Posts Tagged 'London'

Dashing Paint

John Singer Sargent, Dorothy, 1900, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Leland Fikes Foundation, Inc., 1982.35

On an afternoon in London, a two-year-old girl posed for the American artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Dorothy Williamson was the granddaughter of one of Sargent’s American patrons, and sat before one of society’s greatest portraitists. But how long could a toddler sit still? What might that studio visit have been like?

Sargent would have painted Dorothy in his Tite Street studio in London (Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler had also lived on the street). Behind the imposing bricks, the room was packed with antique silks, Chinese screens, and a gramophone to play music for clients.

Dorothy herself was perched on one of the chairs the artist kept around the studio. Sargent was already familiar with painting upper-class children: to keep them entertained and holding a pose, he might bribe them with oranges, whistle a tune, or recite a limerick.

First, he would place the easel next to Dorothy so he could step back and visualize sitter and canvas together. Sargent advised his students to place lots of paint on the palette in order to create a thick layer on the canvas. With the brush, he would start to add flesh colors, apply dark tones for contours around the eyes and mouth, and finish it off with white highlights along the nose and rosy cheeks.

Rather than create preparatory sketches, he often worked ideas out on the canvas—even painting a portrait in one afternoon. To capture the wriggling toddler, Sargent set up a fast-paced sitting, seen in his sketchlike brushwork. As he looked at tones and shadows, suddenly a face would miraculously emerge from the background. He tried to use the fewest strokes, perhaps a single mark for Dorothy’s bangs or pursed lips. He dashed a blue line for a shadow under the pudgy cheeks and left bits of the cream canvas untouched to suggest voluminous feathers on the hat. Sargent also added a single mark of white to the hat for a flamboyant detail.

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He took breaks to play a song on the piano, and then jumped up to finish a few brushstrokes. Sitters described how he would run toward the canvas with a loaded brush of paint, balance a fragrant cigarette in his mouth, and suddenly make a single stroke on the canvas. Looking closely, you can almost see Sargent’s gestures, when he arched his brush, twisted the wrist, and finally made a stroke on the canvas. He described wanting to create portraits that were “alive”—capturing a sitter in the midst of moving or speaking. The result is Dorothy’s hand—energetic and vibrating strokes for the fingers.

Sargent would hold his brush in the air and then place it down upon the canvas exactly where he wanted it to fall. As described by one of his students, “The stroke resounded almost like a note in music.” My personal favorite is the gray line that travels down the pinafore, just one stroke to suggest the folds of the dress.

Finally, he added the finishing touch—the signature. On the upper left side of the canvas, Sargent playfully signed his name with the butt-end of the brush by scratching into the paint layers. Come visit little Dorothy in the Level 4 galleries and marvel at Sargent’s dazzling skill.

Lea Stephenson is the McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art at the DMA.

(Unexpected) Art from Across the Pond

In late August, I was lucky enough to spend time exploring the art and culture of London and Paris. As a museum educator, my main goal (of course) was to fit in as many museum and cultural site visits as possible–and I tried my best! While I was mesmerized by the popular artistic highlights of these cities–who doesn’t treasure seeing a Da Vinci first-hand??–for this post I wanted to share some images that were particularly special to me, as they showcase some overlooked sites and scenes from these fascinating cities.

*For more information on Thomas Thwaites’ project (which is fascinating!) click here.  

Perhaps my favorite art educational gem from the entire trip was stumbling upon the Musee D’Orsay‘s crowdfunding restoration project of Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio. The artwork is being restored on-site in the Museum’s exhibition space and visitors can view the progress in-person over many months, and through various interactive technologies. The most exciting technological component, in my opinion, was a French Sign Language (LSF) interpreted description of the conservation work–fascinating and accessible!FSL

As with most trips overseas, mine was much too short and there were many, many things still left unseen. It was a magical trip and an unforgettable experience, which caused me to stop and think about the unexpected treasures that can be found on visits to popular and familiar places–and I hope you will too!

Danielle Schulz
Teaching Specialist

London Calling!

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Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Some people go to London for Big Ben, or to see the Queen, or to attend a Shakespearean play. I went to London for the babies! Thanks to a generous grant from the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation, I was able to take a research trip to the United Kingdom a few weeks ago to investigate what museums there are doing for children ages 0-2.

More than a year ago, I stumbled across the CultureBabies blog, which highlighted the great work focused on babies happening in museums in Manchester and London. While many museums in the US offer a variety of programs and classes for toddlers and preschoolers, classes actually focused on babies seem to be harder to come by. I knew I had to see what was happening in the UK in person. (And let’s face it, I’d never refuse a trip across the pond!)

I started off in Manchester, where I visited both the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery. These two institutions, along with the Whitworth Art Gallery (which is temporarily closed for renovation), have created a suite of programs that focus solely on babies who haven’t started walking. So we’re talking about really young children—the children that most people probably think don’t get much out of a visit to the museum. But what a mistake to think that!

Both the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery focus on sensory play as a way for caregivers to interact with their babies, and for babies to explore their world. Educators at each institution were inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, an educational approach which champions the value of allowing children to direct their own learning, to learn through their senses, and to learn with one another. The Reggio Emilia approach also puts an emphasis on the importance of environment, and calls for early childhood classrooms to be filled with natural light, beautiful real-world materials, and to have open community spaces where children interact with one another.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

The Manchester museums have translated Reggio Emilia principles into a museum setting by transforming exhibit and studio spaces into beautiful, engaging environments filled with things babies can touch, smell, taste, see, and hear. At the art gallery, an artist takes inspiration from an exhibition on display, and then creates a temporary installation for the babies in the studio. The sessions I observed focused on the work of artist Ryan Gander, and the Baby Art Club session was an exploration of traditional childhood play like making forts, playing peek-a-boo, building with blocks, and playing in the kitchen. Babies were knocking over cardboard boxes, burrowing into mounds of fabric, playing in a bowl of flour, and clanging metal spoons together. There were shrieks of delight, lots of happy babbling, and adults and children giving themselves completely over to enjoying play.

At the Manchester Museum, the Baby Explorers session begins with an interactive story-song time in which caregivers cuddle, sing to and bounce their babies as a teaching artist introduces the theme of the class and the gallery connection. I observed a class focused on ancient cultures, so the singing time included songs about a mummy and a camel. Babies and adults then had time to explore sensory “islands” that educators had set up in the children’s exhibit area—a sound station with musical instruments, a texture area with lots of natural materials, a metal area with shiny objects, and a light box with sparkly, translucent materials. Images of objects in the Museum’s collection or actual objects in protective boxes were scattered throughout the entire area, allowing babies to investigate ancient cultures in an age-appropriate way.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

I was struck in both sessions by how ordinary objects became things of beauty. In the metal sensory play area at the Manchester Museum, metal bowls, spoons, whisks, and kitchen containers were transformed from utilitarian utensils into light, reflection, and shine. I observed one mother shining a flashlight through a metal object, and watched as her baby focused on the light and reached for the object as the light reflected around her. The next minute, the baby was waving a whisk through the air, experimenting with its weight and feel.

I saw tremendous value in both programs for adults and babies. For the adults, these classes seem to give them permission to leave behind all the usual tasks that build up in a day, and allow them to simply enjoy being with their babies. The adult-child interactions I observed as an on-looker were definitely sweet, but even more importantly, were contributing to positive social-emotional growth and language development for the children. Caregivers also leave these sessions with ideas for how to use everyday materials at home as playthings, learning that items as simple as a wooden spoon and a bowl of flour can provide endless entertainment and valuable open-ended learning opportunities for babies.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

But perhaps the greatest outcome of these baby classes from a museum educator point of view, is that the families create strong relationships with the museums and see them as valuable partners in the journey of raising a child. At the Manchester Museum, one little girl has been attending the Baby Explorers class for the past few months with her foster mother. This month, she attended for the first time with her new adoptive parents. It was truly beautiful to see this little girl so confident in her surroundings, sure of herself as she crawled from one space to another, even as she adjusts to a new family and home life. The adoptive parents too were warmly welcomed into the museum family and appreciated the observations museum educators were able to share about their new daughter.

Art Babies at the DMA

Art Babies at the DMA

I came back to the DMA inspired and ready to try new ways of playing and learning with babies in our own galleries. We launched the Art Babies class for children under 2 years old here at the Museum in January, and the class has been a fun educational journey for me personally as we experiment with how to best serve our very youngest visitors. Over the coming months, I hope to incorporate some of the ideas and strategies I gathered from our colleagues across the way. Stay tuned for our own version of the British (baby) invasion!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Early Learning Programs

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: The Overseas Adventures of an Artwork Courier

In the art museum world, couriers are often sent to accompany artwork in transit for loans. At the DMA, we elect to send an escort if the artwork is of high value, particularly fragile, and/or difficult to install. Couriers oversee the artwork every step of the way, ensuring its safe packing, transit, and installation. Oftentimes, these trips are not as glamorous as they initially appear, as they mean many long hours of waiting, uncomfortable travel conditions, and little sleep (but, sadly, no being handcuffed to a briefcase like in the movies). Nevertheless, they can sometimes be quite the adventure. Here is a timeline of a trip I recently took as a courier with our Matisse collage, Ivy in Flower, to the Tate Modern in London:

April 1, 2014
10:12 a.m. – Unified Fine Arts delivers the crate to the DMA. Due to the large size of the artwork, it was necessary to build an A-frame crate with a steel support structure. The artwork travels at an angle; otherwise it would be too tall to fit inside a truck or airplane cargo hold.

Art handlers strap the crate to the forklift so it can be upright for packing. Thankfully, it clears the ceiling with just an inch or two to spare.


Brackets on the artwork’s frame are used to attach it to the interior travel frame, which then fits snugly into the foam-lined crate.


12:17 p.m. – Although there is no room inside for the custom-built cradle used to maneuver the heavy artwork, the preparators screw it to the outside of the crate to be kind to the backs of their counterparts on the other end.

April 3, 2014
1:45 p.m. – The loans registrar and I learn that the cargo flight is delayed and will depart early the next morning rather than that evening as scheduled. After quickly consulting with our conservator about the climate conditions in the airport warehouse and confirming that there will be on-site security, we decide to proceed with loading the truck as planned.
3 p.m. – Lots of manpower, strategically placed dollies, and careful angling are used to load the crate onto the high-cube tractor trailer truck via the narrow dock plate.


3:42 p.m. – I climb into the backseat of a follow car that tails the truck carrying the artwork to the airport.


5:07 p.m. – The wider dock at the airport cargo area makes it much easier to offload the crate. A few more gray hairs appear on my head as I watch three forklifts, operating in tandem, raise the crate so a pallet can be slid underneath.


8:53 p.m. – Artwork couriers are very well acquainted with the “hurry up and wait” concept, as it is several hours later that additional cargo arrives to be loaded onto the same pallet. The entire structure is then wrapped in plastic (to protect from the elements) and secured via netting. It is a courier’s responsibility to make sure that cargo added to the artwork’s pallet does not contain live animals, anything perishable, or hazardous materials.


9:56 p.m. – After verifying the pallet was properly packed, security surveillance is in place, and paperwork is in order, I crash at a nearby hotel.

April 4, 2014
6:56 a.m. – My chariot awaits (bright and early!)—the customs agent from Masterpiece International drives me from the hotel to the DFW cargo hanger.
8:27 a.m. – The pallet is loaded and I board the cargo plane. Rather than the usual flight attendant spiel on how the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device, the pilots point out three possible escape hatches. As the only passenger, I settle into a row of business-class seats.


9:15 a.m. – Flight departs Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.


11:02 a.m. – Flight arrives in Chicago to take on additional cargo. I experience a minor moment of panic when I overhear the load supervisor say, “The animal’s not breathing and you have to sign all these papers and a waiver for them to do CPR.” I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize he is on the phone talking about his girlfriend’s cat (having ridden on planes with horses, chickens, and monkeys, you just never know).
1:01 p.m. – I inspect the pallet to make sure it is still secure after the extra cargo was loaded (thankfully no monkeys in sight).
2:15 p.m. – The pilots invite me into the cockpit for takeoff from Chicago.


9:46 p.m. Dallas time/5:46 a.m. local time – The plane touches down in Luxembourg (while London is my final destination, its airports don’t accept large cargo planes).


The airport is deserted at this early hour, and the pilots have to call for customs clearance. A bleary-eyed agent comes out of a nearby office, unceremoniously takes a stamp out of his pocket, marks our passports, and we are on our way. I manage to find a much-needed caffeine fix.


6:20 a.m. – Representatives from the art-freight forwarders Hasenkamp drive me to the cargo area and help secure my clearance (an ID badge affixed to a sexy green vest). Two drivers from the British fine art company MOMART meet us to help with the depalletizing and loading the crate onto their truck.


8:03 a.m. – The paperwork is finalized, the truck is locked and sealed, and we set out on the road to Calais, France.


8:40 a.m. – I pass into my third country of the day as we cross the border into Belgium.


12:53 p.m. – We drive into France and I jam with the drivers to Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and Elton John songs on the French radio.
1:39 p.m. – The customs agents in Calais ask for copies of all my documentation, including my e-ticket for the return trip to Dallas.
2:07 p.m. – MOMART drives the truck onto the Eurostar train flatbed, the wheels are locked, and the drivers and I board a bus for the passenger car. The drivers warn me of the potential stench of the train car and its scary bathrooms. I’m not sure what the warning instructions are about on the seat back—possibly what to do in the event of a nuclear holocaust or alien invasion.


2:54 p.m. French time/1:54 p.m. local time – The train arrives in England via the tunnel under the English Channel.
2 p.m. – While we are waiting to clear customs at the truck stop, we are engulfed by a tidal wave of drunk college students in body paint and various states of dress (or lack thereof), apparently en route to a big sporting expo. I am grateful for “Horatio Hornblower” on the lounge television . . .


4:30 p.m. – Customs are finally cleared and we depart for London.


6:15 p.m. – The Tate Modern loading dock is a most welcome sight. The crate is taken up in a massive elevator to be stored in the exhibition gallery because it is too large for their storage facilities.


7:10 p.m. – A taxi spirits me away to my hotel for a much needed shower and night’s sleep.

April 6, 2014
Acclimatization day (24 hours’ acclimatization is the museum standard to allow artworks to adjust to their new surroundings before they are unpacked. We couriers are grateful for these days so our bodies can also “acclimatize” and recover from jetlag.)

April 7, 2014
8:30 a.m. – I report to the museum for my unpacking appointment. The technicians clamp the crate to the forklift for extra stability and security. The cradle is used to slide the collage through the galleries, since (naturally) it is to be installed in the last one.Preview


9:50 a.m. – Sir Nicholas Serota (Tate Modern’s director) and Nicholas Cullinan (exhibition curator) work with the art handlers to place the artwork.


10:03 a.m. – I thoroughly examine the collage with the Tate’s conservator for the condition report and to verify it traveled safely overseas. The artwork is compared to the outgoing report and the photos taken before it was packed at the DMA.


11:28 a.m. – The frame is lifted into place and hardware is attached to secure it onto the wall.


11:52 a.m. – I request that a reading be taken with a light meter since there are skylights in the galleries. Works on paper are very susceptible to light damage, but thankfully the levels were low enough to meet our standards.
12:09 p.m. – I can now breathe a sigh of relief that everything is as it should be and set out to explore London.
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Reagan Duplisea is the Associate Registrar, Exhibitions, at the DMA.


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