Indepth Arts News: |
"Masterpieces of European Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art"
2002-10-29 until 2003-01-05
New York, NY,
To mark its recent centenary, the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH, is making an important loan of twelve of its greatest European paintings, which will be on view this fall in the Oval Gallery and Garden Court of The Frick Collection. Masterpieces of European Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art will feature exceptional works by Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), Jacopo Bassano (ca. 1510-1592), Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570), El Greco (1541-1614), Thomas de Keyser (1596/97-1667), François Boucher (1703-1770), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
While the collection of the Toledo Museum is considered encyclopedic, the works included in the exhibition will emphasize the period from the early Italian Renaissance to late nineteenth-century France. The selection will notably complement the holdings of the Frick in scope and distinction - while including a number of artists not ordinarily on view at the New York museum. This exhibition also continues a Frick tradition of presenting extraordinary Old Master paintings from American institutions that are less well known to the New York public. Masterpieces of European Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art is organized by Colin B. Bailey, Chief Curator, The Frick Collection, and Lawrence W. Nichols, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900, the Toledo Museum of Art. The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and through the support of the Fellows of The Frick Collection.
The Toledo Museum of Art is one of America’s finest art collections housed in a building of exceptional beauty. Including over 30,000 works of art, the museum is particularly strong in European painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts, with works from nearly every part of the world and every time period. While the high quality of the paintings that will be on view at the Frick merits their exhibition, the history of their acquisition and context in Toledo’s permanent collection further underscore the appropriateness of The Frick Collection as a venue. The Toledo Museum of Art was founded in 1901 by a group of citizens under the aegis of Edward Drummond Libbey, an industrialist whose glass companies fostered economic and cultural development in that city for generations. Like Henry Clay Frick, Libbey amassed a choice art collection during his lifetime, which he left to the public. Upon his death in 1925, he bequeathed numerous paintings to the nascent museum, including works by Rembrandt, Holbein, Turner, and Constable. He further stipulated in his will that annual income from his estate be used for acquisitions, with a percentage reserved for museum operations. Such a magnanimous and practical vision has made possible the continuous acquisition of the highest quality works of art.
Treasures from a Remarkable Collection
A highlight of the exhibition is Jacopo Bassano’s Flight into Egypt of about 1542. Bassano was a master painter whose works were widely collected throughout Europe during his lifetime. Here he depicts a biblical subject favored by Italian painters of the sixteenth century. Though known for his use of bright colors and dramatic gestures, Bassano employs a more subtle color scheme and natural poses in this work. He depicts the Holy family in an idyllic landscape, escaping to Egypt after being warned by an angel about Herod’s plan to murder the Christ Child. It has been speculated that the three young shepherds accompanying Mary and Joseph are possibly Joseph’s sons. Also traveling with them are a dog, two cocks, two sheep, and an ox. As no description of such an elaborate entourage is found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, it is thought that their inclusion allowed Bassano to demonstrate his skill at painting animals and other elements of everyday life.
Piero di Cosimo’s Adoration of the Child also incorporates motifs from the story of the Holy family’s flight into Egypt, as well as representing one of the first images of the sleeping Christ Child in Florentine painting. Here the Christ Child lays his head on a bundle of the family’s belongings, which signifies their flight, while Joseph is shown resting from the journey in the background. The work is among Piero’s finest and best preserved in this large circular format, a shape that was popular for religious images intended for private devotional use. Since its purchase by the Toledo Museum of Art in 1937, this remarkable painting has remained at the institution in Ohio, not having been on loan elsewhere.
Another Italian work to be included in the exhibition is Francesco Primaticcio’s Ulysses and Penelope. The artist’s haunting and poignant depiction of the reunion of Penelope and Ulysses after his lengthy absence captures the unspoken intimacy between husband and wife. The sculptural and refined attributes of the figures, depicted in exquisitely muted tones, are characteristic of the workshop style at the palace of Fontainebleau, where Primaticcio served as François I’s Director of Works from 1532 until his death in 1570. Ulysses and Penelope is based on one of the frescoes of Primaticcio’s masterpiece, the Gallery of Ulysses at Fontainebleau (demolished in 1738), which depicted numerous episodes from the Odyssey.
Seventeenth-century Dutch portraits feature prominently in the Toledo collection, and one of the finest examples, by Thomas de Keyser, will be on view at the Frick. De Keyser was the leading portrait painter in Amsterdam prior to the arrival of Rembrandt in 1631, working in nearly every type of format in this genre produced in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century. Particularly renowned for his group portraits and life-sized works, the artist was often commissioned by a trade guild’s governing officers to paint a collective portrait of its board members. One such work, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Goldsmiths Guild of 1627, features four officers, three of whom display the intricate instruments of their trade. Each looks directly at the viewer, with no single head claiming prominence over another. De Keyser highlights the strongly characterized faces by bathing them in light, as he does the subjects’ hands. His strong compositional unity, along with the engaging gazes and gestures of the subjects, are a testament to the artist’s accomplishment as a group portrait painter and his subsequent popularity. This work is the only seventeenth-century Dutch group portrait in an American public collection.
James Tissot’s London Visitors of 1874 is a tour de force that is distinguished among the artist’s numerous views of contemporary life. Pairing the austere, monumental architecture of the National Gallery with the disconcerting gaze of one of his subjects, the artist all but precludes the viewer’s access into this popular tourist destination. Notable for its absence of warmth, sentiment, and coherent narrative, the scene remains captivating. The strong verticality of the columns, the tower of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the figure groups is offset by a horizontally pointing umbrella and the discarded cigar stub resting precariously on the steps below. Here Tissot employs asymmetry in a manner reminiscent of the work of Degas and Manet, and yet the painting is of a scale rarely tackled by his Impressionist peers. This work was completed after Tissot settled in London, where for more than a decade, he produced some of his best-known pictures.
A very different painting by another French artist of this period is Camille Pissarro’s exceptional Still Life of 1867. In nineteenth-century France, still life painting enjoyed a surge of popularity owing to a revival of interest in Jean-Siméon Chardin, which in turn precipitated a dynamic market for these works throughout Europe. This example by Pissarro is an anomaly in his oeuvre; it exceeds the customary scale of his early still lifes, and the paint is thickly applied. Here he uses four horizontal bands to define the surfaces of the wall, panel, tabletop, and tablecloth, then roughly paints against these bands a pottery bowl, apples, a loaf of bread, a glass, and a carafe of wine. Hanging from an unseen hook at the upper edge of the canvas are a ladle and spoon, the placement and shadows of which not only offset the balance of light on the objects below but also contribute to the forcefulness and originality of the work.
A fully illustrated booklet will accompany the exhibition. It contains a Director’s forward; a discussion of the works in the presentation follows and is authored by the members of the curatorial and educational staffs of the Frick. This softcover publication, approximately 20 pages in length, will be available for $10 in the Museum Shop of The Frick Collection. The Shop can be reached during museum hours at (212) 288-0700. Online shopping is now available as well through the Collection’s website, www.frick.org .