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1962.138Landscapes and Interiors: The Two Sisters-in-law
By Laurel Garber, curatorial assistant

In this color lithograph by Édouard Vuillard (French, 1868-1940), two women lean against a table with their faces hidden from view. The woman on the left, Misia Natanson – the wife of one of Vuillard’s most important patrons – is shown in intimate conversation with her sister-in-law, Marthe Mellot. This print is one in a series of thirteen lithographs (twelve plates and one cover sheet) titled Paysages et Intérieurs, which Vuillard printed in 1899 with help from the skilled color printer, Auguste Clot. Clot assisted with the intricacies of color lithography, a printing process based on the principle that water and oil repel each other.

To make a lithograph, an artist draws with an oil-based material (such as a greasy crayon or liquid tusche) on a slab of limestone or metal plate. The stone is then chemically treated with a series of solutions that secure the drawing and fix it to the stone’s surface. After these treatments are erased with turpentine or paint thinner, the stone is moistened with water, which settles on the surface everywhere except on the oil-based drawing. A greasy printing ink is then applied with a roller, adhering to the design and resisting the dampened blank areas of the stone’s surface. A sheet of paper is then pushed against the inked drawing through a lithographic press, which applies pressure evenly. Generally, each color requires its own stone. For a print like Vuillard’s, the same sheet of paper is pressed on multiple stones in order to develop a colorful composition.

This print is composed of four colors: yellow, green, red, and black, which were printed on the paper in that order. The effect of this process in the final print is striking. Through a masterful exercise of lithographic technique, Vuillard and Clot overlapped and superimposed colors to create a seamless surface in which background and foreground merge and the figures in the print become little more than extensions of Vuillard’s experimentation with color and pattern. Likewise, any sense of line is minimized as the figures and objects are instead defined by the layering and interaction of colors. Marthe Mellot appears essentially as a silhouette – her figure composed of a dense field of black ink, almost indistinguishable from the table on which she leans. This image, in which planes that typically define depth and distinctions like front and back are flattened, provides an interesting contrast to many of the other works presented in Backstories.

Backstories Confronted

Rodin2By Camran Mani
Curator, Backstories

For a long time, the process of creating Backstories was all about projection. I did my best to predict what the installation would look like by using a dollhouse-sized model of the gallery and, later, by working with life-sized models in the actual gallery. But when the works of art themselves took their places in the installation, it became clear that they wouldn’t just make the points I wanted them to make; they have a life of their own (thank goodness), and they say things to each other I couldn’t have predicted. Discovering these surprises has been, for me, one of the most exciting parts of being involved with this show. Let me point out a couple examples.

Early on, I knew I wanted to put Winslow Homer’s The Dinner Horn alongside St. Michael Fighting the Dragon, a woodcut from Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse series. Both works have versos printed with text, making it clear that they come from literary contexts (a magazine in one case, a book in the other). I thought, “The dates of these works are more than three centuries apart; it will be striking to reveal that the treatment of the verso has been consistent over such a long period of time.” But, faced with the actual works, I was equally struck by an inconsistency.

The Dürer features a typeface that is visually akin to the image on the front. This suggests the artist coordinated his efforts with those of the typographer. The typeface on the Homer, however, has a severe, mechanical quality that is alien to the (hand-drawn) image. This announces that it was produced under more modern conditions: the artist and the typographer seem to have worked independently on their contributions to the magazine, almost like people on an assembly line. I take away from this “announcement” a heightened sense that Homer’s modernity, relative to his predecessors, is not simply a matter of imagery or style; it is also rooted in the way he relates recto to verso.

The Rodin Man with a Broken Nose also caught me by surprise. I knew, of course, that the head is incomplete. The back part is broken off so viewers can see the sculpture’s hollow interior. I also knew that the sculpture is supposed to be an early example of Rodin’s interest in the aesthetics of fragments, such as Greek and Roman sculptures ravaged by time. But I don’t think I appreciated the strangeness of the sculpture until I was able to consider the back from head on, both at a distance and up close, as one can in this installation. The break doesn’t evoke the “natural” fragmentation of Greek and Roman sculptures. It’s too clean. Also, the break calls our attention to an attribute that appears all along the break: a headband or fillet, such as those that appear in ancient sculptures of victorious athletes.

A number of questions follow from these observations (at least if we assume the break was deliberate). Why would Rodin welcome an allusion to antique sculptures of athletes but not an allusion to antique fragmentation? Why would he evoke ancient sculpture at all when his motif—a day laborer with a broken nose—seems designed to flout the canon of good taste that ancient sculpture embodied? Furthermore, should we understand the smoothness of the break to imply that the back of the sculpture belongs against a wall, or did Rodin want viewers to see that the sculpture was hollow? What would have been at stake in acknowledging this hollowness?

I don’t know if anyone else will be surprised or perplexed by these sorts of things, but I would like other visitors to be surprised and perplexed, too. My hope is that the questions Backstories raises will contain the seeds of future projects shedding even more light on the “hidden” sides of art.

Harpers1955.4486By Michael Cassin
Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

An image labeled The Dinner Horn appears on Page 377 of Harper’s Weekly, dated June 11th, 1870, printed from a drawing by Winslow Homer. The picture is a kind of rural idyll of nineteenth-century, post-Civil War America: a young woman blows her horn to let the people working in the distant fields know it’s time to eat. Ivy grows around the farmhouse door, and a contented-looking cat scratches itself against the door jamb; you can almost hear it purring with delight. A large cooking-pot hangs over the fire in the kitchen grate, steam rising from its contents, and the table is laid with neat place settings. The people who live here may not be rich; their food may be simple and they may have to work hard for what they receive, but the war is over. Their lives have returned to normal after its upheavals, and the farm laborers can look forward in safety to a hearty meal at the end of a working day. If we turn the page, however, we will encounter a story of a very different kind.

Most of this page is printed with text from the beginning of chapter forty-six of a novel called Man and Wife, by the English writer Wilkie Collins. Collins worked with Charles Dickens during the 1850s and ’60s, contributing chapters of what were called at the time “sensation” novels, for serial publication in Dickens’s journals Household Words and All the Year Round. This episodic format lent itself to scenes of high melodrama, with a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter to keep readers on the edges of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next exciting installment. The son of a professional painter, Collins was highly adept at telling a good yarn in graphic prose. Novels like The Woman in White and The Moonstone are among the earliest examples of the classic mystery, with fantastic descriptions (a ghostly female appearing out of the darkness on a quiet Hampstead street; an unbalanced maidservant who drowns herself in a stretch of quicksand ominously called “the shivering sands”—you get the general idea), and with astute investigators who predate Sherlock Holmes by about 20 years.

But—like Dickens—Collins also wrote about current social issues, often choosing legal anomalies with which to prick the conscience of his Victorian readers. My favorite of Collins’s novels, No Name, revolves around the plight of two genteelly brought-up young women who discover, after their parents’ tragic and unexpected deaths, that they had not in fact been married at the time of their daughters’ births. This leaves the girls not only alone in the world, but without legal status, unable to inherit their parents’ possessions and, through no fault of their own, literally with no name.

Man and Wife, though not perhaps as gripping as some of Collins’s earlier tales, challenges the inconsistency, the inequity, and the iniquity of the marriage laws in different parts of Victorian Britain. Chapter forty-six brings many of the novel’s protagonists together in a chilly formal room in London to present arguments and evidence to determine the legality of a betrothal and a marriage. The text drops us into the middle of a convoluted plot. Unfortunately—and tantalizingly—we know neither the story so far nor what happens next. The text ends not just in mid-chapter, it ends in mid-question: “From the moment when you entered the inn to the moment when you left it, were you also…”??? How’s THAT for a cliff-hanger? Presumably, the rest of the question and its answer would appear on subsequent pages, but we don’t have any other pages. Oh, the suspense…

Well, I could tell you what happens next, but where’s the fun in that?  Maybe seeing this ‘midstory’ in the Backstories exhibition will encourage some of you to look up Man and Wife and Collins’s other novels in your local library or bookstore. Many of them are as intriguing as the backstories revealed in the show.

Hi everyone! Just about two weeks ago, my exhibition, “Giselle’s Remix,” opened at the Clark! Since that was my first time seeing my exhibit in real life, it was very exciting! When I walked upstairs to see it, I was amazed at how well the Clark had put it together. Everything was right where I wanted it to be, and the room looked fantastic! The blue wall color was so nice, and the paintings looked really good together. The whole day was wonderful, and the Clark uCurate team let me do so many things I never dreamed about doing, like talking to the press and speaking on a panel. I loved getting interviewed for newspapers, and my talk in the auditorium was so much fun! Seeing the billboards advertising the exhibit on our drive up was just as exciting!

Getting feedback from everyone at the opening was really helpful, and it put me in an even better mood than I was in before. Watching people look at my exhibit made me feel amazing, and when people came up to me, I was so happy. It made me realize that everyone interprets the paintings and the pieces I selected in their own ways. One woman, for example, came up to me and said, “I love all of the French art that you put in your exhibit, because I love French art, too.” I guess I do like French art, but I certainly never thought about my exhibit that way!

I can’t wait to bring my friends to Williamstown to see the exhibit over winter break. I hope that they’ll like it and maybe even “curate” a room of their own during the visit.

Giselle

Ready, Set, Giselle!

Ads for Giselle’s Remix appeared in the Boston Globe and New York Times … billboards will begin later this month

The Clark is preparing to open Giselle’s Remix, the first exhibition we will install based on a submission to our uCurate interactive program (check it out at clarkart.edu/remix). The first exhibition was created by 11-year-old Giselle Ciulla, who shared the post below as she anticipates the transformation of her exhibition from virtual to actual. As part of her work as a Clark curator, Giselle has worked closely with our marketing team as they’ve developed a campaign to promote the show. Recent ads in the Boston Globe and New York Times launched the marketing effort, which will soon be supplemented with billboards throughout the Berkshires region. Not surprisingly, Giselle has some thoughts on the media efforts.

Hi everyone! This week has been a tough one, because I live right outside of New York City, which got very hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. My town lost power and some houses, but not most, flooded. The wind was crazy, and the morning after the storm hit, there were so many trees and power lines down! It has been a long week, because all school was cancelled, my power was out, and the lack of gas means it’s hard for us to drive places.

But before this huge storm hit my town, I was home with my grandparents who were watching us for the week. They had brought the ad from the Boston Globe that had my picture in it, and showed it to my friends who were over. They started screaming with me and they all called their parents who asked to talk to me. I was so happy and embarrassed by them, because they went walking down the street singing, “My best friend’s a celebrity! She’s in the newspaper and is going to be on a billboard!”

I was so excited at that point, and whenever the ad catches my eye now, my heart starts pounding and I get so anxious. I can’t wait until the exhibit opens!

Giselle

By Tad Bennicoff (Assistant Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives.)
This post originally appeared in “The Bigger Picture,” the official blog of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and is excerpted on this site.

Similar to a good book, a photograph tells a story; moreover, a photograph forever captures a particular moment in time, and conveys that moment to all who view it.

The Arthur de Carle Sowerby Papers, 1904-1954 and undated, include stunning photographs taken by Sowerby during his career as a naturalist, explorer, artist, and editor. The son of a British missionary to China, Arthur de Carle Sowerby (8 July 1885-16 August 1954) was born in Tai-yuan Fu, Shansi province. In 1908, Sowerby was invited by Robert Stirling Clark, (adventurer, art collector, and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune) to serve as naturalist during Clark’s 1908 scientific expedition into Shansi and Kansu provinces of north China.

The expedition, which lasted more than a year and produced the first known map of the region, is recounted in Through Shên-kan : The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908-9, by Robert Sterling Clark and Arthur de C. Sowerby, ed. by Major C. H. Chepmell. This volume may be reviewed online through the digital collections of The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The images from the Clark Expedition include landscapes, staged portraits, and impromptu local scenes. It is the latter which I find most intriguing, as such images document the people of a particular area merely going about their lives. There is, for instance, an image of a man spinning silk, perhaps his occupation, perhaps a hobby.

Spinning silk at Sanyuan, Shaanxi, by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, Record Unit 7263, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image #2008-3003

One of my personal favorites is an image of men pulling rickshaws through the streets in what appears to be a competitive manner.

Chinese men pulling rickshaws down the street, by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, Record Unit 7263, Smithsonian Institution Archive, Image # 2008-2938

There is also an image of a street food vendor, a common site evident in many towns and cities still, and a testament that although many years may pass, some things remain unchanged.

The introduction of the digital camera and its incorporation into smart phones, tablets, and laptops permit us to freeze time almost without thought. Such technology is remarkable, as it permits us to click away without the limit of numbered frames on a roll of film. Our digital devices are, in most cases, lightweight, discreet, and require little in the way of formal training to operate; simply point and shoot. I wonder what future generations will think of our moments, frozen, somewhere, on a cloud.

One final item of note, in 2009, Li Ju, a Chinese freelance photographer, retraced the path of the Clark Expedition to mark its centennial. Using original images from the expedition as a guide, Li Ju digitally photographed many of the sites visited by Clark and Sowerby in 1908-1909. The resulting images may be viewed in Through Shen-Kan: Revisiting Loess Plateau, China Intercontinental Press, 2012, a truly beautiful book in which original images from the Clark Expedition are displayed adjacent to the modern images Li Ju captured during his journey. These contrasting images are striking, for they show the changes that have occurred across a century, as well as the resilience of the landscape and the people who inhabit the region. The volume serves as an intriguing view into the past, through modern eyes.

Related Resources

Related Collections

Shên-kan Summer

By Sarah Hammond, Special Projects Assistant at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

The dog days of summer—all things considered, we don’t have it so bad here in the Berkshires. Sun-dappled hills roll beneath blue skies, yielding to brilliant stars once the cool evening closes in. A late-afternoon walk past the Clark’s lily pond is accompanied by a serenade of twittering birds and gulping frogs. It really doesn’t get much better.

View of the Clark’s original 1955 building from the lily pond.

Our galleries, however, conjure up visions of a completely different landscape.

Ruin with horse and rider in foreground, possibly Clark expedition member Arthur de Carle Sowerby, summer 1909 (Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3086)

This mural greets visitors in the introductory gallery of Unearthed, our special exhibition on view in the Manton Research Center. At the base of a craggy rise, a lone rider, shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, slouches atop his pony. A white cloth is tucked under the brim of his hat to reflect the blazing sun. The overgrown ruins of a massive, stone tower loom over man and steed, dominating the rough, light-blasted terrain. In the distance, unfocused peaks rise through the haze into the stark sky. Heat seems to quiver over the scene and radiate into the gallery.

The photograph was taken in northwestern China, probably during the summer of 1909. The rider appears to be Arthur de Carle Sowerby, one member of a team of explorers led by our founder Sterling Clark across the provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu. Our shows this summer transport visitors to this remote terrain, commemorating the Clark expedition and the centennial of Clark and Sowerby’s joint publication of Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9 (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912).

Zhenmushou (Tomb Guardian Beast), Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). Lingtai County Museum, Pingliang.

Members of the Clark expedition at Yulin, Shaanxi province, December 1908 (from left to right: Sowerby, Clark, Cobb, Grant, Douglas) (Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3140

Ten Thousand Buddhas caves, Yan’an, Shaanxi province, January 2009 (top) and December 1908 (bottom) (2009 photo courtesy of Li Ju; 1908 photo Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #2008-3130)

(Learn more about each show—and the Clark expedition—from our special exhibition websites, accessed via clarkart.edu.)

Detail of Arthur de Carle Sowerby on horseback.

Sowerby, no doubt sweaty, grimy, and exhausted, gamely poses for the camera. His posture is uncannily similar to that of the silhouetted miniature rider who enlivens the front cover of Through Shên-kan.

Through Shên-kan: The Account of the Clark Expedition in North China, 1908–9 (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912)

Detail from the cover of “Through Shên-kan”

This same figure sits squarely in the center of the “official” Clark expedition flag designed by artist Mark Dion for his installation Phantoms of the Clark Expedition.

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Shên-kan Expedition Flag—Clark Expedition, 2012. Felt and grommets, 36 x 48 in. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

Meant to mimic the official flag of The Explorers Club in New York City—where the Phantoms installation, commissioned by the Clark, is installed—Dion’s monochrome pennant is the ghostly double of the Through Shên-kan cover and, perhaps, of the photo of Sowerby. For his project, Dion recreated the material remnants of the Clark expedition in papier-mâché; it is as though the artist has summoned these pale “phantoms” from the mists of time to haunt the halls of the Club.

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Campfire—Clark Expedition, 2012. Papier-mâché, dimensions variable. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

Mark Dion (American, b. 1961), Provisions and Equipment—Clark Expedition (rear left) and Equipment—Clark Expedition (on table), 2012. Papier-mâché, dimensions variable. © Mark Dion Studio, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Photo by Art Evans © 2012 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts and Mark Dion

These “sun-bleached bones of . . . expeditions past,” as Dion calls them, act as relics of the expedition, encouraging us to investigate and interrogate Sterling Clark’s reasons for organizing such an ambitious journey, and to consider the expedition’s lasting legacy.

During these dog days of summer, we can contemplate these burning questions—from the luxury of the Clark’s cool galleries!

Surveying equipment from the expedition (including a scale and weights, survey’s transit and tripod, precision stopwatches, measuring tape, trunks, and a level rod), displayed at Stone Hill Center, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., summer 2012. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., photo by Michael Agee.

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