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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.

  • Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    Objects in Limbo

    Guest blogger Saraphina Masters is a Smith College student and the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    The concept of “limbo,” of objects existing without information in an art museum, is discordant with the casual observer’s perception of fine arts institutions. Don’t we live in an age of digital databases and intense organization, both of which ought to prevent the displacement of any work of art? A look behind the scenes, however, can show how easily human error or simple forgetfulness can lead a piece of art into limbo, into an existence without cataloging, captioning, or even a proper home.

    Since time is such a large factor in this concept, it makes sense to mention the evolution of collecting and cataloguing in museums. Early catalogue systems were simply note cards and filing cabinets, while today we use electronic databases and software. Additionally, the value of a piece can, and often does, change over time. That can affect the way it is catalogued and handled, which can in turn lead to its misplacement. These variables and more all contribute to the story of an object and how it ended up where it was when I found it.

    My work with a box of loose prints, which I refer to as Box B2, led me down multiple rabbit holes of research and intrigue. My task was to gather as much information on each piece as possible. This collection of seemingly random prints came with varied levels of information. Some were clearly and helpfully labeled, while others came with nothing at all. My first steps were translating captions in other languages, deciphering antiquated handwriting, and making educated guesses about origin and style.

    Then, the unexpectedly intense research process comes in. Simply googling the words on a print can produce some results, if the piece is relatively well known or unique. However, many of the prints were too obscure or unforthcoming for such an easy solution. This is where databases such as that of the Five College Museums and the Getty Research Institute’s searchable list of artists’ names, ULAN, can be useful. These resources, in addition to auction results and historical websites, make the investigatory task of information gathering possible.

    One particular print that required quite a bit of research was a Goya etching that upon first examination seemed to be called Una Reïna Del Circo. Translated as The Queen of the Circus from Catalan, I assumed the caption of the piece to be the title. However, I went to Hillyer Art Library to find out more about the etching and after looking in quite a few books on Goya, I recognized the image of the etching under a different name.

    This piece is actually called Disparate puntualor, or Precise/Sure Folly, and is part of Francisco de Goya’s 18 piece series called Los Proverbios; in English, the Proverbs or the Follies. From there I was able to move forward with my research, trying to find out more about its origin and how it came to the museum. The confusing labels, as well as the multiple translations, made this story layered and complex. Uncovering information about this print took more than simple observation. Like much art historical research, multiple sources, including auction sites, textbooks, and the Cunningham Center itself, were used to learn more. This Goya print has quite a story, only a fraction of which played out in my examination of it.

    Each work has a narrative as engaging and complicated as the Goya print, and there is a whole box of them, in addition to other unidentified prints in museum. Perhaps that provides an idea of the scope and quantity of suspended objects that are unknown in origin. In Box B2 there was an entire sheaf of prints that was labeled “The following were found in a closet in a campus security office in 1989”. We may never know how those works of art came to be in that closet, and who put them there. What matters is that we have them now, and can do our best to find out what we can about them. Little by little, we can pick away at the indeterminate “limbo” of objects, and through research bring the histories of lost pieces to light.

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  • Thursday, January 16, 2014

    Brice Marden: The Grid and the Sea

    Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-2.

    Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-3.

    Among my favorite works in the SCMA collection are these two prints by Brice Marden which merge chance expression with methodical control. Known as a “Romantic Minimalist,” his extremely reductive visual language of monochromes, lines, and grids may at first appear similar to that of his Minimalist contemporaries of the 1960s and ‘70s, but Marden never completely abandoned the accidental or idiosyncratic gesture characteristic of Abstract Expressionists.

    In the 1970s, Marden discovered his affinity for the etching process through several brilliant collaborations with the master printer Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press in Oakland, CA. Marden found that etching allowed him to make intricate, serial investigations of linear and expressive mark-making, often through the manipulation of a grid composition.

    In his second collaboration with Brown in 1973, Marden made the two Untitled prints from the Adriatics series pictured above, named after the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Greece. Divided laterally into two different grids which are reminiscent of nautical charts, these prints are intended to evoke the variation of weight and density of the sky and sea. They display Marden’s characteristic anxious lines, which are especially tense where his etching needle slipped or his sweater was imprinted on the plate (see details below). I have found that my eye is drawn into these works by these miniscule imperfections, wandering aimlessly around and around the image, finding new details with each viewing. Marden skillfully balances these subtle instances of chance expression with the grid’s semblance of perfection. The result is an overall quietude which invites patient viewers into a hypnotic, meditative state similar to that induced by gazing out into the vastness of the sea.

    Details of Marden’s two Untitled prints from the Adriatics portfolio, SC 1978:10-2 (left) and SC 1978: 10-3 (right). Details show marks made by a slipped etching needle (left) and an imprint of Marden’s sweater on the etching place (right).

    Comments

  • Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    Photography in Ottoman Istanbul

    Postcards are an enormously popular way to share the memories of your journey with other people, and nearly all of us have received a postcard at one time or another. Like many people, I have a postcard collection, full of images from places I’ve gone or where my friends have travelled. My postcards are a physical reminder of memories I treasure.

    The Hagia Sophia

    Pascal Sebah, Turkish (1857 – 1886) Mosquee de Ste. Sophie, ca. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-968

    At the beginning of the 19th century, improved travel by train and by steamship offered Europeans greater access to Turkey and to Constantinople, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire. A traveler no longer needed to be wealthy to go in comfort throughout the near East. Now, a middle-class German could sign on for a planned tour that embarked from Italy, stopped at the pyramids of Cairo, traveled to the holy sites of Palestine, and finally landed in Constantinople. With this influx of European travelers came a greater demand for art souvenirs, particularly photographs that could capture the sights and cultures of these far-off locales.

     

    The Blue Mosque

    Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Mosquee du Sultan – Ahmed, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-970

    One photographer who took advantage of this growing market was Pascal Sebah. Under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Constantinople was a thriving city with a multiethnic population, and Pascal’s family reflects this diversity: his father was a Syrian Catholic and his mother was Armenian.

    Sebah opened his first studio in 1857 at the age of thirty-four. His reputation quickly grew, earning accolades from the Société Française de Photographie in Paris. During the height of his career, he collaborated with innovative Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey, and exhibited works at the 1873 Ottoman exhibition in Vienna.

     

    Interior of the Blue Mosque

    Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Interieur de la Mosquee Ahmed, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-971

    Spurred on by his increasing reknown, Sebah opened a second studio abroad in Cairo. His photographs now included the sights and streets of Egypt. Pascal Sebah continued to travel between these two cities, and to show his work at international exhibitions, until he passed away in 1886 from the debilitating aftermath of a brain hemorrhage.

    Still, his legacy continued. His son Jean Sebah took up his father’s business, partnering with fellow photographer Policarpe Joaillier. In 1893, Sultan Abdulhamid made a gift of fifty-one photographic albums representing the span of the Ottoman Empire, two of which were produced by Sebah & Joaillier (as their studio came to be known). The albums, now housed in the Library of Congress, were received by then-president Grover Cleveland.

     

    The Galata Tower and the Beyoğlu neighborhood

    Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. Yüksek Kaldırım, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-976

    Many of the sites Pascal Sebah and his successors captured – the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower– are still instantly recognizable to any modern person in Turkey. The clothes many have changed, and the advertisements, but the bones of this age-old city still remain.

    Bazaar in Istanbul

    Jean Pascal (Turkish, 1872 – 1947) of Sebah & Joaillier. 440. Bazar a Istamboul, c. 1860s. Albumen print. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1982:38-975

    Comments

    Afriend - 31/07/2015

    Pascal Sebah and Jean Pascal Sebah (Father and son)

    Some of the photos are credited to Jean Pascal even though they are dated circa 1860s. Pascal Sebah's son, Jean Pascal Sebah, wasn't born until 1872 although he did eventually take over the studio. Fun and interesting article though.

    Maggie K - 10/06/2015

    Re: Nomenclature

    Hi Sato!

    Thank you for your comment - I'm glad you liked the piece. I've updated the post to reflect your concerns. It's my understanding that the name Istanbul was used for Constantinople sometimes before the official name change - the work "Bazar a Istamboul" (SC 1982:38-975) which was taken in the 1860s, has its title written on the negative (it's hard to see online) which suggests some use of the name.

    We have listed Pascal Sébah as Turkish because of his listing in the Getty's ULAN database, which we view as the standard for nationality and birth/death dates. That said, no database is perfect. I'll continue to look into it.

    Take care and I appreciate your eagle eye!

    Sato M - 09/06/2015

    Nomenclature

    Very nice and descriptive piece, but why not use the names that were used at the time you are describing? Constantinople and Palestine, for example. Pascal Sébah was not ethnically Turkish, rather he was Syrian-Armenian. You could accurately call him Ottoman, however. Best wishes for your travels ahead-

    Thalia Pandiri - 13/01/2014

    Fabulous city, wonderful project!

    Constantinople/Istanbul has an amazingly rich history and is still one of the world's most fascinating cities. Paintings and drawings from the 18th and 19th centuries, and 19th-century photographs, always seem magical to me. This is a great article! Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your love of Turkey after your Fulbright year there! I hope you can go back soon, and often.

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