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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.

  • Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Cupid and Psyche

    Bartolomeo Pinelli, Italian (1781 - 1835). Cupid and Psyche (recto), n.d. Pen and dark brown ink over pencil on white paper. Gift of Agnes Mongan, (AM) class of 1929, (LHD) class of 1941. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:116.

    The most compelling works of art aren’t always the finished masterpieces. Sometimes I find myself drawn to the art that was never meant for display, those sketches and studies created by an artist to practice his craft or to plan for later, more polished projects. One such work recently caught my eye as I was browsing through the Cunningham Center collection: a drawing of Cupid and Psyche by Bartolomeo Pinelli, an early 19th century Italian artist.

                                Detail of faces from Cupid and Psyche (recto), n.d. SC 1951:116

    Even if you didn’t know the title of the piece, there are clues in the image that identify this particularly amorous couple. “Cupid” might bring to mind those fat, winged babies on Valentine’s Day cards, but in Classical Greece he was often depicted as a young man with angelic wings, and the artist chose to draw on that tradition here. His beloved wife was Psyche, often graced with butterfly wings.

    What really draws me to this piece isn’t the subject, however, but that it is so clearly not a finalized work. It has a certain liveliness and energy that is difficult to translate into a polished piece. When you look closely, you can see that there are lines of graphite throughout the page, and so it appears that Pinelli spent some time tinkering before he committed to a final design in ink.

                                Detail of arm from Cupid and Psyche (recto), n.d. SC 1951:116

    You can see this experimentation in Cupid’s limbs. Pinelli started with a high right arm, still present in ghostly graphite, before drawing a lower version and executing it in ink. He plays around with different positions for Cupid’s legs, never liking any single one enough to ink it over – he even scribbles over one failed foot!

                                Detail of legs from Cupid and Psyche (recto), n.d. SC 1951:116

    It’s not until we turn the page over to see the verso (back) side of the drawing that we can see Pinelli’s final vision. The ink from the recto (front) side bled through slightly, and Pinelli has traced over and re-imagined the same couple in lighter, clearer lines.

    Bartolomeo Pinelli, Italian (1781 - 1835). Cupid and Psyche (verso), n.d. Pen and brown ink over pencil on white paper. Gift of Agnes Mongan, (AM) class of 1929, (LHD) class of 1941. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1951:116.

    Both figures have lost their wings, and now the young man possesses two fully realized legs. The emotion is the same, but the artist has resolved many of the compositional problems with which he had struggled in his first draft.

    Comparison detail of faces from Cupid and Psyche, verso (left) and recto (right), n.d. SC 1951:116

    These sketches by early masters can have a powerful effect on how we view art. Sometimes, when we look at a finished portrait or a superb landscape, it seems like the art sprung flawless straight from the pen of the artist, no practice necessary. We forget the hours of experimentation it often takes to perfect composition, line and color, and the many ideas discarded along the way. Drawings such as Cupid and Psyche reveal a moment in this artistic process, frozen on a page for us to see.


  • Monday, October 28, 2013

    Student Picks: Human Connections - Manifestations of the Mundane

    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 Amelia Yeoh Jia Min '17 discusses her show “Human Connections: Manifestations of the Mundane” which will be on view TOMORROW, Friday, November 1 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Meridel Rubenstein, American (1948 – ). Peggy Martinez, Santa Cruz, '64 Chevy Two-Tone from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 per cent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2005:1-6.

    This exhibition brings our ordinary lifestyles into the limelight. I was inspired at the impact mundane images had on human perception. How we perceive things differs from each individual and I wanted to recreate that experience by playing around with color, geometry and space in each image. These bring a sense of ambiguity and a unique experience for the viewer. The simplicity of the mundane is deceptive, beautiful, painful and all the things you perceive it to be.

    Jerome Liebling, American (1924 – 2011). Printed by Ned Gray. Sunday Morning, Monessen, Pennsylvania, 1984. C-Print. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1988:22-1.

    These series of images is a journey of exploring human connections through the mundane. I chose to display photographs because I wanted to capture real moments in time. Through the window of reality, one gets a true sense of human connections developed through different perspectives of the characters and the photographer.

    Lorna Simpson, American (1961 – ). stopped speaking to each other from Details, 1996. Photogravure with silkscreen text on Somerset 300 lb. paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund and the Carol Ramsey Chandler Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:6-8.

    As I spent my time in New York City during fall break, I was inspired to feature Lorna Simpsons works. Her cropped-out style photographs reveal a sense of intimacy while also obscuring the characters’ historical, cultural and gender backgrounds. The themes manifested through these personal lives were perhaps issues that were central to Simpson's experiences growing up in New York City. She evokes this calming sense of mystery that contrasts with the hustle and bustle of the city life. As Simpson uses an intimate approach, other works also challenge conventional thought and perception through color and geometry. Interestingly enough Martin Parr achieves this same goal by using humor.

    Martin Parr, English (1952 - ). New Brighton, Merseyside from The Last Resort, ca. 1983 - 1986 (printed 2005). Photogravure with silkscreen text on Somerset 300 lb. paper. Purchased with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2006:7.


  • Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Surreal Dreams and Nightmares

    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.

    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 

    Odilon Redon was born in 1840, the same year as Monet and Rodin. Though he was a contemporary of the Realists and Impressionists, Redon took a very different path, both in becoming an artist and what he created. While the Realists and Impressionists were concerned with capturing what they saw and the present moment, Redon instead drew on his fantasies and dreams (and often nightmares).   

    Redon had a sickly and lonely childhood in the French countryside, which is considered the origin of his overactive imagination. In school, he tried and failed to become an architect and then had a disastrous stint studying painting under Jean-Léon Gérôme, a well-known Academic Painter. Only after serving as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War did he become a professional artist, though he had dabbled for many years.

    Though Redon came late to his profession, he took to it with a passion. Redon is considered one of the preeminent artists of Symbolist movement, which originally began in the 1880s as a French writers’ movement. Symbolists focused on crafting allusions and hints to a theme without stating the overarching message outright. The Symbolists often depicted literary, mythological, and religious scenes; Redon, however, drew on his imagination to interpret (rather than simply depict) sources to create what he believed were unique works, completely independent from the source material. 

    Odilon Redon, French 1840 – 1916. ...Les bêtes de la mer rondes comme des outres, Plate 22 from La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, 1896. Lithograph printed in black on Chine appliqué on heavy white paper. Gift of Priscilla Paine Van der Poel, class of 1928. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1977:32-212

    His oeuvre can easily be divided into two periods. Initially, he worked only in black, using charcoal and lithography, saying that  “One must admire black… It is an agent of the spirit far more than the fine color of the palette or the prism.” These works are known as his noirs. The second period of his artistic style was a drastic departure from his opinions of the first.  In the 1890s, he began using bright pastels and oils in his works. He even colored in some of his old noirs so their former shading was completely obscured. While the noirs often felt nightmarish, the pastel works were more like surreal dreams, though still filled with the imaginative and invented characters present in his previous work.

    Odilon Redon, French 1840 – 1916. Printed by Auguste Clot, French 1858 – 1936. Beatrice, 1897. Lithograph printed in black on Chine appliqué on heavy white wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:1-40

    Redon was out of sync with his own time, but his work was loved by Fauvists such as Matisse, and served as inspiration for many in the Surrealist movement. Though well known during his lifetime, after his death, Redon’s influence dissipated and his name became relatively obscure. Redon has finally resurfaced in the public eye and is receiving long overdue attention for his enigmatic and influential works.