All posts in “Curator’s Soapbox”

Get to Know SAM’s New American Art Curator, Theresa!

Give a warm SAM welcome to Dr. Theresa Papanikolas who joined SAM’s staff last month as our new Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. Theresa is an expert in 20th-century American art who will oversee the development, research, presentation, and care of SAM’s collection of American art and connect it to the contemporary moment. “We’re thrilled that Theresa has joined us,” says Kimerly Rorschach, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She’s an inspired curator who will continue to build on the wonderful American art program started in 2004 by Patricia Junker.”

Theresa comes to SAM from the Honolulu Museum of Art, where she served as Deputy Director of Art and Programs and Curator of European and American Art. She previously held positions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art; Rice University; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. We asked her a few questions so you can learn a little more about what she has planned for SAM’s American art collection in the near future!

SAM: What are your first impressions of Seattle?

Theresa: Well, I got here in December, late at night, although it might have been at about 5 pm. The thing that struck me the most is how early it got dark in the middle of December. I thought I would really struggle with that, but it was no problem. I find Seattle to be such a warm and welcoming city and I’m just so happy to be here.

What has your experience of the art community been so far?

I’ve just started to explore it. I’ve found the immediate community around the museum to be highly professional and very engaged in what’s going on in the world, the art world, and Seattle. Everyone, from the curators to the support staff, is here because they love the museum and they support art. That, to me, has been very energizing. The larger art scene—I’m just starting to get a handle on it.

What do you have planned coming up at SAM?

Right now, I am working on an exhibition that will focus on and celebrate the recent acquisition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Music – Pink and Blue No. 1, a gift from Barney Ebsworth. One of my long-range plans is to reinstall the gallery of American art to tell the story of American art in a way that seems relevant to a contemporary audience and reflects a diverse and multifaceted America.

Tell us about the Georgia O’Keeffe installation!

It’s scheduled for spring 2020. It will be a small show, about 20 works that will look at a moment in O’Keeffe’s early career where she was practicing abstraction rather than flower and desert scenes. I think visitors will find it interesting that she practiced abstraction. This installation will include pretty significant loans.

You’ve focused on O’Keeffe in the past, can you talk a little more about that?

I have done two O’Keeffe exhibitions that reflect time she spent in Hawaii. The Honolulu Museum of Art, where I previously worked, has five O’Keeffe paintings that were all painted in Hawaii. She went there on commission from an advertising firm to do pictures for Dole pineapple juice ads. I was told that she hated Hawaii and was there for only a short period and couldn’t wait to go back to New York. But looking at the pictures, I could not believe that she did not like Hawaii. In the short time she was there she made a connection with the landscape and the things she saw and discovered there. So, I decided to do an exhibition of her work in Hawaii. I was also looking for major artists to show in Honolulu to drive audiences for the museum, and I found out that Ansel Adams had also gone to Hawaii, 20 years after O’Keeffe. He and O’Keeffe were friends. So, I  organized a show of these two artists, both of whom relate to specific places in their work—O’Keeffe with New Mexico and Adams with California and the Southwest—to see what happens when they find themselves in an environment with which they are not familiar, to explore how they developed a sense of place with their work. The show was called Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawaii Pictures. It opened at the museum in 2013 and it traveled to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. A few years later, I was guest curator for Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii for the New York Botanical Garden. In the installation at SAM, I’m excited to focus on an earlier moment in O’Keeffe’s life.

Let’s talk about the collection a little bit.

I’m really looking forward to looking more deeply into the American art collection. I was familiar with SAM’s collection from afar in Honolulu and it has a lot of gems and potential for growth. There are several collectors in town that are dedicated to American art. That’s part of what the reinstall of the collection is—find what is out there, in term of SAM’s collection and local collections, and put together something that speaks to Seattle, American art, and the museum.

Walking around the the American art galleries, is there anything that has jumped out at you?

Certainly Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. It’s just so romantic and big and dramatic. It sucks you in and is obviously a popular piece. I want to build a show around it. It is particularly interesting that the piece tries to evoke a sense of place even though the artist did not visit the location. So, I’ve been thinking about a 19th-century landscape exhibition. One thing that really strikes me about the gallery is the disconnect, the clear separation between the 19th century and the modernist galleries. I have been trying to think about ways to bridge that connection and create more continuity in the chronology of American art.

As an art lover, what else are you excited for at SAM?

I am thrilled about Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer. The way Jeffrey’s work treads on all these different areas: identities, communities, is very interesting to me.

Is there anything else that you want to share? Your new favorite restaurant or…?

Well, I will say that I have been having fun building a wardrobe from scratch. It’s a very different mode of dress in Hawaii—we don’t even wear coats. I live in First Hill so I’m so close to everything and walkability is great. I haven’t had to drive my car once in the two months that I’ve been here!

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Athi-Patra Ruga’s Utopian Vision: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Utopian visionaries are rare these days. If Black Panther moved you to consider what might be possible in the future, there’s an artist who is opening a new portal into the world of possibilities to come and you can see their work at SAM right now as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment. Athi-Patra Ruga introduces characters from a mythical metaverse. You can see what this means in his performances, which are available online. His avatars wear high heels and balloons, ride zebras, walk down dirt roads or city streets, and occasionally swim upside down. He knows how to turn heads and get people to stare at unexpected visions. For this sculpture, he covers a neoclassical bust with beads, flowers, and gems to mock the usual stagnancy of a bronze-cast monument. He has stated that “our statues are an indictment of our poor imagination.” Calling this sculpture The Ever Promised Erection, Ruga says, “The humorous tone of the title points to the fallacy and impotence of the posturing of the nation-state.”

Ruga replaces the failed state with an ideal femme-centric futurist nation called Azania, inspired by rumors of an ideal Africa described in ancient American myths. You can get to know Azania and see their queens and territories by looking at his large-scale tapestries and videos. His tapestry maps record an Ocean of Repentance, where cleansing waters protect and surround islands inhabited by women. It takes a distinctive rigor to create and carry an entire nation in your mind. When meeting Athi-Patra Ruga, you sense him as someone dedicated to keeping his alternative world alive and well. He’s now about to open his first one-person exhibition in London at the Somerset House, and for those who crave utopian universes, Ruga can take you there.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Lawrence Lemaoana’s Cloth Banners: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Laughing at leaders in public can be a welcome release. Lawrence Lemaoana created banners to shout back at the powerful president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Zuma, who was a controversial leader, had many annoying traits. One of his most despised public maneuvers was a tendency to dance as if there were no problems in his midst, and then add the antagonism of raising his fist as a sign of victory. Observers groaned. Lemaoana said of this, “Once the raised fist was a symbol used to motivate the people for a public cause, but here Zuma uses it as a tool to enrich himself, to bolster himself against any criticism or interference.”

In another cloth banner, the artist mimics a newspaper announcing “Things Fall Apart.” As the artist said, “You get hit by those headlines on the side of the road. On the one hand, it’s informative, but it’s also dangerous; there’s almost a propagandistic element to it. It shapes the way we live.” His choice of a cloth known as kanga is another obvious clue of disapproval. When Jacob Zuma went on trial for rape in 2006, he claimed that the young woman wearing a kanga cloth wrapped around her was signaling an invitation to assault her. Lemaoana turned that assault right back at Zuma by making his banners from that cloth, and by offering a chance to laugh or express outrage at Zuma’s dangerous absurdity. See Lemaona’s work as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment at SAM through June 16, 2019, and experience this welcome release.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Newsmaker of the Year, 2008, Lawrence Lemaoana, South African, b. 1982, Cloth applique, 42 1/8 x 31 1/2 in., Private collection, © Lawrence Lemaoana, photo courtesy AFRONOVA GALLERY. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Amy Sherald’s Archetypes: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Unless you’re looking at this image on a gigantic screen with perfect resolution, you’re missing the impact of this Saint Woman. She’s slightly larger than life, which fits the premise of the artist who elevates her subjects to a status that goes beyond our normal vision. Amy Sherald paints portraits that are not trying to convince you they are a substitute for the actual person. Instead, she paints archetypes. She is taking the time to change our minds about what a portrait can be, an evocation of a saint whose name you do not know, but who is standing and waiting for you to recognize them.

This saint is surrounded by a halo of what may appear as bright yellow on your screen. If you’re just seeing a flat expanse of color, you’re missing the depth of a painted surface that is full of nuance, with swirling dimensions that activate this setting. The same nuances of color are true of the skin, which is in variations of gray. Amy Sherald chose this color shift for a reason, “to exclude the idea of color as race.” She also has this woman’s body face forward, while her head is turned in profile. What captures her attention is unknown, and it challenges you to wonder why she’s holding herself so still while her dress is blown in a breeze of urgency. It’s the stance of a saint who’s worth coming to see in person. Visit her with a trip to see In This Imperfect Present Moment, an installation of artworks by 15 artists conveying vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Saint Woman, 2015, Amy Sherald, American, b. 1973, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in., Private collection, photo courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Greetings from the Institute of Empathy

The Institute is glad to announce that their installation of lessons is on view at Seattle Art Museum. Three Empathics now oversee the production of  transformative vapors and invite you to sit with them in Lessons from the Institute of Empathy in the Seattle Art Museum’s African Art galleries, to invigorate your mental clarity.

Better yet, you are also invited to step into their restorative pool and partake of a mosaic shower from above. A 10 minute power point given by a representative from the Institute, Aurelia Wallace, is also available to explain the lessons on view.

The Institute wants to thank everyone who sticks their necks out to facilitate their work, and suggested a poem full of empathy to honor their efforts.

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Installation view Lessons from the Institute of Empathy, 2018, Seattle Art Museum, photos: Natali Wiseman
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Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: Helga Testorf

“The difference between me and a lot of painters is that I have to have a personal contact with my models . . . . I have to become enamored. Smitten. That’s what happened when I saw Helga.” – Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth painted Helga Testorf in secret for 13 years before the world, and his wife, saw the paintings for the first time. The secrecy and intimacy of these paintings stirred quite the scandal when they were first exhibited and they continue to be a source of much conjecture into the details surrounding Wyeth’s relationship with one of his greatest muses. Find out more about the character of Helga both within, and outside of, Wyeth’s life and paintings during a talk given by Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, in the Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect galleries.

“Remember, he’s a Bergman . . . He’s creating a world they [his models] don’t realize and they’re acting out a part without any script.” – Betsy Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect is on view at Seattle Art Museum through January 15 and the next Wyeth Wednesday tour with Patricia Junker will take place January 3.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

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Crepin

The Ins and Outs of Acquisitions: A Newly Discovered French Masterpiece

Adding a piece to a museum collection is an involved process. In the case of Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, a painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin, the first interaction was on a trip to London when Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European and Sculpture got an email from Christie’s auction house in London about a private sale of a uniquely important painting.

Museum curators continually consider art for the museum’s collection. They assess intellectual and historical importance of artworks, ownership, relevance to the larger collection, as well as condition, potential costs for conservation, framing, display, and storage. SAM’s collection includes approximately 25,000 objects, with 36 new artworks acquired so far in 2017.

To acquire a work of art, the curator has to first convince the director and then the Committee on Collections (COC), an advisory group of board members and community arts leaders, who, in turn, make recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Board, which has the final vote.

To give you a peek into the acquisition process, below is the curatorial argument for this newly acquired painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin.

This painting represents a shipwreck of two launches from the famous French Enlightenment-era expedition led by Count Jean-François de La Pérouse, which reached Alaska in July 1786. The ships were getting ready to leave Lituya Bay when two boats were caught up in violent tidal currents and one boat capsized. The second vessel may have tried to rescue the sailors but itself went under. This painting was commissioned by the family of two brother officers who were killed in this event, and it was enthusiastically reviewed when it was displayed at the 1806 Salon. It has been in the family since that time.

La Pérouse’s expedition into the Pacific Northwest followed celebrated efforts by Spanish and British explorers in the previous decade. Scientific inquiry was a primary motivation, but the explorers were also seeking political advantage for their governments. On July 2, 1786 the expedition arrived at a previously uncharted bay on the Alaskan coast. La Pérouse named it Port des Français, but we know it today as Lituya Bay. After successfully navigating the rocky entrance to the bay, the crews set up camp, planning to stay for a month to explore the bay and glaciers on the mainland at the northeast end of the bay. They concluded their investigations sooner than planned and made ready to leave on July 13. Two boats were sent ahead to sound the channel near the perilous entrance to the bay so that they could chart the depth; one officer miscalculated the distance from the rocks and found his boat engulfed by a sudden high tide. Both boats capsized, and twenty-one men were lost in ten minutes.

The painting closely follows La Pérouse’s own narrative of the disaster and draws on images by the professional artists who illustrated the Atlas du voyage de La Pérouse. The two endangered boats teeter in the foreground amid boulders and high waves as a third tries vainly to reach them. The two mother ships emerge from behind Observatory Island (after the tragedy, La Pérouse redubbed this Cenotaph Island). The urgent efforts of the sailors caught up in the roiling waves are set against the majestic backdrop of the Fairweather mountain range. At the right, gesturing from a rock, are two members of the Tlingit tribe, witnesses to the event, who searched in vain for survivors, according to La Pérouse. The interaction with the French and the story of the shipwreck would remain part of the Tlingit oral tradition.

Crépin captures the men’s desperate actions as conditions suddenly changed. The two La Borde brothers, in the boat at right, offer a line to their doomed comrades just before they too are swept under. The terrible drama is all in the foreground, at eye level. Beyond the turbulent waves in the pass the bay is calm, the mountains of the Fairweather range are impassively still, and the sky is clear and blue.

Born in Paris, Louis-Philippe Crépin was a specialist in marine painting who had trained under celebrated artists Claude-Joseph Vernet and Hubert Robert. His interest in marine subjects kindled by Vernet, Crépin made his debut at the Salon of 1796 with a painting of the port of Brest. His primary patron throughout his long career would be the Naval Ministry of the government. Many of his works are in the National Maritime Museum in Paris, while others are in provincial museums throughout France. This work would likely be the first painting by Crépin in an American museum.

This painting transcends the standard conventions of marine painting. It stands alone within the artist’s oeuvre, achieving a peak of clarity, drama, and pathos that are typical of more highly valued history painting. The prestige of the La Pérouse expedition, the spectacular American landscape, and the portraits of the Laborde brothers make this one of  Crépin’s most outstanding works. In his review of the 1806 Salon, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Chaussard singled out the painting: “But the most beautiful painting by M. Crépin, and the one which most attracted the attention of art lovers and artists, was the Shipwreck of the Dinghies of M. de la Peyrouse. It is in this tragic event that he has deployed all his genius and all the resources of his art. The scene is represented with a touching simplicity, and yet with an energy which inspires at once terror and pity. There are no superfluous figures or accessories: all dramatic interest is in the truth of the action. . . . In sum, this painting promises that he is the rightful successor to Vernet, and that no other country has produced a rival to match this celebrated man.”

In addition to the painting’s superb quality, it has never been on the market, remaining in the family that commissioned it for over 200 years. This undoubtedly has contributed to its excellent state of preservation. The Empire frame, an impressive part of its visual impact, is from the same period as the painting.

Like the curators of the Salon, Ishikawa saw something exceptional in this work that lent itself to SAM’s focus. “It offers an insight into the European perspective of the Northwest as an uncharted area that hadn’t been recorded—the wonder and exoticism. Count Jean-François de La Pérouse who led the expedition to Lituya Bay, which at the time he named the Bay of the French, though it was clear by the trading skills of the Tlingit that this expedition was not the first to find this bay.” Ishikawa continues to point out that, “Crépin is not a famous artist but this is a painting that transcends its genre. It’s an impressive and successful example of human drama.” See this painting installed in Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment, opening December 23. Accompanied by the return of  Volaire’s much admired Eruption of Mount Vesuvius with Ponte della Maddalena in the Distance, painted around the same time as the Crépin and last seen hanging at SAM this spring in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, this installation will instill a very human awe and fear in the face of nature’s power.

Image: Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, 1806, Louis-Philippe Crepin, French, 1772-1851, oil on canvas, 40 15/16 × 58 11/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, European Art Acquisition Fund; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund; by exchange Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband; Gift of Arthur F. Ederer; H. Neil Meitzler, Issaquah, Washington; Col. Philip L. Thurber Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick; The late Mr. Arrigo M. Young and Mrs. Young in memory of their son, Lieut. (j.g.) Lawrence H. Young; Phillips Morrison Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Oswald Brown, in memory of her parents Simeon and Fannie B. Leland; Gift of Miss Grace G. Denny in memory of her sister Miss Coral M. Denny; Gift of friends in memory of Frank Molitor; Purchased from funds contributed in memory of Henry H. Judson; Purchased from the bequest of Charles M. Clark; Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr.; Norman and Amelia Davis Collection; Norman Davis Collection; Mrs. Cebert Baillargeon, in memory of her husband, 2017.15.
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Deepwater Ladies

Drawing Practice: Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards

At the invitation of our colleagues at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA, Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, juried this year’s Belingham National, on view now through September 10. Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art at Whatcom, describes the biennial art exhibition and award as relatively new. “The Whatcom Museum’s first biennial was inaugurated in 2015. Patricia Leach, the museum’s director, envisioned the Bellingham National as a way to bring the rich variety of art created around the country to our region. Although the museum is committed to supporting Pacific Northwest art, it has increasingly embraced a wider, cultural scope,” says Matilsky. “The Bellingham National has attracted the attention of  Washington artists, which means that their work is well represented here. Community reaction has been as varied as the works of art on display. One thing that I have noticed: The exhibition challenges people to think about art in new ways, which is ultimately a good thing. It also offers the invited curator a unique opportunity to explore ideas related to a particular theme or medium of her/his choice.”

This year’s call for submissions focused on drawing, an activity and mode of expression that seems overdue in light of our ever-increasing attachment to electronic devices. Catharina Manchanda’s interest in exploring how contemporary artists are approaching the medium is at once a reaction to new media art forms and an acceptance of drawing that utilizes new media. “As we are clicking and tapping away, drawing and writing are becoming increasingly rare. Drawing has an immediacy and material quality that registers differently under these digital conditions. Its very ‘slowness’ becomes significant at a time when a flood of imagery and information keeps shortening our attention spans. From a more linguistic and conceptual vantage point, drawing connections, drawing on memory and history, and drawing understood as notation and trace, opens distinct possibilities for artists,” Manchanda states. “Not surprisingly, artists submitted work in a variety of mediums—from pencil drawings to annotated collages, videos, and sound recordings.”

Matilsky embraced what visitors may find a somewhat unorthodox perspective on drawing. “I share Catharina’s expansive view of drawing and was delighted that she was able to identify artworks that further pushed the boundaries of the medium. The sound and video pieces that she selected surprised me and added to the complexity of the exhibition.”

Featuring over 60 works from 29 artists around the country, below Catharina Manchanda offers a glimpse into a selection of the works on view. Get yourself to Bellingham and see this spectrum of artistic positions with and about drawing.

Margie Livingston, Seattle, WA

Dragged Blue Drawing

The artist arrives at these lyrical compositions with controlled chance operations. Heavy sheets of paper are tinged with color and then dragged on the studio floor or the street where the movement creates a chance image. Embedded in the surfaces are dust and dirt, portions are rubbed and worn and yet the overall drawings have a quiet lyricism.

Kelly Bjork, Seattle, WA

Splayed Produce

Kelly Bjork’s quiet interiors are beautifully rendered with an eye for crisp color and form. Embedded in her compositions and titles is a sparkling sense of humor—Tiger Overhead and Splayed Produce project an element of danger and adventure that’s there for you to discover.

Lou Watson, Portland, OR

The artist takes the most ordinary traffic patterns and movements as occasion for artistic intervention. For the Bellingham National, she chose a spot along I-5 and ascribed a musical note to each of the lanes. Every time a car went past a traffic sign, it triggered a tone—a little car a short note, a long truck a longer one. With this, she composed a minimalist score from the monotonous back and forth of highway traffic. The movement of the cars along the road is linear like a drawing and her paper prints give insights into her process.

Masha Sha, Boulder, CA

overthinkingthinkingover

Sha’s vivid, large-scale pencil or crayon drawings spell out phrases that invite free association. Whether you see her bright red  “New Now” today, tomorrow or in ten years, it will always be the now of the moment. Drawn with intensity, we may interpret that now in personal, communal, social, or political terms and it will mean different things to each of us.

Kirk Yamahira, Seattle, WA

untitled [stretched]

Kirk Yamahira deconstructs the fabric of a  canvas—he carefully lifts individual threads—to arrive at abstract lines and patterns that read like three-dimensional drawings. In some instances an additional tilt of the stretcher results in objects that are utterly transformed.

Images: Deepwater Ladies, Kelly Bjork, 2016, 7 x 9 in. Dragged Blue Drawing, Margie Livingston, 2016, watercolor and mixed media on paper, string, sheet size: 15 x 11 in. Splayed Produce, Kelly Bjork, 2016, Gouache and pencil, 19 x 15 in. View of I-5/Mt Ashland, 11am on a Thursday, video courtesy of the artist. overthinkingthinkingover, Masha Sha, graphite on paper, 48 x 148 in. untitled [stretched], Kirk Yamahira, 2017, acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas, 67 x 67 in.
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Seeing Nature through The Eyes of Curators: Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Impressionism

Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather

One of Paul Allen’s favorite periods is obviously French Impressionism, and he has some exquisite examples. In Seeing Nature there are five paintings by Claude Monet. Monet had such a long life that he underwent a long evolution based on seeing and communicating his subjective experience to the viewer.

Monet was constantly trying to forget what he knew and what his mind told him—such as that if a stone building is brown it should be depicted as brown. He wanted to forget logic and just paint what he saw. In Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, London was beset by terrible pollution and it created a very foggy atmosphere. For Monet, those atmospheric effects made for a series of beautiful paintings where you can subtly perceive the fact that there’s a bridge before you with smoke stacks beyond. The brushstrokes depicting sunlight coming through the arches of the bridge have more substance than the bridge itself. He was interested in the changing color effects of different times and days so he painted the Waterloo Bridge at different times of day.

Landscape on île Saint-Martin, Claude Monet, 1881.

Landscape on île Saint-Martin

Earlier in his career, Monet didn’t have the luxury of going far afield to paint. It took him years to be able to make a living. Landscape on île Saint-Martin and The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather are from the early 1880s when he was still years away from becoming successful. He painted where he was living with his family. During one summer, Monet was on a little island just north of Paris and painted it in all of its summertime glory with this beautiful field of poppies. There is a little fisherman’s cabin that used to be a watchtower right on the Normandy coast, an area of his childhood that he would return to many times over the years. These paintings reward looking close up, but they also reward standing back and taking in the whole—he’s thinking about both perspectives at the same time.

The Fisherman's House, Overcast Weather, Claude Monet, 1882.

The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather

Claude Monet painted Venice fairly late in his career. It’s important to mention The Palazzo da Mula in conjunction with View in Venice–The Grand Canal by Edouard Manet. Manet was such an inspiration for Monet. Though he never called himself an Impressionist, Manet was absolutely fundamental to the movement. It’s interesting that both artists went to Venice—Manet painting in 1874 and Monet in 1908. By this time there is a historical body of work that artists have created about Venice. There are conventions about what Venetian paintings look like and both of these artists are interested in breaking those conventions.

The Palazzo da Mula, Claude Monet, 1908.

The Palazzo da Mula

Manet’s painting is particularly radical. He is right on the water. It’s as though he’s painting in a boat. All of the grand views, the many beautiful buildings that intersect with the sky and water, are not his main subject. The dome, which was originally much bigger—there’s a pentiment that shows through a little bit now—he suppresses it. He doesn’t want that to be the main event. He’s instead much more interested in the mooring poles that are part of the navigational system of all the boat traffic in Venice.

View in Venice–The Grand Canal, Edouard Manet, 1874.

View in Venice–The Grand Canal

When you see just the prow of the gondola come into the picture, it reminds you that photography has become part of the visual vocabulary by this time. A view can be cut off like a snapshot and a form can end abruptly. It’s not composed in that traditional way, it almost looks like a found view although he obviously worked at it. To me, this painting is an antidote to the kind of more melancholy mysterious aspect of Venice, which is so much a part of its literary reputation. This is more about a bustling city full of movement. It’s full of vigor and sparkling light in the middle of the day.

– Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

See these and other Impressionist artworks in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, on view at SAM through May 23.

Note: This text is taken from an audio recording of a staff tour of the exhibition led by SAM curators.
Images: Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, 1904, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 9/16 x 39 1/8 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Landscape on île Saint-Martin, 1881, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 28 13/16 x 23 5/8 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather, 1882, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 22 3/4 x 28 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. The Palazzo da Mula, 1908, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 26 1/6 x 36 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. View in Venice–The Grand Canal, 1874, Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883, oil on canvas, 22 9/16 x 18 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection.
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