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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.

  • Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    The Grand Tour

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

    Canaletto, Italian (1697 - 1768). Le Preson V, n.d. Etching printed in black on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1952:74

    At its height in the 18th-century, the European Grand Tour was considered a way for young British gentlemen to gain cultivation and refinement with the least amount of embarrassment to their families.  Even though there was not an official itinerary, these travelers focused on major cities such as Paris and Rome and almost always concluded their tours in Italy.  While Paris was renowned for its modern culture and high society, Italy was largely seen as regressive despite attempts to modernize and conform to the ideals of the Enlightenment; Italy was visited primarily for its acclaimed art and antiquities.   Venice was one of the few cities in Italy that was up to British standards.  It still retained some of the vitality associated with a commercial hub, though the economy had shifted primarily to tourism.  These features made Venice a popular choice to finish the Grand Tour.

     As Grand Tour travelers drove the Italian economy, they also influenced local art production. It was common for travelers to keep some kind of written log of their travels; however, the visual representation of their destinations was limited to what artists could create with brush or pen.  In response, many Italian artists began producing works for commercial purchase.  One such artist was Giovanni Antonio Canal, commonly known as Canaletto.  Canaletto created contemporary land- and cityscapes, or vedute, which appealed to the travelers’ desire for reminders of their travels—the picture postcard of their day.  Canaletto was and remains one of the most famous painters of vedute. 

    Canaletto, Italian (1697 - 1768). Landscape with Equestrian Statue, n.d. Etching printed in black on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1952:75

    Canaletto was born and raised in Venice and began his artistic career there in 1719.  Initially, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a theater scene painter, where he developed a detailed and deft hand that later became widely recognized as his signature style.  In his vedute, Canaletto created extremely detailed, almost photographic depictions of scenes of Venice, the surrounding country, and even some imagined landscapes.  Canaletto recreated the local architecture meticulously and included the whole range of Venetian life, beggars and lords, children and animals.   He devoted most of his time to painting, but also produced many equally impressive and more affordable etchings.  Even in his smallest etchings, Lilliputian figures are crafted with just as much detail as in his larger paintings.

    Canaletto, Italian (1697 - 1768). Mestre, n.d. Etching printed in black on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1959:31

    Just as the prevalence of the Grand Tour influenced Canaletto’s art, likewise, his art shaped British views toward Italy.  In the second half of the eighteenth century, Canaletto’s works were so numerous and widespread that the British built strong pre-, and often mis- conceptions of Venice based on his works before they ever arrived at its canals.  His work was so popular in England that other artists began creating works that imitated Canaletto’s style and often erroneously carried his name.  Today, even though Canaletto produced an extensive number of works over nearly 50 years, there are more "Canalettos" than can be claimed by a single man. 

    Canaletto, Italian (1697 - 1768). Porch with Lantern, ca. 1741. Etching printed in black on white laid paper. Gift of Mrs. E. Byrne Hackett (Isabel La Monte, class of 1913). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1979:26-1

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  • Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Martin Parr: British Food

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled [Turkey and Lamp] from the Food series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Janet Borden, class of 1973. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2002:28

    “If you go to the supermarket and buy a package of food and look at the photo on the front, the food never looks like that inside, does it? That is a fundamental lie we are sold every day.”

                                                                                                                  -- Martin Parr [source]

    The advent of digital cameras has made it easier for anyone to become a photographer, and one particularly ubiquitous subject for popular photography is food. It’s not uncommon to snap pictures of your dinner and post it to Facebook, and the photo-sharing site Instagram is famous for the mouth-watering pictures that users share. Some even go so far as to call such appealing presentation of meals ‘food porn.’

    In the mid-1990s, long before everyone had a food blog, Martin Parr shot British Foods,a series of meals, side-dishes and sweets with a decidedly different vibe.

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled (British Food), from the Food series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Janet Borden, class of 1973. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2005:50

    Parr’s first exposure to photography came through his grandfather, a hobbyist who gave him his first camera. Inspired by early pioneers of color photography such as William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz, Parr became known for the bright colors in his works, an effect he creates by using flash in the daylight, and by using amateur film.

     

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled [Lemon Meringue Pie] from the Food series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Cristina Enriquez-Bocobo, class of 1985, and Cody J. Smith. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:11-3

    At times, Martin Parr’s British Food seems to recall the photographic vocabulary of high-end cookbooks, a result of his close-cropped images, saturated colors and careful presentation. A cheery red-and-white gingham tablecloth, or a decorative plate with images of leaves, wouldn’t be out of place in Martha Stewart Living.

    Unlike professional food photographers, though, Martin Parr is not trying to make his food look appealing. His photographs lack the glamour of a magazine spread, where every element is planned to make you desire a bite. There’s no glamour here; His bread is simple, plain, white and untoasted.  The butter on top is not smooth and creamy, but a thin off-white spread.

     

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled (frosted cookie) from the Food Series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Janet Borden, class of 1973. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:69

    On the whole, in fact, the images are decidedly unappetizing. Under Parr’s camera lens, the gooey icing on a cookie becomes a viscous white blob encasing stale, discolored sprinkles. His halved lemon is a leftover piece of decaying produce wrapped in plastic. Mushy peas, a British staple, are an unctuous mass of chunky green sludge.

     

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled [Lemons] from the Food series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Cristina Enriquez-Bocobo, class of 1985, and Cody J. Smith. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:11-1

    Martin Parr, British (1952 - ). Untitled [Mushy Peas] from the Food series, 1995. C-print on Kodak Professional paper. Gift of Cristina Enriquez-Bocobo, class of 1985, and Cody J. Smith. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:11-2

    British cuisine is famously derided, and Parr’s photographs do it no justice. Parr believes that his photographs illustrate visual truths in the world around us, stripped of false pretensions. As he puts it, “Part of the role of photography is to exaggerate, and that is an aspect that I have to puncture. I do that by showing the world as I really find it.”

    It’s disingenuous to call Martin Parr’s photographs unfiltered or unexaggerated reality. A negative portrayal is not always a truer depiction of the world around us, and I can honestly say that my peas have never looked as bad as Parr makes them look.

    That said, I have pulled a brown lemon out of my fridge before. A carved turkey looks like what it is, a dead bird carcass on the table. When we snap photographs of our meals to share online, we don’t share these imperfect images, in part because we’re creating our own fantasy of ourselves enjoying the life seen in magazines. It has become another way to create an online persona of ourselves as happier, fitter and more exciting than we really are. Martin Parr takes this glossy magazine perfection and punctures it, and thus reminds us that our food, along with ourselves, is not always so glamorous.

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  • Thursday, November 14, 2013

    In Space

    Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Existence envelopes every living creature on earth; its contemplation however is a uniquely human experience. Scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists have concerned themselves with the principles of love, life, and death for millennia. Painter and print maker Edvard Munch was no exception. A Norwegian artist active in the latter half of the 19th century most famous for his painting The Scream, Munch exploited these concepts in hopes of understanding and displaying the human condition to his audience.

     

    Edvard Munch, Norwegian 1863-1944. Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm, 1895. Lithograph with crayon, tusche, and needle on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1969:75.

    To Munch the human condition was tragic. Experiencing the “traumas of life” at an early age Munch declared that: “Disease, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life.” Plagued by illness himself, Munch as a child witnessed his mother and older sister succumb to tuberculosis. After their deaths Munch’s father suffered through periods of mental illness. As an adult Munch found little success in his relationships with others especially those he had with women. Being a member of such anti-bourgeois clubs like the Kristiania Boheme, Munch took to a life style of drinking and sexual liberation. In doing so Munch lost or strained most of his relationships and was often abandoned by his lovers.

    Munch’s body of work went through several phases of experimentation but most pieces adhered to his lost sense of self and melancholic understanding of life. In the mid 1890s Munch started producing prints; up to this point he was mostly a painter. The woodcut prints made during this time simplified Munch’s motifs and limited his color palette. These pared down images are strikingly powerful and exemplify Munch’s commentary on human emotions and interactions.

    The print Meeting in Space from 1899 caught my attention as I browsed through the museum’s print database. Made from one block of wood cut like a jigsaw into three main pieces, the print is unremarkable at first. The two human figures in green and red stand out in stark contrast to the black background. Its minimalism turns into something of beauty after a moment and as a viewer I felt overwhelmed by a sense of anxiety. The figures (one female and one male) seem to be weightless and effortlessly float toward one another, meeting awkwardly in the center of the frame, while their ridge bodies in comparison seem to disconnect the two from each other. The print speaks to Munch’s feeling toward women and the relations of love he experienced within his own life.

     

    Edvard Munch, Norwegian 1863-1944.Meeting in Space, 1899. Woodcut printed in red, green and black from one block cut into three pieces on China paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:50-71 

    To him women were cruel and used their bodies to manipulate and destroy men, and Munch represents this by the positioning and coloring of the female figure. Her figure in cool green is overtly sexualized, putting her body on display. She props her head on her left arm and rests her right on her hip. Her long hair flows behind her as she faces the viewer.

     

                                      Detail of woman resting head on arm in Meeting in Space

    The male, seen as a “victim”, is passionate and loving, as displayed through his respective positioning and coloring. He  is in warm red and faces away from the viewer in a more closed position. An obvious sexual and emotional tension is created between the two.  The carved sperm surrounding the couple amplifies the sexuality of the piece.

     


                                      Detail of male head turned away in Meeting in Space

    Beyond the tension presented in this print, Munch makes known to the viewer his thoughts of human purpose and the state of the living. Rejecting Christianity as a part of the Bohemia movement, Munch did not view the afterlife as a sanctuary for the dead. Death was final and the natural end stage to our lives. In life we have no purpose or God to adhere to; instead we merely float in space. This for me holds much resonance during this New England fall. The leaves that were once cool green burn with red and orange for our viewing pleasure before they die, detach, and rot. The print has takes on a poetic quality that leaves me questioning my own human relationships and condition of life.   

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