Women’s History Month: Hear Her Roar

Mitchell_August Rue Duguerre

Joan Mitchell, August, Rue Daguerre, 1957. Oil on canvas, 82 x 69 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1958; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

March may be coming to an end, but we are surely not ready to finish celebrating Women’s History Month just yet. Women artists have helped to propel contemporary art into the rich field it is today, so I thought it only right to dedicate this post to one of the female artists I find most fascinating from the Phillips’s permanent collection—Joan Mitchell (1925-1992).

Joan Mitchell, born in Chicago, was an essential member of the American Abstract Expressionist movement and an all around fierce character. Sitting pretty in the galleries is Joan Mitchell’s August, Rue Daguerre (1957), an energetic oil on canvas painting, which was inspired by a bustling Paris street. This work, with its rather violent brush strokes and rich colors, is representative of Joan’s work as she was inspired by lively friends (fellow artists de Kooning and Kline) and the cities she traveled between most, New York City and Paris. Having lived in a number of locations, Joan’s abstract paintings expressed her environment and her reaction to them.

I adore how in looking at this painting, one can begin to visualize what Joan was seeing both in her surroundings and how they affected her own psyche. The various shades of brown and black on the canvas could be illustrative of the statuesque Parisian architecture, but also might signify how Joan feels content and rooted in Paris. Perhaps the interspersed strokes of bright, yet subdued reds and blues express the unpredictable French citizens Joan passes daily along the winding streets. I think the magic of this emotive work and of abstract art as a whole is that it’s always up for interpretation.

August, Rue Daguerre (1957) is certainly one of my favorite paintings in the Phillips’s collection. I appreciate how Joan Mitchell was brave enough to express herself through abstract art, knowing critics and the public may never fully understand her vision… and personally, I think being brave is what being a woman is all about.

Aysia Woods, Marketing Intern

The Mysterious Face of Fifty Portraits

Jules Pascin, Maria Lani, not dated. Charcoal on paper, 26 1/4 x 20 3/4 in. Gift of Jean Goriany, 1943. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Cruising through our collection on the Google Art Project, I came across this charcoal portrait of a woman who called herself Maria Lani by Jules Pascin. I was drawn in by her confrontational pose, the arched brows, her offered jaw and aligned bobbed hair. Consulting the library’s copy of the always entertaining Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930, I found the kind of good story I was hoping for.

Lani was a mysterious woman of Polish descent (she also went by the name Maria Ilyin) who arrived in 1920s Montparnasse with her husband, a Russian man named Maximilien Abramovitch. Though without a cent, the pair had a story of wanting to produce a film, starring Lani, and featuring a collection of portraits that would menacingly come to life. Using her intellect and beauty, Lani was able to persuade a shocking number of artists into painting, drawing, and sculpting her likeness, including Jules Pascin. The apotheosis of her apparent scheme were gallery shows of over fifty of the works. A Berlin show at Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery included works by Braque, Chagall, De Chirico, Cocteau, Derain, Dufy, Léger, and Matisse, just to name a few! (The book notes that Picasso was one of the only artists to turn her down.)

After a 1930 show in Paris at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, apparently Lani disappeared with all of the works and needless to say, the film was never made. There is still not a great deal known about Lani; a Google search reveals quite a few images, but not much biographical information, not even an obituary. (Though the book referenced an article in Paris Match in 1954 when she died.) You can find a YouTube video of John Galliano’s Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear 2011 collection in which he cites Lani as his inspiration. At 1:11 in the video, you can hear him tell her story. Something about this woman made her a popular muse.

Parisian Padlocks

Padlocks on the Pont des Arts. Photos: Brooke Rosenblatt

Padlocks on the Pont des Arts. Photos: Brooke Rosenblatt

The museum’s recent School of Paris installation and our upcoming Art and Romance Soirée got me nostalgic for a place in Paris. The location: the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge that connects the Louvre to the Institut de France (where the Academy of Fine Arts is housed). The logic: the love padlocks.

If you haven’t seen one of these bridges in person, it’s quite a sight. Couples from around the world visit the bridge, attach padlocks with their initials and throw the keys to the locks into the Seine. Have a look at some my recent pictures above.

Though I love this place, I have heard some people just find it (and other padlock bridges) ugly! Additionally, the weight from the padlocks causes damage to the bridge. According to this article on the history of the phenomenon, one grate can have up to 330 pounds of padlocks on them! And this pic from TripAdvisor gives you a firsthand look at what all that weight can do!