Thomas Wilmer Dewing, In the Garden, 1892-1894, and the Representation of Feminine Aristocracy in Landscape

The work of Thomas Wilmer Dewing represents an aggregate removal of the vulgarity of life from painting. A champion of poetic beauty, Dewing’s career is emblematic in its representations of women in ethereal landscapes. This concept is personified in Dewing’s statement, “true art… [which is] imaginative art…is the domain of poetry and painting.” There is an inherently intellectual component to his paintings which is reflective of his connection to erudite New England social circles. His own aristocratic superiority was personified in his refusal to show this type of work at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Dewing wrote in a letter to patron Charles Lang Freer, “My pictures of this class are not understood by the great public who go to an exhibition like the Pan American.” He further attested, “My decorations belong to the poetic, imaginative world where a few choice spirits live.” These comments are indicative of the elite representations of women embodied in many of Dewing’s landscape works and are further illustrated in, In the Garden, 1892-94.

Promoting the Aesthetic and Tonalist movements through his paintings, In the Garden, reflects the societal hierarchy characteristic of the late nineteenth century. The women depicted are adorned with fine evening attire which reveals their personal social standings. The painting is very much a spectator sport for the viewer as it works as a mere window into the lives of these high-class people. Though there is not specificity articulated in the representation of landscape, the work is purposeful in its illustration of the exclusivity of this world. As Dewing referred to these women as “decorations,” their function becomes regrettably evident. They are solely suggestive of taste during this period and are reflective of larger sentiments about aesthetics which manifested throughout the Gilded Age. Furthermore, the women are reflective of Anglo-Saxon society and are as much an idealization of race as they are about class during the nineteenth century.

Alluding to the Three Graces in Greek mythology, the women are further idealized in their characterizations of charm, beauty, and creativity. The aesthetic landscape serves as a removal of these women from crudity of urban life.  These associations also tie into themes which artists of the Aesthetic movement sought to encourage. Many of these works were painted during Thomas Dewing’s residence in Cornish, New Hampshire where he was a member of the Cornish Art Colony. This social group encompassed numerous artists, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who were enamored by the natural landscape the area provided. These artists sought to merge cultured connections between their own inclusive intellectual circle and their art. The correlation to social class deriving from nature is a central theme of In the Garden and it relates to Dewing’s rendering of these beautiful women. Elitist groups are consequently rooted in intellectual aestheticism and furthermore, serve as a promotion of refined women in landscape versus city life.

These soft representations are reflective of a principal portion of Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s career. In the Garden, 1892-94, is a singular example of Dewing’s insistence on painting a certain kind of woman. She is a symbol of class and a highbrow understanding of aesthetics in regards to the nature of what it means to be beautiful. Through Aesthetic and Tonalist motifs, Dewing was effective in presenting his personal idealizations of women. Deeply rooted in social and artistic hierarchy, the themes of Dewing’s career rely on the ethereal affect produced by his nondescript style. A mood and sense is suggested by In the Garden which speaks about the picture as a whole and furthermore, discusses the role of women in nineteenth century American society.

Bolger, Doreen. In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986.

Burns, Sarah. Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Hobbs, Susan, and Barbara Dayer. Gallati. The Art of Thomas Wilmer Dewing: Beauty Reconfigured. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.

Hook, Bailey Van. Angels of Art: Women and Art in American Society, 1876-1914. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Pyne, Kathleen. “Evolutionary Typology and the American Woman in the Work of Thomas Dewing.” American Art 7, no. 4 (Autumn, 1993): 12-29, JSTOR. Accessed: March 12, 2016.

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Martin Johnson Heade, Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and Gremlin in the Studio II, 1865-1875, A Certain Kind of Reality

Unpacking meaning from Martin Johnson Heade’s Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and II, 1865-1875, presents a comical challenge which lends itself toward studies on trompe l’oeil, American Transcendentalism, Idealism, and the humorous personality of the artist. The works are multivalent as representations of trompe l’oeil and landscape exist within the same scenes. Throughout Heade’s career we see his amazing ability to depict reality through his renderings of nature. His skill in portraying the subject is best seen in his flower studies, hummingbird works, and landscapes. The Gremlin in the Studio works present a shift away from this method of constructing paintings. Evident in these works is Heade’s self awareness of the inherent idealism within the composition of landscape paintings during the late nineteenth century. Heade is able to make an impactful statement by combining Transcendental principles with a humorous depiction in order to suggest an awareness concerning the over idealization of the American landscape.

Martin Johnson Heade is a particularly challenging artist because his works can only tangentially be described as Hudson River School. The specific pieces in his oeuvre which can be lightly categorized in this way are his haystack scenes. These classifications tie into the notion that the Gremlin in the Studio paintings are a reflective comment on the hyper reality other artists in the movement were notorious for depicting. In Albert Bierstadt’s, Rocky Mountain Lander’s Peak, 1863, it is obvious the artist took liberties with the illustration of landscape. There is a sense of accuracy in the minutiae while the overall scene lends itself toward imaginative artistic license. By including the gremlin below the typical haystack scene, there is an amusing acknowledgement that these works are, in fact, paintings and not pictures of actual landscapes. The sawhorses and gremlin achieve a literal representation of impossibility which makes light of the idealism inherent in the works of other prominent Hudson River School artists.

The Transcendental views of Ralph Waldo Emerson were fundamental to American philosophy in the late nineteenth century. The importance self reliance is an imperative aspect of this concept and is well reflected when Emerson writes, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.” Heade’s physical painting of the gremlin allows for his own self awareness to enter into the discussion of these works and connects nicely to Emerson’s statement. By illustrating this figure, the painting becomes infused with Heade’s views.  His own thoughts on the imagery of landscape are reflected through his conscious choice to paint these gremlins. This is indicative of his own Transcendental genius. Through Heade’s own original vision, the painting becomes reliant on his perceptions. This is substantiated through the implications exemplified through the gremlins relationships to their above haystack landscapes. In these associations, the awareness of the artist as an active participant in the creation of these scenes comes to the forefront of the conversation and promotes the intellect of Heade’s artistic truths.

Transcendentalism and idealism are fostered through Heade’s use of trompe l’oeil in his Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and II, 1865-1875. These paintings are indicative of an artistic understanding in nineteenth century American philosophies. The historical context of this period makes for a pragmatic comparison between Heade’s knowledge of the philosophical make up of American society and the dramatizations inherent in Hudson River School painting. Through the comical gremlin depictions, artistic genius flourishes and presents a wonderful presentation of the inimitability characteristic to the work of Martin Johnson Heade.

 

American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, by John Wilmerding et al. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1980.

Clancy, Jonathan. Transcendentalism and the Crisis of Self in American Art and Culture, 1830-1930. 2008.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, and Brooks Atkinson. “Self Reliance,” The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Modern Library, 1940.

Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin, Amy Ellis, and Maureen Miesmer. Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. New Haven: London, 2003.

Mastai, Marie-Louise D’Otrange. Illusion in Art: Trompe L’oeil: A History of Pictorial Illusionism. New York: Abaris Books, 1975.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Martin Johnson Heade, Janet L. Comey, and Karen E. Quinn. The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Tyler, Parker, 1907-1974. “Magic realism in American painting.” American Artist 16, (March 1952): 40. Art Source, EBSCOhost (accessed March 2, 2016).

Darwinism and Martin Johnson Heade’s Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds, 1870-1883

I have wasted my life with mineralogy, which has led to nothing. Had I devoted myself to birds, their life and plumage, I might have produced something worth doing. If I could only have seen a hummingbird fly, it would have been an epoch in my life! —John Ruskin

 

Scientific inquiry and artistic expression are often viewed as opposing intellectual forces within the constructs of history. The polarizing assumption that factual, evidentiary scholarship and expressive, creative painting are unconnected subjects is precarious and at its core, inaccurate. Through many artistic analyses, the correlation between the two fields presents a harmonious association. This is well reflected in the late nineteenth century painting of American artist, Martin Johnson Heade. Through his Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds, 1870-1883, a congruent relationship between Darwinism and art is exemplified. In this work, nature is not only a primary subject for aesthetic representations it is furthermore, a useful tool which instructs the viewer on biological and evolutionary studies.

While widely known for his haystack subject paintings and seascape/questionably Hudson River School style works, the hummingbird and flower compositions present a diverse category in the repertoire of Martin Johnson Heade. During 1863-1864, Heade travelled to Brazil to study hummingbirds in their natural habitat. An ardent naturalist, Heade used the sketches he created whilst travelling to construct approximately forty-five small paintings. In his Notebook on Hummingbirds, 1881, Heade writes, “No single member of the feathered race appears to have excited such a deep and general interest as the tiny subject of this book.” Through this statement, his enthusiasm for the subject is enforced. Furthermore, the fact Heade was studying hummingbirds with meticulous exactitude emphasizes a thoroughness in his examinations of the subject matter. It reinforces the idea that for Heade, these works are very much the result of academic study. These studies of hummingbirds are not solely beautiful depictions of our aviary counterparts, they are highly specific in their ability to show contrasting species of birds. In order to be accurate representations, they can only be described as successful renderings due to Heade’s strong attention to detail.

In contrast to large scale landscape paintings of the same era, Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds shows an up-close look at wildlife. Through the singular painting of interconnected facets in nature, connections are highlighted between the way in which these distinctive parts operate within this tropical world. Instead of using a vast interpretation of landscape to instruct on nature, Heade is successful in presenting the importance of these seemingly inconsequential facets of organic life as a means to educate. In a larger scale painting, these wonderful particularities may be overlooked and the affect would be entirely different. In exposing the beauty of both hummingbirds and passion flowers, Heade is able to effectively illustrate the two species natural affiliation. Heade is heightening their importance and is portraying the influential role hummingbirds and passion flowers have on the life cycles of the Panamanian natural world.

Inherent in these discernable features, are the influences and themes of Darwinism. The correlation of components within the work correspond directly with this methodology and the presentation of movement between the flowers and the birds promotes important properties of nature which are essential to this scientific approach. In Heade’s work there is duality between the florals and birds which is emblematic of natural elements encompassing contrasting relationships in order to promote scientific themes. Additionally, the hummingbird portrayals intensify the narrative between the physical birds themselves. Heade is keen to display the coaction of individuals within a particular species and through the hummingbirds there is a successful attempt to paint animals within their visceral states.

Through Martin Johnson Heade’s Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds, 1870-83, the influence of Darwinian themes is articulated. Heade’s exemplification of the interplay between the birds allows his study of species to become apparent. Furthermore, through the interpretation of flora and fauna in varying degrees and states Heade’s understanding of Darwinism is documented. There is a full spectrum of the stages of life shown through the passion flowers which promotes Heade’s cognizant understanding of the scientific theory. His illustration of hummingbirds endorses individual study as a means of maintaining a greater understanding of the natural world. Through this work, Heade’s artistic prowess and intellectual comprehension creates a harmonious scene where beauty and logic simultaneously triumph.

 

Beesch, Ruth K. Florida Visionaries: 1870-1930. Gainesville, FL: University Gallery, College of Fine Arts, University of Florida, 1989.

Foshay, Ella M. Reflections of Nature: Flowers in American Art. New York: Knopf, in Association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1984.

Fulton, Elizabeth Leto, Richard Newman, Jean Woodward, and Jim Wright. “The Methods and Materials of Martin Johnson Heade.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 41, no. 2 (2002): 155. doi:10.2307/3179791.

Gerdts, William H., and William H. Gerdts. Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life, 1801-1939. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1981.

Martin Johnson Heade papers, 1853-1904. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Accessed Online: January 10, 2016.

Novak, Barbara, and Timothy A. Eaton. Martin Johnson Heade: A Survey, 1840-1900. WestPalm Beach, FL: Eaton Fine Art, 1996.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Martin Johnson Heade, Janet L. Comey, and Karen E. Quinn. The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Martin Johnson Heade, Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and Gremlin in the Studio II, 1865-1875, A Certain Kind of Reality

IMG_7532

Martin Johnson Heade, Gremlin in the Studio I, ca. 1865-75, the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT. Photograph by Author. 

Unpacking meaning from Martin Johnson Heade’s Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and II, 1865-1875, presents a comical challenge which lends itself toward studies on trompe l’oeil, American Transcendentalism, Idealism, and the humorous personality of the artist. The works are multivalent as representations of trompe l’oeil and landscape exist within the same scenes. Throughout Heade’s career we see his amazing ability to depict reality through his renderings of nature. His skill in portraying the subject is best seen in his flower studies, hummingbird works, and landscapes. The Gremlin in the Studio works present a shift away from this method of constructing paintings. Evident in these works is Heade’s self awareness of the inherent idealism within the composition of landscape paintings during the late nineteenth century. Heade makes an impactful statement by combining Transcendental principles with a humorous depiction in order to suggest an awareness concerning the over idealization of the American landscape.

Martin Johnson Heade is a particularly challenging artist because his works can only tangentially be described as Hudson River School. The specific pieces in his oeuvre which can be lightly categorized in this way are his haystack scenes. These classifications tie into the notion that the Gremlin in the Studio paintings are a reflective comment on the hyper reality other artists in the movement were notorious for depicting. In Albert Bierstadt’s, Rocky Mountain Lander’s Peak, 1863, it is obvious the artist took liberties with the illustration of landscape. There is a sense of accuracy in the minutiae while the overall scene lends itself toward imaginative artistic license. By including the gremlin below the typical haystack scene, there is an amusing acknowledgement that these works are, in fact, paintings and not pictures of actual landscapes. The sawhorses and gremlin achieve a literal representation of impossibility which makes light of the idealism inherent in the works of other prominent Hudson River School artists.

The Transcendental views of Ralph Waldo Emerson were fundamental to American philosophy in the late nineteenth century. The importance self reliance is an imperative aspect of this concept and is well reflected when Emerson writes, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.” Heade’s physical painting of the gremlin allows for his own self awareness to enter into the discussion of these works and connects nicely to Emerson’s statement. By illustrating this figure, the painting becomes infused with Heade’s views.  His own thoughts on the imagery of landscape are reflected through his conscious choice to paint these gremlins. This is indicative of his own Transcendental genius. Through Heade’s own original vision, the painting becomes reliant on his perceptions. This is substantiated through the implications exemplified through the gremlins relationships to their above haystack landscapes. In these associations, the awareness of the artist as an active participant in the creation of these scenes comes to the forefront of the conversation and promotes the intellect of Heade’s artistic truths.

Transcendentalism and idealism are fostered through Heade’s use of trompe l’oeil in his Gremlin in the Studio I, 1871-1875, and II, 1865-1875. These paintings are indicative of an artistic understanding in nineteenth century American philosophies. The historical context of this period makes for a pragmatic comparison between Heade’s knowledge of the philosophical make up of American society and the dramatizations inherent in Hudson River School painting. Through the comical gremlin depictions, artistic genius flourishes and presents a wonderful presentation of the inimitability characteristic to the work of Martin Johnson Heade.

Bibliography:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, and Brooks Atkinson. “Self Reliance,” The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Modern Library, 1940.

Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin, Amy Ellis, and Maureen Miesmer. Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. New Haven: London, 2003.

Mastai, Marie-Louise D’Otrange. Illusion in Art: Trompe L’oeil: A History of Pictorial Illusionism. New York: Abaris Books, 1975.

Stebbins, Theodore E., Martin Johnson Heade, Janet L. Comey, and Karen E. Quinn. The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

American Women and Arts and Crafts Pottery

Assuming women did not play a role in the production of American decorative arts is not only ignorant but inaccurate. While many believe serious and academic art can only be the byproduct of masculine endeavors, there is a flaw in the logic which ignores that many male designers would not have achieved their successes without help from the opposite sex. This concept endures throughout the artistic narrative of the nineteenth century and continues to the present day. To focus, one can localize this theory to Arts and Crafts pottery.

The Arts and Crafts movement embodied a spirit of profound intellectualism which attempted to heighten the moral and intrinsic value of objects. It took art away from the fervent mass production of the mid-nineteenth-century. Promoting honest construction and truth in materials, and influenced by English intellectuals, William Morris (1834-1896) and John Ruskin (1819-1900), the movement encouraged handicraft and felt that industrialization dehumanized decorative arts. Through utopian ideals, advocates found a stronghold for their beliefs in ceramics production.

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Goose Bowl, August 1914, Boston, Massachusetts, Paul Revere Pottery of the Saturday Evening Girls Club (1907-1942), Decorated by Albina Mangini, Glazed Earthenware, from the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, Photograph by author.

Paul Revere Pottery (1908-1942) relied heavily on the designs of women to achieve their Arts and Crafts style. With origins in the Boston area, the company was founded as the “Saturday Evening Girls.” The group started as a means to educate immigrant girls in the North End. From their amateurism, trained designers and decorators of ceramic wares emerged. Sara Galner (1894-1982) became incredibly skilled and was responsible for some of the most intricate designs. Her work highlighted the beauty of these functional objects. While Paul Revere Pottery was managed by men, the fundamental relationship between women and art remained paramount, as one could not have existed without the other.

Bibliography:

Clancy, Jonathan, and Martin P. Eidelberg. Beauty in Common Things: American Arts & Crafts Pottery from the Two Red Roses Foundation. St. Petersburg: Two Red Roses Foundation, 2008.

Gadsden, Nonie. Art & Reform: Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery. Boston: MFA Publications, 2006.

Up, Up, and Away: The Art Deco Designs of Paul T. Frankl (1886-1958)

IMG_7387

Desk and Bookcase with Side Chair and Blotter, ca. 1927, designed by Paul T. Frankl (American, born Austria, 1886-1958) from the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition, The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s. Photograph by author.

Paul Frankl’s impact on American design was substantial, as his creations embodied the spirit of the 1920’s and have become synonymous with the Art Deco style. His pieces were emblematic of the attitude of New York City. Rising buildings took center stage upon the skyline of Manhattan, impacting furniture construction and encouraging a uniquely American aesthetic. The intertwinement of architecture and decorative arts heavily influenced this period. Building construction and certain forms were visually enunciated through decorative arts designs. This concept is best promoted through Frankl’s “Skyscraper” furniture. The feeling from each piece in the series is one that draws the eye upward and emphasizes height, channeling both idealism and modernism.

This desk and bookcase with side chair highlights this idea. Each tier brings an architectural level and encourages a comparison between urban structures and the desk. A lack of intellectualism often defines the Art Deco style because of its obsession with vanity and mass production. Despite this stereotype, Frankl’s desk tells a different story. The glamour propagated by the piece exudes high style materials while mimicking the stacked forms of buildings. Frankl’s work was incredibly popular and advanced not only furniture but a way of life for many Americans toward modernist designs. He accenutated the horizontal and advocated that angles made pieces modern. These clean lines drew from Japanese influences, bringing globalism in American aesthetics to the forefront of the conversation. As Frankl was Austrian by birth, these characteristics promote that American design relied on the cross-cultural merging of ideas. This desk and bookcase with side chair exists as no exception.

Bibliography:

Frankl, Paul T. Form and Re-form; a Practical Handbook of Modern Interiors. New York: Harper, 1930.

Long, Christopher. Paul T. Frankl and Modern American Design. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.