Clark Art Institute Exhibition
50 Years and Forward: Works on Paper Acquisitions
By: Clark - Nov 08, 2023
Marking the fiftieth anniversary of its Manton Research Center, the Clark Art Institute presents the opportunity to see a selection of prints, drawings, and photographs acquired between 1973 and 2023. 50 Years and Forward: Works on Paper Acquisitions opens on December 16, 2023 and is on view through March 10, 2024 in the Clark Center. The exhibition features several recent acquisitions as well as other works never previously shown at the Clark.
“The Manton Research Center is the home of the Clark’s works on paper collection, said Olivier Meslay, Hardymon Director of the Clark. “As we mark the Manton building’s golden anniversary, this seemed like a perfect moment to reflect on how the collection has grown and changed over the last half-century. With more than 6,500 works on paper in a total collection of 10,500 objects, it’s important to remind our community of how central works on paper are to the core of the Clark’s collecting activities. These prints, drawings, watercolors, and photographs are essential to our ability to share important stories and to expand our understanding and interpretation of different periods in the history of art.”
“50 Years and Forward offers a remarkable occasion to look back at a half-century’s worth of acquisitions but it also gives us the opportunity to consider the breadth of the collection today,” said Anne Leonard, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. “Our most recent acquisitions show a continued commitment to areas of strength, like master drawings, but they also venture into areas well beyond the original vision of Sterling and Francine Clark.”
A companion exhibition, 50 Years and Forward: British Prints and Drawings Acquisitions, is on view in the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery, located in the Manton Research Center, through February 11, 2024.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
When the Clark Art Institute opened in 1955, it had 500 drawings and 1,400 prints, totaling 1,900 works on paper. In the past fifty years, 4,000 works on paper have been added—more than double the museum’s founding gift—and acquisitions continue apace. While these numerical increases are important, they are only part of the story. What they fail to convey is the change in the collection’s character over time. With constant reappraisal over the decades, new dimensions have emerged, building upon the original vision of founders Sterling and Francine Clark.
The exhibition starts from classic territories with which the Clark has long been closely identified—such as early modern drawings and nineteenth-century French art—and shows how those pockets of strength continued to grow in later decades. In a parallel development, the Institute initiated fresh collecting areas, such as photography and Japanese prints. Such additions, while hewing to the same standards of quality and art-historical significance, have allowed the Clark to fill gaps and raise its institutional profile. In this anniversary exhibition, the Clark explores and celebrates the developments of the past fifty years. Along with familiar works by Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Francisco de Goya (Spanish, 1746–1828), Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), and Mary Cassatt (American, active in France, 1844–1926), the exhibition highlights lesser-known parts of the collection, including early twentieth-century art, photographs by women artists, including Berenice Abbott (American, 1898–1991) and Doris Ulmann (American, 1882–1934), and important images of and by Black Americans. With each passing year and decade, the museum reaffirms its commitment to the storied collecting mission of its founders, modifying and expanding it to meet the needs of a new era.
50 Years and Forward: Works on Paper Acquisitions is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Anne Leonard, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
Considered among the most notable collectors of early modern drawings during the first half of the twentieth century, Sterling and Francine Clark inaugurated a lasting legacy with precious sheets by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1466 or 1467–1516), Pietro Perugino (Italian, c. 1450–1523), and others. This tradition continued at the Clark in the ensuing years, notably with the acquisition of thirty exceptional Italian drawings from the estate of Alice Steiner in 2003. The selection displayed in the first section of the exhibition spans about 250 years of Italian art and features artists including Perino del Vaga (1501–1547), Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Taddeo Zuccaro (1529–1566), Giovanni Maria Tamburini (died after 1660), Cristoforo Roncalli (c. 1553–1626), Jacopo Palma, the Younger (c. 1548–1628), Giovanni Battista della Rovere (c. 1561–c. 1630), Domenico Maria Canuti (1625–1684), and Ubaldo Gandolfi (1728–1781). The works present a range of interpretations of the human figure in action and at rest, in religious and secular contexts. Although ink is the predominant medium, its use—whether alone or in combination with wash or chalk—produces distinct effects in the hands of each artist.
FROM RENAISSANCE MASTERS TO VISIONARY MODERNS
Albrecht Dürer, foundational to any account of German art history, has likewise been central to the Clark’s holdings of German art since 1968, with the sudden addition of more than 300 Dürer woodcuts, engravings, and etchings from the Tomás Harris collection. So prolific was Dürer as a printmaker that, even with this exceptional start, important examples from his graphic works were still missing. Thus, the Clark has continued to add Dürer prints over the years, while also exploring less well-charted areas of German art. Dürer’s exceptionally detailed, astonishingly assured technique has provided tangible inspiration to modern German artists of a visionary bent, such as Max Klinger (1857–1920), often categorized as a Symbolist or proto-Surrealist) and the mystically inclined Hermann Wöhler (1897–1961).
In Dürer’s The Prodigal Son (c.1496), and other prints shown in this section of the exhibition, a vast amount of visual information is compressed into a small area. That was one of the hallmarks of Dürer’s graphic art, and his AD monogram became a sort of trademark for virtuosity of technique coupled with complexity of thought. The selection of five works spanning a quarter-century of Dürer’s career demonstrates the interplay between surface detail and psychological depth, between natural and supernatural.
The prints Gefallener Reiter (Fallen Rider) (1881) and Amor, Tod und Jenseits (Love, Death and Beyond) (1881) are from Klinger’s portfolio of twelve Intermezzi, or playful interludes, though their subject matter is not exactly comic. Through an exceptionally subtle use of the etching needle, Klinger created evocative, atmospheric scenes that touch on themes of desire, mortality, and vulnerability. His focus on psychological realms of fantasy and dreams is especially apparent in the surreal juxtaposition of Death and Cupid both mounted on a bicycle-like contraption (or rolling coffin), pursued by a mysterious and shadowy creature with a bull’s head.
The top half of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (c. 1915–35) by Wöhler derives from Dürer’s woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1498), a visionary scene from the Book of Revelation that announces the Last Judgment. The more tranquil lower half of Wöhler’s drawing depicts John, the purported author of the Book of Revelation, writing his prophetic text while in exile on the island of Patmos. Wöhler’s deft draftsmanship is vividly showcased in the elaborate landscape and the dynamic sky, filled with tongues of flame, boiling clouds, and streaming plumes of smoke. A starry border frames the whole.
GOYA AND MANET
Édouard Manet figured prominently in Sterling and Francine Clark’s collection, alongside the French Impressionists whom they loved and with whom Manet was closely allied. The Clarks also collected Spanish painting, and Manet’s undisputed admiration of Spanish art, particularly the work of Francisco de Goya, comes through clearly not just in his paintings but in his prints. Works-on-paper acquisitions over the last five decades have enabled the museum to highlight the special importance of Spanish artists for Manet. Sometimes this took the form of direct imitation, whereas at other times he adopted Spanish motifs—such as stock characters or details of costume—and re-appropriated them for his own scenes of modern life.
In 1799, Goya announced the publication of a new set of eighty satirical prints called Los Caprichos. His uncompromising imagery and bitingly ambiguous captions constituted an acid critique of contemporary Spanish society and morals, one that could easily have been subjected to censorship under the morals of the Spanish Inquisition. The prints were quickly removed from the market and public view, appearing later in a posthumous edition. Apart from their audaciously bleak view of human nature, the Caprichos are also considered supreme examples of aquatint, a print technique whose effects could range from nearly solid black to mottled shades of gray.
Manet’s print Exotic Flower (Woman in a Mantilla) (1868) clearly derives from Goya’s Pretty Teachings, which is displayed nearby in the gallery, though it isolates the figure and removes the earlier artist’s trenchant moral commentary. In this print, Manet extends further homage to Goya with the use of aquatint—a technique the earlier artist had perfected, which allowed the creation of rich areas of tone in combination with etched lines. Two other Manet prints on view, Philip IV (1862) and Don Mariano Camprubi, Le Bailarin (The Ballet Dancer) (1862), illustrate his fascination with Spain; either copying the work of Spanish artists or referencing other aspects of Spanish culture.
THE HUMAN FIGURE: DRAMA AND FEELING
Following the extreme social and political disruptions of the French Revolution, trends in visual art shifted toward high emotionalism and subjective drama—qualities often classed under the rubric of Romanticism. Turbulent situations and their consequences for the individual psyche became a central concern for artists, whether those situations and passions derived from literature, current events, or the imagination. In this section of the exhibition, drawings by artists living in France in the first half of the nineteenth century are grouped with charming pastel family portraits by Elizabeth Nourse (American, 1859–1938) and Mary Cassatt, American artists who settled in Paris in the later nineteenth century. In each of these works, the emphasis is on figures whose physical and psychological entwinement expresses a profound emotion like fear, grief, love, or piety.
Works in this section include Hilaire Ledru’s (French, 1769–1840) The Painful Farewell, or Lesurques’s Farewell to His Family (c. 1796–1802), Ary Scheffer’s (Dutch, active in France, 1795–1858) The Young Captive (1832), Théodore Chassériau’s (French, b. Dominica, 1819–1856) The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1835) and The Willow Song in Othello (1841), and Henri Lehmann’s (French, 1814–1882) Study for a Fresco (c. 1842–44).
Following the death of her parents, Nourse relocated to Paris with her sister Louise and built a career around scenes of women and children in domestic interiors. The pastel The Kiss (c. 1906), unlike Nourse’s more typical mother-and-child dynamic, celebrates the special bond between sisters. Although perhaps alluding to her bond with Louise, Elizabeth may also have found a more somber personal resonance in this subject matter due to the death of her twin sister Adelaide in the 1890s.
During Cassatt’s travels in the United States after nearly twenty years living in France, she made a number of pastel portraits, including Portrait of Mrs. Cyrus J. Lawrence with her Grandson R. Lawrence Oakley (c. 1898). The boy, Ralph Lawrence Oakley, went on to graduate from Williams College in 1911. Successive generations of the family have visited the portrait since it was acquired by the Clark in 1973.
COLOR WOODCUTS: JAPAN AND EUROPE
Japanese color woodblock prints, known as ukiyo-e, were unusual in the Clark’s collection until recently, when an extensive gift from the Rodbell Family Collection established a presence for Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858), Kawase Hasui (Japanese, 1883–1957), Kiyoshi Sait? (Japanese, 1907–1997), and other admired printmakers from the 1830s through the 1960s. The unprecedented scope of the gift allows meaningful connections to be drawn with nineteenth- and twentieth-century European artists, including Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944), Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903), and Vassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866–1944), who likewise were inspired to work in the color woodblock medium. Lines of influence went back and forth, from Japan to Europe and back again. Printmakers in both places were invested in bringing out the most fundamental qualities of their materials: wood, paper, and ink.
A pair of prints by Kiyoshi Sait?, Sakurada-Mon Tokyo (1964), sums up the transformation of traditional Japanese color woodblock printing from its origins as a collaborative enterprise—with a team of specialists playing distinct roles at the various stages of production—into a more individually driven art form, in which a singular vision governed the entire process. A label on Sait?’s print from 1964 specifies that the woodcut is “self-carved, self-printed.” He uses a modern aesthetic to interpret a traditional monument: the largest surviving gate at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Utagawa Kunisada’s The Maiden of 1857 interprets a scene from the Tale of Genji, the most famous novel in all of Japanese literature.
Gauguin and Munch both experimented with woodblock printmaking and shared similar technical approaches and unorthodox printing methods. Their habit of printing unevenly across the page created a rough, unpolished aesthetic that emphasized the wood’s material qualities. Munch’s exploration of woodcut began in Paris in 1896, while Gauguin’s first attempts in the medium occurred in 1893–94, following his first trip to Tahiti. Initially, all Gauguin’s woodcuts were made in black and white, as seen in Auti Te Pape (Women at the River) from the Noa Noa suite (1893–94, printed 1921), but he later produced a colored set—perhaps in homage to Japanese prints, some examples of which he had brought with him to Tahiti.
Claude Lorrain (French, 1604/5–1682) is widely recognized as a fountainhead of the European and American landscape tradition. In 2007, with the acquisition of a group of sixteen drawings by Claude, the Clark became one of the most important repositories of his drawings outside of Europe. Claude’s legacy is broadly manifest in the Clark’s collection and resonates with the pastoral setting of its campus. Further examples of French, Italian, Dutch, and German landscape drawings have joined the collection over the ensuing years, allowing a broad look at varying national approaches to this genre. Together, these works demonstrate the importance of landscape—as both a documentary practice and an imaginative outlet—to artists from the early seventeenth through the late nineteenth century.
Working more than two centuries after Claude, the largely self-trained Théodule Ribot (French, 1823–1891) used different gradations of ink washes to evoke the material qualities of objects. A Realist artist, Ribot made several paintings of cooks, a subject that proved saleable to collectors in the 1860s. Kitchen Interior (c. 1862) is preparatory drawing to one of those paintings. Using varied brush and pen strokes, Ribot conveyed local details of grime and age that were typical of the Realists’ focus on everyday themes.
Other artists in this section include Jan van Goyen (Dutch, 1596–1656), Heinrich Reinhold (German, 1788–1825), Giacinto Gigante (Italian, 1806–1876), Heinrich Dreber (German, 1822–1875), Constant Troyon (French, 1810–1865) and Jean-François Raffaëlli (French, 1850–1924).
Photography had no presence at the Clark until the late 1990s, when the museum launched a major campaign to build a collection of photographs focused on the early history of the medium (pre-1900). Attracting widespread attention, the decision marked the first time in the Clark’s history that it entered an entirely new collecting area. One reason was photography’s relationship to French Impressionist painting, a signature strength of the collection. The Clark now holds an equal number of photographs and drawings, and although the aggressive pace of acquisition slowed somewhat after the early 2000s, photography continues to be a strong collecting priority. A major cache of Berenice Abbott prints, along with gifts of photographs of and by Black Americans from Frank and Katherine Martucci, have extended the collection into the twentieth century and considerably widened its original scope.
For Europeans, Brig on the Water (1856) was probably the most famous photographic image of the nineteenth century, making a sensational appearance at the Photographic Society of London in fall 1856 due to Gustave Le Gray’s (French, 1820–1884) innovative technique. Despite taking the photograph in full daylight, he achieved a moonlit effect on the sea. The wildly positive reception of this image encouraged Le Gray to continue with his explorations in landscape photography at a time when his main financial backers were pushing him to focus on his portrait business.
In 1914, the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), committed to unity between Africans and the African diaspora. In 1924, he engaged James Van Der Zee (American, 1886–1983) as an official photographer to chronicle the UNIA’s activities. The photograph Marcus Garvey and Garvey Militia, Harlem (1924, printed 1975) stages a dialogue between two viewpoints on the same event. In one image seen in the exhibition, members of Garvey’s militia stand at attention; in an additional image, their leader is seen fourth from right in the front row of the grandstand. Van Der Zee’s Wedding Day, Harlem (1926, printed 1975) metaphorically compresses into a single image the wedding of a young couple and the birth of a child. This “ghost image” achieved through double exposure was probably meant to convey well wishes of health, family, and prosperity to the newlyweds.
Between the 1850s and the 1880s, Eadweard Muybridge (American, b. England, 1830–1904) and Jules Étienne Marey (French, 1830–1904) pursued experiments in chronophotography, or successive photographs of a moving object, to better understand human and animal locomotion. Marey, a trained scientist and physiologist, sought measurable, verifiable evidence for how movement occurred. The “photographic gun” that he designed in 1882, which could take twelve consecutive frames per second and record them on one photographic surface, nourished developments in the budding motion picture industry.
Portraits by Berenice Abbott on view in the exhibition include a selection of images of individuals who had noted public profiles in the 1920s. They include Portrait of Sylvia Beach (1926, printed 1982), Portrait of Charles “Buddy” Gilmore (1927, printed 1982), Portrait of Jean Cocteau (1927, printed 1982), Portrait of Djuna Barnes (1925–30, printed 1982), and Portrait of Eugène Atget (1927, printed 1982).
In the decades surrounding the American Civil War, caricatured or pejorative imagery of Black Americans was rampant, reflecting prevailing nineteenth-century attitudes and prejudices. Photography allowed artists and sitters who had been excluded from traditional artistic endeavors to have a hand in shaping their own portrayal. In particular, ambrotypes and tintypes—which produced a single inexpensive print that could be made while the sitter waited—offered Black Americans new opportunities for self-representation. In an image by an unidentified photographer, two gentlemen, perhaps two brothers or a father and son, are dressed in formal clothing and look at the camera with confident gazes. In Portrait of an Unknown Man (c. 1860s–1870s), a Black man in a civilian coat and vest wears a visor that resembles military caps from the Civil War, suggesting he may have served in the military.
Portrait of a Man (c. 1879–91), taken by Edward J. Souby (American, d. 1907), shows a young Black man. An inscription on the back indicates that the sitter was seventeen years old and gives instructions to return the photo to the sender.
Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916) was the first artist of international renown to live and work in California. He moved from New York during the Gold Rush and went on to make nearly 1,300 mammoth plates (very large photographic plates), almost 5,000 stereographic views (double images designed to yield a three-dimensional picture when viewed through a device called a stereograph), and an unknown number of other works. More than 175 of the mammoth-plate pictures and nearly 500 stereographs were created in and around what is now Yosemite National Park, a place with which Watkins was closely associated over a thirty-year period. The photographs on view date from Watkins’s second campaign of mammoth-plate picturemaking in Yosemite, in 1865–66, when he was traveling with the California State Geological Survey.
Anne Leonard, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs delivers a free lecture on the two exhibitions, 50 Years and Forward: British Prints and Drawings Acquisitions and 50 Years and Forward: Works on Paper Acquisitions on Saturday, December 16 at 11 am in the Clark’s auditorium, located in the Manton Research Center.
A full slate of public programs is available at clarkart.edu/events.