One of the leading artists of the post- Jasper Johns/Robert Rauschenberg generation, Terry Winters wields his brush with the kind of knowledge and conviction that make periodic talk of "the death of painting" seem empty. Bitumen, 1986, is a work from the first decade of his career, when Winters was exploring such basic natural processes as crystal formation, fungal growth, and (as in this canvas) cellular division—and when he was equally immersed in the natural history of painting itself.
Winters' training at New York City's High School of Art and Design and later at Pratt Institute left him curious about his medium, and he began grinding and making his own paints. Attracted to bitumen, a dark-colored paint made from coal tar, but aware that its use was responsible for the poor condition of many nineteenth-century paintings that exhibit blistering surfaces over time, he obtained a stable, modified version from the French firm of Lefranc & Bourgeois for use in this painting. On full display here is what Winters calls the "transparency and viscosity" of bitumen, which he extended with umbers and other earth colors. Thick, juicy modeling alternates with passages of almost aqueous translucency. The material itself seems to partake of the painting's theme of organic growth, which is appropriate given the carbon base of the titular pigment. The tabular array of the composition, on the other hand, with its forms laid out like specimens on a table, references the rational ordering schemes employed by naturalists as well as the splayed compositions of Johns and the later works of Philip Guston. Thus the painting proposes a meeting of nature and culture that is at the heart of Winters' work.
Since 1990 Winters has turned his gaze from organic motifs to the digital presentation of graphic information, appropriating and overlaying imagery to drive his interrelated practices of painting, drawing, and printmaking. In this respect he was one of the first painters to embrace cyberspace and postmodern information theory. Winters has held fast to traditional artistic media as the appropriate vehicle for these explorations, thus extending the viability and the possibilities of painting.
Bitumen is the first work by this innovative artist to enter the Gallery's collection. Its acquisition was made possible by a generous gift from the Richard S. Zeisler Fund. The addition of this early, but classic, Winters work will help the National Gallery tell the story of painting in the 1980s, when artists such as Johns, Anselm Kiefer, Brice Marden, and others proved the continuing vitality of expressive abstract painting.
Terry Winters, Bitumen, 1986, oil on linen, Richard S. Zeisler Fund, 2008.35.1
On view in the East Building, Concourse Gallery 29B
James Rosenquist, considered one of the leaders of the pop art movement of the 1960s, created White Bread, 1964, during a pivotal period in the early years of his long career.
After studying art with Cameron Booth at the University of Minnesota, Rosenquist moved to New York City in 1955 on a scholarship from the Art Students League. His breakthrough came in 1960, when he quit his signpainting job and found a loft in Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan, joining a group of young mavericks that included Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and Jack Youngerman. Here Rosenquist gave up his previous abstract expressionist efforts and let his commercial experience invade his art. The result was a series of monumental paintings based on jagged collages of magazine images and views out his window.
White Bread is one of Rosenquist's best-known works from this period, but it is not typical. The scale is relatively modest compared to other works he created at the time, and the composition is not interrupted by the sharp divisions and overlaid images that usually emerged from his collage process. Instead, the divisions and overlaps are elegantly found in the subject itself—four slices of store-bought white bread, the topmost of which is receiving a coat of the world's yellowest butter (or, more likely, margarine), courtesy of a very ordinary stainless steel knife.
While commonly associated with pop art, Rosenquist never fit comfortably into the pop category, as this painting demonstrates. On the one hand, he generally eschewed brand names and logos, preferring more generalized commercial images. On the other, he dared to approach commercial illustration techniques even more closely than his pop cohorts, as can be seen in his efficient but careful rendering of the grooves in the knife and the gloss on the butter. At the same time, this work can be considered largely as an abstraction: the canvas is divided into simple shapes, and the use of the same yellow for both the spread and the background flattens the space, calling attention to the patterns formed by the bread crusts. In this regard, White Bread is similar to the radical simplicity, purity of shape, and sharp contours found in Ellsworth Kelly's color field paintings. Indeed, some commentators have detected Kelly's initials in the crusts. The possible influence of Roy Lichtenstein can also be seen in this work. In 1963, Lichtenstein painted Mustard on White, which shows a woman's hand delivering a bright yellow coating of mustard to a slice of white bread with a knife.
In sum, White Bread is a painting about culture and consumption made at a high point of American consumerism, but it is also a painting about painting, about the application of color to a support and its stunning visual results.
White Bread, 1964,
oil on canvas,
Richard S. Zeisler Fund,
On view in the East Building, Concourse Gallery Lobby
Although best known for his figure paintings, often set in and around Manhattan, Alex Katz is equally a painter of Maine, where he has summered for decades. Swamp Maple (4:30), painted in Lincolnville, Maine, in 1968, is one of his largest landscapes in every sense—at once monumental and unstable, fast and slow, flat and deep, hard and soft, general and particular, observed and abstract.
Here Katz beautifully captures the glow of weak sun on leaf and water and the contrasting textures of soft grass and rough bark. A delicate craquelure on the tree trunk emerged during the course of painting, and Katz took advantage of it to convey the bark itself. His color choices, such as the tan sky and the white reflection of the black shore, are both memorable and puzzling, leaving the viewer to wonder whether it is 4:30 a.m. or p.m. The former is not out of the question: Katz has said that he wants to explore times that few people have seen, and in Lincolnville, the sun rises that early in the summer. In fact, Katz recalls that the painting was based on oil sketches he made in the afternoon, although the title leaves the time of day ambiguous.
The absence of a viewpoint or standpoint in Swamp Maple (4:30) is aided by radical cropping, a Katz trademark: "A lot of these paintings don't have much of a floor," he remarks slyly, and indeed, the handling of the grass suggests a plane slipping away. Space is deepened by aerial perspective, as seen in the depiction of the pale blue hills, and then drained by the color of the sky, which seems to sit on the surface of the painting, refusing to recede properly into space. The tree is not in the landscape so much as in front of it, perhaps even serving as a stand-in for the artist or the beholder.
Katz steered his own course throughout the 1960s, paying close attention to artists as diverse as Barnett Newman, James Rosenquist, Fairfield Porter, Roy Lichtenstein, and Al Held, a painter with whom he shared studio space in New York for much of the 1960s. Swamp Maple (4:30) rivals the scale of abstract expressionism, borrows the language of hard-edge abstraction, and navigates between the softness of plein-air painting and the slickness of pop art. This work, the most ambitious landscape that Katz had painted up to that point, beautifully realizes his goal of capturing an "overall light" in the "present tense." Although the Gallery's collection is rich with early works on paper by Katz, Swamp Maple (4:30) is the first of his paintings to enter the collection. Together with the new Rosenquist acquisition, it will help to represent American figurative art of the 1960s, which is often overlooked given the struggle at that time between late abstract expressionism and emerging pop and minimalism.
Swamp Maple (4:30), 1968, oil on linen, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2008.34.1
On view in the East Building, Concourse Gallery Lobby
This transcendent view down the Rhine River from the hillside vineyards near Oberwesel, Germany, is a masterpiece by one of the great icons of British art, J. M.W. Turner. Executed in Turner's signature medium of watercolor, it encapsulates all the most admired qualities of the artist's works in that demanding technique. With its dazzling combination of light, color, and atmosphere, this piece not only marks the pinnacle of Turner's career as an artist but also bears eloquent witness to his stature as a supremely gifted and innovative watercolorist.
Turner traveled widely over the course of his career, both in England and abroad, filling sketchbooks with rapid pencil studies that later served as the inspiration for his watercolors. This view of Oberwesel, for example, was the direct result of a trip he made along the Rhine in 1839. Topographical accuracy was not his first concern here, for he repositioned such significant local monuments as the white Ochsturm (Ox Tower) at left and the Schönburg Castle in the middle distance at right to improve the composition, framing the sun-glazed view down the river in a manner intended to evoke the grand classical landscapes of Claude Lorrain (1604/1605–1682). Turner's transcription of nature is firmly rooted in reality, but his inimitable combination of radiant light and vaporous color imbues his vision of the river and the surrounding hills with an extraordinary sense of spirituality and cosmic grandeur. Enhancing that quality is the contrastingly more detailed and down-to-earth handling of the foreground, which is animated with figures and objects that could hardly be more ordinary. Even in those more mundane passages, however, Turner's handling is very fine; particularly beautiful is his deft use of scratching out to indicate the grapevines trailing down the hill at right.
From his many journeys and his extensive reading, Turner was steeped in historical and literary knowledge about the places he visited and drew. He must have been well aware, for example, that in 1813 field marshal Blücher led his Prussian troops across the Rhine below Oberwesel—at the distant spot that lies exactly in the center of Turner's composition—to drive Napoleon's army out of the Rhineland. That is one reason the artist may have chosen to populate the foreground of his composition with laborers and their families resting in the midday sun, thus contrasting their present tranquil existence with the ravages of war in the past. Turner also undoubtedly knew Lord Byron's many verses in praise of the Rhine in Canto III of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and it has been suggested that he was specifically inspired by verse 46 to include nursing mothers and babes-in-arms among the foreground figures: "Maternal Nature! For who teems like thee, / Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine?"
Joseph Mallord William Turner,
Paul Mellon Fund,
On view in the West Buidling, Ground Floor, Gallery 26A
The city of Hull, an important British port for commercial and fishing fleets, was a center for whaling until the middle of the nineteenth century. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it attracted a number of accomplished marine painters. John Ward (1798–1849), one of the finest of these artists, enjoyed wide patronage from ship owners and merchants and produced numerous ship portraits and harbor views. His most original and striking works are whaling scenes he painted from the early 1820s to the early 1840s. He began exhibiting such works at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, and the Royal Society of British Artists in London in the 1830s, bringing him recognition beyond his hometown.
The Northern Whale Fishery: The "Swan" and "Isabella" was unknown to modern scholarship on Ward until its appearance at auction in September 2006. Several other similar paintings of the Swan and the Isabella are extant, each with variations in the placement of the ships, the details of human activity, and the variety of marine animals shown. The Gallery's newly acquired picture is among the most beautifully painted of all of Ward's creations. The two principal ships are painstakingly rendered to capture exact details of rigging and overall form, while other vessels are depicted in the distance. Ice floes drift on the sea, and icebergs loom in the background. The scene is filled with activities associated with whaling: strips of whale flesh are loaded on the Swan at the left; a long boat tows a dead whale in the middle distance; and a boat pursues a sounding whale near the Isabella at the right. Most remarkable is the array of wildlife present, including three seals and pairs of polar bears, walruses, and narwhales; seagulls skim the water and ice, searching for, and in some cases finding, morsels of blubber.
The Gallery's collection has only a few marine pictures by British artists and none depicting an Arctic scene. The Northern Whale Fishery: The "Swan" and "Isabella," with its charming and appealing subject and the exceptionally fine aesthetic level of its realization, is thus an important and welcome addition.
John Ward of Hull, The Northern Whale Fishery: the "Swan" and "Isabella", c. 1840, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2007.114.1
On view in the West Building, Main Floor, Gallery 91
The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired a private collection of forty-one important British photographs by several of the foremost photographers of the mid-nineteenth century, including the pathbreaking Scottish photographic team of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, and William Henry Fox Talbot.
Among the works by Hill and Adamson—fourteen calotypes from the medium's first decade—is the well-known portrait of David Octavius Hill at the gate of his Edinburgh home and studio, from about 1845. Twelve of the Hill and Adamson prints, including this one, are especially noteworthy because they were presented by Hill to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1852.
The Cameron acquisition consists of five portraits, two allegorical subjects, and two group photographs, including Summer Days. Made at her home on the Isle of Wight in 1866, only two years into her career, Summer Days features a distinctive, intimate grouping, with Cameron's niece, one of Cameron's maids, and the children of neighbors. The photograph's soft focus, which Cameron manipulated for artistic effect, is strikingly juxtaposed with a background unusual in its unsettling, off-center geometry.
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, David Octavius Hill at the Gate of Rock House, Edinburgh, 1843�1847, salted paper print from a paper negative, Paul Mellon Fund 2007.29.27
Paul Guigou was the leading representative of the Provençal school of landscape painters in France before his contemporary Paul Cézanne overtook him in fame. Guigou's great promise was cut short by a fatal stroke in 1871, when he was only thirty-seven. Born near Apt in the Vaucluse region of southern France, Guigou trained in Marseille and Paris but remained devoted to his home region of Provence. He worked primarily along the river Durance (which runs about ten miles north of Aix-en-Provence), near the towns of L'Isle-sur-Sorgue and La Roque d'Anthéron, depicting the rough, rocky landscape of the area with its sunbleached crags and wide blue skies. He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon.
Washerwomen on the Banks of the Durance, painted in 1866, when the artist was at the height of his powers, is a work fully characteristic of Guigou. It shows a group of local washerwomen, wrapped against the heat of the sun, at work on the riverbank. But the true subjects are the harsh southern light and the Provençal landscape. In a noticeably austere composition, we see a broad sweep of the Durance as it rounds a bend, the arid alluvial plain, and the edge of the Lubéron mountain range at left, all spread out under a brilliant blue sky.
Guigou was one of a generation of French landscape painters at midcentury who, reacting against the political centralization and cultural domination of Paris, asserted their provincial identity and autonomy by celebrating their local landscapes and ways of life. The example of Gustave Courbet's regionalist realism lies behind this movement, and indeed, Guigou was friendly with Courbet's greatest patron, Alfred Bruyas, whose collection he frequented in the nearby town of Montpellier. Guigou's manner of painting is strong and heavily impasted, a painterly equivalent for the typically rugged Provençal terrain that he favored. This rough and textured surface came to exemplify a "Provençal" style of painting, which was soon adapted and refined by Cézanne—as, for example, in the National Gallery's Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L'Estaque, c. 1883. Guigou's spare composition and bold palette of ocher and blue influenced another young contemporary painter from Montpellier, Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870), as seen in the Gallery's The Ramparts at Aigues-Mortes, 1867.
Washerwomen on the Banks of the Durance, 1866,
oil on canvas, 66 x 115 cm (26 x 45 1/4 in.),
Chester Dale Fund,
On view on the West Building, Main Floor, Gallery 83
William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), one of New York's most prominent artists in the 1880s, surpassed all others in the use of pastel. In his adept hands, pastel's chalky matter rivaled the authority of oil paint, though with greater receptivity to light and an unmatched velvety texture. Chase produced more than one hundred pastels in the 1880s, increasing the visibility of the medium in exhibitions and promoting the technique with forward-looking artists of the day.
The pastel has borne more than one title since its making. The Gallery has reinstated Study of Flesh Color and Gold, which was used when the pastel was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1897 and is reminiscent of titles favored by James McNeill Whistler. Consider, for example, Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold or his Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Black. Chase was an exuberant admirer of Whistler's work and sought out his acquaintance while on a trip to London in 1885. By all accounts the two men got along famously, but Chase eventually tired of the older artist's quarrelsome behavior. Nonetheless, he maintained respect for Whistler's work and continued to laud his accomplishments.
In Study of Flesh Color and Gold, Chase applied the pastel relatively densely and with exceptional vigor, maneuvering the colored crayon as one would a brush loaded with oil paint. In keeping with the contemporary vogue for Japonisme, Chase (like Whistler) adopted Japanese props. He tilted the picture plane and cropped the composition, devices common to Japanese prints. Like Kitagawa Utamaro, whose eighteenth-century prints were coveted by avant-garde artists at the time, Chase focused on the figure's bare back. But he heightened the effect—to the point of its being somewhat startling—by placing the model in the extreme forefront of the composition, adding a modern sensibility to a traditional Japanese subject.
Margaret and Raymond Horowitz began acquiring art in the mid-1960s, assembling one of the finest collections of American impressionist and realist works in private hands, a selection of which was the subject of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 1999. In addition to this sumptuous pastel by Chase, the Gallery has been the beneficiary of other gifts from the Horowitz collection, including a superb painting from 1891 by Childe Hassam, Poppies, Isles of Shoals.
William Merritt Chase
Study of Flesh Color and Gold, 1888
pastel on paper, 45.72 x 33.02 cm (18 x 13 in.),
Gift of Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz,
On view in the West Building, Ground Floor, Gallery 26
Mental Reactions—by general accounts the earliest example of visual poetry in America—is the original maquette for a printed version published in the avant-garde magazine 291. Both a drawing and a poem, the work is a collaboration between the Mexican-born caricaturist Marius de Zayas (1880–1961) and the American journalist and art patron Agnes Ernst Meyer (1887–1970). Its existence was apparently unknown until it was offered for sale last December. Coincidentally, the Gallery had acquired the printed version—the April 1915 issue of 291—a year earlier.
De Zayas left Mexico for New York in 1907 and within two years was exhibiting at Alfred Stieglitz's Fifth Avenue gallery, known as 291. Defining himself as a "propagandist for modern art," de Zayas helped arrange Pablo Picasso's first United States exhibition—a show held at 291 in 1911—and a pioneering exhibition of African sculpture at the same gallery in 1914. On visits to Paris in 1910 and 1914 he met the most advanced artists and writers working in Europe, including Guillaume Apollinaire—French poet, critic, and editor of the review Les Soirées de Paris—whose calligrams, or visual poems, had a powerful influence on him. Writing to Stieglitz from Paris in July 1914, de Zayas enthused: "[Apollinaire] is doing in poetry what Picasso is doing in painting. He uses actual forms made up with letters. All these show a tendency towards the fusion of the so-called arts." Apollinaire published four of de Zayas' caricatures in Les Soirées de Paris in 1914, and the following year de Zayas published one of Apollinaire's calligrams in 291, introducing the newest synthesis of word and image to an American audience.
Another member of the Stieglitz circle visiting Paris that July was Agnes Meyer, whom de Zayas took to see Picasso's latest works. Returning to New York after the war broke out, Meyer and de Zayas joined forces with Stieglitz and the French businessman and photographer Paul Haviland, another Stieglitz associate, to found the magazine 291. Its second issue featured a full-page printed version of Mental Reactions, in which Meyer's poem, cut into individually trimmed blocks of pasted-down text, is literally strewn across the page. De Zayas' bold, cubistlike composition lends structure to the whole, but for readers there is no single or prescribed direction. We begin at the upper left and confront, as the text descends, multiple pathways and multiple readings. The poem records the random musings and doubts of a woman torn between an illicit romance ("why cannot all the loves of all the world be mine?") and dutifulness ("Their bed-time. / They will want to say good-night. / I must go."). While 291 was hardly a feminist journal, it was sympathetic to women's causes and receptive to examining the female identity and condition.
Mental Reactions represents an early chapter in the history of Dada. To reach a broader audience, de Zayas sent copies of 291 to vanguard artists in Europe, including Tristan Tzara, a leader in the emerging Dada movement. Tzara, in turn, sent publications to de Zayas, making him the conduit for Dada ideas in New York. De Zayas was never a member of the Dada group, and the scholar Francis M. Naumann has rightly pointed out that he would have rejected its nihilism. Nonetheless, innovative works such as Mental Reactions were known to the dadaists in Europe and are part of Dada's larger history.
Agnes Ernst first met Alfred Stieglitz and the 291 circle in 1908, when she was an enterprising freelance reporter for the New York Sun. After marrying the wealthy financier Eugene Meyer two years later, she became an avid art collector and a generous patron. Eugene and Agnes Meyer donated important works to the National Gallery beginning in 1958, including paintings by Paul Cézanne and Edouard Manet, sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, and watercolors by John Marin. Agnes Meyer was the mother of Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography, Personal History.
Marius de Zayas, Mexican, 1880–1961, Agnes Ernst Meyer, American, 1887–1970, Mental Reactions, 1915, brush and black ink with collage of cut-and-pasted texts over graphite on paperboard, 72.55 x 57.15 cm (28 9/16 x 22 1/2 in.), Gift of Helen Porter and James T. Dyke, 2007.37.1
A landmark of Dutch landscapes, Salomon van Ruysdael's River Landscape with Ferry, signed and dated 1649, is now on view in the West Building Dutch galleries. Imposing in scale and visually compelling, it depicts a ferryboat filled with travelers, including some seated in a horse-drawn carriage, crossing a broad river near a turreted castle. A large clump of trees silhouetted against the windswept blue sky provides a framework for the animals and humans activating the scene. Light floods into this harmonious composition, illuminating the leaves of the trees as well as the distant sailboats and village church.
Salomon van Ruysdael (1603–1670), one of the leading landscape painters of his generation, was renowned for the atmospheric effects he created in his images of life along peaceful Dutch waterways. In the 1640s he helped lay the foundation for the classical period of Dutch landscape and influenced a generation of artists, including his nephew Jacob van Ruysdael, Meindert Hobbema, and Aelbert Cuyp, who are well-represented in the Gallery's collection.
The acquisition marks the first painting by Salomon van Ruysdael to enter the Gallery's collection and was made possible with funds from the Patrons' Permanent Fund and The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund. This acquisition was made possible through the generosity of the family of Jacques Goudstikker, in his memory.
Salomon van Ruysdael, Dutch, 1600/1603 - 1670, River Landscape with Ferry, 1649, oil on canvas, 101.5 x 134.8 cm (39 15/16 x 53 1/16 in.), 2007.116.1