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, August 29, 2013
In the spring of 1890, Impressionist colleagues and close friends Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt viewed an incredibly influential exhibition of Japanese prints together at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. About thirty-five years earlier, when Japan opened its borders after over 200 years of cultural isolation, European collectors and artists alike became fascinated by what they viewed as the novelty of Japanese art. This famous 1890 exhibition of 725 Japanese prints owned by prominent French collectors both confirmed and enhanced interest in Japanese prints among the public, including Degas and Cassatt.
Mary Cassatt was so inspired by this exhibition that she not only purchased prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro for her own collection, but she also produced a series of ten prints in 1891 which she claimed were “done with the intention of attempting an imitation of Japanese methods.” Although very different from Japanese woodblock printing, Cassatt attempted to obtain similar effects of line and color with intaglio (incised metal plate) techniques – drypoint, etching, and aquatint. While the drypoint accounts for the very fine lines in the faces and hair of her figures, Cassatt successfully uses aquatint to create large flat areas of color which are aesthetically similar to those of Japanese woodblock prints. A fellow Impressionist, Camille Pissarro, wrote of Cassatt’s 1891 prints: “the result is admirable, as beautiful as Japanese work.”
Much like the Japanese ukiyo-e(floating world) prints which depict women’s daily activities, Cassatt’s 1891 aquatints take intimate moments in modern French women’s lives as their subject. Cassatt’s women bathe themselves, arrange their hair at the mirror, care for their children, chat over a cup of tea, write letters, ride the tram, and try on new dresses. This last subject is depicted in The Fitting, the fifth print in the series of ten. A woman stands in a new, elegant white dress and gazes down upon a seamstress, who wears a simpler, dark brown dress. Here, the Japanese influence can be seen in the emphasis on flat forms, bold outlines, and patterns throughout the print — particularly in the carpet, wallpaper, and women’s dresses. The dynamic, asymmetrical composition of the figures in The Fittingcan also be seen in numerous prints by Utamaro (one example above). Utamaro often presents figures in both seated and standing postures to create a pleasing diagonal arrangement, which Cassatt successfully employs here. However, while women in Japanese ukiyo-eprints are depicted with generic facial features, Cassatt’s women in the 1891 aquatint series are individualized. They are not imagined scenes of the women’s private lives, but ones which Cassatt witnessed firsthand.
Cassatt exhibited the ten aquatints alongside a few paintings later that same year at Durand-Ruel in Paris in her first solo exhibition. The exhibition gained much acclaim and secured her reputation as both a key player in the Impressionist group and a pioneer of color printmaking. Today, this 1891 series is thought to be the most impressive of her printmaking career, which included well over 200 prints.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Guest blogger Maggie Hoot is a Smith College student, class of 2016, with a major in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Eadweard Muybridge. English, 1830 - 1904. Animal Locomotion: Plate 624;1887. Photogravure on paper mounted on paperboard. Gift of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:53-624.
In 1872, former California governor, railroad tycoon, and subsequent college founder, Leland Stanford wanted to prove the hotly debated hypothesis that there was a point in a running horse’s gait when all four feet would be off the ground at once. He hired a locally famous British photographer named Eadweard Muybridge to test the hypothesis by photographing his horse, Occident, in motion. At this time, photographic technology was not advanced enough and consequently Muybridge could not capture a definitive image.
Five years later, Muybridge returned to Stanford’s ranch with improved equipment to try again. He was finally able to take a clear series of photos and proved Stanford right. This set of photographs of Stanford’s horse, Sallie Gardner, became an instant sensation and Muybridge’s photographic career reached new heights. Muybridge spent the next seven years touring the US and Europeshowing his photographs and lecturing on both photographic technologies and new research related to animal locomotion. He presented his work on a zoopraxiscope, the first machine capable of large-scale projection, which Muybridge himself invented. Muybridge based his invention on a children’s toy, the zoetrope, a handheld spinning drum that produces the illusion of motion, and used a lantern to project the image onto a screen.
In 1884, Muybridge took a job at the University of Pennsylvania and began a new project based on his work for Stanford, but expanded his subjects well beyond horses. Muybridge photographed “men, women, and children, animals and birds, all actively engaged in walking, galloping, flying, working, playing, fighting, dancing, or other actions incidental to every-day life," (Animal LocomotionProspectus, 1887). He used models, athletes from the university, disabled patients from the local hospital, and animals from the Philadelphia Zoo. Three years later, he published his eleven volume masterpiece Animal Locomotion,which contains 781 plates with 20,000 total photographs. The SCMA has 516 different plates from Animal Locomotionin its collection.
Eadweard Muybridge. English, 1830 - 1904. Animal Locomotion: Plate 365;1887. Photogravure on paper mounted on paperboard. Gift of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:53-365.
Eadweard Muybridge. English, 1830 - 1904. Animal Locomotion: Plate 538;1887. Photogravure on paper mounted on paperboard. Gift of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:53-538.
Muybridge’s work revolutionized the way scientists studied locomotion and physiology. Previously, scientists were largely limited by what they could observe with their own eyes, especially concerning objects in motion. Before Muybridge took his photographs, there was no way to prove Stanford’s hypothesis. Muybridge’s photographs helped generate new perspectives on the musculature and movements of people and animals.
Though the impact of Muybridge’s work was considered to be primarily scientific, there was a less obvious but equally important impact on the artistic world. Many artists, including Edgar Degas, began copying poses from Muybridge’s photos to ensure accuracy in their own work. Before Muybridge, artists commonly drew horses running with both forelegs extended equally forward and hind legs equally behind, as in the Géricault print pictured below, which looks more like a cat leaping. Though most artists embraced the new technology and the accuracy it afforded, others such as August Rodin thought that it simply widened the gap between art and science. In his view, Muybridge’s work, and photography in general, fell on the side of science because it stopped time unnaturally, while art was the synthesis of more than a single moment.
Théodore Géricault and Eugene Louis Lami. French (Gericault 1791 - 1824, Lami 1800 - 1890). Two Dapple-Gray Horses Being Taken for a Walk;1822. Gift of Frederick H. Schab. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1973:33.
Eadweard Muybridge. English, 1830 - 1904. Animal Locomotion: Plate 719;1887. Photogravure on paper mounted on paperboard. Gift of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1950:53-719.
Muybridge considered himself first and foremost, an artist. This was clearly demonstrated in his habit of adding or subtracting photographs in a series to create more aesthetically pleasing results. Though he buried all the negatives, some collotypes remain today that indicate changes made before the final printing (for examples and more information, please visit the National Museum of American History website: http://americanhistory.si.edu/muybridge/index.htm). Despite his alterations, Muybridge’s work revolutionized the way the world understood the movement of animals and is still an important resource for the study of the body in motion.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Big news for the Cunningham Center: Julie Warchol, our 2012-2013 Curatorial Fellow, has started her M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!
Julie Warchol outside the Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy
Julie was a fixture at the Cunningham Center for over two years, first as a student at the 2011 Summer Institute for Art Museum Studies and later on as a curatorial volunteer. Her blog posts have been insightful and illuminating, touching on works by artists such as Vija Celmins,Ana Mendietaand, most recently, the photographer Garry Winograd. Don't be surprised if you see more posts from her in the future here on Paper+People.
(Be sure to stop by the museum and see Julie's exhibition,Eye on the Street: Trends in 1960s and 1970s photography,before it closes in October!)
As the new Curatorial Fellow, I'll be taking on Julie's role at the Smith College Museum of Art. This year isn’t my first time working in Northampton, or even on campus: I’m a Smithie! While I was a student here, I gave tours to visitors of all ages as a Student Museum Educator(SME), participated in the Museums Concentrationprogram and spent many, many late nights in Neilson Library. I was even an early Student Picks lottery winner. In 2012, I graduated with a degree in the Classics and a deep appreciation for the Smith community.
A picture of me in Hatay, Turkey outside the Tunnel of Titus
Soon after graduation, I moved to the city of Antalyaon the south-west coast of Turkey. For ten months my job was teaching English to a group of veryenergetic teenagers who kept me running around the classroom. Together, we discussed many topics, but some of our richest conversations were about art. They spoke about what art they treasured, its power as a medium to spread messages, and even debated that slippery question, "What is art?" One piece of art would become the starting point for conversation about anything from current events to fashion. Our classroom discussions cemented my belief in art's power to forge deep connection between people and between ideas, and I want to continue connecting others to art that speaks to them.
Now, I’m back in the Pioneer Valley, and excited to share the incredible array of Prints, Drawings and Photographs in the Cunningham Center with you!