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Object of the week: Pomponne II de Bellièvre

Did you know that in the 1930s the Mona Lisa hung in the halls of the newly opened Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill? And that it was joined by other European masterworks from the Louvre, the Uffizi, and other renowned collections?

They were all here. Or rather, editions of the originals were here. SAM’s founding director Richard E. Fuller initially devoted some of the museum’s gallery space—which was at a premium—to a display of faithful facsimiles of European Old Master paintings. Showing replicas alongside originals might seem problematic or just plain tacky to us today, but we can’t say his choice wasn’t a practical one. Collecting European paintings was never a priority for Fuller, and the costs for these kinds of historical works were often above his budget. Still, Fuller understood the importance of this chapter in the history of art-making. Even while he and his mother, Margaret MacTavish Fuller, were building the museum’s collection by selecting Asian art objects and patronizing local painters, Fuller couldn’t imagine telling a story of art history without the Old Masters.

Asian Art Museum in the 1930s

About 100 years before Fuller was hanging his facsimiles, American painter Samuel Morse (1791-1872) was considering the same issue. Morse’s first profession was painter; he would later become the inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph, immortalized in the term “Morse” code. Like Richard Fuller, Morse was deeply interested in connecting the art of the European masters with America’s present and future cultural production. How to bring the best of European painting to America, so that our local artists might learn and grow from its examples? Using the skills and technology available to him, Morse began a monumental painting that would feature dozens of Old Master artworks in miniature, for the instruction and reference of his fellow American painters.

Gallery of the Louvre by Samuel F. B. Morse

Morse worked on what would become his masterpiece, Gallery of the Louvre, between 1831-1833, in both Paris and New York. The painting depicts the Salon Carré, a prominent gallery in the Louvre. The artwork has an impressive scale, at roughly six by nine feet. Within Morse’s “gallery picture,” one can spot references to important artists such as Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Watteau. A portrait by Anthony van Dyck, much like the SAM’s own Pomponne II de Bellièvre, is prominently featured. See if you can spot Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Thanks to a traveling exhibition organized by the Terra Foundation for American Art—the proud owner of Gallery of the Louvre—this significant historical painting is now on display at SAM in Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention. To view this massive work is to see and appreciate Morse’s skillful execution and his faithful attention to the like-minded artists who came before him. Come see and enjoy!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Pomponne II de Bellièvre, 1638-39, Anthony van Dyck, Flemish, 1599-1641, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in., Purchased with a major grant from an anonymous donor; additional funds provided by Louise Raymond Owens; Norman and Amelia Davis; Oliver T. and Carol Erickson; Seattle Art Museum Guild; Pauline Ederer Bolster and Arthur F. Ederer in memory of their sister, Milli Ederer Kastner; Mr. and Mrs. James D. Burns; gift in memory of Andrew Price by Mrs. Mary Price and their family; bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey; bequest of Charles Moseley Clark; Max R. Schweitzer; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Stimson, Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection; Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection; Silver Anniversary Fund; Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund; Seattle Art Museum Purchase Fund by exchange, 98.15. Photo: Seattle Art Museum Archives. Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–33, Samuel F. B. Morse, American, 1791–1872, oil on canvas, 73 3/4 x 108 in., Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.51. Photography © Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago.

SAM Art: Alden Mason

In the 1970s, Alden Mason gained national attention for his “Burpee Garden” series. Inside Out Landscape is a significant example from this body of work: large-scale canvases originating from several watercolors the artist had completed earlier. Named for seed packets sold by the Pennsylvania seed company, Burpee, Mason created images that are colorful abstractions which suggest amorphous and visually intoxicating landscapes. It is in these works that we see Mason’s dialogue with a generation of artists who preceded him, such as the American color field painters Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, who were working in New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

This is the final week to see the retrospective installation of Alden Mason’s work in the Modern and Contemporary galleries at SAM downtown.

Inside Out Landscape, 1972, Alden Mason, American, born 1919, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 in., Gift of Herschel and Caryl Roman in honor of the museum’s 50th year, 83.167, photo: Susan Cole, © Alden Mason. On view through this Sunday, 17 July, Modern and Contemporary galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

Christopher Martin Hoff to Teach Watercolor Workshop at Olympic Sculpture Park

Usually when I think of painting en plein air, I picture a French Impressionist working at a canvas while seated under a large white umbrella in the middle of a meadow. Painting en plein air evokes a natural and pastoral setting.

Although he carries on the tradition, Christopher Martin Hoff is a different kind of plein air painter. You can see him all over Seattle painting all day, every day. He captures the urban landscape–billboards, bridges, traffic lights swaying over empty intersections, bright green dumpsters scrawled with graffiti. Hoff has also documented several important construction projects across the country and in 2003 was awarded an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant, to create a series of paintings that document construction at the World Trade Center in New York.

Participants in the upcoming SAM Creates workshop “En Plein Air: Watercolor Painting” will get a chance to work with Hoff to explore the unique interplay of art, architecture and landscape present at the Olympic Sculpture Park. This is a three-part workshop, and the first session is Saturday, July 9. Click here to register now.

The SAM Creates workshop series provides a forum for artists to explain the philosophies underlying their work and for participants to delve into the artistic, practical or quirky processes at work in their daily lives. Instruction will include strategies for creating engaging compositions, the use of color to build space, creating work that has a sense of place and general practices for an effective outdoor studio. All materials provided, and all levels are welcome.

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager