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, December 20, 2012
Everywhere you go these days people are talking or writing about the concept of “mindfulness.” A key component of Buddhism, and, increasingly, Western psychology, mindfulness is focused on an active awareness of the reality of things, and a close and disciplined attention to the present moment. A person can do just about anything “mindfully:” washing dishes, brushing teeth, walking, or breathing. My current mindfulness practice takes full advantage of our special exhibition, Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection.Each day the exhibition is open to the public, I have been selecting a single drawing to examine, mindfully, for at least 30 minutes. Slowing down and losing myself in a single work of art is a deeply rewarding experience, especially when faced with such a rich array of complex, beautiful, and moving works such as those on exhibit. Drawings, in particular, are a perfect focus for such an exercise—after all they are simply marks on a piece of paper made by a human hand that somehow, magically, coalesce into an image.
My drawing for today was Annibale Carracci’s Study of a Tree:
Annibale Carracci was one of three related artists who were instrumental in the development of art in Italy during the 17th century. Eschewing the excesses of the mannerist style (including high-keyed color and exaggerated body proportions), the Carracci (Agostino, Annibale, and Ludovico) advocated a return to the artistic inspirations of classical antiquity, artists of the High Renaissance, and direct observations of nature.
Study of a Treeis a large sheet featuring a portrait of a tree drawn in brown ink. What struck me instantly about this work was the specificityof the tree—this is not some generic or idealized view, but one that the artist closely observed. The idiosyncratic formation of the trunk and branches, the unbalanced massing of leaves, and the free handling of the foliage all combine to capture the essence of the natural world rather than a mere description of it. Carracci is here attempting to capture the form and spirit of the tree rather than make a scientifically accurate rendering.
Paying close attention to the various quality of lines—the swift, parallel strokes that add depth and fullness to sections of overlapping leaves, or the wild and snaky lines forming bare branches that extend from the top or right side of the tree—gave me greater appreciation for Carracci’s genius in translating visual experience to paper.
The experience of looking closely at this work can also provoke experiential responses. Take, for example, the subtle passages of black chalk visible under the ink. In the upper branches, these areas animate the leaves, like a breeze rustling the tree’s top. When applied to the trunk, the chalk provides additional texture, adding a bulk and solidity that is almost palpable. Thick ink lines outlining clumps of leaves punctuate the surface, as if they are picked out by bright sunlight.
I always leave one of these viewing experiences feeling refreshed and energized. An added bonus in the case of spending time with Carracci’s Study of a Treeis the fact that it allowed me to look at the trees on the Smith campus with new eyes.
I invite you to try this mindfulness practice. There are 86 works to choose from in Drawn to Excellenceand each of them will greatly benefit the patient and mindful viewer.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Two weeks ago, Paper + People featured a blog poston the Smith College colloquium French and Italian Drawings: Renaissance through Romanticism,which is currently being taught by Suzanne Folds McCullagh, the Anne Vogt Fuller and Marion Titus Searle Chair and Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago. The class of six students organized and wrote wall texts for an installation of French and Italian Drawings from the SCMA collection. This installation is on view in the Nixon gallery on the Museum’s second floor until December 16, which is fast approaching – be sure to check it out!
The course takes a very hands-on approach to learning about drawings. Not only did the students spend the first half of their semester in the Cunningham Center working directly with the drawings and writing labels which are now in the Museum’s installation (a selection are shown below), but they also had the rare opportunity to actually make some of the materials which those drawings employed. In one of classes in November, the students and Professor McCullagh were joined by David Dempsey, SCMA’s Associate Director of Museum Services, and Phoebe Dent Weil, a retired conservator and expert on historic methods and materials. The class learned how to chemically create iron gall ink as it would have been made centuries ago, with some surprising results:
Labels written by the French and Italian Drawings Class
Label written by Maddy Barker, class of 2015:
Benedetto Luti was famous for his work in pastel. His use of the medium can be traced back to 1703 and is considered among the earliest pastel paintings in Italy. This work is for a series of the twelve apostles. The identity of this figure is uncertain, but the presence of the open book makes it likely to be one of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The viewer is drawn in by the careful attention to tactility of the hair and beard of the apostle. Luti mastered color to create volume and luminosity reminiscent of the art of Correggio.
Label written by Sara Ottomano, class of 2015:
Renowned as a printmaker and draftsman, this French artist spent most of his career in Italy. Many of his works capture the diverse social classes within Italian society. One series of works focused on the life of beggars. Rather than depicting them as parasitic and resentful, a common practice at the time, Callot drew the beggars as feeble and harassed.
This delicate drawing is stamped with large and unsightly collectors’ marks, including a crowned P, indicating this drawing was once part of Tsar Paul I’s and Catherine the Great’s collection in Russia.
Label written by Amanda Manocherian, class of 2015:
Giambattista Tiepolo, a renowned eighteenth-century Venetian painter, was considered an exemplar of the monumental pictorial tradition in Italian art. Favoring heroic and religious themes, he had a unique talent for depicting forceful visual dramas through dynamic, theatrically staged scenes.
In this drawing Giambattista aggressively uses washes of differing intensities to model space and form along with bold brush-strokes and brilliant highlights that clash with deep shadows to illustrate the love story of Angelica and Medoro. Angelica, the princess of Cathay, fell in love with the wounded Moorish soldier Medoro, whom she nursed back to health. Sharply contrasting planes of shadow and light meet over the lover’s stylized bodies and, in combination with Giambattista’s sweeping brush strokes, create an almost painfully dynamic composition that breathes fiery life into the scene.
Label written by Ellen Monroe, class of 2015:
This fantastically angular drawing is characteristic of the late sixteenth-century Florentine artist Andrea Boscoli. The same crisp lines can be seen in his sketch after a fifteenth-century Benozzo Gozzoli fresco, currently part of the Drawn to Excellence exhibition on SCMA’s first floor. Boscoli’s precise lines animate both compositions, but here Boscoli layered gray wash on top of his red chalk drawing. This was a technique Boscoli frequently used to create dramatic shading. Indeed, the tree on the right casts a shadow on the foreground figure, while Christ’s kneeling form is illuminated.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Last year in this blog I suggested that everyone observe David Becker Dayon December 11 in honor of the late print scholar, curator, collector, and philanthropist. Well, that day has rolled around again, presenting the perfect occasion to interact deeply with a work of art (preferably, a print or an illustrated book), and particularly a work of art that speaks deeply to your personal values or beliefs.
As a scholar, one of David’s specialties was the French eccentric printmaker Rodolphe Bresdin, whose works feature fantastical scenes rendered in painstaking detail. Here is one example of Bresdin’s etchings, donated by David to SCMA in honor of his mother, Helen Pillsbury Becker, class of 1928.
David’s enthusiasms as a collector were significantly broader. One opportunity to get an idea of the breadth of his interests is an engaging exhibition drawn from the 1,500 objects he donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. On view until March 24, 2013, Printmaking ABC: In Memorium David P. Beckershowcases significant prints in beautiful impressions made between the 16th and 21st centuries.
However you decide to observe David Becker Day, I hope you will take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the things you love and the people that have nurtured and mentored you. While I see this day as an opportunity to encourage people to engage directly with works of art, ultimately, the day also honors someone whose ability and desire to share his knowledge and passion impacted many people (myself included) on a deep and lasting level. Pass on what you know and love, and have a wonderful David Becker Day.