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.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Guest blogger Jennifer Guerin is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in American Studies and History with focuses in Public History and Social Movements. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
The SCMA’s Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs has in its collection a set of etchings that artist Thomas Cornell completed for the Northampton-based Gehenna Press, run by Leonard Baskin, in 1964. The book for which they were produced, The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendôme,is a French text from 1797 translated by John Anthony Scott, a professor of History at Amherst College. The works were donated to SCMA by Scott and his daughter, Elizabeth.
François-Noel Babeuf took the name Gracchus as a reference to Roman tribunes Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, famous for advocating land redistribution. As his choice of name suggests, Babeuf was the leader of a radical left wing faction of French revolutionaries who believed in policies such as division of lands, progressive taxation, and free and equal public education. These revolutionaries opposed the Directory and the government established by the Constitution of 1795, wanting instead to return to the more democratic-minded Constitution of 1793, and they attempted to foment a rebellion. Babeuf’s defense was given over the span of three days, and though it did not prevent his execution, it is particularly interesting because it does not attempt to deny the accusations, but instead argues that their action could not be considered conspiracy because they operated under the principle that opposition intended to remove an unjust government is always legitimate. Additionally, it is worth noting that Gehenna Press’s choice to publish a text which praised a socialist figure was a fairly radical move in Cold War America. Cornell’s twenty-one illustrations represent the major players in the trial, as well as other important figures of the Revolution. During his professional career, much of Cornell’s work focused on social justice issues, and these etchings are the predecessors of that work.
In creating these French Revolutionary portraits, Cornell referred to previous representations of the individuals but did not hesitate to reinvent the images. For instance, his portrait of Jean-Paul Marat works to present an alternative to the idealized images of Marat, most notably Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting The Death of Marat.While in David’s painting, Marat’s physical deformities and debilitating skin condition are only hinted at by his bandaged head and the bathtub he sits in, Cornell’s Marat is clearly deformed and appears grotesque. In his portrait of Diderot, Cornell’s transformation goes in the other direction— the Diderot shown in portraits becomes an idealized figured seemingly modeled after a Roman emperor. This allows the portrait of Diderot to represent not only the inspiration that the revolutionaries drew from Enlightenment figures, but also the huge influence of Greek and Roman history.
Finally, Cornell’s images of Danton and Robespierre, two of the most controversial figures of the Revolution, depart from the conventional, neoclassical portrait to show two very human and conflicted figures. While Robespierre is nearly always show wearing a powdered wig, which was mocked by opponents as too aristocratic, Cornell’s image eliminates the wig, thereby making him appear more vulnerable and closer to the common people. In the portrait of Danton, Cornell’s use of light surrounds Danton with a sense of power and emotion, and his facial expression suggests an intense personal conflict.
Thomas Cornell (1937-2012), professor and artist, devoted much of the early years of his artistic career to drawing and etching, though he is generally well known for his paintings. Following his undergraduate work at Amherst College (B.A. 1959) and graduate work at the Yale School of Art and Architecture (1959-1960), Cornell explored the field of bookmaking, completing illustrations for Apiary, the Smith College student press, as well as Gehenna Press. He also founded his own publishing house in 1964, Tragos Press, through which he produced a number of publications relating to the Civil War, abolition, and the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, Cornell was hired to establish a visual arts program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and he would continue to teach there until he retired in June of 2012, shortly before he passed away in December.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Guest blogger Maggie Kean is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in Art History with a concentration in Museum Studies. She is the Student Assistant to Maggie Lind, the Associate Educator for Academic Programs.
French Impressionist Edgar Degas is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the nineteenth-century, producing an inspiring body of work thematically divergent from that of his predecessors, which earned him a posthumous reputation as the darling of the movement. A prolific draughtsman as well as painter, Degas’s vast output of drawings dynamically rendering his iconic dancers, bathing nudes, and jockeys are as distinctive as his paintings. Yet while many conceive Degas as the master of tulle and soft, luminescent flesh—daubed onto canvas in rich jewel-tones or lustily marked out with pastels—few realize that Degas was also a closet printmaker of great mastery.
Though his printmaking record indicates that his pursuit of the medium was patchy, extant works span Degas’s career from his nascent aspirations to history painting in the 1850s through to his late and most expressive works of the 1890s. His prints ranged in medium from etchings and lithographs pulled by professional printers to monotypes that he executed himself. A largely underappreciated and thus neglected form of printmaking, Degas is recognized for pioneering the monotype medium, which conflates painting with printmaking through the painterly application of ink directly onto a plate that is then pressed onto paper. While his printed subject matter did not vary much from his standard repertoire of women and horses, the works themselves reveal Degas’s virtuosity in a breadth of mastery unknown even at the time—only a handful of such prints were ever displayed during his lifetime.
The SCMA has two such prints in the works on paper collection at the Cunningham Center—a set of lithographs from 1884 entitled Program for the Soirée Artistique des Anciens Élèves du Lycée de Nantes(Program for the Evening for Former Art Students of Nantes Secondary School). One of the former students of the Lycée was a friend of Degas and asked him to create the program – a process that yielded four black chalk drawings, four etchings, and the final lithographs. Two of the drawings, which are a clear precedent to our lithographs, are among the works stolen in the famous heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the recent efforts of the FBI to again publicize the crime and recover the works, we thought we’d highlight the parallel works in our collection in solidarity with the Gardner (To view the Gardner drawings and more information on the theft, please visit the FBI website: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/march/reward-offered-for-return-of-stolen-gardner-museum-artwork/image/hi-res).
The Programwas directed toward a broad audience, and as such, the visual language Degas utilizes is straightforward in its reference to the entertainment promised for the Soirée, with some marginal imagery symbolic of the town of Nantes. The print was clearly thrown together quickly, a somewhat compositionally ambiguous and sketchy image; in 1891, when the École des Beaux-Arts displayed one of the lithographs in an exhibition surveying contemporary lithography without Degas’s permission, he was outraged that his body of printed work should be represented by such a poor example.
Nevertheless, the Programand his opinion of it offer a glimpse into the ways in which Degas’s work reached the general public. His major works were typically displayed at the Salon for an audience comprised primarily of the bourgeoisie, artists, and academics. A colloquial document such as Programnot only enjoyed a wider viewership, but also illuminates how Degas consciously adjusted the quality of his work based on the audience he created it for.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Artist/poet Munio Makuuchi (born Howard Munio Takahashi) was a third-generation Japanese-American born in Seattle. From 1941 to 1945, he and his family were confined in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in southern Idaho. This pivotal childhood experience became the basis for a lifetime of visual and poetic works. After their release from the camp, the artist and his family settled permanently in Idaho. Makuuchi studied art education, printmaking, and painting, and taught both in the U.S. and Africa. He retired from teaching and returned to Seattle in the mid-1980s.
Like all of Makuuchi’s visual works, On Boy’s Dayrelates directly to his life history. The twin images of Mount Rainier and Mount Fuji are visible in the background of this print, alluding to his dual Japanese/American identity. The central image of the print is a school of leaping fish bisected by a bamboo pole bearing a flag. The pole and flag are part of the rituals celebrating the Japanese festival “Boy’s Day” (Tango-no-sekku),in which paper carp (one per male child) are flown in celebration of the healthy growth of sons. The carp, a symbol of resilience and determination, is seen as an embodiment of male virtues. Makuuchi replaces the traditional carp with an image of salmon, a fish native to the Northwest coast, which he felt had more resonance with his past.
In the poem referred to in the title of this print, Makuuchi mourns what he saw as the cultural assimilation of many Asian Americans during the post-War period.
On boy's day I I.D.
with slant/Sockeyes of
Steelheads/hearts of the
Rocky Mountains rather
than flying paper Carp...
They tagged and released us
after four years
in a USA reeducation camp.....
They tried to drum out the drums of the Afro/Americans.....
And the Latino still speak
and eat Spanish
500 years later.....
We went 1000 miles
up inland Rocky Mountains
with special long enduring
genes and chromosomes
only to be watered down
Only a few are reaching
When it comes to our kind soul vittles -
“No you can't take that away from me!"
This work is on view in Collecting Art of Asia until May 26, 2013.