Painting to Painting: Finding Familiar Faces

While working in Texas last month, I had the good fortune to visit the Dallas Museum of Art. I found a few paintings that reminded me of works from The Phillips Collection, and thought they made nice pairings.

Robert Henri, (left) Dutch Girl, 1910/reworked 1913, 1919. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 20 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1920 (right) Dutch Girl Laughing, 1907. Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 1/4 in. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase

In the summers of 1907 and 1910, Robert Henri traveled to Haarlem, The Netherlands, where he painted many portraits of the local people, including these two works which may be the same sitter. Henri described young Cori here as “a little white headed broad faced red cheeked girl…always laughing.”

Edward Hicks ,(left) The Peaceable Kingdom, between 1845 and 1846. Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 32 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1939 (right) The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1846-1847. Oil on canvas, 24 x 31 1/8 in. Dallas Museum of Art, The Art Museum League Fund

Edward Hicks painted more than one hundred versions of this subject, which illustrates his favorite biblical passage—Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:6-9), an allegory of spiritual and earthly harmony.

George Bellows, (left) Emma at the Window, 1920. Oil on canvas, 41 1/4 x 34 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1924 (right) Emma, 1920-1923. Oil on canvas, 63 x 51 in. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase

Between 1911 and 1924, George Bellows painted eleven portraits of his wife, Emma Story Bellows (1884–1959). The works from the 1920s were created in Woodstock, New York, where the couple summered. These mature portraits reflect Bellows’s admiration for the Old Masters, Thomas Eakins, and contemporary color theories.

John Marin, (left) The Sea, Cape Split, Maine, 1939. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 29 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940 (right) Bathers, 1932. Oil on canvas, 22 1/4 x 28 1/2 in. Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated

After establishing himself in the 1920s as the world’s foremost watercolorist, John Marin began painting oils in the 1930s. These paintings reveal Marin’s renowned ability to capture his immediate impression of a powerful seascape along the rocky Maine coast.

Renée Maurer, Associate Curator

What is a Dithyramb?

Mann im Anzug – dithyrambisch II (Man in Suit—Dithyrambic II), 1976. Distemper on canvas, 98 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. Private collection

When you visit the Markus Lüpertz exhibition, you might find yourself asking, “what is the dithyramb?” You’d find that word repeated over and over again on several labels. So let me quote:  he said, “I didn’t want to paint figuratively anymore, so I invented something abstract that is also figurative, a dithyramb.” So, in there you feel the contradiction; he’s challenging us to figure out what he’s saying. He imposes that term on paintings that ostensibly present a tree trunk, roof tiles on a house, a helmet, a traditional cake form in Germany, a stalk of wheat, a man’s suit, such disparate and trivial objects, and again he paints them with authority and drama, instilling their trivialness with importance, or at least the importance of a painted object.

He defies normal expectations; it’s not really a depiction and it’s not figurative, but it’s not abstract. Those are the kind of norms that he’s discarding very vociferously. When we expect things to be part of a landscape, none of them appear outdoors; they seem to inhabit a flat, ill-defined, poster-like environment. That log does not rest in a landscape, it can hardly be described as a still life, is it now a monument? Those are the kinds of questions that he’s prompting us to engage in as we look closely.

I quote Lüpertz again: “the dithyramb was my totally individual contribution to abstraction, abstraction not in the sense of rational analysis or reduction, but as in the invention of a nonsense object.” He embraces riddles and mysteries as fundamental to art. He says, “art survives only in riddles, only in mystery can art’s eternal truth be retained, therefore the artist must be, as Nietzsche demands, a seeker of riddles, because those who seek to solve riddles are many.” The reference to Nietzsche is important because this whole Dionysian poetic term from the poetry of antiquity re-emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the German-speaking world and had a resonance for him.

Dorothy Kosinski, Markus Lüpertz exhibition curator and Phillips Director

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

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Photographs by Sharon Core currently on view at the Phillips

My very first experience in a museum was, as far as I can remember, intimidating. I over-distanced myself from Auguste Rodin’s exquisite bronze sculptures for fear that I would fail to resist the impulse to touch them and get myself into trouble.

I felt a similar impulse when I ran into Sharon Core’s series of works in a second floor gallery at the Phillips today. Although the experience wasn’t intimidating this time, the temptation to touch the work was as hard to resist. This time, it wasn’t a sculpture; yet as solid and life-like. The photographs’ three-dimensional quality and tangibility tricked my eyes into thinking that what I saw was a real object.

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Sharon Core, Peaches and Blackberries, 2008. Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, 2015

I had to stare at the works for a while to decide whether these were photos or paintings; their subject, composition, and painterly quality instantly reminded me of still life paintings from the 19th century. As speculated, Core was inspired by the compositions of 19th century American still life painter Raphaelle Peale. By meticulously rendering details and emphasizing texture, Core overcomes the limitations of photography and captures features that would have been hard to see even in real life. In fact, the highly contrasting lights, vibrant coloration, and the lustrous texture of the objects are all pictorial elements that could have only been achieved through the labor-intensive process of assembling the materials and arranging the setting.

Across the room hangs a row of still life paintings by post-Impressionist artists. One of them is Paul Cézanne’s Glass and Apples, which is rather muted in tone with no striking tactile appeal. With the emergence and development of photography in his time, Cézanne would have found no point in creating a photo-realistic representation; rather, he was more concerned with capturing the very essence of painting and conveying his own perception of the subject.

Ironically enough, Core’s vibrantly colored, highly-staged photographs that imitate the style of still life painters predating Cézanne, hang right across from his rather simple composition.

As FotoWeek is approaching, come visit the Phillips and take a look into Core’s work that jumps across the boundary between painting and photography. What about Core’s prints is similar to Cézanne’s painting? What’s different?

Summer Park, Marketing & Communications Intern