Archive Page 2

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.

How the Florals Bloomed in “Flores Mexicanas”

Jaclyn Le and graphic installers place environmental wall graphics in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art.

My name is Jaclyn Le and I am the Senior Graphic Designer at the Dallas Museum of Art. My primary role here is to design the identity, graphics, and environmental graphic design of each special exhibition and permanent collection gallery, in both English and Spanish. Working closely with the Design and Interpretation team, the Exhibitions team, and each of our curators, my goal is to make sure the identities, graphics, and environmental design of each exhibition are aligned to the curator’s vision, and that they showcase the works and information in the best way possible.

I was extremely excited to work on the design for the exhibition Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art, curated by Mark Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art. We wanted the design to feel approachable, elegant, and vibrant. The typography is a pairing of a bold style seen in Mexican prints from the early decades of the 20th century, paired with a fuller, more feminine typeface.

The hand-drawn floral pattern was inspired by Mexican lacquer ware from Olinalá. Our director, Agustín Arteaga, lent me a wonderful book full of different styles to look at, and I developed a monochromatic floral pattern illustrating common motifs I saw throughout the book. This floral pattern flanks both walls of the entrance to the exhibition, and weaves its way up and over the ceiling in the space right before the monumental painting Flores Mexicanas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

How to draw your own floral set as seen in Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art.

You can watch this video tutorial to create your own floral set. Use any marker or drawing tool you have to create this. Here, I am using a Crayola Superfine tip marker.

1. Start by plotting three dots that will be the center of your flowers. You want to plot them with enough space in between—a triangle shape would be perfect for this.

2. Draw a ring around each of the three dots. These will be the bases of the flowers to draw petals around.

3. Start drawing the petals around each ring. I have 5-6 petals per flower here. It’s okay if they are not all equal in size—it will look better this way in the end!

4. Once all the petals of your three flowers are complete, draw 2-3 lines coming from the center ring to about halfway across each petal. This will give your flowers more depth and interest.

5. In the negative spaces between your three completed flowers, draw a few slightly curved lines. These will be the stems of your leaves. I have drawn 4 here.

6. Starting with the longest curved stem line, create a teardrop shape around the stem center. You can make these as wide or narrow as you’d like. Draw diagonal lines out from it to create the lines in the leaves. Do this for the other curved line stems from step 5, but save one of the stems for a fuller palm leaf drawing (in the next step).

7. For the palm leaf, create simple leaves by drawing small curved strokes of lines, starting from the top of the stem and working your way to the base. These curved leaf lines will gradually get bigger and bigger with each stroke, as you make your way to the base.

8. Complete your floral set by dropping in dots or circles in the spaces between the three flowers and leaves. Show us your creation by taking a picture and tagging #DMAatHome!

Jaclyn Le is the Senior Graphic Designer at the Dallas Museum of Art.

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.

Staff Picks: New Year, New Reading List

Do you have a New Year’s resolution to read more books? The Arts & Letters Live team is here to help you jump start your reading goal and keep you updated on exciting new releases. Check out the selections of authors and books we’re looking forward to hearing and reading in our upcoming 29th season. Take a moment to peruse Arts & Letters Live’s 2020 season and consider giving yourself or your favorite bookworms the memorable experience of hearing authors talk about their latest books and share insights about their creative process.

Carolyn Hartley, Administrative Coordinator
Erin Morgenstern, Tuesday, January 14
If you loved Morgenstern’s The Night Circus as much as I did, her highly anticipated second novel, The Starless Sea, will cast a spell on you from its very first page. An old book leads graduate student Zachary Ezra Rawlins on an epic quest to a vast underground library with the guidance of Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book will lead them on a path to a secret underground world with pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.  Things are never what they seem. Come to the event early to go on a mysterious tour to explore bees, keys, and swords in the DMA’s collection.

Carolyn Bess, Director, Arts & Letters Live
Tembi Locke, Tuesday, February 18
After hearing author, actor, and TEDx speaker Tembi Locke at the Texas Book Festival, I immediately invited her to share her poignant story of resilience with Arts & Letters Live audiences. Her new memoir is From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, both a New York Times bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick. It’s also being adapted into a Netflix series directed by Witherspoon. Locke’s story encompasses taking chances, finding love, and building a home away from home. She writes movingly and poetically about loss, grief, and the healing miracle of food, immersing readers in the beauty and simple pleasures of spending three summers in her husband’s hometown in Sicily.

Jennifer Krogsdale, Audience Relations Coordinator
Anne Enright, Tuesday, March 10
This season, one of the books I’m most excited to read is Anne Enright’s forthcoming novel Actress (to be released on March 3). According to the pre-publication publicity I’ve read, Enright’s latest book examines the delicate and intricate relationship between a mother and daughter. Norah is grappling with the long-kept secrets that shaped her once famous mother, Katherine, while also coming to terms with unnerving secrets about her own past and what she wants for her future. Intricate family dynamics, a passion for the arts, and a bizarrely committed crime—sounds like my cup of tea.

Lillie Burrow, McDermott Intern for Arts & Letters Live and Adult Programming
Erik Larson, Monday, March 30
This winter, DMA gallery attendants may report an intern lingering a little too often in the Winston Churchill gallery inside the Reves Collection, but the frequent visits will be in anticipation of Erik Larson’s newest nonfiction masterpiece, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. With a fastidiously researched narrative, Larson promises to deliver a fresh portrait of the famous leader, and I’m prepared to be bamboozled (again) into meticulously studying a significant historical event through the guise of an indulgent narrative. After re-binging two of my favorites, Devil in the White City and In the Garden of the Beasts, I’m eager for Larson to unveil Churchill’s secrets and to imagine myself as his confidante to the drama. So, spill the tea, Mr. Larson. I am ready to learn.

Michelle Witcher, Program Manager, Arts & Letters Live
Esther Safran Foer, Tuesday, April 14
I look forward to hearing Esther Safran Foer discuss her forthcoming memoir I Want You to Know We’re Still Here, a poignant account of growing up with parents who were Holocaust survivors, and how their unspoken anguish impacted her childhood. When Esther learns as an adult that her father had a previous wife and daughter who both perished during the Holocaust, she resolves to find out who they were. She travels to Ukraine armed with only an old photo and a hand-drawn map to re-create how her father managed to survive. Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will be a promotional partner for this event, and touring their stunning new facility deeply affected me.

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.

As the Page Turns

Have you ever looked up information online and discovered that what you were looking for is in a published book, but after a few clicks found out that the book is not actually available online? Perhaps this was your experience—at first it appears that the publisher has made some parts of the book available, and you start browsing it, but just when you get to the good part, the online content stops! That happens a lot with art books, which are usually the best kind of books to browse in person. Nothing can replicate the experience of holding a book in your hand, especially an art book that has a beautiful hardcover binding, sturdy paper, lovely images, and reliable information. There is also a certain thrill of discovery when you are browsing in a library of any kind, and you find out something new that you would not have known otherwise. It can make your day!

In the DMA’s Mayer Library, thanks to a team-based summer moving project, you can now browse 500 more books than before, along with literally thousands of art magazine issues dating from the 1800s up to today. In order to make the items available, new shelves were added and the staff moved almost everything to new locations—over 60,000 items from 2,241 shelves! The library adds an average of 1,500 items every year, but most of them are stored in closed stacks—that means the books are available on request; however, the good news is that as soon as the books are processed and in the online catalog, we display them in a New Books area. New titles are on view every week, so no matter when or how often you visit the library, there is always something new and exciting to discover. Within this expanded browsing area, you can also now find publications by the DMA all together right at the front of the library, along with the current exhibition catalogs. If you don’t see what you’re looking for in the reading room, our reference librarian on duty will be happy to help you find it. We plan to keep adding items to our reading room selection, and your question might help us do that. We look forward to welcoming you to the library—see you soon!

Jacqueline Allen is the Mildred R. and Frederick M. Mayer Director of Libraries at the DMA.

Hooray for 100k!

This past weekend, the Dallas Museum of Art officially reached 100,000 followers on Instagram! Since the dawn of our Instagram presence back in April 2013, it has been our pleasure to share with you glimpses into the day-to-day at the DMA: behind-the-scenes peeks, magnificent artworks from our collection, live (and lively) event and program coverage, insights into our exhibitions, and artful just-for-fun content. We are grateful to be able to extend the DMA beyond our walls and into the palms (or desktops) of followers from far and wide, and we thank each and every one of you for staying connected with us.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here’s a look back at some of our most popular and memorable Instagram posts from over the years:

This spotlight on Lynn Lennon’s 1984 photograph of the beach party at Dallas City Hall is our most-liked Instagram post to date.
Post from June 21, 2019
Installing The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas) for the DMA’s landmark exhibition México 1900–1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde.
Post from March 9, 2017
When technology, science, and art come together.
Post from October 26, 2016
A fantastic first look at the iconic exhibition Yayoi Kusama: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.
Post from September 22, 2017
Remember that time we did a bit of off-roading in the galleries?
Post from August 7, 2018
When #NationalNappingDay and Ramón Casas’s Tired were all too relatable . . . 
Post from March 12, 2018
Celebrating LGBTQ+ pride by putting our best foot forward at the annual Pride Late Night.
Post from June 21, 2019
Life imitating art.
Post from December 13, 2017
One for the archives: our first-ever exhibition installation post from our earliest days on Instagram. This one was for the 2013 exhibition The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum.
Post from April 19, 2013
We loved seeing visitors dress for Dior. This gorgeous hand-painted dress was quite the showstopper!
Post from July 1, 2019

Here’s to many more years of sharing all of the Museum’s artful happenings with you on Instagram. If you haven’t done so already, stay up-to-date with us by following @DallasMuseumArt!

Hayley Caldwell is the Copy and Content Marketing Writer at the DMA.

Building Community Through Art

Growing up in a Puerto Rican-Panamanian household in Austin, the arts were one of the primary ways that my sister and I learned about our family’s cultural heritage. Our bedtime stories were folktales, vejigante masks and molas—not unlike the one currently on view in the Center for Creative Connections—hung on the walls, and in the evenings, Papi would teach us merengue while Mami would fry tostones

After my interview at the DMA last summer, I spent time in the Arts of the Americas Galleries, where I stumbled upon a case of golden pendants from Panamá. Despite being miles away from family, it felt like a piece of my mother and the generations that came before her were with me. It felt like a glittering sign that said, I see you, and you belong here

During national Welcoming Week, an annual event where communities “bring together immigrants and those born within their countries in a spirit of unity,” the DMA is proud to reaffirm our commitment to making the Museum a place where everyone feels valued and welcomed. 

Indeed, a core tenet of the DMA’s mission is placing art and diverse communities at the center from which everything radiates. Yet what does that look like in practice? Here are some of the ways: 

  • By recognizing that while museums are spaces of learning and engagement, they are also rooted in colonial structures and are complicated spaces. The Museum’s cross-departmental committee focusing on linguistic and cultural equity is grappling with this tension in earnest. How do we reckon with our institution’s past? What contributes to a sense of belonging? What kinds of internal and external transformations need to occur? What does that mean for our spaces, staff, programming, and exhibitions?
  • By inviting community members and leaders to help shape the 2020 My/gration C3 exhibition, which highlights the contributions of artists who immigrated to the United States, examines how the movement of people is expressed through art, and illuminates ways cross-cultural connections inform artistic production.
  • By introducing Estampas de la Memoria, a Go van Gogh® program designed by Teaching Specialist Bernardo Velez Rico and former C3 Visiting Artist Karla García to activate Spanish-speaking elementary students’ voices and experiences through collaborative story writing, theater, and art making inspired by retablos. Learn more about the program’s teaching approach, which reflects a desire to uplift and center the knowledge of immigrant communities.
Teaching Specialist Bernardo Velez Rico facilitates a Go van Gogh® program.
Heart House youth engage in an art-making activity during an after-school program.
  • By highlighting the creative bridging of cultures through programs like author Sri Rao’s September 20 Late Night talk about his book Bollywood Kitchen, a reflection on food, film, and his experience as a second generation Indian American.
A Dallas Public Library adult English language learning class explores the galleries.

As a museum of Dallas, we strive to celebrate and reflect the diversity of our city. As of 2017, approximately 611,400 of Dallas’s 2.5 million residents were immigrants. Until 2017 Dallas was a major resettlement location, with close to 2,500 refugees arriving annually. 

With an art collection that spans time and the globe, the Museum provides windows into other worlds and perspectives, which can promote connection, empathy, and cross-cultural understanding. But perhaps art is most powerful when it functions as a mirror, reflecting our own experiences back to us, saying I see you, and you belong here. On behalf of my colleagues, I extend to you all a warm invitation and welcome, and I hope to see you soon.

Mary Ann Bonet is the Director of Community Engagement at the DMA.

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


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