The Mitchell Gallery

The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery

Angiography by Norman Baker

15 Angiography

Norman Baker, Angiography, 2013, Digital photomicrograph (x60)

If I have a purpose in writing these blogs, specifically during this exhibition, I believe it is only to deepen the confusion about these works. My question still stands, what makes these works art? For we’ve taken these pictures from the lab, placed them in a gallery, and called them art, with no real objection from anyone. I do not wish to object either, for there is a kind of artistic beauty in what I see.

The common objection thrown at these pieces is that there is a lack of artistic control in how the piece is created. We may find a nice rhythm or our eye drawn to what we may call the movement of the piece, but these seem to have emerged by chance and not choice. If this is true, and we understand the work in this way, the viewer is given a large advantage for their understanding of art.

For we have in front of us art which, in our understanding, has no real composer behind it, but still can be viewed aesthetically. The viewer in here can use this work to determine something of their own artistic sensibilities. What in these natural works draws our attention? What do I find most pleasing? When we view these works as artist-less, they become a platform for us to sound out our own natural sensibilities.

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support:
Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

 Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.

Sponsored by:

CMI Logo 300

—Will Harrington, SJC Student (A20)

Advertisements

Agar petri dishes by Norman Barker

hiddenbeautyart04

Norman Barker, Agar petri dish, (detail), 2013, Digital microscopic photography

What is the beauty behind medical science? When viewed as a work without context, the closest analogue to a picture like the one above is some picture from one of the abstract movements which deal purely with shape and color—take an example from Rothko or Josef Albers. But, of course, while the content can be taken this way, giving a short thought to what’s being represented (or not) will help the differences shine through. We can leave aside for now the question of the beauty of abstract art, though it is certainly of some importance to considering this work. When looking at this work for what it is (a photograph of some petri dishes), a good question to may be: what is beautiful about the objects of medical science?

If I say anything more than this, I will no longer remain comfortably within the realm of what I think I understand, but I want to stress the importance of the question. One of the distinguishing marks of the work of art is what we can call choice (or aesthetic choice). By this I only mean that—and here let us think about the abstract painters mentioned before—what is created is created by a couple decisions with their eye towards an effect on the individual: what specific color to use, where it is positioned, how much space it gets, and what it is paired with (these considerations are of particular importance to Josef Albers). And, of course, this idea can become complicated in examples: Jackson Pollock, for instance, seems to rely on chance in his method. Nevertheless, the scientific photograph is meant to convey something different. The objects of the photo are meant for the scientist to observe and gain knowledge. The arrangement and choice of subject serve to show differences or reveal patterns; or, to observe what cannot be seen with the naked eye. This is what I see as the difference: the one has its eye on beauty and one on understand.

No matter, I still hear visitors come into the gallery and say “my, this is beautiful.” All my headiness aside, I still take pleasure in viewing these photos. So, as it seems to me, the question still stands: what is beautiful about the objects of medical science?

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support:
Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

 Gifts in kind: Art Things, Inc. and Up.St.Art Annapolis Magazine.

Sponsored by:

CMI Logo 300

—Will Harrington, St. John’s Student (A20)

A Fountain in Moonlight by Carl Gustav Carus

266210v_0001.jpg

Carl Gustav Carus, (1789-1869), A Fountain in Moonlight, ca. 1854-1857, Charcoal with white opaque watercolor on blue paper, Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2017.24

It was a spur of the moment decision to write on this Carl Gustav Carus piece. Some of the others in the gallery may have stood out more due to their size or oddity, but in one glance I could tell that the Carus piece would make an excellent end-piece to the blogs on this exhibition.

Carus made his living as a physician, and was a landscape painter by passion. He was involved with many from the Romantic movement in art. Both Goethe and Franz Liszt were friends (in fact this painting was given to Liszt as a gift); and he studied under Casper David Friedrich, the renowned landscape painter. In this way he stands among many of the other painters we have in this exhibition: a skilled enthusiast. But the draw that I found towards this painting had more to do with the scene depicted.

When I think of “The Lure of Nature”, it is odd to see this painting. A depiction of a more metropolitan scene stand out from the rest of these paintings. The most obvious object we would call natural, the trees, are depicted as shadow, making the man-made object stand out more. Immediately I thought of our own fair city, and how little nature there seems to be, how much it too could be said to be in shadow. But what, then, attracted Carus to this scene? He could have painted an almost architectural drawing of the fountain alone. But no, we get a night scene. And there I think we have the connection to our city. Carus focuses most on the effect of the moonlight on the scene. That is the nature he is focusing on. And can we not go out, either in day or night, and take joy and observe the effects. This is really the underlying nature we experience in our everyday life, and what we can’t escape from even when we brick over the grass or cut down the trees. So come in and examine what weather is like in the paintings, and then run out and see what you attentions is drawn to in our fair city.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College Student (A20)

“Cloud Study” by Johann Georg von Dillis

Cloud

Johann Georg von Dillis, (1759-1841), Cloud Study, ca. 1810-1820, white chalk on blue paper, Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2010.132

I’ll take up another von Dillis piece this week, but take another tack and focus more on the external circumstances of the work. For the two von Dillis pieces (I wrote on the other last week) on display for this exhibit reflect two related ideas about man’s relationship to nature. Both involve the nature we find in our backyard, and the Cloud Study especially reflects that. It was one of 150 that von Dillis completed in his lifetime, most of which were drawn from clouds seen outside his office window.

The artistic interest in clouds began just after the publication of Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds, a work of early meteorology in which Howard set out the classification system for cloud types and brought into it the Latin names we still use today. The work was championed by the poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote introductory verses for the essay. Quickly, the essay inspired painters to begin to take a greater interest in cloud forms, seen in the large number of cloud studies both von Dillis and, his contemporary, John Constable completed over their lifetimes.

What distinguishes the Cloud Study from the other von Dillis work is the lack of composition. There is no careful placement of a figure among the trees, no careful choice of color emphasize elements. What we are given is a series of light white marks on blue paper: a light and thin cloud, most likely a cirrus. Though I find it difficult to pull meaning out of the painting, as I can from the Forrest View. In the Cloud Study von Dillis is not acting as the painter composing for us a scene showing are relationship to nature, but he is working through his own relationship to nature. He is painting his immediate experience of nature, and that is what is presented to us. In a sense, von Dillis is the woman in the trees.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College Student (A20)

“Forest View with a Woman Sketching” by Johann Georg von Dillis

144248v_0001

Johann Georg von Dillis (1759-1841), Forest view with a Woman Sketching, 1790’s, watercolor over graphite, Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1998.27.

Johann Georg von Dillis was a German painter, who lived during the same period as the subjects of the last two posts, Catel and Turner. Dillis, however, is distinct from these two in that he was not a professional artist but worked mainly as a curator for several galleries in Munich. While his contemporaries would travel through Europe to paint romantic landscapes, or views of historic monuments, von Dillis was mainly constrained to working around home. This allowed him to show a different side of nature than what Turner and Catel would, for the everyday landscape of Upper Bavaria is not as awe-inspiring as that or Lurleiberg or Vesuvius.

What the past two blogs have helped me to understand is that Turner and Catel were drawn to their particular scenes because they saw in them the idea that these forces of nature—the rocks of Lurleiberg, or the doom of Vesuvius—dwarfed man. We become insignificant, as we may be swept up by mere accident at any time; and this becomes a kind of aesthetic lure, similar to that we feel at viewing a tragedy as has already been suggested. This lure of tragic nature took form for Catel as a reminder of an historical fact, and for Turner as an immediate terror. We see in von Dillis’ scene a departure from these views; rather, a turn to a peaceable nature, and one from which we can benefit.

The most striking part of this watercolor is the woman. Von Dillis has chosen to give her no color and surround her with the darker shade of the trees, which has the effect of making her the whitest object in the piece. In classical watercolor, white is not used but is depicted by the absence of color. In this watercolor, he uses this effect to create both the shade of the woman and the effect of sunlight through the trees. This choice can bring us to two understandings of von Dillis’ view of nature. First, we notice that the woman stands out prominently from the rest of the scene. She is not dwarfed by the rest of the watercolor, as are the figures in both the previous two works. They have become subsumed in the terrifying edifices and prominent reminders; she is small in comparison, but is not lost in the forest. Second, we can associate her with the sunlight. In doing so she seems to become a part of one aspect of the landscape—the sunlight. Is this association showing us that she is somehow transcending over nature? Von Dillis has given us a depiction of nature in which we may see the beneficial side of our relationship to it. We are not merely lost in the awe, but can gain benefit from venturing into it.

 

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College Student (A20)

“Lurleiberg” by J.M.W. Turner

turner_1997.14

J.M.W.Turner (1775-1851), Lurleiberg, 19th c. Watercolor, over black chalk, with some scraping, on paper. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1997.14. Photography by Steven H. Crossot, 2014. 

J.M.W. Turner, best known for his grandiose and light-filled landscape, seascape and cityscape paintings found great inspiration in nature, with the possibilities offered by drawing and painting from life. His wild and majestic landscapes are credited with elevating landscape painting to a new and masterful craft. Showing signs of a protégé as a young child, he studied with notable artists and architects, was later admitted to the Royal Academy of Art, and his paintings were accepted and exhibited by the Royal Academy of Art a few years later. He was encouraged by his mentors to pursue landscapes, travel throughout Europe, and sketch from nature. As someone who was attracted to the aesthetics of tragedy and the beauty of nature, many of his works depict scenes of shipwrecks or fires. Turner was fascinated by the power of nature and the violent potential it had to destroy everything in its path, ultimately a reminder of the insignificance of human presence in the face of natural forces. 

The watercolor “Lurleiberg” was completed during Turner’s travels throughout Europe along the Rhine river in the early 19th century. Lurleiberg referred to a rocky cliff formation along the Rhine, near the small medieval town of St. Goar, Germany. Lurleiberg was a beautiful, but formidable site where many sailors lost their way through the sharp rocks and relentless fog. It was named after the legendary siren, Lorelei, who lured sailors onto a deadly course. This watercolor is a part of his seven studies done in chalk and watercolor of this particularly scenic stretch of the Rhine where the cliffs grow taller and the waters dive deeper. This watercolor depicts a seemingly calm picture of the Rhine, but the underlying potential for disaster is apparent. This is an impressive scene with towering cliffs, a winding river and a dense fog that invites us in for adventure and beauty, however, the St. Goar length of the Rhine was an eerie graveyard for unlucky sailors trying to make their way through this treacherous passage. The figures, small and quiet, are indifferent to the potential danger around them, while the imposing rocks and the ominous fog set the scene for catastrophe. Turner perfectly captures the dramatic potential of this scene with his hazy light, murky colors and soft edges; there is an opportunity for tragedy and an opportunity for calm. 

One can read this painting and find either contentment or calamity, but neither would be incorrect. There is a certain ambiguity to this painting that intrigues and engages the viewer. Turner captures this in many of his paintings by sketching from life, capturing a specific moment in time with an expressive and vivid lens. The overcast sky and the hazy lighting suggest an uncertain time of day, and either the onset or aftermath of a storm. One could interpret that this symbolizes rebirth and survival after the storm, or one could interpret that this symbolizes an impending death and destruction. The delicate brushstrokes and soft edges create a sense of vagueness, both in the lack of clarity in the painting and the uncertainty of future events. In either case, the painting inspires an emotional response from the viewer, and invites individual interpretation. Turner captures the sublime, in either tragedy or calm, in this watercolor, and calls wonderment in us of this grand and monumental landscape, and the power and emotion of nature.  

Come to the Mitchell Gallery to get a closer look at Turner’s “Lurleiberg” in The Lure of Nature: Landscape Drawings from the Thaw Collection.  

             This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,                                                 with additional support generously provided                                          by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust. 

                                                  This exhibition is generously supported                                          by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers Charitable Trust

–Julianne Levin, Mitchell Gallery Summer Intern 

“View from Castellammare to the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius” by Franz Ludwig Catel

272581v_0001

Franz Ludwig Catel (1778 – 1856) “View from Castellammare to the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius” ca. 1818-1819 Watercolor and gouache, over traces of black chalk, on wove paper. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Photography by Steven H. Crossot, 2014.

Franz Ludwig Catel was a German painter, but launched his career and spent most of his life working in Rome. Catel’s works depicted the Italian landscapes, now idealized by centuries of artists. During Catel’s lifetime, Western civilization was captivated by ideals and aesthetics of the Enlightenment and Neoclassicism. Artists and academics were drawn to nature as well as the ancient world for exploration and inspiration.

In the early 18th century, the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered after centuries buried under layers of volcanic rock, generating international interest and intrigue. Pompeii and Herculaneum were located in the Bay of Naples in Southern Italy, and they were completely covered by the eruption of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD. The volcanic ash and lava filled these cities and preserved the buildings, artifacts and people who lived there. Once discovered, the archeological digs uncovered an entire world of ancient Roman treasures and resources. This new-found wealth of knowledge spread rapidly throughout Europe garnering curiosity from the artistic and academic communities alike. Before these findings, the ancient world was reduced to myth and ruins, but with these miraculous discoveries, questions of the ancient world could be answered and proof of their life and existence could be seen for the first time. This dramatically changed the way in which people understood and experienced the world around them.

People traveled from all over Europe to view the recently uncovered sites in Southern Italy and Greece. It became a tradition, and a rite of passage for many wealthy, upper-class gentlemen to travel on The Grand Tour. Inspired by the ideals of the European Enlightenment, people looked to the ancient world as the foundation for Western civilization, and the epitome of wisdom and beauty. Traveling to the ancient sites for both education and pleasure showed true dedication to culture and refinement. Inspired by the possibilities of capturing the never-before-seen sites, artists would travel to document the ancient architecture and the Italian landscapes. Wealthy travelers on The Grand Tour would commission artists, and buy paintings or sketches of the ancient sites, as mementos of their journey and symbols of their connections to classical antiquity. These sketches are the earliest images that we have of these ancient sites, still widely appreciated and collected today.    

Franz Ludwig Catel’s “View from Castellammare to the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius” depicts the complexity and beauty of this Italian landscape during Catel’s second trip to Naples. Located just outside of Pompeii, Castellammare is another beautiful coastal town with views of Mount Vesuvius looming over the city from every angle. In his drawing Catel depicts a medieval structure surrounded by bystanders on winding pathways through foliage, and Mount Vesuvius sits behind a body of water in the background. The architectural, fortress-like building takes a passive role in this scene and nature takes on the active role, encompassing the page. Catel uses a more commanding brush stroke and more saturated hues with the verdant trees and well-trod pathways, and a delicate touch and lighter hues with the architectural edifices. The stark contrast between the man-made structures and the natural foliage serves as a reminder of the power nature has over human-kind. Framed by both the architecture and trees, Mount Vesuvius takes center stage as the ultimate force of nature. Although the lines and colors are soft and faded, the volcano looks ever powerful and resolute. The bystanders walk peacefully through the countryside undisturbed with Mount Vesuvius in the background. The dominating presence of Mount Vesuvius serves as a bittersweet reminder of that tragic event that destroyed entire cities, and yet preserved a plethora of history for us today.

Franz Ludwig Catel’s “View from Castellammare to the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius,” along with many other works in the exhibition, The Lure of Nature: Landscape Drawings from the Thaw Collection, remind us of the artists’ continued interest in the ancient world and their desire to travel and paint the observable outdoors. Many images on display depict landscapes with ancient Greek and Roman edifices off in the distance, often romanticized or idealized.  

The Lure of Nature: Landscape Drawings from the Thaw Collection is on view through from August 25th through October 15th. Don’t miss the lunchtime Art Express tour on September 6 from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. and Curator Jennifer Tonkovich’s lecture on September 12 at 5:30 p.m.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers Charitable Trust.

—Julianne Levin, Mitchell Gallery Summer Intern