New Acquisition | Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro)

Posted in museums by Editor on December 9, 2015

With cultural and religious ignorance and intolerance finding new, ever uglier modes of expression here in the United States, on what seems a daily basis, this remarkable portrait (a 2011 acquisition by the Philadelphia Museum of Art) usefully speaks to how diverse and complex American history has always been. CH

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From the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Charles Willson Peale, Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), 1819, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2011-87-1).

2011-87-1-pmaYarrow Mamout, an African American Muslim who won his freedom from slavery, was reputedly 140 years old in 1819, when Charles Willson Peale painted this portrait for display in his Philadelphia Museum. Although Peale learned this was a miscalculation, the story of eighty-three-year-old Yarrow (c. 1736–1823), a native of the West African country of Guinea who was literate in Arabic, was still remarkable. As Peale noted, Yarrow was “comfortable in his Situation having Bank stock and [he] lives in his own house.”

A rare representation of ethnic and religious diversity in early America, and an outstanding example of Peale’s late naturalistic style, the picture is distinguished by the direct and sympathetic encounter between the artist and his subject and the skilled rendering of the details of physiognomy and age. Yarrow’s knit cap suggests a kufi, a hat traditionally worn by African Muslim men to assert their religion or African identity, but Peale artfully employs its yellow band to highlight his steady gaze with its glint of humor and wisdom.

Seventy-seven years old when he created this portrait, Peale was seeking a record of the personal traits that he believed supported a long life. In his writings and museum displays Peale celebrated making wise choices to maintain good health and a positive attitude, and he perceived Yarrow’s perseverance through his difficult life as a model of resourcefulness, industriousness, sobriety, and an unwillingness to become dispirited.

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More information about Mamout is available from this piece by Colbert King for The Washington Post (13 February 2015). For Mamout’s biography, see James Johnston, From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family (Fordham University Press, 2012). This past summer, the Historic Preservation Office dug shovel test pits in Georgetown in connection with the Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project, led by Mia Carey (as reported by WAMU 88.5).


Exhibition | Drawn from Courtly India

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 9, 2015

Press release (6 November 2015) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Drawn from Courtly India: The Conley Harris and Howard Truelove Collection
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 6 December 2015 —  27 March 2016

Curated by Ainsley Cameron


A Prince and Courtiers in a Garden, ca. 1720–30, with later additions, India (Jodhpur or Bikaner, Rajasthan) (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2013-77-31).

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents an exhibition of rare and masterful drawings created in the workshops of royal Indian courts over the course of four centuries. Drawn from Courtly India: The Conley Harris and Howard Truelove Collection features a wide range of sketches, preparatory studies, and compositional drawings that vividly depict mythological themes, verdant landscapes and architectural settings, portraits of prominent rulers, and scenes from the lives of Indian nobility. The Museum acquired these important works in 2013, many as a gift, and is presenting the collection in this exhibition for the first time.

While Indian paintings have long been sought after by museums and individual collectors, there has been only a limited interest in drawings. Yet drawings may be wonderful works of art in their own right, yielding a remarkable amount of information about workshop practices and artistic process. Conley Harris, a landscape painter, and the late Howard Truelove, an architectural designer, shared a passion for drawing. They began collecting Indian drawings after being inspired by their travels throughout that country. The collection they assembled over the course of more than a decade provides new insights into the artistic practices of the royal workshops that developed over generations, and offers fresh perspectives on Indian painting. Many of the works to which these collectors were drawn were created during the eighteenth century in the Hindu courts of western India and the Himalayan foothills, an area including the present-day states of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu-Kashmir.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO, stated: “The ongoing development of the Museum’s collection has always represented our partnership with great collectors who have been as passionate as we are about sharing with everyone the finest works of art. In this regard we are especially fortunate to have acquired the marvelous collection assembled by Conley Harris and Howard Truelove, and we are enormously grateful to the collectors. This collection adds a new and important dimension to our holdings of Indian art, which is one of the most important in the country. It also enables us to bring to a broader audience this fascinating and delightful aspect of South Asia’s artistic heritage.”

The first section of the exhibition will feature a group of finished drawings and explore the relationship between court artists and their royal patrons. A second will focus on the innovative workshop process, examining how artists developed and revised drawings through techniques such as white wash corrections, color notations, and pouncing. The drawings in this section will highlight not only the artists’ adept handling of the medium, they will also testify to the collaboration of artists employed within a hierarchical workshop structure, demonstrating how skills were conveyed from master to apprentice. A third section, dedicated to the key moment when brush first meets paper, calls attention to the expressive power of the expert brushstroke. The fourth and final section of the exhibition invites visitors to respond to the works on display by creating their own drawings using workshop techniques.

The exhibition is organized by Ainsley M. Cameron, the Museum’s Ira Brind and Stacey Spector Assistant Curator of South Asian Art. She stated: “These works offer new ways of looking and thinking about Indian courtly drawing. People tend to approach the study of paintings or drawings from the perspective of the patron because so many of the artists’ names are unknown, but we are exploring the perspective of the artist, as maker—the gesture of an artist’s hand, the spontaneity of line, and the process through which ideas are born.”

About Conley Harris and Howard Truelove
Based in Boston, artist Conley Harris (born 1945) is a former faculty member of the department of art and art history at the University of New Hampshire. Harris is known for his lyrical landscapes of New England and the American West. Howard Truelove (1946–2012) was an architectural designer and vice president of design at the firm KlingStubbins in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His interior-design work ranged from public spaces in major office buildings to universities and museums. Harris often uses works in their collection as a source of inspiration, creating paintings that not only absorb motifs from South Asian and Persian miniature paintings, but also play with the idea of multiple layers, the palimpsest found in artists’ working sketches and so creatively reinterpreting the historical drawings for a new generation.

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The catalogue is distributed by Yale UP:

Ainsley Cameron, with an essay by Darielle Mason, Drawn from Courtly India: The Conley Harris and Howard Truelove Collection (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2015), 160 pages, ISBN: 978-0300215250, $35.

9780300215250This publication presents the first in-depth survey of the Conley Harris and Howard Truelove Collection of Indian Drawings, which was recently acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This exceptional collection consists of 65 works on paper created between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Harris-Truelove Collection is uniquely and tightly focused on works from the royal courts of North India, and the majority of these drawings served as preparatory material for the opaque watercolor illustrations that have been widely collected and studied. This catalogue celebrates the assured line of the Indian draftsman and recognizes these drawings as accomplished works of art in their own right. The text details the process and technique involved in their production, and explores what can be revealed by the artist’s hand. The catalogue also contextualizes the role of art production in court culture, and reveals the intricacies of artistic workshop practice.

Ainsley Cameron is the Ira Brind and Stacey Spector Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, and Darielle Mason is the Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art, both at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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