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Archival Replicas: Brilliant American Paintings

  • Archival Replicas: Brilliant American Paintings - Slide

  • Salmon Fishing

    1927

    Frank Weston Benson (American, 1862–1951)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    91.76 x 112.08 cm (36 1/8 x 44 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    27.574

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Folly Cove

    about 1900

    Philip Leslie Hale (American, 1865–1931)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    22.54 x 29.84 cm (8 7/8 x 11 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas board

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1989.267

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Peaches in a Bowl

    about 1925

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description

    Still-life painting was of such importance to Sheeler that he wrote an essay on the subject in about 1925 (unpublished, Forbes Watson Papers, Archives of American Art, Reel D56: 1094). In this essay, Sheeler made clear his admiration of Paul Cézanne, whose work he had seen during a trip to Europe in 1908-09 and subsequently in New York City. He realized that Cézanne's "selection [of objects] is based upon preference in the matter of shapes, surfaces, and quantities related to a geometric structure," and attempted to develop a similar underlying structure in his own work. Sheeler, like Cézanne, favored the genre because he could control the content, layout, and lighting in the pictures. He began making tabletop still lifes as early as 1910, but the mid-1920s were a particularly productive period for him. Sheeler's compositions usually included either fruit or flowers, often arranged in his growing collection of early American glassware and pottery. As Troyen and Hirshler remark, most of Sheeler's pictures of this type are "plain - the flowers were never exotic species, the glassware and furnishings were distinguished by their proportions rather than by surface embellishments - and he rendered them in an understated, self-effacing way" (Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, "Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings," Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, p. 106).

    "Peaches in a Bowl" is deceptively simple; it portrays two pieces of fruit in a glass compote on a table. Sheeler painted the arrangement as if he were photographing it from above, using a tightly framed, close-up view, which has the effect of tilting up the surface and making his subject seem powerfully immediate. There is subtle tension in the composition. The blue table does not form the anticipated straight line across the background of the picture; the left edge is inexplicably lower than the right. The compote is off-center and cropped on the right. The fruit occupies the left side of the glass container, and together with the shadow, has the effect of making the upper left portion of the picture dense compared with the emptiness in the lower right. This serves to undermine our expectation that the still-life will have a solid base.

    The off-center placement of the compote and its contents may derive from Sheeler's study of Cézanne's paintings, which often reveal asymmetric compositions [see 48.524]. Equally Cézannesque are the juxtaposition of chromatic opposites - the yellow-orange fruit against the intensely blue table; the broad, parallel brushstrokes that define the peaches; and the sense of the subject as a vignette removed from its context. The geometric shapes - spheres, circles and squares - of the peaches and compote, and the tension between realism and abstraction, invigorate Sheeler's rendering just as they energized the still lifes of the artist he so admired.

    Janet Comey

    Details

    Dimensions

    25.08 x 20.32 cm (9 7/8 x 8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1997.130

    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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  • The Pool, Medfield

    1889

    Dennis Miller Bunker (American, 1861–1890 American)

    Description

    Dennis Miller Bunker was one of the earliest Americans to apply all of the stylistic ingredients of the radical new painting style of Impressionism to his native landscape. Like most artists of his generation, Bunker had been trained as a figure painter [91.130], instructed to value traditional compositions and accurate drawing. After polishing his academic education in Paris, he accepted a teaching position in Boston, where he soon became admired for his sophisticated portraits. Bored with conventional approaches to art, Bunker continued to experiment. In 1887 he met the adventurous painter John Singer Sargent [link to ch. 8], and the two young men, both interested in modern French art, theater, and music, became close friends. They spent the summer of 1888 working together in the English countryside, exploring the bright colors and individual brushstrokes of Impressionism.
    By the time Bunker returned to Boston, he had fully mastered the new style. Like his French contemporary Claude Monet [25.106]—whose paintings were rapidly entering Boston collections—Bunker preferred anonymous landscapes to well-known sites. He spent the summer of 1889 in Medfield, Massachusetts, painting a series of images of the lush marshy fields near the source of the Charles River. In The Pool, Medfield, Bunker placed the horizon line high on his canvas, a device that serves to flatten the composition, emphasizing its two-dimensional design. Upon this surface, he crafted a dense network of long unblended strokes of color that echo the shapes of the reeds and grasses and the flow of the clear blue water. Bunker’s Pool is a dazzling view of a sun-filled meadow, but it is equally an exploration of the physical act of painting.

    While some conservative critics greeted Bunker’s Impressionism with disdain, his innovative combination of American subjects with French techniques soon became the leading style in American art. Bunker did not live to enjoy its success; he died just a year after making this painting, two months after his twenty-ninth birthday.

    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

    46.99 x 61.59 cm (18 1/2 x 24 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    45.475

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds

    about 1870–83

    Martin Johnson Heade (American, 1819–1904)

    Description

    During a career that spanned almost seventy years, Heade, an ardent naturalist and traveler, painted a great variety of subjects: portraits [48.426], luminous salt-marsh scenes [47.1159], seascapes (often with thunder storms) [45.889], tropical landscapes [47.1153], hummingbird and orchid pictures [47.1164], and floral still lifes [48.427]. Heade had been fascinated by hummingbirds since his childhood, and in 1863–64 he spent six months in Brazil painting hummingbirds in their natural habitat; he intendedto use the pictures as illustrations in a book to be called “The Gems of Brazil.” Although the book was never published, the artist did complete some forty-five small paintings of hummingbirds. After two trips to Central America in 1866 and 1870, Heade began a distinctive group of works combining hummingbirds and tropical flowers.
    In Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds Heade depicted two small, black-and-white Snowcap hummingbirds, a species found in Panama, and the most brilliantly colored species of passionflower, Passiflora racemosa, in a steamy, lush jungle setting. The passionflower is so named because missionaries saw correspondences between the parts of the flower and the Passion (or sufferings) of Christ: the ten petals represent the ten apostles present at the crucifixion, the corona filaments resemble the crown of thorns, and the three stigmas relate to the nails in the cross. In this work, Heade successfully combined his scientific interests with his aesthetic sensitivity, accurately rendering the birds and the passionflowers in a close-up view while gracefully composing the winding stems across the surface of the picture and contrasting the cool jungle greens and grays with the dazzling red of the flowers.

    Heade’s paintings were informed by a worldview recently revolutionized by British naturalist Charles Darwin; to support the theories about evolution in his book The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876), Darwin specifically mentioned the adaptation of hummingbird beaks to fertilize passionflowers. Although Heade was one of the first to reflect Darwin’s theories in his paintings of flowers in their natural habitats, other artists, such as John La Farge [Res.27.93], were subsequently inspired by Darwin’s theories of evolution and the role of interrelationships in the natural 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

    39.37 x 54.93 cm (15 1/2 x 21 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    47.1138

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    Americas

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  • Magnolia Grandiflora

    about 1885–95

    Martin Johnson Heade (American, 1819–1904)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    38.42 x 61.28 cm (15 1/8 x 24 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    47.1169

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Old Brooklyn Bridge

    about 1941

    Joseph Stella (American, 1877–1946 American)

    Description

    Completed in 1883 and hailed as an engineering wonder, the Brooklyn Bridge was recognized as a symbol of the modern city by artists and writers alike. Walt Whitman, John Marin, Hart Crane, Lewis Mumford, and Georgia O’Keeffe, for example, all paid homage to this structure. The bridge was viewed as more than an icon of the industrial age, though, for its design and construction fused the new technology of its innovative cable suspension with historical references to the past: the great Gothic arches of its towers linked the Old World and the New.
    Joseph Stella was twenty when he emigrated from Italy to New York. He began to study art in the United States, then traveled back to Europe in 1909, where he saw a variety of avant-garde styles. In Paris he encountered Futurism, a method of painting that attempted to express the intangible properties of motion and speed. Although he would experiment with a variety of approaches throughout his career, Stella pioneered Futurism in the United States upon his return to New York in 1912. He settled in Brooklyn in about 1919 and began to paint the bridge with this new vocabulary, using its flashing lights and rush of crisscrossed wires to indicate movement through space.

    The Brooklyn Bridge became a recurring theme in Stella’s work and he became identified with the subject. He made numerous small studies of the span and five major oils; Old Brooklyn Bridge was one of the last. His richly colored, fractured composition not only reflects his modernist approach, but also recalls the stained-glass windows of Gothic architecture. Stella himself alluded to this marriage of the new and the old, describing the bridge as a “shrine containing all the efforts of the new civilization of AMERICA.” [1]

    Notes
    1. Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge (A Page of My Life), privately printed under the title New York (1928), quoted in Barbara Haskell, Joseph Stella (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994), 206.

    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

    193.67 x 173.35 cm (76 1/4 x 68 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1980.197

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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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  • Harmony in Flesh Colour and Red

    about 1869

    James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American (active in England),...

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    39.69 x 35.56 cm (15 5/8 x 14 in.)

    Medium

    Oil and wax crayon on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    60.1158

    Collections

    Americas

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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

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  • Calm Morning

    1904

    Frank Weston Benson (American, 1862–1951)

    Description

    In the late 1890s Benson began to paint outdoors and over the next two decades he produced many of his most popular plein air paintings, primarily of his family at play during idyllic summers. The setting is the island of North Haven, Maine; the family rented Wooster Farm there, beginning in 1901, and later purchased it. In Calm Morning Benson depicted his three oldest children fishing over the side of a dory—Eleanor, the eldest, to the left in the stern of the boat; Elisabeth to the right; and George standing. Benson’s bright, luminous colors and long varied brush strokes give the effect of warm sun shining on the children and the inside of the boat, contrasting with the cool, quiet ocean. He skillfully captured the reflections on the stern of the boat and the deep green color of the water in its shadow. Although Benson usually composed and painted a finished oil directly on the canvas, for Calm Morning he took a more academic approach, making three oil studies which he combined into this larger work. Benson was pleased with the result, declaring it his “best out of door work.”[1]

    Notes
    1. Frank W. Benson to James Gest, May 11, 1905, Benson file, Cincinnati Museum of Art, Ohio.

    This text was adapted from Janet L. Comey’s entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, by Erica E. Hirshler et al., exh.cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005).

    Details

    Dimensions

    112.71 x 91.76 cm (44 3/8 x 36 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1985.925

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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

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  • Three White Tulips

    1912

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description

    Early in his career during several trips to Europe between 1904 and 1909, Sheeler became acquainted with modernism. He was particularly astonished by the paintings by Picasso, Braque, and Cézanne he saw during a visit to Michael Stein's (avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein's brother) Paris apartment. Sheeler wrote of his reaction, "They were strange pictures which no amount of description, of which I had considerable in advance, could prepare me for the shock of coming upon them for the first time…But this much was evident in spite of the bewilderment, that something profound was in the making," (Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, "Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings," Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987, p. 44). Over the next few years Sheeler turned away from the fluid, popular style of painting he had learned from William Merritt Chase, and began to investigate the a more classical, structured manner of painting, inspired, for the most part, by Cézanne.
    During the 1910s, Sheeler often worked in series, setting himself compositional problems with a limited number of variables and conscientiously exploring their permutations, as though he were following a deliberate program of self-education. "Three White Tulips" belongs to one such series, of which three additional examples have been located, each painted in 1912 in oil on panel and each measuring approximately fourteen by ten and one half inches. In all four pictures, Sheeler adhered to the same general formula, with only minor variations in the number of flowers, their arrangement, and the vessel that holds them. One of the pictures ("Red Tulips," Regis Collection, Minneapolis) was sent to the 1913 Armory Show, the first great show of modern art in America, and thereafter to several other exhibitions.
    "Three White Tulips" represents the series at its simplest. The flowers are centered in the panel, their blossoms spread out in an elegant chevron that appears to fan out flat across the picture surface but also to twist slightly in space. The tabletop, outlined by a heavy black line that recedes diagonally into depth, is painted in the same opalescent hues and with the same patchy and slightly clumsy brush strokes as the background, vase, blossoms, and leaves-only the thick outline and the occasional use of white for highlights separate one form from another. The pictorial issues Sheeler evidently was exploring here were those preoccupying much of the international avant-garde during this period: the reconciliation of description and decoration, of flat and illusionistic space, and of the relative utility of local and ambient color in unifying and organizing a composition. His guide in this quest was Cézanne, whose special love for casual floral subjects, use of animated, seemingly unstudied brush strokes going off in all directions (particularly in the backgrounds of his pictures), and use of heavy outlines are here emulated, if not quite mastered.
    These pictures of tulips also point to Sheeler's appreciation of similar motifs appearing on chests (see 32.274), ceramics (see 02.323), and birth and marriage certificates produced by Pennsylvania Germans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Sheeler knew their designs well, for as early as 1910 he spent numerous weekends exploring rural Bucks and Lancaster counties (the heart of "Pennsylvania Dutch" country). A dower chest he once owned (Christian Seltzer, "Pennsylvania German Dower Chest," 1781, Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University), features ornamental panels of symmetrically arranged, schematically drawn tulips (a favorite motif of the Pennsylvania Germans) arrayed much as Sheeler does in "Three White Tulips." Splayed across the picture surface, they create a simple, charming arrangement. This unusual marriage of influences-the integration of revolutionary stylistic concerns and decorative patterns with roots in folk or primitive art-linked Sheeler with the most progressive artistic minds of his day. And although his technique is not fully mature here (he would soon substitute a smoother stroke and subtler color), "Three White Tulips" established a pattern for the rest of his work. Hereafter, his richest pictures would be those in which the traditional and the modern are harmoniously intertwined.

    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

    34.92 x 26.67 cm (13 3/4 x 10 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1990.442

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    Americas

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  • In the Loge

    1878

    Mary Stevenson Cassatt (American, 1844–1926)

    Description

    Mary Stevenson Cassatt, raised near Pittsburgh and first trained as a painter in Philadelphia, became nineteenth-century America’s most modern painter. Like many of her contemporaries, Cassatt felt that her artistic education in the United States was inadequate, and she traveled to Europe soon after the Civil War. She studied in both Italy and France, and by 1873 she had made Paris her home. While most of her compatriots were proud of the education they received in the art schools of the French capital, Cassatt soon tired of the conservative approach taught in those academies and perpetuated by the exhibitions they organized. She felt strongly that painting needed to break free of old methods and adapt to the modern world.
    Cassatt found the answer to her demand for a new kind of painting in the work of the Impressionists, a small circle of independent French artists. She approved of their disdain for juried exhibitions and soon adopted their experimental techniques and their preference for images of contemporary life. In 1877 Edgar Degas invited her to show her work with the group. Cassatt thus became one of only three women, and the only American, ever to join the French Impressionists.

    In the Loge was the first of Cassatt’s Impressionist paintings to be displayed in the United States. When it was shown in Boston in 1878, critics described the picture as “striking,” adding that Cassatt’s painting “surpassed the strength of most men.” [1]The canvas, then entitled At the Français—A Sketch, depicts a fashionable lady dressed for an afternoon performance at the Comedie Français, a theater in Paris. Entertainments like the theater, the opera, and the racetrack were extremely popular among Parisians, who enjoyed such diversions not only for the show, but also for the opportunity to see—and to be seen by—their peers. The Impressionists took delight in painting these spectacles of modern life, and the theater, with its dazzling variety of lights and reflections, was an especially appealing subject. Many male artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Degas, had painted beautiful women in theater boxes, where they appeared as if they were on display in a gilded frame. Cassatt gave her female figure a noticeably more dynamic role, for she peers avidly through her opera glasses at the row of seats across from her. In the background at upper left, a man trains his gaze upon her. The viewer, who sees them both, completes the circle. Cassatt’s painting explores the very act of looking, breaking down the traditional boundaries between the observer and the observed, the audience and the performer.

    Notes
    1. “The M.C.M.A. [Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association] Exhibition,” Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), September 3, 1878, 4.

    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

    81.28 x 66.04 cm (32 x 26 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    10.35

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    Americas

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  • Black Duck

    1940–41

    Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    71.75 x 55.88 cm (28 1/4 x 22 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on Masonite

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    43.32

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Evening (The Fall of Day)

    1869–70

    William Rimmer (American (born in England), 1816–1879 American)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    101.6 x 127.63 cm (40 x 50 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Crayon, oil and graphite on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    81.110

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Mother and Child in a Boat

    1892

    Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862–1938)

    Description

    Although Edmund Charles Tarbell had been exposed to Impressionism during his student days in Paris from 1884 to 1886, it was not until 1890 that he started painting in this progressive style. His conversion was no doubt influenced by the exhibition in 1890 of Sargent’s A Morning Walk (private collection), the first of his Impressionist works to be shown in Boston. Tarbell painted Mother and Child in a Boat using his wife Emeline and daughter Josephine as models. He rendered the shimmer of light on the water and the dappled sunlight on the rowboat and costumes with strokes of pure color. Reluctant to relinquish his hard-earned drawing skills—his avowed purpose for studying in Paris—Tarbell carefully delineated his wife’s hands and features and deftly foreshortened his daughter’s left leg. The overhanging branches and high viewpoint, aspects borrowed from Japanese prints, provide an intimate view of these figures in a boat, a popular motif for both French and American Impressionists. Sargent had painted a strikingly similar composition, Two Women Asleep in a Punt under the Willows (1887, CalousteGulbenkian Museum, Lisbon), which Tarbell may have known through his friend Dennis Miller Bunker [45.475], who worked with Sargent in 1888 and who had exhibited his own Impressionist landscapes alongside Sargent’s.

    This text was adapted from Janet L. Comey’s entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, by Erica E. Hirshler et al., exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005).

    Details

    Dimensions

    76.52 x 88.9 cm (30 1/8 x 35 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    23.532

    Collections

    Americas

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  • A Sunflower from Maggie

    1937

    Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887–1986)

    Description

    Fruit and floral still lifes were an integral part of Georgia O'Keeffe's oeuvre over the course of her career. She used them for her experiments with abstraction-typically simplifying and enlarging the forms of fruits and flowers as she worked with both bold and subtle ranges of color. Of some two dozen canvases she painted in 1937, six were flowers, including hollyhocks, amaryllis, and this sunflower.
    O'Keeffe did not paint an extensive series of sunflowers. She featured them in a pair of canvases in 1935 (Cleveland Museum of Art; private collection) and returned to the subject two years later. In all of the sunflower compositions, she featured a single, virtually life-sized blossom against a colored setting. The flowers are seen close-up, but they have not been greatly enlarged or severely abstracted. In A Sunflower for Maggie, O'Keeffe used a light salmon background which at first seems to contrast to the rich yellow of the flower, but the background color is carefully picked up in the petals. The greens of the florets and leaves are also echoed discreetly in the petals, creating a unified composition.
    The "Maggie" of the title refers to O'Keeffe's friend, Margaret Johnson, wife of Robert Wood Johnson, president of the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson. They owned a house near O'Keeffe at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

    Karen Quinn

    Details

    Dimensions

    40.64 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1987.542

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Fishhook From Hawaii No. 2

    1939

    Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887–1986)

    Description

    Georgia O'Keeffe visited Hawaii in early 1939 at the invitation of the Dole Pineapple Company. N. W. Ayer, Dole's advertising agency, had offered to pay for her travel and living expenses for the duration of her stay if, upon its conclusion, O'Keeffe submitted to them two paintings of any subject suitable for use in the corporation's advertising materials. O'Keeffe agreed, and spent January through April of that year in Honolulu and Maui. The experience inspired her to create a number of botanical still-lifes, seascapes, landscapes, and two images of fishhooks, including "Fishhook From Hawaii No. 2." Once she returned to New York, O'Keeffe sent to Charles Coiner, art director of N. W. Ayer, a painting of a papaya tree and one of a red heliconia flower. By depicting a papaya tree, O'Keeffe had unwittingly selected a fruit grown and sold by Dole's competitors. Coiner immediately shipped O'Keeffe a large budding pineapple plant and she obligingly painted a replacement image. Despite her efforts to provide Dole with appropriate works, the corporation never chose to use O'Keeffe's paintings in their ad campaigns for reasons that remain unclear.

    O'Keeffe exhibited twenty Hawaiian pictures in the spring of 1940 at An American Place, the Madison Avenue art gallery that her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, operated between 1929 and 1946. In the accompanying brochure, O'Keeffe wrote, "If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawaii gave to me . . . What I have been able to put into form seems infinitesimal compared with the variety of experience." The exhibition was well received, with the influential art critic Henry McBride writing that O'Keeffe's fishhook paintings had "a strange and mystical elegance." (Henry McBride, "Georgia O'Keeffe's Hawaii," "The New York Sun," February 10, 1940, p. 10).

    "Fishhook From Hawaii No. 2" shows a standard feather fishing lure attached to a coiled leader and swivel. These recognizable objects are set against a distant horizon line. The daringly modernist composition is remarkably empty of objects, especially in the lower register. Rather, the painting takes as its subject the many subtle variations on the color blue, accented by a touch of green at far left, which O'Keeffe found in the tropical Pacific Ocean off Hawaii.

    O'Keeffe's fishhook paintings represent an important conceptual breakthrough for the artist. Always intrigued by the concept of positive and negative space, she began in these works to explore a new and unique compositional structure based on the visual experience of looking through an opening. O'Keeffe perfected this organization in her pelvis series of the early 1940s, an extraordinary group of paintings that show the blue New Mexico sky through gaps in a stark white pelvis bone. In both the fishhook and the pelvis pictures, the central opening distorts that which is seen through it, almost as if it were a lens. For example, in "Fishhook From Hawaii No. 2," the circle of coiled wire both intensifies and magnifies the blue sea and pink horizon line in the distance. These paintings are in many ways O'Keeffe's sustained meditation on the nature of vision; after all, the human eye is itself a distorting and revealing lens. It is therefore fitting that, in "Fishhook From Hawaii No. 2," the fishing lure's red rhinestone eye glints back at the viewer, demonstrating that in the act of seeing we are often seen.

    Heather Hole
    October 2009

    Details

    Dimensions

    91.12 x 60.64 cm (35 7/8 x 23 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1987.540

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    Americas

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  • Apples in a Tin Pail

    1892

    Levi Wells Prentice (American, 1851–1935 American)

    Description

    Fruit continued to be a frequent theme of still life paintings throughout the nineteenth century, despite the growing popularity of floral paintings. De Scott Evans, Joseph Decker, John McCloskey, and Levi Wells Prentice all painted fruit in a hard-edged or trompe l'oeil style during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Almost entirely self-taught, Prentice began his career in 1871 as a landscape painter in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. It was not until he moved to Brooklyn in 1883 that he began to paint still lifes, usually of fruit, although occasionally of flowers and fish. Prentice supplemented his living by designing furniture, building houses, making frames, and creating stained glass windows. He also made all his own palettes, brushes, easels, frames, and shadow boxes.

    Prentice made painting apples somewhat of a specialty, depicting the fruit in no fewer than forty pictures. In the 1840s, the Boston writer-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson declared the apple to be America's "national fruit." An integral part of the American diet for four centuries, apples have traditionally been used in pies, jellies, applesauce, and cakes, eaten plain or baked, and made into cider-especially hard cider, a staple in the nineteenth century. Prentice's paintings of apples depict the fruit variously spilling out of baskets, bags, and hats on the ground or on a tabletop, growing on boughs, or loosely resting on the ground. The Museum's picture, his best-known still life, shows apples in a tin pail, on a rough table, and in a bowl. Bruised and blemished, the apples are undoubtedly to be used for cooking or for cider. While the subject matter of the painting is humble, Prentice's technique is meticulous. He portrayed each apple with hard-edged realism and painstakingly conveyed the reflections of the apples and the bowl in the curved, gleaming surface of the tin pail. A striking composition of rounded forms in vibrant colors, Prentice's painting celebrates a plentiful harvest in rural America.

    This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.

    Details

    Dimensions

    41.27 x 33.65 cm (16 1/4 x 13 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1978.468

    Collections

    Americas

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  • View of New York

    1931

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description

    Charles Sheeler contributed to early modernism as both a painter and a photographer. A Philadelphia native, he trained at the School of Industrial Art and then went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with the Impressionist William Merritt Chase [49.1790]. His earliest paintings show the influence of his teacher’s style, but a 1908 trip to Paris and an encounter with the paintings of Paul Cézanne [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?keyword=Paul+C%C3%A9zanne&objecttype=54] sent his work in a different direction. Sheeler started to explore form and structure in his paintings, rather than the fleeting effects of light on transitory subjects. In 1911 he began to correspond with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?keyword=packageid:26668], also an admirer of Cézanne, although Stieglitz never exhibited Sheeler’s work. To support himself, Sheeler took up photography in 1912. He made images for commercial use, enjoying the financial security provided by producing photographs for magazine publishers and advertising firms. Sheeler also garnered critical acclaim for his photographs as works of art, and he began to experiment with film.
    At the same time, Sheeler was still struggling to gain respect as a painter. His dealer, aware of the secondary status that photography held with many collectors and critics, recommended that he restrict himself to the brush. With no guarantees of the same kind of success in painting that he had realized with photography, Sheeler embarked on the next phase of his career with ambivalence.

    View of New York was executed the year that Sheeler made the difficult decision to set aside photography. The painting’s title is ironic, for it does not depict a cityscape at all but shows the interior of the artist’s studio in New York. Through the open window, Sheeler painted a cloudy sky instead of the skyscrapers and crowded streets that had occupied an earlier generation. The balanced, almost geometric structure of the composition and the limited palette of grays, pale blues, and maroon underscore the stillness of the interior, as do the objects pictured: the empty chair, the unlit lamp, and a covered and unused camera. The enigmatic, almost funereal mood of this workspace alludes to Sheeler’s own ambivalence. He called the image “the most severe picture I ever painted,” but it was also one of his most personal. [1]

    Notes
    1. Charles Sheeler, quoted in Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), 156.

    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

    121.92 x 92.39 cm (48 x 36 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Photographs

    Accession Number

    35.69

    Collections

    Americas, Photography

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  • On a Shaker Theme

    1956

    Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965 American)

    Description

    Showing his deep respect for Shaker design, Sheeler wrote, "The Shaker communities, in the period of their greatest creative activity, have given us abundant evidence of their profound understanding of utilitarian design in their architecture and crafts. They understood and convincingly demonstrated that rightness of proportion in a house or a table, with regard for efficiency in use, made embellishment superfluous," (Quoted in Constance Rourke, "Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition," New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1938). Sheeler probably started collecting Shaker pieces in the 1920s, and began to include his Shaker furniture in paintings of domestic interiors such as "Interior" (1926, Whitney Museum of American Art). In 1934, he visited the Shaker villages in Hancock, Massachusetts and in New Lebanon, New York, where he photographed the Second Meeting House. In the same year he painted his first oil of Shaker architecture, "Shaker Buildings" (private collection), a rendering of the laundry and machine shop in Hancock, which he was to portray in three more paintings, including "On a Shaker Theme."
    The laundry and machine shop is a three and one half story building constructed in 1790. The structure served as a washhouse, machine house, herb and seed room, and woodshed and thus it exemplified the Shaker principle of maximum utility (Mary Jane Jacob, "The Impact of Shaker Design on the Work of Charles Sheeler," unpublished M.A. thesis, 1976, quoted in Flo Morse, "The Shakers and the World's People," New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980, p. 138). Over time and subsequent renovations it had acquired a unique shape. Two additions to the original building created interesting relationships of structural angles and forms that especially appealed to Sheeler. He depicted the building a second time in 1941 in "Shaker Detail" (The Newark Museum), showing a closer view but from the same angle as in his 1934 "Shaker Buildings." His final two paintings of the laundry and machine shop are the Museum's painting and "On a Shaker Theme #2" (Babcock Galleries), both composite images painted in 1956. While the first two pictures of the laundry and machine shop are straightforward representations, in the last two paintings, Sheeler interpreted the Shaker architecture in his late style, which employs more abstracted forms.
    In 1946, Sheeler had begun to experiment with composite photography as a basis for his paintings. He superimposed photographic negatives, sometimes reversing them, to arrive at evocative compositions. In "On a Shaker Theme," Sheeler overlaid two images, one slightly smaller and in reverse, of the portion of the laundry and machine shop depicted in "Shaker Detail." He also radically simplified the details of the building so that windows and doors are reduced to rectangles. Sheeler's method of overlapping images resulted in a complicated scaffolding of diagonals and verticals. "On a Shaker Theme" celebrates the refined geometric forms that underlie Shaker design, although its compositional intricacy eschews the Shaker virtues of purity and simplicity. This complexity, however, becomes integral to the piece if we consider the title of the painting to be musical - Sheeler had used musical titles starting in 1940 with "Fugue" [40.780] - as in Brahms's "Variations on a Theme by Haydn." Some of Brahms's variations on a simple theme become quite complex with the addition of contrasting but parallel melodic lines played along with the theme. Thus Sheeler took the simple geometric shapes that he admired in Shaker architecture as his theme, and by using composite photography created an intricate tribute to a beloved building.

    Janet Comey

    Details

    Dimensions

    58.42 x 73.98 cm (23 x 29 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1972.61

    Collections

    Americas, Contemporary Art

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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

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    Americas

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  • Long Branch, New Jersey

    1869

    Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    40.64 x 55.24 cm (16 x 21 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    41.631

    Collections

    Americas

    Not On View
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