Art of the Week

PreColumbian, Mayan (Costa Rica)
Early Classic Tall Necked Jar with Negative Painting of Underworld Creatures, 250-550
Ceramic, 19 cm. h.
Loan of Dr. J. Philip Keeve ‘48

The Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the Pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to AD 250), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. AD 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.

Maya art of their Classic Era (c. 250 to 900 CE) is of a high level of aesthetic and artisanal sophistication. The carvings and the reliefs made of stucco at Palenque and the statuary of Copán, show a grace and accurate observation of the human form that reminded early archaeologists of Classical civilizations of the Old World, hence the name bestowed on this era. We have only hints of the advanced painting of the classic Maya; mostly what has survived are funerary pottery and other Maya ceramics, and a building at Bonampak holds ancient murals that survived by chance. A beautiful turquoise color (‘Maya Blue’) survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics. Late Preclassic murals of great artistic and iconographic perfection have been recently discovered at San Bartolo. With the decipherment of the Maya script it was discovered that the Maya were one of the few civilizations where artists attached their name to their work.

Mayan ceramics are important in the study of the Pre-Columbian Maya culture of Mesoamerica. Through the years, the vessels took on different shapes, colors, sizes, and purposes. The intense artistic mosaics that grace the walls of the ancient masterpieces reveal stories of rulers, the underworld (Xibalba), Mayan creation, and even the particular function of the vessel. Used for a plethora of daily activities, such as the storage of food and beverages, ceramics were also a canvas of commemoration. The utilitarian ware of the common people usually possessed only modest decoration. The funerary ware of the elite was often more elaborate. Strategic Mesoamerican ballgames, rituals, and death were key subjects painted or inscribed on the vessels.

Middle Preclassic (900/800-250 BC) Late Preclassic (250 BC-250 AD): Early Mayan ceramics stemmed from a past that began even years before the Maya became a group. Originally, the early Maya used gourds cut into useful shapes to create vessels to carry liquids and foodstuffs. These portable and durable gourds made excellent containers. The first ceramics closely resembled gourds and many were decorated with rocker stamps and simple slips. During the Late Preclassic period, many of the ceramics took on appendages of tetrapod mammiform supports. These supports were four legs underneath the pot holding it up. Characteristic cream-on-red stripes colored these unique vessels.

The pottery of the Maya Early Classic dated from 250 to 550 AD. The Maya soon began using polychrome slip paint, meaning they used many different colors to decorate the pots. This method of decoration became almost homogeneous for Mayan potters, thus signaling the beginning of the Classic Period. The Classic Period of the Maya provided beautiful ceramics in many forms. The lidded basal flange bowl was a new style of potter to add to the already growing repertoire. This type vessel usually had a knob on top in the form of an animal or human head, while the painted body of the animal or human spreads across the pot. Many of these pots also had mammiform supports, or legs. These unique vessels are usually found in great condition signaling a ritual function.

Negative painting includes both true and false techniques. In the former the design itself is painted in a protective substance, presumably hot wax, over which a coat of a darker pigment is applied; a subsequent melting of the protective substance reveals the lighter design. In the false technique, the darker background is painted around the light design.

Ancient Maya pottery classification, analysis, and interpretation / Gainesville : University Press of Florida, c2013.
Arnold, Dean E., Social change and the evolution of ceramic production and distribution in a Maya community. Boulder, Colo. : University Press of Colorado, c2008.
Maya iconography / Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1988. F1435.3.A7 M27 1988

Art of the Week

American, Anonymous, 19th century
Basilica di San Marco, Venice, 1850-95
Albumen, 39 x 52 cm.

Early in the 1800’s, the first experiments took place attempting to make images on paper surfaces that had been coated with light sensitive material. The process worked, but a lot of logistical problems needed to be solved. The first major problem was making the captured image on the chemical coated surface permanent. This problem was finally solved with the Daguerrotype image and made a huge impact on the world when it was announced in 1839. However other difficulties remained to be solved. When this process was perfected enough for common use, for the first time ever, portrait studios popped up all over the place. For a very small cost, people could get their portrait made. Finally, we begin to see photographs of poor and working class people who could now afford a family portrait once in a while.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the rapid development and increasing recognition of the art of photography, along with a growing fascination with other countries and cultures, marked the beginning of the formation of a “global visual culture.” In the decades following the invention of photography in 1839, professional photographic firms appeared in the major cities of Western Europe, as well as in more remote travel destinations such as Greece, Egypt, India, Asia, and the Middle East. The earliest travel photographers produced images primarily for publications which functioned as surrogates for travel, spurring curiosity and inspiring Grand Tour travelers who, by the 1870s and ’80s, were flocking to exotic sites to visit the monuments of the ancient and medieval past.

Catering to this influx of European and American tourists, a growing number of travel photographers documented historical monuments and archeological sites, as well as scenes of daily life. Technological developments enabled these photographers to produce relatively large numbers of images that were chiefly intended to satisfy the burgeoning tourism trade and the thirst for images of the Orient, the term traditionally used in the nineteenth century to refer to the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. As the techniques of photography became less cumbersome, transporting equipment became more practical. Photographers began to sell their pictures on-site to tourists who collected them as souvenirs during their travels.

These unique photographs have artefactual value for the history of photography, as well as documentary value for the study of the architectural and social history of the regions in which they were produced. Since the nineteenth century, many of the monuments recorded in these images have been altered through architectural restoration, damaged, or, in some cases, completely destroyed. Images on glass plates and paper are often the only surviving records of these monuments and of certain aspects of nineteenth-century daily life in both urban and rural areas. The nineteenth-century travel photograph also provides a singular historical record, documenting cultures and landscapes that have been radically altered by development and modernization.

Mace, O. Henry. Collector’s guide to early photographs / Radnor, Pa. : Wallace-Homestead Book Co., c1990. TR15 .M24 1990

  • Lindquist-Cock, Elizabeth. The influence of photography on American landscape painting, 1839-1880 / New York : Garland Pub., 1977. ND1351.5.L56 1977
  • Photography : the whole story / Munich : New York ; Prestel Publishing, 2012. TR15 .P479 2012

American century of photography 1840-1940. Camera (english Edition)., June 1978, Vol. 57, p3-41, 39p
Photography and American history. Camera (english Edition)., December 1976, Vol. 55, p3
Photography in America. By: Jay, Bill. British Journal of Photography, July 11 1980, Vol. 127, p660-663, 4p
The Camera and the Press: American Visual and Print Culture in the Age of the Daguerreotype/A Familiar Strangeness: American Fication and the Language of Photography, 1839-1945. By: Saltz, Laura. CAA Reviews, 1/10/2013, p1-4, 4p; DOI: 10.3202/

Art of the Week

Stanley Lewis (1941-)
O. C. Backyard, 1985
Oil on paper

Lewis draws and paints on- site what he sees, his own backyard, views of Lake Chautauqua where he teaches in summer, the Westport train station near his children’s homes, the hemlock tree out his window or the studio where he works. A modest feat yet endowed with incredible ambition- “It almost kills me!”

The proposition is a constant that all painting is abstract. A problem solver by his own admission, Lewis works for years on a drawing or painting attempting to grasp the detail, “the little things,” while holding on to the planes of the painting or surface of the drawing. In the current exhibition both the paintings and works on paper reveal his ambitious cut and assemble process as he marries the minute with the whole. The canvas is cut and added to, piled on layers of paper and canvas unified by an active painted surface. Similarly, the works on paper are multi-layered resulting in a bas relief as in Hemlock Trees Seen from Upstairs Window in the Snow, where the layers work both as cubist planes as well as single twigs.

His gloppy paint surfaces are aggressive and sensual though he differs in that he is much more involved with a direct naturalistic transcription of the casual, disheveled, white bread American subjects.  These he paints directly and laboriously on the spot, including everything in his field of vision, weeds, trash, cars, power lines, etc. Lewis is a master colorist. His unfailingly authoritative skill for painting real, rich and crystalline.

Stanley Lewis, or Stanley Lewis is an artist and art teacher. He was a member of the Bowery Gallery in New York City from 1986 to 2008 and is still a member of Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is represented by Lohin Geduld Gallery in New York City. His work has been shown recently at Salander O’Reilly Galleries. An Emeritus professor from American University, Lewis also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1969 to 1986, and currently teaches part-time at the New York Studio School. In addition, Lewis has taught at Smith College, and the Parsons School of Design. In 2001, he was Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College. Recent group exhibitions in 2009 include the American Academy of Arts & Letters Invitational; Haverford College and Gross-McCleaf Gallery, Pennsylvania. Lewis has been the recipient of many awards, including the Altman Prize, a Henry Ward Ranger Purchase Award from the National Academy of Design, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. He was also a Danforth Fellow. There was a major retrospective of Lewis’ work at the American University Museum in the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C. in 2007. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and received both a BFA and an MFA from the Yale School of Art.

Professor Michael Bogin on Stanley Lewis:
Metaphor in painting; the struggle for a tradition. By: ROSENTHAL, Deborah. Arts Magazine, June 1978, Vol. 52, p136-141, 6p

Art of the Week

Conrad Marca-Relli (1913-2000, U.S.)
Meeting Place, 1982
Lithograph on Somerset paper, 65 x 79 cm.
Gift of Kenneth L. Halsband ‘88

“Collage forces you to think and clarify ideas, with regard to both space and volumes. This discipline obliges me to think in terms of forms, outlines, real and imagined spaces, so as not to fall into the temptation of thinking that nature is a reality.” Marca-Relli

Conrad Marca-Relli was a Boston-born painter and sculptor who belonged to the early generation of New York School Abstract Expressionist artists. Following a period of painting Surrealist inspired imagery, Marca-Relli made a critical breakthrough with large-scale collage paintings that frequently drew inspiration from the human form to create abstract compositions of interlocking curves and angles. He is considered to be one of the first artists to raise the art of collage to a status comparable with monumental painting, which paved the way for the large “combine paintings” of the Neo-Dada artists of the 1960s.

Early in his career, Marca-Relli recognized that for abstraction to be emotionally moving, the use of psychologically affecting shapes and textures were necessary. Contours and shapes in his work were therefore based on imagined architectural themes or figure arrangements but were deliberately left ambiguous.

Marca-Relli took a constructive approach to image making, building up surfaces by cutting out and applying shapes to canvas or metal supports. He did not seek gestural movement or uncontrolled spontaneity, but sought to create controlled, complex compositions of interlocking forms.

Marca-Relli maintained strong links to Europe throughout his life and did not wish to break from the traditions of the “Old World” unlike many of his contemporaries. He lived and worked in France, Spain, and Italy and looked to European painters from the Renaissance, Cubism, and metaphysical movements for inspiration.

About this particular print:
Edition: 15/150; Signed
Workshop: American Atelier, NY
publisher: Transworld Art, Inc., NY
Authentication: Alex Rosenberg Fine Art, NY
The plate, screen or stone has been canceled, erased or destroyed.

Marca-Relli, Conrad Marca-Relli / New York : Whitney Museum of Modern Art, c1967. ND237 .M238 A62

Art of the Week

Chinese, Song (969-1279)
Bowl with Interior Floral and Leaf Designs
Celadon, 19 cm diam.
Gift of Dr. J. Philip Keeve ‘48

The Song Dynasty was the ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. The Song Dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and the Southern Song. The visual arts during the Song Dynasty were heightened by new developments such as advances in landscape and portrait painting. The elite engaged in the arts as accepted pastimes of the cultured scholar-official, including painting, composing poetry, and writing . In philosophy, Chinese Buddhism had waned in influence but it retained its hold on the arts and on the charities of monasteries.

Most later Chinese ceramics, even of the finest quality, were made on an industrial scale, thus few names of individual potters were recorded. Many of the most renowned workshops were owned by or reserved for the Emperor, and large quantities of ceramics were exported as diplomatic gifts or for trade from an early date. The city of Jingdezhen has been a central place of production since the early Han Dynasty. In 1004, Jingde established the city as the main production hub for Imperial porcelain. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, porcelain made in the city and other southern China kiln sites used crushed and refined pottery stones alone. Untouched by any impurities, the lotus symbolizes purity of the heart and mind and represents long life, humility, honor and tranquility.

Lee, Sherman E. A history of Far Eastern art / Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall, 1994. PERRY QUARTO N7336 .L43 1994       
Du Boulay, Anthony. Christie’s pictorial history of Chinese ceramics / Oxford : Phaidon : Christie’s, 1984. QUARTO NK4165 .D78 1984   
Tregear, Mary. Song ceramics / New York : Rizzoli, 1982. QUARTO NK4165.4.T7 1982
Sophistication of Song Dynasty ceramics. By: Mowry, Robert D.. Apollo (London, England), November 1983, Vol. 118, p394-402, 9p

Art of the Week

Samuel Bak (b.1933)
Landscapes of Jewish Experience: Study of Stars, 1992
Mixed media, 49 x 63 cm.
Gift of Samuel Bak

Bak was born in Vilna. A few years later the area was incorporated into the independent republic of Lithuania. He was eight when the Germans occupied the city. Bak began painting while still a child and, prompted by the well-known Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever, held his first exhibition (in the Vilna ghetto) in 1942 at the age of nine. From the ghetto, his family was sent to a labor camp on the outskirts of the city. Bak’s father managed to save his son by dropping him in a sack out of a ground floor window of the warehouse where he was working; he was met by a maid and brought to the house where his mother was hiding. His father was shot by the Germans in July 1944, a few days before Soviet troops liberated the city. His four grandparents had earlier been executed at the killing site outside Vilna called Ponary. After the war, the young Bak continued painting at the Displaced Persons camp in Landsberg, Germany (1945–48). He also studied painting in Munich. In 1948, he and his mother immigrated to Israel, where he studied for a year at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. After fulfilling his military service, he spent three years (1956–59) at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He then moved to Rome (1959–66), returned to Israel (1966–74), and lived for a time in New York City (1974–77). There followed further years in Israel and Paris, then a long stay in Switzerland (1984–93). From 1993 Bak lived and worked outside Boston, in Weston, Massachusetts. In 2001 he published a detailed autobiography, Painted in Words: A Memoir (Indiana University Press).

Samuel Bak is arguably one of the two or three most important artists dealing with the Holocaust as an integral part of his work. On any list of five his name would appear. “My paintings,” Bak admitted more than a decade ago, “convey a sense of a world that was shattered, of a world that was broken, of a world that exists again through an enormous effort to put everything together, when it is absolutely impossible to put it together because the broken things can never be made whole again. But we still can make something that looks as if it was whole and live with it. And more or less, this is the subject of my painting, whether I paint still lives, or people, or landscapes, there is always something of that moment of destruction there. Even if I do it with very happy and gay colors, it has always gone through some catastrophe.” If he can be said to celebrate anything in this series, it is the stamina of the spirit of Jewish memory, affected and even afflicted by the powers of darkness, but never entirely annulled.

Painted in Words: A Memoir. Indiana University, 2001 (ISBN9780253340481)

Today is the birth anniversary of Samuel Palmer

The Collections of Hobart and William Smith Colleges has 5 prints by Palmer

Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was one of Britain’s greatest artists. He painted familiar scenes – trees, villages, the night sky – but using rich forms and vivid colors. Many are surprised that works that look so bold and modern were painted nearly two centuries ago. Palmer became an artist at a young age and was strongly influenced throughout his career by the work of his friend and mentor William Blake. Palmer’s early work was partly shaped by his interest in the ‘primitive’ artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. For a time, he lived in the Kent village of Shoreham, whose surrounding countryside became his ‘Valley of Vision’. After this he married and spent time in Italy; following his return to London he worked in watercolor and took up etching. In his later years, Palmer suffered a series of personal hardships – including the death of his favorite son – and ended his life living as a recluse.

Palmer, Samuel (1805-81, England) Moeris and Galatea, 1880. Etching, 13 x 19 cm. Gift of Robert North in memory of Marion de Mauriac North ‘32. hws-p-1.
Samuel Palmer died in 1881 and left this plate in an advanced state of completion; the final details were finished by his son. Samuel Palmer had planned a series of ten etched illustrations to accompany the publication of his translation of An English Version of the Eclogues of Virgil as his last major project. However, by the time of his death in 1881, only one etching had been completed. He left the plate of Moeris and Galatea and three other etched plates in an advanced state, but still uncompleted. The final details of this etched work were completed by A.H. Palmer according to his father’s instructions. This etching was designed to accompany Samuel Palmer’s translation of the follow passage from Virgil’s verse:
The cream-bowl set and in our cave recline,
(Its brows with poplar shaded, watch the West),
And timely, with the sun, together rest.

Palmer, Samuel (1805-81, England) Opening the Fold-Early Morning, 1880. Etching, 16 x 23 cm. Gift of Robert North in memory of Marion de Mauriac North ‘32. hws-p-2.
Samuel Palmer’s last completed etching. Samuel Palmer had planned a series of ten etched illustrations to accompany the publication of his translation of the Eclogues of Virgil as his last major project. However, by the time of his death in 1881, only this etching had been completed. He left four other etched plates unfinished – the final details of these four other etched works were completed by A.H. Palmer according to his father’s instructions. This etching was designed to accompany Samuel Palmer’s translation of Virgil’s verse:
Or folded flocks were loose to browse anew
O’er mountain thyme or trefoil wet with dew,
It seems fitting that Samuel Palmer’s last completed etching should have been so perfect a vision of pastoral beauty. This work represents the culmination of a lifetime’s experience in etching and the truly remarkable interplay of light across every aspect of this design is testament to the genius which Samuel Palmer had developed over the years. The extraordinary variety of effect throughout the sky makes dramatic comparison with Samuel Palmer’s first etched work The Willow; whilst every aspect of the artist’s handling, from the illuminated coats of the foreground sheep, to the smoke drifting from the cottage chimney beyond, display the touch of a consummate master of his art.

Palmer, Samuel (1805-81, England) The Early Ploughman, 1861-68. Etching, 17 x 25 cm. Gift of Robert North in memory of Marion de Mauriac North ‘32. hws-p-3.
Considered one of Palmer’s finest compositions, and now quite scarce.
Rural scene showing a ploughman driving a pair of oxen, with plough, towards the left of the image. Birds are taking flight above a bridge to the left of the scene and a figure holding a pot on their head is standing by a line of trees to the right.

Palmer, Samuel (1805-81, England) The Herdsman’s Cottage, 1850. Etching, 12 x 10 cm. Gift of Robert North in memory of Marion de Mauriac North ‘32. hws-p-4.
A beautiful example of Samuel Palmer’s romantic pastoral vision, the ingenious handling of light throughout this etched work is truly remarkable. The year 1850 represents the turning point in Samuel Palmer’s abilities as an etcher, for it was in this year that he unlocked the secret of how to portray the true poetry of nature with a charm which had never been seen in etching before the publication of The Skylark and his creation of this brilliant etching of Sunset – The Herdsman’s Cottage.

Palmer, Samuel (1805-81, England) The Weary Ploughman, 1858. Etching, 19 x 27 cm. Gift of Robert North in memory of Marion de Mauriac North ‘32. hws-p-5.
In the 1850s, however, he took up etching, and produced a sequence of prints in which he recaptured some of the intensity of his visionary Shoreham years. Many of them are twilight or dawn scenes, combining memories of Shoreham with those of his later visit to Italy and his admiration for Claude. Palmer began this plate in May 1858, and etched it in six weeks, reworking it several times. Its alternative title, ‘The Herdsman’, may be more apt, since ploughing would not usually take place during the same month, May, that horse-chestnuts are in blossom.

Lister, Raymond. A catalogue raisonné of the works of Samuel Palmer / Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. QUARTO N6797.P237 A4 1988
Vaughan, William, Samuel Palmer, 1805-1881: vision and landscape / Burlington, VT: Lund Humphries, c2005. N6797.P237 A4 2005
Lister, Raymond. Samuel Palmer and his etchings. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications [1969] NE2195.P218 L5 1969b
Samuel Palmer and the pastoral convention; Beulah and Arcadia. By: PRESSLY, William L. Jr. Record of the Princeton University Art Museum, 1969, Vol. 28 Issue 2, p22-37, 16p