Monday, December 31, 2018

Sultry and sexy define Corot's women at the National Gallery of Art

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Interrupted Reading, c. 1870, oil on canvas mounted on board, The Art Institute of Chicago, Potter Palmer Collection  The wistful subject seems to ask:  "Must you bother me?  I am so sad.  Please go away."  It is wonderful to see in the exhibition, Corot: Women, several samples of women reading. About two-thirds of women were literate in France at this time, compared to "virtually all the [American] women born around 1810," says a Colonial Williamsburg report which seems hard to believe..

Today is the last day to see these ladies (and one man) before they leave the National Gallery of Art and go their separate ways after appearing together for the first time in more than 100 years in a show, Corot: Women.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Lady in Blue, 1874, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des peintures.This view of the woman's back gives one pause to question the meaning. She seems another unhappy soul with muscular arms planted on the piano as if to sigh: "I am tired of this party and want to leave." It is unusual that the artist left her arms bare.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,The Repose, 1860, reworked c. 1865–1870, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection). Corot generally tried to disguise the faces of nude models, unlike other artists, but Repose came out near the peak of his career which was beginning to wane. According to the catalogue, Repose  was intended to enliven Corot's artistic image and to show he was more than a landscape artist.

You walk through the galleries and almost feel like you are peering or intruding upon the models' innermost thoughts as they brood, study, read, and welcome no one.  Happiness is absent, but what would a painting be without conflict or turmoil? They are like books with climax, the peak of interest.

The models look askance, in that direction, this way, down, seldom at the viewer.  One has been bitten by a viper.  In another, a voyeur gets his comeuppance when his hounds chase and kill him.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Agostina, 1866, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection. One of Mr. Dale's favorites which hung in the Dales' New York apartment. The Dales' gifts to the National Gallery of Art form the basis of the Gallery's impressionist and post-impressionist collections, according to the catalogue.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,Young Woman in a Pink Skirt, c. 1845–1850, oil on canvas, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Her blouse hangs suggestively low.  Might she be a girl of the street? 

The subjects languish over props, with their heads in their hands, positioned sideways, almost sad, some suffering "melancholia."  

Although Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) was chiefly known for his landscapes, this exhibition is a study in portraiture.

He painted these 44 works between 1830 and the 1870s and kept the works in his studio, most not exhibited publicly during his lifetime.  
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Young Woman at The Fountain, c. 1860, oil on canvas, Musée d'Art d'Historie de Genève.
Many of the women are dressed in colorful costumes, an appreciation of apparel Corot gained from helping his mother in her dress shop and observing his father's work as a draper.  Corot was a textile apprentice until age 26 when he persuaded his parents to let him study art full time. He never married, he said, because he only wanted to concentrate on his art.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Wounded Eurydice, c. 1868–1870, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Mrs. Egil Boeckmann. Before she dies from a viper's bit, Eurydice rubs her foot. Her husband, Orpheus, chases her to the underworld, but disobeys an order and looks back, to lose Eurydice forever.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Saint Sebastien, c. 1850-1869, oil on canvas. Musee des beaux- arts de Lyon. Perhaps for balance, the exhibition includes a single male "nude." He is nude? That is the description in the "nudity" gallery of the Corot show.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Diana and Actaeon (Diana Surprised in Her Bath), 1836, oil on canvas. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection.This is based on Ovid's Metamorphoses when Actaeon stumbles upon Diana bathing and she turns him into a stag who is killed by his own hounds.  (Take that, you voyeur!) A close-up from Diana and Actaeon (Diana Surprised in Her Bath).

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Bacchante with a Panther, 1860, reworked c. 1865–1870, oil on canvas. Collection of Shelburne Museum, Anonymous gift in memory of Harry Payne Bingham.. Is this weird or what? Even the National Gallery of Art cannot explain it. A nude woman shows a dead bird to a child on a leopard (?) The label says it looks like a mythological study, however, no one can identify the study, if it is.  The painting almost looks like two separate works.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Springtime of Life, 1871, oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley in memory of her father, James J. Hill. Springtime reminds me of the poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674):

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former. 

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

Like Corot, it took Mary Morton, the National Gallery's curator and head of the department of French paintings, some convincing of "higher authorities," (in this case, the National Gallery director, Earl A. Powell III) to do the show, which had been cruising in her mind for 20 years.

A color catalogue of 180 pages written by Ms. Morton and others is available.
 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c. 1850 by Victor Laisné or Lainé (1830-1911),
() Histoire des artistes vivants, français et étrangers, peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, graveurs, photographes : études d'après nature, Paris: E. Blanchard, pp. 27 Retrieved on /Wikimedia Commons

What:  Corot: Women

When: Today at the National Gallery of Art, open 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Where: The main floor of the West Building between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission charge: It's always free at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:

Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215
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Sunday, December 30, 2018

'Titanic' at National Geographic Museum

 RMS Titanic under construction. Tools used in the making of the ship are on display at the National Geographic Museum through Monday/Library of Congress

It's not too late to get tickets for the last weekend (through New Year's Eve on Monday) of the stunning display of artifacts and pieces of the remarkable story at the National Geographic Museum of the sinking of the RMS Titanic The history of the search for the ship after it sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 unfolds in pictures, objects, and words.

Who is not interested in this incredible Titanic tale

Part of the show includes an elaborate set from the movie, Titanic, and pieces from the ship never publicly shown.
An artist's rendering of the collision between the Titanic and the iceberg. With global warming now prevalent more than 100 years later, this iceberg now might be a fourth of its size illustrated here/Mary Evans Library, Library of Congress
Oceanographer Robert Ballard at National Geographic's Titanic exhibition with submersible companions, Alvin and Jason, which were critical instruments in the successful hunt for the ship in 1985/Photo by Patricia Leslie

If it were not for the persistence, skill, and drive of
oceanographer Robert Ballard and his team, the Titanic might still lie undiscovered in ocean waters, but a secret mission from the U.S. Navy to Dr. Ballard led to the missing ship.

Declassified documents and the cooperation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the U.S. National Archives help now to tell the story behind the hunt.

Dr. Ballard had a one-year assignment from the Navy to find and report on conditions of two nuclear submarines, the Scorpion and the Thresher which both sank in the 1960s. To keep the goal of the trip secret from a participating French team, the ostensible purpose of the voyage was to search for the Titanic.

Dr. Ballard knew the Titanic rested somewhere between the two subs, but he only had had a year to complete the job on the subs.  Any leftover time could be used, the Navy agreed, to look for the Titanic.  

Near the end of the year, all that remained for Dr. Ballard's team to find the Titanic were 12 days.

Below are pictures from the exhibition, Titanic: The Untold Story.

Oceanographer Robert Ballard at the Titanic exhibition at National Geographic Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A Titanic deck chair, one of only seven to remain in existence. Dozens of these chairs were thrown into the water, hoping passengers could use them as support to survive in the icy waters. The ship's chief baker, Charles Joughin  threw nearly 50 overboard, according to the label copy. Rather than drowning, most victims died from hypothermia.  This particular chair was salvaged by the crew of a rescue ship, the CGS Montmagny/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This is the only known life jacket to be associated with a passenger who was Madeleine Astor, wife of John Jacob Astor. When he made his way to enter a lifeboat with his wife, he was turned away because he was a male ("women and children first!" which included Mrs. Astor's nurse [Mrs. Astor was pregnant] and maid). .Mr. Astor helped his wife put on the life jacket shortly after the ship struck the iceberg. The 14-carat gold pocket watch below was engraved with his initials and found on his body with $25,000 in cash on April 27, 1912. Mr. Astor's eldest son, Vincent, from another marriage, carried his father's watch for more than 20 years, and Mr. Astor's youngest child, John Jacob Astor VI was born on August 14, 1912. This is the first time since the sinking, that the watch and the life jacket have been together.  In today's dollars, Mr. Astor was worth about $2.2 billion and the Astors' ship suite, about  $26,000 daily. Their dog, Kitty, also died on the Titanic.  Mr. Astor is buried in Trinity Cemetery, New York/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Mr. Astor's pocket watch found on his body on April 27, 1912 with $25,000 in cash.  See above/Photo by Patricia Leslie

These wooden pieces from the Titanic's Grand Staircase floated to the ocean's surface after the ship sank. On the top is a piece of stair tread and on the bottom, a piece of a wooden cap. The black rectangle in the plastic case on the left is an exhibition tool designed to protect the artifacts/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Captain E. J. Smith's uniform.  Although he went down with the Titanic and his body was never recovered, what is the source of this uniform?  The label does not say. One of his last acts was to release his crew to escape. Captain Smith hesitated to order passengers to board the lifeboats until he realized, in consultation with the ship's designer, the eminent tragedy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A set from James Cameron's movie, Titanic. The label says Mr. Cameron was meticulous in every detail of his movie, making everything as real and lifelike as possible, spending hours in research and using a module to dive into the Atlantic to inspect the remains of the ship himself/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Above are pieces of fabric from the Titanic's restock inventory to replace normal wear and tear of a floral valence and curtain tie/Photo by Patricia Leslie
China used by various classes of Titanic passengers.  On the far left is the captain's table dinner plate, Spode pattern R4331, a rare design with gold trim, the most expensive of china decoration. Examples have been found at the Titanic wreck site. The white plate at the top is a first-class deck service plate with the White Star Line logo found in the center and similar to third-class china found at the bottom.  Deck plates often broke which explains why less expensive china was used there. The second-class dinner plate is the delft pattern on the far right.  The third-class china at the bottom is actually from the S.S. Republic, another White Star ship which sank in 1909. It shows the relative luxury third-class passengers enjoyed, with an egg cup and coffee service/Photo by Patricia Leslie
In the upper far left corner is the crew's handwritten luncheon menu, the only one known to exist. Next to it are two photographs of the Titanic Captain E. J. Smith, taken between 1907 and 1911 when he captained the RMS Adriatic. Beside them are pieces of one of two known cup and saucer sets of the captain's table china service, given by crewman James Kieran to his wife on the morning the Titanic sailed.  The  keys on the far left were carried by lamp trimmer Samuel Hemming who escaped in Lifeboat 4, and the four buttons are like the ones ship officers wore on their coats/Photo by Patricia Leslie
On the left are a hammer and plane used by a construction worker on the Titanic when it was built in Belfast by Harland & Wolff.  On the right is an anti-vibration block to test the ship's engines at full speed and reduce vibrations":that would put strain on the testing building," according to label copy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This is the only known deck chair from the rescue ship, Carpathia, which was one of the  "widows' seats" so called because new widows, rescued from the Titanic, sat in them on their way to New York.  In the chair is a blanket used by second-class passenger Marion Wright Woolcott  to keep warm on the lifeboat/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the National Geographic Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie

What: Titanic: The Untold Story

When: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily through Dec. 31, 2018. The last ticket is sold at 5 p.m.

Where: National Geographic, 1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Admission: Adults: $15; seniors, military, students: $12; children ages 5-12, $10; children under age 5 are admitted free. No charge for members.  

Closest Metro station: Farragut West or Farragut North

For more information: 202-857-7700

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Book review: 'Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy'

It's not because of the song in Hamilton, "Dear Theodosia" that I read this book. It's because of my every annual visit to the fabulous sculpture garden in South Carolina, Brookgreen Gardens, and the historical marker in its parking lot about the "lost" Theodosia Burr Alston (1783-1813) that I read it.*  

Thank you, author Richard N. Côté (1945-2015) for compiling a thoroughly documented resource Theodosia Burr Alston:  Portrait of a Prodigy, about the daughter of Aaron Burr (1756-1836).  

Mr. Burr trained and guided his daughter to become a cosmopolitan, erudite young woman who could speak several languages and rise to any occasion, he, a feminist, unsmitten by gender roles in the 18th century and enough contained herein about him to warrant consideration of a sub-title, as in: Aaron Burr, Director of a Daughter's Life or Portrait of an 18th Century Umbrella Father.

Mr. Burr enjoyed an exceedingly close relationship with his daughter which may have led to the death of Alexander Hamilton when the two men fought a duel, perhaps caused, Mr. Côté postulates, by whispers Mr. Hamilton circulated about the close relationship of father and child (p. 181-86).

Several times Mr. Côté mentions the oddity Mr. Burr practiced of keeping his daughter informed about his many trysts with prostitutes, after, of course, the death of his wife for whom their daughter was named. When Mrs. Burr died, Theodosia was only 10, but it did not take long for her to assume hostessing duties at her father's estate, Richmond Hill in Manhattan. 

In 1801 Theodosia wed a wealthy Southern planter, Joseph Alston (1779-1816), who was elected governor of South Carolina in 1812, the same year their only child, Aaron Burr Alston, age 10, died of malaria. This tragedy preceded Theodosia's disappearance at sea the next year off the coast of Georgetown, S.C., while on her way to visit her father.

Mr. Alston provided handsomely for his father-in-law when he needed money, including Mr. Burr's wild (or so it seems now) scheme to raise an army and separate the western United States and make a nation, Mexico, for which Mr. Burr would be emperor and his daughter, empress.

Although it is written that Theodosia did love her husband, had she been forced to choose between him and her father, there is little doubt she would have chosen the latter, or, at least, that was my impression.  Her husband was often away, busy with political duties and earning money.

At times, the Theodosia writing is disjointed and repetitive. The first 30-or-so pages drag with too many dates and names which are hard to keep straight, but the book soon becomes a rapid page-turner. 

Without warning or hint that their son was ill, a chapter begins with the announcement of his death.

Why was Aaron Burr considered "a dangerous man" (p. 179) and what were the reasons for his disharmony with President Thomas Jefferson for whom he served as vice-president of the United States?  Neither is adequately defined.

The last three chapters describe the many fictional and non-fictional books, articles, and suppositions about Theodosia's death, including the final, "Nag's Head Portrait," now found at Yale University's Lewis Walpole Library, claiming, without proof, according to Mr. Côté, the portrait is of Theodosia Burr Alston. Mr. Côté presents a convincing case of why it is not. 
The Nags Head Portrait (or "Fake" Theodosia) at Yale University's Lewis Walpole Library

Portraits, illustrations, maps, and photographs of family homes, places, and things enliven the text.  

I wish the oceanographer, Robert Ballard, would take up the cause and find the Patriot, the ship which carried the first lady of South Carolina and others to their deaths.

Mr. Côté hints that Mr. Burr, a ladies man par excellence who relied upon sex for release of many burdens, could be the father of the eighth president, Martin van Buren (1782-1862). Is it time for an exhumation?

*Another nearby marker commemorates President George Washington's visit to Brookgreen Plantation on April 28, 1791.
Anna Hyatt Huntington, 1876-1973, Diana of the Chase, 1922, Brookgreen Gardens, S.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie 

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