Archive for the 'Curatorial' Category



All Bow Before the Bow

Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas with Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s L’Alsace

As the checklist was being developed for the recent reinstallation of the European Art Galleries, curator Dr. Nicole Myers consulted with the Objects Conservation Team about the DMA’s terracotta bust L’Alsace by French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. This mid-19th-century sculpture had not been featured in our permanent collection galleries in over 10 years, and the re-envisioned gallery design, featuring recent bequests and a more in-depth narrative of European art history, was just the opportunity to review some of our holdings. When we assessed the sculpture’s condition, we agreed on a few issues that needed to be addressed prior to display. Though structurally sound, this sculpture needed some attention to increase the aesthetic legibility. The curatorial-conservation collaboration is an insightful joint investigation as both subject matter experts work together to best present a work of art to the public.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, L’Alsace, before 1883, terracotta, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Edmund Pillsbury, Fort Worth, in honor of the opening of the new Dallas Museum of Art, 1983.153

This captivating terracotta sculpture is a symbolic representation of an idealized young woman of the Alsace region—a politically charged cultural and historic area because governance passed back and forth between France and Germany from the Thirty Years’ War to World War II. Though it is unclear exactly when in the 19th century this bust was created, the Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.

The subject’s elaborate hairstyle (crimped bangs and two long braids, also called “plaits” in the 19th century), a section of an embroidered traditional dirndl apron dress, and bunches of flowers at her chest and in her hair are all visual cues to amplify the allegory of femininity and nationality. In the mid-19th century, the societal fashion across the European countries celebrated elaborate and rather complicated hair, and even for a time, these crimped bangs. A woman’s crowning glory was her hair. Keep in mind, hairstyle codes for women differed with age and even marital status. And, in this sculpture, we also get a snapshot of the region.

Charles Spindler, cover of Léon Boll’s “Wines and Coteaux d’Alsace” brochure, 1900

To both increase the legibility of and focus the viewer on the sculpture’s attributes (both in subject matter and material appreciation), the goals were to give it a general cleaning and to minimize stains and discolored old repairs. The minor oily grime discolorations seen around the high-touch areas, such as the underarm area, were reduced mechanically with vinyl erasers. The deep interstices in the terracotta had accumulated layers of dust, darkening the recesses even further. Dust and some minor spots of mold were carefully removed with a selection of tools (soft brushes, swabs, and a HEPA vacuum with micro-attachments).

Notice the minor oily grime discoloration around high-touch areas, such as this underarm area, before conservation.
Before and after reducing discolorations mechanically with vinyl erasers

Unifying the appearance of a previous restoration (a large patched hole on the back of the sculpture) with the surrounding areas was the most time-consuming part of the treatment. This old restoration was still structurally stable but drew unnecessary attention because the old fill materials used did not match the terracotta. So, the areas were toned back with reversible conservation paints.

The old restoration fills did not match the original terracotta.
Fran Baas treating the sculpture
Before and after treatment

She is now on view, under an acrylic case for protection from dust and grimy hands, with each side visible and offering something interesting for the viewer. Please find this work in our virtual gallery and spend time appreciating its craftsmanship and how the terracotta clay was manipulated by the artist before firing. You can see the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals at her chest, revealing the creative spontaneity during the working process. Notice her exquisite outfit depicting her regional identity but especially appreciate that large bow. She’s gorgeous—even more so now that she’s been cleaned and restored!

Notice the details in the flowers, including the artist’s fingerprints in the flower petals.

Fran Baas is the Interim Chief Conservator at the DMA.

A Sneak Peek of “Dalí’s Divine Comedy”

Whimsical. Unsettling. Surreal. These are a few of the adjectives used to describe the look and feel of the exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy, coming soon to the DMA. As the 2019-2020 Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art, I was given the opportunity to curate an exhibition of works on paper in a space in the European galleries on Level 2, drawing from the Museum’s rich collection of European prints and drawings. Exhibition planning comes several months (if not years for large exhibitions!) in advance before the works even touch the wall. Thus, I arrived at the DMA at the beginning of my tenure in mid-August last year with my sleeves rolled up and ready to work.

Dali’s Divine Comedy brings together works from prominent Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí’s series illustrating The Divine Comedy. Written by Florentine poet Dante Alighieri in 1320, this long narrative poem charts Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in search of salvation.

In 1950 the Italian government commissioned Dalí to illustrate The Divine Comedy in celebration of Dante’s 700th birthday. Although the request was later revoked, Dalí, likely inspired by the poem’s imaginative qualities and its potential for fantastical illustrations, persisted with this project. From 1951 to 1960 he created 100 watercolors representing each canto (or section) of the poem. The watercolors were later transferred to colored wood engravings. This series, containing 100 prints, came into the DMA’s collection in 1996 as a gift from collectors Lois and Howard B. Wolf.

Following the narrative cycle of its original literary source, Dalí’s Divine Comedy opens with a presentation of Dante’s depictions of Hell. Dalí visually reinterprets this realm as a barren, empty landscape crawling with strange amorphous forms as illustrated in the print Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30). His radical articulation of space demonstrates his unique Surrealist spin on the frightful qualities traditionally ascribed to Hell. Instead of depicting Hell as a fiery inferno, Dalí portrays this region as a vast empty space that conjures comparable feelings of terror.

Salvador Dalí, Hell: Men Who Devour Each Other (Canto 30), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.30
Salvador Dalí, Hell: The Blasphemers (Canto 14), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14

Echoing the liminality, or state of in-betweenness, that characterizes Purgatory, Dalí recycles visual strategies employed in his renderings of Hell and Heaven to illustrate scenes from this region. In Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), sharp lines seen in Hell resurface in Purgatory, mediated by dynamic watercolor forms that distinguish Heaven. Dalí also provides up-close portraits of the realm’s inhabitants, providing a psychoanalytic glimpse into the complex nature of repentance.

Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: Avarice and Prodigality (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.14
Salvador Dalí, Purgatory: The Indolent Ones (Canto 3), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.37

Visitors will find Dalí’s seemingly placid though uncanny representations of Heaven in stark contrast to the scenes presented in the previous two realms. Dalí depicts the celestial cosmos with vibrant, warm watercolors as illustrated in Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2). The loose, fluid brushstrokes that compose the painterly form of the angel resonate with the ethereal properties that Dante ascribes to Heaven.

Perhaps the most visually striking element among these prints is Dalí’s persistent use of tiny geometric forms, which he refers to as rhinoceros horns, to make up the bodies of the angels and spirits that Dante encounters in Heaven. Dalí developed a peculiar interest in these forms during the later phase of his career claiming that they served as his sources of “angelic inspirations.”

Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Angel (Canto 2), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.69
Salvador Dalí, Paradise: The Sixth Sphere of Jupiter (Canto 20), about 1960, wood engraving printed in color, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Lois and Howard B. Wolf, 1996.219.87

Dalí employs different visual aesthetics in his depiction of each realm while also guiding the viewer to consider the timeless paragone, or interaction between word and image, through his illustrations. The DMA’s exhibition Dalí’s Divine Comedy presents these varying perspectives, all while encouraging an endless pursuit of fantasy, play, and imagination.

Chasitie Brown is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art at the DMA.

The House and the Dream of the Poetic Image

For a Dreamer of Houses takes Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 book The Poetics of Space as its conceptual framework. In this work, the French philosopher posits the house as the formative structure by which we develop a relationship with the exterior world through the emotive qualities of our daydreams and memories. These experiences then become the stuff from which writers and poets spin the threads of meaning, conjuring images forth from where we formed our first world: the house.

Clementine Hunter, Saturday Nite, 1971, oil on canvas board, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ryan, 1984.220

The Poetics of Space is, fundamentally, a love letter to poetry, to the ways in which poets shape language into an evocation of lived experiences, of half-forgotten memories. Yet there is a porous boundary between the literary and visual arts, with their shared interest in the conjuring of images. Visual art has a language all its own—one of light captured on silver-coated paper, pixels in digital space, etched impressions. As the resulting weaving of this visual language, art is a way of imagining—and imaging—potential ways of being in the world. In Bachelard’s telling, the questions of being human that art seeks to interrogate and crystallize are forged through the home, the nest from which we learn to become social beings.  

LaToya Ruby Frazier, Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, 2007, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family
Acquisition Fund, 2018.37

For Bachelard, this outward-looking view springs from our sense of the house as a universe in and of itself. In the 2007 photograph Grandma Ruby’s Refrigerator, LaToya Ruby Frazier portrays the home as the encapsulation of a/the world, with the ties of familial relationships proudly displayed in an orderly grid on her grandmother’s fridge. The kitchen—a space of gathering, of shared meals and the tenderness of cooking and providing for one another—becomes the site in which the matriarch orders her world. Here, the home is a place of comfort and love from which her family can fundamentally ground themselves as they venture outside of its sheltering embrace.

Literal depictions of the home are not the only forms of art to which Bachelard’s theories may be applied. Ian Cheng’s BOB (Bag of Beliefs) is an artificial lifeform composed of multiple driving personalities that react to each other and to external stimuli. While BOB lives in a cavernous simulated den in the space of the gallery, viewers contribute to BOB’s development through the BOB Shrine, a phone-based app in which viewers introduce patterns of stimuli to BOB and thereby shape its behavior in a parental fashion. As surprise and upheaval force BOB to update its beliefs, Cheng seeks to explore what constitutes the human experience of change and encounter through artificial life.

Ian Cheng, BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2018-19, artificial lifeform, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.81

BOB exists solely in digital space, an amorphous realm of data that seems almost immaterial in the context of human life. It is through the notion of inhabitation that we ground our relationship to BOB. BOB is not “real” per se, but we are able to conceive of it as a being with drives and needs and to visualize its experience through the framework of the home: its home in the gallery monitors is the place from which it nourishes itself, from which it develops a code of beliefs, from which it interacts with the world on a truly global scale. As Bachelard notes, “Whenever life seeks to shelter, protect, cover or hide itself, the imagination sympathizes with the being that inhabits the protected space.”

It is this ability of the house to foster imagination that Bachelard finds so compelling. He argues that intimate spaces, like those of the home, give rise to the daydreams in which our material, immediate world becomes infinite, and we achieve that grandeur that is only to be found in the depths of thought. The expanse of the cosmos becomes tangible and known, a cherished friend to our imaginings. Bachelard muses, “The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Vija Celmins, Strata, 1983, mezzotint, Dallas Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon Fund, 1984.24, © Vija Celmins

Perhaps no artist captures the longing and the tender intimacy of the immense better than Vija Celmins, whose lovingly hand-drawn seascapes, rock fields, and starscapes render these seemingly boundless landscapes as human and knowable. Strata, with its soft, luminous stars pulsing through the black field of space, imparts a sense of belonging in a vast universe. In Celmins’s work, we are stardust; “immensity is within ourselves.” Her creation, itself visual poetry, brings the cosmos within our reach, the stuff of daydreams drawn forth from the embrace of the known universe of our homes.

Hilde Nelson is the Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Behind the Scenes with the Dream Team

It takes a village to make an exhibition come together. The imaginative and immersive exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses wouldn’t be possible without a top-notch team of passionate DMA staff members, each of whom play a unique and vital role in making the art come to life. They all had a bit of fun in the process, too! Check out these behind-the-scenes photos submitted by our “Dream Team.”

The Dream Team! This team is made up of registrars, preparators, conservators, designers, security and operations staff, and curatorial staff.
Installation begins for Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil.
Raising the roof! The DMA preparator team begins installing the roof section of Rubber Pencil Devil.
Rubber Pencil Devil is wrapped in plastic as the floors around it are built.
Curator Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck and Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art Hilde Nelson watch the videos inside Rubber Pencil Devil.
Designer Jaclyn Le prepares the house-shaped scrim to go in place.
Going for a ride in the lift.
Even underwear chandeliers need steaming! Here, Interim Chief Conservator Fran Baas prepares Pipilotti Rist’s Massachusetts Chandelier. #ArtConservation
Janine Antoni’s Grope with contract preparator Vince Jones’s feet. “It was necessary to get behind the piece, and it just made me laugh!” —Mary Nicolett, Senior Preparator
Gallery Attendant Tirfe Chafo spreading JOY!
Straightening up Betty Woodman’s The Red Table.
Artist Francisco Moreno lends a hand to Senior Preparator Russell Sublette with the installation of his work Chapel.
Francisco Moreno and contract preparator Kevin Jacobs perform a post-installation quality check on the interior of Chapel.

Making Ourselves at Home

Our homes have taken on new significance in these past few weeks. We are getting to know much more intimately our rooms, our furniture, and certainly our roommates. We might be noticing the dust more on the floors, or the cracks in the ceiling. We might be noting habits that perhaps were always there, but have come to the fore.

Is there a chair you prefer to sit in for comfort? A window you often find yourself daydreaming out of? Is there a favorite sweatshirt or blanket you reach for when you feel a draft?

Daniel Barsotti, Untitled (Window), 1977, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Polaroid Foundation grant, 1977.46, © Daniel Barsotti

There might be things we are lacking, things that had broken that we had been meaning to replace. We might be farther away from the homes in which we were raised, and the families inside, and it might feel harder to get to those places.

Romare Bearden, The Family, 1975, intaglio, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Michael L. Rosenberg, 1994.245.5, © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York

Maybe that family heirloom is being revisited more often now. Hands grazing over the nooks and crannies in the wood. Smells from recipes handed down from generations might be flooding our kitchens, if we are lucky.

Bill Owens, We’re really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home., 1971, gelatin silver print, Dallas Museum of Art, Lay Family Acquisition Fund, 2005.103.2, © Bill Owens

Our homes are microcosms of ourselves. They are our habits embodied. They are visualizations of our personalities. They can make us feel safe, but they can also scare us. The storms in the middle of the night might cause strange sounds and shadows to appear. The house can take on a life of its own. But it’s ultimately a shelter, and a home is a privilege not everyone has.

Francisco Moreno, Chapel, 2016-18, pencil, vine charcoal pencil, and acrylic on an all-encompassing structure, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, the Charron and Peter Denker Contemporary Texas Art Fund, Elisabeth Karpidas, Charles Dee Mitchell, Tammy Cotton Hartnett, Travis Vandergriff, Joyce Goss, Harper and Jim Kennington, and Karen and John Reoch, 2019.58. Photo by Wade Griffith, courtesy of the artist and Erin Cluley Gallery.

A house is also a boundary between ourselves and the world around us. We might see neighbors pass by our windows for the first time. We might peer into brand new rooms, far away, via technological devices, now that our schools and businesses are being conducted from home.

The exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses was organized before we as curators had any idea how much time we would all be spending in our own homes. Indeed, currently you can see the show via the comfort of your pajamas in 3-D on the web. But it was born from ideas circulated in philosophy, psychology, and sociology in the last hundred years. Hilde Nelson, Chloë Courtney, and I developed the concept for the show over the past year, inspired by recent acquisitions of immersive installations that brought to the fore just how wonderful the home is. Not just as a well-known and -loved domestic space, but as a place of fantasy.

Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil, 2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, folding chairs, monitors, high-res digital video, color, and sound, Dallas Museum of Art, TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art Fund, 2019.59. Photo by Tom Little. Courtesy of the artist and Karma, New York.

We noticed that artists’ depictions of the home were reflecting our increasingly globalized world, re-creating a childhood house that could fit inside a suitcase. Or sociopolitical issues, like state-sponsored violence, imagining how furniture could reflect invented futures that were nurturing instead of traumatizing. Then, a global pandemic arose, and we were startled to realize how works in the show, chosen months ago, seemed to presage a strange new reality, with quarantining procedures, new emphasis on hygiene, and the fear of illness striking our loved ones.

Misty Keasler, Green Room (Quarenteen) Leagnul di Copii, Tigru Mures, Romania, 2004, C-print on Kodak Supra Endura, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Burt and Missy Finger, 2006.33. Courtesy Misty Keasler and The Public Trust Gallery.

But in spite of these fears, readers, we saw a resiliency in the worlds depicted by these artists. We still see a bright future, where we can take the lessons learned in the imaginative worlds of art, and apply them to a reality where we are all in this together, helping build a more equitable and safer future. And so we look to art, just like to the home, to visualize our shared humanity. And we have lots more time to look, and reflect on what we are seeing, at home.

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck is the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Get to Know an Artist: Helen Brooks, “Profile”

Helen Brooks, Profile, about 1935, charcoal, Dallas Art League Purchase Prize, Seventh Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1935.13

Eighty-five years ago, on March 24, 1935, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts opened its seventh annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition. That same day, an illustrated spread in the Dallas Morning News announced the show’s 12 first-prize winners, all but two of which are now in the DMA’s collection. Helen Brooks’s Profile, the only self-portrait of the bunch, appears at bottom center, adding a touch of humanity to a roster of mostly landscapes and still lifes. Reviewing Dallas’s 1934-1935 art season for the Dallas Morning News a few months later, artist, critic, and future Museum Director Jerry Bywaters called Brooks’s work “one of the best drawings of the season.”

Clip from Dallas Morning News, “The Prize Winners,” March 24, 1935; clip from Dallas Morning News, January 5, 1936

When a show of self-portraits by 27 local artists opened at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in January 1936, Bywaters again had nothing but praise for Brooks’s contribution, declaring in the News, “It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly convincing likeness or better drawing than the small work by Helen Brooks.” One can imagine Brooks appreciating Bywaters’ complimentary words; however, she may have raised an eyebrow at an earlier section of the 1936 article, where Bywaters applauded what he saw as the exhibition artists’ lack of vanity: “In most cases,” he wrote, the self-portraits on display “attempt to make a good rendering of a person who may be considered detachedly as a personality or a lemon [something substandard, disappointing].” Ouch, Jerry.  
 
Bywaters’ mixed messaging aside, Profile and the later, three-quarters-view portrait reveal Brooks to be both a talented artist and a woman with a keen sense of style. She skillfully captures distinctive facial features like her sharp cheekbones; bow-shaped, downturned lips; and receding chin. Her glossy black bob with short, blunt bangs and finger waves, as well as her thinly plucked, arched brows, wouldn’t look out of place on a 1920s movie starlet—a photograph that accompanied news of Brooks’s recent wedding in October 1936 could practically double as a Golden Age Hollywood headshot. #HaircutGoals 

Clip from Dallas Morning News, “Back from Wedding Trip,” October 18, 1936

Melinda Narro is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Preserving 100-Year-Old Plastic: Naum Gabo’s “Constructed Head No. 2”

The plastic sculpture is deteriorating, so slowly you can’t tell, but actively and unavoidably. For two years now, Elena Torok, Assistant Objects Conservator at the DMA, has been researching the repair history and material composition of Constructed Head No. 2 by Naum Gabo (1890–1977), in preparation for a conservation treatment this past spring. The sculpture is now free to see in the European Art Galleries.

Naum Gabo, Constructed Head No. 2, 1923–24, based on an original design of 1916, Ivory Rhodoid, Dallas Museum of Art, Edward S. Marcus Memorial Fund, 1981.35, © Nina Williams, England

Naum Gabo was a Russian avant-garde artist who worked with some of the some earliest forms of plastic in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Plastic was just becoming commercially available, and Constructivists like Gabo were interested in using new materials to merge art and daily life.

Over his lifetime, Gabo made seven versions of Constructed Head No. 2. They are all similar in design—a geometric bust of a woman made of many combined pieces—but they vary in size and medium. The earliest version was made from painted galvanized iron in 1916, and the latest, in the Nasher Sculpture Center’s collection, was made from stainless steel in 1975. The version in the DMA’s collection, dated 1923–1924, is made from Ivory Rhodoid (a trade name for an early cellulose ester). It is the only version Gabo made in plastic.

Plastic artworks are tricky for museums to preserve. There are many types of plastics, and the materials, still relatively new to the history of art, don’t all age well. Depending on type, they may start to bend, change color, or even break down entirely. Gabo’s early plastic works are known for their sensitivity. A sculpture acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art notoriously degraded to the point of being unable to be shown again.

Assistant Objects Conservator Elena Torok with Naum Gabo’s Constructed Head No. 2.

How has the DMA’s sculpture escaped that fate? Torok’s research indicates it has something to do with the color. More specifically, she has identified white pigments in Constructed Head No. 2 that appear to slow the deterioration of this particular plastic. Although the sculpture has discolored slightly and the left shoulder has started to bend and deform, it is still in great condition, especially compared to many other plastic works Gabo made during the same time period.

By 2017 what had not aged so well were materials used in older repairs. Constructed Head No. 2 was repaired at least three times before it was acquired by the DMA in 1981, and some of the glues used had started to yellow and darken (a common occurrence with certain adhesives as they age). This change was not only visually problematic, but also structurally worrisome; as glues discolor, their breakdown can eventually cause older repairs to lose their strength. As a result, this important work in the Museum’s collection has not been displayed in recent years.

Torok treats Naum Gabo’s Constructed Head No. 2.

Torok thoroughly researched the sculpture’s repair history before determining a conservation treatment plan. Earlier this year, she carefully removed the old, discolored adhesive and replaced it with new adhesive that is long-lasting and, most importantly, reversible, meaning it can be removed and replaced if necessary in the future. In August the sculpture went back on display for the first time in five years.

Constructed Head No. 2 is almost 100 years old now. The sculpture is too fragile to leave the DMA, it can’t be displayed too long due to light sensitivities, and it has to be shown in a special perforated case to allow for air exchange. As it slowly breaks down, the plastic releases distinct-smelling chemicals that can actually speed the aging of the sculpture if allowed to remain enclosed in close contact with it over time. Museums continue to acquire works made with plastic, and conservators continue to research the material and fight science with science in order to keep works on view (and intact) as long as possible.

Lillian Michel is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Examining “Landscape with Saint Jerome”

Landscape with Saint Jerome by Herri met de Bles after conservation treatment

Landscape with Saint Jerome, a fantastical landscape by Herri met de Bles, is hanging in the newly reinstalled European art galleries after years in storage. Before it could be displayed, the 16th-century painting required careful conservation treatment in the DMA’s Paintings Conservation Studio. Treatment revealed a remarkably complex scene, with many tiny figures, hidden creatures, and microscopic details.

Little is known of Herri met de Bles, who was born around 1510 and died after 1550. Regardless of his life being shrouded in mystery, Bles was an important Flemish Mannerist landscape painter, known for knitting together realistic landscape scenes with fantastic imaginary elements. In Italy, where his art was popular, Bles was known as “Civetta” (“owl” in Italian), because he liked to paint little owls into his works, acting as a sort of playfully hidden signature. If you look closely in the tree behind St. Jerome, you will see the beak and eyes of a tiny owl peeking through a tree hollow.

Landscape with Saint Jerome before treatment

Landscape with Saint Jerome, although striking, arrived at the conservation studio in need of treatment. Bles applied colorful, thin layers of paint over a prepared wooden support. The wood warped over time, causing cracks in the support and paint simultaneously. A darkened varnish further obscured the beautiful and precise details. Paint applied in a previous restoration campaign, which was likely undertaken in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, had also discolored, creating dissonance in the surface of the work and obscuring the overall harmony evoked by the artist in the landscape.

The painting was examined using various techniques—including microscopes, ultraviolet light radiation, infrared reflectography (IR), and x-radiography—to gain insight into the condition of the work and the artist’s techniques. Armed with this information, treatment began in preparation for the reinstallation of the European Galleries.

Landscape with Saint Jerome during treatment

First, the dark and discolored varnish and areas of overpaint were removed. Cleaning revealed a world of detail previously unknown. Photomicrographs show details hardly perceptible without the aid of a microscope. Tiny creatures emerged in the wooded forest scene to the right of the central figure and in the mountains to the left, including a bear and cub family, stags, tiny figures hiking with a dog, and mountain goats. St. Jerome centers the composition and is accompanied by precisely painted attributes, including the skull and lion. He is surrounded by tiny, lively creatures such as squirrels, snails, lizards, mushrooms, and frogs. Bles also renders architectural features beautifully and goes so far as to depict not only microscopic decorative sculpture and architectural features but also decorative friezes noticeable only with magnification.

The IR images revealed especially interesting technical information. An elaborate underdrawing emerged when IR images were captured. Carbon-based materials absorb the infrared radiation and will appear black in IR images, while other materials that do not absorb the radiation will look transparent. Using this technique, underdrawing materials that contain carbon such as black inks, charcoal, and other carbon-containing black pigments become visible underneath overlying paint layers. Transfer marks, appearing as tiny black dots, were visible throughout the underdrawing, suggesting the use of prepared cartoon drawings. More free underdrawing was also observed, and can also be seen in the detail image. This type of underdrawing has been observed in other paintings attributed to Bles and serves as a fingerprint, in a way, of his working method.

After years of being stored away, this gorgeous painting by a mysterious artist is now on view for visitors to explore as part of free general admission. The landscape’s abundance of details will reward close looking, and the work serves as a dynamic addition to the newly reinstalled European Galleries.

Laura Hartman is the Associate Conservator at the DMA.

UPDATE: This post was originally written with the artwork title Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. As of May 15, 2020, our curators have identified this work’s title as Landscape with Saint Jerome.

Image: Herri met de Bles, Landscape with Saint Jerome, about 1540, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.21

The Art World and Dior: Raf Simons

Andy Warhol walked the René Magritte cloud-inspired runway, but Raf Simons’ Fall 2013 collection borrowed its name, “The Persistence of Memory,” from Salvador Dalí. Simons, drawing on formative moments in his life and in the life of Christian Dior, nods here to their shared journey as art gallerists-turned-couturiers. Simons, Dior Creative Director from 2012 to 2015, was dedicated to continuing the bond between artists and Dior.

Dior closed his gallery in 1934 when the 1929 financial crisis adversely affected the art market. In 1945, Dior turned to Dalí as the inspiration for his Autumn/Winter collection, and in 1950 Dior and Dalí collaborated in Brazil to create the futuristic Costume of the year 2045.

Salvador Dalí, Costume of the year 2045, 1950, blue silk dress and red crutch, Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

In his debut Dior collection, Simons collaborated with contemporary artist Sterling Ruby. Simons used custom-made silks based on Ruby’s paintings, turning the canvases into haute couture. Ruby was a contemporary of Simons in the same way Dalí was a contemporary of Dior’s.

Looks from Christian Dior by Raf Simons’ Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2012 collection displayed alongside Sterling Ruby’s work SP115.

Throughout his tenure at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Simons revisited Dior’s personal history, weaving Dior’s love of art, and art connections, into the future.

A fortuneteller once told 14-year-old Dior:

“You’ll find yourself penniless, but women will always bring you luck and it is through them that you’ll be successful.”

Dior reportedly had his tarot cards read before every runway show. Pop artist Andy Warhol was also superstitious—and fascinated with Christian Dior. Like Dior, Andy Warhol’s first commission was a Glamour magazine sketch of a stylish woman sitting on the top rung of a ladder.

Simons connected Dior to Warhol through his career as a commercial artist and illustrator for department stores. For his Fall 2013 collection, created in conjunction with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, he incorporated Warhol’s early illustrations into his designs.

A key work exploring the relationship between Warhol and Dior is a painted folding screen for the Miss Dior perfume. The screen was used as a display in the window of the Bonwit Teller department store.

The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc/ARS

Coming full circle, Warhol goes from creating the Miss Dior perfume ad to being featured on the Miss Dior bag in Simons’ Fall 2013 collection. You can see the Limited Edition Miss Dior handbag from the collection in Dior: From Paris to the World‘s “Total Look” gallery.

Simons also directly referenced Warhol’s 1966 work Silver Clouds as a nod to Warhol, Dior, and Simons’ own shared past. Models displayed reimagined Dior designs and Warhol sketches as they walked past giant silver sculptures; however, when the Fall 2013 collection walked, fashion magazines noted the sculptural resemblance to Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, better known as the “The Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Perhaps Simons references both—a fleeting reminder that history repeats itself.

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Visit DMA.org/Dior to reserve timed exhibition tickets in advance for Dior: From Paris to the World.

Clara Cobb is the Senior Marketing Manager at the DMA.

Dior and Dali: Maria Grazia Chiuri

Surrealism has had a major impact on both the art world and popular visual culture. Its influences are evident in Pop art, Abstract Expressionism, and time-based media installations, and in contemporary film, music, and advertising. In Dior: From Paris to the World, you can see Surrealism’s influence as a continuing inspiration in haute couture fashion.

Maria Grazia Chiuri explored Surrealist symbolism in her Spring–Summer 2018 show, where monochromatic black and white dresses were offset by a black-and-white chessboard runway “in a not-so-subtle nod to the world of games,” according to Dior, “conjuring an otherworldliness and constant optical illusion.”

© Bakas Algirdas

Chiuri explored Surrealism in her collection with a focus on American photographer Man Ray and female Surrealists Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini. It’s no coincidence that she found inspiration in Fini, as Christian Dior, an art gallerist turned couturier, organized Fini’s first solo exhibition in November 1932.

Fini, a young and audacious artist, was a celebrity in her time, in part thanks to Dior. She often wore his designs—although in a memorable 1936 episode she attended a party wearing only “knee-length white leatherette boots and a cape of white feathers.”

Look 19. Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Haute Couture Spring–Summer 2018. Courtesy of Dior.

Alchimiste, a checkerboard ensemble that includes a long dress made of organza inserts with a feather-embroidered short cape (Look 5, Maria Grazia Chiuri: The New Feminity), reimagines a representation of Fini’s famous party ensemble against the Surrealist chessboard.

Look 48. Christian Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2018. Courtesy of Dior.

More literally, Chiuri’s dress Nude (Look 8, Maria Grazia Chiuri: The New Feminity), with its trompe l’oeil dress embroidered with metallic sequins, is a literal interpretation of Man Ray’s 1929 Nude. A copy of Man Ray’s work can be found on Chiuri’s mood board.

In a way, the dress also pays homage to René Magritte’s The Light of Coincidences, on view in the DMA’s European Galleries on Level 2. In creating Chiuri’s Nude, hand-embroidered silver metal sequins were specially placed so the results mimicked light reflecting on the body, similar to the candlelight against Magritte’s sculptural torso.

René Magritte, The Light of Coincidences, 1933, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jake L. Hamon, 1981.9, © C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dior also debuted Salvador Dalí’s masterpiece The Persistence of Memory as part of a larger solo exhibition in 1931. The painting famously depicts Dalí’s melting clocks, which Dior presented when he worked at the Galérie Bonjean. Chiuri also displays Dalí’s 1944 Vogue cover on her mood board in the exhibition.

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory, 1931, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, 162.1934, © 2019 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” played over the last looks in the runway show—New York’s Newsday described the band as having “blurring effects [that] stretch and contract the music into the liquid surrealism of a Salvador Dalí painting.” Their 1992 Gravity Grave EP cover nods to The Persistence of Memory.

The Verve’s Gravity Grave EP cover

However, it was most likely Fini that Chiuri was channeling when she chose The Verve, using graphic masks to note literally Fini’s passion for grand balls, which allowed her to impersonate different characters. An extraordinary ball held at Venice’s Palazzo Labia on September 3, 1951, organized by Charles de Beistegui, would go down in posterity as “The Ball of the Century” and an unforgettable fusion of the arts. Dior, Fini, and Dalí were among the 1,500 guests.

Andre Ostier, Leonor Fini, 1951, gelatin silver print, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Mr. and Mrs. Harry B. Gordon, 80.22

And what is a ball without a mask? Is fashion not a daily mask we can use like a Surrealist to explore playing with reality?

As The Verve sang over Chiuri’s runway: “I’m a million different people from one day to the next, I can’t change my mold no, no, no, no.”

Explore these Surrealist connections and more in Dior: From Paris to the World through September 1. Visitors must purchase timed tickets in advance at DMA.org/Dior.

Clara Cobb is the Senior Marketing Manager at the DMA.


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