Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Museum Mile : The Frick

The Frick is one of the preeminent small art museums in the United States, with a very high-quality collection of old master paintings and fine furniture housed in 16 galleries within the formerly occupied residential mansion. It is housed in the former Henry Clay Frick House, which was designed by Thomas Hastings and constructed in 1913-1914. Henry Clay Frick was an American industrialist and was the founder of the Frick Coke Company (the kind of coke used in steel manufacturing, not the delicious soda.) The paintings in many galleries are still arranged according to Frick's design, although additional works have been bought by the Frick Collection over the years in a manner deemed to correspond with the aesthetic of the collection.

Boucher Room

Fragonard Room

The Fragonard room is definitely one of the highlights of the entire musuem, all of his works are so gorgeous! was a French painter and printmaker whose late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism (Hedonism is a school which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. This is often used as a justification for evaluating actions in terms of how much pleasure and how little pain (i.e. suffering) they produce. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize this net pleasure (pleasure minus pain) this is very evident
in his paintings).

These four paintings are a main contribution to the Fragonard room in the Frick, combined they make up the Progress of Love Series. The Progress of Love is a series or collection of four paintings designed for the walls of one of the two salons in the pavilion of Louveciennes, being remodeled for Mme Du Barry, the king's mistress, in the early 1770s. Rather than a sequence, the four seem to be an ensemble that depicts four facets of love. The collection is not original in concept, and it grew out of the tradition of Watteau's fêtes galantes earlier in the century and from the pastoral paintings of François Boucher. Boucher's pastorals were representations of the pantomime theatre, and they were primarily static and bucolic. Fragonard's episodes are full of action in the same way Watteau's fêtes galantes are, but with an added element of poses drawn from classical ballet.

The Pursuit (1773)
In this picture the woman is again in motion, and to a contemporary viewer she would have been unmistakably performing in a ballet. She is leaping in a classic ballet position, and she wears soft, low-heeled ballet slippers like those worn by professional dancers of the time. The grouping of the three women is also a direct allusion to a contemporary choreographer's typical composition of figures on stage. In a similar way, the sculpture in the upper right of Cupids with a dolphin fountain would be recognizable as a visual allusion to Boucher, who often included such sculptures in his paintings, though with a much lighter and playful touch. Here, as in the first painting, the sculpture suggests darkness and turbulence, or at least mystery. Love may be a game with a conventional ending, but in the middle of the game convention dictates suspense.

Storming the Citadel or The Surprise or The Meeting (1773)
This picture depicts the two lovers bathed in an almost unnatural radiance of stage lighting, and the woman's gestures derive directly from the stage. The thrust of her hand against the greenery is mirrored in countless prints of the period depicting dancers or actresses directing the audience's attention to the wings: this was a pantomimic gesture gaining popularity in the French theatre at the time.
Besides the dramatic tension between the two lovers, however, there is a tension between them and the sculpture that towers above them--a statue of Venus withholding Cupid's quiver of arrows from him. Watteau had used a different version of this sculpture in at least two of his paintings, and Fragonard would have known those paintings as well as Dryden knew Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. In Watteau's paintings, however, Venus is playful and smiling. Here she is rough and menacing, almost knocking Cupid off of the cloud. The trees in the background, too, seem to shy away from her and match the angles formed by her body and Cupid's. You might be reminded of Pope's line in "Windsor Forest" about Nature there: "Not Chaos-like together crush'd and bruis'd, / But as the World, harmoniously confus'd."

The Declaration of Love (1773)
The calmest work of the four, this picture has a statue of Venus as friendship dominating the scene at the right. The lovers in the center act almost as a human sculpture, the woman on the central pedestal and the man leaning into her shoulder in a stylized posture of devotion. If these postures seem overly artificial to you, it might do to remember that adolescents today often mimic the walk, the talk, the gestures, the hairstyles, and the clothing of movie and television stars, and that if the young men and especially the women of Fragonard's day mimicked the gestures of the Belles of the theatre in Paris it should not be surprising. This painting, at any rate, would not have seemed unduly artificial to a contemporary viewer any more than an Olan Mills portrait, complete with artificial countryside background seems inappropriate for the wall of your parents' home. You might also notice here that the trees create the shape of a heart behind the couple.

The Lover Crowned (1773)
Along with the sorts of details you see in the companion paintings, here you will find scattered attributes of the sister arts, particularly the lute and tambourine and the sheet music, but also the statuary, the architecture, the landscape garden design, and the implied allusion to the dance and the opera and, therefore, to literature. Note also the presence of the artist himself in the figure in the foreground, who by his posture initiates the diagonal movement of the viewer's eye first to the woman's head and then on up to the statue of the sleeping Cupid. It is not the actions of the god of love now that animate the scene but the actions of the painter. Notice that in all of these paintings the gardens depicted are as lush and overgrown as the landscape on the island of Cytheria in Watteau's painting. But also notice in this picture that two of the plants are orange trees growing in large boxes, natural and artificial at once. In order to produce oranges without damage from the cold weather, orange trees were planted this way to be moved inside hothouses called orangeries. The figures in these paintings are hothouse plants of a different sort, as protected by their social class from the wildness of life as Pope's shepherds are by his poetic composition.
I would also like you to consider in more detail the relationship between the human figures and the sculptures depicted in the paintings. Normally we think of sculpture as static and eternal. When we come upon it in life, we know that it has appeared the way it has for a long time. In these paintings it is used as commentary on the action, and it serves as a response to or illustration of the lovers. The painter has created both at once, however, so the illusion of the sculpture's permanence versus the lovers' temporality is an illusion. Because they are created artificially in the painting, they are as permanent/eternal as the staturary. And perhaps the scenes they depict are just as eternal.

The Rehearsal, Hiliare-Germain-Edgar Degas, 1878-1879
This painting is probably the canvas entitled École de danse (School of Dance) that Degas entered in the fourth exhibition of the Impressionists in 1879. The Rehearsal is one of many compositions devoted to the dance that the artist produced in the 1870s, apparently fascinated with the mechanization of the human body that the rigorous discipline of the ballet imposed. In the same exhibition of 1879 Degas showed two other pictures of dancers practicing with a violinist. In all of them the unidentified musician appears divorced from the events surrounding him, his age and stolid form providing a touching contrast to the doll-like ballerinas.

Degas is often identified as an impressionist, an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew, in part, from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy.

Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he "never adopted the Impressionist color fleck", and he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. "He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows", according to art historian Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, "no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing." Nonetheless, he is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement. His scenes of Parisian life, his off-center compositions, his experiments with color and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists—most notably Mary Cassatt and Edouard Manet—all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement.

The four season by Boucher were some of my favorite pieces to see they were so beautiful! As frivolous as the Rococo Period was I think the art from that time period is gorgeous! I got prints of all four of them from the Museum Store and plan on getting them framed and displaying them in my future home. The wall space of my future home is basically all filled, I have collected far too many things over the years!

Jean Daullé's engravings after The Four Seasons identify the owner of the paintings as Madame de Pompadour. The four canvases probably were designed as overdoors for one of the Marquise s many residences, but it is not known which one. Boucher's shield-shaped compositions, of which three are dated 1755, were later extended by another hand onto rectangular canvases; the present curvilinear templates expose only the original body of each. In these representations of the age-old subject of the Four Seasons,Boucher broke with the tradition of depicting the labors performed at various times of the year, characteristically choosing to illustrate pleasant pastimes instead. The amorous subjects of Spring and Autumn, described as pastorales in the sale catalogueof the collection of the Marquis de Marigny (Madame de Pompadour s younger brother and heir), recall the fêtes galantes invented engraved in his youth, but the backgrounds of all of the Seasons, especially the frosted one of Winter, reveal Boucher s particular skills as a landscapist. The bathers of Summer depend from a far older pictorial tradition that would subsequently be continued by Renoir, Cézanne, and Picasso.

These two by Whistler surprised me, they are so feminine and light. Most of his that I am familiar with are dark with such an emphasis on black. The titles of these pieces are also great, above, which is my favorite one I love the delicate blossoms in the upper right hand corner as well as on her dress, is entitled, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink:
Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland. Below is a picture of,
Harmony in Pink and Grey:
Portrait of Lady Meux

Mother and Children (La Promenade) , 1875-1876, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
I love all of Renoir's things, he is definitely one of my favorite impressionists. The subjects of this painting have never been identified which I thought was curious, the dresses of the little girls are just fabulous!

Officer and Laughing Girl, 1657, Johannes Vermeer.
After writing my senior thesis on dutch nautilus cups of the 17th century and examining numerous Dutch paintings for evidence to support my idea I have a new found love and intense interest in dutch paintings, and Vermeer was one of the best, so naturally I was excited to see some works by him. In what may be one of the first works of his mature style, Vermeer transforms the theme of a girl entertaining her suitor, already popular in Dutch art, into a dazzling study of light-filled space. The dark foil of the officer’s silhouette dramatizes both the illusion of depth and the brilliant play of light over the woman and the furnishings of the chamber. The map of Holland on the far wall, oriented with west at the top, was first published in 1621. Both the map and the chairs appear in other paintings by Vermeer. Going back to that awesome thesis I wrote, spending four dedicated months on one project definitely leaves an impression on you, I feel the map in the back could definitely be an allusion to the Dutch Trade and how powerful it was, ah so fascinating! The more I look into it the more my thesis proves to be correct, so cool, so cool.

Whew! wasn't that an awesome tour of the Frick!? It truly is an amazing place, I want to go back again and again and again! After the taxi dropped us off at our hotel we noticed we were on the Forever 21 sign! Can you find us? I will give you a hint, we are on the left and my dad is the easiest to find in his white baseball hat ....

Tonight for dinner we went to Joe Allen, another restaurant on our favorite street full of delightful places to eat. I think I have made up my mind, I think this was my favorite place we ate, it was DELICIOUS! and such a fun atmosphere! I got this chicken sandwich that was to die for! and for dessert I got a berry peach tart which was splendid and an excellent contrast to the death by chocolate dessert both of my parents got.

Tonight's show was Billy Elliot. I had never heard of this play so I didn't really know what to expect. Boy oh Boy what a show! The kids that play Billy are OUTSTANDING! There are 5 boys that rotate performances because it is such an exhausting and demanding role, but man can they dance! If you hadn't noticed I loved this show, I thought it was awesome! All of the music was composed by Elton John which was interesting, they all had a fun energetic beat. And there were also great comic relief moments, like the dancing dresses ....

The walk home to the heart of times square never ceased to amaze me, it is such a unique and fun place! I felt like it was a constant party and we were always invited!

1 comment:

  1. Some say En Promenade represents Madame charpentier and her children, Georgette and Paul