-century martyr St. Lawrence distributes the Church’s treasures to the poor. Strozzi has captured our attention through the sumptuous grouping of richly ornamented objects that almost burst out of the pictorial space into our world.

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December 7, 2020

Journey Signs

Journey Signs

Frank Wimberley, American, born 1926; Journey Signs, 1993; acrylic on canvas with collage; 32 x 34 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 194:2017; © Frank Wimberley

This seemingly simple work actually contains many layers of paint and fabric (see detail). Scratches through the black on the left reveal a ground of bright orange, also evident under white areas in the lower half. The white rectangle in the center is built up from layers of cut canvas, and its side shimmers with iridescent pinks and gold. Frank Wimberley’s approach to assembling these elements was improvisational and inspired by jazz. In turn, it was appreciated by musicians such as Miles Davis, who collected his work.

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December 6, 2020

Village on the Sea

Village on the Sea

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, German, 1884–1976; Village on the Sea, 1913; oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 35 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 939:1983; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Zigzags and stripes resolve into the triangular rooftops of houses, balloon-like poplar trees, and rolling pine forests. The Baltic Sea appears as a backdrop to the fishing village and artist colony of Nidden (present-day Nida, Lithuania), where Karl Schmidt-Rottluff stayed with Max Pechstein for four months in 1913. The paintings Schmidt-Rottluff made at Nidden transformed his art. Inspired by the landscape, he began to outline his motifs in black and repeat them as generic types for natural objects, giving his art a more patterned look.

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December 5, 2020

Diogenes

Diogenes

Ugo da Carpi, Italian, active c.1502–1532; after Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola), Italian, 1503–1540; Diogenes, c.1527–30; chiaroscuro woodcut; sheet (trimmed to image): 19 x 13 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund 23:1984

This remarkable woodcut by Ugo da Carpi presents the fourth-century BCE philosopher Diogenes in a spiraling, muscular pose. Having relinquished all earthly goods, Diogenes is seated naked and immersed in thought with his few possessions: three books, a wooden tub, and a cloak. The plucked chicken at right also appears as an attribute, since Diogenes had mocked Plato’s definition of man as a featherless biped. Ugo da Carpi introduced to Italy the chiaroscuro woodcut, which was developed to suggest the effect of a tonal drawing. He produced this print from four interdependent woodblocks that form a composition when printed together.

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December 4, 2020

Bust of Zeus Serapis

Bust of Zeus Serapis

Bust of Zeus Serapis, mid-2nd–mid-3rd century; Roman, Imperial period; bronze with silver inlay; 6 3/4 x 5 1/8 x 1 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 69:1923

As today, individuals in antiquity found ways to express their devotion to the gods. Whether maintaining a small altar at home for the worship of a particular deity, or presenting gifts called votives, at sanctuaries or graves, many of the objects that survive from antiquity served a ritual function. This bronze bust represents Zeus Serapis—a hybrid deity. The pharaohs of Egypt introduced Zeus Serapis in the third-century BCE to unify competing Greek and Egyptian pantheons.

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December 3, 2020

The Active Voice

The Active Voice

René Magritte, Belgian, 1898–1967; The Active Voice, 1951; oil on canvas; 39 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 4:1960; © René Magritte, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY/ADAGP, Paris

Precisely depicted in shades of gray and taupe, an isolated stone hovers before a solid orange background. Without any other objects to reference for scale, it is impossible to know whether this rock is a tiny pebble or a massive boulder. René Magritte, a prominent member of the surrealist movement, painted disorienting and dreamlike subjects in a style of meticulous realism. The artist’s choice of title here may be an ironic play on the pervasive sense of silence in this painting.

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December 2, 2020

Bottle

Bottle

Bottle, 18th century; Indian, Mughal period; zinc alloy with silver inlay; height: 10 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 80:1923

The silver inlay on this bottle is brilliantly highlighted against the black background. The bottle is composed of a zinc alloy that turns black when bathed in an acidic solution. Originating in the city of Bidar in India, this type of vessel is known as Bidri ware. It bears the type of floral decoration that is a major theme in the arts of the Islamic courts of India.

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December 1, 2020

LS #17

LS #17

Beate Gütschow, German, born 1970; LS #17, 2003, printed 2012; chromogenic print; image: 45 1/2 x 66 1/2 inches, sheet: 48 1/2 x 78 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Jeffrey T. Fort, the St. Louis Friends of Photography, the Anne L. Lehmann Charitable Trust, Mr. Sam Weiss; and gift of Stephen Bunyard and Museum Purchase, by exchange 24:2012; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

  • Speaker: Eric Lutz
    Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Hello, this is Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs. We are looking here at the large-scale photograph by the contemporary artist Beate Gütschow entitled LS #17. Gütschow composes what looks like a panoramic view of a northern European countryside, very reminiscent of Dutch 17th-century paintings. A low, flat horizon is dominated by a vast sky, and lounging figures by a river are enjoying the scenery. Yet what we are seeing is not a window onto an actual place but a meticulous simulation. The artifice is apparent only after sustained and close viewing. For example, the shadows do not match up throughout the image, and there are elements that are disruptive to a harmony of the overall scene, such as patches of dirt, discarded shipping palettes, and the oddly small scale of the main tree.

    Gütschow used advanced visual software—digitally stitching the image together from dozens of different negatives that she had taken on her travels. Rather unexpectedly, the sources for the individual elements in this composition are far from the natural environment it suggests. She chose to photograph in urban centers, public parks, even construction sites, recombining the elements to appear as if we are looking at untouched wilderness. Further, she includes city dwellers—people engaged in mundane urban activities. Indeed, many of the figures in LS #17 look disconnected from or awkwardly situated within the bucolic countryside.

    All of these subtle inconsistencies reveal the traces of Gütschow’s process for constructing her picture. She even goes so far as to engage the margins around the image by including the registration marks and the printing information from the large-format printer she uses. Gütschow revels in this push and pull between the believability of the illusion and the artifice of its construction.

Reminiscent of a 17th-century Dutch landscape painting with a distant, low horizon and clusters of figures, this photograph is a meticulous simulation. Beate Gütschow digitally combined dozens of images of mundane, unrelated places, such as public parks and construction sites (hear more above). This blending references earlier traditions of European landscape pictures, in which the countryside vistas depicted were also artificial fabrications. The printing information visible at the right deliberately erodes trust in the photographic illusion by hinting at the process of its construction.

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November 30, 2020

The Laundresses

The Laundresses

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732–1806; The Laundresses, c.1756–61; oil on canvas; 28 3/4 x 24 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 76:1937

Two women in bright white and yellow form the focal point of this composition. They toil within a stifling atmosphere of dense steam clouds in a laundry. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a favorite artist at court, often chose working class people as subjects. Here he captures the demanding physical labor that washing required, most notably in the figure carrying a heavy bundle. The artist makes visible the intense heat of the kettle; contemporary laundry treatises recommended a seventeen-hour process with temperatures near boiling.

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November 29, 2020

To Cover the Earth with a New Dew

To Cover the Earth with a New Dew

Roberto Matta, Chilean (active France and United States), 1911–2002; To Cover the Earth with a New Dew, 1953; oil on canvas; 79 3/4 x 114 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 396:1955; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY/ADAGP, Paris

In this hallucinatory landscape, the sun rises over a scene of swarming white insects and bizarre green-and-pink orbs. Roberto Matta moved to Paris in 1935 and became a prominent figure in the Surrealist movement. This later work showcases his continued interest in Surrealism’s automatic drawing and painting, where the hand moves freely, uninhibited by conscious thought. Matta described his paintings as, “the subconscious in its burning, liquid state; a conscious daytime substitution of the phenomena of dreams.”

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November 28, 2020

Our Web

Our Web

Herbert Gentry, American, 1919–2003; Our Web, 1990; gouache; image: 25 5/8 × 22 1/4 inches, sheet: 29 1/2 × 22 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 151:2017; © Mary Anne Rose and the Estate of Herbert Gentry

Herbert Gentry created dream-like fantasy worlds, populated by totems and mask-like faces emerging from a tangle of color contours. A devoted abstractionist, Gentry studied with the French cubist painter Georges Braque and American abstract expressionist artist Beauford Delaney. Gentry retained the figure as a means “to see form.” Above all, Gentry insisted his images be allowed to unfold freely without plan, relying on “a certain spontaneity” where his “subconscious plays a great role.”

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November 27, 2020

Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2

Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2

Henry Moore, English, 1898–1986; Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2, 1959–60; bronze; sculpture: 49 1/2 x 101 1/2 x 42 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard F. Baer 68:1970a,b; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

Henry Moore produced an extensive sculptural series of the abstracted human body in two parts. Moore’s reclining forms can be compared to eroded cliffs, an association enhanced by the work’s carved and pock-marked surface. The artist found in these sculptures “a metaphor of the relationship of humanity with the earth.”

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November 26, 2020

Ice Bag–Scale B

Ice Bag–Scale B

Claes Oldenburg, American (born Sweden), born 1929; Ice Bag–Scale B, 1971; nylon, fiberglass, mechanism, paint, lacquer, blowers, anodized parts, steel, zipper, acrylic, muslin, Velcro ; diameter: 48 1/4 inches, height, variable: 35 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Nancy Singer 11:1975; © Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg took a distinctive approach to sculpture, recreating everyday objects such as typewriters, hamburgers, and ice bags, as shown here. He enlarged these familiar items far beyond their actual size, describing them as “monuments to everyday things.” Using fabric materials, such as nylon and vinyl, Oldenburg gave his works their characteristically “soft” appearance. Oldenburg intended for this ice bag to be kinetic, twisting and inflating in order to give the appearance of being filled with ice.

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November 25, 2020

The Two Sisters

The Two Sisters

Henri Fantin-Latour, French, 1836–1904; The Two Sisters, 1859; oil on canvas; 38 3/4 x 51 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 8:1937

Henri Fantin-Latour painted this double portrait of his sisters when he was only 22 years old. He presents the two young women in the intimate setting of their home. This double portrait shows the two younger sisters of the painter; Marie reads on the right while Nathalie embroiders on the left. The subdued tones of this bourgeois interior are offset by the colorful yarn on the embroidery frame. The picture is notable for an unspoken psychological tension between the two sitters. An unsettling note in Nathalie’s face hints at her depressive illness which would soon confine her to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

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November 24, 2020

Olevano

Olevano

Albert Bierstadt, American (born Germany), 1830–1902; Olevano, 1856–57; oil on paper mounted on canvas; 19 3/4 x 27 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 150:1953

Painted from a hill overlooking the Italian town of Olevano Romano, this oil sketch presents a panoramic view of stucco buildings, the rustic countryside, and the distant ruins of a castle at the right. Along the bottom of the painting, Albert Bierstadt recorded the names of nearby locations and later used them as reference points for a larger painting based on this sketch (see detail). Olevano Romano’s great cliffs and distinctive architecture attracted many tourists and artists in the mid-19th century.

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November 23, 2020

Urn

Urn

designed by Eliel Saarinen, American (born Finland), 1873–1950; made by Wilcox Silver Plate Company, and International Silver Company, Meriden, Connecticut, Urn, 1934; silver plate; urn: 14 1/4 x 10 3/4 x 11 1/4 inches, heating element: 2 x 3 x 3 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund and funds given by the Marjorie Wyman Endowment Fund, Alice S. Gerdine, Mrs. Charles W. Lorenz, the Gary Wolff Family, Daniel Morris and Denis Gallion, Elissa and Paul Cahn, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. L. Max Lippman Jr., Dr. and Mrs. F. Thomas Ott, and the E. Reuben and Gladys Flora Grant Charitable Trust 119:2003a-c

The Finnish-born architect Eliel Saarinen first designed this urn for a 1934 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled, Contemporary American Industrial Art. The goal of this celebrated exhibition was to promote a new aesthetic for mass production and to help foster the development of industrial design in the United States. Saarinen was one of several leading architects in the country invited to design a furnished room for the exhibit. His Room for a Lady included furniture, textiles, fashion, and silver designs. The most famous piece from Saarinen’s salon-style installation was the silver-plated urn identical to this one, few of which were ever produced. Its precise geometric forms, absence of ornament, sleek reflective surfaces, and elegant proportions expressed the new “modern” style that came to be associated with progress, optimism, and forward-looking American industrial design.

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November 22, 2020

World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse

World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse

Isa Genzken, German, born 1948; World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse, 1992; cast concrete and telescoping radio antenna; 40 9/16 x 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Partial and promised gift of Betsy Millard, the Earl and Betsy Millard Collection 42:2003; © 2020 Isa Genzken / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

  • Speaker: Molly Moog
    Research Assistant
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    A telescoping antenna extends out of this sculpture as though ready to receive a transmission. However, you won’t hear a sound coming from its core, a block of solid concrete. Renowned artist Isa Genzken has produced a series of these paradoxically silent radios, called World Receivers, starting in 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Evoking the global nature of radio transmission, many of the works in the series are titled after international cities. The title World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse encompasses the name of a street in Berlin as well as the capital of Belgium—Brüssels or Brussels.

    Born in 1949 in northern Germany, Isa Genzken moved to Berlin with her family as a child. She studied at the famous Düsseldorf Art Academy in the 1970s and was exposed to works of American Minimalism on view in Düsseldorf art galleries.

    In the 1980s Genzken moved to Cologne, a city still rebuilding after Allied bombing raids of the 1940s. She began casting the World Receivers in concrete, a material closely associated with postwar architecture. Germans of Genzken’s generation grew up in and around Modernist housing made from prefabricated concrete slabs that replaced the crumbling ruins left in the aftermath of World War II. The cracks and holes that mark the surface of World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse are reminiscent of wartime ruins themselves as well as the effects of time and weather on the cheaply constructed facades of postwar slab buildings. The intentionally rough surface treatment in Genzken’s sculpture highlights the vulnerability of what appears to be a solid and impenetrable material. Concrete is also the material of the Berlin Wall, constructed by East Germany in 1961 to stem the flow of defectors to the West. A symbol of Germany’s ideological division, the wall nevertheless could not prevent all communication between East and West Berlin.

    Situated in a block of concrete, the antenna—a recurring symbol within Genzken’s body of work—brings to mind the radio stations that became sites of communication and propaganda transmission both within and across borders during the Cold War. However, it also suggests broader notions of connection, inspiration, and receptivity. A few years before she began her World Receiver series, Genzken made an oblong sculpture from plaster and the sweepings from her studio floor. Sticking a wire antenna in the top, she called the work Mein Gehirn (My brain)—a physical representation of artistic insight. Later she said of her World Receivers, “My antennas were also meant to be “feelers”—things you stretch out in order to feel something, like the sound of the world and its many tones.”

The familiar sight of a raised chrome antenna transforms this concrete block into a silent radio. Isa Genzken used concrete as a medium to reference the cold, raw material used in postwar German reconstruction (hear more below). World Receiver Brüsselerstrasse is subtitled with the name of a street (Brüsselerstraße in Berlin) and an international city (Brüssel, or Brussels), evoking the global nature of radio transmission. Radio waves cannot be blocked by borders or walls, so radio programs became a site of propaganda transmission during the Cold War. The work is part of a series begun by the artist in the early 1990s.

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November 21, 2020

Landscape

Landscape

Hine Taizan, Japanese, 1813–1869; Landscape, 1864; hanging scroll: ink on silk; image: 22 1/4 x 34 1/4 inches, scroll: 63 x 40 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, William K. Bixby Trust for Asian Art 132:1984

This wide-format hanging scroll depicts a foreground spit of land in monochrome with trees and rocks projecting diagonally from middle right to lower left. A barely discernible far shore in pale gray washes appears from the middle left to middle right. Hine Taizan, a masterful painter with an eccentric personality, was among the most important Japanese literati artists of the 19th century. Taizan’s inscription is written in columns from right to left, as is typical in East Asian writing, across the top of the composition. It includes a poem composed by the 14th-century Chinese scholar and painter Chen Ruyan (c.1331–before 1371), who had originally inscribed this poem on a landscape painting depicting spring mountains.

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November 20, 2020

Bathers

Bathers

Erich Heckel, German, 1883–1970; Bathers, 1912–13; oil and encaustic on canvas; 33 x 37 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 892:1983; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The turn of the century saw a vogue of Freikörperkultur (Free Body Culture) in Germany, a movement which emphasized the health benefits of nudist activity within nature. Erich Heckel here represents an aerial view of naked bathers, probably on Hiddensee Island off the north German coast. The bathers are rendered in angular lines, mirroring those of the jagged lake shore. Heckel depicted water here in a dense, repetitive pattern and affirmed that he “wanted to paint the way one would knit.”

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November 19, 2020

Bust of Emperor Caracalla

Bust of Emperor Caracalla

Joseph Claus, German, 1718–1788; Bust of Emperor Caracalla, 1757; marble; 28 3/4 x 20 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 19:2013

This bust is modeled after a famous ancient sculpture of Caracalla, a notorious 3rd-century Roman emperor whose stern likeness and steely gaze embody the cruelty and abuse of power for which he was known. The antique bust was popular among 18th-century sculptors working in Rome who made copies for English travelers. Sculpture Hall, in the center of the Museum’s Main Building, was inspired by the expansive Roman public baths that Caracalla built.

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November 18, 2020

Still Life with Strawberries

Still Life with Strawberries

Hannah Brown Skeele, American, 1829–1901; Still Life with Strawberries, 1863; oil on panel; 17 x 21 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Purchased in memory of Rose Allen Valier by her friends and Mr. and Mrs. Biron A. Valier 83:1974

This careful presentation of ripe strawberries, prickly skinned pineapple, and the shiny reflections of elaborate silver and glass speak to the owner’s taste for luxury. The pineapple, an exotic fruit imported into New Orleans and shipped along the Mississippi River, was available only in limited quantities. Wealthy families proudly served it on special occasions. This painting would have adorned the walls of an upper-class dining room, and affirmed social and economic status.

Still life was considered an appropriate subject for female artists, who otherwise were excluded from more lucrative painting subjects and formal training in America in the 19th century. Hannah Brown Skeele worked in St. Louis in the 1860s. She was considered an amateur artist, though her works won considerable acclaim.

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November 17, 2020

The Man of Confusion

The Man of Confusion

Paul Klee, Swiss, 1879–1940; The Man of Confusion, 1939; oil on canvas; 26 1/4 x 19 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 410:1952

Parts of the human body, including a wide-eyed face and two hands, float amidst amorphous flesh-toned forms. After Paul Klee was forced to leave Germany and return to his native Switzerland during the Nazi regime, he became afflicted with scleroderma, a chronic disease affecting the skin and organs of the body. Man of Confusion, painted a year before Klee’s death from the disease, presents a self-portrait of the artist in a state of mental and bodily distress.

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November 16, 2020

Christina’s Day Off (Down in the Dumps II)

Christina’s Day Off (Down in the Dumps II)

Robert Colescott, American, 1925–2009; Christina's Day Off (Down in the Dumps II), 1983; acrylic on canvas; 84 x 72 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Brooke and Carolyn Alexander 213:1993; © 2020 Robert Colescott / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A woman named Christina poses in front of what appears to be a towering heap of trash. On closer inspection, desirable consumer goods, such as a pink car, are identifiable among the rubbish. The title of this painting refers to American artist Andrew Wyeth’s realist painting Christina’s World from 1948, in which a White woman crawls up a grassy hill toward a barn in the distance. In contrast, Robert Colescott represented Christina as an African American woman standing boldly upright and smiling. A wet paintbrush at Christina’s feet reminds us of the artist’s role in reimagining her story. In this work, Colescott both appropriated and critiqued stereotyped imagery, prompting difficult conversations around ideas of consumerism, race, gender, and desirability.

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November 15, 2020

Beaker

Beaker

Beaker, second half 13th or 14th century; Syrian, Mamluk period; glass; height: 4 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 52:1921

Glass-making in the Islamic world reflects a vibrant tradition dating from ancient times. The Romans first discovered how to blow glass on a rod, while the Iranians in late antiquity specialized in molded glass with wheel-cut decoration.

Roman traditions in glass-making also continued for centuries. As late as the 13th century, glass from Egypt and Syria exhibited Roman decorative techniques to incorporate contrasting colors. Such techniques can be seen on this small beaker.

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November 14, 2020

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman

Nicolas de Largillière, French, 1656–1746; Portrait of a Woman, c.1696; oil on canvas; 64 1/4 x 51 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 3:1943

Surrounded by luxurious objects that enhance her beauty and define her good taste, this unknown woman threads the satin ribbons from a string of crystal beads into her hair. The lavish marble-top table with its putto base, the imported Chinese porcelain vase, and the opulent fabrics were frequent motifs in Largillière’s art and were particularly popular among the moneyed society that employed him. In a court where nobility vied to be present when the king dressed in the morning, intimate images like this one, set in the bedroom or boudoir, were appropriate for the display of wealth and power.

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November 13, 2020

Approach to the Mountain Pass at Donzère, from the album “The Northern Railway from Paris to Lyon and the Mediterranean”

Approach to the Mountain Pass at Donzère, from the album “The Northern Railway from Paris to Lyon and the Mediterranean”

Édouard-Denis Baldus, French (born Prussia), 1813–1889; Approach to the Mountain Pass at Donzère, from the album The Northern Railway from Paris to Lyon and the Mediterranean, c.1861; albumen print; image: 12 11/16 x 17 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 195:1977

The spread of the railways across Europe and America was one of the enduring preoccupations of nineteenth-century photography. Édouard-Denis Baldus produced this striking photograph of a line near the Rhone River for an album documenting a new service from Lyon to the Mediterranean Sea sometime around 1859. Made up of finely detailed contact prints, it has been described as the most beautiful photographic album of the nineteenth century, and this image, which shows the recently constructed tracks and an accompanying telegraph line, is one of the finest prints from the album.

As with most early photographs, the chemistry used to make this image was overly sensitive to ultraviolet light. This caused the sky to appear white and featureless in the picture. Baldus knew how to use this limitation to his advantage. The sky becomes a strong graphic element in the picture: a powerful, abstract form echoing the shape of the land.

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November 12, 2020

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Peony and Lotus Scrolls

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Peony and Lotus Scrolls

Prunus Vase (meiping) with Design of Peony and Lotus Scrolls, early 14th century; Chinese, Yuan dynasty; Jingdezhen ware; porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue decoration; 16 3/4 x 9 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Edith Spink in memory of her husband, C. C. Johnson Spink 2:2000

The imperial blue and white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty were artistic and technical marvels. On this vase bold and intricate designs of lotus and peony in imported mineral cobalt stand out in horizontal sections against the pure white body of kaolin clay, all fused under a hard, clear glaze. Broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted, the vase was used to display a single spray of blossoms, traditionally from a plum tree.

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November 11, 2020

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell, American, 1894–1978; Thanksgiving, 1943; oil on canvas; 41 x 31 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Edith J. and C. C. Johnson Spink 26:2014; Image © SEPS

This somber but hopeful painting served as the cover illustration for the November 27, 1943 edition of the The Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell chose to paint a young girl in World War II-ravaged Italy draped in the coat of a passing United States soldier. Through his image, appropriately named Thanksgiving, Rockwell asked Americans to remember others less fortunate than themselves on a holiday devoted to gratefulness. Rockwell’s career with The Saturday Evening Post lasted nearly 50 years, resulting in 321 original covers that made him a household name.

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November 10, 2020

Fireplace Tiles, from the John J. Meacham House, University City, Missouri

Fireplace Tiles, from the John J. Meacham House, University City, Missouri

Frederick Hurten Rhead, American (born England), 1880–1942; Agnes Rhead, American (born England), born 1877; associated with the Art Academy of the American Woman's League, University City, Missouri, 1909–1911; Fireplace Tiles, from the John J. Meacham House, University City, Missouri, 1911; glazed earthenware; assembled: 50 x 95 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund, Friends Fund, gift of the Norman Family in loving memory of Isaac and Elva Norman, and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. L. Max Lippman Jr. 63:2001

This fireplace features a panoramic landscape of flowing lines and glowing colors made from incised glazed tiles surrounded by nearly 200 blue-green matte tiles. Agnes and Frederick Rhead created this set of tiles for the home of John J. Meacham in University City, Missouri. The expansive landscape is depicted at dusk, with a cloud-filled sky beyond a screen of trees, rocks, and plants. The tiles were installed in Meacham’s living room inglenook, a built-in seating area surrounding the hearth, which was a popular feature of Arts and Crafts homes from the 1870s until the 1920s.

The graphic clarity and matte-textured glaze palette seen in these tiles are hallmarks of Arts and Crafts design. In 1910 and 1911 Frederick Hurten Rhead, who had trained in England, joined the internationally renowned ceramic faculty of the Art Academy of the American Woman’s League in University City. He taught and worked at the school, at times with his wife Agnes, also a trained potter.

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November 9, 2020

Card Players

Card Players

Charles White, American, 1918–1979; Card Players, 1939; oil on canvas; 30 x 36 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Federal Works Agency, Work Projects Administration 364:1943

Bulky, monumental figures fill the canvas of Card Players. The group occupies a cramped room lit by a single lamp, elevating the feeling of suspense as one of the men prepares to play his cards. Artist Charles White was involved with the active community of African American artists in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s. Their influence led him to create artwork that celebrates both the everyday lives and the history of African Americans.

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November 8, 2020

Ölberg

Ölberg

Gerhard Richter, German, born 1932; Ölberg, 1986; oil on canvas; 118 1/2 x 98 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 107:1987; © 2013 Gerhard Richter

To create this abstract painting, Gerhard Richter dragged and scraped a spatula over thickly applied pigments, allowing multiple layers of paint to shine through. What appears to be a spontaneous composition was actually laboriously worked by the artist to achieve the desired effects. While Ölberg can be read as a luscious, brilliantly colored painting in the style of American Abstract Expressionism, Richter’s cool, methodical approach challenges the emotionally charged, spiritual expression of that abstract tradition.

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November 7, 2020

Still Life with Mice

Still Life with Mice

Lodewik Susi, Flemish, active 1616–1620; Still Life with Mice, 1619; oil on panel; 13 3/4 x 18 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 50:1949

The artist has assembled sweets and fruits, including apples, sugared almonds, gingersticks, a lemon, and an orange, in a way that seems casual but was actually the result of careful planning. Diagonals echo other diagonals while the apple and reflective plate are offset by the citrus fruits. The picture may refer to the vanity of the physical world since the ripened apple exhibits decay and mice sometimes symbolize death or sin. It could also be a celebration of costly confections.

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November 6, 2020

Page from an Album made for Jahāngīr

Page from an Album made for Jahāngīr

painted by Keshav Das, Indian, active c.1570–1605; Page from an Album made for Jahāngīr (verso), c.1590; Indian, Mughal period, reign of Akbar; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; image: 8 1/2 x 4 13/16 inches, sheet: 16 5/8 x 10 7/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of J. Lionberger Davis 403:1952

This painting was made by the Hindu court artist Keshav Das, who worked for the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542–1605). It shows the Old Testament character Joseph recounting the prophetic dream in which his family as “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars” bowed to him in reverence. The composition is adapted from a 1544 engraving by the German artist Georg Pencz (c.1500–1550) entitled, Joseph Telling His Dream to His Father, which Jesuit missionaries disseminated in India during the mid-16th century.

The scene is on the back of a sumptuously illustrated page (see recto) with a poem by Mir Ali, who was famous throughout the Persian-speaking world as a calligrapher. Both painting and calligraphy were collected by Akbar’s son and successor, Jahāngīr (1569–1627). He ordered the pages to be assembled in a special album and given elaborate borders of scenes from a hunt by an unknown but highly skilled court artist.

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November 5, 2020

Twilight in the Wilderness

Twilight in the Wilderness

Alfred Thompson Bricher, American, 1837–1908; Twilight in the Wilderness, 1865; oil on canvas; 20 1/8 x 42 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund, funds given by Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield and Eleanor Moore; bequest of Friederike Gottfried, gift of Nellie Ballard White, Whitaker Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Willard Bartlett, Howard Russell Butler Jr., and James F. Ballard, by exchange 22:2007

A stand of trees and open field are dramatically silhouetted against a vibrant sunset of orange, yellow, and purple. Most likely painted along the front range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, this scene communicated poetic and symbolic meaning to audiences at the time rather than landscape details.

Painted at the close of the Civil War, such a vivid representation of the end of day provided visual affirmation of the profound trauma Americans had endured. Simultaneously, the grandeur of the scene spoke to American democratic fervor that would carry the country through its distress.

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November 4, 2020

The Mother

The Mother

Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881–1973; The Mother, 1901; oil on cardboard mounted on panel; 29 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.ches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 10:1939; © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

This work, painted by Pablo Picasso when he was just 20 years old, features a mother who grasps her toddler by the hand and holds her infant high against her shoulder. The woman stands resolute on the outskirts of a town or city, looking upon her surroundings with a determined gaze. The blue-gray tone of her skin is a precursor to Picasso’s Blue Period, during which time he depicted several downtrodden members of urban society in a palette of cool colors.

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November 3, 2020

The County Election

The County Election

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; The County Election, 1852; oil on canvas; 38 x 52 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Bank of America 44:2001

A large group of citizens gathers to place their votes in an election. Campaigning politicians anxiously press their party tickets toward individuals. One of the newest citizens, an Irish immigrant, is taking an oath that he had not voted elsewhere, just as one of the oldest, a Revolutionary War “76-er” veteran, is descending the steps. Merchants in top hats discuss the issues with laborers in shirtsleeves, an example of the rational exchange that sustains democracy.

Other individuals present a less responsible and informed perspective. One drunken citizen, unable to stand, is nonetheless dragged to cast a vote. Another sits on a bench to steady his head, his clarity evidently lost in a brawl. Two boys on the ground play mumblety peg, a knife game that progressively increases in risk. George Caleb Bingham revealed what every American supportive of an election understands: that the democratic ideal must be embraced even though uninformed votes could prevail.

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November 2, 2020

Bowl

Bowl

Rudolph Walton, 1867–1951; or Augustus Bean, 1856–1926; Bowl, c.1900; stained wood, abalone shell, glass beads, and ivory; 7 x 6 x 17 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 275:1982

The artist who created this bowl carved recognizable bears at each end while the side of the bowl features a “formline” design. For over a millennium, Native artists in coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska have used sinuous lines with ovoid and u-form shapes to create imagery. This visual vocabulary is now called formline.

Historically, artists learned formline carving and painting through apprenticeship with a master. At the end of the 19th century, territorial governments in Alaska and British Columbia imposed restrictions on ceremonial life, which had provided a major context for production of formline designs. In the first years of the 20th century, Native artists began to reconstruct formline vocabularies on their own based on observations of historic artworks rather than training through apprenticeship.

This object is featured in our current engagement activity Vote Your Art.

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November 1, 2020

Gorilla

Gorilla

Houston Chandler, American, 1914–2015; Gorilla, c.1946; wood; 8 5/8 x 7 3/4 x 5 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 1124:2010; © Houston Chandler

Gorilla features smooth surfaces, abstracted forms, and a mask-like face. These elements are evidence of Houston Chandler’s search for “the simplicity that brings out the greatest line of expression.” Though the gorilla rests in a hunched pose, its muscular limbs, arranged in diagonals across its body, allude to its physical power.

Born in St. Louis, Chandler was the second African American to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. He returned to teach for many years at Vashon High School, and directed summer classes at the People’s Art Center, the city’s first racially integrated community arts center.

This object is featured in our current engagement activity Vote Your Art.

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October 31, 2020

The Clenched Hand

The Clenched Hand

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840–1917; The Clenched Hand, c.1885; bronze; 18 1/8 x 10 3/8 x 8 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Lanlee Realty Company 3:1957

Auguste Rodin often produced fragmentary studies of individual anatomical features, and stated, “I have always had an intense passion for the expression of the human hand.” In this work, the boldly modeled swellings and depressions of the hand suggest a sense of agitated anguish. This sculpture is probably related to Rodin’s grand project, The Burghers of Calais, in which a group of elderly men face the prospect of impending death (see related object).

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October 30, 2020

Grasshopper Floor Lamp

Grasshopper Floor Lamp

Greta Magnusson Grossman, American (born Sweden), 1906–1999; made by Ralph O. Smith Manufacturing Company, American, c.1949–1954; Grasshopper Floor Lamp, 1947–48; enameled steel, enameled aluminum, brass; 50 1/4 x 15 x 15 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Ruth Kelso Renfrow Art Club 80:2019

The imaginative assembly of simple materials—two lengths of tubular steel and a bullet-shaped shade—gives this floor lamp its distinctive, animated form. Designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman in 1947, the aptly titled Grasshopper Floor Lamp was featured in a number of the Swedish-born architect’s own residences. Perched high on Los Angeles hilltops, the open-plan houses outfitted with multi-functional furnishings epitomized the casual, indoor-outdoor ethos of California modern.

This object is featured in our current engagement activity Vote Your Art.

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October 29, 2020

Deer Pendant

Deer Pendant

Deer Pendant, c.700–800; Maya, Late Classic period, Guatemala; shell; 2 15/16 x 4 7/8 x 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May  1317:1983

This pendant shows a deer posed mid-stride, frozen at a specific moment in time. The animal’s head is curved back with its legs pulled close to the body, as though looking and leaping to evade a predator. Carved from an exotic marine shell, the pendant was perhaps a piece of personal jewelry for a Maya noble. Images of deer frequently occur in depictions of hunting as well as sacrifice. The pendant may have been bestowed to a young Maya hunter as a token of his achievements.

This object is featured in the Museum’s current engagement activity Vote Your Art.

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October 28, 2020

Half Circle Red

Half Circle Red

Sam Gilliam, American, born 1933; Half Circle Red, 1975; acrylic on canvas; 78 x 33 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 189:2017a,b; © Sam Gilliam / David Kordansky Gallery

Sam Gilliam’s Half Circle Red combines separate pieces of canvas, which gap, bulge, and double over. Without a traditional mount or frame, they are pinned in place directly to the wall. Interested in how his paintings interact with the surrounding space, Gilliam jettisoned stretchers—typically wooden rectangular support structures—altogether during the late 1960s. Instead, his relaxed, undulating canvases suspend from the wall or ceiling to create “drape” paintings. This method, along with his drip and stain painting technique, emphasized the intrinsic properties of his materials—how acrylic pools and canvas sags, for example.

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October 27, 2020

Road Down the Palisades

Road Down the Palisades

Ernest Lawson, American (born Canada), 1873–1939; Road Down the Palisades, c.1911; oil on canvas; 40 3/4 x 50 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 57:1916

The curve of a road directs our attention deep into the landscape, past a screen of wiry trees to the Hudson River beyond. The bright spots of blue and red invigorate the rather dreary cloud-filled sky and dirty patches of snow. The thickly applied paint, strong outlines, and areas of bold but harmonious unmixed color, are all characteristics of Ernest Lawson’s best landscapes.

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October 26, 2020

The Flute Lesson and The Grape Eaters

The Flute Lesson and The Grape Eaters

made by Sèvres Porcelain Factory, France, founded 1756; after François Boucher, French, 1703–1770; The Flute Lesson, 1757–66; porcelain; 8 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches; The Grape Eaters, 1757–66; porcelain; 8 11/16 x 9 1/4 x 7 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Marjorie Wyman Endowment Fund, the Mary Elizabeth Rosborough Decorative Arts Fund, and The Lopata Endowment Fund 2:2012.1-2

This pair of porcelains, based on a 1752 comic operetta, represents the romance between a shepherd (unnamed) and a shepherdess (Lisette). In one, the shepherd teaches Lisette to play his flute—he fingers the notes while she blows into the instrument. In the related piece, the shepherd feeds grapes to his beloved. Shepherds and shepherdesses in amorous couplings appear frequently in the painting, sculpture, and decorative arts of the 18th century. Mme Du Pompadour, the favorite mistress of Louis XV, owned examples of this pair.

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October 25, 2020

Ostend Fisherman

Ostend Fisherman

Constantin Meunier, Belgian, 1831–1905; Ostend Fisherman, 1890; bronze; 31 3/4 x 11 3/8 x 8 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 54:1914

A fisherman in rubber boots, oilskin jacket, and hat opens his mouth as though shouting to a distant comrade. A marine ray at his feet suggests the nature of his profession. Constantin Meunier may have modeled this figure after laborers he observed at the wharf at Ostend, a Belgian coastal city. Meunier became well-known late in his career for sculptures of workers at docks, mines, and forges and in agriculture and domestic occupations. Despite this fisherman’s grueling employment, his upright posture and muscular physique lend dignity, even heroism, to his labor.

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October 24, 2020

Distant Road II

Distant Road II

Araki Minol, Japanese (born China), 1928–2010; Distant Road II, 1979; ink on four paper panels; overall (all four panels together): 36 3/16 inches x 16 feet 9 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the artist 149:2003a-d; © Minol Araki, licensed by David Frank and Kazukuni Sugiyama

This painting depicts an expansive landscape splashed in ink across four paper panels (zoom in). Land, water, and natural features are represented from a high perspective. Reading from right to left, the first panel depicts an open expanse of water; the second panel, an extended isthmus or peninsula. The third features dense hills and mountains ranging beyond the tops and branches of evergreens; the fourth panel shows an opening expanse of water.

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October 23, 2020

Solidus of Byzantine Empire with Bust of Jesus Christ, minted under Justinian II

Solidus of Byzantine Empire with Bust of Jesus Christ, minted under Justinian II

Solidus of Byzantine Empire with Bust of Jesus Christ, minted under Justinian II, 692–695; Byzantine, Turkey, Justinian II; gold; diameter: 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, by exchange 1:2012

A particularly important moment in the history of Christian art is depicted on this gold coin. A bearded image of Christ Pantokrator (Ruler of All), inspired by earlier Greco-Roman images of the god Zeus, dominates the obverse (front). In his left hand, Christ holds the book of Gospels; his right hand is raised in a gesture of benediction. On the reverse (see image), the emperor Justinian, rendered at a smaller scale, identifies himself as a “servant of Christ.” This imagery represents the first time in the history of the Byzantine Empire that Jesus Christ appears as the preeminent image on coinage, with the emperor relegated to subservient status on the back.

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October 22, 2020

Danaë

Danaë

Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian, 1593–c.1654; Danaë, c.1612; oil on copper; 16 1/4 x 20 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and gift of Edward Mallinckrodt, Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr., Horace Morison, Mrs. Florence E. Bing, Morton D. May in honor of Perry T. Rathbone, Mrs. James Lee Johnson Jr., Oscar Johnson, Fredonia J. Moss, Mrs. Arthur Drefs, Mrs. W. Welles Hoyt, J. Lionberger Davis, Jacob M. Heimann, Virginia Linn Bullock in memory of her husband, George Benbow Bullock, C. Wickham Moore, Mrs. Lyda D'Oench Turley and Miss Elizabeth F. D'Oench, and J. Harold Pettus, and bequests of Mr. Alfred Keller and Cora E. Ludwig, by exchange 93:1986

This painting demonstrates Artemisia Gentileschi’s success in capturing textures. These include the golden strands of hair that caress the figure’s shoulder, the lush fabric of the bedcover, and the metal coins that fall upon bare flesh. Painted when Gentileschi was only 19 years old, this picture reflects the skill, learned from her father Orazio, to paint subtle flesh tones and rich surfaces.

Such sensuous effects are appropriate to the ancient Greek story of Danaë, a young woman who was confined to a chamber by her father to prevent her becoming pregnant. An oracle (or seer) had predicted she would bear a son who would kill her own father. Zeus, king of the gods, was able to thwart the plan by transforming himself into a golden rain to impregnate Danaë.

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October 21, 2020

Sunset

Sunset

Evangeline Montgomery, American, born 1930; Sunset, 1997; offset lithograph and screenprint; sheet: 21 5/8 × 29 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 176:2017; © Evangeline Montgomery

Sunset evokes flames engulfing redwood trees during a wildfire, a distinct memory from the artist’s time living in California from 1955 to 1976. Memory is a central theme of Evangeline Montgomery’s work. She uses travel diaries and photographs to transform her experiences and awe of nature into visual representations. Montgomery traveled extensively throughout her career starting in 1983, when she began work for the Arts America Program at the United States Information Agency. In her role there, she coordinated tours of American museum exhibitions at home and abroad.

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October 20, 2020

The Red Stairway

The Red Stairway

Ben Shahn, American (born Lithuania), 1898–1969; The Red Stairway, 1944; tempera on Masonite; 16 x 24 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 25:1945; © 2020 Estate of Ben Shahn / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A crumbling environment and a figure with one leg convey the wreckage that war, in this case World War II (1939–1945), leaves behind. The space within the ruined building remains unresolved as does the destination of the man on the red stairs, visually suggesting the senselessness of war.

The artist himself wrote of this painting, “to me this is both the hope and the fate of man, you know. It’s obvious almost that he seems to recover from the most frightful wars, the most frightful plagues, and goes right on again when he knows full well that he’s going into another one; but that’s the eternal hope in the human being.”

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October 19, 2020

Spouted Vessel with Painted Motifs

Spouted Vessel with Painted Motifs

Spouted Vessel with Painted Motifs, c.1500–1700; Quapaw, Phillips County, Arkansas; ceramic with pigment; 10 1/2 x 11 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Director's Discretionary Fund 65:2005

The bold interlocking swirl of red and white symbolizes worldly dualities: peace and war, light and dark, earth and sky. The Quapaw are known for beautifully painted vessels using the colors red, white, and black. Migrating from the Ohio valley to the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, the Quapaw flourished late in the Mississippian period, around the 16th century. The Quapaw continued to inhabit what is now Arkansas through the early 19th century. They have since relocated to Oklahoma, where they still reside today. It is likely this teapot form was based on vessels introduced following the arrival of Europeans in the mid-16th century. Quapaw teapots typically lack an elaborate handle. They instead feature a small node opposite the spout.

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October 18, 2020

Lady in White

Lady in White

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, American, 1851–1938; Lady in White, c.1901; oil on panel; 20 1/8 x 15 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and the Eliza McMillan Trust 102:1988

An elegant woman artfully poses in profile. Though the painting’s small size and our close view would suggest a certain intimacy, she seems quite remote and absorbed in her own thoughts. In late 19th-century America—the Gilded Age—women were understood to maintain ideals of truth and beauty. In this painting, the woman embodies a timeless, unattainable beauty. She is presented to us more as an object to be enjoyed for its refinement, like the graceful Empire chair and her antique gown.

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October 17, 2020

Giant Three-Way Plug, Scale A

Giant Three-Way Plug, Scale A

Claes Oldenburg, American (born Sweden), born 1929; Giant Three-Way Plug, Scale A, 1970–71; Cor-Ten steel and bronze; 57 x 116 x 78 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. 21:1971; © 1971 Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg produces monumental sculptures of everyday consumer objects. Just outside the Main Building, an enormous three-way electrical plug lies partially buried in the ground. The artist has described it as resembling “an implement left over from a war, returning to nature.” Oldenburg first installed the sculpture in this location in 1971, noting that the plug reminded him of historic architecture. Here, its arching lines and recessed spaces complement the classical design of the Museum’s Main Building by architect Cass Gilbert.

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October 16, 2020

Two Girls in Front of Birch Trees

Two Girls in Front of Birch Trees

Paula Modersohn-Becker, German, 1876–1907; Two Girls in Front of Birch Trees, c.1905; oil on cardboard; 21 3/4 x 13 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 914:1983

Two girls with striking green eyes stand within a wooded area. Paula Modersohn-Becker developed a deliberately straightforward style of flat color and strong outlines that reflects her awareness of avant-garde French painters. Modersohn-Becker was a prominent figure within a rural colony of artists at Worpswede in northern Germany, and produced work with a deep sympathy for the local peasantry. She died young in childbirth.

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October 15, 2020

In the Roman Campagna

In the Roman Campagna

George Inness, American, 1825–1894; In the Roman Campagna, 1873; oil on canvas mounted on board; 26 x 43 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 115:1946

In the Roman Campagna is a scene of the Italian countryside awash in diffuse light. In this landscape, George Inness included appealingly pastoral and picturesque details, such as the flock of grazing sheep and the simply dressed woman near the brook. The architectural ruin in the foreground and the caves in the distance were intended to call to mind Italy’s ancient past.

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October 14, 2020

The Wounded Seagull

The Wounded Seagull

Jules Breton, French, 1827–1906; The Wounded Seagull, 1878; oil on canvas; 36 1/2 x 30 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Justina G. Catlin in memory of her husband, Daniel Catlin 27:1917

Jules Breton regularly visited the coastal region of Brittany in the west of France and here represented an idealized Breton peasant in profile against the wind. The artist was fascinated by the “mystic wildness” of Breton women and focused on this peasant’s compassion for a wounded bird while other healthy birds glide in the distance. This work was shown in 1881 at the first special exhibition of the newly founded St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, the predecessor of the Saint Louis Art Museum.

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October 13, 2020

The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene

The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene

Francesco Albani, Italian, 1578–1660; The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene, 1640s; oil on copper; 16 9/16 x 10 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy in memory of Ruth Peters MacCarthy 512:2018

Mary Magdalene, a Christian saint popular in the 17th century, is being carried into the sky by angels. According to a 13th-century account, she retired to a cave in southern France near the end of her life. Her daily prayer ritual, depicted here, included an ascent into heaven facilitated by a group of angels who carried her aloft. Francesco Albani trained in Bologna, Italy, where artists utilized drawings made by sketching live models.

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October 12, 2020

Ritual Seat (duho)

Ritual Seat (duho)

Taino artist, Dominican Republic; Ritual Seat (duho), c.1315–1416; wood; 6 5/8 x 8 x 24 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund and Primitive Art Society Fund in honor of Morton D. May 168:1981

This extraordinary sculpture is carved from incredibly dense guaiacum wood, its form is likely an actual tree branch. The artist used the natural angles to define the bent legs of the human figure. The figure’s arms are curled up behind the head, while a shallow curved surface dominates the emaciated body. (The figures ribs can be seen on the bottom.) This depressed area led early scholars to identify the object as a duho, or ritual seat, but it may instead have functioned as a ceremonial platter during a ritual feast.

This work represents a masterpiece of the Taino civilization that thrived in the Caribbean in the 14th and 15th centuries. Such objects were collected by 19th-century businessmen working in Santo Domingo, who often signed them to establish ownership and document their history.

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October 11, 2020

Untitled

Untitled

Chakaia Booker, American, born 1953; Untitled, 2014; woodcut and lithograph with chine collé; image: 19 3/4 × 13 7/16 inches, sheet: 28 9/16 × 20 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 122:2017; © Chakaia Booker

Chakaia Booker combined overlapping shapes produced with relief printmaking and lithography techniques to create this enigmatic image. The arranged and collaged printed papers relate to Booker’s sculpting process, in which she assembles large-scale works from cut recycled tires. Some of the elements in this work, especially the repetitive patterns in an inky palette, resemble tire treads or perhaps their imprint.

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October 10, 2020

Pair of Torah Finials

Pair of Torah Finials

Wilhelmus Angenendt, Dutch (born Germany), 1737–1817; Pair of Torah Finials, 1778; silver with gilding; height (with base): 20 3/8 x 5 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Deane and Paul Shatz Endowment Fund for Judaica 108:2000.1,.2

Finials (rimmonim in Hebrew) were among the most elaborate objects wealthy Jewish patrons commissioned for Torahs in the 18th-century Netherlands. In the Jewish faith Torahs contain the law of God revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. The finial bells would have signaled the Torah scroll’s approach as it was carried in a procession that made its way through the synagogue. The silver cylinder supports feature stamps and a Hebrew inscription. The stamps confirm a date of 1778, and the inscription commemorates the gift of Yaakov Gedalja, born in the Hague (in present-day Netherlands) in 1760, the son of Tanchum Pos.

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October 9, 2020

Teasing

Teasing

Franz von Stuck, German, 1863–1928; Teasing, 1889; oil on canvas; 19 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund Endowment, and Gift of Frances H. Thomson in memory of her husband, John Edwin Thomson, Bequest of Ruth Sudholt Wunderlich, Museum Purchase, Bequest of Mrs. Sophia M. Wolf, Gift of Mr. Louis Werner, Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Overton Busch and Mrs. Thomas Curtis Adams in memory of their mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pope O'Fallon, Gift of J. Lionberger Davis, Gift of Nellie Ballard White, Gift of Miss Ella M. Boedeker, Bequest of Eleanor Lacey, all by exchange 484:2018

In Teasing, the thick trunk of a tree conceals a smiling female figure from the faun who playfully pursues her. Franz von Stuck often depicted the mischievous antics of fauns, mythological creatures that were part goat, part human. Here Stuck created the shaded forest landscape surrounding this tryst with small dabs of paint in contrasting colors, exhibiting an engagement with the painting techniques of pointillism. Stuck worked in illustration, decorative art, and sculpture but is best known for his allegorical and mythological paintings suffused with drama, sensuality, and humor.

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October 8, 2020

Dining Chair, from the Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois

Dining Chair, from the Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright, American, 1867–1959; Dining Chair, from the Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, designed c.1903; oak with replacement synthetic leather upholstery; 56 x 17 1/16 x 18 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Decorative Arts Society 239:1977; © 2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights Society.

The simple, elegant form of this chair does not depend on ornament or carving but on the rhythmic play of lines and shapes. Like all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s furniture, it was intended to harmonize with the home for which it was designed. Its high back contrasted with the dining room’s horizontal orientation and also served as a partition: when the six chairs were pulled up around the table, the dining ensemble became an intimate room within a larger space.

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October 7, 2020

The Deposition

The Deposition

Stephen Greene, American, 1917–1999; The Deposition, 1947; oil on canvas; 59 1/4 × 33 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 529:1957; © The Estate of Stephen Greene, Jason McCoy, Inc., New York

Ladders surround a cross where seven figures remove the body of Jesus. The delicate human bodies and angular limbs interlock with the ladders. In addition, their sad expressions and striped garments, reminiscent of prison clothing, convey a sense of entrapment.

Stephen Greene was an instructor for one year, in 1946, at Washington University in St. Louis. During that time, he began to produce a group of paintings representing episodes from the life of Jesus. As Life magazine noted in 1950, “Greene’s canvases are not ingratiating. Peopled by sad, manikin‑like men, they have a strained and morbid cast…. Greene does not call himself a religious man, but because biblical stories are universally recognized and easily understood, he used them to communicate his own feelings on the state of modern man—a state Greene considers to be chaotic and insecure.”

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October 6, 2020

Untitled #45

Untitled #45

Leonardo Drew, American, born 1961; Untitled #45, 1995; wood, rust, fabric, string, feathers, and mixed media; installed: 15 feet 8 inches x 37 feet x 5 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald L. Bryant Jr. 63:1997; © Leonardo Drew, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

In this wall-mounted sculpture, Leonardo Drew arranged over 300 wooden panels covered with fabric, string, feathers, and other discarded objects, which he then burned, rusted, and stained. According to Drew, his art is rooted in his experiences of living and growing up in New York City, where daily life involves navigating the city’s gridded streets and organic decay. He also cites other inspirations such as the history of African Americans in the United States and a trip to Senegal where he visited a former slave trading post. Despite such specific sources, Drew likes to keep his work open to interpretation: “I think that these pieces should become mirrors. They should be a collection of ideas and never a one-sided issue.”

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October 5, 2020

Miniature Two-handled Jar (amphoriskos)

Miniature Two-handled Jar (amphoriskos)

Miniature Two-handled Jar (amphoriskos), mid-2nd century BC–early 1st century AD; Greek, Eastern Mediterranean, Hellenistic; glass; 5 3/16 x 1 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 77:1921

Despite the beauty of this container, it was the contents inside that were truly valuable. Luxurious oils and sweet-smelling unguents were coveted and used by both men and women. The ancient Greeks even used olive oil as a soap by spreading it on their skin and scraping it off with a metal tool called a strigil.

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October 4, 2020

Panoramic Landscape with Shepherds

Panoramic Landscape with Shepherds

Aelbert Cuyp, Dutch, 1620–1691; Panoramic Landscape with Shepherds, 1640–45; oil on panel; 30 1/4 x 42 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 23:1967

The flat horizon line and the subtle tones of the sky and reflective water surfaces are the major focus of this painting, rather than the humans or their bovine companions. Aelbert Cuyp uses delicate shifts in the color of the sky as well as a limited amber palette to describe the land and its inhabitants. While some of his contemporaries depicted a cloudy and misty sky, sunlight is often an important element in Cuyp’s pictures.

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October 3, 2020

For the Wind to Tear

For the Wind to Tear

Kay Sage, American, 1898–1963; For the Wind to Tear, 1955; oil on canvas; 16 1/8 x 20 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Kay Sage Tanguy 17:1964; © 2020 Estate of Kay Sage / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

An ambiguous, angular form is set against an expansive gray background. Its shape can be read as a mountaintop seen from a distance or a gathering of fabric viewed at close range. This painting’s muted palette and sense of mystery are hallmarks of the American Surrealist Kay Sage. For several years, this work hung in the home of the artist, where she lived with her partner Yves Tanguy, a fellow Surrealist painter.

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October 2, 2020

Fans and Stream

Fans and Stream

Sakai Hōitsu, Japanese, 1761–1828; Fans and Stream, c.1820–1828; sliding door panels (fusuma) mounted as a pair of two-panel screens; ink, color, gold, and silver on silk; right screen: 65 11/16 x 68 3/4 inches; left screen: 65 5/8 x 68 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 140:1987a,b

Pictures in the shapes of fans strewn across empty space and swirling eddies of gold define this pair of stunning decorative screens. The opened fans, brightly painted with traditional themes of landscapes, birds, and flowers, subtly reveal the four seasons, from the plum blossoms of early spring on the right to the snow-covered cypress of winter on the left. Scattering fans is associated with the art and culture of the ancient capital Kyoto and a particular outing of aristocrats and ladies along the scenic mountains of Arashiyama. As the procession crossed the Sugagawa River near Tenryuji Temple, the fan of a young courtier was caught by a sudden gust of wind and drifted down into the waters below. Delighted and inspired by the beautiful and poignant image, others threw their fans over the bridge to watch them float on the breeze into the flowing stream.

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October 1, 2020

The Tenth Street Studio

The Tenth Street Studio

William Merritt Chase, American, 1849–1916; The Tenth Street Studio, 1880; oil on canvas; 36 1/4 x 48 1/4 inches; Bequest of Albert Blair 48:1933

Sumptuous tapestries, exotic metalwork, imported porcelains, fine art, and elegantly adorned patrons were sure to be found in the studios of artists at the end of the 19th century. This painting depicts the studio of its artist, William Merritt Chase, one of the most successful painters of the era. Appreciating—and being seen appreciating—such exquisite finery was an important cultural and social marker for both patron and artist. An invitation to a reception at Chase’s studio (sure to be in the society news) was the most sought after in New York City.

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September 30, 2020

Breath

Breath

Kenneth Noland, American, 1924–2010; Breath, 1959; acrylic on canvas; 66 1/8 x 65 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 262:1982; © 2020 The Kenneth Noland Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY

A freely painted area of sky blue surrounds green and gold concentric rings and a solid blue circle at center. The edge of the outer blue area appears to undulate, creating the effect of counterclockwise rotation. Kenneth Noland produced his characteristic target-like format by staining thinned paint directly onto raw unprimed canvas, leaving some areas unpainted. The gestural perimeter of blue contrasts with the meticulously painted circular rings.

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September 29, 2020

Travelers Awaiting a Ferry

Travelers Awaiting a Ferry

Philips Wouwerman, Dutch, 1619–1668; Travelers Awaiting a Ferry, 1649; oil on canvas; 26 x 32 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Given anonymously 159:1998

The juxtaposition of steep mountains and peaceful river, combined with the foggy mist above the water, creates a mood of mystery and nostalgia. Philips Wouwerman has created a fanciful place. We know that such topography does not exist in the regions in which the artist worked. His evocative rendering combines the careful structure of Italian landscapes with precise markers to indicate specific depths (here suggested by different rocky outcroppings) with the atmosphere of an alpine scene. The white horse, seen in profile, occurs frequently in Wouwerman’s landscapes.

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September 28, 2020

Superbox Wardrobe

Superbox Wardrobe

Ettore Sottsass, Italian (born Austria), 1917–2007; Superbox Wardrobe, 1968; plastic laminate on particle board; 78 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Marjorie Wyman Endowment Fund 46:2005a,b; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

A simple rectangular wardrobe achieves a ritual significance when enlarged and adorned with graphic red and white stripes. Ettore Sottsass, the influential Italian designer who later founded the design group Memphis in 1981, developed his Superboxes as part of a limited-edition furniture series. Drawing on the spirit of contemporary artistic movements, this functional sculpture, meant to be displayed in the center of the room, is Sottsass’s cheeky “altarpiece for the domestic liturgy.”

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September 27, 2020

Slightly Off Keel #60

Slightly Off Keel #60

Nanette Carter, American, born 1954; Slightly Off Keel #60, 1999; oil on Mylar; 35 7/8 × 36 1/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 124:2017; © Nanette Carter

Slightly Off Keel #60—a title referring to a sailboat’s delicate balance as it speeds through water—consists of multiple mark-making types, both structured and loose. Moving away from canvas in the late 1990s (learn more), Nanette Carter adopted Mylar, a translucent polyester film, as her support of choice, which she admired for its potential to be used on both sides. The material is frosted on the surface, providing a satisfying tooth to hold oil paint, which she applies by brush or sometimes through printing (zoom in).

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September 26, 2020

Still Life with Guitar

Still Life with Guitar

Juan Gris, Spanish, 1887–1927; Still Life with Guitar, October–November 1920; oil on canvas; 19 13/16 x 24 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 9:1940

Interlocked in a harmonious geometric pattern, patches of subdued shades of brown, green, and blue give form to a guitar, a sheet of music, a bowl of grapes, a goblet, a carafe, and a table. Juan Gris developed a distinctive Cubist style, in which abstracted forms retain their volume through the integration of light and shadow. Here the areas that depict the grapes, table, and carafe suggest three-dimensionality, offering a dynamic balance between representation and abstraction.

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September 25, 2020

Coal Elevators

Coal Elevators

Ralston Crawford, American (born Canada), 1906–1978; Coal Elevators, 1938; oil on canvas; 36 1/4 x 50 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard T. Fisher 92:1976; © 2020 Estate of Ralston Crawford / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The smooth geometric forms, cool palette, and industrial subject are characteristic of “precisionist” paintings. These paintings were made during the 1920s and 1930s when the nation’s technological and industrial might was celebrated. The repetition of gray silos across the bulk of the painting seems adamantly impersonal. Ralston Crawford explained that, “I have painted many pictures which utilize something I can call a ‘blank center’…Coal Elevators is probably close to one of the best in this category.”

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September 24, 2020

Model of a Pharaoh’s Head

Model of a Pharaoh’s Head

Model of a Pharaoh’s Head, 332-30 BC; Egyptian, Ptolemaic Period; limestone; 4 ½ x 3 3/8 x 2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 214:1924

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    Model of a Pharaoh’s Head (view of back), 332-30 BC; Egyptian, Ptolemaic Period; limestone; 4 ½ x 3 3/8 x 2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 214:1924

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Heads of a king, like this one, became popular in the Late and Ptolemaic periods, but it is unknown whether they were actual models used by sculptors or offerings, since many have been found in temples. The back of this unfinished bust contains a grid (see above). The Egyptians divided the human body into 18 (and later 21) equal squares from the feet to the head, ensuring that the proportions of a figure would be uniform, regardless of its size.

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September 23, 2020

Martial Memory

Martial Memory

Philip Guston, American (born Canada), 1913–1980; Martial Memory, 1941; oil on canvas; 40 1/8 x 32 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 115:1942; © 2020 Estate of Philip Guston

These resourceful children have turned the urban debris around them into the equipment of war. Their solemn faces, compressed angular forms, and implied violence of their play yield a tension that brings to mind the stress of World War II (1939–1945), then ravaging Europe. Artist Philip Guston depicted the children not in the heat of battle but rather in a moment of solemn conference. Their grave manner reflects the seriousness that underlies every human conflict and provides a view into the deep emotional crisis of their war torn world.

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September 22, 2020

Banquet Table (kakeban) with Design of Clouds and Chrysanthemums

Banquet Table (kakeban) with Design of Clouds and Chrysanthemums

Banquet Table (kakeban) with Design of Clouds and Chrysanthemums, late 16th century; Japanese, Muromachi period, or Momoyama period; wood, lacquer, gold, and silver; 7 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy and Director's Discretionary Fund 109:2002

The sumptuous gold-lacquer chrysanthemums decorating this serving table celebrate the beauty and abundance of autumn. Revealed among delicate, lacy leaves, a profusion of blossoms in low relief is echoed by spiraling clouds of swirling gold and silver flake, all against a gold-dusted, “pear-skin” ground (see additional views). The raised, neatly indented corners on the top complement the four finely proportioned legs, the taut, curving shapes of which give the table an elegant and dynamic form. In style and technique, this table closely conforms to work from sixteenth-century Kyoto, especially the costly commissions for the nobility and the ruling military class. Beautifully set with gourmet morsels before an honored guest, the table would exemplify the lavishly ornate high aristocratic style of later Japan under the rule of the shoguns

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September 21, 2020

Pair of Vases

Pair of Vases

made by Sèvres Porcelain Factory, France, founded 1756; scene painted by Charles-Eloi Asselin, French, 1743–1804; after a painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, French, 1725–1805; flowers painted by Jean-Baptiste Tandart, French, active 1754–1803; Pair of Vases, 1774; soft-paste porcelain, overglaze enamels, and gilding; 12 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Seek Beauty and Find Love: Jane and Whitney Harris 80:2000.1,.2

The sumptuous blue surface, gilded leaf-handles, and delicate painting of these ornamental vases exemplify the Sevres factory’s mastery of porcelain making in the mid-18th-century. Rimmed in gold, the top opening resembles precious shells while the handles seem to have been formed by encasing myrtle leaves in gold. The vases bear narrative scenes (zoom in) based on compositions by the French painter Jean-Baptist Greuze (1725-1805). The Blind Man Fooled (L’Aveugle trompé) on the vase at right, shows a young woman fooling her blind husband as she attempts to sneak her lover out of the basement and away before her spouse discovers her ruse. The scene on the vase at left, Mommy (La Maman), depicts a mother trying to feed her younger son while the older one grabs at the spoon intended for his brother.

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September 20, 2020

City Lights (Prophet with No Tongue)

City Lights (Prophet with No Tongue)

Mary Lovelace O'Neal, American, born 1942; City Lights (Prophet with No Tongue), 1988; offset lithograph and screenprint; sheet (irregular): 28 1/8 x 32 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 177:2017; © Mary Lovelace O'Neal

This print is constructed of cut paper inked with colors that evoke a city skyline (zoom in). The deep blue is punctuated by bright pinks and yellows—evidence of bright lights in a bustling metropolis—and the irregular shape evokes a silhouetted cityscape. Mary Lovelace O’Neal worked primarily as a painter until 1984, when Robert Blackburn invited her to his printmaking studio. Captivated by the print medium, she created this work at the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia in 1988.

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September 19, 2020

Bust of a Black Man

Bust of a Black Man

Melchior Barthel, German, 1625–1672; Bust of a Black Man, 1660s; marble; 24 1/2 x 17 x 8 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. R. Crosby Kemper Jr. through the Crosby Kemper Foundations 54:1990

This sensitive portrait of an unknown man stands as one of the most dignified representations of a Black African from 17th-century Europe. It is the only secular work known to have been sculpted by Melchior Barthel. The bust exemplifies the artist’s mastery of expressive carving and bold contrast of color and material. Barthel’s greatest achievement was the completion of the Venetian tomb of Doge Giovanni Pesaro (died 1659), which includes colossal muscular figures who stand with the weight of the upper tomb on their shoulders. Bust of a Black Man probably records one of the models who posed for that project. Carved in black serpentine, the sculpture has been oiled to give it both greater luster and higher contrast with the white marble clothing.

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September 18, 2020

Temptation

Temptation

Marc Chagall, French (born Belarus), 1887–1985; Temptation, 1912; oil on canvas; 65 1/2 x 46 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 74:1954; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / ADAGP, Paris

In this narrative scene, Eve grasps the forbidden apple, which she will hand to the golden figure of Adam on the left. Animal figures are dotted throughout the composition, including a bird perched on the antlers of a deer to the bottom right. Chagall treated this traditional subject in a highly modern, Cubist style, which he encountered after moving to Paris in 1910. Forms are broken down into faceted planes; the Cubist device of the split face allows Eve to look at both the apple and its destination.

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September 17, 2020

Cockfight

Cockfight

David Smith, American, 1906–1965; Cockfight, 1945; steel; 45 x 21 3/4 x 10 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 188:1946; © 2020 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The deadly combat that locks these two roosters together can be read as an allegory for the World War II (1939–1945) battles raging in Europe at the time this sculpture was made. The roosters are silhouetted in space, their forms created through outline rather than three-dimensional volume. The hand wrought steel plates point in different directions and shift behind each other—creating an energetic, explosive sense of action. The arc welded steel of Cockfight is a hallmark of David Smith, who worked for many years as a factory welder.

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September 16, 2020

The Conversion and Baptism of St. Augustine by St. Ambrose

The Conversion and Baptism of St. Augustine by St. Ambrose

Juan de Valdés Leal, Spanish, 1622–1690; The Conversion and Baptism of St. Augustine by St. Ambrose, 1673; oil on canvas; 65 1/8 x 43 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 1:1964

Energetic brushwork, rich color contrasts, and an angled view into the church interior enliven this image of two important events in a saint’s life (zoom in). The painting was one of seven canvases portraying the life of St. Ambrose (c.334/340–397), bishop of Milan, painted by Juan de Valdés Leal and formed part of a decorative cycle for the lower oratory of the Archbishop’s Palace in Seville. It depicts St. Ambrose converting St. Augustine to Christianity (foreground) and Augustine’s subsequent baptism on April 24, 387 (background at right).

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September 15, 2020

The Three Princesses

The Three Princesses

Carlos Mérida, Guatemalan (active Mexico), 1891–1985; The Three Princesses, 1955; lacquer, casein on parchment, laid down on laminated wood; 16 1/8 x 12 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 167:1959; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

In this composition, intersecting lines create an irregular grid of triangles, curves, and unique shapes. These colorful components form the bodies and clothing of three female figures. Artist Carlos Mérida advocated a type of abstraction based on the bold, geometric patterns and vibrant colors of Maya textiles and other Indigenous Latin American arts. Mérida, a Guatemalan artist who lived much of his life in Mexico, sought to establish a uniquely American form of abstract art in conversation with contemporary European artistic developments.

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September 14, 2020

Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue

Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue

Frank Bowling, British (born Guyana), born 1936; Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue, 1992; acrylic on canvas; 39 1/2 × 40 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 187:2017; © Frank Bowling

The title of this painting evokes a sense of childlike wonder. Frank Bowling referenced the deep indigo color of the star apple, a fruit native to the Caribbean region and reminiscent of his childhood in Guyana. The artist works the surfaces of his paintings with clear acrylic gel using a spatula and a palette knife, often mixing pearlescent and metallic pigments into the paint. After Bowling graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, he began to work with acrylic paint, which was introduced to the commercial market in the 1960s.

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September 13, 2020

Rain Drops on Lupin Leaves

Rain Drops on Lupin Leaves

Laura Gilpin, American, 1891–1979; Rain Drops on Lupin Leaves, c.1931; gum platinum print; image: 9 1/8 x 13 inches, mount: 10 13/16 x 14 7/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 31:1945; © 1979 Amon Carter Museum of American Art

In 1940, at about the same time it started to collect photographs, the Saint Louis Art Museum began to host an annual competition called the Saint Louis International Salon of Photography. Laura Gilpin was one of its most distinguished contributors, and her photograph entered the Museum’s collection as a result of the event. Gilpin’s warm-toned black and white photograph captures young lupin plants before they erect the showy spikes of flowers that are their most obvious feature. Their tender leaves, sprinkled with raindrops, form a sunburst-like pattern across the image. The immature plants speak of rebirth, growth, and potential, while the water droplets on their leaves suggest purification.

 

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September 12, 2020

Coffee Table

Coffee Table

Frederick Wallace Dunn, American, 1905–1984; Coffee Table, c.1938; painted wood, pewter, leather, and brass; 12 1/4 x 24 9/16 x 24 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of William C. Sherman in memory of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Sherman 221:1980; © Frederick Wallace Dunn

This sleek, luxurious table combines unconventional materials for furniture—polished and engraved pewter, brass, and leather—with glossy black-painted wood. Its style is a blend of modern and traditional elements. Concentric squares inside a frame with projecting corners engraved on the top evoke historical architectural forms with modern simplicity.

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September 11, 2020

Charing Cross Bridge

Charing Cross Bridge

Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926; Charing Cross Bridge, 1903; oil on canvas; 28 3/4 x 41 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 22:1915

In this scene, a train puffs across the bridge as sunlight falls through the mist and creates shimmering patterns on the river surface. Claude Monet painted a series of about 30 paintings of the Charing Cross railroad bridge spanning the River Thames, each highlighting different light and weather effects. Monet was a noted Anglophile and painted this view on one of three visits to London between 1899 and 1901. He noted, “I love London…what I love, above all, is the fog.”

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September 10, 2020

Relief with Winged Genie

Relief with Winged Genie

Relief with Winged Genie; Assyrian, Neo-Assyrian period, associated with Ashurnasirpal II; alabaster; 59 1/2 x 35 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 186:1925

The carved image in this relief may represent a mythical being known as a winged genie. The figure ensures fertility and stability by pollinating a sacred tree with a cone and situla, a bucket with a handle. The cuneiform inscriptions over the surface of the sculpture expound the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II’s splendid endeavors and exploits. In the heart of his empire in the northern part of present-day Iraq, King Ashurnasirpal built huge royal palaces that were guarded by colossal statues of man-headed bulls. Endless reliefs decorating the interiors of the palaces portrayed the glory of the king and the mighty deities who protected him and his vast holdings.

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September 9, 2020

The Charm of Subsistence

The Charm of Subsistence

Martin Puryear, American, born 1941; The Charm of Subsistence, 1989; rattan and gumwood; 84 5/8 x 66 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. 105:1989; © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Martin Puryear created this work by weaving heavy rattan and building the sculpture up from its wooden base. From 1964 to 1966, Puryear spent two years with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where he was exposed to the Indigenous craft traditions of a pre-industrial society. In his subsequent sculptures, the artist drew inspiration from the buildings and shelters of this country

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September 8, 2020

Levitator Abstraction

Levitator Abstraction

Esphyr Slobodkina, American (born Russia), 1908–2002; Levitator Abstraction, c.1950; oil on Masonite; 24 × 45 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Linda and Harvey Saligman Endowed Acquisition Fund, Gift of J. Harold Pettus, Gift of Edward J. Costigan in memory of his wife, Sara Guth Costigan, Gift of August A. Busch Jr., Gift of the Estate of Moses Soyer, Gift of Mrs. Richard Meade in memory of her husband, Richard Worsam Meade IV, and Gift of Stuart M. Chambers, all by exchange 28:2019; Courtesy of the Slobodkina Foundation

A cockpit and wings slowly emerge from the array of angular, abstract shapes in Levitator Abstraction. This painting was inspired by the Turboprop Skyshark, a short-lived Navy aircraft carrier bomber designed in the early 1950s. The complex interlocking forms in this work reflect a debt to the artist’s early training in engineering and architecture. However, at times they appear more like a busy scattering of paper cutouts than the volumetric parts of an airplane. This is not surprising given Esphyr Slobodkina was also an experienced dressmaker. Despite the machinelike quality, the painting playfully mimics the proportions and wood-grain surface of the actual drafting board on which she worked. Slobodkina’s creative talents extended beyond painting, dressmaking, and architecture. She was also a well-respected textile designer and children’s book author and illustrator. Her most-loved book is the classic Caps for Sale.

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September 7, 2020

Builders #1

Builders #1

Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917–2000; Builders #1, 1972; watercolor, gouache, and graphite; 22 7/16 x 30 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 93:1972; © 2020 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A carpenter sits at a workbench surrounded by a fantastic array of tools and fasteners. The mountains behind him mirror his strength. The moment portrayed here, however, is not an act of construction but of preparation, as the builder sits sharpening a chisel. Wood as a building material is almost completely absent. He is alone and reflective, weighing the projects ahead. Jacob Lawrence is known for his bold use of flat planes of color, a technique he first developed as a member of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. In this work, he softened his vigorous application of gouache, an opaque water-based paint, with transparent watercolor.

Lawrence’s Builders #1 presents a window within a window and a hopeful allegory of African American life. This is the first expression of a theme that Lawrence would return to for the rest of his career. His builders serve as metaphorical figures, simultaneously evoking artistic creation and social struggle. Like the people who won the hard-fought battles of the civil rights movement, the craftsman stands for the potential of all African Americans.

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September 6, 2020

The Dovecote

The Dovecote

François Boucher, French, 1703–1770; The Dovecote, 1758; oil on canvas; 18 5/8 x 28 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 75:1937

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    François Boucher, French, 1703–1770; The Dovecote (detail), 1758; oil on canvas; 18 5/8 x 28 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 75:1937

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    François Boucher, French, 1703–1770; The Dovecote (detail), 1758; oil on canvas; 18 5/8 x 28 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 75:1937

Although evocative of the natural world, this painting represents a fantasy of the picturesque. Doves fly in and out of the dovecote while a man and child watch from a rickety bridge (see details above). The blue-green color and benign decay of the various structures present a romantic notion of the outdoors, reflecting contemporary ideas about nature. François Boucher was the favorite painter of Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour who, with her friends, enjoyed playing at being shepherdesses and milkmaids in charmingly idealized country settings similar to the one portrayed here.

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September 5, 2020

Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower

Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower

Louise Adéone Drölling, French, 1797–1831; Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower, c.1820–22; oil on canvas; 22 1/4 x 17 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Miss Lillie B. Randell by exchange 160:1946

A young woman traces a drawing of a tulip against a windowpane; her study lies discarded on the floor, and she has been distracted by her pet squirrel perched on an armchair nearby. This painting may be a self-portrait of the artist at work in her studio. The painting was awarded a gold medal at the 1824 Salon and was then acquired for the prestigious collection of the French aristocrat, the Duchesse de Berry.

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September 4, 2020

Woman with Butterfly Tie

Woman with Butterfly Tie

Woman with Butterfly Tie, c.1830–35; American, New York; oil on linen; 16 3/16 x 12 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 13:1981

This young woman’s fashionable dress has diagonal pleats to emphasize shoulder width, ballooning “leg of mutton” sleeves, and a full skirt, all designed to accentuate her diminutive waistline. The perspective of her nose and brow line and overly small hands lack realistic proportion, but they create a rhythm of curving lines when paired with the locket chain, belt, and lace. The cost of a portrait painted by a pre-eminent artist was beyond the reach of many middle-class families. Consequently, they turned to the plentiful, less expensive self-taught artists who traveled from town to town to record their likenesses. These transient artists stayed in one spot only long enough to complete whatever work they could find before moving on to the next town. The output of these artists ranges from crude portrayals to the charm seen in this portrait.

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September 3, 2020

Amphora with Herakles and Apollo

Amphora with Herakles and Apollo

attributed to the Antimenes Painter, active 530–510 BC; Amphora with Herakles and Apollo, 530–510 BC; Attic Greek, Archaic period; black-figure ceramic; 15 1/4 x 10 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 39:1921

The scene on this vase shows an argument between siblings: the mortal hero Herakles and his divine half-brother Apollo. Enraged that Apollo’s priestess at the sanctuary of Delphi would not provide him with an answer to his question, Herakles tries to steal the sacred tripod. Here we see the brothers struggling to hold on to the tripod. Each is flanked by a female supporter: at left Artemis accompanies her twin brother Apollo, and Athena, patron and protector of Herakles, is shown at right. These figures are identifiable by a series of attributes or accessories (zoom in). Herakles has his wooden club and lion skin, Apollo has his quiver of arrows, and Athena has her helmet. White paint was used to distinguish the female characters.

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September 2, 2020

Textile

Textile

Anna Maria Garthwaite, English, 1688–1763; woven by John Sabatier, English, 1712-13–1780; Textile, 1752; silk; 19 × 35 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Marjorie Wyman Endowment Fund  116:2016

Large hibiscus-like blossoms with furling leaves and a shimmery chevron ground lend this damask, or figured, reversible fabric, an uncommon air. Designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite in October of 1752, it shows her expertise in faithfully representing nonnative, newly introduced flowers. Garthwaite was one of the most prolific and successful designers in Spitalfields, England’s silk weaving center in east London.

While few details are known about Garthwaite’s personal life, scholars believe she was part of a circle of influential naturalists. This group included the botanical illustrator Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770) and the merchant and plant collector Peter Collinson (1694–1768). Though botanical illustrations are known to have inspired some of Garthwaite’s designs, it is also likely she visited gardens and “greenhouses, stowed and crowded with vast varieties of exotic plants of surprising oddness and beauty.”

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September 1, 2020

Out into the Open

Out into the Open

Stanley Whitney, American, born 1946; Out into the Open, 2000; acrylic on canvas; 53 1/2 x 60 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie  193:2017; © Lisson Gallery / Stanley Whitney

In this painting, squares of bold colors form a loosely organized grid. Stanley Whitney’s travels abroad and the architecture he encountered influenced his work significantly. Visiting Rome in 1992, he admired the blocks used to construct monumental ancient structures. Later, in 1994, he said, “I went to Egypt—the pyramids and all the tombs. I realized that I could stack all the colors together, and not move the air. I realized in Egypt—it just came to me—that I could get the kind of density I wanted in the work.”

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August 31, 2020

The Account Keeper

The Account Keeper

Nicolaes Maes, Dutch, 1634–1693; The Account Keeper, 1656; oil on canvas; 26 x 21 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase  72:195

A woman dozes off as she updates her account books. Carefully defined horizontals (the desktop and wainscoting) contrast with verticals (the cabinet door, the pillars adorning the desk front), to create a carefully structured composition. The paired inkwells on the table echo the spheres on the map, and the bowls on the shelf are seen in both profile and full-interior views, all suggesting deliberate planning rather than casual observation. Such conscious order is in risk of collapse since the ledgers seem on the verge of toppling to the floor. The painting was undoubtedly intended to invite reflection, although we don’t know whether this woman represents a widow struggling to make ends meet, an elderly woman evaluating her life, or the sin of sloth.

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August 30, 2020

Still Life

Still Life

John Johnston, American, 1752–1818; Still Life, 1810; oil on panel; 14 7/8 x 18 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given anonymously 218:1966

Still Life revels in the textures of translucent grapes and fuzz of peach skin. The unadorned background emphasizes the delicate silhouette of grape leaves and tendrils. The bee and caterpillar add a sense of the momentary to an otherwise seemingly timeless theme. These details draw us closer to the image, increasing our sense of intimacy with it by inviting careful observation.

This work is one of the earliest still life paintings made in the United States. The artist, John Johnston, worked in his father’s engraving and decorative painting business. He served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and was injured and imprisoned by the British for over a year before returning to Boston to open his own studio.

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August 29, 2020

Irises and Eight-Fold Bridge

Irises and Eight-Fold Bridge

Sakai Hōitsu, Japanese, 1761–1828; Irises and Eight-Fold Bridge, c.1820; two-panel folding screen: ink, color, and gold-leaf on silk; 68 3/4 x 72 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Langenberg Endowment Fund and funds given by Mary and Oliver Langenberg 20:2007

This Rinpa-school masterpiece depicts luxuriant irises along a zigzag bridge. The flowers are shown in stages of bloom while the flat surfaces of the bridge are done in a technique known as tarashikomi, where ink and colors are applied one over another to create pooled colors and blurred edges. Sakai Hôitsu’s focused view highlights the brilliant blues and white accents of the blossoms, the bright greens of the leaves, and the mottled browns of the bridge. Gold leaf represents the water under the bridge. The painted silk panels are separately mounted with boldly designed paper that has gold and silver sprinkled in patterns to suggest flowing water.

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August 28, 2020

Disc for Armor, Chest or Back Plate

Disc for Armor, Chest or Back Plate

Disc for Armor, Chest or Back Plate, 7th–early 6th century BC; Italic, Orientalizing period; bronze; diameter: 9 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 53:1922

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    Disc for Armor, Chest or Back Plate, 7th–early 6th century BC; Italic, Orientalizing period; bronze; diameter: 9 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 52:1922

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    Disc, possibly a Shield Boss, 7th–early 6th century BC; Italic, Orientalizing period; bronze; diameter: 12/7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 51:1922

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The design on this armor features a fierce wolf-like beast that fills the space, bares its huge teeth and darts its tongue out like fire. Its tail terminates in a serpent’s head that has large ears; its legs end in huge, three-talon claws. Bold armorial decorations, probably originally painted in bright, simple colors, would have struck fear in enemy soldiers. The disc is one of three bronze discs in the Museum’s collection that were hammered with remarkable repoussé decoration and may have been the central elements of a set of body armor or shield bosses, the strong outward-projecting covers mounted in the center of shields. Each disc was affixed to a leather or wooden substructure with a series of large decorative rivets that embellished the circumference.

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August 27, 2020

Camaret, Moonlight and Fishing Boats

Camaret, Moonlight and Fishing Boats

Maximilien Luce, French, 1858–1941; Camaret, Moonlight and Fishing Boats, 1894; oil on canvas; 28 1/2 x 36 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, Museum Shop Fund, and funds given by Gary Wolff, the Stephen F. Brauer and Camilla T. Brauer Charitable Trust, the Pershing Charitable Trust, the Kate Stamper Wilhite Charitable Foundation, the William Schmidt Charitable Foundation, the John R. Goodall Charitable Trust, Nooter Corporation, Eleanor C. Johnson, Mrs. Winifred Garber, Hunter Engineering, the Joseph H. & Elizabeth E. Bascom Charitable Foundation, the Stephen M. Boyd Fund, Robert Brookings Smith, Irma Haeseler Bequest, BSI Constructors Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Latzer, Samuel C. Davis Jr., Dr. and Mrs. William H. Danforth, Mr. and Mrs. George Conant, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Cramer, Dr. and Mrs. David M. Kipnis, Mr. and Mrs. John O'Connell, Edith B. Schiele, and donors to the Art Enrichment Fund 29:1998

In this atmospheric nocturnal scene, Maximilien Luce painted the fishing port of Camaret in Brittany in the far west of France. The artist emphasizes a sense of geometric structure by repeating the diagonal lines of the boats while using a palette of blues and violets to offset the intense yellow of the moon. Luce turned to Pointillism as a technique in 1887 and became a prominent figure in this group of neo-Impressionists who meticulously built up their canvases with thousands of dots and flecks of paint.

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August 26, 2020

Sharecropper

Sharecropper

Elizabeth Catlett, American (active México), 1915–2012; Sharecropper, 1952, printed 1970; color linocut; 21 7/16 x 20 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund 4:2008; © 2020 Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Sharecropper reveals Elizabeth Catlett’s lifelong concern for the marginalized and the dignity of women. Vivid markings create this anonymous woman’s weathered skin, textured white hair, and broad-brimmed straw hat. Fatigue is evident in her eyes, and a makeshift safety pin holds her lightweight jacket closed. She represents the many sharecroppers who rented land in an agricultural system that Catlett felt kept thousands of African Americans in a cycle of poverty. By focusing on the enduring strength of poor laborers, Catlett hoped to “find a voice to speak for people who do not have one.” In 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico City, Mexico. There, she worked with the People’s Graphic Workshop, a printmaking collective dedicated to using art to promote social change.

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August 25, 2020

The Greyhounds of the Comte de Choiseul

The Greyhounds of the Comte de Choiseul

Gustave Courbet, French, 1819–1877; The Greyhounds of the Comte de Choiseul, 1866; oil on canvas; 35 1/4 x 45 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg 168:1953

Gustave Courbet spent the summer of 1866 in Deauville on the Normandy coast of France as a guest of the young Comte de Choiseul. While he was there, the artist painted this commissioned portrait of his host’s two greyhounds. Courbet emphasized the elegant appearance and high breed of the dogs by portraying them from below, as if they were looking down on the viewer.

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August 24, 2020

Zenobia in Chains

Zenobia in Chains

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, American, 1830–1908; Zenobia in Chains, c.1859; marble; 44 1/4 x 14 x 18 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, American Art Purchase Fund 19:2008

The dignity of this figure’s profile, with her head held high, and the intricate details of her ancient dress testify to Harriet Hosmer’s sophisticated carving abilities. Zenobia ruled Palmyra (present day Syria) for six years after her husband’s death in AD 267. She conquered Egypt and reigned until Roman forces overpowered her armies and captured her. Emperor Aurelian marched her in chains as part of his triumphal procession through Rome.

Hosmer, one of a group of 19th century female sculptors working in Rome, held strong feminist beliefs. She saw in Zenobia an embodiment of a woman’s ability to move beyond the constraints placed on her. Zenobia’s bearing stresses her strength rather than victimization. As Hosmer wrote, “I have tried to make her too proud to exhibit passion or emotion of any kind; not subdued, though a prisoner; but calm, grand, and strong within herself.”

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August 23, 2020

Enthroned Virgin and Child

Enthroned Virgin and Child

Enthroned Virgin and Child, 12th century; French; wood with traces of paint; 36 x 14 x 13 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 279:1952

The seated Virgin Mary assumes a rigid pose that echoes the shape of her chair, making her a throne for her son. Sermons and religious writings of the 11th and 12th centuries describe Mary as the “Throne of Wisdom” or the “Throne of Solomon”. The latter alludes to the Old Testament king known for wisdom. During a later period, a chamber was carved into the figure’s right shoulder to serve as a container for relics. Although insect damage and structural repairs are evident throughout this work, the shallow cascading drapery folds on the chest and at the Virgin’s feet make this a superior example of French medieval sculpture.

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August 22, 2020

Watts 1963

Watts 1963

Kerry James Marshall, American, born 1955; Watts 1963, 1995; acrylic and collage on canvas; 115 3/8 x 135 7/8 inches Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund 190:1995; © Kerry James Marshall, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

This colorful, mural-sized canvas depicts Nickerson Gardens in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Artist Kerry James Marshall’s family lived there for two years after moving from Birmingham, Alabama. Marshall created Watts 1963 as part of his Garden Project, a series of five paintings that considers the irony of garden-named housing projects in Los Angeles and Chicago. The only autobiographical work of the series, Watts 1963 illustrates the artist at age eight, with his brother and sister. The children are placed under a festive banner carried by bluebirds of happiness bearing Alabama’s first state motto: “Here We Rest.” This painting reflects both the early optimism of the housing projects and the conditions of poverty, despair, and violence that eventually arose.

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August 21, 2020

Old Homestead Connecticut

Old Homestead Connecticut

Willard Leroy Metcalf, American, 1858–1925; Old Homestead Connecticut, c.1914; oil on canvas; 26 x 29 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 253:1915

Cool, bright moonlight bathes the Selden homestead, built before the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). The large tree—as old as the house—casts its long shadow over the buildings, as the stars in the clear sky twinkle through its wide, protective branches. The homestead is located in Hadlyme, Connecticut, only 10 miles from where Willard Metcalf spent his summers painting as a member of the well‑known art colony in Old Lyme.

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August 20, 2020

Plate with Design of Arabic Inscription in Kufic Script

Plate with Design of Arabic Inscription in Kufic Script

Plate with Design of Arabic Inscription in Kufic Script, 10th century; Persian, Iran, Samanid period; glazed and slip-painted earthenware; 1 3/4 x 14 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 283:1951

Painted in the long, elegant strokes of Kufic script, this plate’s inscription is among the most beautiful examples of calligraphy from the early Islamic period. The elegant inscription decrees that “Planning before work protects you from regret.” The plate is one of a group of vessels that admonish the owners and their guests to be assiduous, careful, and virtuous in simple yet profound mottoes by which one might live a good life. The white slip body on which the calligraphy appears is related to Chinese porcelains and stonewares imported to Baghdad, the seat of power and commerce in the early Islamic world. The white slip, or liquefied clay, was painted over the surface of the vessel to suggest coveted Eastern porcelains. Applying ornamental calligraphy to the expansive white surface created designs that were bold and appealing.

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August 19, 2020

Center Table

Center Table

Joseph Cremer, born Luxembourg, active Paris, (1811–after 1878); Center Table, 1865–75; ebonized and gilded wood, wood marquetry, mother-of-pearl, and gilded bronze; 30 1/4 × 54 1/8 × 35 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Marjorie Wyman Endowment Fund 32:2016

A lush bouquet of flowers is the focal point of this ornamental tabletop. The floral design is composed of small pieces of wood stained with dyes and fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle (zoom in). This technique, called marquetry, was a specialty of Parisian craftsman Joseph Cremer, whose signature is engraved among the scrolling stems and leaves.

A New York cabinetmaker imported the marquetry panel and incorporated it into this painted and gilded table made for an unknown American client. This extravagant object was intended for use in a formal interior to display ceramics, small bronze sculptures, or other precious artworks.

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August 18, 2020

Chief-Style Blanket, Second Phase

Chief-Style Blanket, Second Phase

Diné (Navajo) artist, Chief-Style Blanket, Second Phase, c.1880; Southwest United States; wool and dye; 71 1/4 x 55 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Elissa and Paul Cahn 221:2017

In this blanket, charcoal-gray bars and dashes float on a red ground, establishing massive patterned bands that balance against the dominant white-and-black stripes. This type of textile captivated 19th-century Native peoples from the Plains and Mountain West, who valued these striking blankets not only for their unusual form and materials, but also because they originated far away, as is often the case with luxury items. Diné peoples traded blankets like this one with neighbors in the Pueblos of Pecos and Taos, centers for Native trade networks. Starting in the 1820s, American traders also transported blankets from the Southwest to a series of commercial forts across the Plains.

By the late 19th century, when the railway brought waves of travelers to the Southwest territories, these blankets circulated in the developing national market for Native art. Thomas Dozier, an art and curio dealer based in the rail town of Española, New Mexico, displayed this blanket at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

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August 17, 2020

Permelia Redmon Wheeler (1816-1881)

Permelia Redmon Wheeler (1816-1881)

Lucinda Redmon Orear, American, 1823–1852; Permelia Redmon Wheeler (1816-1881), c.1845; oil on canvas; 35 x 27 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr. 190:1951

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    Lucinda Redmon Orear, American, 1823–1852; Charles Wheeler (1795-1873), c.1845; oil on canvas; 35 x 31 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr. 191:1951

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Permelia Wheeler gestures gracefully to the rose pinned to her bodice; its color is echoed in her book. The palette of pinks and blues, and the elegant patterns and curves throughout the portrait, establish a unified, delicate tone. Permelia’s sister, Lucinda, created both this image and its companion portrait of Permelia’s husband, Charles Wheeler (see image above).

Permelia and Lucinda’s family had moved from Kentucky to St. Charles, Missouri, where they owned land next to Linden Wood School for Girls, now Lindenwood University. The Wheeler portraits reveal typical signs of a self‑taught artist, such as inconsistencies in anatomy, perspective, and shading. Nevertheless, their refined charm and competence suggest Lucinda may have developed her natural ability through study at the nearby school, which offered art instruction—a rare opportunity for a woman at that time. Permelia’s grandson donated both portraits to the Museum.

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August 16, 2020

Chrysanthemums and Autumnal Plants

Chrysanthemums and Autumnal Plants

Chrysanthemums and Autumnal Plants, late 17th–early 18th century; Japanese; six-panel folding screen; ink, color, and gold leaf on paper; 66 1/2 x 136 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of William K. Bixby 962:1920

This screen features chrysanthemums (kiku in Japanese) and autumnal plants (akikusa, literally “autumnal grasses”) against a gold background enlivened with golden clouds. The chrysanthemums are shown in three distinct colors: white, orange, and red. The petals of the white chrysanthemums were painted in a raised technique called moriage. The white-flowering variety of the bush clover (shirohagi; Lespedeza japonica) in the lower right corner, a favorite motif among Japanese poets since ancient times, is associated with melancholy and unrequited love. Blue Chinese bellflowers (kikyō; Platycodon grandiflorus) also animate the lower right while clumps of delicate Japanese silver grass (susuki; Miscanthus sinensis) emerge from behind the chrysanthemums at the back. Together, the bush clover, Chinese bellflower, and Japanese silver grass are three of the so-called “seven grasses of autumn” (aki no nanakusa) and reinforce the seasonal theme. At the lower left corner is a round I’nen seal impressed in red. Tawaraya Sōtatsu (1570–1643), one of the founders of the Rinpa school, first used this seal, and it continued to be used by successive artists in his workshop. This screen was the first Japanese painting to enter the Museum’s collection in 1920.

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August 15, 2020

The Basket of Fruit

The Basket of Fruit

Pierre Bonnard, French, 1867–1947; The Basket of Fruit, 1922; oil on canvas; 19 7/16 x 13 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Weil 581:1958

Pierre Bonnard represents a basket of apples and pears within a geometrical framework created by the diagonals, horizontals, and verticals of a tabletop. Bonnard wrestled with the complexities of white as a color throughout his career; here, the nuanced pale tones of the wall and tablecloth serve as a counterpoint to the brighter color accents of the fruit. Bonnard was a founding member of the Nabis group of painters who emphasized the importance of decorative pattern making in their compositions.

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August 14, 2020

Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer

Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer

Robert Henri, American, 1865–1929; Betalo Rubino, Dramatic Dancer, 1916; oil on canvas; 77 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 841:1920

Confident brushstrokes and bold color, as seen here, are hallmarks of Robert Henri’s best work. A reviewer commented, “one is struck immediately with the strength of the artist’s color, and if one may say it, the daring of it.”

Henri was captivating as a teacher and painter. He advocated his students search for subjects in the city streets, which were teeming with the vitality of working-class and immigrant crowds. Henri lectured, “What we need is an art that expresses the spirit of the people of today.” The flamboyant persona of Betalo Rubino, a Spanish dancer living in New York City, was a perfect fit for Henri’s dramatic palette.

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August 13, 2020

Floral Still Life with Shells

Floral Still Life with Shells

Balthasar van der Ast, Netherlandish, 1593/4–1657; Floral Still Life with Shells, 1622; oil on copper; 13 3/16 x 8 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 172:1955

Flowers that bloom for a very short time and exotic shells arouse the sensual pleasures of sight, smell, and touch. Fifteen separate blossoms represent twelve different species in this still life (zoom in). Balthasar van der Ast is credited with inventing the type of flower painting that included shells, and this early example is so exact that specialists can identify specific varieties. These blossoms, however, do not flower at the same time, reminding us that this seemingly realistic depiction is actually a lovely contrivance only possible in the painter’s fantasy realm.

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August 12, 2020

Aviatic Evolution

Aviatic Evolution

Paul Klee, Swiss, 1879–1940; Aviatic Evolution, 1934; oil on canvas mounted on Masonite; 16 3/8 x 19 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 233:1954

Paul Klee shows a bird in flight with a tiny head, deep red neck, and wide outstretched wings rendered in sweeping veils of color. The artist associated birds and their free movement with detachment from earthly concerns; he even compared them to angels. Klee used the coarser, reverse side of a commercially prepared canvas, contrasting its rough surface with thin, translucent paint glazes. Inspired by the drawings of children, Klee explored the unconscious as a means to access primal artistic impulses

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August 11, 2020

Tea Table, from the Dining Room of the Hôtel Guimard, Paris, France

Tea Table, from the Dining Room of the Hôtel Guimard, Paris, France

Hector Guimard, French, 1867–1942; made by Ateliers d'Art et de Fabrication, Paris, France, c.1897–1914; Tea Table, from the Dining Room of the Hôtel Guimard, Paris, France, 1907; pearwood, gilded bronze, and glass; 33 x 35 x 26 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Director's Discretionary Fund, Museum Purchase by exchange, and funds given by Susan and David Mesker and Zoe and Max Lippman 173:2003a,b

  • 800px-Photograph,_Dining_Room,_Hôtel_Guimard,_rue_Mozart,_Paris,_France,_ca._1910_(CH_18411063-2)

    Photograph, Dining Room, Hôtel Guimard, Rue Mozart, Paris, ca. 1910; Architect: Hector Guimard (French, 1867–1942); France; gelatin-silver print, toned; 21.6 x 28.1 cm (8 1/2 x 11 1/16 in.); Gift of Madame Hector Guimard; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 1956-78-11

Nature was the primary source of inspiration for the French architect Hector Guimard, who animated his designs with abstract clusters of buds, unfurling plant forms, and writhing tendrils. Guimard sought a new mode of expression that broke from historical styles. Rather than applying ornament as separate decorative elements, he worked like a sculptor, fusing structure and ornament, often creating linear whiplash contours that conveyed movement. During the art nouveau period, architects worked in a variety of materials, designing not only entire buildings and architectural ornaments but their interiors and furnishings as well (see historical image above).

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August 10, 2020

Standing Male Cupbearer

Standing Male Cupbearer

Standing Male Cupbearer; Sumerian, Early Dynastic period (Mesopotamian); calcite with lapis lazuli and shell inlay; 4 1/4 x 1 3/4 x 1 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund Endowment and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Christian B. Peper, Mr. and Mrs. Lester A. Crancer Jr., and an anonymous donor 60:2000

The large inlaid eyes of this diminutive votive statue are meant to capture the attention of the gods. Statues such as this have been found in temples and were believed to have their own life force. They functioned as an active substitute for the dedicator, whose name was often inscribed along the shoulder. Many other examples of this type of statue clasp their hands together in a gesture of prayer, but this example stands out because it holds a small bowl of lapis lazuli, a valuable blue stone. The bowl likely represents the act of dedicating a liquid offering, called a libation. Similar statues have been excavated from temples throughout the ancient Near East.

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August 9, 2020

Seated Woman

Seated Woman

Elizabeth Catlett, American (active México), 1915–2012; Seated Woman, 1962; mahogany; 22 1/2 × 13 1/2 × 7 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund Endowment, Gift of Edward J. Costigan in memory of his wife, Sara Guth Costigan, by exchange, The James D. Burke Art Acquisition Fund, Eliza McMillan Trust, Funds given by the Alturas Foundation, and Museum Purchase 75:2019; © 2020 Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A lustrous finish emphasizes the mahogany wood grain that artist Elizabeth Catlett beautifully incorporated into Seated Woman. The figure’s rounded body and firmly placed legs convey confidence and stability. A sense of naturalism merges perfectly with a simplified, abstracted form reminiscent of African masks and Mexican sculpture. Catlett, an African American artist who lived her adult life in Mexico, greatly respected these two artistic traditions. Catlett felt affirmative representations, such as Seated Woman, could support social change because they allow underrepresented people to see themselves depicted in art. Female subjects are predominant throughout Catlett’s work. She was moved by “Black beauty, not the female nudes of the European artists, but the women of the African wood carvers and the pre-Hispanic stone carvers.”

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August 8, 2020

Saint Louis in 1846

Saint Louis in 1846

Henry Lewis, American (born England), 1819–1904; Saint Louis in 1846, 1846; oil on canvas; 32 1/4 × 42 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 170:1955

Leafy green trees frame this view of the bustling St. Louis riverfront. Numerous steamboats docked near warehouses attest to the city’s status as a center of commerce in the mid-19th century. One steamboat, positioned at mid-river, bears the city’s name on its paddle wheel (see detail above). There have been many ships named after the city over the years, including many naval ships. The Mayor of St. Louis declared today USS St. Louis Day in honor of the newest combat ship to join the Navy’s operating fleet. Across the river, a wagon train bound for Oregon has set up camp, perhaps waiting for a ferry to St. Louis. Though born in England, Henry Lewis lived in St. Louis for a number of years and made several trips along the Mississippi River, documenting the scenery.

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August 7, 2020

An Island in the Lagoon with a Gateway and a Church

An Island in the Lagoon with a Gateway and a Church

Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), Italian, 1697–1768; An Island in the Lagoon with a Gateway and a Church, 1743–44; oil on canvas; 20 1/8 x 27 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 12:1967

Seemingly a painting of a specific spot on the Venetian lagoon, this picture is actually a fanciful confection composed of elements that Canaletto sketched during several walking tours near Venice. The painter has combined the lagoon with buildings from nearby Padua and a bell tower from yet a third location to create this subtly balanced poetic grouping of simple structures. A specialist in views of Venice, Canaletto sold his paintings to English travelers eager for mementos of their Italian trips.

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August 6, 2020

Driftwood on the Bagaduce

Driftwood on the Bagaduce

Marsden Hartley, American, 1877–1943; Driftwood on the Bagaduce, 1939–40; oil on canvas; 30 3/16 x 40 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 387:1955

The dry branches of driftwood and harsh black outlines give this image an angular and frenetic energy. Artist Marsden Hartley reduced nature to essential forms and a stark color palette. In 1937, Hartley returned to Maine, his native state and the location of the Bagaduce River represented in this painting. Hartley asserted, “I wish to declare myself the painter from Maine.” His subsequent works, like this one, explored the landscape, seas, and natural elements that characterize the state.

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August 5, 2020

Isot Kivet Textile

Isot Kivet Textile

Maija Isola, Finnish, 1927–2001; Isot Kivet Textile, 1959; screen-printed cotton; 215 x 48 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Marimekko Oy 163:1971; © Maija Isola, courtesy of Marimekko Corporation

The clipped curves of these monumental black dots lend an organic edge to this highly graphic textile. Designer Maija Isola created this simple but striking design with paper cut-outs, looking to the irregular shape of stones—kivet in Finnish—for inspiration. Isola’s outsized, abstract patterns helped catapult Finnish textile and fashion company Marimekko to international fame in the 1960s.

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August 4, 2020

Double Exposure

Double Exposure

James Little, American, born 1952; Double Exposure, 2008; oil and wax on canvas; 39 x 50 inches; The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 190:2017; © June Kelly Gallery/James Little

Bright pastel colors and repeated geometric shapes create a dynamic composition; triangular planes transform into vertical stripes from left to right. The title alludes to the photographic technique of double exposure, which combines two separate images to construct a new work. To create his colors and crisp lines, James Little painted with a heated mixture of beeswax and raw pigments, developing a version of the painting technique called encaustic first used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks (learn more).

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August 3, 2020

At the Suresnes Ball

At the Suresnes Ball

André Derain, French, 1880–1954; At the Suresnes Ball, 1903; oil on canvas; 70 7/8 × 57 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 172:1944; © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / ADAGP, Paris

A man in an infantry uniform dances with a taller woman, the splayed fingers of his white-gloved hand sharply illuminated against her green skirt. Three fellow soldiers observe in the background; the tallest may be a self-portrait of André Derain who painted this work during a year of military service. The artist takes a humorous approach to his subject, presenting the dance as an awkward social ritual. This early picture is notable for its areas of bold, flat color, anticipating Derain’s experiments with Fauvism.

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August 2, 2020

Cradleboard

Cradleboard

Tsistsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne) artist, Cradleboard, c.1890; Great Plains, United States; tanned hide, rawhide, glass seed beads, cotton cloth, silk, wood, metal tacks, and metal bells; 44 × 13 1/2 × 11 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Donald Danforth Jr. Collection, Gift of Mrs. Donald Danforth Jr. 80:2012

This cradle features allover beadwork with repeating geometric patterns organized around mirrored triangles and diamonds. The focal point of each beaded design gives way to a profusion of silk ribbons, large beads, and brass bells. This approach to materials exemplifies the historic Plains aesthetics of excess, where artists created powerful assemblages using diverse textures, colors, and objects that produce sound.

Cradles swaddle babies tightly and furnish a secure place to keep children while adult relatives work. At its back, this cradle attaches to a wooden framework that provides structural support for mounting to hooks or resting against vertical surfaces. Today, many Tsistsistas/Suhtai families cherish cradleboards as heirlooms.

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August 1, 2020

Pilgrim Flask

Pilgrim Flask

Antonio Patanazzi, Italian, active by c.1570; Pilgrim Flask, 1599–1600; tin-glazed earthenware with pewter stopper; 16 3/8 x 10 7/8 x 5 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 37:1925a,b

With gold hues and blue accents, a whirling design of fantastic creatures flanks a central coat of arms representing the Spanish nobleman Fernando Ruiz de Castro, (1548-1601). The patterns reflect the wall decorations from the ancient Palace of Nero, unearthed in Rome in the late 15th century.

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July 31, 2020

Woman’s Tubular Skirt (kain sarung) with Design of the “Thousand Boxes” (kotak seribu) Motif

Woman’s Tubular Skirt (kain sarung) with Design of the “Thousand Boxes” (kotak seribu) Motif

Woman's Tubular Skirt (kain sarung) with Design of the "Thousand Boxes" (kotak seribu) Motif, mid-19th century; Javanese, Indonesia; plain-weave cotton with hand-drawn wax-resist decoration (batik tulis) with natural dyes and applied gold leaf (prada); 43 1/2 × 84 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 110:1922

A three-part panel known as the kepala, or head section, occupies the central portion of this textile. This area contains triangles placed in rows facing each other and narrow vertical rectangular bands flanking the triangles (zoom in). The batik’s beautifully worked diagonal lattice pattern on either side of the head features animal and floral motifs. This intricate design testifies to the precise waxing skills of batik artists from Indramayu, a city on the north coast of West Java province. The fine diagonal dotting pattern on the background is called cocohan and resulted from a block with fine metal pins piercing the waxed ground before dyeing (learn more). The application of gold leaf across most of the textile likely indicates this garment was intended for a bride to wear at her wedding. The narrow band at the top has no gold decoration, because it would not be visible when the garment is rolled and tucked at the waist. Gold was expensive and was not applied where it would rub off.

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July 30, 2020

Dog and Serpent

Dog and Serpent

Rufino Tamayo, Mexican, 1899–1991; Dog and Serpent, 1943; oil on canvas; 34 1/8 x 44 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 234:1954; © 2020 Tamayo Heirs / Mexico / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In a rocky landscape, a short dog bares its teeth, ready to pounce on a fanged serpent. Artist Rufino Tamayo modeled this native Mexican hairless dog after a type of Mesoamerican, canine shaped funerary vessel (see example above). Spending extended time in New York City during World War II (1939–1945), Tamayo became keenly aware of this conflict, in which the United States had become involved (read more). This impending struggle between two wild animals represents an allegory for the unprecedented violence then occurring in Europe.

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July 29, 2020

Woman Standing near a Pond

Woman Standing near a Pond

Edward Mitchell Bannister, American (born Canada), 1828–1901; Woman Standing near a Pond, 1880; oil on canvas; 16 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund 21:2007

A simply dressed woman passes through a country landscape. Luminous, still waters reflect an atmospheric sky, suggesting the serene spirituality the artist perceived in nature. Edward Mitchell Bannister, an African American, stated that the discrimination he experienced because of his heritage multiplied his artistic struggles tenfold. Despite such obstacles, Bannister became one of the premier landscape artists of his day, earning a bronze medal for another oil painting at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

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July 28, 2020

Arria and Paetus

Arria and Paetus

François-André Vincent, French, 1746–1816; Arria and Paetus, 1784; oil on canvas; 39 3/4 x 48 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, Director's Discretionary Fund, funds given by Christian B. Peper, and gift of Mr. Horace Morison by exchange 27:2008

Arria (left) is shown visiting her husband Paetus who had joined an uprising against the emperor Claudius and was later imprisoned. She reminds him that suicide is the honorable option for a Roman prisoner. Arria will eventually demonstrate by plunging the knife into her own breast, saying, “See, Paetus, it does not hurt.” The painting has focused on the moment just before Arria inflicts the wound. This obscure story was the sort of subject used by artists like François-André Vincent to demonstrate their mastery of elements of classicism, evident in their use of profile poses, stage-like settings, and carefully defined forms.

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July 27, 2020

Two-Handled Cup and Cover

Two-Handled Cup and Cover

Charles Frederick Kandler, English (born Germany), active c.1735, died 1778; Two-Handled Cup and Cover, 1749–50; silver; cup and lid: 16 7/8 x 14 x 7 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton J. May 252:1952a,b

Covered with rich embellishments, including cherubs, grapevines, goats, bees, and shells, this opulent object was intended for ceremonial display.  Its decoration celebrates Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of wine. The sheer exuberance of the forms, most notable in the arching figures that almost break free of the cup’s surface, exemplifies the joyous revelry of 18th-century rococo art. This lavish cup and cover were cast in silver and then finished by adding texture to the grape leaves, the goats’ fur, and the other ornamentation. Although based on forms in the everyday world, the final ensemble is definitely not something found in nature.

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July 26, 2020

Fresh News (Men and Machines)

Fresh News (Men and Machines)

Rosalyn Drexler, American, born 1926; Fresh News (Men and Machines), 1965; acrylic and paper collage on canvas; 40 × 50 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Siteman Contemporary Art Fund 112:2017; © 2020 Rosalyn Drexler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In this image, taken from a photograph and abstracted (learn more), two men in suits supervise a new kind of commercial printing press, the Heidelberg Rotaspeed. Painting in large patches of flat, primary colors, artist Rosalyn Drexler omitted any clues to the figures’ identities, conflating these men with the machine they operate.

In her Men and Machines series, Drexler demystified the promises of 1960s technological progress and corporate capitalism. Exposing lingering anxieties of the Cold War era, such as the loss of human agency in the face of industrial advances, Drexler’s paintings undercut the false confidence of postwar American society in affluence and worldwide leadership.

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July 25, 2020

View on the Upper Mississippi

View on the Upper Mississippi

John Frederick Kensett, American, 1816–1872; View on the Upper Mississippi, 1855; oil on canvas; 18 1/2 x 30 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 22:1950

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    John Frederick Kensett, American, 1816–1872; View on the Upper Mississippi(detail), 1855; oil on canvas; 18 1/2 x 30 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 22:1950

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    John Frederick Kensett, American, 1816–1872; View on the Upper Mississippi(detail), 1855; oil on canvas; 18 1/2 x 30 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 22:1950

An expanse of glassy, unruffled water and silvery evening light evoke a seemingly impenetrable stillness. Though a group of Native Americans push their canoes off a sandy spit of land (see details above), they are dwarfed by the massive scale of the outcropping behind them. Their movements carry no sound, and only the birds in the foreground appear capable of breaking the silence.

This landscape depicts Lake Pepin, located along the widest part of the Mississippi River at a point that is now south of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The artist, John Frederick Kensett, made sketches of the site when he accompanied St. Louis businessman Pierre Chouteau Jr. on one of his trading expeditions.

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July 24, 2020

Panel

Panel

Panel, c.650–900; Wari, Middle Horizon, Andaray, Peru, South America; feathers and cotton; 26 15/16 x 82 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 285:1949

This beautiful panel was made from thousands of feathers from blue-and-yellow macaws, painstakingly tied in overlapping rows to a cotton backing. The panel was found with dozens of others at a site in southern Peru, hundreds of miles from the macaw’s tropical habitat. The entire offering consisted of perhaps a million individual feathers. The function of these panels is not clear; they may have served as architectural decor, bringing the realm of the rainforest to an arid domain.

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July 23, 2020

Morning Choice

Morning Choice

Anne Truitt, American, 1921–2004; Morning Choice, 1968; acrylic on marine mahogany plywood; 72 x 14 x 14 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Marcella Louis Brenner 42:1969; © annetruitt.org / Bridgeman Images

Anne Truitt painted horizontal bands of orange, fuchsia, blue, and lime green onto a rectangular column made of sanded plywood. Through her characteristic vertical forms, Truitt investigated the boundary between painting and sculpture. She described her freestanding painted objects as color “set free into three dimensions.” Inspired by the simple geometry of Barnett Newman’s paintings, Truitt applied elements of painting, such as composition and color, to her sculptural works. Truitt’s use of reductive, rectilinear forms associates her work with the minimalism art movement of the 1960s.

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July 22, 2020

Chair

Chair

Carlo Bugatti, Italian, 1856–1940; Chair, 1898–1902; wood, parchment, brass, zinc, pewter, and original silk tassels; 58 3/4 x 17 1/4 x 16 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given in memory of Alfred Landesman and Museum Purchase 68:1979

Painted vellum (goatskin), pewter inlay, and silk tassels are some of the unusual materials used for this highly original chair by the Italian architect and furniture designer Carlo Bugatti. The design also combines Japanese elements, such as painted grasses and an asymmetrical back, with clustered Middle Eastern columns and abstract inlays. Bugatti’s eclectic design is a very personal expression of the art nouveau movement from the turn of the 20th century.

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July 21, 2020

Twilight Sounds

Twilight Sounds

Norman Lewis, American, 1909–1979; Twilight Sounds, 1947; oil on canvas; 23 1/2 x 28 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, the Linda and Harvey Saligman Endowed Acquisition Fund, Billy E. Hodges, and the Art Enrichment Fund 88:2007; © The Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

Strong shades of red, yellow, blue, and white punctuate the scribble like vertical lines that fill this composition. Despite its abstraction, Twilight Sounds evokes a lived experience, possibly a crowd of active and noisy figures, milling about in the early evening as the sun has just slipped below the horizon. Norman Lewis compared his working process to the creativity and spontaneity of jazz composition, improvising and riffing off what had previously been laid down on the canvas. The energetic entanglements of the lines might mimic a saxophone climbing through a scale, joined by another instrument whose sounds weave through in red, and bass drum kicks that resonate the dark spaces.

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July 20, 2020

Lake with Castle on a Hill

Lake with Castle on a Hill

Joseph Wright of Derby, English, 1734–1797; Lake with Castle on a Hill, 1787; oil on canvas; diameter: 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Christian B. Peper 36:2006

The dark tree silhouetted against the moonlight enhances the romantic drama of this isolated castle tower overlooking a lake. Joseph Wright of Derby also contrasted the glittery luminescence of the watery surface with the softer glow of the moonlit clouds. Justly famous for his ability to depict light, the artist was adept at capturing a range of effects, from the glow surrounding a volcano fire to the reflection of a gas lamp or, as here, the natural radiance of the moon. This painting was inspired by the artist’s fond recollections of a trip to Naples, Italy, in 1774.

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July 19, 2020

Statuette of Lady Itef

Statuette of Lady Itef

Statuette of Lady Itef; Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12; limestone; height: 6 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 30:1924

Itef, whose name is inscribed on this sculpture’s base, stands at attention with her long, delicate arms held at her sides. Her voluptuous figure is accented by a gossamer linen dress, its wide straps covering her chest and shoulders. An enormous spiral wig associated with the goddess Hathor, popular in the Middle Kingdom, cascades down her back in undulating curls and frames her delicate face with two bound tresses that tuck behind her ears. During the Middle Kingdom women were rarely portrayed as individuals, and inscriptions were notoriously sloppy. Despite an inscription that identifies this female figure by a man’s name and a dedication from “his” mother, this is most likely a funerary sculpture commissioned by a mother for her daughter.

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July 18, 2020

Golden and Blue Bolero

Golden and Blue Bolero

Walt Kuhn, American, 1877–1949; Golden and Blue Bolero, 1946; oil on canvas; 24 × 20 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of John and Susan Horseman, in honor of Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art 101:2019

Bold strokes of red, orange, and yellow flicker across this man’s bolero vest and reflect in the shadows beneath his chin. The painting’s fiery, primary hues are at odds with its subject’s impassive expression. Walt Kuhn is renowned for his portraits of circus performers, as seen here. His figures are depicted frontally, holding a deadpan gaze contrary to their expected joyfulness. Though anonymous and mysterious, this man conveys a dignity and psychological presence often denied to itinerant performers.

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July 17, 2020

Pair of Dolls

Pair of Dolls

Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) artist, Pair of Dolls, c.1900; Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota; cotton cloth, hide, wool cloth, glass beads, silk, human hair, fur, feather, and pigment; each 19 × 8 × 2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Donald Ayers Herbst and Danielle Foster-Herbst in loving memory of Donald Frederick Herbst and Barbara Ayers Herbst 202:2017a,b

When outfitting these dolls, the artist miniaturized earlier garment styles. The cut of leggings, calico shirt, and breechclout, or loincloth, on the male doll were popular in the early- and mid-19th century. The female doll features a strap dress, which Anishinaabe women wore with increasing rarity by 1900. The abundance of fabric used here and on similar full-size dresses signaled the wearer’s great wealth, a message heightened by the multiple necklace strands.

Anishinaabe finery changed through the 19th century along with the character of diplomatic meetings and religious ceremonies, two principal occasions for wearing exquisite apparel. By recreating regalia from a more ideal past this artist subtly resisted external pressures for cultural reform.

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July 16, 2020

Pair of Doors

Pair of Doors

Pair of Doors, 15th–16th century; Spanish, Mudéjar; painted wood, iron, and gilding; 179 1/8 x 106 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 81:1937

This grand pair of doors most likely came from the convent of Santa Isabel in Toledo, Spain. The large doors would be opened only on special occasions, while the smaller sets of double doors in the lower half of each panel were for daily use. The inlaid design covering their surface is comprised of expanding and interlocking ten-pointed stars. Originally, the huge iron throw-bolts and studded rivets were covered with gilt decoration. These doors are a magnificent example of the style known as mudéjar, a term used to describe Spanish Muslims living under Christian rule. The intricate inlay on these doors, created from small pieces of wood pieced together in complex geometric shapes, is a technique originating in the Islamic world that remained popular in Spain for centuries after the political defeat of Muslim rulers. Such inlay was considered especially suitable for religious buildings of every persuasion because of its conspicuous expense and visual appeal.

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July 15, 2020

Power Figure (nkisi nkondi)

Power Figure (nkisi nkondi)

Unidentified Kongo artist, Cabinda, Angola or Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa; Power Figure (nkisi nkondi), before 1908; wood, iron, porcelain, glass, and resin; height: 25 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 10:2016

. . . [T]he nganga pounds on the nkisi . . . to awaken it, that it should arise and go.

—BABUTIDI TIMOTIO, 1916

With alert eyes, head raised, and right arm thrust upward, this figure embodies the character of a hunter. Each iron blade or nail across the torso attests to specific moments when the nganga, a ritual specialist, called the figure into action or “to the hunt.” Directed by the nganga, the figure served purposes of healing, protection, or resolution on a client’s behalf. The figure’s white porcelain eyes, sensitively carved face, and mirrored belly emphasize the body’s spiritual power centers according to Kongo belief. These are also the sites where the nganga inserted plant, mineral, and other matter considered to be medicinal and powerful. The mirror, suggestive of the surface of water, evokes Kongo conceptualization of the ancestral realm.

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July 14, 2020

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Robert Delaunay, French, 1885–1941; Eiffel Tower, 1924; oil on canvas; 63 5/8 × 38 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. May 536:1956

Robert Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower represents this famed Parisian landmark, which was a symbol of modern technology in the early 20th century. The dark steel structure has been transformed into rich tones of yellow, orange, and lavender; the surrounding gardens are abstracted patterns of green and yellow. Influenced by fauvism, an art movement that championed the use of vivid colors, Delaunay affirmed that “everything is color in nature.” The artist used an aerial viewpoint, probably informed by his own background as an early aviator.

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July 13, 2020

Number 3, 1950

Number 3, 1950

Jackson Pollock, American, 1912–1956; Number 3, 1950, 1950; oil, enamel, and aluminum paint on fiberboard; 48 x 96 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Partial and promised gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer in honor of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 1:2001; © 2020 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

In Number 3, Jackson Pollock layered multiple strands of paint to create an intricate web of interwoven colors. The result is an “all over” composition that prevents the eye from focusing on any single point. Three years earlier, Pollock first began to drip and splatter paint across unstretched canvas or fiberboard laid flat on his studio floor. Pollock’s creative breakthrough overturned the tradition of upright easel painting, a convention that had remained firmly established for five centuries.

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July 12, 2020

Reliquary Arm

Reliquary Arm

Reliquary Arm, 1100–1150; French; wood and sheet gold; 21 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 75:1949

Some reliquaries contained actual relics, the material remains of a saint, no matter how tiny, while others held a strip of linen (called a brandea) that had touched a relic and was believed to have the same power. By the 12th century, these receptacles sometimes were given the form of the relic they contained. The conical chamber cut into the core of this arm reliquary once contained a bone fragment of a saint’s arm. The fingers form a blessing gesture.

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July 11, 2020

Dish with Foliated Rim and Design of Floral Scrolls

Dish with Foliated Rim and Design of Floral Scrolls

Dish with Foliated Rim and Design of Floral Scrolls, early 15th century; Chinese, Ming dynasty, Yongle period; Jingdezhen ware; porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue decoration; 2 3/8 x 13 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Samuel C. Davis, by exchange 13:2008

During the early 15th century, blue-and-white wares made at the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, displayed a level of perfection in the whiteness of the porcelain body, elegant shapes, beautifully painted and pleasingly balanced designs, and smooth transparent glazes. The center of this dish is visually anchored by a lotus flower and surrounded by five seasonal blossoms (mallow, dianthus, camellia, lotus, and chrysanthemum), all on slender interlaced stems. On the lobed cavetto are twelve additional sprays of flowers. The foliated rim has a frieze of breaking waves, while the exterior is decorated with twelve detached floral and fruit sprays. The underglaze cobalt is of inky blue-black tone, with the so-called “heaped and piled” effect, a reference to the inkiness that results where the applied cobalt was oversaturated, as is characteristic of Yongle blue-and-white porcelains.

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July 10, 2020

Still Life with a Basket of Fruit

Still Life with a Basket of Fruit

Severin Roesen, American (born Germany), 1816–after 1872; Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, c.1850–70; oil on canvas; 30 1/8 x 40 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 2:1970

Tendrils of grapevine playfully coil around a profusion of grapes, peaches, watermelon, plums, cherries, strawberries, an apple, and even a bird’s nest that cradles three delicate eggs. Miniscule dewdrops reward careful exploration. Artist Severin Roesen created this painting as a feast for the eyes. Hung in well-to-do parlors and dining rooms, paintings such as this celebrated the nation’s abundant natural resources, a source of pride and optimism for the future. Bountiful resources were especially appreciated in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the German-born artist worked. This “Lumber Capital of the World” produced 350 million board feet per day, creating more millionaires per capita than any other city in the mid-19th century. It was hard for those Americans, whose wealth was increasing so dramatically in the decades before the Civil War, to imagine that such resources could be depleted.

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July 9, 2020

Mantle

Mantle

Mantle, c.200 BC–AD 100; Paracas, Peru; camelid fiber; 50 x 102 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, Friends Fund, and funds provided by the Maymar Corporation 21:1956

Cats abound on this enormous textile, occupying open space within and between other cats. Angular outlines of felines repeat in linear formation with remarkable consistency, but their forms are somewhat obscured by the overall geometry and rhythm. Cats best seen in the top and bottom horizontal borders express duality as two-bodied beings (read the blog). Follow the serrated outline of a cat’s back to see how its tail turns a corner and becomes the tail of another cat. This mantle does not show signs of frequent wear, which suggests it was made for the exclusive use of wrapping the dead prior to burial in the coastal desert.

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July 8, 2020

Charles I

Charles I

Kehinde Wiley, American, born 1977; Charles I, 2018; oil on linen; 96 × 72 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Gary C. Werths and Richard Frimel, Barbara and Andy Taylor, Anabeth and John Weil, John and Susan Horseman, Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg, Michael and Noémi Neidorff, David Obedin and Clare Davis, Adrienne D. Davis, Yvette Drury Dubinsky and John Paul Dubinsky, Mrs. Barbara S. Eagleton, Hope Edison, Roxanne H. Frank, Rosalyn and Charles Lowenhaupt, Jack and Susan Musgrave, Dr. and Mrs. E. Robert Schultz, Susan and David Sherman III, Pam and Greg Trapp, Mark S. Weil and Joan Hall-Weil, Keith H. Williamson, and the Third Wednesday Group 27:2019; © 2019 Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum and Roberts Projects

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    Daniel Mytens I, Dutch, c.1590–before 1648; Charles I, 1633; oil on canvas; 90 3/4 x 57 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 118:1916

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St. Louisan Ashley Cooper stands with one hand on her hip in front of a vibrant floral backdrop that winds in front of and around her. Cooper’s pose is based on the stance of King Charles I of England in a 1633 portrait by Dutch painter Daniel Mytens I in the Museum’s collection (see image above). Artist Kehinde Wiley uses the long‑standing practice of portraiture to address absences and erasures of black individuals in European and American art history. In his paintings he replaces white figures depicted in historical artworks with images of contemporary African Americans, Africans, and people of the African diaspora. In 2017, Wiley visited neighborhoods in north St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, where he selected Cooper and other individuals to pose for paintings.

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July 7, 2020

The Reader

The Reader

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883; The Reader , 1861; oil on canvas; 39 1/4 x 32 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 254:1915

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    Detail of Left Hand: Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883; The Reader , 1861; oil on canvas; 39 1/4 x 32 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 254:1915

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    Detail of Right Hand: Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883; The Reader , 1861; oil on canvas; 39 1/4 x 32 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 254:1915

Edouard Manet represented his elderly friend, the painter Joseph Gall, absorbed in reading a large book. The ledge in the foreground serves as a barrier, establishing distance between the sitter and the viewer. The artist’s palette is muted and restrained. Although Manet never participated in any of the Impressionist exhibitions, he was closely associated with the group; his lively, inventive brushwork is evident in the sitter’s left hand, depicted with a few rapid and abstract brush marks (see details above).

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July 6, 2020

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus, 1783–1640 BC; Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 13; faience; 3 3/4 x 7 1/4 x 2 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Martha I. Love 242:1952

This figure of a hippo was molded in faience, a crushed quartz glazed and fired at a relatively low temperature. Copper salts in the glaze impart the bright blue or blue-green color so characteristic of faience objects. Over the animal’s naturalistic shape, the craftsman painted lily plants that appear as a giant tattoo. Small sculptures of hippos such as this one were placed in tombs in ancient Egypt as reminders of the Egyptians’ love of hunting. Each of the sculpted hippo’s legs was ritually broken in order to render it harmless in the afterlife. In ancient Egypt herds of hippos were a constant threat to farmers’ fields. The first pharaohs hunted hippos in the marshes and eventually drove them far south into Upper Egypt. Hippos became associated with chaos, and the hunt for hippos became a metaphor for how the pharaohs of ancient Egypt could conquer evil.

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July 5, 2020

The Church Supper

The Church Supper

James Baare Turnbull, American, 1909–1976; The Church Supper, 1934; tempera on plywood; 36 1/4 × 30 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. James Baare Turnbull 1894:1981; © Estate of James Baare Turnbull

Townspeople eat supper, converse with friends, rest and feed table scraps to their pets in this depiction of a church social. James Baare Turnbull included a representation of himself at the right, leaning against a tree.  Turnbull gained acclaim in the 1930s and 40s for his depictions of rural and small-town life in the Midwest, seen at the time as quintessentially American.  In 1938 he was named Director of the St. Louis WPA Art Project and during WWII worked as an artist-correspondent for Life magazine.

The church depicted is St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, on the corner of Manchester and Ballas roads in Des Peres, Missouri.  Long-time church members recall fondly the many Sunday afternoon picnic suppers, held outdoors because the church lacked a basement social hall. The steepled red brick church was built in 1867 and replaced in 1938 with the current church building (see images above).  The smaller structure behind the church was the congregation’s school, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1883 and replaced in 1952 by their current school.

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July 4, 2020

Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. Flag on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. Flag on the Moon

Neil Armstrong, American, 1930–2012; Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. Flag on the Moon, 1969; chromogenic print; 8 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Ronald and Mary Jo Anderson 132:2015.2

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    Neil Armstrong, American, 1930–2012; Apollo 11 Moon Landing, 1969; chromogenic print; 8 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Ronald and Mary Jo Anderson 132:2015.3

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    Neil Armstrong, American, 1930–2012; Apollo 11 Moon Landing, 1969; chromogenic print; 8 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Ronald and Mary Jo Anderson 132:2015.1

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This color print was taken during the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landing on the moon, one of the most memorable events of the second half of the 20th century. Commander Neil Armstrong was tasked with documenting the moon walk, and took views of fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin standing with the Eagle landing capsule and conducting scientific experiments (view more above). The most famous of these images shows Aldrin with the United States flag after it had been planted on the lunar surface. Since there are no air currents on the moon, the flag had to be stiffened with a rod to make it appear as if it were waving.

While untrained as a photographer, Armstrong quickly became adept at using a specially made Hasselblad camera that could be operated in outer space. He exposed several hundred negatives and the results are equally important as historic, scientific, and aesthetic statements.

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July 3, 2020

Red, Orange, Orange on Red

Red, Orange, Orange on Red

Mark Rothko, American (born Russia, now Latvia), 1903–1970; Red, Orange, Orange on Red, 1962; oil on canvas; 91 3/4 x 80 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. 129:1966; © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A floating field of tangerine orange is bounded at the bottom by an area of acidic orange, and at the top by a line of red. Mark Rothko stained the canvas with several layers of thin pigment, creating an effect that evokes the shimmering luminosity of dawn or sunset. Rothko’s compositions employ the elegant simplicity of rectilinear forms to express human emotions the artist believed to be “tragic and timeless.”

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July 2, 2020

Gateway, Tangier

Gateway, Tangier

Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, 1859–1937; Gateway, Tangier, c.1912; oil on canvas; 18 7/16 × 15 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund, and the Judy Glick Fund 33:2005

The blue tones and loose brushwork of this painting typify Henry Ossawa Tanner’s most successful experiments with color composition and application of paint. Tanner, an African American artist, traveled to the Mediterranean region four times and these trips had a profound effect on his style and subject matter. During a 1912 trip to Tangier, Morocco, Tanner became fascinated with this gateway – the entrance to the casbah, or older native part of the city – and he proceeded to paint it from many perspectives and vantage points.

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July 1, 2020

Club (‘u’u)

Club (‘u’u)

Club ('u'u), early–mid-19th century; Marquesan (Te ‘Enana), Marquesas Islands; wood and plant fiber; 7 7/16 x 4 x 51 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 128:1952

Reading the sculpted motifs on both sides of this club creates a complex visual game. At first glance, the head of the club takes the form of a face. However, closer looking reveals a multitude of additional faces. There is a face on the upper crest of the finial; two others form the pupils and irises of the eyes with radiating striations; a fourth face appears in place of the primary face’s nose; another is evident on the lower band. There is no specific Marquesan explanation of this interlocking imagery. However the Marquesan word atua, meaning both “eyes” and “ancestors,” suggests a striking interpretation for this proliferation of eyes and faces: The ancestors are watching.

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June 30, 2020

The Artist’s Brother

The Artist’s Brother

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, French, 1755–1842; The Artist's Brother, 1773; oil on canvas; 24 1/4 x 19 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 3:1940

By posing the boy looking over his shoulder and by angling his hat over his forehead, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun achieves a lovely image of youthful bravado. The portrait—very likely the artist’s brother Etienne at the age of fifteen—is probably the one the artist described in her memoirs as “my brother in schoolboy’s dress.” She alludes to his interest in letters (he later became a celebrated writer) by including a sheaf of papers and a pen. The artist created this portrait when she was only eighteen.

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June 29, 2020

Fly Whisk (chauri) with Design of Floral and Vegetal Motifs on the Handle

Fly Whisk (chauri) with Design of Floral and Vegetal Motifs on the Handle

Fly Whisk (chauri) with Design of Floral and Vegetal Motifs on the Handle, late 18th century; Indian, Mughal period; ivory and whale baleen; length: 33 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Young Friends Art Purchase Fund 69:2004

The ivory handle of this object has three separate parts: a tip shaped like a lotus bud, a tapering ropework shaft, and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. The upper portion of the shaft and the sides of the mouthpiece are carved with flowering irises and poppies, flanked by cypress trees. The mouthpiece is surmounted by a pierced double gallery of everted petals. The parts screw together to hold the individual whisk slivers, which are made of whale baleen (keratin-based filters from the mouths of baleen whales). Fly whisks were symbols of royal authority in both Hindu and Muslim courts in India; this one was made for the sophisticated Mughal court. It was probably crafted in Murshidabad, which served as the Mughal capital of Bengal and had specialized workshops for ivory and woodworking.

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June 28, 2020

Pheasantry in the Forest of Compiègne

Pheasantry in the Forest of Compiègne

Théodore Rousseau, French, 1812–1867; Pheasantry in the Forest of Compiègne, 1833; oil on canvas; 20 7/8 × 25 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, and Gift of Justina G. Catlin in memory of her husband, Daniel Catlin, by exchange 33:2016

In this atmospheric moonlight scene, Théodore Rousseau depicted a pheasantry, or pheasant farm. Flecks of yellow paint at the bottom right suggest a pheasant in flight. The silhouetted forms of trees create a flat, surface pattern while depth in the space is created by the detail of a cow drinking from a pond at back left. Rousseau painted this gestural work when he was only 21, demonstrating his early artistic talent. Due to his skill, Rousseau was considered the leading landscape painter of the Barbizon School, an artistic colony southeast of Paris.

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June 27, 2020

Shell and Old Shingle VI

Shell and Old Shingle VI

Georgia O'Keeffe, American, 1887–1986; Shell and Old Shingle VI, 1926; oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 18 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Charles E. Claggett in memory of Blanche Fischel Claggett 345:1980; © 2020 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A study in tone and form, this painting’s abstract shapes barely suggest the white shell in front of a gray shingle that the artist propped on a table. The work is the sixth in a series of seven paintings of the same subject, each more abstract than the one before. Georgia O’Keeffe wrote: “Finally I went back to the shingle and shell…the shingle just a dark space that floated off the top of the painting, the shell just a simple white shape under it. They fascinated me so that I forgot what they were except that they were shapes together — singing shapes.”

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June 26, 2020

Frontlet

Frontlet

Nuxalk (Bella Coola) artist, Frontlet, c.1870; British Columbia; wood, pigment, copper, abalone shell, and mirrored glass; 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 272:1982

Worn on a dancer’s forehead, this carving featured additional components that moved. Sea lion whiskers extended from the crown and waved with the dancer’s motion. Additionally, a veil-like panel of swan skin or canvas streamed from back. This panel covered the dancer’s head and shoulders, as well as a mechanical apparatus that distributed eagle down.

The carving represents a raven. With outstretched wings, the raven grasps a ball—which represents light—in its mouth. This frontlet illustrates the key moment in a Native Northwest Coast story when the trickster bird steals the sun, moon, and stars to illuminate the world. When a dancer wore the frontlet, abalone-shell inlays and mirrored eyes reflected firelight. This effect lent the carving a sense of animism and demonstrated the narrative of raven bringing light.

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June 25, 2020

The Fairman Rogers Four-In-Hand (A May Morning in the Park)

The Fairman Rogers Four-In-Hand (A May Morning in the Park)

Thomas Eakins, American, 1844–1916; The Fairman Rogers Four-In-Hand (A May Morning in the Park), 1899; oil on canvas; 23 3/4 x 36 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 92:1954

This painting was completed in grisaille—in black and white—for reproduction in a horse carriage coaching manual. The horses’ legs are depicted as stopped in their movement, but oddly the carriage wheels are not. Thomas Eakins consulted newly invented stop motion photographs to accurately depict the leg positions, something greatly debated before photography. Eakins’s concern for uncompromising, scientific realism brought him little success. As one reviewer noted, “the result may be scientifically true; but it is . . . artistically false. [One wishes] Mr. Eakins had denied himself the pleasure of a fascinating little experiment, and had painted his horses in the time worn way.”

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June 24, 2020

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman

Frans Hals, Dutch, c.1582/1583–1666; Portrait of a Woman, c.1650–52; oil on canvas; 40 3/8 x 35 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase and funds given by the John M. Olin Charitable Trust, Friends Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr., Stella Kuhn and Effie C. Kuhn, Mrs. Clifford W. Gaylord, Mr. Joseph L. Werner, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel K. Catlin, Martha I. Love, Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Pflager, The Steinberg Charitable Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Lansing W. Thoms, the Weil Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Arthur C. Drefs, and Mr. and Mrs. John P. Meyer 272:1955

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    Frans Hals, Dutch, c.1581/1585–1666; Portrait of a Man, c.1650; oil on canvas; 41 1/4 x 35 1/2 inches; Nelson Atkins Art Museum, Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust 31-90

This portrait of a married woman displays dazzling technique in the freely painted details of her lace collar, and cuffs— signs of her family’s prosperity. Very little can be seen of her surroundings, merely the suggestion of a corner to the right and her shadow cast upon the wall. As a result, she is moved back into the fictional realm of the painting, making her presence seem less assertive. Frans Hals, a leading 17th-century Dutch painter, made more conservative portraits during the 1650s, limiting his use of color and controlling the extraordinarily sketchy brushstrokes for which he is famous. This work was intended to hang together with an image of the woman’s husband (see above), a portrait that is in the collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

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June 23, 2020

Palisades, from “The Hudson River Portfolio”

Palisades, from “The Hudson River Portfolio”

William Guy Wall, Irish, 1792–after 1864; printed by John Hill, American (born England), 1770–1850; Palisades, from The Hudson River Portfolio, 1823–24; hand-colored aquatint, etching, and engraving; image: 16 x 21 1/4 inches, sheet: 19 1/8 x 25 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund, Director's Discretionary Fund, and funds given by the estates of Babette T. Putzel and Louis R. Putzel, James and Joan Schiele, Paul M. Arenberg, an anonymous donor in honor of Nancy G. Rosenbaum, Mr. and Mrs. David C. Farrell, Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg, and Charles and Jane Walbrandt 5:2008.25

A steamboat full of tourists gliding along the Hudson River gives a sense of scale to this view of the dramatic bluffs known as the Palisades. These cliffs rise as high as 550 feet above the water of the river only a few miles north of New York City. This image serves as reminder to city dwellers of nature’s wonders that lay just beyond their doors. After its initial release, The Hudson River Portfolio quickly made its way into American popular culture. The images inspired an upsurge of illustrated guidebooks that were pervasive in mid-19th century America. The sketches were even reproduced on the surfaces of dinnerware—Staffordshire Pottery’s Picturesque Views—which was sold commercially. The portfolio was so popular that a second edition was published between 1828 and 1833 with a run that numbered in the thousands.

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June 22, 2020

Room 112

Room 112

Philip Guston, American (born Canada), 1913–1980; Room 112, 1957; oil on canvas; 62 x 68 1/2 inches Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. 249:1966; © 2020 Estate of Philip Guston

Clustered networks of blue, green, red, black, and ochre converge in this canvas as if drawn together by a gravitational force. Room 112 represents Philip Guston’s distinctive approach to Abstract Expressionism. After leaving his teaching post at Washington University in St. Louis in 1947, Guston set aside figural painting to pursue gestural abstraction, as seen here. Guston would later grow disenchanted with abstraction, eventually returning to representational imagery.

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June 21, 2020

Father & Mother—Tintype

Father & Mother—Tintype

Walter Ellison, American, 1899–1977; Father & Mother—Tintype, 1939; oil on canvas; 24 3/16 x 20 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Federal Works Agency, Work Projects Administration 358:1943

Walter Ellison depicts his parents, Sidney Ellison (1875–1926) and Rosa Lee Ellison (1882–1964). Throughout their 30-year marriage, Sidney worked as a laborer on farms and railroads to support his family. In the mid-1920s, the Ellison family moved from Georgia to Chicago, joining the millions of African Americans who moved from south to north as part of the Great Migration. Sadly, Sidney passed away soon after their arrival in this new city. Walter Ellison remembered his father with this portrait, painted 13 years after Sidney’s death and based on an earlier photograph of his parents.

Ellison painted not just a portrait but also a comment on the inequities of African American life. Though his parents are tastefully dressed in their Sunday best, they seem oblivious to the decay and disrepair around them. The carpet is torn and the studio backdrop sags to the point of nearly draping their shoulders. This dilapidated environment seems at odds with his parents’ upright character. Rather, it is symbolic of the often unjust and inequitable conditions faced by many African Americans.

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June 20, 2020

Lip Plug in the Form of an Eagle Head (teocuitcuauhtentetl)

Lip Plug in the Form of an Eagle Head (teocuitcuauhtentetl)

Lip Plug in the Form of an Eagle Head (teocuitcuauhtentetl), c.1200–1521; Mixtec, Late Postclassical period, Mexico; gold; 9/16 x 1 1/8 x 1 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 275:1978

With its exquisitely detailed feather arrangement around the head, prominent eyes, and menacing claw-like beak, this beautifully cast gold eagle head was worn by a warrior preparing for battle or ritual ceremony. The labret was inserted through a hole in the lower lip, with the radiance of the metal reflecting the light of the sun.

Metalworking in central Mexico was probably introduced to the Mixtecs as a fully developed art from South America sometime in the 13th century. The neighboring Aztecs purchased such objects from their neighbors to use in sacred and political rituals; they called such objects teocuitlacuauhtentetl.

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June 19, 2020

Douglass Square

Douglass Square

Allan Rohan Crite, American, 1910–2007; Douglass Square, 1936; oil on canvas-covered artist's board; 23 1/2 x 27 inches; Gift of the Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration 354:1943

In 1979, the African American artist Allan Rohan Crite explained his preference for the kind of everyday neighborhood scene like Douglass Square. He said, “I was living here [Boston] in the South End with a lot of black people around me. I was painting them as I saw them as human beings, just ordinary human beings, having ordinary lives. In the twenties and thirties the image of black people was distorted, to put it mildly. We had an . . .entertainer or a traumatic figure out of the ghetto or a social problem. But the ordinary human being who goes to the store, comes home, washes dishes, all the homely things—he just wasn’t registering. I felt it important for me to present that life of black people as part of the Christian dignity of man.”

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June 18, 2020

Box with Design of Auspicious Animals, Plants, and Flowers

Box with Design of Auspicious Animals, Plants, and Flowers

Box with Design of Auspicious Animals, Plants, and Flowers, late 18th–early 19th century; Korean, Joseon dynasty; painted ox horn (hwagak) and lacquer on wood, with brass fittings; 7 1/16 x 11 13/16 x 7 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Asian Art Purchase Fund and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Liddy and Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy 12:2008

This box is decorated in the typical Korean technique known as hwagak (flowery horn). Ox-horn pieces are flattened through soaking and heating and then glued onto a wooden core. Colorful designs, including most of the sipjangsaeng (Ten Symbols of Longevity), were painted on the underside of the transparent ox-horn. The most important motifs are on the lid: two dragons, two phoenixes, and two cranes carrying the fungus of immortality, all shown amidst multicolored clouds. The box was likely made as a wedding gift for a high-ranking lady of the Korean aristocracy, who would have used it to store her jewelry, hair ornaments, and finger rings in jade or amber.

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June 17, 2020

Eames Storage Unit (ESU)

Eames Storage Unit  (ESU)

Charles Eames, American, 1907–1978, and Ray Kaiser Eames, American, 1912–1988; made by Herman Miller Furniture Company, Zeeland, Michigan, founded 1923; Eames Storage Unit (ESU), designed 1949–50; birch plywood, zinc-plated steel, perforated metal, plastic laminated plywood, lacquered Masonite, and rubber; 58 11/16 x 47 1/16 x 16 15/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 17:1994; © Eames Office, LLC.

Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important industrial designers of the 20th century. This storage unit epitomizes the Eameses’ goal for most of their work-to-design mass-produced furnishings to be beautiful and affordable to the average consumer. The Eames Storage Units (ESU) are a system of lightweight modular cabinets and desks with prefabricated, interchangeable parts: shelves, perforated metal backs, panels, and sliding doors and drawers, all in various materials and color combinations. No attempt was made to conceal the structural elements. To simplify shipping, this cabinet with steel-angle corner legs was originally conceived as knockdown furniture. Design as the rearrangement of industrial parts was a constant that the Eameses executed in varying scales throughout their work. In concept and aesthetic this unit is a small-scale version of their famous 1949 Case Study House in Pacific Palisades, California.

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June 16, 2020

Amphora with Nike and Youth

Amphora with Nike and Youth

attributed to the Berlin Painter, active 500–460 BC; Greek, Attic, Classical period; Amphora with Nike and Youth, 490–460 BC; red-figure ceramic; 14 3/8 x 8 1/4 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 57:1955

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    attributed to the Berlin Painter, active 500–460 BC; Greek, Attic, Classical period; Amphora with Nike and Youth (view of youth), 490–460 BC; red-figure ceramic; 14 3/8 x 8 1/4 x 8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 57:1955

The spotlight technique—the use of a single figure featured on either side of a vessel—takes advantage of the round form of this amphora. The viewer must look at both sides (see above) to understand the full story. Here, the goddess Nike, or Victory, flies through the air presenting a musical instrument called a cithara (a type of fancy, large concert lyre) to present to the young man standing on the other side. Taken together we can interpret this scene as a celebration of the youth’s victory at a musical competition. The spotlight technique was favored by this artist, called the Berlin Painter after the city in which his style was first identified. The Berlin Painter represents a high point of ancient painting due to the precise draftsmanship and fine attention to detail especially, in the ears and eyelashes.

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June 15, 2020

Louis XIV, King of France

Louis XIV, King of France

François Girardon, French, 1628–1715; Louis XIV, King of France, 1690s; bronze; 21 1/2 x 22 3/8 x 9 7/8 inches, with ebony base: 27 7/8 x 22 3/8 x 9 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, Friends Fund, the Edwin and Betty Greenfield Grossman Endowment, Mr. Christian B. Peper, Lisa and Allan Silverberg, and Museum Purchase, gift of Mrs. Mahlon Wallace and Leicester B. Faust, Mr. Horace Morison, Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg, Mr. Sydney Shoenberg Sr., an anonymous donor, Mr. J. Boyd Hill in memory of his wife, Barbara Johnson Hill, and Friends Fund, by exchange 1118:2010

This bronze bust presents Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715) as a monarch of stately presence and imperial demeanor. The combination of turned head, diagonal sweep of fabric folds, and intricate hairstyle make for an assertive and dynamic likeness. Louis XIV established the court at Versailles outside of Paris in the 1680s, making it a model for the splendor and elegance that defined princely palaces into the following century. François Girardon created several portraits of the king and succeeded in capturing a commanding individual.

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June 14, 2020

The Milliners

The Milliners

Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917; The Milliners, c.1898; oil on canvas; 29 5/8 x 32 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Director's Discretionary Fund; and gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur D. May, Dr. Ernest G. Stillman, Mr. and Mrs. Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr. and Mr. and Mrs. Sydney M. Shoenberg Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Irving Edison, and Harry Tenenbaum, bequest of Edward Mallinckrodt Sr., and gift of Mr. and Mrs. S. J. Levin, by exchange 25:2007

  • Speaker:
    Simon Kelly, PhD
    Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    This impressive painting highlights the rich and warm palettes characteristic of Degas’ late work. The red of the dress of the working milliner on the left, the orange of her chair, the red-brown of her assistant’s ensemble, and the copper hair of both women all merge together to create a symphony of color.

    By this time, Degas was also exploring the possibilities of abstraction. He represents the forms of the women as flat masses of color outlined against the back wall that provides little spatial recession. The Saint Louis Art Museum x-rayed the painting and we found that Degas originally gave a frilly detail to the white apron of the milliner holding the hat. He subsequently painted this over, creating a more generalized color mass, further indicating his interest in abstraction.

    It is perhaps no coincidence, a picture such as this, held a deep appeal for the great modern painter Henri Matisse, an important collector of Degas’ work. Beyond its formal qualities, Degas’ painting is a testament to the artistry of the millinery profession in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, highlighting as it the does, the careful focus of the milliner as she works to attach ostrich plumes to the crown of a wide-brimmed straw hat.

    Milliners was acquired by the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2007 for the very substantial sum of $10,000,000, the largest purchase in the Museum’s history. It is Degas’ last oil painting on the theme of millinery and its significance is further indicated by the fact that Degas produced several related studies, including drawings in charcoal and a full-scale pastel.

    Milliners was painted during the heyday of the Parisian millinery industry. But with the passing of conservation laws and changes in fashion after World War I to much simpler hats, notably the cloche, the millinery industry went into decline. Millinery remains a marginal presence in Paris today with only 41 milliners listed in the Parisian yellow pages. This painting, however, harks back toa time when milliners and their creations were an integral part of everyday Parisian life.

Two milliners in white aprons decorate a straw hat: the woman to the right holds feathers and flowers while her companion pins them in place. Edgar Degas regularly portrayed the theme of milliners and empathized with their creative abilities (hear more above). In earlier works, he used the American artist Mary Cassatt as a model, but in this late painting, his sitters have become abstract and generalized. This abstraction is evident in the flat areas of color and the line of green curling around the women’s heads.

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June 13, 2020

Incense Burner in the Form of a Bird

Incense Burner in the Form of a Bird

Incense Burner in the Form of a Bird, 12th century; Persian, Iran, Seljuk period; bronze; 7 1/8 x 3 3/8 x 8 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 245:1952

This life-sized sculpture of a bird is an incense burner. A small drawer within its chest opens to hold incense. Once lit, the smoke would emanate from pierced holes in its neck. The incised patterns on the wings are a mixture of realistic feathers and interlocking circles, a combination that stems from an aesthetic appreciation of geometric patterns rather than from a desire to avoid life-like realism. Before the late 18th century, all Islamic art objects were functional in some way.

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June 12, 2020

Detached III

Detached III

Rachel Whiteread, English, born 1963; Detached III, 2012; concrete and steel; 77 1/4 × 67 1/2 × 115 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 35:2017; © Rachel Whiteread

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    Rachel Whiteread, English, born 1963; Detached III (detail), 2012; concrete and steel; 77 1/4 × 67 1/2 × 115 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 35:2017; © Rachel Whiteread

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    Rachel Whiteread, English, born 1963; Detached III (alternate view), 2012; concrete and steel; 77 1/4 × 67 1/2 × 115 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 35:2017; © Rachel Whiteread

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    Rachel Whiteread, English, born 1963; Detached III (alternate view), 2012; concrete and steel; 77 1/4 × 67 1/2 × 115 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 35:2017; © Rachel Whiteread

  • Speaker:
    Simon Kelly
    Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Detached III gives permanent concrete form to the empty space within a humble, prefabricated garden shed of a type available in any home improvement store. Whiteread has spoken about her aim “to mummify the air” within architectural structures. When seen from a distance, the sculpture is very minimalist in design. Yet, close up, one can clearly see the imprint of the shed’s wood grain, lending the work a greater sense of intimacy. The imprints of door handles and windows also suggest a latent human presence. Whiteread’s choice of title, Detached III, in fact, relates to her interest in the idea of the shed as a space where artists and writers have gone to find solitary retreat.

    Detached III is an example of what Whiteread has called her “shy sculptures,” because she has generally sited them remotely and inconspicuously, often requiring a journey to visit. This sculpture is located alone on the southwest side of the building to reflect this intention. In order to make her sculpture, Whiteread and her team lifted up the shed on all sides on supports and then sprayed its interior from below with liquid concrete. The sculpture is therefore hollow, although with a steel framework, it still weighs the significant amount of 12,125 pounds or 5,500 kilograms. It is a unique piece and relates to a small series of sculptures by the artist that represent other prefabricated sheds.

    Detached III was purchased by the Museum in 2017 and complements the Museum’s existing collection of sculpture by prominent British artists such as Henry Moore, Antony Caro, and Andy Goldsworthy.

Detached III gives concrete form to the empty or negative space within an everyday, prefabricated backyard shed (see and hear more above). This sculpture sums up the signature working process of prominent English artist Rachel Whiteread, which she has described as “mummifying the air.” Whiteread captures the intricate wood grain imprint of the shed’s door and sides, as well as the impression of windows. The work’s title alludes to the artist’s view of the garden shed as a space for quiet thought and reclusive study.

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June 11, 2020

Reliquary Guardian Figure

Reliquary Guardian Figure

Unidentified Fang artist (Betsi subgroup), Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, Central Africa; Reliquary Guardian Figure, before 1910; wood, brass, iron, and palm oil; figure: 19 1/2 x 6 1/4 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 23:1942

The bright, inset eyes of this figure suggest the ability to see past the earthly realm. The Fang attached figures such as this, with the feet dangling down, to the lids of cylindrical containers that preserved the skulls and bones of important ancestors. These figures symbolically evoke the ancestor and guard the relics within. These sculptures may reflect Fang ideas about death and rebirth in the use of infantile forms—such as a high, bulging forehead and shortened limbs—combined with more mature characteristics.

Spiritually empowered by the bones and relics, these reliquary figures could also be placed in and around the houses of the extended family for protection. Such mobile reliquaries were an innovation developed to meet the needs of a migrant community, as villages periodically relocated due to the vagaries of the difficult forest environment.

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June 10, 2020

Portrait of a Lady, probably Camilla Martelli de’Medici

Portrait of a Lady, probably Camilla Martelli de’Medici

Alessandro Allori, Italian, 1535–1607; Portrait of a Lady, probably Camilla Martelli de'Medici, 1570s; oil on panel; 27 x 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Plant Faust 9:2017

This exquisite ensemble indicates the sitter was a woman of wealth and importance (read more on the blog). Gold disks decorate the edge of her collar while rubies and emeralds adorn her hair. She wears an extravagant necklace with a large cut diamond and luxurious pearl. The fashion suggests the portrait was made in the 1570s. It is possibly a representation of Camilla Martelli, mistress and then second wife of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici.

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June 9, 2020

Sunburst in the Riesengebirge

Sunburst in the Riesengebirge

Caspar David Friedrich, German, 1774–1840; Sunburst in the Riesengebirge, 1835; oil on canvas; 10 × 12 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund, Museum Purchase, Director's Discretionary Fund, the Ann Goddard Trust, and the Third Wednesday Group 1:2019

This painting captures a burst of sunlight over distant hills as blue sky dispels gathered storm clouds. The hut at top left indicates human presence within this vast landscape. Caspar David Friedrich based this scene on the Riesengebirge, a mountain range on the present-day border of the Czech Republic and Poland where Friedrich had taken a walking tour 25 years earlier. Distinct elements of this landscape held strong symbolism for Friedrich and his audience: the fir tree represented life and vitality; the dead tree, mortality; and the illuminated hills, an aspiration toward the promise of eternity.

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June 8, 2020

Crouching Figure

Crouching Figure

John Bernard Flannagan, American, 1895–1942; Crouching Figure, 1935; stone; 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 232:1954

This sculpture is both rough and elegant while radically simple and powerfully emotional. It evokes both the natural form of the stone from which it is carved and the living form it represents. John Flannagan was one of the first artists to practice “direct carving,” a reaction to the increasingly elaborate casting or modeling processes traditionally used to make sculpture. Flannagan would follow the shape, structure, color, and texture of a specific fieldstone to determine the sculpture he would make from it. As he wrote, “I would like my sculpture to appear as rocks, left quite untouched and natural, and . . . inevitable.”

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June 7, 2020

Fading Cloth

Fading Cloth

El Anatsui, Ghanaian, born 1944; Fading Cloth, 2005; metal bottle tops and copper wire; dimensions variable according to installation: 126 inches x 21 feet; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund, funds given by the Third Wednesday Group, Director's Discretionary Fund, and funds given by the Saint Louis Art Museum Docent Class of 2006 in honor of Stephanie Sigala 10:2007; © El Anatsui, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

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    El Anatsui, Ghanaian, born 1944; Fading Cloth (detail), 2005; metal bottle tops and copper wire; dimensions variable according to installation: 126 inches x 21 feet; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund, funds given by the Third Wednesday Group, Director's Discretionary Fund, and funds given by the Saint Louis Art Museum Docent Class of 2006 in honor of Stephanie Sigala 10:2007; © El Anatsui, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

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Hues of gold, red, yellow, and silver shimmer across the undulating surface of Fading Cloth. Although it looks like a textile, the work is actually made from discarded liquor bottle tops, which were flattened and stitched together with copper wire. Through this manipulation of metal caps, El Anatsui transformed the mundane into something visually mesmerizing. These materials are encoded with meaning. Europeans traded textiles and liquor in exchange for gold and slaves in West Africa. Fading Cloth weaves together a range of political, historical, and visual references specific to this region, where Anatsui was born.

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June 6, 2020

Seated Vizier

Seated Vizier

Seated Vizier, 1991–1783 BC; Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12; anorthosite gneiss; 18 1/8 x 6 5/16 x 12 3/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by David and Paula Kipnis, Friends Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Christian B. Peper, an anonymous donor, and Mr. and Mrs. Lester A. Crancer Jr.; and Museum Purchase and gift of J. Lionberger Davis, an anonymous donor, and Clark and Marian Shay, by exchange 1:2007

A vizier held the most powerful position in Egypt under the Pharaoh. Similar to a secretary of state, the vizier was in charge of all civil affairs. This figure’s rank of vizier is confirmed by the cord around his neck from which his official badge or seal would have been suspended. The seal would have been tucked into his kilt for safekeeping. Carved from anorthosite gneiss (also known as Chephren diorite, the material associated with the Old Kingdom pharoah Chephren), the stone for this statue was limited to representing pharaonic or royal figures and could be used only by the royal workshop. It is unknown why this figure is unfinished.

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June 5, 2020

Nepcetaq Mask

Nepcetaq Mask

Yup’ik artist, Nepcetaq Mask, c.1900; Nunivak Island, Alaska; wood, pigment, and feathers; 10 1/2 x 25 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Margaret Cohen Voss and Bernhard Voss 99:2013

A Yup’ik artist from Alaska has gracefully manipulated wood and paint to show a powerful vision. In the central carving, an angalkuq (shaman) stares intently through two bentwood rings, which represent layers of the universe. As mediators between worlds, shamans have the ability to travel beyond the everyday realm. Feathers and wooden carvings of hands, feet, fish, and a bird radiate beyond the second, outermost ring. With hands and legs matching the tone of his face, the angalkuq seems to reach across the boundaries of the world. He touches that which we cannot see, the inner life of things.

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June 4, 2020

You Can’t Lay Down Your Memories Chest of Drawers

You Can’t Lay Down Your Memories Chest of Drawers

Tejo Remy, Dutch, born 1960; You Can't Lay Down Your Memories Chest of Drawers, designed 1991, made 2005; vintage drawers, maple frames, and jute strap; approximate: 56 x 56 x 23 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. L. Max Lippman Jr. 78:2005a-u; © Tejo Remy

This playful assemblage of mismatched drawers is piled in an asymmetrical configuration and bound together with an upholstery strap. The grouping offers an alternative to the traditional compact, upright chest form. All the drawers are salvaged scrap and each chest in this limited series is unique. In fact, brave owners can create their own compositions by stacking and rearranging the drawers at will.

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June 3, 2020

The Little Mountain Goats

The Little Mountain Goats

Franz Marc, German, 1880–1916; The Little Mountain Goats, 1913–14; oil on canvas; 23 7/8 x 16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 912:1983

In this charming work by Franz Marc, two green goats float above a landscape of spiky mountains. Marc was a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) expressionist artist group and was renowned for his paintings of animals. He found animals to be lovely and pure and represented that purity with prismatic forms painted in transparent layers of glowing colors. Marc’s death in World War I (1914–1918) shocked his fellow expressionists and effectively disbanded the Blue Rider group.

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June 2, 2020

Magnolia

Magnolia

Martin Johnson Heade, American, 1819–1904; Magnolia, c.1885–95; oil on canvas; 15 x 24 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Alden Sears 172:1986

This voluptuous blossom, with its flawless petals and leaves, conveys the flower’s symbolic sensuality. In 1954, a curator described Martin Johnson Heade’s magnolia paintings as, “the fleshy whiteness of magnolia blossoms startlingly arrayed on sumptuous red velvet like odalisques [reclining nudes] on a couch.” Heade became fascinated with this flower in the 1880s when he moved to Florida. His magnolia paintings were sought after by wealthy tourists, who displayed them in their homes upon return.

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June 1, 2020

Whistle in the Form of Two Human Figures

Whistle in the Form of Two Human Figures

Whistle in the Form of Two Human Figures, c.700–400 BC; Tembladera, Early Horizon, Peru, South America; ceramic with pigment; 7 5/16 x 3 9/16 x 1 15/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 186:1979

In this ceramic whistle, the figures of a man (left) and a woman (right) join together to make music. These two individuals share a single body, each contributing an arm and a leg, creating a balanced whole. The male and female halves are distinguished by their clothing, which differs according to fit and decoration. Their facial painting, which may designate their ethnic affiliations, is also reminiscent of textile patterns.

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May 31, 2020

Helmet

Helmet

Helmet, 525–500 BC; Greek, South Italian, Archaic period; bronze with ivory and bronze restoration; 19 3/8 x 12 3/4 x 6 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 282:1949.1

The size of this ram’s head helmet indicates that it was meant to be worn for ceremonial purposes rather than in actual battle. It was created by hammering a single sheet of bronze, which makes it extremely light and unsuitable as actual armor. Decoration was added using a series of common metalworking techniques such as repoussée, punching, tracing, and engraving. The ram’s head on top, whose horns, ears, and eyes have been restored, is mirrored by the attached ram’s head cheek pieces. The selection of the ram to adorn a military-style helmet is fitting since the animals have a double-layered skull which helps protect them from injury. Elaborate helmets such as this are quite rare.

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May 30, 2020

Portrait of a Young Woman

Portrait of a Young Woman

Unknown; Portrait of a Young Woman, late 18th century; pastel; 16 x 12 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 186:1951

  • Speaker: Judith W. Mann, PhD
    Curator of European Art to 1800
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    I’m looking at this lovely portrait of a young woman, a pastel on blue paper. It’s become a rather famous image. She’s really engaging and someone you’d certainly like to know. We know very little about her, unfortunately, and we’ve been trying through the years to figure out just who she is. For years it was thought she was this poet Phyllis Wheatley, who worked in London in the mid 18th-century. There is a famous portrait of Phyllis Wheatley where she seated at a desk and shown in profile and she too was a woman of color. But really, there’s very little similarity between the two.

    There was also a well known young woman from the West Indies who came to England in the mid 18th-century and raised on and an estate there and then recorded in a portrait in 1779. Her name was Dido Belle, and she does look a bit like our sitter, but there’s really no other evidence to support that and most people don’t think that’s who she is.

    Recently though, we’ve got some new information. We’ve been able to photograph and read accurately the watermark in the paper, an image imprinted in the surface of the paper, and it tells us that this paper was made by a paper maker in the Netherlands who started working in 1751. In addition, we’ve looked at the clothing our sitter wears and the headscarf in particular is something of a fashion that wasn’t worn in Europe but was worn in the Caribbean. So we take her to be a young woman from the Caribbean who made her way, probably to the port of Amsterdam, and then either she herself commissioned a pastel portrait, pastel was so popular in the 18th-century, or an artist was taken with her for many of the same reasons we find her so engaging and decided to make this lovely work.

This pastel depicts a young woman with her face turned slightly toward the viewer, revealing a warm expression. Her head is covered with a light‑colored wrap decorated with a sheer pattern. She wears a pair of small gold earrings, a pearl choker necklace, and a dress with an embellished scoop neckline.

Both the woman and the artist who portrayed her remain unidentified. A recent Google image search produced nearly 5.7 billion results with no clear answers to the artist’s and sitter’s identities. Useful clues may lie in the woman’s attire. Some scholars believe her head covering reveals Caribbean origins. This drawing’s blue paper contains a clue—a watermark is revealed when the sheet is held up to light. Watermarks contain information about when and where the paper was made. This one spells out E V Orspronk, a Dutch paper manufacturer active in the 18th century.

Who is the captivating young woman in this pastel? Hear Judith W. Mann, curator of European Art to 1800, discuss (above) the mystery of her possible identities, from Phillis Wheatley to Dido Belle, and what we have learned so far about the unknown subject of this portrait.

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May 29, 2020

Pictorial Board and Dice Game

Pictorial Board and Dice Game

Kobayashi Kiyochika, Japanese, 1847–1915; published by Inoue Kichijirō, Japanese, active late 19th century; Pictorial Board and Dice Game: Magic Lantern of the Subjugation of China, 1894; color woodblock prints; 31 1/8 × 29 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Lowenhaupt 837:2010a-g

To play this sugoroku, a board game similar to western chutes and ladders, players begin in the rectangular box at the bottom. Players compete to reach the rectangular finishing point at the top, captioned “Conference of Commissioned Officers,” by rolling a die. The 20 places between start and finish take the form of circular images on a black ground that evoke magic lantern slides, a popular toy in Meiji period Japan (1868-1912). Each image is accompanied by a label containing a title and a key dictating where players should move next.

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May 28, 2020

Wall Clock, from the Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain

Wall Clock, from the Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain

Antoni Gaudi, Spanish, 1852–1926; Wall Clock, from the Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain, c.1909; gilded wood and plaster, brass, and metal; 51 x 18 x 7 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Richard Brumbaugh Trust in memory of Richard Irving Brumbaugh and in honor of Grace Lischer Brumbaugh, and funds given by the Pulitzer Publishing Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. William R. Orthwein, the Decorative Arts Society, Mrs. Charles W. Lorenz, Mr. and Mrs. David Mesker, Roxanne H. Frank, Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg, Mrs. Eleanor J. Moore, Jane and Warren Shapleigh, donors to the 1996 Annual Appeal; and Museum Purchase, by exchange 2:1997

This clock is one of several similar versions made for the Casa Milà apartment building in Barcelona, Spain. Like the building’s undulating façade, the clock appears as a malleable mass, stretched downward by the pull of gravity. Its asymmetrical distortions create an illusion of movement: the clock could, in fact, be a commentary on time, and even on life itself.

For his Casa Milà apartment building, Antoni Gaudi designed furnishings, ceramic floor tiles, and wrought-iron window grilles in addition to clocks that complement his sculptural treatment of the building. Many of these forms were inspired by aquatic themes. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Gaudi did not copy nature but sought its essence.

 

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May 27, 2020

Basin

Basin

Basin, mid-14th century; Egyptian, Mamluk period; brass with silver and gold inlay; 9 1/4 x 21 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 50:1927

This magnificent basin was used for washing, in conjunction with a pitcher. The teeming fish swimming around the bottom of the interior reflect its function, as the water would splash over them. The stately Arabic inscriptions encircling the exterior of the basin and its interior rim indicate it was created for a high-ranking officer of the Mamluk ruler al-Malik al-Nasir (ruled 1293–1341). The Mamluks ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517. In 1322 they signed a peace treaty with the Mongols, opening the way to trade with China. Contact with China introduced new motifs, such as the lotus flowers in the roundels on this basin.

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May 26, 2020

Christ Presented to the People (“The Ecce Homo”)

Christ Presented to the People (“The Ecce Homo”)

Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669; Christ Presented to the People (The Ecce Homo), 1655; drypoint; sheet: 15 3/8 x 17 7/8 in.; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund, Friends Fund, and funds given in honor of James D. Burke, Museum Director from 1980 to 1999, by Mr. and Mrs. Lester A. Crancer Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Christian B. Peper, the Ruth Peters MacCarthy Charitable Trust, an anonymous donor, Mary and Oliver Langenberg, Phoebe and Mark Weil, Sam and Marilyn Fox, The Sidney S. and Sadie Cohen Print Purchase Fund, the Julian and Hope Edison Print Fund, Margaret Grigg Oberheide, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth F. Teasdale, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Bachmann, the Anne L. Lehmann Charitable Trust, Anabeth Calkins and John Weil, Mrs. James Lee Johnson Jr., Suzanne and Jerry Sincoff, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Weiss, Mr. and Mrs. Martin E. Galt III, and Mr. and Mrs. Andrew B. Craig III 1:1999

Silhouetted by a dark arch, the three main figures in the print from the Christian New Testament, Pontius Pilate (prefect of the Roman province of Judea), Jesus, and the thief Barabbas, stand on the podium before a large civic building. Pilate, wearing a turban, has already asked the crowd before him: “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouts, “Barabbas!” Rembrandt captures the moment when Pilate, pointing towards Jesus, asks them the next question: “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” The crowd shouts back, “Let him be crucified!”

Surrounded by an extraordinary architectural setting, soldiers, and the surge of the crowd below him, Jesus looks helpless and isolated. This is one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated prints because of its size, rarity, and complex composition. The work is also one of the few that Rembrandt did exclusively in drypoint, a process in which a sharp point is used to scratch a line directly into the copperplate.

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May 25, 2020

Pegasus and Warrior (Courage)

Pegasus and Warrior (Courage)

Walker Kirtland Hancock, American, 1901–1998; Pegasus and Warrior (Courage), 1937; plaster with paint wash; 29 x 23 x 13 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Deane Hancock French 26:2012; © Estate of Walker Kirtland Hancock

This warrior and ancient Greek mythological horse Pegasus represent courage. Pegasus was the loyal, winged battle companion to gods and heroes. In this sculpture, the warrior’s sure control of Pegasus’ head contrasts with the horse’s opened wings, ready to take flight rather than remain earthbound.

The sculpture is a plaster cast, a scale working model, for one of four monumental sculptures created to flank the entrances to the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis. Though not completed until 1936, the memorial was proposed in 1919 to honor those soldiers who lost their lives in World War I (1914-1918). The four entrance sculptures—courage, vision, loyalty, and sacrifice—all done by Hancock, represent qualities found in soldiers and their families.

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May 24, 2020

The Dreamer

The Dreamer

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919; The Dreamer, 1879; oil on canvas; 20 1/8 x 24 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 5:1935

This vibrant, colorful work depicts a young, unidentified model that Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted at his studio in the Montmartre district of Paris. He used his characteristically feathery brushwork, particularly in his representation of the background floral wallpaper. The mild eroticism of the sitter’s gaze—the English painter Walter Richard Sickert later described this as a “saucy” portrait—is enhanced by the way in which she idly places her finger in her mouth.

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May 23, 2020

Figurehead (pakoko or tete) from a fishing canoe

Figurehead (pakoko or tete) from a fishing canoe

Figurehead (pakoko or tete) from a Fishing Canoe, 18th–early 19th century; Maori, New Zealand (Aotearoa); wood; 15 3/8 x 8 7/16 x 16 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 1558:1983

Appearing defiant with a thick protruding tongue, this tiki head was attached to the bow of a waka tete, or fishing canoe. Its aggressive face would have pointed outward, parting the sea with its powerful force. The curved and spiral patterns around the mouth likely represent moko, intricate tattoos that communicate personal history as well as tribal status. The eyes of the head were once inlaid with iridescent shells.

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May 22, 2020

Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 2)

Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 2)

Mary Cassatt, American (active France), 1844–1926; Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 2), c.1904; pastel on paper; 16 x 17 7/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John E. Simon 23:1957

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    Mary Cassatt, American (active France), 1844–1926; Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 3), c.1904; pastel; 23 1/2 in. x 17 1/4 inches; Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Gift of Mrs. Harold M. Scott, Jr. (Constance K. Anderson, Class of 1954) 1994.88

    Visit Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Mary Cassatt was celebrated during her lifetime as a painter of children, and often portrayed girls in frilly dresses with oversized hats. This pastel drawing depicts Simone, a young girl from the village where Cassatt lived, wearing a large, floppy bonnet. Cassatt skillfully used pastel to explore different textures, from the smoothness of Simone’s skin, to her light wisps of hair, to the soft velvety contours of the hat.

This work is part of a group of related pictures of young girls in large hats (learn more), including another pastel drawing called Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with a Wavy Brim (No. 3), in the Davis Museum at Wellesley College (see image above). Despite the similarities in titles and the hats depicted, closer inspection reveals that the sitters are actually different girls: one with blonde hair and the other younger, with dark hair. Cassatt often selected the hats for her sitters, sometimes reusing a particular hat in multiple images, as may have been the case here.

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May 21, 2020

Seated Figure of the Official of Earth (Di guan)

Seated Figure of the Official of Earth (Di guan)

Seated Figure of the Official of Earth (Di guan), 16th century; Chinese, Ming dynasty; bronze with gilding; 71 x 48 x 38 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 169:1919

Poised to hold a now-missing sacred tablet, this larger-than-life bronze sculpture is from a set of identical deities that sat in a temple. The large size and fine quality of this work required that it be constructed from intersecting pieces like a big puzzle. But despite its great weight of over 2,000 pounds and its overwrought scale, this sculpture is finely proportioned and beautifully composed. Although seated in a formal manner, the figure is animated by the flow of its voluminous robes from shoulders to feet. The deity’s eyes, lips, and clothing retain touches of gold.

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May 20, 2020

To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted

To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted

Richard Serra, American, born 1938, photographed by Peter Moore, American, 1932-1993; To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted, 1970; hot-rolled steel; diameter: 25 feet 4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald K. Greenberg 152:1984; © 2020 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY, photo © 2020 Estate of Peter Moore / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

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    Richard Serra, American, born 1938; To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted, 1970; hot-rolled steel; diameter: 25 feet 4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald K. Greenberg 152:1984; © 2020 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

    152_1984_con_01_o4

    Richard Serra, American, born 1938; To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted, 1970; hot-rolled steel; diameter: 25 feet 4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald K. Greenberg 152:1984; © 2020 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

Embedded into the road between the Saint Louis Art Museum and Art Hill (see installation views above), this large circular sculpture is barely apparent at street level. The work is comprised of two identical steel semi-circular components—one upright, the other inverted. In each a horizontal metal plate is joined to a vertical outer band forming an L-shape in profile. On the upright half of the circle the plate is buried under the pavement, while on the inverted half the plate sits flush with the surface of the road.

The title of this sculpture both describes its form and suggests the goals it is intended to achieve: to encircle, contain, and define space. “Base Plate” refers to the enclosed pavement as if it were a plate of steel. “Hexagram” describes the six surfaces of the sculpture: the outside and inside of the outer band and the top and bottom of each of the two plates. “Right Angles Inverted” points to the positioning of the upright and inverted L-shaped bands.

Richard Serra’s first public artwork in the United States, this sculpture was originally installed in the Bronx, New York, from 1970 to 1972 (as depicted above in the photograph by Peter Moore). Serra meant for viewers to walk and drive over the work and, through this process, to become more aware of the street itself and the sculpture’s relationship to it.

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May 19, 2020

Half Armor

Half Armor

Half Armor, 1600–10; Italian; steel with gilding, modern leather, and fabric; 26 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 12 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 230:1923a-g

This half armor was made for sporting combat on foot “at the barriers,” a friendly competition in which individuals or teams of armored contestants used swords and spear-like pikes to score points for hits delivered. The barriers was a waist-high fence that kept the fighters separated. Since the barriers protected the fighters below the waist, leg armor was unnecessary in these contests. The ceremonial and sporting aspects of the armor are accented by the overall decoration of gold crescents.

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May 18, 2020

Landscape with a Horse

Landscape with a Horse

Edward Middleton Manigault, Canadian (active United States), 1887–1922; Landscape with a Horse, 1912; oil on canvas; 27 × 33 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of John and Susan Horseman, in honor of Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art 105:2019

The golden, glowing sky sets the tone for this visionary scene. A horse, castle, and foliage emerge from the darkened, jewel-toned landscape, whose trees cast anxious silhouettes. Edward Middleton Manigault is known for his insistent experimentation. His works are remarkable for their decorative sense and imaginative, otherworldly spirit, as seen here.

Manigault later served as an ambulance driver in World War I (1914–1918), where he was exposed to mustard gas. In the years following his discharge, he began fasting as an attempt to “approach the spiritual plane and see colors not perceptible to the physical eye.”

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May 17, 2020

Copper

Copper

Northern Northwest Coast artist, Copper, c.1870; British Columbia or Alaska; copper with pigment; 43 3/4 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 268:1982

  • 268 1982 OOTD Comparative Image

    Northern Northwest Coast artist, Copper (verso), c.1870; British Columbia or Alaska; copper with pigment; 43 3/4 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 268:1982

Scratched from the blackened surface with a fine-pointed tool, the image of a bird spans the convex top of this copper. Many Northwest Coast groups made coppers for display, and an unattributed master artist worked this sheet of rolled copper in the typical manner: flaring its top, hammering the edges, and beating it over a form to achieve ridges at bottom. As representations of immense wealth, coppers appeared in elaborate performances at feasts.

The large size and painting on back (see image above) distinguish this copper. When compared to decoration on the front, the style of this painted bird indicates the labor of a second, more southerly artist. Coppers circulated between rivals and allies, their value increasing as they changed hands. The accumulation of imagery here likely relates to a long history of exchange, where a new owner added his own design to this copper.

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May 16, 2020

Stairway at Auvers

Stairway at Auvers

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch, 1853–1890; Stairway at Auvers, July 1890; oil on canvas; 19 11/16 × 27 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 1:1935

The expressive, swirling lines of the foreground road move backward to the center of this composition. The road joins the base of a stairway on which an elderly man with a stick descends. Chestnut trees are in flower to the right and left, while two pairs of women walk along the road. Vincent van Gogh’s work is of a compact, almost claustrophobic density and the sky is barely seen. In one of his final letters, Van Gogh described Auvers as “of a grave beauty, the real countryside, characteristic, and picturesque.”

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May 15, 2020

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel, 8th century; Chinese, Tang dynasty; earthenware with three-color (sancai) and transparent lead-fluxed glazes over white slip; 34 x 26 1/2 x 9 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, William K. Bixby Trust for Asian Art 181:1942

This ceramic two-humped Bactrian camel was likely part of a set of objects placed in the tomb of an important person to signify wealth and position in society. The hollow sculpture was made by pressing thin sheets of earthenware clay into reusable, fired ceramic molds. Before the clay had completely dried, the sections were removed from the molds and details were incised and stamped onto them. Once the clay pieces were dry enough to support their own weight, they were joined together and attached to a flat base. The seams were trimmed, smoothed, and covered over with clay in preparation for glazing

Glazes are a mixture of tiny crystals and ground minerals, which are added to create different colors. Tang dynasty tomb objects often have multicolored lead-fluxed glazes known as “three-color” (sancai) glaze, as in the vivid amber, straw, and green colors covering this camel. To apply the glaze, the object was first covered with a white slip (clay thinned with water). The glazes were then brushed, poured, or splashed over the piece and allowed to drip down before firing. When fired, the glazes melted into a hard, glasslike finish. Tang artists used lead glazes to create rich, smooth surfaces and added coloring oxides to create pure, bright colors.

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May 14, 2020

Vase

Vase

Adelaide Alsop Robineau, American, 1865–1929; with the Art Academy of the American Woman's League, University City, Missouri, 1909–1911; Vase, 1910; glazed porcelain; 6 1/16 x 2 7/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Elsa K. Bertig in memory of Joseph and Elsa Bertig, by exchange 471:1979

Yellow blossoms surround the top of this vase, while simplified green stems divide the lower body. The areas in between were pierced, then filled with a blue translucent glaze. Adelaide Robineau was known for exacting technical work, often carving into the vessel walls to achieve extraordinary thinness and translucency.

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May 13, 2020

Running Artemis

Running Artemis

Running Artemis, late 2nd century BC–early 1st century AD; Greek, Hellenistic period, or Roman, Imperial period; marble; height: 28 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 41:1924

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, is identifiable here by the quiver strap across her chest. The way the dress clings to her body, often called “wet drapery,” while simultaneously billowing around the figure creates an exaggerated sense of movement that is a signature element of Hellenistic sculpture. Known for her chastity and modesty, Artemis cannot escape the dictates of the style and its body-conscious modeling.

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May 12, 2020

The Besieged Elephant

The Besieged Elephant

Jan van Doetechum the Elder, Dutch, active 1554–1605 and Lucas van Doetechum, Dutch, active 1554–1572; after Alart du Hameel, Netherlandish, 1449–1507; The Besieged Elephant, c.1563; etching and engraving; sheet (trimmed between image and platemark): 15 5/8 × 21 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Anonymous Gift 647:2018

  • 647:2018 OOTD Comparative Image

    Alart du Hameel, Netherlandish, c.1449–1507; after Hieronymus Bosch; The War Elephant, 1478–1506; engraving on paper; 8 x 13 3/16 inches; The British Museum 1845,0809.439; © The Trustees of the British Museum

The elephant at the center of this oversize print bears the weight of an entire army. Dozens of helmeted soldiers armed with crossbows, swords, and projectiles are ensconced in a fantastical turreted structure fastened atop his back (read excerpt below). Even the elephant has gone on the defensive and seized an opponent forcefully in his massive trunk. The print’s overarching message seems to warn mankind to beware of the dangers of extreme aggression.

Although an inscription on the print identifies Hieronymus Bosch as its “inventor,” no such composition by the celebrated Netherlandish painter survives. Rather, this print’s inspiration came from a now-rare engraving by Bosch’s contemporary, Alart du Hameel (view comparative image above). Hameel may well have adapted imagery from Bosch’s devilish inventions. Created decades later, this print was one of many that reinterpreted and updated Boschian themes for a new generation. In one such update, the many animals fighting alongside soldiers in the earlier version by Hameel are absent here, and all focus turns to the challenges of humanity.

Excerpt from the Museum publication Beyond Bosch: The Afterlife of a Renaissance Master in Print:

The image of the battle elephant goes back to antiquity and remained a popular subject throughout the Middle Ages and into the 16th century. The description of elephants armed for battle derives from the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus whose Library of History describes a battle undertaken by Alexander the Great during his campaign in India. The animals were outfitted by the enemy army with towers on their backs, such that together they looked like a giant city, and the infantry was placed on the ground between them. Siculus describes how, when the fighting began, the elephants trampled some of Alexander’s soldiers and lifted up others with their trunks to dash them against the ground. Ultimately, however, Alexander’s army weakened the animals with their spears, and the elephants were put into disarray.

Marisa Bass, “The Besieged Elephant,” in: Marisa Bass and Elizabeth Wyckoff, Beyond Bosch: The Afterlife of a Renaissance Master in Print (St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 2015), cat. 15, 141-142.

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May 11, 2020

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA

Dorothea Lange, American, 1895–1965; Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA; 1936, printed c.1952; gelatin silver print; 13 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Charles A. Newman honoring Elizabeth, his wife and treasured guide to art 11:2014

This photograph, taken in 1936 in the central valley of California, became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during America’s Great Depression. The image taps into both the anguish and perseverance of a dispossessed mother, trying to care for her children in a time of crisis. Navigating between the artistic and the journalistic, Dorothea Lange excelled at distilling complex situations into powerful and empathetic black-and-white images with the hopes of motivating social and economic reform.

Lange ran a successful portrait studio in San Francisco beginning in 1919, but with the onset of the Great Depression, she was moved to photograph the unemployed and homeless that she saw standing in breadlines. These works led her to be hired by the federal Farm Security Administration, and she crisscrossed the western and midwestern United States by automobile to record the struggles of those most affected by the Depression (read more).

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May 10, 2020

A Young Mother

A Young Mother

Bessie Potter Vonnoh, American, 1872–1955; A Young Mother, 1896; bronze; 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 x 15 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Given in memory of Henry B. Pflager from his friends and wife, Katherine King Pflager, by exchange 134:1985

Although there is a convincing sense of the female body in this sculpture, the abundant fabric serves to soften the form emotionally. The mother’s facial features are simplified, but her tender gaze upon her child conveys the intimacy of their relationship. Bessie Potter Vonnoh was well known for her small bronze sculptures of everyday subjects. A Young Mother is considered one of the most sensitive studies of the mother and child theme in American sculpture.

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May 9, 2020

Album Quilt

Album Quilt

Album Quilt, 1848; American, Baltimore; cotton; 100 1/4 x 100 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Stratford Lee Morton 1:1973

Album, or friendship, quilts are among the most beautiful and sophisticated American quilts produced in the 19th century. This style of quilt was made in Baltimore between 1846 and 1852. They were stitched by groups of women to commemorate special events, to honor a prominent community member, or to remember someone relocating in this period of westward expansion.

This quilt was made as a tribute to Elizabeth Morrison by a group of Methodist church women. It is inscribed, “Presented to E Morrison By Ladies of Baltimore, MD.,” and has eight signatures. Two other inscriptions begin with the words “Friendship’s Offering” and “Friendship’s Gift.” An additional message offers an insight into political events of the time: “From one of the Rough & Ready To the Worthy President Mary Ann Hudgins, 1848.” U.S. Army General Zachary Taylor, who became the nation’s 12th president in 1849, was known to his troops as “Old Rough and Ready.”

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May 8, 2020

Wrapper (adire eleko)

Wrapper (adire eleko)

Unidentified Yoruba artist, Nigeria; Wrapper (adire eleko), mid-20th century; indigo-dyed cotton; 65 x 79 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of William C. Siegmann 1165:2010

Adire eleko refers to hand-painted designs typically applied by women, as seen on this wrapper. Adire is the name for any indigo resist-dyed Yoruba cloth produced through a variety of techniques such as tying, knotting, binding, stitching, freehand painting, or stenciling.  The artist painted these motifs on commercially-produced cloth using cassava starch paste as the resist material, dyed the cloth in an indigo bath, then washed away the starch. The central double-foliate motif is identified as the Olokun pattern, named after the Yoruba goddess of the sea and of wealth.

Both women and men wore adire wrappers as everyday dressing cloth until the mid-20th century, after which multi-colored factory-produced fabrics became more fashionable. Contemporary women artists have revived adire in traditions-based as well as inventive designs and styles.

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May 7, 2020

Judith and Holofernes

Judith and Holofernes

Giorgio Vasari, Italian, 1511–1574; Judith and Holofernes, c.1554; oil on panel; 42 1/2 x 31 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund and funds given in honor of Betty Greenfield Grossman 2:1982

The biblical heroine Judith’s strong arms and angled shoulders create lively diagonal lines that enhance her exaggerated musculature. Judith came to the rescue when General Holofernes and the Assyrian army laid siege to her city of Bethulia. Boldly infiltrating the Assyrian camp, Judith dined with Holofernes and, once he was drunk, she beheaded him with the help of her maid Abra. Vasari portrayed Judith as a physically powerful woman, a visible indication of her inner courage.

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May 6, 2020

Spectrum II

Spectrum II

Ellsworth Kelly, American, 1923–2015; Spectrum II, 1966–67; oil on canvas; 80 inches x 22 feet 9 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. 4:1967a-m; © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

As the title indicates, this work relates to the color spectrum. Ellsworth Kelly, however, questions the predictability of the standard red to violet progression, instead offering a passage that begins with one shade of yellow and ends with another.

The search for specific color is central in Kelly’s art. He once explained, “It’s very difficult to do a spectrum because each color has to be the right red, the right purple, and they have to blend together.” Here, the artist has joined 13 individually painted canvases producing a work almost 23 feet long. Through this painting, Kelly has both reinvented the early European medieval tradition of the polyptych (joined multi-panel painting) and challenged the modern convention of the single canvas.

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May 5, 2020

Female Figure

Female Figure

Female Figure, c.1350–1450; Aztec, Late Postclassic period, Mexico; wood, plant remains, and pigment; 20 11/16 x 8 7/8 x 4 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 381:1978

The traces of black and blue pigment seen on the headdress and skirt of this extremely rare wood sculpture are indicative of the Aztec goddess of water known as Chalchihuitlicue. The name means “she of the precious jade skirt.” For the Aztec and other Mesoamerican civilizations, jade and other greenstones symbolized the life-giving power of water. Chalchihuitlicue presided over aquatic rituals, particularly in late spring; the plant remains found in the round disc over her chest may be evidence of these rites.

Although the stiff pose is typical of Aztec art, the figure’s face is finely modeled. This suggests a dynamic tradition of wood carving that is now almost completely unknown, as many fragile wooden sculptures were either destroyed during the 16th-century Spanish invasion or have decayed through the centuries.

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May 4, 2020

Prunus Vase (maebyeong)

Prunus Vase (maebyeong)

Prunus Vase (maebyeong) with Design of Lotus Sprays, 12th century; Korean, Goryeo dynasty; stoneware with incised decoration under celadon glaze; 12 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, by exchange 137:2011

  • prunusvasedetailOOTD

    Prunus Vase (maebyeong) with Design of Lotus Sprays (detail), 12th century; Korean, Goryeo dynasty; stoneware with incised decoration under celadon glaze; 12 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase, by exchange 137:2011

This bottle is beautifully formed with the classic round shoulder that gradually swells from the narrow, splayed base. The constricted neck is surmounted by a shallow, incurved, and thin lip. Although the carved decoration is subtle, it enhances the shape, drawing attention to the curve of the shoulder with a four-trefoil cloud collar radiating from the neck. The decorative collar is infilled with leafy stems within a double-line conforming border.

Four large incised floral sprays of alternating lotus and peony on thick stems are incised on the sides of the vessel. Upright overlapping leaves encircle the base above a hastily carved zigzag band. The smooth celadon glaze is a bluish-tinged pale sea-green color with an overall crackle and covers the flat base within the unglazed foot rim where the gray stoneware body is visible.

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May 3, 2020

Burning Rods

Burning Rods

Anselm Kiefer, German, born 1945; Burning Rods, 1984–87; oil, acrylic emulsion, and shellac on canvas with lead, copper wire, straw, iron, and ceramic; 130 1/4 inches x 18 feet 3 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. by exchange 108:1987a-c; © Anselm Kiefer

  • Burning Rods Detail 1 OOTD

    Anselm Kiefer, German, born 1945; Burning Rods (detail), 1984–87; oil, acrylic emulsion, and shellac on canvas with lead, copper wire, straw, iron, and ceramic; 130 1/4 inches x 18 feet 3 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. by exchange 108:1987a-c; © Anselm Kiefer

    Burning Rods Detail 2 OOTD

    Anselm Kiefer, German, born 1945; Burning Rods (detail), 1984–87; oil, acrylic emulsion, and shellac on canvas with lead, copper wire, straw, iron, and ceramic; 130 1/4 inches x 18 feet 3 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. by exchange 108:1987a-c; © Anselm Kiefer

To create this vast, charred landscape, Anselm Kiefer combined paint with the unlikely materials of lead, copper, and straw. Blackened furrows extend toward a distant horizon while a rusty ice skate and a porcelain shard, both placed in the foreground, emphasize the surface of the painting.

In this ravaged vista, Kiefer merges ancient mythology with the realities of modern technology. The 14 rods at the center of the composition allude to the Egyptian myth of Osiris, a god who was torn into 14 pieces before being reassembled by his sister-wife, Isis. Burning Rods also refers to fuel rods used in nuclear power plants, such as the one at Chernobyl that catastrophically failed in 1986. The monumental size and imposing physical bulk of this work are matched by Kiefer’s ambition to address the profound issues of death, destruction, and renewal that continually confront humanity.

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May 2, 2020

Martingale

Martingale

Martingale, c.1900; Apsáalooke (Crow), Great Plains, United States; tanned hide, wool and cotton cloth, glass seed beads, and brass bells; 37 × 16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Donald Danforth Jr. Collection, Gift of Mrs. Donald Danforth Jr. 80:2010

Martingales, like the one seen here, hang from a horse’s neck and cover its chest. Among the Native Americans living on the Plains, horses were a source of both honor and currency. The best horses were decorated for special occasions like parades and celebrations, a tradition that continues to this day among the Apsáalooke (Crow) in south-central Montana.

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May 1, 2020

Laylá visits Majnūn in the Wilderness

Laylá visits Majnūn in the Wilderness

Laylá visits Majnūn in the Wilderness, c.1660; Indian, Mughal period, reign of Aurangzeb; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; 12 x 7 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of J. Lionberger Davis 401:1952

This miniature watercolor illustrates a scene from the epic Persian poem Laylá and Majnūn, a poem of 12th-century romance and forbidden love. Since these two star-crossed lovers were forced apart by their families, the heartbroken hero, Majnūn, retreated to the wilderness. There, he lived a strict life of an ascetic, while his beloved Laylá was forced to marry another. In this painting, Laylá has come to visit and comfort Majnūn.

The scene is dark and moody, reflecting the separation and suffering endured by the lovers. Laylá is shown richly dressed and in the worldly company of handmaidens and servants. Separated from her by a small stream, the lonely Majnūn is dressed in only a loincloth and befriended by a lowly hound. The spiritual bond that unites the lovers is revealed in the pairing of beasts and fowl, animals that accompany and protect Majnūn in his reclusive life.

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April 30, 2020

Relay Hunting

Relay Hunting

Rosa Bonheur, French, 1822–1899; Relay Hunting, 1887; oil on canvas; 18 x 26 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Justina G. Catlin in memory of her husband, Daniel Catlin 7:1917

This work represents three horses positioned for a relay hunt, in which riders would intermittently exchange their exhausted animals for rested relief horses. The artist precisely depicted the horses’ anatomy as well as the sheen of their coats in brown, white, and gray. Rosa Bonheur was known for her careful study of animals, and she kept horses, deer, dogs, and even a lioness on the grounds of her château. She was a pioneering feminist who sometimes disregarded convention by wearing men’s clothes and smoking cigarettes.

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April 29, 2020

Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks

John La Farge, American, 1835–1910; Hollyhocks, window from the Frederick Lothrop Ames House, Boston, Massachusetts, 1882; leaded glass; 87 1/4 x 37 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Decorative Arts Society in honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Friends of the Saint Louis Art Museum 31:1972.1

  • 31:1972.2

    John La Farge, American, 1835–1910; Flowering Cherry Tree and Peony, window from the Frederick Lothrop Ames House, Boston, Massachusetts, 1882; leaded glass; 87 1/4 x 37 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by the Decorative Arts Society in honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Friends of the Saint Louis Art Museum 31:1972.2

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This window is one of a pair (view other panel above) created for the redesign of the Frederick Lothrop Ames house in Boston. The windows contain John La Farge’s revolutionary use of opalescent glass, significant because of the effects this “glowing white glass” had on light, color, and depth. The asymmetrical compositions and ornate floral patterns seen in these windows were inspired by La Farge’s paintings and his enthusiasm for Japanese art.

La Farge was an important painter, muralist, and decorator who shifted his interests to the artistic possibilities of glass. His innovation lies in the way he exploited the characteristics of glass itself, manipulating, casting, and layering it to create myriad hues, textures, and depth, eliminating the traditional need for painted details.

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April 28, 2020

Reclining Pan

Reclining Pan

attributed to Francesco da Sangallo, Italian, 1494–1576; Reclining Pan, c.1535; marble; 25 x 52 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 138:1947

  • 1381947_2_nebris

    Detail, nebris; attributed to Francesco da Sangallo, Italian, 1494–1576; Reclining Pan, c.1535; marble; 25 x 52 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 138:1947

    1381947s_det6_3

    Detail, salamander; attributed to Francesco da Sangallo, Italian, 1494–1576; Reclining Pan, c.1535; marble; 25 x 52 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 138:1947

    1381947s_det12_2

    Detail, water spout; attributed to Francesco da Sangallo, Italian, 1494–1576; Reclining Pan, c.1535; marble; 25 x 52 3/4 x 23 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 138:1947

In this sculpture, the satyr Pan reclines on a rocky base amid grape clusters and vines. His left hand clutches a goatskin, called a nebris, which he wears around his neck. Such details (view above), together with a small salamander carved amid the rocks, evoke a rustic scene befitting Pan—the half goat-half human ancient Greek god of the woods, fields, and flocks known for his lecherous pursuits.

The reed pipe, or syrinx, in Pan’s right hand is an allusion to the maiden Syrinx, who was changed into a patch of reeds to escape the satyr’s advances. Francesco da Sangallo carved this sculpture from a recycled piece of ancient marble and it once served as a fountain; its water spout is still visible at the mouth of the sack above his right arm.

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April 27, 2020

Faux Pas

Faux Pas

Robert Blackburn, American, 1920–2003; Faux Pas, 1960; lithograph; 30 x 22 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 121:2017; © The Estate of Robert Blackburn

A visual symphony of layered colors and shapes, Faux Pas represents Robert Blackburn’s gestural mode of abstract art. Blackburn developed this approach, which he also applied to his printmaking, following a year of study in Europe on a John Hay Whitney Traveling Fellowship in 1953. A devoted advocate of the medium, he opened the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York in 1948.

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April 26, 2020

Covered Wine Vessel (fang lei)

Covered Wine Vessel (fang lei)

Covered Wine Vessel (fang lei) with Design of Zoomorphic Masks and Animal-Headed Handles, late 11th century BC; Chinese, Western Zhou dynasty; bronze; 24 5/8 x 14 5/8 x 10 3/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 2:1941a,b

The sharp hooks, spurs, and spikes bristling from the body of this extraordinary sacrificial bronze give a sculptural force to its impressive size and architectonic structure. The vessel is further ornamented with taotie (zoomorphic masks) and low-relief dragons in distinct registers arranged in a highly symmetrical decorative order.

The horizontal orientation of the ornamental bands achieves a measured, visual balance that gives the work a stateliness to complement its visually aggressive character. The body of this wine vessel is distinguished by an unusual double taotie on each side (see other views). A very rare inscription of a single character may relate to the royal grant of land to a noble.

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April 25, 2020

The Land of Evangeline

The Land of Evangeline

Joseph Rusling Meeker, American, 1827–1887; The Land of Evangeline, 1874; oil on canvas; 33 1/8 x 45 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Wright Prescott Edgerton in memory of Dr. and Mrs. W. T. Helmuth by exchange 163:1946

  • 1631946dig_evangeline

    Joseph Rusling Meeker, American, 1827–1887; The Land of Evangeline (detail), 1874; oil on canvas; 33 1/8 x 45 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Wright Prescott Edgerton in memory of Dr. and Mrs. W. T. Helmuth by exchange 163:1946

Cypress trees draped with moss frame this view of a young woman, Evangeline (see detail above), resting during her search for her missing fiancé. This painting depicts a scene from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie” from 1847.

During the Civil War, artist Joseph Meeker joined the Union Navy and served on a gunboat that patrolled the Mississippi River Delta. There, he became fascinated by the beauty of the bayous, a subject he favored in the postwar paintings he created in St. Louis.

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April 24, 2020

Madame Roulin

Madame Roulin

Paul Gauguin, French, 1848–1903; Madame Roulin, 1888; oil on canvas; 19 7/8 x 25 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg 5:1959

This contemplative woman, Augustine Roulin, was a local postman’s wife in Arles, in the south of France. Paul Gauguin focused on her ruddy complexion and reddish-brown hair in this portrait. Gauguin painted areas of flat, abstracted color and the sitter’s form is strongly outlined in Prussian blue, while a schematic version of one of the artist’s own pictures, Blue Trees, is visible on the wall behind. Gauguin produced this portrait during a tempestuous two months spent in the company of Vincent van Gogh at Arles.

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April 23, 2020

Lords John and Bernard Stuart

Lords John and Bernard Stuart

Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727–1788; Lords John and Bernard Stuart, c.1760–70; oil on canvas; 92 1/2 x 57 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Jackson Johnson in memory of Mr. Jackson Johnson 15:1943

Lords John Stuart (1621–1644) and Bernard Stuart (1623–1645), depicted here, died fighting for the Royalists against the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, 1642–1651. They were memorialized in a famous painting by the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) (view above). Like many English painters of his day, Thomas Gainsborough was a great admirer of Van Dyck. In copying Van Dyck’s portrait of the Stuart brothers, Gainsborough undoubtedly admired the earlier artist’s brilliance in handling the two-figured composition, a far more challenging task than painting a single figure or a group of three. Like Van Dyck, Gainsborough echoed the bent right elbow of Lord John with the bent knee of his brother. Both artists also varied the height and orientation of the two young men to make a pleasing and graceful composition.

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April 22, 2020

Striding Male Figure

Striding Male Figure

Striding Male Figure, 2278–2184 BC; Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6; wood, ebony, plaster, and paint; height: 16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 1:1986

  • 11986dig_3_hand

    Striding Male Figure (detail), 2278–2184 BC; Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6; wood, ebony, plaster, and paint; height: 16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 1:1986

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    Striding Male Figure (detail), 2278–2184 BC; Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6; wood, ebony, plaster, and paint; height: 16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund 1:1986

Wooden statues from Egypt’s Old Kingdom (2686–2160 BC) were often damaged by the natural conditions of rot and insects as well as the wanton destruction wrought by tomb robbers. This fortunate survivor probably represents a nobleman or an official. Striding forward with assurance, he grasps the loose end of his kilt and pulls it aside in an elegant flourish that may represent a gesture of adoration or supplication.

This delicate figure is remarkable for the subtle modeling of the body beneath the pleated skirt, the careful details in the carving of the fingernails, and the distinctive inlaid nipples of ebony (see details). Wooden sculptures of the deceased, like this one, were placed in various locations within tombs and in varying numbers, depending on the traditions that were popular during different Old Kingdom dynasties.

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April 21, 2020

Heliogabal

Heliogabal

Anselm Kiefer, German, born 1945; Heliogabal, 1974; watercolor and oil paint on paper; 11 3/4 x 15 9/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Wooten Moore 58:2001; © Anselm Kiefer

In this vibrant watercolor of a sunset, Anselm Kiefer refers to the ancient Roman Emperor Heliogabal, who was born in Syria. Kiefer painted the emperor’s name between the sun’s rays and connected the seemingly benign sunset to a historic individual.

Heliogabal imposed, among other things, the worship of the sun god Baal as the state religion. The emperor’s reign was short lived from AD 218–222: the imperial family ordered his death by drowning at the age of 18. This sunset not only symbolizes Heliogabal’s murder and the end of his revolution but it also alludes to the fleeting authority of emperors and other leaders.

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April 20, 2020

Treasure Box (wakahuia)

Treasure Box (wakahuia)

Treasure Box (wakahuia), early 19th century; Maori, New Zealand (Aotearoa); wood, shell, and greenstone; 4 9/16 x 4 x 19 15/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Morton D. May 203:1975a,b

Lavishly carved, the rich and fluid relief sculpture adorning this lidded box reveals male and female ancestral figures. On the base, shown to the right of the lid, two male figures flank a female figure at center. Their heads extend from either end of the container to form knobs, which allowed the box to hang from the rafters of a Maori home. Household residents typically viewed the boxes from below (see multiple views).

Created primarily to hold the white-tipped black feathers of the now-extinct huia bird, these boxes also stored personal adornments made of materials such as wood, bone, greenstone, and whale ivory. Although a container for taonga (treasures), a wakahuia such as this was itself a cherished object.

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April 19, 2020

Grey Space (distractor)

Grey Space (distractor)

Julie Mehretu, American (born Ethiopia), 1970; Grey Space (distractor), 2006; acrylic and ink on canvas; 72 x 96 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Honorable and Mrs. Thomas F. Eagleton by exchange, Siteman Contemporary Art Fund, and funds given by Emily Rauh Pulitzer 1:2010; © Julie Mehretu

Brightly colored geometric forms float across this canvas, propelling dynamic motion while heightening the illusion of vast space. The artist produced such effects of constant activity and endless expansion by laboriously applying multiple layers of pigment, alternating between ink and acrylic. Through her characteristic use of drawing, the artist built up the surface, mining imagery from maps, diagrams, architectural blueprints, and corporate logos. The result is a visual collision of detailed linearity with bold color, offering the spectator distinct modes of viewing–from up close and from afar.

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April 18, 2020

Circus Rider (recto), Dancers with Castanets (verso)

Circus Rider (recto), Dancers with Castanets (verso)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German, 1880–1938; Circus Rider (recto), 1914; oil on canvas; 79 x 59 7/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 904:1983

A rearing horse and rider dominate the center of this canvas. A clown in white makeup and red cap hurries by amidst green and yellow stage lights. The ringmaster stands at bottom right while the viewer is positioned as a member of the audience behind a row of fellow circus-goers. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was attracted to the bohemian atmosphere found at the circus. In this flattened and compacted composition, he evoked the thrilling energy and vitality of the circus arena.

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April 17, 2020

The Country School

The Country School

Winslow Homer, American, 1836–1910; The Country School, 1871; oil on canvas; 21 1/4 x 38 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 123:1946

Students sit, some attentive and some distracted, their benches and desks worn smooth with use. Fresh flowers grace the teacher’s desk, a few wilted blooms scatter on the floor, and a green hill beckons from outside. A gentle sunshine unifies all these details. Every former schoolchild can relate to these students’ struggle to study despite the lure of sunshine, spring grass, and outdoor play. Such closely observed realism was natural to Winslow Homer, whose career began as an illustrator documenting daily life with troops in the Civil War (1861–1865).

This painting participates in both the nostalgia for one-room schoolhouses—fast disappearing after the war—and the arrival of a modern, post-war world. Young women, with little hope of marriage given the deaths of so many young men, began to fill teaching and manufacturing positions.

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April 16, 2020

The Three Trees

The Three Trees

Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606–1669; The Three Trees, 1643; etching, drypoint, and engraving; 8 7/16 x 11 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 161:2011

Three trees at the center of this composition draw the viewer’s eye as a wealth of activity unfolds around them. A bird in flight bursts out of the tree at left, and wagons, farmers, and livestock dot the low-lying fields in the middle ground. Closer at hand, a man and woman fish quietly on one side of a pond. Deeply buried in the foliage along the opposite bank a pair of lovers, almost invisible to the naked eye, flirt in the darkness.

Rembrandt van Rijn explored and celebrated the countryside of his native Netherlands. The Three Trees is the most elaborate of his landscape prints, rivaling the status of a painting with its ambitious composition and virtuoso execution.

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April 15, 2020

Pheasant and Pine

Pheasant and Pine

Kanō Kōi, Japanese, 1564/69–1636, Edo Period; Pheasant and Pine, c.1626; six-panel folding screen: ink, color, and gold on paper; 67 inches x 12 feet 5 5/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mary and Oliver Langenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Liddy, and Susan and David Mesker 105:2002

The pictorial clarity and crisp, clean style of this shimmering screen contrast with its dark, nighttime theme. High among the golden clouds is a tarnished silver moon, casting its frail light on a late winter scene of pink, blossoming plum flowers and a snow-laden pine. A large, male pheasant with a long, ornamental tail roosts on the trunk while four bush warblers, known for their first song of spring, perch on a bough. Just above them are clusters of soft, gold-streaked pine needles. The splendor of the painting is enhanced by the low relief of a brushwood fence in gold leaf. This fence is balanced by the swirling eddies of an azurite blue stream and a low bank of malachite green. The screen’s spare, abstract style was a particular contribution of Kanō Kōi to Japanese painting.

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April 14, 2020

Woman in Turkish Dress

Woman in Turkish Dress

Angelica Kauffmann, Swiss, 1741–1807; Woman in Turkish Dress,1767; oil on canvas; 24 1/2 × 19 1/2 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Dr. E. Robert and Carol Sue Schultz 704:2018

Loose, yet assured brushwork, seen in gold edging along the shoulders, animates this painting of an unknown woman wearing Turkish clothing. Such exotic dress was popular in London throughout the 18th century, and Angelica Kauffmann painted several particularly engaging versions of garments that were based on clothing worn in the Ottoman Empire. For this portrait the artist depicted a loose gown trimmed in white lace (gömlek), a more fitted long-sleeved salmon-colored garment with buttons down the front (yelek), and an outer long coat edged in lace and fashioned from plum-colored velvet (entari). Dated on the back of the canvas in what appears to be the artist’s own hand, this painting may have served as an advertisement to convince women in London society to have their portraits painted in Turkish dress.

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April 13, 2020

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman

Edmonia Lewis, American, 1844–1907; Portrait of a Woman, 1873; marble; 23 x 16 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Minority Artists Purchase Fund and partial gift of Thurlow E. Tibbs Jr. 1:1997

Rounded features, a delicate lace bodice with flowers, and soft wavy hair communicate both the taste and beauty of the sitter, and Edmonia Lewis’s skill as a sculptor. The sitter may be Antoinette Rutgers Thomas, as a similarly sized portrait of her husband, James Peck Thomas, was completely by Lewis in 1874 (Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio). Antoinette was born into one of the wealthiest free black families in St. Louis, and her husband, who moved to the city in 1857, increased that wealth through real estate. Lewis and the Thomases all had mixed-race heritage—Lewis had African and Native American parentage—and she was drawn to subjects that addressed race and gender.

In 1867, Lewis moved to Rome. She worked successfully among the small group of American female sculptors who found greater renown and patronage there than they could in their own country.

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April 12, 2020

Black-Tailed Hare

Black-Tailed Hare

John James Audubon, American (born Saint-Domingue, now Haiti), 1785–1851; Black-Tailed Hare, 1841; ink, ink wash, and chalk; 15 3/4 x 22 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 72:1948

Its hind legs tensed like a coiled spring and its long ears pulled back ready for flight, this black -tailed hare expresses the dynamism so prized in the work of John James Audubon. This drawing reveals critical aspects of Audubon’s working methods. Known for his exhaustive travels, he was famed for his exacting attention to detail and his practice of depicting animals in their native habitats.

In this case, the aging Audubon did not see the animal in the field but relied instead on memory, second-hand accounts, and preliminary sketches made by his son. The colors and textures were drawn from pelts. This may account for the slightly unnatural appearance of the animal, particularly in the awkward separation of its toes.

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April 11, 2020

Large Fragmentary Ushak “Quatrefoil” Carpet

Large Fragmentary Ushak “Quatrefoil” Carpet

Large Fragmentary Ushak "Quatrefoil" Carpet, 16th century; Anatolian, Turkey, Ottoman period, 1281–1924; wool; 119 x 90 1/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of James F. Ballard 98:1929

  • Speaker: Walter B. Denny, PhD
    University Distinguished Scholar | Islamic, Museum Studies, Orientalism
    University of Massachusetts Amherst

    The Ballard four-lobed Ushak carpet, isn’t a complete carpet. It’s about two-thirds of the original. We don’t know why it was cut down; probably to fit in somebody’s living room in a previous century. It remains in every expert’s imagination as the quintessential example of an Ushak carpet in all of the glory of its original pile condition. The coloration and texture are very unusual and the design itself is virtually unique in Ushak carpets. All of this makes this particular carpet, not only one-of-a-kind, but also a window into a kind of class of carpets that has survived in numerous examples down into our own time, but almost never in the condition that we see in this fabulous object. It’s a tribute to Ballard that in a time where other collectors might have turned up their noses at the fact that the carpet was fragmentary (was not complete) that he realized that here was something unique in the world—that nobody else had. And now, of course, we have it in St. Louis.

This carpet features striking blue quatrefoil, or four-lobed, medallions on a brilliant red central field, elements characteristic of Ushak weaving. Woven with seven colors of wool, this is the only known carpet to bear this particular type of quatrefoil design. Curving arabesque forms and floral motifs fill the remaining spaces. The town of Ushak in western Anatolia (present-day Turkey) has been known for its carpet weaving since the 15th century.

This carpet is one of 110 textiles donated to the Museum from the collection of St. Louisian James F. Ballard. Originally about 16 feet in length, this carpet was cut down prior to Ballard’s purchase. Ballard is recognized as one of the most significant American carpet collectors of the early 20th century.

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April 10, 2020

Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo)

Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo)

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Italian, c.1485-90–1576; Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo), c.1570–76; oil on canvas; 43 x 37 5/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 10:1936

By the glow of blazing torchlight, Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea, presents Jesus to an unseen crowd who will decide his fate. Pilate’s extravagant fur-lined cloak and the young page’s opulent jewelry contrast with the nearly naked Jesus. The distinction between simplicity and splendor underscores the poignancy of the humiliation Jesus endured.

Evidenced by the sketchy application of paint in the upper left, this work was unfinished at Titian’s death. During his long life, Titian had become one of the most celebrated artists of his day, recognized and sought after by popes and secular rulers. Qualities such as the assured, powerful brushwork, sensitive modeling, subdued palette, and emotional depth characterize Titian’s late style.

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April 9, 2020

Lotus, Pagoda Lamp