Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 53: Wadsworth Atheneum

The Wadsworth Atheneum, located in Hartford, Connecticut, is the oldest public art museum in the United States, having opened in 1844. Their collection is large and important.

Starting with a castle-like structure, they added four wings over time, making the layout quite confusing. There are two courtyards with central skylights that caused glare on many works, especially bad when they were protected by glass. This made photography tough.

A monumental stabile by Alexander Calder in a public courtyard outside the Wadsworth Atheneum announces the presence and affirms the importance of Art. Shaped geometrically like a pre-historic beast, its legs are tall enough to form an entrance arch. It is complemented by a graceful, multi-stream fountain.

Alexander Calder, 1898-1976
Two entrance halls are decorated with exciting murals by Sol LeWitt.

Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007

Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007

Any art museum that can exhibit major works by Caravaggio and Orazio Gentilleschi side by side, has to be considered a major player.

Caravaggio, 1571-1610
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, c. 1596 
Orazio Gentileschi, 1565-1639
Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, 1621-1624

The Wadsworth Atheneum is well-grounded in Old Masters. These two painters from the 1700s are not famous in art history, but these portraits are very polished and appealing.

Giacomo Ceruti, 1698-1767
Girl with a Dove, 1730s
Pompeo Batoni, 1708-1787
Portrait of Sir Humphrey Morice, 1762

Although Gustav Klimt is known for his modern, sensuous designs, my favorite of his work is in this polished 18th century style.

Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918
Two Girls with Oleander, c. 1892

By contrast, Renoir used a frank and intimate style in this late portrait of his wife.

Auguste Renoir, 1841-1919
Madame Renoir with Bob, c. 1910
Picasso drove portraiture to a totally expressive place in this late self-portrait.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
The Artist, 1963

Although Edvard Munch usually worked in a loose but figurative style, and is associated with anguish, this lyrical landscape comes remarkably close to abstraction.

Edvard Munch, 1863-1944
Winter Landscape at Hvitsten, c.1918

The world of dreams and illusions was everything to Salvador Dalí. His Surreal paintings often reflect the relativity of perception; sometimes this image looks like one thing, sometimes another.

Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989
Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, 1938

Even though the Wadsworth's European collection is strong, their American collection is even better. In portraiture, the earliest Americans worked in a traditional style that reflected their European heritage. One of America's first important artists was Charles Willson Peale. He named all his children for artists and they all became artists, and good ones, too.

Rembrandt Peale, 1778-1860
Rubens Peale, 1834

In this portrait, John Singer Sargent took a more intimate, casual approach that might be compared with Renoir's portrait of his wife.

John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925
Ruth Sears Bacon, 1887

One of the premier portraitists of the 20th century was Alice Neel. Her works use a bold, loose style that expresses the depth of the sitter's personality.

Alice Neel, 1900-1984
Rose Fried's Nephew, 1963
For a long time Chuck Close was known for photographically detailed ultra close-ups, but in the past decade or two he's been doing abstract riffs on a cellular structure, combining abstraction with blunt close-ups in a manner that plays games with your perception, in the manner of Dalí. This iPad snapshot is one of his original prints.

Chuck Close, b. 1940
Self-Portrait, 2007
In the 19th century, landscape dominated American painting, and the two major players were Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt.

Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902
In the Yosemite Valley, 1866

Frederic Edwin Church, 1826-1900
Hooker and Company, 1846
Coming to the game rather late, Americans got into Impressionism in a big way, especially in landscapes.

Childe Hassam, 1859-1935
Nymph of the Siren's Grotto, 1909
This level of sentimentalism and grandiosity didn't go down well in the 20th century; artists wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty. But even rough work can be joyful, as shown in this city-scape by George Luks.

George Luks, 1867-1933
Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, late 1920s

Twentieth century American artists tended to focus on various forms of perception and to emphasize formal values such as shape and form. In this painting, O'Keeffe simplifies and abstracts the form of a tree and upends our usual mode of perception.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986
Lawrence Tree, 1929 

By contrast, Stanton MacDonald-Wright minimized form, treating the subject in terms of light and color.

Stanton Macdonald-Wright, 1890-1973
American Synchromy No. 1, 1919

The dominant trend in the middle decades of the 20th century in the U.S. was abstract expressionism, in which artists gave up on visual subjects and occupied themselves with the expressive powers of paint.

Helen Frankenthaler, 1928-2011
Sea Picture with Black, 1959

So there was competition among artists to come up with a unique approach to painting, but you don't have to be edgy to be a great artist.

Norman Rockwell, 1894-1978
The Young Lady with the Shiner, 1953

Lunch in the museum cafe was good. Dan had crab cakes and ice tea. I had a chicken salad; the chicken had unique spicing, not to heavy.

In the evening we ate together at the American Steakhouse near the motel. I had the salad bar. Dan had sirloin tips and the salad bar. The wine was cheap but drinkable. Dan was happy with the low prices and the people watching was very good. It's the kind of place you take a big family to celebrate a birthday.