Art News Roundup: Traveling About Edition

We’re back to normal for a couple of more weeks, Gentle Reader, before radio silence temporarily resumes during the Christmas holidays due to my impending travels.

In case you missed it, my latest for The Federalist was published yesterday, in which I reviewed a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Private Lives, Public Spaces” examines the advent of home movies, and their use by artists, celebrities, and ordinary people over the past century. As one might expect in the present age, the museum is largely interested in how these films fit into a contemporary social construct, but it’s certainly possible to go view them, as I did, with an eye more to interest and curiosity, skipping some and lingering over others. As I pointed out in the magazine, it was only a couple of days later when I realized that, no doubt unintentionally, MoMA had pointed to something much more important than mere human matters. Be sure to check it out if you’re in New York between now and July, although I’d suggest that small children are probably not the right audience for parts of it, for various reasons.

With that very brief intro then, let’s turn to some art news stories of note from the week gone by, traveling to three very different cities in order to do so.

Helene at Helsinki

Truthfully, I must confess that Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) was entirely unknown to me until I read about a new retrospective of her work, which is being examined in tandem with the work of other Finnish artists working in and around the Finnish countryside. Schjerbeck is much-loved in her native land, but little-known here, which is a pity because her art is very compelling indeed. As a painter, she gradually changed from a realist to an expressionist, and to such a significant extent that it’s hard to believe the pictures in the show were all made by the same person. I particularly like the silvery-ocher-olive tones of “Cypresses, Fiesole” (1894) shown below, which she painted during one of her many travels, and these trips played a significant part in the ever-changing nature of her style. It would be great to see an intrepid American museum mount a solo show of her work in the near future. “Through My Travels I Found Myself – Helene Schjerfbec and Finnish Artists in Ruovesi” at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki runs through January 26th.


Degas at Cassatt’s

I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t like the theatre, but does enjoy reading plays. That being said, although I won’t be able to see it due to time constraints, I’m somewhat interested in seeing “The Independents”, a new play currently running off-Broadway, about the relationship between two of the most important artists working in Paris at the end of the 19th century: American Impressionist Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and French Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917). The product of research into the two artists’ correspondence, anecdotal information, and examination of their work, and inspired by a National Gallery retrospective on the two of them from a few years ago, the piece can only attempt to telescope their relationship into a series of encounters in which Degas would come to visit Cassatt at her studio, but we do know that it was a love-hate thing. Degas had definite misogynistic tendencies, and once criticized one of Cassatt’s paintings by remarking, “A woman should not be allowed to draw like that!”, while Cassatt was often manipulative and overly-analytical, and yet they continued to both collaborate and spar with one another for nearly four decades. To playwright Chris Ward’s credit, wherever possible he integrates Cassatt and Degas’ own words into the dialogue, adding the rest through his own literary imagination. “The Independents” is at the Jerry Orbach Theatre in Manhattan and its run has been extended until January 5th, but here’s hoping it gets a national tour at some point.


Abraham at Auction

Noël Hallé (1711–1781) was a French history painter who executed the sort of vast canvases of hundreds of figures that you needed to cover the walls of your ginormous country chateau or government ministry. Much of his work features the lighter, pastel colors preferred by the Rococo court of Louis XV (1710-1774), and there’s a tendency in his work to sometimes tip the scales a bit into what, to modern eyes, seems a bit shallow, sugary, and little more than window dressing. However, I particularly like a piece of his coming up for auction, “Abraham and the Three Angels” (1762), which he painted for the Paris Salon Exhibition of 1763, for there’s a kindness and a sense of grace in the relationship between the patriarch and his celestial visitors that I find very touching, even for all of its theatricality. What’s more, philosophe Denis Diderot (1713-1784) supposedly hated this picture, which of course means that it’s actually quite good.

If you’re thinking of bidding on it be forewarned: the picture is about 8 ½ feet wide and 7 ¾ feet tall. As a result, you’re probably going to need a bigger sofa to hang it over. The pre-sale estimate is somewhere in the $300k range, and the auction itself will take place at Druout in Paris on December 16th.


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