Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Talks in Rome, New York, Oxford, and Pittsburgh

I've just returned from an amazing two-week vacation in Italia, as I mentioned would be happening during my birthday post. I may write about some of the details of that trip if I have time over the next few weeks. For now, however, I wanted to blog briefly about a series of talks that already have, and will take place, over the next few months. I am fortunate to have been invited to give talks in three of these locations, and the fourth was only just announced to me as an acceptance of my conference proposal. It's definitely going to be a busy couple of months!

One of the things I did not mention about my trip to Italia was that I was invited to speak at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome on April 23rd. This fascinating institution on the Piazza di Spagna is set up as a memorial with a library and archive of materials associated with the British Romantic poets John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron. I gave an hour-long talk there about the life and works of John Gibson, the sculptor about whom I have spoken and published in the past, entitled "From Mars and Cupid to the Tinted Venus: The Sculptor John Gibson and His Studio in Rome." As far as we know, Gibson never met any of these poets in person, but he did know well the painter Joseph Severn, who traveled to Rome with Keats and was with him when he died (and later buried beside him). Like Gibson he remained in Rome for a number of years as an expatriate artist.

Next week, on May 7th at 6:30pm, I am giving a talk at the Dahesh Museum of Art gallery/shop here in NYC, as part of their monthly Salon Thursdays. My talk is entitled "Jewish Artists in Victorian London: Abraham, Rebecca, and Simeon Solomon" and will encompass aspects of the life and times of the Solomons, as well as highlight important paintings from their careers. The image you see above is by the eldest brother Abraham, Second Class, The Parting, 1854, which will be among the works discussed both as a genre painting and part of the contemporaneous interest in that new mass transit invention, the railroad. The talk is free and open to the public. (You can read more about my posts on the Solomons by clicking here.)

Then, in early June, I am giving an invited talk at a conference to be held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University. The conference is about object-centered learning and the use of museum collections in education. (I confess that I cannot find anything online about this, but it is a conference open to registrants, and is scheduled for June 5 and 6.) My paper is yet to be titled, but will relate to the work we have been doing at Columbia using art works for curricular integration, and comes as a nice follow-up to the object-centered symposium we hosted in February this year. I've discovered also that an exhibition of British drawings will be on while I'm there, so I look forward to seeing that.

And, finally, in October, I will be part of a panel session on globalism in 19th-century art at the annual Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), to be held in Pittsburgh (their first conference north of the Mason-Dixon Line). bklynbiblio readers may recall that I gave a talk about Gibson and polychrome sculpture at last year's SECAC in Sarasota. This year, however, my paper will be based on a rather new project: the visual culture of Anglo-Persian relations around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the more distinct images associated with this, then, will be the image you see here. This is a portrait of Mirza Abul Hassan Khan (1776-1845), painted 1809-10 by William Beechey. The mirza was the Persian ambassador from the Qajar Shah of Iran to the court of King George III at the time this was painted. The painting is in the collection of the British Library. Here is the brief abstract I submitted for my paper, which will take place in about 6 months from now.

James Justinian Morier and Mirza Abul Hasan Khan:
Anglo-Persian Diplomacy in British Art, ca. 1810-20
by Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University

Columbia University’s art collection includes a heretofore unknown 1818 portrait attributed to George Henry Harlow of the writer and diplomat James Justinian Morier (1782-1849) dressed in Persian clothing. The painting seems to falls in line with contemporaneous Orientalist portraits showing Western sitters wearing Eastern garb. However, an exploration into Morier’s life and times shows that this label disregards the painting’s association with the global politics of its day. Indeed, this painting is an important part of the visual culture of Anglo-Persian diplomacy during the Napoleonic wars. Morier is best known today for his Romantic novel The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1824), but he also wrote and illustrated two travelogues (published 1812 and 1818) about his years in Persia as part of a British diplomatic mission.

Equally important in the context of Anglo-Persian diplomacy is a consideration of Mirza Abul Hasan Khan (1776-1845), who in 1809-10 traveled with Morier to England as the Persian ambassador with orders from the Qajar shah to finalize the treaty between the two nations. An exotic arrival in Georgian London, the mirza had his portrait painted by Thomas Lawrence and William Beechey, and he kept his own travel journal known as the Hayratnamah, or Book of Wonders. The mirza’s experiences in London can be seen as a counterpoint to Morier’s life in Persia, an opportunity to understand—and misunderstand—each other’s cultures in the pursuit of diplomacy. This paper will consider these portraits and travelogues as documentation of Anglo-Persian diplomacy in British art during the Napoleonic wars.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday No. 45

Following up on last year's memorable birthday, I thought I would share some highlights of birthday no. 45, which took place on Friday evening. My birthday celebration actually began last weekend, when AA & I took an overnight trip to Philadelphia, which was nice and relaxing. We have, of course, been there a few other times before, but this time I booked tickets for our first visit to the Barnes Foundation, the art museum established by private collector Albert Barnes, with its heavy emphasis on late 19th- and early 20th-century French modernist art. The Paul Cézanne still life you see here, from 1892-94, is just one of the many beautiful paintings by this artist in the collection. In contrast, Barnes clearly also liked Renoir and as a result there are way too many really bad Renoirs there too. I was surprised, however, by the number of paintings by Modigliani and Prendergast, that were all quite good. The reason why one goes to the Barnes, however, is to see his extraordinary installations, mandated by his bequest to be remained as such, for future learning experiences. His eye was based on formal elements: line, color, composition, etc. Subject was irrelevant. As a result, Barnes liked to hang things based on balance and harmonic influences, so one sees arrangements that often seem bizarre with mixed small and large paintings hung crowded together, and with metal ornamental objects like door hinges and scissors hung to balance the linear structure of the paintings. There is a method to the madness, and the more one learns about Barnes and his vision of looking at art, one realizes what a fascinating museum it truly is. The foundation itself did a rather controversial thing in moving the museum from his home in Merion, PA to downtown Philadelphia near the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), but their new building, which opened in 2012 and was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is an example of gorgeous, organic architecture, and the rooms have been retained in their original installations. This is definitely worth a visit if one has never been. We also visited the Rodin Museum, which has the largest collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of Europe, and we also strolled through a few galleries at the PMA too. We also enjoyed strolling through historical neighborhoods like Society Hill, with its delightfully charming 18th-century colonial homes, and the downtown areas near Rittenhouse Square.

My actual birthday was this past Friday, so I took the day off from work. I was suffering from bad hayfever, but fought through it to get my haircut, then eat a delicious lunch with my artist-friend MT. I received in the mail a gift from the PR-AMs: a beautifully illustrated book by Cynthia Mills entitled Beyond Grief: Sculpture and Wonder in the Gilded Age Cemetery. That evening AA & I first met up with my friend JHC and her adorable son D for a glass of wine and charcuterie. Then we had a stylishly hipster dinner of tapas & dim sum at Ma Peche in midtown. My birthday gift? A new iPhone 6! (Oh, how I love that man of mine!) I'm still just getting the hang of it, so I doubt I will write a technology review as I've done in the past, but the phone is fantastic. On Saturday, our friend AR arrived from Zurich, and last night the boys (AR, DM, JM, DC, AA and moi) got together for drinks at Therapy and then dinner at Maria Pia in Hell's Kitchen (veal saltimbocca...molto buono). All these festivities will continue some more on Tuesday when KB arrives to stay at my apartment, and we have a group post-birthday dinner with a few other friends.

But gets better. In a few days I leave for Italia. I'm going to see family for a few days, reconnecting with them after my father's passing. Then AA is flying over with the DPG-JBs, and I am meeting them in Rome. After we visit the Eternal City, we head to Florence, and then a final day in Milan before heading home. It's going to be such a great vacation. I can't believe I haven't been to Italy since June 2009 (about which I blogged here). The image you see here was taken by me back then as well, and shows a view of the Ponte Sant'Angelo with sculptures by GianLorenzo Bernini, taken from the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

As festive as all of this is, I think the most important part of aging and celebrating each passing year is the reflection on our lives, all of our accomplishments, and all the lessons we continue to learn each day. In thanking everyone on Facebook for their wonderful birthday wishes, I wrote the following message, and I hope it has some poignancy for anyone who reads it here as well: "Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful birthday wishes!! Having now reached the 45th anniversary of my birth, I'm starting to accept all those things, good + bad, that accompany the beginning of my 'middle-aged' years (note that I said beginning!!). Gray hair + a few extra pounds aren't that traumatic, I really don't sweat the small stuff like I used to, I've learned through difficult losses, but also with great love, that life IS about the ups + downs and learning how to ride those waves without falling, and--the one lesson I try to remind myself each day--there is truly nothing more important in our lives than the moments we are living right now. I look forward to more of life's lessons as I continue maturing gracefully."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Portal 7

Portal 7: Quebec City (24 May 2014)
(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

A door just opened on a street--
    I, lost, was passing by--
An instant's width of warmth disclosed,
    And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
     I, lost, was passing by,--
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
     Enlightening misery.

-- Emily Dickinson, Life series, Poem CXI