by Graham C. Boettcher, PhD, the William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art
While the majority of the BMA’s purchased acquisitions come from commercial galleries and auction houses, occasionally museum-quality works of art surface in unexpected places. This past October, I found such a work in a Chicago antique store. While scanning the display cases of Broadway Antique Market, a popular shop in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, a small, but striking black and red print on white paper caught my eye. Entitled Drawing in Two Colors, the print—an offset lithograph and halftone on Japanese paper— was the work of the German-born American artist Winold Reiss (1886-1953). Known for his portraits of major figures in Jazz Age Harlem—including poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen—Reiss was also a pioneering designer whose Art Deco interiors used strong patterns, bold colors, and angular geometry. In this rare print, created between 1915 and 1920, Reiss demonstrates his interest in both the Art Deco style and the vibrant cultural scene among Harlem’s elite.
An immediate Google search on my iPhone confirmed the rarity of the work. While it was reprinted on a larger scale on thicker paper around 1925, as Interpretation of Harlem Jazz I, the only known example of this version in a public collection was given to the Library of Congress in 1998, by the artist’s son, Tjark Reiss. I acquired the drawing for an extremely modest sum. According to the curatorial code of ethics, when a curator buys a museumworthy work of art with his or her own funds, that curator must offer the work to the museum for the purchase price. That is, if a curator buys an original Norman Rockwell at a garage sale for $5, it must be offered to the museum for that same price. Because the amount paid for the print was negligible, I decided to donate it to the BMA’s permanent collection rather than request reimbursement. It is the Museum’s first work by Winold Reiss, and an important addition to a growing collection of early 20th-century American fine and decorative arts.
Drawing in Two Colors or Interpretation of Harlem Jazz I, 1915–20. Winold Reiss (American; born Germany, 1886–1953), offset lithograph and halftone on Japanese paper. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; gift of Dr. Graham C. Boettcher AFI487.2012
by Donald Wood, PhD, Senior Curator and the Virginia and William M. Spencer Curator of Asian Art
Fifteen Japanese prints are a recent gift to the Museum from the estate of Larry D. Luke of Huntsville. The prints are from the 1940s-1960s and represent the work of the finest woodblock print artists active in Japan at the time. This is a treasure trove for our collection that includes work by artists of the Shin Hanga, or New Print movement such as Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) and Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995), and artists of the Sosaku Hanga, or Creative Print movement such as Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997) and Sekino Jun’ichiro (1914-1988). Be sure to look for these prints in the Recent Acquisitions display in the second floor hallway and in the Japanese galleries in the months to come.
Jacko-in Kyoto, 1963, Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997), Japanese, Showa period (1926-1989), ink and color on paper, woodblock print, Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; gift of the estate of Larry D. Luke
by Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, PhD, Senior Curator and the Marguerite Jones Harbert & John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative arts
Through the generosity of board member Henry Lynn, the Museum has recently acquired a large snake-handled vase made between 1858 and 1859 by the Minton pottery manufactory in Staffordshire, England. The lead-and-tin-glazed earthenware, or Majolica, vase was decorated by Émile Aubert Lessore (French, 1805-76). Lessore is most familiar to us as a pottery painter at Wedgwood and the Museum’s Beeson and Buten Wedgwood collections include a number of Lessore-decorated objects. We are delighted now to have an example of Lessore’s earlier work. His freehand painting style and his ability to reproduce the works of Old Masters on ceramic objects marked the climax of the Renaissance revival style at Minton during his brief tenure. The images depicted on the vase are drawn from the frescoes created by the Italian painter Domenichino (1581–1641) for the Baroque Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome. These include on one side the Evangelist Luke with the symbol of the ox—a figure of sacrifice, service, and strength—and on the other the Evangelist John with the eagle—a symbol of the sky, or John’s lofty gospel. Paul Atterbury, in The Dictionary of Minton, writes of pottery painted by Lessore and shown at the 1862 London World’s Fair, “notably a pair of snake-handled vases.” Because Lessore’s tenure at Minton lasted barely one year, it is probable that our new acquisition is one of the pair of vases in question. Indeed, because the vase depicts only two of the four Evangelists, there is little doubt that a second vase exists with images of the others. It is now up to us to locate the second vase so that this important pair can be reunited. Let the search begin!
Vase, 1858/59, designed by Alfred George Stevens (English, 1817-1875); painted by Emile Aubert Lessore (French, 1805-1876); Minton Pottery manufactory (est. 1793). lead-and-tin-glazed earthenware (Majolica). Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; purchase with funds provided by Henry S. Lynn, Jr. AFI5.2013
by Jeannine O’Grody, PhD, Deputy Director, Chief Curator, and Curator of European Art
Thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Sklenar and their family, the Museum purchased a major example of 18th-century English landscape painting. This glorious view of Chatsworth, one of the stately “treasure houses” of Britain, was painted in about 1725 by Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734), a Flemish artist who played an important role in spreading the visual language of landscape painting—already flourishing on the European continent—to the English school. Tillemans was born in Antwerp, emigrated to England in 1708, and became one of the pioneers of landscape painting in Britain.
Chatsworth, built in the 16th century by the Cavendish family, has remained home to the Dukes of Devonshire through today. It contains a priceless collection of paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, neoclassical sculptures, and books. The house and gardens have been remodeled over the centuries, but this canvas immortalizes this era with a remarkably accurate topographical record. The painting combines the estate with a frieze of 17 horses in the foreground. In the 18th century the second duke was famous as a breeder and owner of race horses, and these represent the cream of the Chatsworth stud. Tillemans captured the unique qualities of several of the horses with an extraordinary naturalism, which has allowed historians to identify some of the legendary racers.
In the spirit of discovery, we invite you to look closely at our new painting and to become absorbed in the astonishing amount of deftlyrendered details such as the mill with its waterwheel in the foreground, a groom feeding a horse, the grand gardens with fountains and classical sculptures, the various structures on the estate, and perhaps the duke himself on horseback. In contrast, the artist also captured the panoramic view of more than 1,000 acres, counterbalancing the open spaces of sky with the undulating landscape. This iconic work, critical to the development of English landscape painting, was passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family until purchased by the BMA. It is on display in the English Gallery.
Chatsworth House and Park, ca. 1725, Pieter Tillemans, Flemish (1684-1734), oil on canvas, Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; purchase with funds provided by the Sklenar Family—Herb, Ellie, Susan and Tisha; and the Art Fund, Inc. AFI4.2013
The Museum recently acquired four new works of contemporary video art, gifts of Birmingham collectors Jack and Rebecca Drake. The videos were created by Kalup Linzy, Kambui Olujimi, Dave McKenzie and Jefferson Pinder, all African American artists born after 1970. These are important additions to the Museum’s growing collection of video art by four exciting young “artists to watch.”
A rare and important work has entered the Museum’s collection. The Murder of King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle is one of just three sculptures known by the artist Robert Carpenter (1752-1829), who was born in London, but by 1798 had moved to Bath. The subject dates to 978, when King Edward’s jealous stepmother had him killed so that her own son could ascend to the throne. As the king approaches the walled gate of Corfe Castle on horseback and leans to accept a drink, the assassin appears with a knife.
The scene is exquisitely carved from limewood (also known as linden wood). This soft wood allowed Carpenter to minutely render the scene in great detail. The artist beautifully framed the figural tableau in a shadow box, and signed and dated it on the back. Also on the back is an inscription with thename of Carpenter’s two daughters, identifying the work as a “gift of their beloved father.”
Beginning in early September, The Murder of King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle will be on display in the English Gallery.
In early February, Philadelphia miniatures expert and dealer Elle Shushan, a contributor to the catalogue for the popular exhibition The Look of Love, visited the BMA. Curator of American Art Graham Boettcher invited Shushan into collection storage to examine the Museum’s small and little-studied collection of American portrait miniatures. Opening the drawer of a storage cabinet, a portrait of a woman in early-19th-century attire caught Shushan’s eye. Although the piece was housed in a damaged 20th-century frame beneath a badly yellowed plastic cover, Shushan immediately recognized it to be the work of Edward Malbone (1777-1807), the foremost American miniaturist of the late-18th and early-19th centuries. An old typewritten label affixed to the back of the frame supported Shushan’s attribution and identified the sitter as Mary Hooper Shaw Fleming of North Carolina.
How did this important miniature enter the Museum’s permanent collection and how had it escaped notice for nearly 60 years? Research conducted by Associate Registrar Mary Villadsen revealed that the miniature was given to the Museum in 1955 by Mrs. Valentine J. Nesbit, in memory of Birmingham miniaturist Caroline Couper Stiles Lovell (1862-1947). According to correspondence with the Museum, the miniature was a gift from Lovell to Mrs. Nesbit’s mother. Nesbit mistakenly believed it to be Lovell’s work. Although the miniature was accepted by the Museum’s Acquisition Committee on December 5, 1955, at that time—for reasons unknown—it was not considered part of the permanent collection, and therefore never assigned an acquisition number.
Additional research by Boettcher revealed that Lovell was a lateral descendant of Malbone, and that her family’s estate in Cartersville, Georgia, was named Malbone in his honor. Lovell possessed a number of Malbone’s original miniatures, one of which she lent to an exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Art in 1929. It was also discovered that a nearly identical miniature can be found in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
The sitter Mary Hooper (1779/1780-1831)—later Mrs. James Shaw and Mrs. Alexander Fleming—was the niece of William Hooper (1742-1790), a North Carolina signer of the Declaration of Independence. After an appropriate frame is acquired, the miniature will go on display in the Museum’s Styslinger Gallery of American Art.