In Search of New Markets: Craft Traditions in Nineteenth-Century India
Monumental stone sculpture, metal shrines, votive objects, painted textiles, manuscripts and so-called “miniatures” from South Asia offer visitors to the Museum’s lower-level galleries a rich overview of the region’s art history. The vast majority of these works were created for religious or courtly settings, whether in Buddhist, Hindu, Jain or Islamic cultural contexts. The objects on display for In Search of New Markets, by contrast, were created for commercial purposes. This exhibition, which marks the first time that several of these works have been on view at the Museum, explores the historical sources and practices that informed the production of ceramics and wooden furniture in colonial India. It also reveals the distinctly modern modes of promotion and distribution that were used to generate demand for them.
The ceramic vessels in the exhibition reveal points of connection—and tension—between established Indian art forms and the commercial ambitions of colonial administrators and Indian artists trying to find new buyers for this work. While earthenware cups and bowls have a long history in India, they have often been regarded as a disposable alternative to metal utensils, left unembellished and discarded after use. The glazed ceramics produced in South Asia were predominantly tiles used to adorn mosques or tombs. Demand for them tapered as the number of Indian patrons who could fund such architectural projects waned. The city of Multan, in what is now Pakistan, was once a center for the production of blue and white architectural tile. By 1883, a commentator writing for the Journal of Indian Art remarked instead on the wide variety of flowerpots and vases that were for sale there, in forms that “neither the Potter in India nor his ancestors in Persia ever conceived.” The blue and white decoration of an ornamental vase created around 1880 exemplifies the palette and style of floral decoration that characterize Multan tile, whereas the vessel’s shape and size correspond with the new forms produced for European buyers.
In 1948, artist Ellsworth Kelly moved to Paris in order to be near all that European culture had to offer. He stayed for almost a decade, traveling to see museums and make sketches of frescoes and stone sculptures in the many cities he visited, something he was not able to do while he was stationed near Paris during the war. He befriended fellow American artists while absorbing the artwork of the early 20th century, as well as European masters such as Arp, Matisse and Brancusi. In the mid-1950s, he moved back to the United States just as New York was becoming a central cultural hub. By this point, Kelly’s creative vocabulary had been established. His vision of abstraction reflected the world around him, rather than the emotional and process-based abstraction of New York artists such as Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning.
At the end of 1964, Kelly returned to the City of Light for a solo exhibit of his paintings at the Galerie Maeght. While there, he took advantage of the fact that the owners of the gallery were also publishers of artist books and fine art prints. He made his first significant foray into the medium of prints and multiples with two series—Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs and Suite of Plant Lithographs. Thus began Kelly’s lifelong relationship with lithography.
The fact that these two suites were created simultaneously is significant. Kelly wanted these two subjects of his art to be seen as correlative. The plant drawings informed the abstracted shapes, just as much as he saw abstract shapes in plants. “I did not want to ‘invent’ pictures, so my sources were in nature, which to me includes everything seen,” the artist once said. In the same way that he drew from plant material for the Suite of Plant Lithographs, he also lifted shapes from his everyday life to create the abstracted forms that became fodder for the Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs. The planar forms of a staircase and the grid of a window frame held as much potency as the plant forms he found in the garden. His artwork continued along these intertwined paths for the entirety of his career.
Edgar Degas (1834–1917) exhibited just one sculpture during his lifetime: the controversial Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. This figure startled visitors to the 1881 Impressionist exhibition with its unidealized physiognomy and its radical use of real materials, such as silk slippers and a wig made from human hair. In the privacy of his studio, however, Degas modeled in wax and clay throughout his career, producing hundreds of small-scale, informal studies of horses, dancers and bathers that were seen only by close friends and visitors. It was not until the artist’s death—one hundred years ago this year—that the extent of his sculptural production was revealed. Of the nearly 150 models retrieved from Degas’s studio, 74 of the best-preserved examples were cast in bronze and editioned, making public and permanent these transient exercises in form.
This exhibition explores the improvisational nature of Degas’s artistic practice through the Norton Simon’s collection of modèles, the first and only set of bronzes cast from the original wax and plaster statuettes. This unique set of sculptures served as the matrix for the serial bronzes that followed, and in some cases they preserve objects or evidence of Degas’s handwork that has been altered in the wax originals. Capturing the condition of the figurines when they were discovered in the artist’s studio, the modèles vividly convey the instinctive way in which Degas pressed and smeared pliable wax and plaster over handmade wire armatures, and bulked the core with cork and other easily accessible materials. Rather than serving solely as sources for paintings or pastels, these sculptures were independent objects, what the artist called essais—“trials” or “experiments.” For Degas, the act of sculpting was an end in itself.
Rembrandt’s ‘Self Portrait at the Age of 34’ on loan from The National Gallery, London
Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self Portrait at the Age of 34, a striking painting from The National Gallery, London, makes its U.S. debut this December in the galleries of the Museum. Created in 1640, this imaginative, ambitious and exquisitely painted image corresponds to a high point in the artist’s personal and professional life. Rembrandt established his practice in Amsterdam, the commercial center of Europe, in 1632. Shortly thereafter, he entered into a business relationship with the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh—a significant alliance, given the latter’s interest in arranging portrait commissions. Equally significant was Rembrandt’s marriage to van Uylenburgh’s niece Saskia, in 1634. In a few years’ time, and with the help of her dowry, they moved to a large house on Sint Antoniesbreestraat. By the end of the decade, the vigorous market that already existed for his mythological and religious works was superseded by the demand for his portraits.
The London self-portrait, one of more than 80 produced in various media over the course of his life, is rich with clues about Rembrandt’s industry and far-ranging aesthetic interests. We meet him seated in an arched opening, his torso turned three-quarters to the right, looking out at the spectator with an unflinching gaze. Light falls from the left on a neutral background. His right arm rests on a ledge that extends parallel to the picture plane. Immediately below, and to the right, he signed the painting “Rembrandt f (fecit) 1640.” Dressed in opulent attire, he exudes a magisterial air that underscores his self-presentation as an affluent, confident artist-cum-gentleman. His curly hair, fuzzy blond mustache and slight tuft of beard have been rendered with a meticulous, delicate facture. In comparison, the brushwork broadens and becomes more dynamic in the folds of fabric surrounding his right arm. A warm palette of red and yellow ochres, browns and grays defines the textures of velvet, fur and gold in his elegant clothing.
Rembrandt van Rijn was the premier portrait painter of Amsterdam, and his masterful history paintings drew admiration from aristocratic patrons, but it was his prints that first brought him international acclaim. Imbuing line and tone with technical finesse and ingenuity, Rembrandt crafted resonant images that were prized by connoisseurs and imitated by artists. The contemporary English writer and collector John Evelyn pronounced him “the incomparable [Rembrandt], whose etchings and gravings are of a particular spirit.”
Rembrandt: Prints “of a Particular Spirit” takes an intimate view of Rembrandt’s graphic output during the 1630s, an artistically rich span that corresponds to Rembrandt’s rise from a painter of promise in Leiden to one of the most in-demand portraitists in Amsterdam. Rembrandt’s personal developments and artistic successes were mirrored in his prints. Although his prodigious painting production took up much of his time, he continuously returned to printmaking, finding moments of creative independence in the expressive qualities of etched lines and printed tone. As he refined his technique, he broadened his subject matter to include formal portraits and history and genre scenes. Some of his boldest compositional treatments were subjects that he rarely addressed in paint, but were given exceptional vitality in print, such as his nudes and landscapes, including View of Amsterdam from the Northwest.
Another Way of Telling: Women Photographers from the Collection
First Major Art Museum Exhibition Dedicated to World-Renowned Photographer Michael Nichols