Posts Tagged ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art’

by Alexis Goodin, co-curator of Copycat

We’ve posed four open-ended questions about the nature and usefulness of copies on a wall graphic in the Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art exhibition:

There surely are many answers to the question “When are copies useful?”—and I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts on this question—but today I’ll focus on prints and a photograph that copy works that no longer exist, are untraced, or changed by time.  The copies in question are not only fascinating original works of art, but they provide us with important information regarding the appearance of the works that inspired them.

An 1816 fire at Belvoir Castle destroyed the painting Penance from Nicolas Poussin’s first set of canvases depicting the seven sacraments. The fire reduced the ancient wing of the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland to ruins.  The modern building was spared, as were many works of art in the famed collection.  The London Times remarked, “Some of the most valuable pictures of the inimitable collection were fortunately preserved; and, above all, no lives were lost.” The etching Penance by Poussin’s brother-in-law, Jean Dughet, preserves the composition of the destroyed painting, albeit in reverse.

John Skippe, a collector of Old Master drawings, made a chiaroscuro woodcut after a drawing in his collection, which he attributed to Parmigianino. The red chalk drawing, reattributed to an “Imitator of Parmigianino” at the 1958 London sale of Skippe’s collection, hasn’t been located.  The work may be in a public collection as a work attributed to another artist; perhaps it is in a private collection, waiting for the experts of Antiques Road Show to identify it!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns François Boucher’s canvas The Dispatch of the Messenger, but the painting’s pendant, The Arrival of the Messenger, has been untraced since the pair was offered for sale in February 1856. Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet not only copied Boucher’s compositions as drawings, but made prints of them as well.  While Beauvarlet reversed the compositions of the paintings in his prints—preventing us from reading the narrative as intended from left to right—the print The Arrival of the Messenger is nevertheless a valuable document of Boucher’s oeuvre. In fact, Alexandre Ananoff’s catalogue raisonné of Boucher’s paintings uses the print The Arrival of the Messenger to illustrate the lost painting.

Although not destroyed, the nineteenth-century chimeras and gargoyles made for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris—part of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration efforts of the medieval structure—have eroded over nearly two centuries.  The anonymous French photograph of the chimeras on the roof records the pristine appearance of these sculptures, giving us a sense of the powerful destructive force of weather and pollution.

Copies help preserve works of art that are no longer accessible to us, or are changed by time. I hope you’ll have a chance to explore the works of art featured in Copycat, now on view at the Clark through April 1.


Image Credits:

Jean Dughet (French, 1619–1679), after Nicolas Poussin (French, active in Italy, 1594–1665), From the First Suite of The Seven Sacraments, c. 1650. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, Matrimony. Etchings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2011

John Skippe (English, 1742–1811), after Parmigianino (Italian, 1503–1540), The Entombment, 1783. Overall: 1 3/16 x 10 5/16 in. (3 x 26.2 cm); image: 8 1/4 x 10 5/16 in. (21 x 26.2 cm); sheet: 13 7/16 x 16 7/16 in. (34.2 x 41.7 cm). Color woodcut on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1980.21

Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (French, 1731–1797), after François Boucher (French, 1703–1770), The Arrival of the Messenger and The Dispatch of the Messenger, after 1769. Etchings and engravings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2236 and 1955.2237

Artist unknown (French), Chimeras, South Tower, Notre Dame, Paris, c. 1855. Albumen print on paper, mounted on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Paul Katz, 1995.6.2

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By Paul Richardson, Assistant Exhibitions Manager

Even a relatively small exhibition like Rembrandt & Degas: Two Young Artists has many component parts that must be organized and coordinated in order to bring the exhibition to completion.

The intellectual genesis for this exhibition was the observation of a senior staff member from Rijksmuseum Amsterdam upon visiting the Clark that the shading, or chiaroscuro, effects across the face of the Clark’s youthful 1856 Edgar Degas Self-Portrait were reminiscent of the shadows that fall across the Rembrandt’s face in two similarly small format Self-Portraits, one in the Rijksmuseum collection and one from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

One of the Rijksmuseum curators, Jenny Reynaerts, investigated whether this was a chance occurrence, or if there was any explicit knowledge or experience that bought about the similarities of these objects. Could Jenny find out what the young Degas knew and thought about Rembrandt?

Jenny found out a great deal, as you can see from the exhibition. Next, the Clark’s senior curator, Richard Rand, suggested that bringing the Clark and Rijksmuseum paintings together with other objects created by these two artists early in their careers would make an engaging and informative show. A special draw for the show in Amsterdam was that there are no Degas paintings in public collections in Holland. For Williamstown, a visiting Rembrandt or two is always a special occasion! I was especially excited to be responsible for some of the planning with staff members from the Rijksmuseum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Once all the basic parameters and goals of the exhibition settled, things really start to move behind the scenes in the curatorial and exhibitons departments. Owners of object identified during the research phase are contacted and loan request letters are sent out. Loan terms such as environmental conditions for display, shipping, and insurance are agreed and loan contracts are exchanged. Gallery space is designed and readied, and wall texts and labels are drafted and reviewed.

I worked with the various curators and exhibitions and registrarial staffs to make sure that everybody understood and agreed upon the objects that would be displayed in each venue and when personnel and artwork would be on the move. I also worked with the Clark’s curator, Sarah Lees, for our installation of the exhibition, as well as the communications and publications departments to help make sure that everything was progressing according to schedule, and that the object labels, wall text and checklist were accurate and complete.

Finally, in the last week or two before the opening, the art works arrive from lenders or are brought out from storage. Then they are readied and inspected before they are installed by our staff art preparators and curators, and conservators from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

As you can imagine, the art objects are placed in different locations, arrangements, and groupings to see what works best. The curator decides whether this or that etching looks best next to one and not another. Are we making the right comparison or contrast between images? Is painting A hung too high, or is painting B hung too low? Have the wall graphics arrived in time for installation?

Sometimes it’s slow going and sometimes it is incredibly hectic as the final details get worked out and we get ready to open. In the end though, everything falls into place, the excitement builds, the show looks great, our visitors enjoy the amazing artwork—and I’m happy, proud, and relieved.


Image credits:

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait as a Young Man, 1629. Oil on panel, 15.6 x 12.7 cm. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen-Alte Pinakothek, Munich, 11427 [© bpk, Berlin / Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Germany / Art Resource, NY]

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Self-Portrait, c. 1857–58. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 26 x 19.1 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.544 [Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA]

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait as a Young Man, c. 1628–29. Oil on panel, 22.6 x 18.7 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, with additional funding from the Prins Bernhard Fonds, the Stichting tot Bevordering van de Belangen van het Rijksmuseum, and the ministerie van CRM, SK-A-4691

Rembrandt   van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Young Man in a Velvet Cap   (Ferdinand Bol), 1637.  Etching, second state, 9.5 x 7.7 cm. The   Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of   Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. 29.107.10     [© The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY]

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