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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Friday, June 24, 2016

    Luxury Objects in the Age of Marie Antoinette: Lace and Porcelain

    The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through August 2016. 

    Guest bloggers Madison Agresti ‘19 and Emma Ning ‘19 are Smith College students and two of the authors of this cabinet. This installation derives from a First Year Seminar in Fall 2015, Re-Membering Marie Antoinette, taught by Professor Janie Vanpée. In this seminar the students collaborated to create an online exhibition that examined the economic, social, and aesthetic roles of an array of luxury objects and cultural practices in the late eighteenth century.

    Charles Volaire (?). French, 1750-1820. Girl Lacemaker. n.d. Black chalk on off white laid paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in memory of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1969:13

    During the eighteenth century lace adorned almost every ensemble worn by the French aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeoisie. Lace originated in Italy and Flanders in the early sixteenth century, but Colbert, Louis XIV’s finance minister, began to promote it as a French industry to rival that of Venice in the latter half of the sixteenth century. The first cradle of lacemaking in France was Alençon, celebrated for its own particular pattern, the point de France. As plates from Diderot’s Encyclopédie illustrate, lace makers, or dentellières, were mostly women who typically worked at home, sometimes going blind from spending so much time turning thread into intricate designs.

    From Diderot’s Encyclopédie. Paris, 1782–1832. Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College 

     

    Porcelain also had many uses in eighteenth-century France, from decorative sculptural pieces to more utilitarian cosmetic pots, vases, inkstands, and tableware like wine coolers, tureens, and tiered table centerpieces, as the scene of two couples flirting over a late supper in Moreau le Jeune’s Le Souper fin illustrates well.

    Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune. French, 1741–1814 Le Souper fin, from Le Monument du Costume Physique et Moral de la fin du dix-huitième siècle ou Tableaux de la vie. 1789. Engraving on paper Purchased with the gift of Mrs. Charles Lincoln Taylor (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). SC 1964:24-24

    The extensive gilding and range of enamel colors on this porcelain cup and plate are typical of the decorative style developed by the Sèvres Porcelain Royal Manufactury after the discovery in the 1760s of the once-secret ingredient, kaolin, used in China to make high-fire, hard-paste porcelain. Unlike the porcelain plates and decorative centerpiece featured in the print, Le Souper fin whose style dates from the late eighteenth-century, this cup and plate reflect the Neoclassical style fashionable under Louis Philippe.

    Sevrès Porcelain Royal Manufactury. French, established c. 1750. Cup and Saucer. 1846. Porcelain. Gift of Harriet D. Carter, AB class of 1931, MLA class of 1935. SC 1979:36-1a and b

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  • Friday, June 17, 2016

    Luxury Objects in the Age of Marie Antoinette: Writing Utensils

    The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through August 2016. 

    Guest blogger Maddy Vogel ’19 is a Smith College student and one of the authors of this cabinet. This installation derives from a First Year Seminar in Fall 2015, Re-Membering Marie Antoinette, taught by Professor Janie Vanpée. In this seminar the students collaborated to create an online exhibition that examined the economic, social, and aesthetic roles of an array of luxury objects and cultural practices in the late eighteenth century.

    The late eighteenth century in France was a moment of perfection and refinement in luxury craftsmanship: exquisitely crafted furniture, carved and painted wall paneling, refined fabrics—lace, muslin, velvets and silks—decorated with hand-painted or embroidered designs. Useful and decorative porcelain in brilliant colors and delicate patterns, imaginative coiffures and hats, all abounded in the interior spaces and on the bodies, respectively, of those from the wealthy ranks of society.  Marie Antoinette, if not always the leader in setting a decorative trend, was highly conscious of fashion and showed refined taste in design and materials. Although the period style is called Louis XVI, it should rightly be named after her.

    Unknown artist. French, 18th century. Inkstand with River God. 1730–50. Bronze on ormolu base. Purchased. SC 1958:42

    This bronze inkwell in the shape of river god was created between 1730 and 1750.  Its gilt ormolu base and rococo motifs are typical of mid-eighteenth-century decorative objects crafted for the burgeoning luxury market, much like the writing implements featured in the print below, Le Lever.  Although the artist who created this inkstand is unknown, a similar inkwell was made in Paris by Paul Sormani, whose works adhered to the styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

    From Diderot’s Encyclopédie. Paris, 1782–1832. Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

     

    Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune. French, 1741–1814. Le Lever, from Le Monument du Costume Physique et Moral de la fin du dix-huitième siècle ou Tableaux de la vie. 1789. Engraving on paper. Purchased with the gift of Mrs. Charles Lincoln Taylor (Margaret Rand Goldthwait, class of 1921). SC 1964:24-13

    Writing played an important role in eighteenth-century French society.  The daily act of corresponding with friends and acquaintances created social and business bonds as well as helped shape the personal identity of the writers. Moreau le Jeune’s print, Le Lever, features a typical scene of a secretary taking dictation from his noble master, who simultaneously dresses and attends to the morning business. The secretary writes at a bureau, specifically designed with a large flat surface to facilitate business correspondence. Quills, inkstands, paper, and writing desks were necessary instruments, but proper posture and elegant penmanship were equally important. Inkstands of porcelain, bronze, or silver, embellished with ornate designs, had a prominent place on writing desks designed to mold the writer’s hand, arm, and body into the ideal posture.  

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  • Friday, June 10, 2016

    Drawing Dance

    Guest blogger Maggie Hoot was a Smith College student, class of 2016, with a major in Art History and a Museums Concentration. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  There are variations on this quote, but the concept stands: one artistic method cannot be used to interpret another.  But is that true?  Can the auditory be shared visually? Can an expression of motion be rendered in static form?  The idea of conveying messages across expressive media has challenged generations of artists.  One of the most prevalent manifestations is the connection between art and dance.  Edgar Degas frequently depicted dancers in his art, but his art often focused on the quiet moments before the action. 

    Edgar Degas. French, 1834-1917. Dancer Putting on Her Shoe, ca. 1888. Etching printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-18

    However, when trying to draw motion, artists approach the task differently, depending on their style and the elements they wish to capture.  Artists have attempted to strike a balance between their representation of the dancer and the concept of dance itself.

    Abraham Walkowitz. American, 1880-1965. Isadora Duncan, n.d. Pen, ink and pencil on off white wove paper. Gift of Abraham Walkowitz. SC 1953:49-6

    Abraham Walkowitz embraced a quick and light feeling in his use of loose pen strokes, evocative of the new modern dance developed by Isadora Duncan.  Walkowitz was especially intrigued by Duncan: “Isadora is movement. I watched her dances, and I never had her pose, I just watched the movement, that's what makes the dance the feeling, the movement, the grace.”[1]

    Jere Abbott. American, 1897-1982. Geometric Dancing Figure, n.d. Pen and ink on paper. Gift of Jere Abbott. SC 1979:1-33

    Contrasting the looseness of Walkowitz’s drawings, Jere Abbott refined the lines of the dancer into discrete geometric arcs and angles.  While the viewer’s eye is drawn through the circles, the figure itself is more representative of form than motion.

    Joan Junyer Pascual-Fibla. Spanish, 1904-1989. Dancers, 1938. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in memory of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1969:19

    Joan Junyer Pascual-Fibla played with the concept of positive and negative space, giving the background as much agency as the dancers themselves.  Also, because the figures seem suspended in midair, they hold a great deal of potential energy-- the possibility of motion.

    Mino Maccari. Italian, 1898-1989. Dancing Figures, n.d. Lithograph printed in color on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. SC 1977:32-177

    In Mino Maccari’s print, the dancers appear to be stepping out of the dark background, adding color and motion to the composition.  Only isolated parts of their bodies are visible, but their forms dominate the image.

    These four works are only the tip of the iceberg; Walkowitz alone drew Isadora Duncan approximately five thousand times.  The challenge of making a static drawing feel dynamic and active has engaged artists for centuries.

     

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    [1]Oral history interview with Abraham Walkowitz, 1958 December 8-22,Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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