My wife is a working artist and educator. I have dabbled in art most of my life. So vacations nearly everywhere we go includes visits to museums or other cultural sites. So this idea has been wandering around in the back of my brain for a month or two now. But it is finally starting to come into focus.
But basically the idea is to write about actual museums. When critics visit museums it is generally to review a particular seasonal or traveling show. All well and good and quite exciting to read. But unless a museum is opening or re-opening after a remix/remodel, nothing is written about the actual museum.
So my plan is to change that. As we travel and visit museums I certainly may continue to comment on significant shows…but I want to document the actual museum; its location, its physical appearance, its physical presence, its various amenities, and its collection(s) or specialties.
Sound like fun? I hope so.
But why the title, A Place For A Muse? Well one of the hang ups in putting this idea to work was a working title. And that all came apparent to be apparent while attending a university class on mythology and the professor mentioned that museum comes from muse. And looking around the internet I found any number of fuller translations from the Latin or Greek…like seat of the muses, shrine to the muses, place for the muses, etc. So I pondered any number of these sources and definitions and went with a simpler and hopefully more apropos title.
Hope you come back to read about my discoveries and thoughts about museums!
Most of my adult life as an artist and follower of artists, Odilon Redon was my favorite (until I visited Gustave Moreau’s house museum in Paris that is. My front page photo may be a give away on my current favorite). So whenever I visit a new museum I search to see if they have any of his work. I have been rewarded a number of times and the Musee D’orsay has a number of more obscure treasure by Redon.
CMA has a pretty significant holding of various Redon noirs (black drawings and prints). Reportedly the largest holdings in the United States. So this is a significant show for Redon fans. There are four color pieces, three of them in the CMA collection and one on loan. This oil painting on unprimed canvas of Andromeda is on loan from the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection. A stunning work that is 65 inches tall!
And one of the stand out displays is the wall containing the complete sets of the Apocalypse of Saint John, the Homage to Goya, The Haunted House, and the Temptation of Saint Anthony lithographic portfolios. And to see them side by side was quite a treat!
I spent a lot of hours in this show, it’s on the main floor just inside the front entrance in a quiet room dedicated to just this exhibit at the moment. So for those of us in love with Redon’s work, it is an essential spiritual experience. A most rewarding investment!
Now, the CMA’s newest Redon acquisition and one they apparently are very proud of is this charcoal and black chalk rendition of Quasimodo (since two different guards pointed it out). But it certainly is one of the stand out pieces in the show.
And let’s go with one of my favorites…from the noirs, the very first piece that I encountered when entering the gallery, Another lithograph entitled Light. I love the line both in defining the face and head and the line that defines the volumes and shadow. The piece alone highlights Redon’s skill in the use of lithography and maybe lays claim to Redon being one of the best in his use of the medium!
And here is one other selection from the CMA collection that is rather unusual. Not for the subject matter but for the medium. I don’t remember seeing anyone else exhibit a Redon pencil drawing…but here we have one at CMA, Melancholy.
And then my personal favorite ‘painting’, one of his works where he is portraying an actual sitter as opposed to his imagined or dreamed images as shown in the other pieces. This is a pastel on paper of Viollette Heymann shown in profile with just simply amazing limning skills against a neutral gray/brown background opposed to a jungle of colored flora. And it doesn’t quite come across in this image as it does in person, but his handling of the shades and gradations in her hair is simply stunning. It can often be mind boggling to compare his more common noirs with the absolutely color bursts in his pastels or oils. Or his portraits vs. his imaginings.
Ok, just one more image…the lithographic portfolio, Haunted House:
One more hint…there is an oil painting in the permanent collection that wasn’t brought into this show. But in Gallery 222 with the Monet and Picassos is another beautiul work.. I am stunned going through the photos that I took, that I didn’t snap one…sigh. So here is another download from the CMA site but if you go don’t miss this!
The show is free as is admission to the Cleveland Museum of Art! And the show continues through January 23, 2022. Face masks and social distancing are required. But check their website for current requirements before you go. And a quick shout out to their cafeteria…great people and very good food! The menu is a bit limited during the pandemic however but make a day of it (it can take a day so see the entire collection) and enjoy an affordable leisurely lunch in the atrium!
We have been taught that painting, and particularly oil painting, is the highest achievement of modern Western art. And we see it presented in our art museums worldwide, offered for sale in our art galleries and auction houses, and projected on wall sized screens in our art history classes. There is no right or wrong here…paintings of all shapes and styles are great artistic statements that we can relate to and that we love to view. And who would go to Paris and not visit the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa? Or forget to visit the Impressionists at the Art Institute of Chicago? Probably no one taking the time to visit this blog!
But on a personal level, our first experience with making art is drawing. Whether a pencil stub on scrap paper or crayons on a magnificent piece of manila paper or doodles of a custom car or imagined horse in our middle school notebooks, we have all experienced the joy in making a drawing. So when we see drawings we understand the skill and emotion and imagination involved in the making. We have an innate understanding of the process! It isn’t magic the way that painting often feels.
So why isn’t our art viewing experience more involved with drawings? Well there is one fairly simple answer…and it isn’t a lack of drawings in the world…most museums have a trove of drawings in their holdings. It is the simple fragility of a drawing…they are generally works on paper…something that is destroyed by excess light and requires more attention to climate control than paintings. So showing them in a museum requires a great deal of care and thought and they are only shown for limited periods of time. And the means to restore a damaged drawing isn’t the same as restoring a damaged painting.
So when do we see drawings? Most often we will see drawings that are representative of a painter’s development or study in a retrospective of the artist’s work. Sometimes these drawings show a different side of the painter like the caricatures by Claude Monet that were included in the Monet in Chicago show at the Art Institute of Chicago recently. Or we see a vitrine protecting a sketchbook open to a selected page.
On occasion we are presented with shows made up exclusively of drawings like Michelangelo: Mind of the Master at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2019 or Cezanne Drawing currently (through September 25, 2021) at the Museum of Modern Art in New. York. Another opportunity for viewing drawings are dedicated galleries within museums that rotate mini-shows of drawings (or other works on paper) from their holdings. The one I am most familiar with is the Art Institute of Chicago. They have a gallery in the Michigan Avenue building on the main floor just northeast of the Grand Staircase (galleries 124 – 127 from the map) that features works on paper…usually a drawing show or a print show but often with both. It is a don’t miss gallery whenever we visit AIC.
So why do artists draw? For all of the same reasons that you draw (or drew). There is a human need to make marks to express ourselves but there are as many reasons as there are us…what makes each artist draw is universal but as individual as they come.
So why do artists draw? Well for this bit of discourse I am going to pick three instances that are certainly universal. First, to make a statement via a drawing that is a complete piece of art…Second, as a study for another work of art, most often a painting, but for any piece of art that requires research, development, or refinement before the final vision is realized…Third, because artists are always sketching. I am going to try to provide some examples here and maybe a bit more detail…although writing about the why of drawing seems a little futile!
So my first instance, creating a drawing as a complete final work of art. Why would an artist select drawing for a finished piece? Well, because the drawing medium suits the expression of the art work. Certainly a chalk, charcoal, or conte crayon drawing has a decidedly different feel and intent as an oil painting or watercolor. Or it may be a matter of convenience and drawing materials are close at hand if working somewhere away from the studio. Even portable easels are an effort to move and plan around…a pad of fine drawing paper and a box of graphite sticks are often second nature. And there may be economic issues involved…charcoal and paper are relatively inexpensive and there is a part of the art market who will buy art but may not of the wherewithal to purchase a painting. And possibly someone may commission a drawing for as many reasons as an artist may draw!
From a viewers point of view, we have a whole new world to explore. We have another opportunity to understand how the artist sees the world because the problems that need to be worked out in a drawing are different than in a painting. We can also often see the other interests that the artist may have, particularly if they depict a topic or subject matter that isn’t typical of their paintings. Is a landscape artist making portrait drawings? Is an artist who is polished and precise feeling free and unconstrained in the different medium? What new insights will we be exposed to? This can be a rather exciting experience.
So let’s start with a few finished drawings that are the end result themselves. This can be tricky because the value of ‘old master’ drawings has resulted in sketches by name artists being framed and displayed just the same as a fully realized drawing. But let’s take a few peeks!
To my mind this is undoubtedly a finished drawing meant to stand alone as a finished and complete work of art. But one that provides us with a bit different view of Van Gogh although the landscape feels very familiar…but without the energy and of course the confusion of color we are used to in his paintings.
But this…this is obviously quintessential Pablo Picasso!
I am going to add one more to this section, just because these drawings originally came as quite a pleasant shock to me. Some years ago we went to New York to see a Rembrandt show at the Met and a side show was George Seurat drawings. Now we are all familiar with his incredible pointillist masterpiece, the oil painting Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte. But his drawings were just different different different and just as amazing. So here’s an example of a Seurat drawing that was recently on display at the AIC.
And now my favorite artist, Gustave Moreau, just for fun because I can! These photos were taken at the Musee Moreau in Paris in 2019.
and now our last category…if you are an artist or know an artist…you know that an artist’s sketchbook is a common appendage…and it isn’t uncommon to make a sketch of something anytime and almost anywhere. And again the reasons are innumerable but an idea pops up and needs to be explored or the light is just right or the subject demands to be limned or one’s fancy is captured! But this is where the artist hones their skill. This is where the artist gets to try new things. This is where the artist works on new ideas. This is where the artist can make art that is a surprise and can lead to the new. The following are just a number of drawings labelled as studies…enjoy:
So please go off and search them out and enjoy the Sublimity In Viewing Drawings!