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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Red House – The Birth of Arth and Crafts

The nineteen-year-old Jane Burden agreed to marry Morris. His friend, the architect Philip Webb whose acquaintance Morris had made during his year at Street’s architectural firm, was commissioned to build Red House, their first married home. Red House is distinctly medieval in appearance. Moreover, the location of Red House was no coincidence. It was built along the path the pilgrims would have taken on their way to Canterbury, in Chaucher’s Canterbury Tales.

Red House defines the early Arts & Crafts style — with its steep roof, brock fireplaces, and ordinary materials such as stones and tiles. William and Jane were dissatisfied with the type and quality of the mass-produced furnishing they found in the shops. Morris and Burne-Jones had commissioned some pieces of furniture when they shared bachelor quarters in London, but Red House was largely unfurnished.

And now reader, look around this English room of yours, about which you have been proud so often, because the work of it was so good and strong, and the ornaments of it so finished. Examine again all those accurate mouldings, and perfect polishing, and unerring adjustments of the seasoned wood and tempered steel. Many a time you have exulted over them, and thought how great England was, because her slightest work was done so thoroughly.

Morris resolved to furnish Red House himself. He paid attention to every detail, designing and handpainting the tiles in the garden porch, the ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’. The furnishing and decoration of Red House became a usual weekend activity for the Morrises and their friends, Edward-Burne Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal, architect Philip Webb and others.

It was one evening after a dinner at Red House that the group of friends formed the partnership of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co., a business venture built on the rejection of machine-produced decorations in favor of hand-craftsmanship. The Firm initially focused on stained glass and Firm windows are still common in England’s 19th century churches. The ‘Morris Chair’, designed by Philip Webb, is still available by catalog and online. Morris wallpaper and textile patterns are still sold in high-end shops.

But to smother their soul with them, to blight and hew into rotting pollars the suckling branches of their human intelligence, to make the flesh and skin which, after the worm’s work on it, is to see God, into leathern thongs to yoke machinery with, — this is to be slavemasters indeed… (Ruskin, Nature of the Gothic)

The defining characteristics of English Arts and Crafts are a return general simplicity of design and hand decoration of items with images and symbols that have a meaning for the user. For Morris, these included medieval themes and there is indeed a link to the ethos of the medieval artisan guilds, but as his interests grew, so did the subject matter. Persian designs and themes, the influence of old Iceland tapestries on his designs, drawing on the beauty of the natural surroundings and his personal history growing up as a child riding his pony through Epping Forest, mythic and fairy tale themes — all of these were drawn into the circle of Arts and Crafts subjects.

Dutch Old Masters on world tour

The largest private collection of 17th-century Dutch painting will tour the globe, starting in February 2017. The first survey of the Leiden Collection, assembled by the US commodities magnate Thomas Kaplan and his wife Daphne Recanati Kaplan, is due to open at the Musée du Louvre (22 February-20 May) as part of a season at the museum celebrating the Dutch Golden Age. A larger presentation of around 60 works is scheduled to travel to the Long Museum in Shanghai, the National Museum in Beijing and the Louvre Abu Dhabi later this year and in 2018.

The travelling show includes the largest number of paintings by Rembrandt ever shown in China and marks the first time Vermeer has ever been shown there, according to Kaplan. He says he views the tour as an opportunity “to build bridges at a time when so many are being burned all over the world”.

The Kaplans have assembled the Leiden Collection at breakneck speed—over just 14 years—with the assistance of Old Master dealers Johnny van Haeften, Otto Naumann and Salomon Lilian. (The collection also has a three-person in-house research and registrar team.) Since 2003, they have acquired more than 200 works, including 13 Rembrandts—11 paintings and two drawings, the largest number in private hands—and the only privately owned paintings by Vermeer and Carel Fabritius.

“For a period of almost five years, we were collecting on average a painting a week,” Kaplan says. “There are only 30 or so Rembrandts in private hands. If people are willing to sell me Rembrandt for less than the price of Warhol, I was thrilled to be able to collect what we loved.”

The Kaplans have lent works from their collection to museums anonymously for years, but recently decided to make their passion public. On 23 January, ahead of the opening of the travelling exhibition, they will launch a free online catalogue dedicated to their holdings. “Any delusion I might have had that we would be able to retain some level of anonymity was not going to happen,” Kaplan says. “We decided to go with it and explain why these artists are still so relevant in the modern world.”

The catalogue includes high-resolution images, essays by scholars, detailed provenance information and technical studies of each work. Visitors to the site can search by artist, date, medium or subject, and all images are available for download in high resolution free of charge. Arthur Wheelock, the curator of Northern Baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has served as an advisor to the project since 2009.

Dominique Surh, the curator of the Leiden Collection, says the Kaplans’ holdings represent “a remarkable genealogy” of the Dutch Golden Age. “Rembrandt had a huge workshop and many of his pupils are represented in the collection, and in some cases, their pupils’ pupils.”

To mark the Louvre presentation, the Kaplans have also donated the painting Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well (c. 1645-46) by Rembrandt’s student Ferdinand Bol to the French museum. Kaplan bought the Biblical scene at auction in 2009 for €1.3m with fees; he had no idea he was bidding against the Louvre. “It was always our policy that if we knew a museum was going for a painting and had the money for it, we would not try to take it away from them,” Kaplan says.

When he discovered who had been on the other side of the bidding war, he offered the work to the Louvre on long-term loan. The museum—which generally does not present loans in its permanent collection spaces—made an exception for the work and put it on display in its Dutch galleries in 2010. Now, it will become a permanent fixture. “It was an accident that we had it in the first place,” Kaplan says.

Art Makes You Smart

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.

Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.

Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?

Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

The Deco Dreams of Brazil’s

Some Brazilians write off Goiânia, far from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, as their version of Midwestern flyover country. But farming and ranching generates much of the country’s wealth and influences Brazilian culture these days, even if the region sometimes neglects its own complex and sophisticated history.

Goiânia’s creators envisioned the city as an outpost of civilization preceding the so-called March to the West that began in 1940 and prioritized the colonization of Brazil’s vast interior. Brasília, the futuristic federal capital inaugurated in 1960, was perhaps the ultimate example of this push.

As envisaged by the pioneering architect Attílio Corrêa Lima, Goiânia seems to have had a more inviting feel than Brasília’s austere modernism. Here’s the same gazebo in the early 1940s, back when Goiânia was planned for just 50,000 residents.

More than 1.4 million people now live in Goiânia, which is emerging as a bastion of the conservative views reshapingBrazilian politics. With its cavernous steakhouses and clubs featuring sertanejo universitário (Brazil’s version of upscale country music), Goiânia exemplifies the ranching aspirations of much of Brazil’s heartland.

Some landmarks persist, albeit in graffiti-splattered disrepair, like the Grande Hotel.

The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss stayed in the hotel in 1937, describing it as “a square box of cement, with the look of an air terminus or a miniature fort; one might have called it a bastion of civilization.”

In his celebrated work, “Tristes Tropiques,” Lévi-Strauss wondered why Brazil’s leaders were “grabbing at the desert” to build the city instead of hewing to the charming old state capitol, Goiás Velho, founded in 1727.

What might he make now of Goiânia, with developers laying waste to Art Deco buildings, replacing them with the nondescript high-rises that occupy cities around Brazil?

In the shadow of those towers in Goiânia, I glimpsed how Brazil is shifting. For inspiration Brazilians once looked to France, the cradle of Art Deco. But while walking around Goiânia, I came across establishments like the China Construction Bank, reflecting the trade ties connecting Brazil’s farm belt to the global economy.

On the same street, patrons flowed into the flashy Detroit Steakhouse. The eatery didn’t seem to be striving for associations with the American city known for blight (and, yes,resurgence), but rather the positive, can-do vibe that the United States still holds for many people in Midwestern Brazil.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what Goiânia would look like if it had preserved more of its earliest architectural creations. Might it have resembled Asmara, the capital of closed-off Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, known for its well-preserved Art Deco treasures built by Italian occupiers in the 1930s? Or like a Miami Beach on the savannas of Brazil?

Either way, Goiânia, only about 80 years old, is still clutching for some history. The main plaza downtown is named officially for Mr. Corrêa Lima, the architect. But most people call it the Praça do Bandeirante, after the São Paulo explorers who went into the back country on slave-hunting missions.

Brazil was searching for myths in 1942 when the authorities unveiled the statue of Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, an 18th-century bandeirante. To this day he is better known as Anhangüera, “Old Devil” in the Tupi indigenous language, a name evoking the brutal methods conquerors used to take possession of the lands on which Goiânia was built.

A taste for the landscape

Within that boisterous artistic period that was the American 19th century, no tendency or movement is more interesting and suggestive than the Hudson River School. The painters of this school gave a radical turn to the developing of landscape painting, making the landscape no longer a mere foreground for a composition, and turning it into the authentic reason and protagonist of the picture. But there is more, much more of which to speak. In this small essay we are going to try to discover some less evident aspects of this sensational artistic period.

There is much to say about the artists who may have influenced this movement. Some of them are quite evident, such as the late Baroque landscape painters -Meindert Hobbema, Claude Lorrain- in works by Cole or Durand. More complex, but maybe even more important, is the influence of the greatest American writers of that time, like Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau, with his writings aimed to proclaim the American cultural independence to Europe. We will study this complex influence in later chapters. Also, it is necessary to mention pioneers of the American landscape Art, like George Catlin or Thomas Doughty.

About the influence that this movement had in the immediately later American Art -symbolism, luminism and American impressionism- there is a lot to say. It has been said quite often – and it is difficult not to fall in the temptation of saying it again- that the influence that the painters of the Hudson River School had on American impressionism is similar to what the Barbizon School had on French impressionism. This is not so simple, at least in my opinion. First of all, American impressionism is a much more “heterodox” movement – and generally less studied- than its French homonymous: whereas many American artists simply copied the intentions and techniques of his European contemporaries, some -such as Winslow Homer- even approached impressionism before Monet, Renoir and their colleagues. In addition, American landscape painting entails very complex political and even spiritual connotations that difference it from French painting. In any case, the influence of the Hudson River School in the works of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Blakelock or Winslow Homer is undeniable.

THE PROTAGONISTS

THOMAS COLE (1801-1858) is known as the founder of the Hudson River School. Born in Britain, his family emigrated to America when he was only 17 years old, so we can consider him a totally American painter. Cole discovered the beauty of the Hudson River in 1825, after emigrating to New York, and began to create his first outdoors sketches. Here he paints some of his more famous works, like “The falls of Kaaterskill”(Warner Collection). His love for the American landscape was so strong that, after travelling to Europe- he found the landscape of the Old Continent cold and desolated. At the end of his life he settled down in the Catskills, where he painted the series of “The Voyage of the life”.

ASHER BROWN DURAND (1796-1886), although older than Cole, introduced himself in the landscape painting after knowing the works of the previous master. More romantic and less faithful to the reality than Cole, his works are, nevertheless, more beautiful and poetic, with clear influences of masters like Meindert Hobbema or Claude Lorrain. He is the author of works such as “Kindred Spirits” or “The beeches”.