Milton Avery, Dancing Trees, 1960. Oil on canvas, 52 x 66 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection © 2015 Milton Avery Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In his mid-seventies, Milton Avery brought decades of visual experience to bear on his perceptions of the world and an inclination toward simplification that may have intensified with his advancing age. At times, the artist’s late paintings veer so close to pure abstraction that only their titles enable the viewer to recognize the scene that has stirred Avery’s imagination. Such is the case here: three monumental cones swaying in the wind take flight as trees en pointe, their girth making for a comic ballet.
A few weeks ago, prompted by a free-writing exercise based around this piece, we asked visitors to Seeing Nature and social media followers what they saw in this work without providing the title. Answers included floating pizza slices, icebergs, a gnome village, stingrays, and more. What do you see?
Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest, 1903. Oil on canvas, 42 1/4 x 42 1/4 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection
In the Seeing Nature exhibition, the Phillips invites visitors to contribute new, imagined conservation discoveries at our interpretive station, “Seeing Beyond the Frame.” For the month of March, exhibition-goers responded to Birch Forest, painted by Gustav Klimt in 1903.
Perhaps due to the poetic quality of Klimt’s work—the way shapes seem to shift from observed forms to an abstracted tapestry of patterns—or perhaps inspired by the recent poetry reading with Mark Doty and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, poetry abounds in this month’s responses. See more or share your own ideas with #SeeingNature.
Inspired by the poetry of images in the exhibition, visitors have submitted a wide variety of poetic responses to Klimt’s Birch Forest.
One gallery in Seeing Nature is dedicated to Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses series. Painted in 1625, this series is a close copy of five paintings by Brueghel’s father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (who painted the backgrounds) and Peter Paul Rubens (who painted the figures) in 1617–18, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Each painting focuses on one of the five senses, providing a platform for visitors to consider their own encounters with nature. Today we focus on Taste.
Jan Brueghel the Younger, The Five Senses: Taste, c. 1625. Oil on panel, 27 5/8 x 44 5/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection
In Taste, as in Smell, Brueghel addresses a faculty associated more with the body than the mind. The personification’s dull concentration on satisfying her appetite makes this catalogue of edibles—dead game, seafood, fruit, pastries, and wine—a cautionary image of gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins.
Designed to give lasting, edifying pleasure to its owners, The Five Senses could be appreciated on numerous levels: a celebration of the wealth that rewarded enlightened governance; a series of moral lessons about human behavior; an inventory of every type of natural flora and fauna and manufactured object, both domestic and international; and a display of artistic skill and ingenuity.