American Acrostics: Milton Avery and John Sloan

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910

John Sloan, Clown Making Up, 1910, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 26 in.; 81.5975 x 66.04 cm. Acquired 1919. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

To celebrate the last month of Made in the USA, we’ve asked Phillips staff to create acrostic poems for works in the exhibition. We’ll feature some of our favorite submissions over the next few weeks. In this post, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs Andrea Kim Taylor tries to get inside the head of a young woman writing at a desk and William Spates, Museum Assistant, gets thoughtful about one of his favorite paintings.

 

Milton Avery, Girl Writing
Under the influence of inspiration
She stops to empty her mind
And struggles for expression

Andrea Kim Taylor, Specialist for School, Outreach and Family Programs

avery_girlwriting_300wide

Milton Avery, Shells and Fishermen, 1941. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1943

 

 

 

 

John Sloan, Clown Making Up

Unfulfilled
Survivor
A lifetime of stories to share

William Spates, Museum Assistant

“…the very essence of feathers…”

http://www.phillipscollection.org/collection/browse-the-collection?id=1096

Walt Kuhn, Plumes, 1931, Oil on canvas 40 x 30 in.; 101.6 x 76.2 cm.. Acquired 1932. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Let’s let Duncan Phillips tell us about this painting:

“The girl under the Plumes, is thoroughly disillusioned and tired of it all. She seems to sag under her magnificent headdress and wonder perhaps why she ever left home. That headdress nonetheless is a magnificent passage of painting. The feathers are the very essence of feathers and, as texture, they are the apotheosis of pigment.”

That passage is from Phillips’s 1932 catalog to accompany an exhibition at the museum, Kuhn’s first solo show in Washington. Phillips purchased six Kuhn paintings between 1924 and 1943.

This work is on view in the Made in the USA exhibition through August 31, 2014.

 

Maybe It’s the Chair?

(Left) Thomas Eakins, An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje), 1903, Oil on canvas, 79 3/4 x 59 7/8 inches (202.6 x 152.1 cm), Gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Right) Thomas Eakins, Miss Amelia Van Buren, ca. 1891, Oil on canvas 45 x 32 in.; 114.3 x 81.28 cm. Acquired 1927. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

(Left) Thomas Eakins, An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje), 1903, Oil on canvas, 79 3/4 x 59 7/8 inches (202.6 x 152.1 cm), Gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Right) Thomas Eakins, Miss Amelia Van Buren, ca. 1891, Oil on canvas 45 x 32 in.; 114.3 x 81.28 cm. Acquired 1927. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Recently, I came across Thomas Eakins’s An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje) (1903) in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and chuckled at the sight of yet another put-upon woman in a pink dress in an Eakins portrait. We’ve been having a bit of fun at the expense of Miss Amelia Van Buren (1891) who hangs on the first floor of our Sant Building as part of Made in the USA; a caption contest invites people to leave notes answering the question “What is Amelia Thinking?” But really, why are these women so down in these portraits?

Many scholars note that Eakins often aged his subjects, especially women. William J. Clark’s essay, “The Iconography of Gender in Thomas Eakins Portraiture“, claims that in photographs contemporary to the painted portrait of Santje, she is youthful, confident. Yet here, she is heavy and drained, swamped in spilling pink fabric. A portrait of her husband looms over her shoulder and a script has fallen, as if dropped from a lifeless hand, onto the floor.  William S. McFeely, in his biography of Eakins, is fascinated by the Van Buren portrait and describes her dress as “ill-fitting” and “out-of-date.” She looks, presumably, outdoors and away from the gloomy interior setting.  Clark compares her painted portrait to the photographs Eakins took of her in which her hair appears blonde, not streaked grey, and her skin is smooth and bright. Art historian Gordon Hendricks quotes Leonard Baskin when he suggests that Eakins was intentionally burdening women in his portraits to reflect the “Victorian horror of their lives.”

Or, maybe, it’s just that uncomfortable chair.