August 12, 2020
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
August 11, 2020
Tea Table, from the Dining Room of the Hôtel Guimard, Paris, France
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).
August 10, 2020
Standing Male Cupbearer
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.
August 9, 2020
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.”
August 8, 2020
Saint Louis in 1846
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.
August 7, 2020
An Island in the Lagoon with a Gateway and a Church
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.
August 6, 2020
Driftwood on the Bagaduce
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.
August 5, 2020
Isot Kivet Textile
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.
August 4, 2020
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).
August 3, 2020
At the Suresnes Ball
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.
August 2, 2020
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.
August 1, 2020
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.
July 31, 2020
Woman’s Tubular Skirt (kain sarung) with Design of the “Thousand Boxes” (kotak seribu) Motif
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.
July 30, 2020
Dog and Serpent
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.
July 29, 2020
Woman Standing near a Pond
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.
July 28, 2020
Arria and Paetus
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.
July 27, 2020
Two-Handled Cup and Cover
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.
July 26, 2020
Fresh News (Men and Machines)
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.
July 25, 2020
View on the Upper Mississippi
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.
July 24, 2020
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.
July 23, 2020
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.
July 22, 2020
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.
July 21, 2020
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.
July 20, 2020
Lake with Castle on a Hill
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.
July 19, 2020
Statuette of Lady Itef
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.
July 18, 2020
Golden and Blue Bolero
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.
July 17, 2020
Pair of Dolls
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.
July 16, 2020
Pair of Doors
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.
July 15, 2020
Power Figure (nkisi nkondi)
. . . [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.
July 14, 2020
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.
July 13, 2020
Number 3, 1950
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.
July 12, 2020
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.
July 11, 2020
Dish with Foliated Rim and Design of Floral Scrolls
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.
July 10, 2020
Still Life with a Basket of Fruit
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.
July 9, 2020
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.
July 8, 2020
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.
July 7, 2020
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).
July 6, 2020
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.
July 5, 2020
The Church Supper
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.
July 4, 2020
Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. Flag on the Moon
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.
July 3, 2020
Red, Orange, Orange on Red
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.”
July 2, 2020
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.
July 1, 2020
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.
June 30, 2020
The Artist’s Brother
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.
June 29, 2020
Fly Whisk (chauri) with Design of Floral and Vegetal Motifs on the Handle
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.
June 28, 2020
Pheasantry in the Forest of Compiègne
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.
June 27, 2020
Shell and Old Shingle VI
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.”
June 26, 2020
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.
June 25, 2020
The Fairman Rogers Four-In-Hand (A May Morning in the Park)
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.”
June 24, 2020
Portrait of a Woman
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.
June 23, 2020
Palisades, from “The Hudson River Portfolio”
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.
June 22, 2020
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.
June 21, 2020
Father & Mother—Tintype
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.
June 20, 2020
Lip Plug in the Form of an Eagle Head (teocuitcuauhtentetl)
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.
June 19, 2020
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.”
June 18, 2020
Box with Design of Auspicious Animals, Plants, and Flowers
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.
June 17, 2020
Eames Storage Unit (ESU)
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.
June 16, 2020
Amphora with Nike and Youth
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.
June 15, 2020
Louis XIV, King of France
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.
June 14, 2020
Hear Expert Commentary
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.
June 13, 2020
Incense Burner in the Form of a Bird
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.
June 12, 2020
Hear Expert Commentary
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.
June 11, 2020
Reliquary Guardian Figure
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.
June 10, 2020
Portrait of a Lady, probably Camilla Martelli de’Medici
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.
June 9, 2020
Sunburst in the Riesengebirge
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.
June 8, 2020
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.”
June 7, 2020
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.
June 6, 2020
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.
June 5, 2020
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.
June 4, 2020
You Can’t Lay Down Your Memories Chest of Drawers
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.
June 3, 2020
The Little Mountain Goats
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.
June 2, 2020
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.
June 1, 2020
Whistle in the Form of Two Human Figures
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.
May 31, 2020
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.
May 30, 2020
Portrait of a Young Woman
Hear Expert Commentary
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.
May 29, 2020
Pictorial Board and Dice Game
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.
May 28, 2020
Wall Clock, from the Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain
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.
May 27, 2020
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.
May 26, 2020
Christ Presented to the People (“The Ecce Homo”)
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.
May 25, 2020
Pegasus and Warrior (Courage)
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.
May 24, 2020
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.
May 23, 2020
Figurehead (pakoko or tete) from a fishing canoe
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.
May 22, 2020
Head of Simone in a Green Bonnet with Wavy Brim (No. 2)
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.
May 21, 2020
Seated Figure of the Official of Earth (Di guan)
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.
May 20, 2020
To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted
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.
May 19, 2020
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.
May 18, 2020
Landscape with a Horse
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.”
May 17, 2020
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.
May 16, 2020
Stairway at Auvers
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.”
May 15, 2020
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.
May 14, 2020
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.
May 13, 2020
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.
May 12, 2020
The Besieged Elephant
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.
May 11, 2020
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA
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).
May 10, 2020
A Young Mother
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.
May 9, 2020
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.”
May 8, 2020
Wrapper (adire eleko)
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.
May 7, 2020
Judith and Holofernes
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.
May 6, 2020
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.
May 5, 2020
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.
May 4, 2020
Prunus Vase (maebyeong)
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.
May 3, 2020
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.
May 2, 2020
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.
May 1, 2020
Laylá visits Majnūn in the Wilderness
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.
April 30, 2020
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.
April 29, 2020
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.
April 28, 2020
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.
April 27, 2020
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.
April 26, 2020
Covered Wine Vessel (fang lei)
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.
April 25, 2020
The Land of Evangeline
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.
April 24, 2020
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.
April 23, 2020
Lords John and Bernard Stuart
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.
April 22, 2020
Striding Male Figure
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.
April 21, 2020
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.
April 20, 2020
Treasure Box (wakahuia)
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.
April 19, 2020
Grey Space (distractor)
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.
April 18, 2020
Circus Rider (recto), Dancers with Castanets (verso)
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.
April 17, 2020
The Country School
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.
April 16, 2020
The Three Trees
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.
April 15, 2020
Pheasant and Pine
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.
April 14, 2020
Woman in Turkish Dress
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.
April 13, 2020
Portrait of a Woman
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.
April 12, 2020
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.
April 11, 2020
Large Fragmentary Ushak “Quatrefoil” Carpet
Hear Expert Commentary
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.
April 10, 2020
Christ Shown to the People (Ecce Homo)
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.
April 9, 2020
Lotus, Pagoda Lamp
Working in bronze and stained glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed lamps that often imitated nature at its most elaborate. This elegant, lotus-inspired lamp is a remarkable achievement of complex form and workmanship. Measuring 26 inches in diameter, the lamp’s expansive shade demonstrates the spectral qualities of Tiffany glass. Unlike many Tiffany lamps in which bases and shades were interchangeable, this piece was conceived as a single, unified floral form. The faceted structure of the parasol-like shade depicts the lotus’s foliage, and the base suggests the plant’s stem and roots. As in many of Tiffany’s works, the selection of the lotus and its integration into his design evoke a Japanese aesthetic.
April 8, 2020
Young Men by the Sea
Four men gather at the seashore on a small strip of sand. Their statuesque bodies and ornamented wraps evoke figures from antiquity. The beach setting along with the flute played by one of the men and the flagon of wine in the hands of another suggest ritualistic revelry. Any sense of gaiety is dampened, however, by the painting’s somber tones and the rigid clustering of the men’s bodies within the narrow space of the canvas. The tightly crossed arms of the central figure underscore the isolation despite the improbable proximity of all four men.
In 1947, just two months before he emigrated to the United States, Max Beckmann received an anonymous poem from St. Louis about the painting. Beckmann expressed surprise at the accuracy of the interpretation in which the central figure, described as a mystic, speaks, saying, “The sea and the shore and the sky and we, shall never be bound, nor ever set free.”
April 7, 2020
Storybook Hour – Saint Louis
In 1954, St. Louis schoolchildren, both black and white, sit side by side while eagerly listening to story time. That year the United States Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional, making photojournalist Moneta Sleet Jr.’s choice of subject matter particularly relevant. This everyday classroom scene was part of Sleet’s assignment for the African American magazine Our World. His work was featured in an article titled “St. Louis’ Small Fry,” which highlighted the city’s children.
April 6, 2020
Bust of an Unknown Man
This bust of an unidentified man exemplifies a very high standard of carving and finish—the marble skin practically glows. The sculptor took advantage of the natural properties of marble by contrasting the smooth polish of the skin with the textured matte hair. The technical skill of the artist and high quality of the marble suggest that this work was created for a wealthy patron.
April 5, 2020
Fish Swimming amid Falling Flowers
The delicately painted silk surface of this handscroll presents a lively aquatic scene. The story unfolds along the scroll from right to left, as delicate pink flower petals drift into the pool, attracting the attention and appetites of slender silvery fish swimming below. One lucky fish with a petal in its mouth flees from envious pursuers down toward the depths and an underwater world teeming with life. Spiny rock fish dance among the water weeds that hide spidery shrimp and swarms of small fry while large carp and goldfish swim fluidly along.
Vivid movement and the watery environment of marine life were specialties of the artist Liu Cai, a court painter who was renowned for representing his subjects down to the “very scales of a fish’s tail.” Although the scroll is unsigned, the painting is an acknowledged masterwork by Liu Cai and among the great rarities in Chinese painting.
April 4, 2020
This beautifully crafted and well-proportioned teapot reveals the skills of its maker, Peter Bentzon, who is the only early-American silversmith of African ancestry whose silver has been identified. The oval-shaped body is balanced on either side by a C-shaped handle and an S-shaped spout. The only ornamentation is an acorn finial and fine engraving. Its simplicity reflects an interest in geometric shapes like circles, ovals, and ellipses, echoing the architecture and furniture popular in America from the 1780s to the 1820s.
In 1791, Bentzon arrived in Philadelphia, where he was educated and later apprenticed to learn the silversmith’s trade. He established a business in Christiansted, Saint Croix, in 1807 but traveled frequently back to the United States. He made this teapot, one of two, for members of the Coates and Dawson family, who were Quakers active in the abolitionist movement in Philadelphia.
April 3, 2020
Afternoon Tea Party
In this print, two women share tea and conversation in a room depicted in soft colors. Skillful hand-inking techniques create the variety of hues and the hand application of gold paint highlights the rims of the cups and saucers. Mary Cassatt, one of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement, is known for her paintings of women and children in domestic settings. In addition to her success as a painter, Cassatt was recognized as a printmaker. Her greatest achievement in printmaking includes this image, one of a group of 18 color prints she produced during the 1890s, in which her exceptional ability is evident.
April 2, 2020
This unusually large Maya vase provided the artist a generous surface on which to paint a detailed narrative of a ballgame. Like the Maya ballgame itself, the narrative is not seen all at once, but unfolds in sections as the viewer moves around the vessel. The animated scene shows ballplayers on the field and spectators in the tiered stands. One player wearing protective gear and headdress slides on the ground, trying to block or propel the large ball. Three spectators appear to be having an animated discussion about the game. For the Maya, the ball’s movement back and forth on the court celebrated the sun’s journey across the sky and the eternal cycle of life and death.
April 1, 2020
The Plaza after the Rain
A drizzling rain creates watery reflections on the streets and sidewalks along the Grand Army Plaza in New York City. The rain hampers the view down the vista, though the moody tones of pinks, grays, and blues make up for this loss. The light in the distance offers a hazy glimpse of the southeast corner of Central Park, with its beloved bronze statue of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.
St. Louisian Paul Cornoyer studied in Paris, France before returning to live and work in New York City. He is best known for his park scenes, such as this one, seen through the atmospheric reflections of rain or the soft calm of a snowy blanket.
March 31, 2020
Mary, Lady Guildford
Holding her prayer book and turning to face the viewer, this 27-year-old is the very image of matronly propriety. Hans Holbein added fashionable Renaissance architectural elements, based on forms he knew from Italy, together with green ivy and a favorite blue to create a background of considerable beauty. The preparatory drawing for this painting shows a winsome charmer who glances off to the side. The artist, however, changed the direction of her gaze to suggest a more mature and serious woman. This alteration was very likely at the request of her husband, Henry Guildford, who was comptroller to King Henry VIII.
March 30, 2020
Little Dancer of Fourteen Years
This study of a young ballerina standing in a relaxed fourth position was the only sculpture Edgar Degas exhibited in his lifetime. Degas challenged the prevailing conventions of sculpture by dressing his original wax statue in a fabric tutu, a doll’s wig, and by adding a silk ribbon to her hair. The work shocked the critics, who remarked on her “instinctive ugliness” and on “the vicious muzzle of this little flower of the gutter.” These strong responses suggest Degas’ desire not only to capture the awkwardness of the student dancer but also to convey something of her probable future, as ballerinas were often extremely poor, and many led difficult lives. With this approach Degas combined the beauty of the dance with the harsh realities of modern life. Degas was a flaneur, a kind of dandy and aesthete who had an eye for the subjects of contemporary Paris. He was attracted to the ballet as a spectacle that, like art itself, required discipline and the perfection of skill.
March 29, 2020
Sunday Morning Breakfast
A kettle whistles on a glowing stove as two children eagerly await their breakfast in this warm family scene. The everyday narrative is balanced by the geometric simplicity of the door, curtained window, cupboard, and flat patterns of the apron and rugs.
Horace Pippin was a self-taught African American artist who began painting after he was wounded in World War I (1914–1918). His laborious painting process involved propping up his permanently injured right arm with a poker and guiding it with his left hand. Sunday Morning Breakfast is a scene remembered from his youth in Goshen, New York.
March 28, 2020
Head of a Buddha
This head of a Buddha bears the distinguishing marks of an enlightened being. On his head is an usnisa, a topknot-like protuberance. In the middle of his forehead lies an urna, a circular tuft of hair. Long earlobes, stretched by weighty jewelry, reveal a former life as a prince. Additionally, the figure’s half-closed eyes represent a constant state of meditative equanimity. The gracefully idealized facial features represent a mixture of influences from Greece, Rome, Persia, and Central Asia. While the hair and some other aspects of this head were modeled by hand, the face was shaped in a mold. Examples of these molds have been excavated at Gandhāran monasteries, indicating that sculptures such as this were produced at the sites where they were installed. Originally richly polychromed, only traces of red, blue, and black remain.
March 27, 2020
The formal elegance and psychological ambiguity of this painting, which is a portrait of the artist’s daughter, combine to make it one of Gerhard Richter’s most riveting works. Captured in the act of turning away from the viewer, or perhaps looking toward an object in the distance, the young girl’s posture expresses both intimacy and withholding: while her face is averted, the figure’s torso actually leans precipitously toward the viewer. The sharp angle of her pose implies that this condition is only temporary and that the dramatically torqued body will soon relax to face us once again.
Betty, like many of Richter’s paintings, incorporates an element of photographic realism, but it also documents the artist’s interest in abstraction; in fact, the dark expanse that preoccupies the girl might be one of Richter’s own monochrome paintings. This painting embodies Richter’s insistence on a practice that weds, without blurring, abstract and realist modes of representation.
March 26, 2020
Gelede masks such as this one are worn by male Yoruba dancers. Through their movements, gelede dancers, who always dance in pairs of male and female characters, express Yoruba ideals of male and female behavior. Gelede masks are worn at festivals honoring the women of the community—living and dead. These performances are particularly aimed at appeasing the powerful Great Mothers, including both the elderly women of the community and the ancestors of Yoruba society. The Great Mothers have the capacity for bringing either great fortune or great trouble to the community if not pleased. The gelede performances entertain and educate, and document elements of everyday life.
March 25, 2020
Raftsmen Playing Cards
Raftsmen Playing Cards is an idealized scene of river life in Missouri. It depicts a quiet moment of leisure among six raftsmen aboard a simple flatboat. While most of the men are preoccupied with the card game, one man gently glides the boat along the calm, mirrored surface of the water while another seems absorbed in thought.
Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham began his career as an essentially self-taught portrait painter, but eventually turned to genre painting, such as this scene, which he saw as an outlet for his fascination with the subjects found along Missouri’s rivers. Always attentive to detail, Bingham emphasizes the casual atmosphere by depicting two of the men barefoot, with a pair of discarded shoes visible at right, and the charred remains of the previous night’s fire in the foreground. The artist even invites the viewer to participate in this intimate occasion by placing the viewer at the foot of the flatboat. Although Bingham aspired to paint everyday life in America, this romantic view of man in harmony with nature actually looked back to earlier days before steamboats dominated the waters.
March 24, 2020
Bearded Bull’s Head
This powerful head of solid copper is brought to life with inlaid eyes of lapis lazuli and shell. It was probably part of a copper relief or a three-dimensional figure that protected the facade or interior of an ancient temple. The bull’s massive head is emphasized by a stocky muzzle and shortened horns. The addition of a curled, wide beard looks curiously natural on an animal that symbolized the Sumerian sky god, An. As the embodiment of fertility and power, the bearded bull served as an ever-present symbol of divine protection and royal might through centuries of ancient southwest Asian art.
March 23, 2020
In 1893 Claude Monet expanded the garden of his home at Giverny. There he cultivated exotic water lilies in an exquisite garden pond rimmed with Asian plants. Over the next twenty-five years, he used the water lily motif as the basis of large compositions that would mark his transition from easel painting to ambitious mural-scaled decorations. In front of this panel painting, we imagine ourselves suspended over a seemingly infinite and somewhat mysterious field of subtle hues, as we are freed from the limitations of weight, of space as defined by traditional perspective, and of narrative. The result is a peaceful field of compelling beauty that invites contemplation and reverie. Originally conceived as the centerpiece of a three-panel installation that would envelop the viewer, this panel and its pendants (now in Kansas City and Cleveland) were intended by Monet to comprise a monumental Water Lilies decoration, like the one now permanently installed at the Orangerie des Tuileries in Paris.