You’ll forgive me, gentle reader, for not posting one of my longer articles on Tuesday. I recently returned from a short break in Savannah, where I visited the Telfair Museums in order to review their current exhibition on “Rembrandt and the Jewish Experience”, examining how the Jewish community in Amsterdam influenced the art of this Christian Old Master. My musings on the show are now available for your perusal on The Federalist this morning.
The Telfair is a somewhat unusual art institution in that it’s comprised of three separate museums: a contemporary art gallery mostly housing temporary exhibitions as well as Modern and Contemporary art; a former mansion that was converted into an art academy many years ago; and an historic Regency-style home with period furnishings. The Jepson Center, which is where the Rembrandt exhibition is taking place, also had an interesting show on Contemporary Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, arguably the most well-known sculptor in Spain today. Permanent installations of his work can be seen Stateside in places such as Chicago’s Millennium Park, the main entrance to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Frederik Meijer Park in Grand Rapids.
Plensa’s “Talking Continents” (2013) installation at the Telfair features a group of clouds and figures, all composed out of metal characters from multiple languages, soldered together and suspended by cables in mid-air. As the light shines through them, their shadows project intricate, almost Moorish patterns onto the floor of the exhibition hall. In an adjoining gallery is “Laura II” (2013), an example of his monumental sculpture with associated drawings, featuring a colossal, 6-foot tall head of a girl carved from a single block of alabaster.
Meanwhile, the Telfair Academy has an interesting permanent collection of mostly 19th and early 20th century works, with some good examples of American Impressionism and the Ashcan School, as well as both American and Continental academic painting. I was particularly struck by a Robert Henri (1865-1929) painting titled “La Madrileñita” (1919), depicting a popular young Spanish dancer from Madrid named Josefa Cruz. Henri traveled extensively in Spain and painted Cruz several times, but this portrait at the Telfair seems to best capture her coquettish charm.
Of course the most famous work of art at the Telfair is “Bird Girl” (1936), a life-size bronze by the American sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897-1978). It was featured on both the cover of the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, as well as in the Clint Eastwood film. Originally installed in a family plot at Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, with the subsequent success of the book and the movie the piece was moved to the Telfair for safekeeping and replaced by a replica. It has become a ubiquitous symbol of and point of reference for the city, and it crops up everywhere you go, a bit like the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Having now persuaded you, I hope, of the value of visiting the very charming city of Savannah, both on this site AND in the magazine – BTW if you like the Rembrandt article, do please leave some feedback over there, the excessive trolling on my article about Notre-Dame de Paris was particularly tiresome – let’s now turn to some interesting art news stories that have crossed my radar over the past week.
Speaking of Rembrandt, the art world is all agog at the moment with the news that a member of the French branch of the Rothschild family is selling one of their Rembrandts; the Louvre is trying to raise enough funds to purchase it and keep it from leaving the country. While most of the art media coverage is focused on what will become of “The Standard Bearer” (1636), and understandably so, this Bloomberg overview of some of the items up for auction rather neatly encapsulates why and how the market has changed over the past century and a half, from the time when the Rothschilds used to be the dominant arbiters of taste and style in collecting fine and decorative art:
Still, the ornate, gilded aesthetic isn’t that fashionable among many collectors these days, who may pay more for a KAWS painting than an Old Master canvas. “Taste changes. Times change. Houses change,” [interior designer Robert] Couturier said. “It is an era that has definitely passed.”
Another week, another theory about the infamous Gardner Museum Heist: this time, Dutch art crime researcher Arthur Brand renews and expands upon an earlier theory that the paintings, which were cut from their frames in the Boston museum back in 1990 and have never been recovered, are in the hands of the IRA and being kept somewhere in Ireland. Mr. Brand certainly knows his business, having tracked down and recovered a number of works of art over the years, although whether he actually has new information is difficult to say. The theft of 13 paintings, which included works by Manet, Rembrandt, and Vermeer, among others, and the subject of the popular podcast “Last Seen”, remains the most famous unsolved art crime in modern history.
The National Civic Arts Society is once again holding their Spring series of architectural walking tours here in the Nation’s Capital, should you find yourself hereabouts on a Saturday morning in the coming months. “The Influence of Classicism in the Architecture of Washington’s Historic Neighborhoods” will examine how some of DC’s most architecturally significant neighborhoods developed as the city grew and styles changed, from Federal and Classical Revival to Victorian and Beaux-Arts, as well as the horrific impact of tear-it-all-down-and-put-up-concrete-boxes Modernism on some of these areas, to our great detriment. For tickets and more information, please visit this link.