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"Telling Tales I: Classical Images"
2001-05-29 until 2001-09-29
Dahesh Museum of Art
New York, NY, USA United States of America

Ever since antiquity, the artistic vocabulary developed by the Greeks and Romans has remained significant for painters, sculptors and architects, across space and time. Classical images have served as inspiration, a gauge against which to measure success, and an imaginative ideal. Thus, the amorous divertissements of gods and heroes feel as much at home in a frivolous Rococo cartouche, as does the deconstructed column and pediment in postmodern architecture - a testament to their vitality and appeal.

Ever since antiquity, the artistic vocabulary developed by the Greeks and Romans has remained significant for painters, sculptors and architects, across space and time. Classical images have served as inspiration, a gauge against which to measure success, and an imaginative ideal. Thus, the amorous divertissements of gods and heroes feel as much at home in a frivolous Rococo cartouche, as does the deconstructed column and pediment in postmodern architecture - a testament to their vitality and appeal.

In spirit and representation, the most enthusiastic and prolific revival of Classical culture was Europe's Neoclassical movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Telling Tales I explores the Classical legacy in a broad range of exquisite paintings, drawings and sculptures from the Dahesh Museum of Art collection and demonstrates how 19th-century academic artists adapted the Classical canon to their specific needs and aspirations. The second half of this investigation, Telling Tales II, which begins October 16, investigates religious imagery from the same period. Charles Bargue's published drawing course, or Cours de Dessin (1868-72), as well as Jean-Léon Gérôme's Michelangelo (1849) and Working in Marble (1890), attest to the central role played by ancient sculptures, and the plaster casts made after them, in the training of academic artists. François-Xavier Fabre's Oedipus and the Sphinx (ca. 1806-08), a newly acquired work, illustrates a fascination with the countless tales of Greek mythology, a primary source for any history painter. As the more traditional Neoclassical history painting began to lose its predominance, historical genre painters, like Lawrence Alma Tadema, began to recreate daily life in ancient Greece and Rome. The Staircase (1870) by Alma Tadema, another new addition to the collection, speaks to that trend. The Classical canon would at times be greatly transformed. For example, Adolphe William Bouguereau's The Water Girl (1885) is clearly inspired by Classic statuary, whereas Henri Godet's sculpture of Cupid Abducting Psyche (1896) is directly derived from a painting by Bouguereau. The Czech painter Jaroslav Cermák whose monumental painting makes its debut in this exhibition, created a modern-day abduction scene. His unsettling and overwhelming The Abduction of a Herzegovenian Woman (1861) is clearly derived from Classical antecedents, but is also strongly influenced by the Romantic and Orientalist movements and contains socio-political and religious implications that are still significant today.

Telling Tales I: Classical Images from the Permanent Collection was organized by Associate Curator Roger Diederen, who wrote the full-color catalogue that complements the exhibition.

IMAGE:
François-Xavier Fabre (French 1766-1837)
Oedipus and the Sphinx
ca. 1806-08
oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 26 in. (50.2 x 66 cm)


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