Thursday, May 30, 2013


Agita Keiri  "In the Morning"  2011 private collection

Agita Keiri (b. 1978) is a Latvian artist from the city of Riga. She studied at several art schools in Latvia and also at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. She has won many prizes and honors for her stylized figurative paintings, and this self-portrait was a finalist in England's annual BP Portrait Competition in 2011.  She is represented by Bohemia Galleries, and her own website can be seen here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Island Sketching

Eric Hudson "Maud Knowlton and Alice Swett Sketching"  1905 Monhegan Museum

This is wonderful portrait of two artists whose work and lives have fallen into some obscurity.  Maud Briggs Knowlton (1870-1956) was a dynamic ground-breaker.  She and her friend Alice Swett were the first two women artists in the famous Monhegan Island (Maine) artist's colony. They painted at the turn of the 20th century on this island twelve miles off the coast of Maine, no easy journey, along with a dozen or so other hardy artist souls like William Trost Richards, Alfred Bricher and Eric Hudson who captured the two women at work in this charming plein air sketch.

Knowlton was a well-known Manchester, New Hampshire artist and educator. I don't know where she trained, perhaps at the Museum School in Boston, like her friend Swett, but she was a highly-respected teacher at the Manchester Institute of Art. She was also one of the very first female museum administrators in the United States. She was appointed to be the director of the Currier Gallery of Art, in Manchester New Hampshire, in 1929. As the museum's first director she is crediting with laying a strong foundation for the institution (which is alive and well today with the new name of the Currier Museum of Art.) Known for her excellent instincts and strong work ethic,

Maud Briggs Knowlton (director, 1929 - 46) faced a formidable challenge. With the exception of the Currier family portraits, a friend's bequest of unremarkable landscape and genre paintings, and Penelope Snow's gift of several panels of French wallpaper...there was neither art to fill the galleries nor an acquisition policy to guide the development of the collections. Wisely, Knowlton arranged a series of notable loan exhibitions from private and commercial sources, including a presentation of Rodin's work in 1931, until she and the trustees determined how best to proceed...
Knowlton's first purchase was Crest of the Wave, a bronze fountain sculpture by the American sculptor Harriet Frishmuth, a pupil of Rodin's....In a few bold moves, Knowlton...launched the American painting collection with the acquisition of John Singleton Copley's superb 1769 portrait of John Greene... In 1936, she bought the last portrait John Singer Sargent ever painted, an elegant likeness of the melancholy Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston... The next year she purchased Childe Hassam's luminous oil "The Goldfish Window", which delights Currier visitors today as much as it did fifty years ago."  ~Nancy Tieken, from the Introduction to American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art

Knowlton is known to have famously said, "One good canvas is worth a whole gallery of undistinguished paintings." 

Less information can be found about Alice Swett (1847-1916.)  Several decades older than her friend Knowlton with whom she took part in the early Monhegan Island art colony in the summers, she was known to have trained at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and was an exhibiting member of the Boston Art Club.

Eric Hudson (1864-1932) was an American artist known mainly for his striking maritime paintings. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he studied at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and also at the Académie Julian in Paris. He lived most of his adult life in New York City but maintained a summer home on Monhegan Island, where he was an integral member of the art colony there. His work is in many major collections in the US including the Monhegan Museum, the National Academy of Design and the Smithsonian Institution. 

Many thanks to two people for sending me this image, painter Alexandra Tyng, and writer Carl Little. This image appears in Little's beautiful book, The Art of Monhegan Island. n.b. In the book the painting is titled "Maude Knowlton and Alice Swett sketching", but as this is a mis-spelling of Knowlton's first name, a mistake probably made by Hudson,  I took the liberty of correcting it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Artist at Work

Nayanaa Kanodia "Artist at Work" 
Nayanaa Kanodia (b. 1950) is an  Indian artist whose work tackles contemporary subjects in a deceptively simple art naif style. Kanodia's artwork has been exhibited widely in India and internationally in major museums and galleries, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London where in 2001 she was invited to exhibit her work and give a demonstration of her painting technique. You can see more of Kanodia's work on her website.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In the Walled Garden

Félix Vallotton "Young Woman Painting"  1892  Location Unknown

Félix Edouard Vallotton (1865-1925) was a Swiss painter, printmaker and writer. He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, and was influenced by Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and the taste for Japonisme that was all the rage in late 19th century Europe. Vallotton became an integral member of the Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionistic avant-garde artists and designers which formed in Paris around 1890.  Vallotton was also a revolutionary force in the world of woodcut, producing work unlike anything ever seen before.  In 1899 Vallotton married Gabrielle Rodrigues-Hendriques, a wealthy widow with three children, and was relieved of the pressure of having to earn his living. His print output diminished (he had worked as a graphic designer and illustrator) and he spent more time painting, developing an idiosyncratic style wholly independent of the artistic mainstream.

Vallotton is one of my favorite artists of all times which is odd because he has often been described as a deep-dyed misogynist. For instance, he once wrote (in a novel), ""What great evil has man committed that he deserves this terrifying partner called woman? It seems to me that with such violently contradictory thoughts and so clearly opposed impulses, the only possible relationship between the sexes is that of victor and vanquished." It could be true that this fictional dialogue reflected his own feelings but  I suspect that he was just rather mindlessly echoing the trendy Decadent/Symbolist theme of woman as the personification of evil.  As an aesthetic theme I find it all a bit silly, and amusing rather than threatening. I'll cite Felicien Rops and Fernand Khnopff as prime examplars of the woman-as-deliciously-attractive-yet-destructive-force crowd, but even just take a look at the better known Edvard Munch's paintings of sinful women from about the same period and you will better understand the context of the erotically-charged misogynism which spread like wildfire across many European cultures at around this time period. Of course, it seems obvious that this trendy Evil Woman theme was merely a reaction to women beginning to claim some measure of autonomy in society, something which was just starting to happen about this time, politically and socially. The nascent feminist movement caused a reaction of fear, uneasiness and dread in the established order, feelings which some artists dressed up in the darkly romantic garb of their time. In any case, this particular straightforward painting by Vallotton of a young woman painting in a garden conveys only dispassionate sympathy for a young person transitioning from the awkwardness of adolescence into adulthood, this feeling reinforced by the burgeoning plant-life of the setting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

All Women in the Act of Painting all the time: Elena Sisto

Elena Sisto "Painting with Music" 2011

I absolutely love the work of contemporary painter Elena Sisto. Maybe I can't explain exactly why, but just looking at her work lifts my spirits, even when the images are more neutral than aggressively cheerful.  I suspect it is because Sisto is painting the essence of a core self with which I strongly identify, a woman at work in the studio. Her figures of young women artists seem particular enough to be interesting yet they are emblematic at the same time. I have no trouble at all projecting my own (older) self into the emotional landscapes that these young women inhabit. Sisto (b. 1952) seems similarly untroubled as many of these paintings of young women are titled as self-portraits. She may be literally looking back at her youthful self but I suspect she is at least simultaneously expressing the ageless spirit we all feel within us.

Elena Sisto "Green Brush"  2011
Elena Sisto "Painting at Midnight" 2011

I also obviously share in Sisto's passion for depicting women in the very act of painting. I don't know of another living artist who is as completely obsessed with this theme as is Sisto (and myself, trailing humbly and admiringly behind.) The theme of woman at work making art is at once self-referential, universal, didactive and instructive. Sisto seems to feel the need to create and re-create the creative process, continually as a mode of self-understanding and aesthetic  transmission. Her work reminds me of the lines from the Roethke poem, The WakingI learn by going where I have to go.We think by feeling. What is there to know?

Elena Sisto "Upside Down" 2011

These images are all recent works, most from Sisto's current show at Lori Bookstein, Between Silver Light and Orange Shadow, April 25-May 25, 2013. In a beautiful, thoughtful, review of this show on the Art Critical website Dennis Kardon writes, "In what could be called the Bildungsmalen genre of painting, it is unique to see a female painter as protagonist. But aside from this feminist act of rectification, what makes these paintings unprecedented is that Sisto constructs a gaze for us that somehow becomes parental."  

Elena Sisto "Self-Portrait (with Red Figure)"  2011

Two thoughts on these particular observations. First, as can be seen just from the many hundreds of images of women in the act of painting in this WAP project alone, the idea of woman as a developing protagonist (the bildunsmalen) is far from unique, either cross-culturally or throughout history, it is simply not well-known. Without taking even one minute to ponder or research, women visual  artists using self as a theme of development in their own work such as Sophonisba Anguissola and Artemisia Gentileschi spring to mind, followed by Frida Kahlo and Lotte Laserstein, along with contemporary artists including Mary Beth McKenzie, Margaret McCann, Julie Heffernan and Sarah McEneaney. However, Sisto is definitely taking the theme of women in the act of painting and running far far far away with it. I can't wait to see where she goes next. (And I hope she will send me a postcard.) Second, I definitely feel the nurturing/accepting theme of these works that Kardon reads as parental, but I read the emotion a little differently, as a form of universal acceptance and encouragement that embraces all beings, including of course, the self.  (Even one's younger self, as Kardon does also point out.)

Elena Sisto "Waiting for an Idea"  2011

Sisto (b. 1952) received a dual degree from Brown University and RISDE, and also studied at the NewYork Studio School. She has had nineteen one-person shows, and has received numerous grants, prizes and fellowships including two NEA grants, a Yaddo Fellowship and most recently, the 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, among many many other honors and awards. She is represented by Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York City. The artist's website can be seen here.

Elena Sisto "8th Street"  2012 
~Many thanks to Molly Bolger Jenssen for alerting me to Sisto's current show!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In the Act of Sculpting

 Marion Boyd Allen "Portrait of Anna Vaughan Hyatt" 1915 Museum of Art at Randolph College

Boston School painter Marion Boyd Allen (1862-1941) may have met Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) when the latter was studying art in Boston. I can't find any information on the two artists as friends or colleagues, but this charming informal painting speaks of familiarity and friendship. Allen studied painting and drawing at the Boston Museum School under artists Frank Benson, Philip Hale and Edmund Tarbell. She was a proficient and talented student, from whom rapid advancement in her career was expected by all. However, at a critical juncture, Allen's elderly mother fell ill and Allen dutifully put her career on hold for many years to care for her. After her mother's passing, she went on to have an interesting and rewarding career, but never quite regained the meteoric momentum that was predicted from her immense youthful talent. Nonetheless the intrepid Allen had a successful and interesting life (she scaled the Canadian Rockies when in her sixties!) and her work was exhibited widely in major national exhibitions and annuals, receiving numerous awards and honors.

In this painting, Allen has painted Hyatt (later, Huntington) modeling a maquette (small study) for a large equestrian statue Joan of Arc. This painting was exhibited in the 1917 Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and went on to win the Popular Prize (now called "the People's Choice Award") at the 1919 Newport Annual of the Newport Museum and Art Association.

Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington was an internationally famous sculptor in her time, though she seems not as well-known today. Largely self-taught, this daughter of a famous MIT and Harvard scientist also studied a little at the Boston Museum school and at the Art Students' League in New York City.  She had her first one person show at age 24, and went on to a hugely successful career as a sculptor, known especially for her amazingly powerful animal and equestrian works. She was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work is in around 200 american museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.

Huntington first achieved what we would consider "rock star" status with a sculpture of Joan of Arc. A small-scale model for this piece won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1910, and the artist was soon commissioned by numerous cities around the world for large-scale versions. The first of this series of commissions came from the city of New York who commissioned a monumental scale Joan for Riverside Drive Park, where it still presides today. The piece was dedicated on December of 1915 and the Christian Science Monitor of December 10, 1915 described the event,

"When as a climax he [the French Ambassador] drew forth and presented to Miss Hyatt the decoration with which the French government has honored the American woman who made this... the band of the Garde Lafayette struck up the “Marseillaise,” and cheers unrestrained arose from the polite New York crowd assembled on the noble site overlooking the historic Hudson.”

The article continues: “Every one present must have felt, with a thrill of admiration, that Miss Hyatt, as sculptor, had made good with a grand opportunity. She has contributed one of the few—precious few!—satisfactory equestrian monuments to her country and time; and this, so far as present recollection goes, is an absolutely unprecedented achievement for a woman.”

In a fun human interest aside, Huntington met her husband not long thereafter at one of the city's Beaux Arts Balls, when she arrived costumed as her heroine, Joan of Arc. Archer Milton Huntington came from an extremely wealthy family and was a noted scholar in the field of Hispanic Studies. He had founded the Hispanic Society of America in New York City in 1904, and after their marriage, his wife designed the museum's beautiful courtyard and grounds. The couple went on to eventually found fourteen museums and four wildlife preserves around the country.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Painters in the Park!

Alexandra Tyng "Painters in the Park"  2010  Private Collection

Philadelphia-based artist Alexandra Tyng (b.1955) painted this while on a painting expedition in South Carolina with a group of friends. One morning the group gathered in a park in Charleston to paint. The weather proved unexpectedly chilly and you can practically see the frosty clouds of their breath as the artists shiver and paint en plein air. From left to right the artists pictured are: Mia Bergeron, Cindy Procious, Alia El-Bermani, Linda Tracey Brandon and Stanka Kordic.

This group was brought together by the popular and influential blog Women Painting Women, and these artists have already had more than one show together.  More information about the blog can be seen here. The website of Alexandra Tyng can be found here. Tyng is represented by Fischbach Gallery in New York, Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, and in Maine by both gWatson Gallery and Dowling Walsh Gallery.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Remedios Varo "Creation of the Birds" 1957  location unknown

The artist Remedios Varo's life was almost as surreal as was her work, shrouded in layers of complexity and uncertainty.  Varo (1908-1963) was born as María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in a small town in Spain. She studied in Madrid at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, and married painter Gerardo Lizarraga. The couple left the country during the Spanish Civil War, and headed to Paris where they enthusiastically dove in to the heady artistic and intellectual milieu of that era. Varo eventually left her husband, and re-married, this time to the french surrealist poet Benjamin Péret. Oddly, after Varo's death it was discovered that she had not in fact actually divorced her first husband, leading to a complex web of legal issues surrounding ownership of her estate which I understand persists to this day.

During the 1940 Nazi invasion of Paris Varo fled to Mexico City where she lived the remainder of her life. She met many of the well-known Mexican intelligentsia and artists but was more fully immersed in the substantial expatriate community. She became good friends with English surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, and also met her third "husband", Walter Gruen, who championed her in every way, both emotionally and financially, to such an extent that she was able to concentrate on her work in a way she had not been able to manage before. Much of her finest and richest work comes from this latest period in her life.

Remedios Varo  Drawing for "Creation of the Birds"  1957 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Painting the Painter

Emily Mary Osborn "Portrait of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon" before 1891  
Girton College, University of Cambridge

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891) had a life that would make a great PBS saga. Her origins were wildly romantic and iconoclastic, with her parents openly "living in sin" not from moral laxity but because of their personal convictions. Bodichon's own life seems almost unbelieveable in its astonishing powerhouse mix of intellectual, political and artistic achievements, all pursued at the very highest level. Bodichon studied art under William Holman Hunt and her watercolors were exhibited at the Paris Salon, and the Royal Academy in London, and were known to have been admired by Corot and Daubigny.  The highly intellectual Bodichon was also a feminist and activist for Women's Rights. She wrote and published a treatise in 1852 entitled "A Brief Summary of the Laws of England Pertaining to Women" which caused a firestorm of outrage and helped the successful passage of the ground-breaking Married Women's Property Act of 1882.  (Prior to this Act married women in England had no legal control of their own property, and even unmarried women frequently found their property managed "for" them by male relations, with little legal recourse.) Bodichon was a British citizen but was happily married to a highly respected French physician who shared her beliefs. Bodichon also co-founded Girton College, the first women's college at Cambridge University. She seems to have been a strong, beloved and loyal friend to many, and sat to her friends for numerous paintings, drawings and photographs throughout her lifetime.

Emily Mary Osborn "Nameless and Friendless"  1857  The Tate Gallery

Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925) who painted the portrait of Bodichon was a popular English genre painter. She studied at the Dickinson Academy in London, and began exhibiting her work at the Royal Academy at the age of seventeen. She went from success to success and her work was collected by such eminent personages as Queen Victoria. She had a particular line in "damsel in distress" paintings, and her most famous piece, Nameless and Friendless, depicts a young woman artist miserably trying to sell her work to a dubious and disdainful art dealer. The full fascinating back story of this particular piece can be read here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Potter Quartet

Rita Klinger (b. 1943) has degrees from both the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She has exhibited her work widely in the mid-atlantic region and she is currently represented by Artists' House Gallery in Philadelphia. Klinger frequently works in series, and has said about her own work, "Inspiration for my paintings comes from simple things. For the most part, I focus on a single image. I attempt to interpret the subject in a variety of ways."

Rita Klinger "Potter I"  2012  
Rita Klinger "Potter II"  2012  

Rita Klinger "Potter III"  2012

Rita Klinger "Potter IV"  2012

This series of four images depicting a ceramic artist (Klinger's daughter) at work on the wheel are on view right now in a show at Artists' House Gallery. This exhibit runs May 1-June 2, 2013. More information about this show, which opens this weekend, can be seen here.