Met Brings Huge John Singer Sargent Show Over, With Striking Theme

Revealing How Creatively He Portrayed Famous Friends

Endless Display of Genius Stimulated by Personal Admiration

Freedom to Invent After Abandoning Formality

If you appreciate the finest painting from the past and are stuck in Manhattan over the July 4 weekend, consider yourself blessed. Walk over to the Metropolitan Museum and view the outstanding show it will offer the public for three months from tomorrow (Tue Jun 30 to October 4 2015) of the great turn of the 20th Century portraitist John Singer Sargent, which it has brought over from the National Portrait Gallery in London and topped off with with some additional works.

This Sargent sketch in charcoal of W B Yeats, recognized as Ireland's finest poet at the age of forty, shows all the inspiration that Sargent found in his friends among distinguished contemporaries in the arts.  The Met show has a huge abundance of examples in its new show Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

This Sargent sketch in charcoal of W B Yeats, recognized as Ireland’s finest poet at the age of forty, shows all the inspiration that Sargent found in his friends among distinguished contemporaries in the arts. The Met show has a huge abundance of examples in its new show Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

Singer’s shining talent in portraiture was fully developed from the start of his career but this exhibition has a striking theme – it shows vividly how much inspiration Sargent (1856-1925) found in portraying his friends from the theater, art, music and literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many of them equal in stature to Sargent himself.

The very fine portrait of Henry James with its penetrating gaze and vivid presence reflects the long friendship and mutual admiration between artist and subject

Above for example is his charcoal sketch of Yeats, a good looking forty year old in 1908, done six years after Sargent gave up painting formal portraits of stuffed shirt ladies and gentlemen as too confining. Yeats was pleased with the dashing air of the sketch, which was used for the frontispiece of his first volume of Collected Poems that year, and noted that Sargent was “very good company”.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood was sketched in 1885 but kept and treasured by Sargent all his life, possibly reflecting the truth that it is a self-portrait in part, as many of his studies of friends who were artists share that character.

Many of the paintings are partly self portraits in spirit which refer to Sargent’s own methods and approach.

An Artist in His Studio (Ambrogio Raffele) shows the various stages of work on a finished painting.

Sargent’s self portrait is reckoned as more buttoned up and less revealing of himself than his pictures of other artists and musicians (Sargent was reportedly a concert-level amateur pianist.)

Sargent’s Self Portrait of 1906, at the age of fifty, is said to be less revealing that the studies he did of his celebrated friends among actors, writers and musicians of his time.

Every work in this historic assemblage reminds us just how extraordinarily gifted was this chronicler of major Victorian and Edwardian contemporaries, and the experience of walking into the vast main gallery that starts the exhibition off with his earlier portraits in the grand manner is a little like walking into the anterooms of heaven.

Garden Study of the Vickers Children John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856 – 1925 London) Garden Study of the Vickers Children, 1884 Oil on canvas 54 – 3/16 × 36 in. (137.6 × 91.4 cm) Flint Institute of Arts

The show offers a chance to contemplate the beauty of his Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1884), a daring and sensual masterpiece which so scandalized the Parisian bourgeoisie at the 1884 Salon with its plunging neckline, white-powdered skin, and off-the-shoulder dress strap that French commissions dried up (even though he put back the strap) and Sargent moved to London. The magnificent work occupied pride of place in his studio until Gautreau’s death in 1916 when he sold it to the Metropolitan.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) shocked the Paris provincials in 1884 but has long been recognized as “the precise image of a modern woman scrupulously drawn by a painter who is a master of his art”, as Judith Gautier, Sargent’s fellow Parisienne poet and novelist put it. (Click the image more than once to examine it in detail).

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Burst of Color at Frick: Frederick Leighton’s Flaming June Takes Pride of Place for Summer

Victorian era’s sexy masterpiece scorned, lost for decades, now revered

Discovered in 1962 in British house hidden behind wood paneling, ravishing beauty was acquired by Luis A, Ferre, founder of  Puerto Rico’s art museum

Enthroned in original frame design, hung beside Frick’s Whistlers for telling comparison: Incomparable Splendor!

This flaming beauty is now at the Frick for the summer, prized beyond compare after decades when it was scorned as Victorian sentimentalism at a peak

This flaming beauty is now at the Frick for the summer, prized beyond compare after decades when it was scorned as Victorian sentimentalism at a peak

The exquisite charms of Frederic Leighton’s final masterpiece of 1895 seem undeniable today, but after being hung at the Royal Academy of Art in London and celebrated for fifteen years as the height of Victorian classicism, Flaming June was toppled from its summit of admiration by the revolutionaries of modern art, and quite literally vanished from view for decades.

Only in 1962 did it resurface.  Workmen at a British house removed wood paneling to reveal the masterpiece hidden away, not even in its original gilded frame.   But a year later it was acquired by Luis A. Ferre, the clear eyed founder of the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, where it is now the flagship canvas.  Now it will be at the Frick for three months.

Report has it that the young Andrew Lloyd Weber would have bought it for a pittance, but his grandmother refused to lend him the money for such a ‘mistake’, and the failure remains one of his greatest regrets.

Why the long phase of ignominy?   Viewed through the distorting glass of changing critical fashion, Flaming June was written off as sentimental trash, a shallow monument to the aesthetic vulgarity of an age which loaded art with artificial moral and historical signals, much as the Nazis and the Stalinists later harnessed art in the service of political ideals.

But the story of its misguided critical death and rebirth adds to the excitement that many feel now at the chance to see this sublime work in its full glory, enshrined in  a regal but provocative presentation that perhaps only the Frick could manage to pull off.

Whistler’s Harmony in Pink and Gray:Portrait of Lady Meux 1881–82

Whistler’s Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland, 1871–74

For this time, on either side of the huge gilt frame which once more ennobles Flaming June, spaced a respectful distance away along the wood paneled wall (an irony, that wood paneling!) are two magnificent tall standing portraits of women by Whistler.  Both are owned by the Frick: Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux 1881-82 (Oil on canvas, 761/4 x 36 5/8 in) and Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland 1871-74 (Oil on canvas, 77 1/8 and 40 1/4 in).

In some ways the relatively drab coloring of the Whistlers and their static poses couldn’t be more different from the spiralling colorburst of Flaming June, but the Frick senior curator Susan Grace Galassi, and the Associate Curator of the Musee de Arte de Ponce Pablo Perez d’Ors, who cooperated on the unprecedented exhibition and wrote comprehensive essays in its small but thorough catalogue, use the contrast to point up the achievements of both contemporaries.


There are two more current shows at the Frick:  landscapes for the summer, and porcelain until next spring.

Antoine Vollon (1833–1900), View of Dieppe Harbor, 1873. Watercolor and graphite on laid paper. The Frick Collection; Gift of Carol Forman Tabler in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander A. Forman III – Landscape Drawings in The Frick Collection
June 9, 2015 to September 13, 2015

Depicting quotidian life in the country, urban scenes, and imagined views of timeless Arcadian realms, this selection of rarely exhibited landscape drawings from the Frick’s small but superb collection of works on paper reveals thematic continuities across four centuries. The presentation features the Frick’s newly acquired View of Dieppe Harbor of 1873 by Antoine Vollon, the generous gift of Dr. Carol Forman Tabler. The watercolor finds an ideal context among drawings by Vollon’s contemporaries and forebears — including Claude, Corot, and Whistler — with whom he shared a drive to investigate the technical possibilities for representing on paper the textures and intangible atmospheric effects of the three-dimensional world.

The presentation is organized by Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, Research Assistant at The Frick Collection, and will be on view in the Frick’s Cabinet gallery.

From Sèvres to Fifth Avenue: French Porcelain at The Frick Collection
April 28, 2015 to April 24, 2016


Between 1916 and 1918, Henry Clay Frick purchased several important pieces of porcelain to decorate his New York mansion. Made at Sèvres, the preeminent eighteenth-century French porcelain manufactory, the objects — including vases, potpourris, jugs and basins, plates, a tea service, and a table — were displayed throughout Frick’s residence. From Sèvres to Fifth Avenue brings them together in the Portico Gallery, along with a selection of pieces acquired at a later date, some of which are rarely on view. The exhibition presents a new perspective on the collection by exploring the role Sèvres porcelain played in eighteenth-century France, as well as during the American Gilded Age.

The exhibition is organized by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts.

Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, Pot-pourri ” à Vaisseau,” ca. 1759. Soft-paste porcelain, with later addition of a gilt-bronze base, 17 1/2 × 14 7/8× 7 1/2 in. (44.5 × 37.8 × 19 cm). The Frick Collection; Henry Clay Frick Bequest (1916.9.07)

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Ordered Nature: Peter Neumann’s Photographs at City Hall

“Architectural Abstracts” Bring Regularity to Profusion

Photos Shown in Manhattan Borough President’s Gallery

This week is the last chance to see photographer Peter Neumann‘s month long show in the gallery on the 19th Floor of 1 Centre Street, which will close at the end of May.

Peter Neumann favors orderly patterns of trees and other scenes in his current selection at Boro Hall

Currently under the stewardship of Gale M. Brewer, the reigning Manhattan Borough President, the Gallery displays selections from Neumann’s Architectural Abstracts series, as well as works from his New York Reflections, Botanical Abstracts, and Landscape series.

Mixing architecture and window display through reflection is a favorite approach in Neumann’s current work

The opening on Friday, May 1, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m, was attended by fellow members of the artist collective Feast for the Eyes, and other deeply rooted New Yorkers, including concert guitarist and writer John Lehmann-Haupt, landscape painter Jacqueline Sferra Rada, collectible retailer turned drawer and painter Jon Rettich (who hurried home to catch the cherry blossoms in Washington Square early the next morning) and celebrity portrait photographer and adman Lance Evans with his young son Max.

Johyn Lehmann-Haupt, Jon Rettich and Peter Neumann ignore the sunset on the Hudson

Johyn Lehmann-Haupt, Jon Rettich and Peter Neumann ignore the sunset on the Hudson

The show collects work by Neumann in the last five years, when he transitioned from film cameras to digital, after leaving behind the rigid “disciplines of commercial still life photography and years of shooting landscapes using the Zone system (to) just playing with a visual sense of joy and wonder”.

Neumann shot of a window and mannequins against the reflection of buildings opposite

Peter’s father was a still-life painter of Polish heritage who took him to art museums in the 1950s. He opened a commercial still-life studio in New York in 1982, serving advertising agencies and magazine publishers, and he spent weekends and vacations shooting black-and-white landscapes with a large-format view camera in the tradition of Ansel Adams. In the 1990s, he created digitally generated 3D illustrations for magazines, work included in the 2001 Brooklyn Museum exhibition Digital: Printmaking Now.

In 2010, he returned to working with digitally enhanced photography to produce his Botanical and Architectural Abstracts series. His work is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum as well as private collections and those of numerous corporations, including John Hancock, Simon & Schuster, TD Ameritrade, and the NYU Langone Medical Center. His web site is

Manhattan rooftops form a painterly impression in Neumann’s shot

More (unedited) images of the art and the opening at Photocalendar TalkInNewYork.

Max gets playful with Lance Evans, portrait photographer, and adman supreme

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Opulence and Fantasy: Met’s ‘Sultans of Deccan India’ A Very Rich Trove

Tree-on-the-Island-of-Waqwaq. Golconda, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin The talking tree from the Alexander legend in Persian literature told the hero of his impending fate. While conventional imagery depicts a tree with branches terminating in animal heads, this Deccan version shows greater imagination. The tree trunk is composed of snakes, its branches bear a large variety of animal and fantastical heads, and its fruit takes the form of nude women. Animate rocks sprout fish, and magical flowers are made up of masks with moth and butterfly leaves. This painting was once in the collection of the Frenchman Colonel Antoine-Louis Henri de Polier (1741–1795) in Lucknow, where it was mounted in an album with Europeanized Rococo borders

In Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy next week (Mon April 20 through Sun July 26) the Met will unfurl one of its most magnificent displays of unique, exquisite and sometimes unexpectedly flamboyant rarities.

Like the highest art of every realm, this selection of jewelry, paintings, textiles, armor, carved stone sculpture, fabled gems, marbelized art, carved weapons and decorative items from India’s pre-colonial peak of maharajah display can provide a spiritual experience.

Refreshing the urban spirit

This exquisite assembly will refresh and feed any spirit starved of grace in the tumult of modern urban materialism with manna from above. Yet, as is typical of Indian art, it celebrates nature rather than rises above it.

A prime example is the ink, watercolor and gold painting on paper above, from Golconda. Click twice to enlarge it to mammoth proportions (3000×3795) and allow your eye and sensibilities to luxuriate in its lively perfection.

Visitors should allow plenty of time to let serendipity work, for all the generalizations about its excellence which will fill the media and the brief descriptions offered in advance by the Met and the critics won’t be complete enough to spoil the many surprising discoveries awaiting the slow moving, attentive art lover.

The $65 catalogue deserves a special mention. More than most shows at the Met, which are always the cream of the museum world, the well written and illustrated volume will be entirely worth the price as both guide and reference.

Huge variety of very fine works

From the heart of the fabled central India mineral kingdom, whose diamonds and other precious stones were the prime source of jewelry till recent times, come wonderful works, in which the artistry and craft often exceed the value of the most valuable gems on show here, which themselves are worth a maharajah’s ransom.

16. Royal Elephant and Rider resupplied as a size 2.1mb image here and displayed at  600x815 - but the Met regretted was not available at larger more detailed size of 300 dpi because not originally supplied to the Communications Department at that larger size

16. Royal Elephant and Rider redone as 2.1mb here displayed at 600×815 – but unfortunately in this particular case not available at a larger more detailed size of 300 dpi, which would show the very detailed brushwork.

Yogini with Mynah Bird

Yogini with a Mynah Bird By the Dublin Painter Bijapur, early 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper 17⅜ × 12⅝ in. (44 × 32 cm) Trustees of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Image: © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)” width=”1334″ height=”2102

Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II Playing the Tambur Ascribed to Farrukh Beg, in an inscription written by Muhammad Husain Zarin Qalam Bijapur, ca. 1595–1600 (painting); Agra, A.H. 1019 (A.D. 1610–11) (album page and inscription) Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio: 16⅝ × 10⅜ in. (42.3 × 26.5 cm) Náprstkovo Muzeum Asijských, Afrických a Amerických Kultur, Prague (A.12182)

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Wonder Full World of Air Travel: An IMAX Celebration

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

A Twin Otter seaplane landing on water over a shallow reef in the Maldives (Click twice to enlarge fully)

National Geographic Praises Flight Technology With Stunning Pictorial

Reminder of all that airplanes have brought, including world shopping and families back for Thanksgiving

But Isn’t This A Poignant Last look at Earth at its Peak?

With its Smithsonian premiere tomorrow in Washington, New Yorkers will also now have a chance to catch probably the most resolutely positive documentary on air travel and its benefits ever made.

High technology:  A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

High technology: A huge GE Jet engine suspended in a factory of the company which financed the film. (Click twice to enlarge fully)

Living in the Age of Airplanes’ is a 47 minute IMAX, HD 4K digital, Dolby extravaganza of superb shots of the major scenic spots of the world, together with other benefits of the invention of the airplane, such as the flowers and myriad other household goods from half way round the world in every living room, which cranky passengers squeezed into narrow, unforgiving seats in late arriving aircraft never think of anymore.

Hail to the Airplane: Tourists thrill to an approaching plane landing over their heads on St Maartens.

Actually, the gifts of the airplane in this National Geographic special have never looked so good even to those who have visited them in person, but no matter. The aim of this all-too-brief, 48 min documentary is to remind us just what a remarkable transformation of human existence has been wrought in a blink of time’s eye by aviation, and it succeeds triumphantly. If anything, it is far too short.

Tourists walking on the sight seeing bridge at Brazil’s extensive Iguazu Falls (click to expand to very large size)

Covering all seven continents, from Iguazu Falls, the gigantic Brazilian set of waterfalls 1.7 miles long stretching into Argentina, to the Maldive Islands, where some brilliant shots are taken amid fish under the clear water as the floats of a seaplane take off the surface overhead.

The filmmakers are undeterred by remoteness or time. They manage to get a rare visit to the South Pole with cinematographer Doug Allan, the Polar wildlife specialist who had spent 30 summers in Antarctica but never reached the Pole, which demands perfect weather to coincide in three airports.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

The DC-3 can land on skids in Antartica, but weather has to be fine in three airports to get you to the South Pole itself.

What they find there, on top of the two mile thick ice sheet, is a decorative pole and other ceremonial trappings from 12 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty, in force since 1961. The marker is a barber pole with a mirrored sphere on top, and it now lies several hundred feet from true 90° south, since the ice cap shifts 30 feet every year, and moving the pole and the ring of national flags would be too much trouble. (The US station with its record size neutrino hunting IceCube particle detector is discreetly in the background).

Now you’ve got there, you may reflect that the Pole is 300 feet farther south. (Click twice to fully enlarge)

But many of the visuals are stunning, new shots of familiar locations and lesser known ones by cinematographer Andrew Waruszewski using the very cinematic, new digital camera Alexa and often accompanied by the overwhelming music typical of IMAX presentations as if vast natural beauty doesn’t speak for itself. Even the platform stretching over the Grand Canyon lends itself to emphasizing the grandeur of the chasm below.

The platform at the Grand Canyon is called the Skywalk (click to enlarge)

But the point the movie makes best is its basic theme, just how immense an acceleration of human life aviation has brought so quickly.

The timeline is, if you think about it, astonishing. For almost 200,000 years we walked at three miles an hour and most humans traveled less than 20 miles from their birthplace. The wheel arrived 5000 years ago, but the steam engine powered the wheel only 175 years ago, when we were still as separated by time and distance as the ancient Egyptians. On screen the map of the USA is lit up by glowing rail connections which networked the entire country by the end of the 19th Century.

Are you thinking of how overweight your neighbor is, or looking out of the window at more land than your ancestors saw in a lifetime? (Click twice for full size)

Then in only a century of aviation, and sixty years of the jet age, the entire globe is lit up with planes like fireflies – 100,000 takeoffs every day, 250,000 people in the sky at any one time. The cliches praising this transformation are all very true: Aviation is now “the lifeblood of the modern world”. The airport is “portal to the planet”. Now “it’s walking distance to almost anywhere”. “What once demanded migration is now a vacation.”

Somehow the pyramids don’t seem as evocative of the secrets of the past when Mum and kids are towed past on camels (Click twice to enlarge)

The film conveys the sense of wonderful mastery conveyed by this change, without delving into its other consequences. Some may privately feel that the Sphinx loses her mystery when a camel carrying Mum and children comes into view, and others worry about global warming and global disease, not to mention the original sin introduced by aviation, the civilian mass deaths of bombing. But this is a feel good trip to things we experience now without a second thought, but are really marvels of life in the age of the airplane.

“Since we were all born into a world with airplanes, it’s hard to imagine that jet travel itself is only 60 years old, just a tick on the timeline of human history,” says director Terwilliger. “Yet practically overnight, our perception of crossing continents and oceans at 500 mph has turned from fascination to frustration. I want to reignite people’s wonder for one of the most extraordinary aspects of the modern world.”

In this huge hangar in Amsterdam, flowers from Kenya will arrive and be sent to Alaska via another hub to reach an Alaska living room in a day, with ten days of fresh bloom left.

Plane passion

One reason may be that almost everyone important involved has access to what is now the best benefit of all, the freedom and adventure of flying small planes, for which they feel a personal passion. Funded by GE as the main sponsor, Terwilliger visited 18 countries over several years for this film, a dedication to the topic that arose first from his childhood awe at the performance of the Blue Angels. He made a 2008 film about this team of Navy jet pilots, Flying Full Circle, in which he himself flew in an F-18 Hornet. Filled with enthusiasm Terwilliger soloed at 19 and got his private pilot license a year later, and his first feature film in 2005 was One Six Right, which told of a day in the life of the local Van Nuys airport on Los Angeles.

The Maldives don’t have an airport but one of these pretty seaplanes can get you there directly.

Harrison Ford, also a keen pilot, narrates the film’s expertly written voice over, which compresses great historical trends as skilfully as Eugene Weber (the UCLA professor whose peerless history of Western society, Western Tradition, is still running on CUNY TV). The star keeps a small fleet of airplanes in a Santa Monica hanger, including a Bell 407 helicopter which he has flown to rescue Wyoming hikers. At 72 recently he had to crash land his vintage plane on a golf course, but survived with a gash to the head.

Not so wonderful: Harrison Ford’s engine failure after takeoff recently landed him on a golf course with a nasty gash in his forehead.

The composer, James Horner, who also pilots his own plane, contributes an appropriately stirring score which is only occasionally intrusive (he won two Oscars for Titanic, for the score and a song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, and the album was the largest-selling instrumental score ever, at 10 million in the US and 27 million worldwide).

The airplane can take you to see the elephants in East Africa, but did anyone ask the elephants if we are welcome?

Living in the Age of Airplanes’ will be showing from April 10 Fri at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, the National Geographic Leroy R. & Rose W. Grumman Dome Theater (Garden City, NY), and the New York Hall of Science in Queens. If busy New Yorkers can be persuaded to lift their eyes from their phones long enough to get their whole family there, it will give them a new appreciation of all that the airplane has brought to our lives, and perhaps inspire them to transcend the inconvenience of modern air travel and visit faraway places themselves before they all are submerged by the banality of mass tourism, or ultimately sink beneath the ocean rise of global warming.

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