Studies have shown that medical students who spend time looking at art develop more acute observation skills, a key advantage in their careers. I cannot claim that looking at works of art has improved my scientific acumen, but I can certainly say that spending time with a work of art sets off my curator’s stream of consciousness. My brain builds associations based on personal experience and a sort of mental Rolodex of images forges connections unique to my idiosyncratic way of thinking.
All of which leads me to a somewhat unlikely pairing of two great paintings in our collection: Thomas Eakins’s Swimming (1885) and Frederic Remington’s A Dash for the Timber (1889).
More than just a chronological convergence or the fact that one work depicts human nudes and the other equine nudes, I’d argue a sort of commonality of influence in these two paintings in the application of photography to the process of depicting bodies—horses or otherwise. The 1880s saw the rise in popularity of the photographic motion studies of the eccentric Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), whose landmark scientific experiments at the University of Pennsylvania captured aspects of sequential movements theretofore invisible to the naked eye but recorded by the lenses.
Eadweard Muybridge, Annie G. with Jockey, ca. 1887
Eakins spent time in 1884 at Muybridge’s laboratory-studio, only to devise his own photographic techniques for recording motion. We know that he took several photographs in the process of preparing to paint Swimming, though the final outcome is an artistic statement all his own. Even though he has depicted several individuals, I can’t help but see it as reminiscent of photographic studies of one nude in motion.
Paintings of horses were never the same after Muybridge’s studies. Suddenly, rather than legs splayed out horizontally to indicate a horse at full gallop, Remington and others (including Eakins) showed a variety of seemingly implausible horsey poses inspired by what the human eye could not possibly perceive, but the camera could. When I look at A Dash for the Timber, I see the effects of Muybridge and his photographic contemporaries written all over it. This is partially because I had the occasion to look at both paintings closely with a photographic historian friend, and partially because I have devoted time in the past to understanding the juncture of art and science in Muybridge’s day and what was considered acceptable behavior in the laboratory but not the artist’s classroom.
Making connections between paintings is not a science. It’s okay to form your own associations. If our paintings make sense to you because of a sunset you once observed or because of a story about your family, I say go for it. And, for all you aspiring medical professionals out there, come to the Amon Carter and stay a while. It will only help your career!
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
One of our loveliest portraits is of a young Alice Vanderbilt Shepard by John Singer Sargent. Alice was a well known beauty, but she was involved in a childhood mishap that led to a life of enforced inactivity. During one period of convalescence she became interested in the idea of a neutral auxiliary language that could facilitate communication among diverse groups of people. Alice and her husband David Morris founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA). Not too long after her death the Interlingua-English Dictionary was published, presenting to the world her life's work, Interlingua, a language for the world to use. All of us here at the Amon Carter wish you a "Felice natal e eon anno nove," which is "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in Interlingua.
John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888
Oil on canvas
Before you extract your roasting pan, baster, and meat thermometer from their storage places to cook your holiday bird, I ask that you pause for a moment to honor the nobly awkward fowl that is Thanksgiving’s most famous participant—the turkey.
Benjamin Franklin, purveyor of early American wisdom, is said to have remarked that, in comparison to the badly behaved bald eagle, the turkey was “though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
John James Audubon, VULGO (WILD TURKEY) Meleagris Gallapavo, Engraving with watercolor on wove, off-white paper, 1826
It’s no wonder, then, that in 1826, American ornithologist John James Audubon chose the wild turkey, or Meleagris gallapavo for the first plate of his monumental publication, The Birds of America (1827–38). Audubon’s grand project to record all the birds of North America was not merely a scientific pursuit but an artistic accomplishment of great ambition. Audubon’s life-sized rendition of the wild turkey is not your grandmother’s frozen Butterball but a resplendent creature with a full beard and intricately articulated copper, yellow, and blue feathers. He stands in a pose designed to show off all the colorful assets belonging to the male of the species. The successful outcome of Audubon’s now-famous project was not simply that he reproduced the birds to scale in a setting that allowed them to appear their most lifelike, but also that he sought the best collaborators to bring his project to life.
Audubon initially relied on the Scottish engraver William Home Lizars to translate his large watercolors into colored engravings, and the first ten plates in the series are the result of Lizars’s efforts. This print in the Amon Carter’s collection was possibly one of the first Audubon works to make its way to America from Edinburgh where it was printed.
If you happen to encounter a wild turkey this season, take care to check out his every attribute. Then, as the Meleagris gallapavo gobbles along his merry way, tip your hat to the prowess of John James Audubon.
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
As a recent addition to the Amon Carter’s staff as an assistant curator, and as a newcomer to Fort Worth, it’s comforting to have art around that reminds me of my east coast origins and the places I’ve been. Chances are, if you have the opportunity to care for and interpret a stellar collection of American art, you have had the privilege of engaging with one of the Diana sculptures created by the renowned nineteenth-century artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As I ascend the Amon Carter’s Atrium stairs, I am delighted to be greeted by our bronze Diana of the Tower.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Diana of the Tower, bronze, 1899
A close friend of celebrated New York architect Stanford White, Saint-Gaudens was asked around 1887 to create a sculpture to adorn the top of the architect’s Madison Square Garden. Saint-Gaudens chose to make a monumental weathervane depicting the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana. Traditional classical sculptures of Diana were robust, but Saint-Gaudens, in the only female nude sculpture of his oeuvre, sculpted a more lithe version of the goddess, delicately balanced on one foot as if interrupted mid-hunt. When the original eighteen-foot-tall Diana, adorned with flying drapery, was installed atop the building’s tower, White and Saint-Gaudens were dismayed to discover she was out of proportion with the building and too unwieldy to move well. Down she came to be replaced with the thirteen-foot Diana now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my former curatorial home. She was the talk of the town in her heyday.
Nineteenth-century Americans judged the sculpted goddess a major hit, and she quickly became the most famous nude in the country. Saint-Gaudens then went about creating intricate bronze reductions of the larger goddess. Each one of the smaller versions was modeled by hand and varied in the configuration of bow, arrow, string, hair, patination, and base. So, even though I have seen a Diana or two in my day, there’s always something special to see with each encounter.
Our 1899 small-scale Diana of the Tower is not the lone representative of the sculpture in our collection, or even in Fort Worth. Over time, the Amon Carter has acquired three different versions of Saint-Gaudens’s Diana – the bronze, an early concrete sculpture, and the large gilded version that now resides at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall.
Though a late-nineteenth-century artwork holds intrinsic appeal for me as an art historian, Diana is of particular interest to me as a former competitive archer. While Saint-Gaudens’s technique is beyond reproach, archers will tell you that the goddess could benefit from a few pointers. Suffice it to say, none of my competitors ever prospered by pulling the bowstring back behind the ear, and I never saw an Olympian able to shoot a bow standing on tippy toes!
Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator
The Amon Carter staff were very excited to welcome a new acquisition of a major, full-length painting by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). The work, titled Edwin Booth from 1890, is a portrait of the great 19th-century Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth (1833–1893).
Come visit the museum and see this important piece of American art for yourself. Admission is always free.
Thomas Eakins was born on this day in 1844. Swimming is considered an American masterpiece and the pinnacle of his work as a realist painter and teacher. The painting was originally purchased from the artist's widow by the Friends of Art in Fort Worth, who gave it to the city's Art Association as a worthy addition to its public art gallery.
Thomas Eakins (18414-1916)
oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchased by the Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association, 1925; acquired by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 1990, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through grants and donations from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, Capital Cities/ABC Foundation, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation and the people of Fort Worth.
Currently on view in the museum atrium is Hidden in Plain Site, a monumental art work that includes four canvases. Artist Sedrick Huckaby wanted to celebrate the artistic merit of his grandmother’s quilts and explore the idea of quilts containing hidden messages. The process used by the artist to create this and other works was directly inspired by the collages of Romare Bearden, some of which are featured in the special exhibition Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey now on view through August 11, 2013.
Hanging a large-scale piece takes many hours of planning and collaboration. The project began four months before the works even came into the museum. Jim Belknap, Installation Manager, visited Huckaby’s studio to look at the paintings and get an idea of what it would take to hang 300 pounds of wood, canvas, and paint on the walls of the museum. Not only was the safety of the art at stake, but the integrity of the delicate shell stone walls in the museums’ atrium were an important issue during the installation.
A framework system was constructed on which the paintings were hung. (The design and build process took two months.) Framework and paintings would then hang on a pulley-and-cable system that was attached to a bronze channel already installed in the wall. The original channel proved to be too deep and new metal channel inserts had to be created to hold the bolts for the pulley/cable system.
Installation started on a Monday at 8 a.m. and was completed by 6 p.m. The work had to be completed before the museum reopened on Tuesday morning. This project required four professional art handlers, two registrars, two contractors, three lifts, and a step ladder from the Teaching Resource Center. The artist was on hand during the last hours of the installation and he didn’t seem at all worried about his creation. The result is a wonderful marriage of art, careful planning, and precision engineering.
Hidden in Plain Site will be on view until October 31, 2013. Don’t miss it!
Lots of friends are making their way to the Amon Carter this week for our spring break Family Fun Week! Come look at art, talk about art, even make some art to take home.
Admission is free and strollers are welcome.
The National Art Education Association's annual conference starts Thursday in Fort Worth and we're thrilled to have our colleagues come to Cowtown to collaborate on art education topics.
We invite all of our NAEA friends to come on over to the Amon Carter and stop into the bookstore for a welcome bag (just show them your conference badge) and our best wishes for a great conference!