Misplaced by History: Artists Worth Knowing Jean Metzinger
French painter Jean Metzinger (1883-1956) may be one of the least known Cubist painters, but he was the first to write a major treatise on the topic, Du “Cubisme” in 1912. A prominent member of the French avant-garde, the cerebral Metzinger relentlessly examined systems and strategies in his art throughout his career.
Metzinger was born in Nantes, France in 1883. At the age of twenty he moved to Paris to pursue a career as a painter. Not long after he met a notorious group of Bohemian artists, poets and writers, among them Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Georges Braque, who sought to change the course of art history. The leader of the group, Pablo Picasso, was to have a profound influence on him.
An early interest in mathematics led Metzinger to Cubism. In 1910, he was the first to explain it by pointing out that Picasso and Braque had dismissed traditional perspective and merged multiple views of an object in a single image. They understood that as humans we view the world in a Cubist manner, from a variety of angles, simultaneously, our minds putting images together cohesively. Said Metzinger, “The visible world only becomes the real world by the operation of thought,”
In 1911 Metzinger participated in the controversial Salle 41 at the Salon des Indépendants, the first formal group exhibition of Cubist painters. His work was represented at the Salon d’Automne in Paris that same year.
Metzinger was a gifted and versatile critic, poet and writer that argued passionately against traditional approaches in art and the need for portraying multiple perspectives to better understand reality and time.
Serving in the army during World War I, Metzinger returned in 1919 to Paris, where he lived for the remainder of his life. His work went through several phases and he continued to exhibit throughout his life.
Metzinger died in 1956 in Paris. Today, his works are included in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others.
Misplaced by History: Artists Worth Knowing Gwendolyn (Gwen) Ann Magee
“The art flows through me but does not belong to me alone. It speaks for those who have no voices, whose voices have been ignored, whose voices have been silenced. It relates history and circumstances that must not be forgotten.”
Gwendolyn (Gwen) Ann Magee
Gwendolyn (Gwen) Ann Magee (1943 – 2011) was an African-American fiber artist. Magee learned to quilt in mid-life and quickly became known for her powerful abstract and narrative quilts depicting the African American experience. Her art was informed by her participation in the civil rights movement, careers in social work and business, and her experiences as a wife, mother, and grandmother.
Magee’s childhood in North Carolina was spent surrounded by art publications and visits to museums in New York with her adoptive mother, a schoolteacher. Fascinated with color, Magee recalled trying to dig into paper with crayons to achieve the depths and intensities that could match the brilliant hues in her mind’s eye. The power of color became a signature of her mature work.
Magee enrolled in the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Greensboro. UNC was in its fourth year of desegregation, and Magee was one of five African Americans in her class. Greensboro was a center of civil rights activities, and Magee became active in local demonstrations against segregation in the community, an experience that would later influence her artistic vision.
Following her graduation in 1963 with a B.A. in sociology, Jones continued graduate study in social science at Kent State and Washington universities. She married D. E. Magee, an ophthalmologist in 1969. The couple moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where they established careers and raised two daughters.
Wanting to make quilts for her daughters to take to college, Magee enrolled in a quilting class in 1989. That class lead to increasing interest in quilting, particularly as it related to other African American quilters. Initially working in traditional quilting methods, she soon moved into abstract designs, and then references to African culture using textile and design traditions. Her vision expanded to include her concern with social justice and African American history and culture.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Magee used her quilts to bring attention to racial injustices of the past and the present. Many of her quilts, including When Hope Unborn Had Died, narrate the impact of slavery in the United States. From 2000 to 2004, Magee worked on a series of twelve quilts inspired by the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. Through her textile art, Magee has also responded to contemporary events. In response to the state of Mississippi voting to keep the Confederate battle cross in their state flag, she created Southern Heritage/Southern Shame in 2001, with layered images of the Confederate flag,
Said Magee, “I see art as a form of communication, a conversation between me, the artist, and the viewer. Each viewer brings different experiences, interacts with the work differently, even if it is two friends standing side by side.” Magee felt her quilts spoke a language that everyone could understand. “My hope is that anyone, no matter what their race or culture, will relate to the work, find something that speaks directly to them. Hopefully, it will continue to speak to people years after I am gone.” She died in Jackson in 2011, age 67, after battling a long-term illness.
Magee’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Museum of Mississippi History, the Michigan State University Museum, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and has been exhibited internationally.
Misplaced by History: Artists Worth Knowing Vanessa Bell
British artist Vanessa Bell was known for her Post-Impressionist paintings which emphasized bold forms with pronounced brushstrokes and rich colors. She was also an innovator in the design world, blurring the distinction between fine and applied art. The artist’s sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, remarked that Bell’s work was as “firm as marble, ravishing as a rainbow, and like sunlight crystallized.”
Born Vanessa Stephen in 1879 in London, England, Bell was raised in an literary household where leading thinkers and artists of the time were family friends. Her father, Leslie, was an accomplished writer and editor and her mother, Julia, a great beauty immortalized by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
Bell’s father encouraged her artistic talents, and in 1899 she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts. There, she was taught by John Singer Sargent, whose influence can be seen in the sumptuous tactile qualities and muted colors of her early work.
After the death of her parents, Bell and her siblings settled in the Bloomsbury area of London. There she met writer Clive Bell and artist Duncan Grant, founding members of what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. The “Bloomsberries” as they were called, were influential English writers, intellectuals, and artists who rejected oppressive Victorian institutions and embraced creative and sexual freedom. They were known for their bohemian lifestyles and complicated love affairs: the American writer and wit Dorothy Parker famously remarked that the group “lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles.”
In 1907, Vanessa married Clive Bell. They both had romantic relationships outside the marriage but remained devoted to each other.
Bell’s artistic epiphany occurred in 1910 when she attended England’s first Post-Impressionist exhibition, organized by the artist and curator, and her eventual lover, Roger Fry. There she saw the works of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso for the first time and felt liberated by the bold, unrefined and expressive quality of their work. Said Bell, “It was as if one might say things one had always felt instead of trying to say things that other people told one to feel”
Bell embarked upon an intense period of experimentation, utilizing the vocabulary of Fauvism and Cubism in her still lifes and landscapes, as well as abstract compositions. She invented a new language of visual expression, just as her sister Virginia invented a revolutionary way of writing. Months prior to the outbreak of World War I, Bell, her husband, and their friends, moved from the city to a country home in East Sussex. Charleston became an ever-changing work of art. Bell and her artist friends, among them Roger Fry and Duncan Grant, decorated furniture, curtains and embroideries, painted doors and walls, with their spots, swirls, arabesques, acrobats and mythic figures.
With Fry and Grant (who eventually became her longtime partner and the father of her daughter, Angelica), Bell founded the Omega Workshops, a lab to experiment with abstraction while creating beautiful and useful things for the home. Their modernist products ranged from furniture to stained glass and mosaics, as well as textiles. In 1915, Bell began to incorporate handprinted fabrics into popular dress designs. She also created the original book jacket designs for the majority of her sister novels and essays. To Bell, art and life were intertwined and intensely personal. She died in 1961 at her beloved Charleston. Her works can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.
Misplaced by History-Artists Worth Knowing: Vilhelm Hammershøi
Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish painter known for his meditative interiors and landscapes. Created with a sensitivity to both light and spatial construction, his muted paintings use a limited palette to great effect. His figures are often positioned away from the viewer and project an air of mystery.
Hammershøi was born in 1864 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The son of a well-to-do merchant, he studied drawing from the age of eight before embarking on studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. By the age of 17, Hammershøi had chosen his themes: portraits of family and close friends, spare interiors and a few landscapes. He shunned the lively subjects and colors favored by his contemporaries, limiting his palette to subdued grey, blue, black, white and ochre.
Hammershøi worked mainly in his native city, painting portraits, architecture, and interiors. He is most celebrated for his interiors, many of which he painted in Copenhagen. By 1885, his work had taken on the formal and emotional characteristics of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. His early works, with their simplicity and recording of the “banality of everyday life”, enjoyed critical acclaim. Artists and literary figures of the time, among them Emil Nolde and Rainer Maria Rilke, admired his work and sought out his company. They remarked on Hammershoi’s retiring manner and reluctance to talk.
Hammershøi took few risks and never explained his art. As his library of art journals testifies, Hammershøi was exposed to contemporary art movements but consciously chose to ignore their “contaminating” effects.
Painting slowly, Hammershøi completed only 400 canvases. He expressed admiration for only one other painter, the American James McNeill Whistler. As an homage to Whistler’s iconic portrait of his mother, Hammershøi painted his mother Frederikke seated in profile.
Hammershøi’s also contributed to a new model in Scandinavian interior design, with his rejection of the cluttered nineteenth-century aesthetic in favor of a simplicity that bordered on the ascetic.
Successful during his own lifetime, Hammershøi died in 1916 in Copenhagen. In 2008, the Royal Academy of London put on the first major exhibition of his work in Britain, “Vilhelm Hammershøi: The Poetry of Silence.” Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London, and the Ordrupgaard Collection in Charlottenlund, Denmark, among others.
Misplaced by History–Artists Worth Knowing: Suzanne Valadon
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) was groundbreaking French painter who lived and worked according to her own rules. Living at the epicenter of artistic Paris, she was a model and friend to some of the most famous artists of her generation. Her paintings of women were based on real emotions and actual physical experience, and she inspired women to look and think for themselves when such behavior was not supported.
Valadon was born near Limoges in 1865, her mother a laundress and her father unknown. As a teenager she worked as an acrobat in a circus, but when she was 16 years old, she suffered a fall. She left the circus and worked as a model for some of the most prominent artists of the time, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Auguste Renoir.
As an artists’ model, Valadon became an active member of the artistic community of Montmartre. Her personal life was colorful: Renoir was only one among a number of painters with whom she had affairs. In 1883, at age 18, Valadon gave birth on to an illegitimate son, Maurice Utrillo, who later became a renowned painter. Valadon herself seemed uncertain as to who the father of her child was.
Valadon’s first known work, a pastel Self-Portrait, dates from 1883. During the mid-to late-1880s, Valadon produced many drawings and pastels of people and of street scenes. Her artistic endeavors were assisted by Toulouse-Lautrec, for whom she often modeled and had a lengthy affair. Valadon worked to hone her skills by observing the techniques of the artists who painted her, becoming a fully self-taught artist over the years.
In 1890 she became friends with painter Edgar Degas who admired and purchased her work. Degas encouraged her efforts to become an artist and helped get her career started. In 1894 Valadon became the first woman to show at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, a major artistic achievement. After a turbulent romantic life, Valadon married a stockbroker who provided financial stability and allowed her to dedicate herself to drawing and painting full time.
Valadon is particularly known for her female nudes. She was among the first women to build an extensive body of work in this field, challenging the conventional portrayal of women by contemporary male artists. She placed her subjects in a living, crowded world, rather than painting them statue-like and isolated. Valadon’s unsentimental, at times edgy approach, combined with a fascination with sex and aging, allied her with Northern European Expressionists. Her unapologetic art is regarded as an art historical lynch-pin for Feminist Art.
Valadon’s home life was tumultuous. Her son Maurice began exhibiting signs of mental problems and alcoholism as a teenager, so she devoted much of her time caring for him. She encouraged him to try painting, and he soon became a successful artist in his own right. Valadon’s marriage ended in 1909 and she began a relationship with Andre Utter, an artist 20 years her junior. Valadon continued to paint and in 1911 held her first solo exhibition. Her work was acclaimed for its sensitive observation combined with bold linework and patterns. Valadon exhibited frequently in the 1920s and by the 1930’s became internationally known.
On April 7, 1938, Valadon suffered a stroke while painting at her easel. She died hours later, at the age of 72. She left over 475 paintings, nearly 275 drawings, and 31 etchings. Valadon had forged a career in a man’s world on her own terms. She had challenged the conventions of the female nude and carved a new critical space for artists to consider that genre.
Misplaced by History, Artists Worth Knowing: Anna Hyatt Huntington
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was a prolific and innovative American sculptor best known for her equestrian statues. She was the first woman artist to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was also a philanthropist who along with her husband, helped found nearly 20 museums and wildlife preserves as well as America’s first sculpture garden.
Huntington’s father was a noted paleontologist and professor of zoology at Harvard University, her mother, an amateur landscape. Influenced by them, Huntington acquired both an extensive knowledge of the anatomy and behavior of animals and an enthusiasm for drawing. She had a special affection for horses and made her first clay models of them as well as other domestic animals.
Initially, Huntington studied violin at a private school and spent several years training to become a professional concert violinist. At the age of 19, while suffering from an illness, Huntington helped her sister repair the broken foot on a sculpture her sister had produced. Pleased with the results, her sister asked her to collaborate on a sculpture which included the family dog. Huntington’s sculpture was accepted for exhibition by one of the national art societies, and purchased. This was the impetus to turn away from the violin and pursue studies under the Boston portrait sculptor, Henry Hudson Kitson. Her first one-woman show, held at the Boston Arts Club, consisted of 40 animal sculptures. After the death of her parents, Huntington moved to New York, to continue her studies.
Attending the Art Students League, she studied with three sculptors, most notably Gutzon Borglum, the designer of Mount Rushmore. Preferring to work independently, Huntington left formal instruction in favor of direct observation. Over the next few years, she spent much of her time at the Bronx Zoo, refining her technique and becoming a master of naturalistic animal sculpture.
By 1907, Huntington felt confident enough in her abilities to travel to Europe and pursue her work independently. She took a studio in France and later in Italy, her work becoming larger in scale. Huntington had long dreamed of producing a life-sized equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. She traveled to Rouen and other places Joan had lived, searched the streets of Paris for the right kind of horse and brought it to her studio. Working ten hours a day she completed the work in four months. It was a stunning success, awarding Huntington a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from the French government.
Throughout this period, Huntington received several other commissions and honors, raising her career to new heights. In 1912, she was one of only 12 women in the U.S. making at least $50,000 a year. In 1923 Huntington married railroad heir and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington, who shared her cultural interests and desire to give back to the community.
From the mid-1920s on, Huntington battled tuberculosis, reducing her output. In 1930, the Huntingtons purchased approximately 7,000 acres of former plantation land in the coastal region of South Carolina. It provide a milder winter climate for her illness and Huntington was able to resume work. Part of their estate was opened to the public in 1932 as Brookgreen Gardens. It featured numerous works by Huntington and became the first modern sculpture garden. During the Depression, the Huntington’s supported struggling sculptors whose work dotted the Brookgreen landscape.
Huntington recovered from tuberculous and resumed work at a fever pitch. In 1936, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held a retrospective exhibition of 171 of Huntington’s works in New York. She enjoyed solo exhibitions and her work toured the United States through 1938 and 1939. With the advent of abstract sculpture in the 1950s, Huntington’s more traditional, academic style fell out of favor, much to her dismay. She referred to modernism “as an overwhelming flood of degenerate trash drowning sincere and conservative workers in all the arts.” Undaunted, she continued to work, producing even larger pieces. Following her husband’s death, Huntington returned to sculpture full-time and continued to work well into her 80’s. On her 90th birthday in 1966 she was still working, reportedly on a bust of the composer Charles Ives. Huntington died in 1973 at the age of 97. Active for 70 years, she is recognized today as one of America’s finest animal sculptors, whose naturalistic works helped to bridge the gap between the traditional styles of the 1800s and the abstract styles of the mid-20th century.
Misplaced by History: Artists Worth Knowing, No. 3
African-American artist Horace Pippin (1881-1946) was a self-taught artist known for his poetic paintings of flowers, genre scenes, and historical events such as the hanging of the abolitionist John Brown.
As a child, Pippin liked to draw but his family could not afford art materials. He left school at age fourteen to support his family, working as a hotel porter and an iron molder in a factory. Shot by a sniper while serving in World War I, the artist’s right arm was permanently disabled. On his return to the United States, he settled in Pennsylvania where he supported his family on the income from odd jobs and his military pension.
At the age of forty Pippin found a way, despite his partially paralyzed right arm, to draw on wood using a hot poker, then painting in the outlined areas. Wishing to explore other mediums, Pippin tried oil painting. He used his “good” left hand to guide his crippled right hand, which held the paintbrush, across the canvas. It took him three years to finish his first painting. Later, once he began painting more steadily, he was able to produce about four paintings a year.
Pippin created a number of eloquent antiwar paintings, however. his most frequent themes centered on the African American experience and his childhood. He also painted biblical scenes and portraits. The art world discovered Pippin in 1937, and his works were widely exhibited at institutions throughout the country and brought him wide acclaim. Reflected Pippin on his work, “My opinion of art is that a man should have love for it, because my idea is that he paints from his heart and mind.”
Today, Horace Pippin’s works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.
Misplaced by History: Artists Worth Knowing, No. 2
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) was a British-Mexican artist whose intensely autobiographical paintings explore a fantasy world that feature elements of folklore and fairy tales, mythical traditions, and are influenced by Northern Renaissance masters, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel.
Carrington was raised in a wealthy Irish-Catholic family. A rebel from childhood she rejected the debutante life to pursue art, studying painting in London. There she encountered Surrealism for the first time and in 1937 became romantically involved with one of its leaders, German artist Max Ernst. Their 26 year age gap shocked her father who subsequently disowned her.
Carrington and Ernst lived together and worked in harmony for a few years, collaborating and supporting each other’s artistic development. Their artist friends included Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and others. Although Carrington never considered herself a card-carrying surrealist, she embraced the unexpected and irrational spirit of the Surrealist movement with zeal.
World War II extinguished Surrealism in Europe. Ernst was briefly imprisoned for being a “hostile alien” by French authorities. After the Nazis invaded France, he was arrested again, this time for his “degenerate” art. Ernst escaped to America leaving behind an emotionally devastated Carrington.
After Ernst’s abandonment, the spirited Carrington emigrated to Mexico, which Surrealist Andre Breton called the”most surreal nation on earth”. There she found a vibrant artistic community and resumed painting. Her work reflected a growing interest in spirits and the occult; her canvases populated with strange furred, feathered and horned beings.
When she died at age 94, Carrington was one of the last links to the Surrealist movement. Today, Carrington’s works are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.
Tammis Keefe (1913-1960) was an American textile designer best known for her playful and innovative graphic designs on handkerchiefs, kitchen towels and scarves.
Born in Los Angeles, Keefe originally studied mathematics. She shifted her focus to art after visiting Chicago’s Art Institute while on a trip to the 1933-34 World’s Fair. Returning to Los Angeles she studied painting at the Chouinard Art School. During WWII, Keefe created advertising design and packaging as the Art Director of Arts & Architecture magazine.
Keefe’s whimsical designs were often inspired by her travels. Many were mini travel guides, showing highlights of attractions not to be missed. Her work also celebrated a love of nature and animals, antique furniture, weather vanes, and holidays. Her exuberant imagination knew no bounds. She also produced designs for home furnishing textiles, glassware, sportswear shirts, shower curtains, and much more.
Keefe was one of the first women to sign her name conspicuously on her work and to achieve name recognition. Before her death at age forty-six, she produced approximately four hundred designs for handkerchiefs and at least one hundred for dishtowels, all featuring her trademark unexpected color and subtle wit.
Keefe’s works, which are prized by collectors, can be found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,the Cooper Hewitt and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.