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MFA Images: Family Room

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  • The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

    1882

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)

    Description

    The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit was painted in Paris in the autumn of 1882, one of a number of portraits of members of the American expatriate community that Sargent made in the French capital in the late 1870s and early 1880s. While the exact circumstances of this commission remain unknown, Sargent was a friend of the girls’ parents, Edward Darley Boit and Mary Louisa Cushing Boit [63.268]. Ned Boit was from Boston, a Harvard-trained lawyer who turned away from his profession in order to pursue a career as a painter [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Edward%20Darley%20Boit]. His wife Mary Louisa, called Isa, was a vivacious and social woman who preferred Europe to America; her inheritance, a legacy of Boston’s China Trade, allowed the family to live abroad. They kept elegant quarters on the avenue de Friedland in the eighth arrondissement, a luxurious neighborhood much preferred by wealthy Americans. The foyer of their apartment served as the setting for Sargent’s portrait, a shadowy space in which the painter arranged the Boits’ four daughters: Mary Louisa (eight years old when Sargent painted her), Florence (age fourteen), Jane (twelve), and Julia (four).
    While Ned and Isa may have initially approached Sargent to make a traditional portrait, they supported his ambition to create something more unusual, a painting that is half a portrait and half an interior scene. Each of the girls is presented individually, but the features of two are obscured, an attribute antithetical to conventional portraiture and one that, combined with the lack of connection between the girls, stymied critics when the painting was first displayed. Its unusual format was inspired by the art of both the past and the present, a characteristic approach that Sargent employed to make paintings that seemed simultaneously traditional and modern. The historical precedent for the Boit portrait can be found in the work of the seventeenth-century Spanish master Diego Velázquez, an artist greatly admired in nineteenth-century France. Sargent had traveled to Madrid in 1879 to make copies after Velázquez at the MuseoNacional del Prado; among the paintings he studied was Las Meninas (about 1656), a large and famous portrait of the young Spanish infanta with her maids in a great shadowed room. Sargent adapted Velázquez’s mysterious space, his dark subdued palette, and the manner in which his self-possessed princess directly confronts the viewer. At the same time, Sargent must have been thinking of the unusual portraits and oddly centrifugal compositions of his French contemporary Edgar Degas. The Daughters of Edward DarleyBoit shares some of Degas’s strategies: the asymmetrical composition with an almost empty center, the sense of disconnection between family members, and a feeling of modern life interrupted.

    Sargent placed the Boit girls in an indeterminate space—the entrance hall, neither entirely public nor entirely private—that is brightly lit in the foreground but recedes into a vaguely defined drawing room half-lit with mirrors and reflections. The two tall Japanese vases [1997.211], made in Arita in the late nineteenth century specifically for export to the West, were prized family possessions; their unusual size in relation to the girls makes the interior seem strange and magical. The sisters are dressed almost alike, in the sort of casual clothes they would have worn in the schoolroom or at play. Their white pinafores gave Sargent an opportunity to demonstrate his mastery at painting white in different conditions of light. Only the youngest girl, Julia, engages the viewer, while the older girls recede progressively into the shadows, becoming increasingly indistinct.

    Sargent titled the painting Portraits of Children and displayed it in December 1882 in an exhibition at the gallery of the French dealer Georges Petit, who specialized in works by an international group of artists who were more modern than many of the painters who showed at the Salon, but less innovative than the Impressionists. The picture received generally good reviews, and Sargent decided to display it again the following spring, this time at the Salon, the annual state-run exhibition in Paris that was an important venue for artists seeking to build their reputations. While some critics praised Sargent’s technical abilities, most found the composition troubling for its unconventional approach to portraiture. One unidentified writer even described it as “four corners and a void.” While some have interpreted Sargent’s strategy as a poignant comment on the fickle nature of childhood and adolescence, writer Henry James, a friend of both the Boits and Sargent, described the picture as a “happy play-world of a family of charming children.”[1] With this painting, Sargent masterfully transcended portraiture, providing a continuously evocative meditation on openness and enigma, public and private, light and shadow.

    Notes
    1. Henry James, “John S. Sargent,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 75 (October 1887), 688.

    For more information about this painting, see Erica E. Hirshler, Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/780878467426.html] (Boston: MFA Publications, 2009).

    Erica E. Hirshler

    Details

    Dimensions

    221.93 x 222.57 cm (87 3/8 x 87 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    19.124

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Boston Common at Twilight

    1885–86

    Childe Hassam (American, 1859–1935)

    Description

    Childe Hassam, the son of a Dorchester hardware merchant, had made only one trip to Europe before painting Boston Common at Twilight. He studied French art in Boston collections, and he was familiar with the popular work of painters active in Paris, like Jean Béraud and Giuseppe de Nittis, who took modern life as their main subject and frequently depicted fashionable young women in urban settings. Hassam adapted their French aesthetic to his native city and began a series of large canvases representing several of Boston’s developing neighborhoods: Back Bay, the South End, and Park Square.
    Originally an open field for cattle grazing and military parades, the Boston Common had been transformed into an oasis of elm trees and graceful promenades by the time Hassam painted it in the mid-1880s. He chose a view of the Tremont Street Mall, one of five broad tree-lined walkways that provided Boston pedestrians with an elegant alternative to the city’s noisy thoroughfares. The artist doubtless enjoyed it himself, for his studio was just across the street.

    Despite the old-fashioned charm Boston Common at Twilight presents to viewers today, in Hassam’s time this scene was distinctly modern. Once an area of elegant residential row houses, many of the streets around the Boston Common recently had been transformed into a lively business district. The red brick buildings visible at left were mostly new; the traffic of trolley cars and carriages on the road marks the bustling commerce of late afternoon; and artificial light glows from streetlights and storefronts. Hassam enhanced his impression of the fast pace of city life by using a perspective scheme in which the vertical lines of the fence, the lampposts, and the trees recede rapidly into the distance, coming closer and closer together.

    Hassam contrasted the hurried movement at left with the calm quiet of the snowy park. A stylishly dressed young mother and her child pause to feed the birds while other figures stroll through the rosy dusk. Hassam used a variety of reds to unify his composition, bringing the rusty brick buildings, the glow of the lamps, and even the brilliant end of a lit cigarette in the hand of a passerby into harmony with the sunset sky and the pinkish snow. The artist’s interest in contemporary subjects and in different kinds of light allies this painting with Impressionism, but in Hassam’s gentle vision of the city, nature humanizes the modern world.

    This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).

    Details

    Dimensions

    106.68 x 152.4 cm (42 x 60 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    31.952

    Collections

    Americas

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  • La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume)

    1876

    Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)

    Description

    Monet exhibited this work at the second group show of the Impressionist painters in 1876, where it attracted much attention. Large-scale figure paintings had traditionally been considered the most significant challenge for an artist. Using this format, Monet created a virtuoso display of brilliant color that is also a witty comment on the current Paris fad for all things Japanese. The woman shown wrapped in a splendid kimono and surrounded by fans is Monet's wife, Camille, wearing a blond wig to emphasize her Western identity.

    Details

    Dimensions

    231.8 x 142.3 cm (91 1/4 x 56 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    56.147

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Dance at Bougival

    1883

    Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919)

    Description

    The open-air cafés of suburban Bougival, on the Seine outside Paris, were popular recreation spots for city dwellers, including the Impressionist painters. Renoir, who was primarily a figure painter, uses intense color and lush brushwork to heighten the sense of pleasure conveyed by the whirling couple who dominate the composition. The woman's face, framed by her red bonnet, is the focus of attention, both ours and her companion's.

    Details

    Dimensions

    181.9 x 98.1 cm (71 5/8 x 38 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    37.375

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Houses at Auvers

    1890

    Vincent van Gogh (Dutch (worked in France), 1853–1890)

    Description

    In May 1890, van Gogh moved from the south of France to Auvers, northwest of Paris, painting many of his finest pictures there in a feverish spurt of activity before his suicide in July. Houses at Auvers shows the landscape of early summer. The view from above creates a flattened tapestry of shapes in which the tiled and thatched roofs of the houses form a mesmerizing patchwork of color.

    Details

    Dimensions

    75.6 x 61.9 cm (29 3/4 x 24 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    48.549

    Collections

    Europe

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  • The Water Lily Pond

    1900

    Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)

    Description

    In 1883, Monet settled in the village of Giverny, about forty miles from Paris, and purchased a house there in 1890. Shortly thereafter, he acquired an additional plot of land, where he constructed a picturesque water garden. A Japanese bridge spanned the pond at its narrowest point. This is among the first of Monet's paintings to emphasize the reflections of the bank and the sky on the flat surface of the water.

    Details

    Dimensions

    90.2 x 92.7 cm (35 1/2 x 36 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    61.959

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Water Lilies

    1905

    Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)

    Description

    Beginning in 1903, Monet embarked on a series of canvases depicting his water garden at Giverny. Here, the pads of lilies scattered across the painting suggest the water's surface, receding into space. The pattern of light and dark beneath the lilies indicates the reflection on the water-sky and the trees on a distant bank. Monet exhibited forty-eight of these "landscapes of water" in 1909. Fascinated by the artist's subtle fusion of reality and reflection, critics compared the paintings to poetry and music.

    Details

    Dimensions

    89.5 x 100.3 cm (35 1/4 x 39 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    39.804

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Carnival of Autumn

    1908

    Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    76.52 x 76.52 cm (30 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    68.296

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Forms (Peinture)

    about 1919

    Patrick Henry Bruce (American, 1881–1936 American)

    Description

    Like others of writer Ernest Hemingway’s so-called “lost generation”—artists who left the United States at the start of the twentieth century in search of a more bohemian and modern lifestyle—Patrick Henry Bruce went to Paris in 1904 and remained there for more than thirty years. His first heroes were Henri Matisse [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Henri%20Matisse&objecttype=54] and Paul Cézanne [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?keyword=Paul+C%C3%A9zanne&objecttype=54]; his early work explores the sights and forms of France with a coloristic exuberance inspired by Matisse and a search for structural rigor emulating Cézanne.
    By the end of World War I, however, Bruce’s world had contracted, as the international community of artists and collectors he had found so stimulating drifted apart. He began painting still life, a solitary and contemplative genre, concentrating on the objects gathered in his spartan rooms near the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His subject matter has been identified from photographs of the apartment. Here, on the tilted-up top of an antique table, Bruce has arranged carpenter’s tools, scrolled pieces of wood and architectural moldings (he supported himself by dealing in antique furniture), and possibly a piece of fruit. In emulation of Cézanne, who advocated rendering nature by means of simple shapes, [1] Bruce reduced his commonplace objects to abstract geometric forms. These he painted as weighty solids that nonetheless seem to interact dynamically. He constructed them with carefully calibrated perspectival accuracy but undermined their stability by showing each of his forms from a different vantage point; they threaten to tumble over one another and spill out of the picture space. Bruce painted meticulously, using careful gradations of color. Here he employed a whole spectrum of blues, augmented with deep green, a salmon hue, and black and white. Preoccupied by these color relationships, Bruce painted layer over layer. As he revised one area he saw the tonal balance of the whole composition shift, obliging him to then alter other areas (for example, all the black areas in this painting were previously blue), resulting in a thickly built up surface.

    By the 1930s lack of recognition, increasing isolation, and the elusiveness of the perfection he sought in his art drove Bruce to despair. He destroyed many of his works and in 1936, shortly after returning to New York, he committed suicide. His tragic intensity and his belief that his art could provide an opening onto the realms of the imagination are revealed in a poignant letter written in 1928 to his friend the novelist Henri-Pierre Roché: “I am doing all my traveling in the apartment on ten canvases. One visits many unknown countries that way.” [1]

    Notes
    1. “Deal with nature as cylinders, spheres and cones, all placed in perspective so that each aspect of an object or a plane goes towards a central point.” Paul Cézanne to Emile Bernard, April 15, 1904, in Correspondance, ed. J. Rewald (Paris, 1937, rev. 1978; English trans., New York, 1984), 296.
    2. Patrick Henry Bruce, letter to Henri-Pierre Roché, March 17, 1928, quoted in William C. Agee and Barbara Rose, “The Search for Patrick Henry Bruce,” ARTnews 78 (Summer 1979): 75.

    This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).

    Details

    Dimensions

    60.01 x 92.39 cm (23 5/8 x 36 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1990.386

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d'Hiver

    about 1879–80

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)

    Description

    Jules Etienne Pasdeloup (1819–1887) conducted an orchestra in Paris for nearly three decades in the latter half of the nineteenth century and was a champion of controversial modern composers. He rehearsed his orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver, an ornate Second Empire indoor amphitheater. Sargent, an ardent amateur musician, frequently attended Pasdeloup’s concerts and depicted them several times. This picture is his most abstract treatment of the subject and represents one of his boldest experimentations with Impressionism. The picture’s monochrome palette, painterly execution, and energetic composition suggest both the dance of musical notes across a page and the vital sound of the music itself. This canvas was first owned by another expatriate American painter, Henry Bacon [13.1692], who reproduced it in his 1883 book Parisian Art and Artists; it may have been painted for him.
    In addition to this remarkable small painting, executed in Paris early in Sargent’s career, a larger version exists at the Art Institute of Chicago (on loan from a private collection). Both works represent Pasdeloup’s“Concerts Populaires,” held on Sunday afternoons in Paris from November to May between 1861 and 1887. The indoor amphitheater in which they took place stands in proximity to the place de la République in Paris’s eleventh arrondissement and still exists. Originally known as the Cirque Napoléon, the structure was built in 1852 under the charge of Jacques-Ignace Hittorff (1792–1867), who also directed the creation of the Gare du Nord and the decoration of the place de la Concorde. Although used primarily for the circus, then and now, the building also hosted other indoor entertainments. Pasdeloups’s program was an adventurous one, and many artists besides Sargent were attracted to his concerts, including Henri Fantin-Latour, Paul Sérusier, and Frédéric Bazille, [1]as well as the Americans Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Thomas Eakins. Paris’s music scene was vibrant, with both expensive operas and inexpensive cabarets attracting patrons. Musical events were particularly popular with expatriate Americans in the city, perhaps in part due to the irrelevance of the language barrier for the enjoyment of music; Pasdeloup’s inexpensive concerts facilitated their enjoyment of the Parisian cultural scene. Sargent himself was a gifted musician, perhaps even a brilliant one, with many musician friends; as Stanley Olson wrote, “music was John’s consuming interest, after painting. It was his chief pleasure and it became the nucleus of his social life.”[2] Sargent shared with Pasdeloup a special enthusiasm for Richard Wagner, Gabriel Fauré, and other progressive and sometimes controversial modern composers; the paintings he made of Pasdeloup’s orchestra confirm Sargent’s awareness of current trends in music, as do numerous textual sources.

    The American painter and critic William A. Coffin recalled going to the Pasdeloup concerts with Sargent: “Sargent, who dearly loved the music, was struck by the odd picturesqueness of the orchestra . . . seen in the middle of the amphitheater, the musician’s figures foreshortened from the high point of view on the rising benches, the necks of the bass-viols sticking up above their heads, the white sheets of music illuminated by little lamps on the racks . . . While he listened he looked, and . . . one day he took a canvas and painted his impression. He made an effective picture of it, broad, and full of color.”[3] This account must refer to the Chicago picture, which includes three colorfully dressed clowns seated in a balcony in the foreground of the composition. Earlier, the painter had made several quick pencil sketches [28.50] of the orchestra during a concert; [4]certain details of the sketches, including the timpanist and the conductor, were repeated in the two paintings.

    In the Boston picture, the painter reduced his palette to pure monochrome and condensed the composition by eliminating the foreground figures as well as two rows of the arena in the background; these unusual qualities render the painting unique in Sargent’s oeuvre, particularly when combined with his striking technique in the painting. Quickly executing thin washes of gray and black over a warm gray ground, rapidly adding touches of white for the sheets of music and the highlights on certain instruments, Sargent captured the ragged energy and motion—almost a sound—of the orchestra in an Impressionist experiment he would rarely repeat. Despite his limited use of such techniques, Sargent became interested in the work of a variety of avant-garde artists, perhaps facilitated by his teacher, Carolus-Duran, early in his career. By this time Sargent would have had many chances to see the work of Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and other painters depicting the various cultural attraction provided by Paris’s sophisticated urban society. Degas was well known for his many works depicting audiences, musicians, and performers. His grisaille The Dance Class (Répétition d’un ballet sur la scène, 1874, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) provides a precedent for the young American’s experiment. Sargent made a drawing after Degas’s 1876 pastel L’Etoile (Sketch after Degas’s “L’Etoile,” about 1877, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts), which he must have seen at the third Impressionist exhibition of 1877, confirming his interest in Degas’s work. Similar, if less pronounced, uses of avant-garde formal techniques (compressed perspective, oblique lighting, and others) continue in Sargent’s informal work and testify to his genuine interest in the painting of modern life practiced by his Impressionist contemporaries.

    Neither the Boston painting nor the larger Chicago version attracted much critical attention until recent years, and their dates and the order in which they were executed have puzzled scholars. Coffin arrived in Paris in 1877, and thus Stanley Olson’s dating of the Chicago version to November 1878, following Sargent’s trip to Naples and Capri, seems plausible. Though Sargent’s two early biographers, William Howe Downes (1925) and Evan Charteris (1927), both date the Boston picture to 1876, it seems much more likely—given its more confident handling and greater compositional sophistication—that it followed the Chicago picture and thus dates from 1879–80.

    Notes
    1. Elaine Brody, Paris: The Musical Kaleidoscope, 1870–1925 (New York: G. Braziller, 1987), 118, 131, 134.
    2. Stanley Olson, John Singer Sargent: His Portraits (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 71.
    3. Quoted in Olson, John Singer Sargent, 54, and “Sargent and His Painting,” Century Magazine, June 1896.
    4. See Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1874–1882 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 189–93.

    This text was adapted and expanded by Carolyn J. Trench from Theodore E. Stebbins Jr.’s entry in John Singer Sargent, ed. ElaineKilmurray and Richard Ormond, exh. cat. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998).

    Details

    Dimensions

    57.15 x 46.04 cm (22 1/2 x 18 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    22.598

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Autumn Ginkgo Leaves

    1984

    Jacques Hnizdovsky (American (born in Ukraine), 1915–1985 American)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Sheet: 54.5 x 69.5 cm (21 7/16 x 27 3/8 in.) Block: 45.7 x 61.0 cm (18 x 24 in.)

    Medium

    Color linocut

    Classification

    Prints

    Accession Number

    2002.350

    Collections

    Americas, Contemporary Art, Prints and Drawings

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  • Spring Interior

    1927

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description

    Sheeler, an avant-garde painter and photographer during the first half of the twentieth century, is best-known for his crisp, meticulous paintings of industrial or man-made subjects (see "Fugue," 40.780). But he also rendered rural landscapes and barns, still lifes (see "Three White Tulips," 1990.442), and starting in 1919, domestic interiors, a motif that became one of his major themes. Sheeler settled with his wife, Katharine, in the rural community of South Salem, New York in 1926, furnishing his new home-a "bungalow-like building"-with the early American antiques that he had been collecting since the mid-1910s. Shortly thereafter, he began work on three large still life compositions, one in tempera and two in oil, all of which develop an innovative formula of still lifes situated within a domestic setting, a theme he had introduced in his painting "Interior" (1926, Whitney Museum of American Art). The mood of these pictures is cheerful; one can imagine they reflect Sheeler's feelings of optimism and well-being. The arrangement of forms seems conventional and the objects depicted are familiar and ordinary: forsythia, and Sheeler's often-used candle stand and a glass mug. The architectural features in the background are undoubtedly those of Sheeler's house in South Salem.
    In spite of the familiar subjects, however, the canvases are experimental in the variety of painting techniques Sheeler employed. In "Spring Interior," the shimmering opalescent backdrop is thinly painted, with virtually no sign of brush stroke, while the mantelpiece, rendered in the same tones, is thick and creamy. The stems of the forsythia, refracted through water and glass, are rendered with coloristic complexity. The petals are richly painted, each described by a single deft, lean stroke, while the bricks above the mantel are rendered with pigment so thinned down as to resemble watercolor; the mortar between the bricks is defined by pencil underdrawing and bare canvas. It is as though Sheeler were pushing the medium of oil paint in several directions in order to achieve as many different effects and surface textures as he could.
    Sheeler's obvious pleasure in painting beloved objects in new surroundings and his interest in his medium were matched by his enjoyment in the manipulation of space. "Spring Interior" is more complex than it seems at first glance. The branches of forsythia form a screen before a delightfully confounding series of optical illusions. At right, the series of moldings that ornament the mantelpiece seem at once to undulate and to project progressively into space as the eye moves away from the hearth. And at left, the wall recedes into space at the bottom, suggesting stairs or bookshelves, while at the top the same horizontal slats from part of pattern of flat bands decorating a wall that is flush with the mantel. The illusion of recession is contradicted by the shaft of the candle stand, which shares an outline with the mantel, so they appear to be simultaneously side by side and before and behind. These ambiguities, these disjunctions between what the eye sees and what the mind records, take on a more unsettling, somber quality in later works. Here, in keeping with the sunny palette and the pleasant, everyday objects, the effect is coy and playful.
    "Spring Interior" was first shown at an exhibition in Charlestown, New Hampshire, in late August 1927. Juliana Force, the energetic manager of New York's Whitney Studio Club, had rented Maxstoke, a huge house in Charlestown, as a summer residence for the members of the Club. Sheeler spent several weeks there, as did Edward Hopper and others. The culmination of the summer's activities was a group exhibition in the drawing rooms of Maxstoke. There "Spring Interior" attracted the attention of Juliana Force, who subsequently acquired it for the newly established Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1954 the Whitney exchanged it, and several other works, with the Downtown Gallery for "Architectural Cadences." William H. Lane bought "Spring Interior" from the Downtown Gallery in 1954 for his foundation's collection of American modernism and donated it to the Museum of Fine Arts as part of his large gift in 1990.

    This text was adapted by Janet Comey from Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, "Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings" (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987).

    Details

    Dimensions

    76.2 x 63.82 cm (30 x 25 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1990.441

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    Americas

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  • Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

    1897–98

    Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903)

    Description

    In 1891, Gauguin left France for Tahiti, seeking in the South Seas a society that was simpler and more elemental than that of his homeland. In Tahiti, he created paintings that express a highly personal mythology. He considered this work—created in 1897, at a time of great personal crisis—to be his masterpiece and the summation of his ideas. Gauguin's letters suggest that the fresco-like painting should be read from right to left, beginning with the sleeping infant. He describes the various figures as pondering the questions of human existence given in the title; the blue idol represents "the Beyond." The old woman at the far left, "close to death," accepts her fate with resignation.

    Details

    Dimensions

    Image: 139.1 x 374.6 cm (54 3/4 x 147 1/2 in.) Framed: 171.5 x 406.4 x 8.9 cm (67 1/2 x 160 x 3 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Organic remains

    Accession Number

    36.270

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Grainstack (Sunset)

    1891

    Description

    In 1890 and 1891, Monet painted a group of pictures of the stacks of wheat (referred to as grainstacks or haystacks) in the fields near his home, exhibiting them as a series to great critical acclaim in 1891. Traditionally, the motifs in Monet's series paintings have been seen merely as vehicles through which he could explore the interaction of light, color, and form over the course of the day and in different weather conditions. But scholars have recently proposed that Monet was equally interested in the meaning and significance of the motifs themselves. Grainstacks, for example, are traditional symbols of the land's fertility, the local farmers' material wealth, and the region's prosperity.

    Details

    Dimensions

    73.3 x 92.7 cm (28 7/8 x 36 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    25.112

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying,...

    1840

    Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851)

    Description

    When Turner exhibited this picture at the Royal Academy in 1840 he paired it with the following extract from his unfinished and unpublished poem "Fallacies of Hope" (1812):

    "Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
    Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
    Declare the Typhon's coming.
    Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
    The dead and dying - ne'er heed their chains
    Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
    Where is thy market now?"

    For the full text of Turner's verse see A. J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed., 1961, p. 474

    Details

    Dimensions

    90.8 x 122.6 cm (35 3/4 x 48 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    99.22

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Boys in a Pasture

    1874

    Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    40.32 x 58.1 cm (15 7/8 x 22 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    53.2552

    Collections

    Americas

    Not On View
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  • Horses Resting

    1911–12

    Franz Marc (German, 1880–1916 German)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Block: 16.8 x 22.7 cm (6 5/8 x 8 15/16 in.) Sheet: 28.6 x 39.7 cm (11 1/4 x 15 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Color woodcut

    Classification

    Prints

    Accession Number

    63.1464

    Collections

    Europe, Prints and Drawings

    Not On View
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  • Gloucester Mackerel Fleet at Sunset

    1884

    Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    39.69 x 95.88 cm (15 5/8 x 37 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1985.331

    Collections

    Americas

    Not On View
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  • Gloucester Mackerel Fleet at Dawn

    1884

    Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    39.69 x 95.88 cm (15 5/8 x 37 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1985.332

    Collections

    Americas

    Not On View
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  • Arrangement - Hieroglyphics (Painting No. 2)

    1914

    Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943)

    Description

    While living as an expatriate in Berlin between 1913 and 1915, Hartley began to produce abstract modernist paintings. These groundbreaking works included a group of Native American–themed compositions that he called his Amerika series; Arrangement—Hieroglyphics (Painting No. 2) is one of this group. Hartley’s interest in Native American subject matter may have been spurred by his exposure in Germany to the artist and writer Wassily Kandinsky, whose ideas about spirituality and the importance to abstract art of naive, folk, and so-called primitive forms were profoundly important to Hartley’s artistic development.
    Many of the Amerika canvasses show recognizable Native American motifs, including figures in headdresses, teepees, and canoes, painted in a flat, geometric modernist style. These symbols signaled to viewers Hartley’s status as an American and also appealed to a longstanding German enthusiasm for Native American and frontier life. The symbols in Arrangement—Hieroglyphics, however, are less immediately decipherable than they are in his other Amerika works. The central triangular shape resembles a teepee, but the large concentric white and yellow circles in the lower portion of the composition look like a shooting target, a form unrelated to Native art. The other pictographic forms also have little or no connection to authentic Native American symbols, and the keyhole represented at lower left is an emphatically non-Native object. In fact, though Hartley frequented Berlin’s ethnological museum, the Museum für Völkerkunde (now the Ethnologisches Museum), during this period, he was by no means an expert on Native cultures and likely drew many of these forms from his imagination.

    Arrangement—Hieroglyphics was almost certainly executed before the outbreak of World War I in the fall of 1914. It is filled with bright and vivid colors that reflect Hartley’s strong, even optimistic prewar vision. Hartley’s style changed dramatically after the beginning of the war and the death soon thereafter of the man with whom Hartley was in love, German cavalry officer Karl von Freyburg. The later 1914 works incorporate large amounts of black paint, sometimes layered and scumbled over red, in an apparent reference to Hartley’s deep mourning and sadness.

    This work is in unusually good condition, retaining both its original surface and its original frame, which Hartley painted as an integral part of its composition. While many of Hartley’s canvasses from this period were inappropriately varnished sometime after they left the artist’s care, Arrangement—Hieroglyphics still has the dry, matte quality Hartley intended.

    Heather Hole

    Details

    Dimensions

    107.95 x 88.26 cm (42 1/2 x 34 3/4 x 1 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1990.412

    Collections

    Americas

    Not On View
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  • Li Bai Admiring a Waterfall

    1849 (Ka'ei 2)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Image: 93.4 x 30 cm (36 3/4 x 11 13/16 in.) Overall: 172 x 48 cm (67 11/16 x 18 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    11.7452

    Collections

    Asia

    Not On View
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  • On the Theme of Farm Buildings #2

    1947

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Sheet: 20.3 x 30.5 cm (8 x 12 in.) Framed: 40 x 50.5 cm (15 3/4 x 19 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Opaque watercolors with graphite underdrawing; the black pigment, although matte in normal light without magnification, consists of coarse particles which have a distinctive sparkle when viewed with microscope

    Classification

    Drawings / Watercolors

    Accession Number

    1990.440

    Collections

    Americas, Prints and Drawings

    Not On View
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  • Fine Wind, Clear Weather (Gaifû kaisei), also known as Red...

    about 1830–31 (Tenpô 1–2)

    Artist Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849)

    Description

    MFA Impressions: 11.17504, 21.6754, 21.6755 (blue variant), 21.6756, 34.314, 53.495

    Details

    Dimensions

    Horizontal ôban; 24.4 x 38.1 cm (9 5/8 x 15 in.)

    Medium

    Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper

    Classification

    Prints

    Accession Number

    21.6756

    Collections

    Asia, Prints and Drawings

    Not On View
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