Posts Tagged 'Bouquets'

Texas Flora

With Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse closing this weekend, you only have a few days left to enjoy the blossoming canvases in the exhibition. The tradition of recreating bundles of blooms in art as still-life is longstanding. Many of the floral arrangements you’ll see are bright, plush tableaus with numerous species represented. They demonstrate the prowess of French master artists who nestled cultural symbols throughout the canvas.

In contrast, neither silk ribbon nor glittering vase contain the artworks celebrating iconic Texas flora from the Museum’s permanent collection. They are rendered on paper or hardboard in print or with brush. Realistically portrayed in muted tones, a single species is the subject of each work. These plants thrive in the unique climate of our rugged state and have been cultivated by humans for centuries for medicine, sustenance and beauty.

Merritt Mauzey’s print Cotton Stalk and Florence McClung’s print Castor Beans resemble naturalist studies from early botanical books. The plants are highly detailed and placed against a void background to isolate their physical attributes. You can also see similarities to Art Nouveau motifs in Mauzey’s print. The cotton stalks are frontal and flattened with sinuous stems. Cotton has been a leading cash crop in Texas for generations. Every part of the plant can be put to use, especially the tuft of fibers which is removed and spun into thread. Castor-beans, on the other hand, have highly toxic seeds containing ricin and are hazardous to most livestock.

Otis Dozier, on the other hand, places Texas staple crops in a portrait style composition with their respective farm settings as the backdrop. In Cotton Boll, Dozier depicts the sequence of growth as we are reminded that flora has a brief but bountiful life cycle. Some art scholars believe Maize and Windmill resembles millet as the size and shape of the plant look somewhat like Red Millet or Sorghum. Maize has been cultivated and prepared as food in numerous ways since ancient times in North America. The shape or color of the seeds can be an indicator of their diverse genes.

Charles T. Bowling, Meadow Wind, 1942, Dallas Museum of Art, Ted Dealey Purchase Prize, Fourteenth Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1943.

Charles T. Bowling, Meadow Wind, 1942, Dallas Museum of Art, Ted Dealey Purchase Prize, Fourteenth Annual Dallas Allied Arts Exhibition, 1943.

Sunflowers have long been used by indigenous North Americans for many reasons, like treating snake bites or making oils. In some parts of Texas they can grow up to eight feet tall, with flower heads one foot in diameter! Charles T. Bowling captures the strength of the sunflower in its natural setting in his watercolor Meadow Wind.

Throughout the pages of many sketchbooks by Otis Dozier are studies of sunflower heads. It is interesting to see an artist working through his observations of nature. He uses the blank pages to examine the texture and form of the sunflower at various angles.

Imagine all the unique decorative arrangements that could be made with the regional flora of Texas. And there are many other examples of Texas flora in the collection to explore. Try searching for ‘jimson weed,’ ‘coxcomb,’ or ‘cactus’ in the DMA’s online collection database. And when you stop by for your last peek at Bouquets, see what other blooms you can find in our galleries!

Rae Pleasant
Research Associate for Early Texas Art

Of Golden Axes and Tulips: Some Thoughts on Teaching Iconography in the Galleries

British Museum: Hollow lost wax casting in gold of a bead in the shape of an axe (akuma), Asante, early 19th century, Purchased from Crown Agents for the Colonies, 1876

A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of spending some time chatting with Dr. Roslyn Walker, the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific.  In the course of our discussion, she told me about an event that occurred in 1881 called the “Golden Axe Incident.”  The Asante People of Ghana sent an official delegation to the British-controlled Cape Coast because a refugee from their city had fled there to claim British protection. The Asante arrived to demand the refugee’s return, bearing a ceremonial Golden Axe. The British interpreted the axe as an explicit symbol of warfare, and suddenly, the threat of war loomed much to the Asante’s surprise. Only when the Asante later sent their most experienced official to deliberate was the Golden Axe’s meaning clarified to the British authorities: the axe symbolized the desire to cut away all the blockages on the path to settlement–it is, essentially, a diplomatic symbol.

I was fascinated by this story, because it shows how the misinterpretation of the cultural meaning of an image–its iconography–nearly resulted in war. Iconography is about explaining what symbols and imagery in a work of art meant to people at the time of its creation, understood through careful research into the historical context of not just that artwork, but a culture’s visual language. And while iconographic misreadings are usually not this fraught, I confess to sometimes feeling wary of how to present such information while teaching in the galleries.

Iconography is privileged knowledge. It is usually only understood by experts after laborious study, research, and careful analysis. Such knowledge is part-and-parcel of art historical practice, but can be tricky in gallery teaching. As Rika Burnham in Teaching in the Art Museum attests, iconographic information is often exactly what audiences and students are seeking, and offers momentary insight and relief, but usually stops any discussion or further analysis.

And in many ways, this is what iconography is meant to do–it’s not our cultural or individual interpretation of what a symbol means, it’s what it meant at the time of creation. This can be a difficult set of knowledge to tease out through discussion, although by no means impossible.

But when to introduce iconographic information during the course of learning?  Ideally, the need to raise what certain symbols and images meant is prompted organically in the course of a discussion, but how much information should the teacher offer?  If we open the floodgates, pour forth all the information we know for every symbol, we risk that sense of closure and discovery we want to carefully allow students to explore on their own. If we offer too little or carefully selected iconographic details, we risk, at the very least, presenting a stilted understanding of what the artwork might have meant historically.

I was thinking of these questions when standing before Jean Marie Reignier’s Homage to Queen Hortense, featured in the Museum’s new special exhibition, Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting From Chardin to Matisse.

Jean Marie Reignier, Homage to Queen Hortense, 1856

Jean Marie Reignier, Homage to Queen Hortense, 1856, Credit: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Inv. A 2896

As part of a beautiful exhibition of floral still-life, this grandiose painting stands out (it’s nearly seven feet tall and five feet wide): a lush garland of flowers surround a sculpted bust of Napoleon III’s mother, Hortense, atop which sits an eagle bearing an olive branch.

These details–the portrait bust, the eagle, the olive branch–as well as the scale of the painting tantalize us that despite the floral imagery, something else is going on here. For me, it would be easy in the context of the exhibition to dismiss these and focus on a comparison of this with the other floral still-lifes in the exhibition…If it were not for the seemingly unavoidable depiction of a paper label at the upper right bearing the number “7824189,” placed just under the eagle’s left talon. This numerical notation must have a specific meaning, right?

Thus we begin down the rabbit hole of the complex iconographic meaning imbued in this painting. Some symbolism here is relatively common, such as the olive branch as a symbol of peace. As the mother of the leader of France at the time (Napoleon III came to power in 1852), this homage to Hortense is rife with political and personal symbolism, ranging from the inclusion of red tulips (at the upper right) as symbolic of Hortense’s title as Queen of Holland and violets and bees (towards the lower left) as Napoleonic symbols, to the palette held by the figure (to the left behind the portrait bust) as indicative of Hortense’s own practice as a floral painter. And that number? It is supposedly the number of votes cast for Napoleon III in the election, securing his victory and rightful leadership of France.

I’ve learned all of this iconographic meaning from a wonderful series of lectures and trainings Dr. Heather MacDonald, the DMA’s Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art, has offered to the public, staff, and docents since the exhibition’s opening. And the symbolic understanding of Reignier’s painting offers a wealth of insight into aspects of how imagery worked as political propaganda in France at the time, even as this painting avoids many of the traditional symbolic tropes common to floral painting up to this point in history (the memento mori and cycle of nature suggested by wilting flowers, for instance). It is also helpful for understanding the intentions behind this painting: as a “statement” painting, this artwork was meant to elevate floral imagery to the same level as other academic painting approaches that relied on the human figure.

The “privileged” nature of iconographic meaning is a slippery slope in gallery teaching. And while I don’t think every painting that is iconographically rich necessitates a discussion of such iconography when teaching in the galleries, I can’t help but feel that here, that tag with painted number on it, likely forces an educator’s hand while teaching before it, or a painting like it.

How do you handle iconographic analysis when teaching in the galleries or your classrooms? Leave tips, thoughts, and feedback in the comments below!

Josh Rose
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs

Paper Peonies and Tissue Tulips: Build Your Own Beautiful Bouquet!

With last week’s opening of Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse, you might say we’re all abuzz with excitement here at the Museum. Although fall is just arriving, all we can think of are these beautiful blooms!

It’s easier than you might think to recreate some of your floral favorites at home. Try modeling your bouquet after one you might have seen or put together the posy of your wildest dreams. I took my inspiration from the DMA’s own Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase.

Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase (1776), Anne Vallayer-Coster

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase, 1776, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund and gift of Michael L. Rosenberg

There are some great tutorials online for making your own paper flowers. Martha Stewart Weddings can show you how to make some really lovely, delicate flowers here, and the Rust and Sunshine blog (here) has easy to follow instructions to make a variety of blooms with a little bit of inventive folding. With the help of these tutorials, I made carnations, roses, and star lilies. I couldn’t find a tutorial I liked for making irises, so I designed my own! You can print off this template and follow the directions below to make them too.

A quick note before we get started: for some flowers (particularly irises and lilies, whose petals you want to stand up a little bit), you might find that a sturdier paper works better for you. This is the perfect time and place to experiment! I liked the unified look of having all my flowers made out of tissue paper, but it’s your bouquet, so you’re the boss.

What you’ll need to make irises:

  • Tissue paper in a variety of colors – blue, purple, and yellow are pretty common for irises, though they come in a number of other colors as well
  • Pipe cleaners or art wire (for the stems)
  • Scissors
  • Clear tape
  • Optional: paint, glitter, glue, markers, colored tape, vase

If you opted to use something like card stock instead of tissue paper, cut out only one each of Iris A and Iris B and skip ahead to Step 4. If you’re using tissue paper like me, you’ll need to take an extra step or two to give the petals a little structure, so start here.

1. Trace and cut out two each of Iris A and Iris B in your tissue paper of choice. Double-layering the tissue paper will help beef up the flower.

2. Roll six pieces of tape – one for each pair of petals – in on themselves, sticky side out. Lay one tape roll lengthwise along each petal of one set of Iris A and Iris B. Make sure you don’t cover up the very center of Iris B! This will make Step 4 a little easier.

3. Match up the second set of Iris A and Iris B with the first and press down, sandwiching the rolls of tape between the two layers of tissue paper.

4. With the point of a pen or pencil, poke a small hole right through the center of your Iris B cutout or tissue paper and tape sandwich. This is why you didn’t want to block the very middle with tape in Step 2! Be careful not to press too strongly – you don’t want to accidentally rip your flower base in half.

5. Make an L-shaped bend in the end of your wire or pipe cleaner and thread it through the hole you just made in Iris B. Adjust so that the bend end lies flat on Iris B and the remaining wire/pipe cleaner extends downwards in a straight line. Secure with tape.

6. Using three narrow pieces of tape, attach the bases of Iris A’s petals to the spots marked in the template with dashed lines. I suggest doing this so the tape pieces end up on the interior of the flowerand aren’t visible.

7. Finally, embellish with whatever extras strike your fancy – paint, markers, glitter, you name it – and arrange your completed iris with your other flower creations in a vase.

Bouquet of (Paper!) Flowers in a Blue Vase (2014), Jennifer Sheppard

Jennifer Sheppard, Bouquet of Paper Flowers in a Blue Vase, 2014

Voila! You now have a beautiful bouquet that needs no water…in fact, you probably shouldn’t have water anywhere near your nice new paper flowers, unless soggy is the look you’re going for! So skip that annoying watering step and enjoy these low maintenance blooms — and our blooming exhibition!

Jennifer Sheppard
McDermott Intern for Family and Access Teaching

Friday Photos: C3 In Bloom

Though the weather is getting cooler and the leaves will soon be falling, here at the Museum, the Center for Creative Connections is in full bloom!  In conjunction with the DMA’s upcoming exhibition Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse, we have updated our monitor wall to display visitor submitted photographs of flowers. We’ve also stocked the Art Spot with supplies to make flowery creations.

Stop by and make a flower to add to our garden of creations, or join our Flickr Group, DMA In Bloom and submit your flowery photos to have them displayed on the monitor wall. We look forward to your blooming creativity!

Jessica Fuentes
C3 Gallery Coordinator

Why Flowers?

bouquets
The Dallas Museum of Art is currently at T-minus 11 days until the opening of our new exhibition, Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse. Floral still-life paintings are arriving from across North America and Europe, and Bouquets will open to the public on Sunday, October 26, 2014 (DMA Partners will have a chance to see the exhibition a few days earlier during the DMA Partner Preview days on October 23-25).

As a curator of this exhibition, I’ve already had several people ask me how I became interested in this rather specialized subject. I will confess straightaway that it is not because I have any particular skill in growing flowers (sadly, the contrary), identifying flowers (I have a shockingly bad memory for names, of both plants and people), or arranging flowers (even the most elegant bouquet from the florist becomes an awkward muddle when I’m entrusted with the task of transferring it to a vase). So, I did not enter into this exhibition with the belief that I had any special insights into the world of flowers to share.

Rather, I was brought to the exhibition by the DMA’s art collection. In some cases, we decide to pursue an exhibition because it allows us as curators to share with our audiences art that is not represented in depth in our own collection. This was the case with J.M.W. Turner in 2008 or Chagall: Beyond Color in 2013; however, there are also moments when we create exhibition projects as a way to showcase particular strengths of our collection and build a major research project around our own masterpieces. This was the case with Bouquets.

Several years ago, I was approached by my co-curator, Dr. Mitchell Merling of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with an idea for an exhibition of French floral still-life painting. He wanted the exhibition to focus on the table-top still life and the bouquet, and was starting to build a list of possible works to include. Did the DMA have many paintings that fit that description, he asked? By the time I finished rounding up all the works that fit the bill, I went back to Mitchell and told him that I hoped to partner with him in curating the exhibition. Not only did the DMA have more than a dozen works of art that met the criteria, but quite a number of them were also masterpieces of our European art collections. These included important (and incredibly beautiful) paintings by Anne Vallayer-Coster, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Bonnard, and Henri Matisse. I knew that this exhibition would be an invaluable opportunity to give these paintings the kind of visual and scholarly context they so richly deserved. Luckily, Mitchell agreed with me, and we set to work on crafting the exhibition together.

Bouquets includes six important paintings from our collection, making the DMA the largest single lender to the exhibition. In addition to these works that will travel with the exhibition to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and the Denver Art Museum in 2015, we have also included two additional still lifes from our collection just for the show’s presentation in Dallas—the more the merrier! Although there wasn’t room to include all of our French floral still-life paintings in the exhibition, you can see several others elsewhere in the Museum.

For instance, in Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne (on view until October 26, 2014, the same day that Bouquets opens), you can see a major pastel, Flowers in a Black Vase, by the inventive symbolist artist Odilon Redon. Redon is featured in Bouquets with three paintings, but because of the length of the exhibition tour we were not able to include any of his ethereal and fragile pastels. In Flowers in a Black Vase, Redon crafts one of his most sumptuous and darkly beautiful bouquets, a perfect floral tribute for the Halloween season:

Odilon Redon, Flowers in a Black Vase, c. 1909-1910, pastel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

Odilon Redon, Flowers in a Black Vase, c. 1909-10, pastel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

When you visit our galleries of European art, you’ll see that in the place of Fantin-Latour’s Still Life with Vase of Hawthorne, Bowl of Cherries, Japanese Bowl, and Cup and Saucer, featured in Bouquets, we’ve brought out another painting, Flowers and Grapes, by the same artist. This meticulously composed autumn still life was one of the first paintings in the collection selected for treatment by Mark Leonard, the DMA’s new Chief Conservator, even before his Conservation Studio was opened last fall. The jewel-like tones of the chrysanthemums, zinnias, and grapes in the newly cleaned painting now positively glow on our gallery walls.

Henri Théodore Fantin-Latour, Flowers and Grapes, 1875, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated

Henri Théodore Fantin-Latour, Flowers and Grapes, 1875, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated

And, finally, in the Wendy and Emery Reves Galleries on Level 3, be sure not to miss a special display of one of our smallest and most unpretentious bouquets, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Bouquet of Violets in a Vase. Painted when the artist was just 18 years old, this still-life reveals the potent influence of Manet on the young artist, as well as Lautrec’s own precocious talent. This small panel painting, usually displayed in the Library Gallery of the Reves wing, where it is difficult for visitors to appreciate, is currently on view in an adjacent space where it can be enjoyed up-close, alongside another early painting by Lautrec.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Bouquet of Violets in a Vase, 1882, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Bouquet of Violets in a Vase, 1882, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection

Flowers are in bloom throughout the Museum this October, and there is no better time to fully appreciate the depth, importance, and sheer beauty of the DMA’s collection of European still-life painting.

Heather MacDonald is The Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art at the DMA.


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