: Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980
2018. USA. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. 97 min.
The odalisque, a harem slave or concubine, was a popular subject in European art throughout the colonial period. These erotic images of women in the geographically vague “Orient” evoked a life of luxury and indolence far removed from nineteenth-century industrial society (and twenty-first century standards of representing race and gender). Indeed pictures of odalisques were often a matter of creative fantasy and invention rather than one of cultural documentation. Harem environments were constructed in the artist’s studio using models dressed in costume and a mélange of exotic props. And artists did not always disguise the fact that their scenes were staged, whether by depicting the odalisque changing into her costume or appropriating imagery from famous precedents. Revealing the picture’s fiction did not detract from its visual appeal.
This small-scale focus exhibition gathers together seven such subjects from the Norton Simon’s collections—including Frédéric Bazille’s Woman in a Moorish Costume (1869), Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers, Version "I" (1955), and Henri Matisse’s Odalisque with Tambourine (Harmony in Blue) (1926)—to show how artists exploit the tension between reality and artifice in these images. Matisse, for example, claimed that he made odalisques as an excuse to “paint the nude,” and because he had seen harems firsthand on his trips to Morocco. Yet the numerous odalisques that he produced in Nice in the 1920s revel in the imaginary, with excessively decorative environments that threaten to subsume the female figure altogether. Matisse/Odalisque contextualizes this artist’s distinctive approach to the orientalist theme with a range of examples from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It demonstrates that artists consistently accentuated the seductive aspect of the odalisque by foregrounding color, ornament, and dazzling surface effects.
Once Upon a Tapestry: Woven Tales of Helen and Dido presents a selection of artworks that explore the fates of two heroines from classical mythology whose stories have inspired poets, artists and musicians over the centuries: Helen of Troy and Dido of Carthage. Five tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries, along with a rare set of cartoons, illustrate the currency of these female-centric narratives in early modern Europe, the power of tapestry to visualize such stories and the inventiveness and skill employed to produce these splendid objects, made for the wealthiest and most distinguished patrons.
Homer’s epic poem of the Trojan War, the Iliad, written in the eighth century BCE, is the source for the dramatic story of Helen of Troy. Medieval poets updated the ancient tale and often added commentary to connect European nobles to their heroic Trojan counterparts. In the visual arts, these contemporized versions of the Iliad challenged artists to depict the conflict of battle, and the large-scale, multipaneled character of tapestry provided a magnificent vehicle for their ambitions. It is all the more notable then that Helen, an icon of beauty whose abduction from Sparta and her king provoked the Trojan War, figures so prominently in four of the tapestries exhibited. They chronicle Helen’s fate, from her arrival in Troy and marriage to Paris to her return to Sparta and her reconciliation with her first husband, Menelaus. Her leading role in these panels may be a stage for exploring the then-topical power of female beauty. Rich with detail, these luxurious silk and wool tableaux introduce us to contemporary court attire and to medieval stagecraft, as seen in the jewel-encrusted architectural framework that calls attention to the principal subjects.
The Sweetness of Life: Three 18th-Century French Paintings from The Frick Collection
Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, the eminent 19th-century historians of French art and society, baptized the 1700s the “century of women.” Though 18th-century women did make strides in the sciences, literature and the arts, they were most often portrayed in genre scenes pursuing leisurely, quotidian pleasures and tasks. Three superb 18th-century French genre paintings from The Frick Collection in New York, part of an ongoing reciprocal exchange program, are on view this summer at the Museum. These artfully constructed visions of contemporary life and fashion, as depicted by François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, provide viewers with an intimate look at the lives of middle-class French women of the 1740s and 1750s. The paintings will be installed in the Museum’s 18th-century Rococo gallery among its own works by Chardin and Boucher, as well as paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Titian’s 'Portrait of a Lady in White,' c. 1561, on loan from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
A beguiling young woman, in white satin gown, bejeweled with gold, precious stones and pearls, stops fanning herself with a ventuolo for a moment to catch our gaze. She is spotlighted, and the intensity of the illumination is reflected in her hair, the sheen of the fabric of her dress and the fervent flush of her cheeks and lips. Her warm brown eyes offset her opalescent skin and gown and echo the dark terracotta of the mottled background. Her image could almost be seen as a monochromatic impression, save for the punctuation of her evocative red lips, with that demure smile.
Interpretations of this inscrutable picture, generously on loan from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, were voiced as early as 100 years after Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, c. 1488–1576) executed it, and uncertainty about the sitter’s identity remains. Is this a portrait of Titian’s daughter Lavinia, his illegitimate daughter Emilia, or might she be the artist’s mistress? Should it not be considered a traditional portrait, but rather an idealized image depicting the very essence of the beauty and spirit of Venetian women?
Archival documents give us some clues, but no answers. In 1561, Titian himself referred to this painting in a letter to Alfonso II d’Este of Ferrara (1533–1597), saying that the image represented someone very dear to him, “the most precious being” in his life. In an earlier letter to Philip II of Spain, an avid collector of Titian’s work, the artist referred to another version of the painting (now lost), calling the sitter “the absolute mistress of my soul.” Based on these words, the painting was catalogued as early as 1663 in the Este collection as “Titian’s mistress.” Over the centuries, art historians and biographers have speculated on the subject’s identity, but to this day we cannot be certain who this mysterious beauty might be.