All posts in “Peter Schjeldahl”

Object of the Week: Lucie Léon at the Piano

Berthe Morisot, once dismissed with her fellow Impressionists as a “lunatic” by a contemporary critic, is now the subject of an international touring exhibition that confirms her singular contribution to the movement. After seeing it, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl concluded that she was “the most interesting artist of her generation.” This 180-degree swing in critical appreciation over time is by now familiar—mocked then and later adored—especially with the Impressionists.

An upper class Parisian woman, Morisot could not paint the cabarets, racetracks, and cafés that her male colleagues depicted. Though her subject matter was limited to the domestic realm, she was radical in her bold approach to painting. Her slashing brushwork and sophisticated color animated scenes of women reading or getting ready to go out for the evening, a maid hanging up the laundry, and children in the garden, for example.

Woman at her Toilette, 1875/80 Art Institute of Chicago

Woman at her Toilette, 1875/80
Art Institute of Chicago

In the Garden at Maurecourt, 1884 Toledo Museum of Art

In the Garden at Maurecourt, 1884 Toledo Museum of Art

Woman Hanging Laundry, 1881 Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Woman Hanging Laundry, 1881
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Morisot exhibited her paintings in all but one of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. In the 1890s her style changed. Her angular brushwork, which in the ’70s and ’80s had created a kind of vibration between figure and background, relaxed. Contour and outline now fixed the figure in place, as in the Seattle Art Museum painting of a young pianist looking up from her practice to pose. The slowed-down brushwork and blue palette contribute to a melancholy quality, which is typical of Morisot’s work in the ’90s and perhaps influenced by the new Symbolist movement practiced by Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin, and her friend the poet Stéphane Mallarmé.

Lucie Léon was a musical prodigy who would go on to have an illustrious professional career. But Morisot’s daughter Julie, who was present for the painting sessions in their home, recalled that Lucie was a reluctant sitter who “would have preferred to play croquet.” You can hear her piano playing here:

Berthe Morisot died of the flu in 1895 at the age of 54. During her lifetime she sold no more than 40 works out of over 400 paintings. The exhibition Berthe Morisot/Woman Impressionist, shown in Quebec City, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Paris, will introduce her to many new fans.

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

Image: Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, Berthe Morisot, oil on canvas, Overall: 38 x 33 in., Image: 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel, 91.14.
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Object of the Week: Untitled (Louisiana)

A pioneer of color photography (sometimes even referred to as “the godfather” of color photography), William Eggleston is, for many, synonymous with photographs that evocatively capture the mundane, trivial, and everyday. In the 1960s and 70s, at a time when color photography was largely associated with commercial advertising, Eggleston managed to elevate it into a fine-art form.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Eggleston largely focused his attention on the rural South but has traveled across the United States documenting post-war American life and culture. His compositions are unmistakable—they embody a slowness and stillness that, despite the certainty suggested by their documentary quality, grows more complex and complicated over time. Landscapes, buildings, signage, trash, restaurants, the contents of a freezer or oven—all is fair game for Eggleston. Peter Schjeldahl once wrote that to view Eggleston’s work was to be “pummeled by eccentric beauty, and to wonder about it.”[1]

Untitled (Louisiana) is an exemplary work in this regard. Its geometry, framing, lavish color, light, and shadow are quintessential Eggleston. Taken from the neutral vantage point of a restaurant tabletop, the image focuses our gaze on an unlikely cast of characters: a few scattered menus, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and a Winston cigarette lighter. Other details we might also overlook, like the poor paint job or stack of napkins in the background, are hard to ignore. Contrary to the relative emptiness of the photograph, there is an overwhelming amount of visual information to absorb.

In today’s rich media landscape, such moments of stillness are increasingly hard to find. And while our smartphones have turned us all into amateur photographers, sharing everyday observations and experiences on social media, how many of us really sit with an image we find scrolling through our feeds, taking the time to dissect and analyze the story being shared—to wonder about it?

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Peter Schjeldahl, “Local Color: William Eggleston at the Whitney,” New Yorker, November 17, 2008, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/11/17/local-color-peter-schjeldahl.
Image: Untitled (Louisiana), 1980, William Eggleston, dye transfer print, 16 1/16 x 19 7/8 in., Pacific Northwest Bell, the Photography Council, the Polaroid Foundation, Mark Abrahamson, and the National Endowment for the Arts, 83.55 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
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