Friday, August 30, 2013

Jack Beal, in memorium

I am saddened to hear that artist Jack Beal died yesterday. Although I never met him in person I'd been aware of his art for a long time, in fact since I first started looking at contemporary art, sometime way back in my high school days. I remember my sixteen-year-old self standing in a gallery in NYC and staring, astonished, at a Beal painting hanging among a whole raft of abstractions, like a warmly lit harbor in a dark storm of fashionable obfuscatory cool. I clearly remember a thought that went through my head, "Wow, is he ALLOWED to do that?" And I felt a pang of hope (which of course clearly indicated the direction I wanted to go as an artist.)

Jack Beal The Painting Lesson (To W.M.) 1983Hunter Museum of Art, Chatanooga, Tennessee
So, Jack Beal always held a place of respect in my heart, as a hope-giving role model, though we never met. Then, when I started this Women in the Act of Painting project and began researching and collecting images I kept turning up terrific images of his that fit the WAP bill perfectly. The guy so clearly liked and respected women, beyond merely appreciating their aesthetic value. I discovered to my delight that he was on Facebook, and as is my usual practice with living artists I contacted him and asked if I could use the images. His reply was immediate, generous and encouraging: Of course you have my permission! What a great project! We had some brief but heart-warming exchanges, which I will always treasure.  I'm so glad I got the chance to tell him of my appreciation of his work and express my gratitude for it. I'm not sure I quite had the nerve to tell him of my teenage epiphany. I wish I had.

Jack Beal Anne Wilfer Drawing 1983  private collection

Jack Beal (1931-2013) was born in Richmond, Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.  He met his wife, the artist Sondra Freckelton while they were both art students in Chicago. He courageously renounced abstract expressionism in the 1960s, and allied himself with the relatively small but diverse "New Realism" group, along with such artists as Philip Pearlstein and Alfred Leslie. Beal began his lifelong roster of one person shows in 1965. He completed beautifully colored and detailed paintings as well as black and white drawings. He has shown extensively all over the country and around the world.  He was a beloved art teacher, known for his great eye, clear instruction and warmly encouraging manner. His work is in major collections around the country including the Hirschhorn, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney. I guess, yes, he WAS allowed to do that. Thank you Jack Beal, you will be sorely missed!

Jack Beal The Farm 1980
Bayly Art Museum of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Painter in Pompeii

artist unknown  "Painter Completing a Portrait"  1st Century CE  
National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

This scene is from the 1st century CE, a wall painting from the ancient city of Pompeii (region VI, insula 14, building 42.) It depicts a painter completing a portrait while another woman looks on. Women, like all people, have always worked, and there have always been women working outside what we now consider the "traditional" sphere of the home. It often surprises people to learn that in the ancient world women filled a wide array of jobs outside the home including medicine, importing and exporting, cloth manufacture, jewelry making and selling...the list goes on and on. While wealthy female citizens' work was indeed centered more around domestic duties, and they had servants and slaves to assist them, women of the lower classes often worked in the family business or took other paying jobs to support their families. In ancient Rome painting was a trade like any other, and was practiced by both men and women, as a matter of course.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ms. Murphy

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait with Poker Table"   1969

Catherine Murphy is a contemporary American painter who was born in 1946 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from the Pratt Institute and also studied at Skowhegan. She is one of the most respected realist/figurative painters alive today.  To me she is a wonderful example of finding what you want to do and doing it, and keeping on doing it, despite the vagaries of fashion. Among the many honors she has received are two NEA grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait"  1970

Murphy's technique is notoriously, painstakingly, slow in its pace. Some pieces will take many years to complete, especially those where she will only paint on the piece in the few weeks a year, for a few minutes at a time, when an angle of light hits in a particular way. Yet she claims to be a very impatient person, saying, "What I always say is that I’m a compulsive Abstract Expressionist. My pleasure is to be there when the light is right, when that dappling is moving around. Once I become one with the rhythm of that dappling, all desire is satisfied. So I can wait."  

Catherine Murphy "Self Portrait" 1973
She has also said, "... figurative painters have skirted around the issue of being figurative painters. They have said, “Really, I’m an abstract painter, and this is how I’m going to let you know it. I’m going to paint the same egg for the next thirty years, so finally after thirty years you’ll understand that the egg wasn’t really that important. It was the form that was important.” And that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. An apple on a table is an apple on a fucking table. That’s its reality. I know that’s not very fashionable philosophically to have the reading of something be the something that it is. And it is the something that it is—but it’s very much more as well."  (from an interview with Francine Prose, Bomb magazine, 1995

Catherine Murphy "Self-Portraits"  1985
Murphy is married to sculptor Harry Roseman (seen in the 1985 "Self-Portraits" above.) She is known for her still life and landscape as well as her figurative work. Her drawings and paintings hang in major public and private collections around the country including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,  and the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a Senior Critic in the Painting/Printmaking department at Yale University from 1989-2011 and is now the first endowed faculty chair at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Murphy is represented by Peter Freeman Gallery in NYC. An engaging review of her most recent exhibition can be seen here. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Mabel Alvarez  "Self Portrait"  1924  location unknown
Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985) was born on the island of Oahu, Hawaii to a high-achieving intellectual family of Spanish descent. Her father was a physician engaged in landmark research into Leprosy, and her brother also became a physician of note. In 1968 her nephew, Luis Alvarez, would be awarded the Nobel prize in Physics.  The family moved to California when Mabel was a child, and she became a star pupil at Los Angeles High School, after which she studied with Boston-school painter William Cahill who had relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

Alvarez painted award-winning murals in her early years and exhibited her work frequently to great acclaim during her long and productive career. She was a member of the Group of Eight and she read widely and was influenced by a number of different art movements and experimental philosophies. She took almost as gospel the advice given her by Morgan Russell when they met in the late 1920's who told her to become like a "cork that floats downstream while painting," i.e. to let the process take her where it would.  As a result her work went through many enormous permutations in style and meaning over the years, so much so that it is difficult to characterize it, except by one constant: its excellence. Other continuing characteristics are Alvarez's richly expressive use of color, and her dedication to the concept of humanism

Mabel Alvarez once wrote, "I want to take all this beauty and pour it out on canvas with such radiance that all who are lost in the darkness may feel the wonder and lift to it."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Palette in Her Hand

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot  "Young Woman Artist with Palette in her Hand"
1800's   Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) was a french painter born in Paris. His parents were successful and creative businesspeople.  In fact, his mother was a milliner whose hats became so hugely popular that his father gave up his own profession to manage the business side of the millinery shop. Corot was initially apprenticed to a draper and the years spent handling fine cloth and studying the gradations of dye lots stood him in good stead in his art career. It is related that later in life Corot was absolutely delighted to find a Parisian draper's shop was purveying fabric in a color they had named "gris-Corot" or Corot's gray! 

He was an extremely prolific artist, with his catalogue raisonne listing upwards of 2,500 paintings.  Nonetheless his popularity was such that even with those numbers there were simply not enough Corots to meet the demand, and he is one of the most counterfeited artists in history. A well known art quip is that "Corot painted three thousand canvases, ten thousand of which have been sold in America."  (René Huyghe)

Although Corot never married he is said to have been a big appreciator of female beauty. He painted several images with women posing in various attitudes front of his easel, but I believe this may be the only one where the model actually holds a palette and brushes. 

This image was very generously shared with me by the Nationalmuseum (National Museum of Fine Arts) of Sweden.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

En Plein Air à la Datcha

Vasili Kirilovich Nechitailo "Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova Painting En Plein Air"
1939  location unknown

Moscow-based artist Vasili Kirilovich Nechitailo (1915-1980) painted this lovely summer plein air piece in 1939. It looks like it was painted at a dacha, or summer house, a rustic cottage or shack in the country where Russian city dwellers vacation during the summer months. The subject of the piece is Nechitailo's wife, artist Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova (b.1917.) Almost no information can be found on Savchenkova, but there is some available on Nechitailo. He studied at the Krasnodar Art Technikum, the Surikov Institute and the Moscow Art Institute. During World War ll, when it looked like Moscow might fall to the Germans, the Soviet government made an interesting decision: to evacuate their most outstanding artists, those whom they deemed national cultural assets, along with some promising students who were believed to be on the path to "cultural assethood." Nechitailo was among the students shipped off to Uzbekistan. There they sat out the duration of the war in relative safety, returning to Moscow in 1944.

Nechitailo had a successful and productive career, teaching and exhibiting until his death in 1980.  I've not been able to find any record of his wife's death, so there is a chance that Maria (Mariya) Savchenkova is still living. If anyone reading this knows anything more about Savchenkova please let me know!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Princess Painter

Vladimir Borovikovsky "Portrait of A. G. and A. A. Lobanov-Rostovsky' 1814  
The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

This painting by Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) depicts Prince Alexei Alexandrovich Lobanov-Rostovsky and his wife Princess Alexandra Grigorievna. Princess Alexandra holds a tiny ivory watercolor palette and brushes in one hand, and a golden drawing implement in the other, tools which signify her refinement and accomplishment.  In the 1800s young ladies "of quality" were expected to attain a certain level of expertise in one or more areas of the fine and applied arts such as art, music and needlecrafts. Nothing is known about Alexandra's actual artistic output but it was extremely difficult to research her, in part because there is another far more famous person with the same name as her husband, only one generation younger. As far as I can make out this lovely young couple's biggest claim to fame was that they later in life legally adopted their grandchild Princess Doña Esperanza Felicitas Alexandra de Sarachaga upon her parents' demise. Doña Esperanza was quite a powerhouse. One of the wealthiest women of her age, she was a friend and confidante of many of Europe's highest-ranking royals and was known for her diplomacy, loyalty and bravery. In fact it is said she discovered a plot to depose King Ludwig of Bavaria, and despite facing personal danger she managed to alert the King and his people in time.

The painter Vladimir Borovikovsky himself has an interesting life story. Born into a Ukrainian military family, he served in a Cossack regiment along with his three brothers.  Borovikovsky however took "early retirement" and devoted himself to art, mostly painting icons and other devotional images for local churches. (His father had done the same, leaving the military after a respectable but short career to become an icon painter.) Borovikovsky might never have become well known, nor even sought a wider audience, had not chance thrown his work in the path of the Empress Catherine the Great while she made an Imperial tour of her newly acquired provinces. Borovikovsky had been asked to decorate the rooms where the Empress would be staying and his paintings so charmed Catherine that she requested he relocate to Saint Petersburg.

Borovikovsky moved to St Petersburg as commanded, and went about studying further to be worthy of his new patron. He was too old to attend the Imperial Academy but studied privately and intensively to such good effect that in 1795 he was appointed a Royal Academician. He had a successful and productive career, painting hundreds of intimate portraits of members of the Russian royal family, courtiers and other notable personages. Near the end of his life he also returned to painting icons, some of which are still in possession of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

~Many thanks to artist Michael Lane for sharing this image with me!