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, February 17, 2015
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 April 2015.
A visitor looking at art in the second floor Works on Paper cabinet.
Photograph by Lynne Graves
Smith College is home to the Mortimer Rare Book Room, which takes care of our literary manuscripts and rare books. Sometimes, though, a book finds its home in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. Such is the case with Prométhée, a livre d'artiste with a star-studded pedigree.
The story told in Prométhée emerges from the sprawling mythology of Ancient Greece and revolves around Prometheus, a powerful being who is infamous for one crime: he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity. In some stories, Prometheus is also the creator of humankind, whom he sculpts out of clay. Perhaps the most famous rendition of his story is the ancient tragedy Prometheus Bound in which (as one might guess from the title) Prometheus spends the entire play chained to a rock in punishment for his transgressions.
German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was fascinated by this age-old myth. A major player in the Sturm und Drang literary movement, which celebrated the power and emotions of the individual, Goethe saw Prometheus as a courageous rebel who fought against the tyranny of Zeus’ rule. Throughout his life Goethe began three different Prometheus plays, but he never completed any of them. Interestingly, he never depicts Prometheus as chained, in sharp contrast to Prometheus Bound.
One fragment by Goethe was later translated into French by André Gide (1869–1951), who titled his translation Prométhée.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Four Statuettes from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-4
In December 1949, near the end of Gide’s life, the British artist Henry Moore was visiting Paris, and it was on this trip that Moore met Henri Paul Jonquières. Although Moore is most famous for his monumental abstract sculpture, the French publisher and typographer proposed that the two men turn Gide’s translation into a livre d’artiste, or artist’s book, and Moore agreed to illustrate it. Ultimately, Moore produced eight full-page lithographs and multiple design elements for Prométhée, which became his first graphic book.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Prometheus Instructing Another to Build Shelter from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-9
Moore’s choice to illustrate a narrative story may surprise those who are familiar with his sculpture, which is best described as semi-abstract -- more Cycladic figurine than Hellenistic Bronze. Early in his career, Moore rejected the dogma asserting that art needed to emulate famous Classical masterpieces: “I thought that the Greek and the Renaissance were the enemy, and that one had to throw all that over and start again from the beginning.”
After the end of World War II, however, he began to experiment with traditional Greek literature and, eventually, some visual motifs from the Classical era. This shift is evident in both the subject matter and illustrations of Prométhée. Although Moore’s lithographs are grounded in his typical style, with its rounded abstract shapes and bold forms, certain elements emerge from ancient art.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Prometheus and Minerva Before the Statuette of Pandora from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-5
For example, in the print above, Prometheus and Minerva Before the Statuette of Pandora, Prometheus and Minerva appear unclothed at first, but sweeping strokes along their torsos suggest the thin, draping garments of antiquity. The two look at a statue of Pandora, who resembles in many ways early archaic Greek statues: her pose is forward-facing and static, without the naturalism or contrapposto of later eras. This similarity turns up again in the print Pandora (below), as Pandora stands with her left foot forward, nude, both characteristics of early archaic sculpture.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Pandora from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-11
It's possible that the myth of Prometheus held a special resonance for Moore. Prometheus creates mankind from clay, so like Moore, he is a sculptor himself. Moore’s illustrations of Prometheus underscore the mythical character’s nobility and courage, rather than his suffering; he is not the tortured hero chained against the rock, but the strong hero.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Prometheus "Couvre Ton ciel O Zeus" from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-14
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Arbar and the Fainting Mira from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-10
Of course, an artist’s book is more than just its illustrations. One central feature is often overlooked: the appearance of the text itself. For Prométhée, the French typographer Henri Paul Jonquières worked closely with Henry Moore to create a beautiful display of text that would complement the book’s meaning. Jonquières set the text in Romain du Roi, a classic typeface originally made for King Louis XIV. Conceived by the Academy of Sciences, Romain du Roi was envisioned as a scientific typeface, with each individual letter designed in a strict grid, unlike earlier styles based on handwritten models.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Act III, Figured Capital "P" from Promethée, 1950. Lithograph on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:277-13
From the beginning, Jonquières involved Moore in the design of the text. In addition to his full-page illustrations, Moore also created design elements such as the large letters at the start of each act. Jonquières imagined these oversize letters with “sculptural constructions in mind.” Manifesting Jonquières’ vision, Moore created the letters from intertwined human bodies, as seen in the illustrated “P” above. In Prométhée, both typography and illustration come together as a complete work of art.
Henry Spencer Moore, English (1898 - 1986). Study for Three Standing Figures in Battersea Park, London, 1946. Bronze. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC SC 1951:199
Prométhée isn’t the only work by Moore in the collection. The Smith College Museum of Art owns Study for Three Standing Figures in Battersea Park, London (shown above), which Moore created in 1946 as a preliminary small bronze study for a monumental public artwork. Much like Prométhée, this work recalls ancient Greece, as it features three female forms in draping garments that resemble ancient attire. Study for Three Standing Figures in Battersea Park, London is currently on view in the third floor gallery.
Want to see Prométhée in person? Selections from this livre d'artiste are currently on view in the Museum, in the second floor Works on Paper cabinet. It will remain on view through April 2015.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Guest blogger Jessica Tran is a Smith College student, class of 2018. This post grew out of an assignment for the first-year seminar “On Display: Museums, Collections, and Exhibitions” taught by Professor Barbara Kellum in Fall 2014. As the culminating project of this class, four thought-provoking juxtapositions have been put on view in Museum until February 15, 2015. The painting Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe can be seen in the seventeenth and eighteenth century European section of the galleries on the second floor.
Joshua Reynolds, English (1723 - 1792). Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe, 1781. Oil on canvas. Gift of Dwight W. Morrow Jr., Anne Morrow Lindbergh, class of 1928 and Constance Morrow Morgan, class of 1935. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1958:4
Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe is an oil on canvas painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, while Woman and Child with a Parasol is a work on paper by an unknown artist. Not much is known about Woman and Child with a Parasol, as both the artist and date are unknown. It portrays the silhouette of a woman carrying a child and a parasol made out of butterfly wings. Because of the unknown nature of this piece of artwork, the method in which the butterfly wings were acquired is also unknown, so there is a question as to whether or not the method in which this artwork was made was ethical or not. It is possible that someone collected butterfly wings that remained after predators have eaten them, but it is also possible that the artist capture butterflies, killed them, and used their wings to create this piece. In terms of origin, it is suggested by the dark color of the woman’s skin and the fabric that is wrapped around the woman’s head, this art piece originates and depicts a woman from an African country. The piece shows the beauty of nature in the form of the elegance of the butterfly wings themselves, as well as the beauty of the circle of life.
Unknown artist. Woman and Child with a Parasol, no date. Butterfly wings mounted on paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1985:32-38
Woman and Child with a Parasol is an example of assemblage, which is the creation of art by using found objects. The earliest known pieces of assemblage art made out of butterfly wings were from the series Assemblages d'Empreintes by Jean Dubuffet in 1955. Upon further research, these butterfly wing collages continue to be made in present day, primarily in the Central African Republic - thus it is likely that Woman and Child with a Parasol was made sometime during the past sixty years.
Detail of Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe
Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe is a portrait piece of Mrs. Nesbitt, an eighteenth-century socialite, representing her as Circe, a sorceress who drugged men with potions and turned them into animals with her wand. Not only were Circe and Mrs. Nesbitt both perceived as beautiful women that could seduce men, this painting shows a powerful image of this woman as someone who is able to control these wild animals. These animals can be perceived as the animalistic or sinful sides of humans – or in this particular case, men. For example, in the Odyssey, Circe lured Odysseus’s crew with her beauty and her food. The men that gorged themselves on the food that was laced with her potions were then turned into pigs because of their gluttony. Thus, she may have turned an arrogant man into the leopard, a selfish man into the cat, and a foolish man into the monkey.
Detail of Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe
Additionally, the animals portrayed in the painting are normally described as “wild” rather than “docile” or “tame.” However, in the painting, the leopard, cat, and monkey are much smaller in size in comparison to Circe, portraying the power difference between them. In the darkness of the painting, the monkey is hard to see, serving as a protector and scouter. The cat seems to follow the leopard, who seems to be staring at the same thing that Circe is, as if they were staring at the same target. With her wand, potion, and followers at hand, Circe seems to be ready for battle.
By comparing these two pieces, we can see the different perspectives of women in two different societies, the European society and the African society. Firstly, each society considers different values to be important in a woman, and have different ideas for the ideal woman. For example, in the Woman and Child with a Parasol, the woman’s curves are well defined and the addition of the child shows that in their society, motherhood is emphasized and seen as a good value in a woman. By having a simple silhouette on white paper, the only focus of the piece is the silhouette and the butterfly wings. Additionally, the usage of butterfly wings may relate back to the circle of life, as we have the child representing the beginning of life, the woman representing the middle stage of life, and the butterfly wings representing the end of life.
Detail of Woman and Child with a Parasol
On the other hand, Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe portrays Mrs. Nesbitt as a powerful woman, painted in fashionable light clothing, with soft lighting. This gives off an ethereal and mysterious feel to the painting, making Mrs. Nesbitt seem unattainable like mist. Mrs. Nesbitt was mistress to the third Earl of Bristol in her time, and was “involved in various political intrigues, including her alleged service as a British secret agent during the French Revolution.” This beauty, elegance, and mysteriousness is valued in European culture.
Both pieces of art intrigue the viewers in different ways. Some may view the Woman and Child with a Parasol as disturbing or unsettling, due to the nature of the materials used, but by using butterfly wings, one can see both the beauty and the cruelty of nature. Likewise, Mrs. Nesbitt as Circe shows how women can be both beautiful and cruel, just like nature. In nature, the animals with the brightest colors are often the most poisonous, and this is reflected in both pieces of art, as the more beautiful they are, the crueler they can be.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Hui Yan '17 discusses her show “Witches: Allure of the dark” which will be on view FRIDAY, February 6 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!
Thom O’Connor, American (b. 1937). The Witch, 1972. Aquatint and etching on paper. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Christopher A. Graf. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1972:30-11
Witches fascinate us. They bridge reality with imagination and their existence has been a topic of debate since the 15th century. Even now, when we no longer believe in the supernatural, we are still attracted to them. Like many of my peers, as a child I anticipated a letter from Hogwarts. Curating this exhibition relieves my disappointment of never receiving the letter.
Albrecht Dürer, German (1471 - 1528). A Witch Riding to the Sabbath, ca. 1500-1501. Engraving printed in black on paper. Gift of Mary Bates Field, class of 1904. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1959:70
Apart from my personal interest, witches remain a popular theme in visual arts. I wish to explore the iconography of witches developed throughout time, from the heinous old lady to the wicked seductress. Imagery of witches first developed prior to the Witch Hunts in the 16th century to identify the nefarious acts that separate them from the ordinary. Later, the theme of witchcraft allowed artists to tap into their subconscious and release their imagination, as seen in Goya's famous etchings Los Caprichos. The exhibition contains a wide range of images, from Albert Durer's A Witch Riding to the Sabbath, which establishes the basic iconography, to Alison Frantz's Surrealist Attalos, which depicts the natural habitat of modern witches. Have fun exploring the Dark and the Occult!
Odilon Redon, French (1840 – 1916). Printed by Auguste Clot, French (1858 – 1936). The Buddha, from L'Estampe Originale, 1895. Lithograph printed in black on Chine appliqué on heavy white wove paper. Purchased with the Museum Acquisition Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1956:3
Many thanks to Maggie Kurkoski and the Cunningham Center for making this show possible and to Professor Brigitte Buettner, my STRIDE advisor.