Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First Snowfall: 2014-2015 Fall/Winter

We're a little late in the season, based on the last couple of years in comparison, but today in NYC we had our first snowfall of the season. It was rainy this morning, turned to sleet by 10am, and then was coming down as snow at lunch time. It stopped and reverted to rain by 2:30pm or so, but it still fell down enough to stick on the bushes, as you can see here in this picture taken by my Columbia colleague TG. I always like seeing snow fall, but today was a bit nasty with the rain and wind. My umbrella even went kaput on me! Will we get a real snowstorm soon? We shall see...last year was crazy with all the snow we got, but I'm not anticipating we will have a repeat of that this season.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fanny Eaton: The "Other" Pre-Raphaelite Model

Art historians and lovers of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their works know well the names and lives of many of the female "stunners" (as they called them) who modeled for them. These include names like Lizzie Siddall, Jane Morris, Annie Miller, Keomi, Maria Zambaco, and so on. But another model about whom little historically has been known, yet who frequently appears in Pre-Raphaelite art from the late 1850s through the late 1860s, is Fanny Eaton (1835-1924). Born in Jamaica the daughter of a former slave, Eaton is a fascinating study in the art and social politics of Victorian Britain. Her mixed-race identity allowed her to be an exotic in the theatrical sense, enabling her to be depicted in different cultural roles in a number of their paintings. The image you see above is by Joanna M. Boyce Wells (1831-1861). It is a portrait study of Eaton dated 1861 that was meant to be a larger work of her depicted as a sibyl, had the artist not died suddenly (image: Yale Center for British Art). The image below shows Eaton as an Indian ayah in Rebecca Solomon's A Young Teacher, also 1861 (private collection), about which I have blogged before (see my post here).

I am pleased to announce that my article about Eaton, discussing her life and her role as a model, has been published in the Summer 2014 issue of the PRS Review, and the response so far from has been quite positive, leading to the discovery in private collections of a few heretofore unknown drawings depicting Eaton as a model, and a number of "retweets" and "favorites" on Twitter. I have now uploaded a PDF version in the Academic Commons of Columbia University Libraries, so it can be downloaded and read for free by all (available here). I owe Brian Eaton, great-grandson of the model, my gratitude for sharing with me his family research material and for supporting my article on his great-grandmother.

My interest in Eaton stems from her role as a model for Simeon Solomon, most notably his painting The Mother of Moses, 1860, about which I spoke at the Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future conference at Oxford University in September 2013 (see blog posts here and here). Biographer and curator Jan Marsh previously had written about Eaton in her Black Victorians exhibition catalogue, and has added a few updates on her blog as well (here and here), the latter highlighting a newly discovered drawing of Eaton by the little-known artist Walter Fryer Stocks. I am hopeful that my article will continue to help increase the identification of Eaton in the works of these and other artists, but more importantly will add to the important dialogue about the role of blacks, slavery, and cultural diverse during the global 19th-century world.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

MWA XXX: Overbeck's Freundschaftsbildnis

There's nothing like a good German word to make you stop and gape in wonder. Freundschaftsbildnis is, literally, a friendship picture. As an artistic construct, it relates frequently to German Romantic painters of the early 19th century who made pictures of friends, or painted special works as gifts for one another that included symbols invoking each friend's presence in the painting. The work you see here, Italia and Germania, 1828, was a friendship picture painted by Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) for his close friend Franz Pforr. Sadly, Pforr never saw this work, as it was painted 16 years after he had died at the untimely age of 24.

Pforr and Overbeck had met as students in the Vienna Academy. Disgusted with the regimented form of teaching and wanting to find their own sources of inspiration, they banded together with a group of other young men and named themselves the Lukasbund, or the Brotherhood of St. Luke. The name was a revival of the medieval guild tradition in which painters took St. Luke the evangelist as their patron saint. The group of men were dedicated to painting religious subjects, and they moved together to Rome. They were given permission to settle in the abandoned monastery of Sant'Isidoro, and they took to wearing monk's robes, growing their hair long, and, generally speaking, having the appearance of Biblical figures from the past while they lived a monastic life. Overbeck even converted to Catholicism soon after his arrival in Rome. People began to make fun of them by calling them Nazarenes (as in trying to relive the idea of Nazareth and its most famous resident Jesus), and that name has stuck with them ever since. Artistically, they painted mostly religious and medieval themes, and initially modeled themselves on art of the trecento and quattrocento, early Italian and Northern Renaissance works that inspired them with their primitive linear structures. Pforr's close friendship with Overbeck led in 1810 to the painting of the first of these two friendship pictures: Shulamit and Mary, 1810-11 (right; you can read more about this work here). Pforr died the following year in 1812, but Overbeck went on to have a long, lucrative career in Rome, painting religious subjects and other medieval-themed work in a modified artistic style that emulated the influence of the High Renaissance artist Raphael.

Italia and Germania, above, is an allegorical representation of the two nations as young women, with Italy on the left and Germany on the right. It is important to keep in mind that, at this time in European history, there were no countries with these names, but their concepts and languages certainly existed, and they came to represent the South with its Catholic/classical associations with Rome and the Vatican, and the North with its Gothic Protestant leanings. In Overbeck's painting, these two allegorical figures join hands and share a tender moment, intimating the close friendship of Overbeck and Pforr, but also their decision to support one another as German-speaking artists living in Italy with its lush art and cultural heritage to follow their dreams. Even the buildings in the background reflect the Italian and German styles of architecture for which each was famous.

What is also remarkable to me about this painting is that within a few short years after it had been painted, it was purchased by King Ludwig I of Bavaria and installed in his newly constructed art museum in Munich for contemporary art. This painting was one of the great highlights of my trip to Munich in September. I had studied it in graduate school and appreciated its great beauty and symbolic message, but seeing it in person was an amazing experience, as only then could I appreciate the beautiful colors and Overbeck's exquisite handling. The caressing of their hands in one another's, complemented by the way they lean their heads together, exemplifies the emotional sentiment of Romantic painting, the goal of which was evoke emotions on the part of the viewer. This painting is, undoubtedly, an important highlight for anyone who visits the Neue Pinakothek to this day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Portal 6

Portal 6: New Haven (20 November 2011)
(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

A doorway is more than merely a hole in a wall through which we get from outside to inside or from one room into the next. A doorway is more than a practical necessity brought about by our predilection for dividing up the space of the world by building walls. A doorway is an instrument for the management and nuancing of space; it is also a punctuation in our experience of the world, and has psychological effects on how we see the world and how we behave. . . . A doorway is a locus of opposites and contradiction. It links spaces on either side of a barrier but it also divides those spaces. It creates a sense of otherness in places and between the occupants of those places. A doorway discriminates between those who may pass through and those whom are excluded. Often they are guarded and kept under surveillance. Usually they can be locked shut. A doorway hides more than it reveals, and controls what may be seen. Passing through a doorway may be a challenge but it is also often a reassurance, the attainment of a place of safety and privacy. . . . As in-between places, doorways are where we can be in a state of being neither here nor there, in limbo, a transitional state of becoming rather than being.

-- from Simon Unwin, Doorway (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 205