Exhibition | Michaelina Wautier and ‘The Five Senses’

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 9, 2022

Michaelina Wautier, detail of Sight from The Fives Senses series, 1650
(Collection of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, on loan to the MFA)

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 Predating even the long eighteenth century, this was the first I learned of the artist (though a 2021 posting here at Enfilade did note an auction sale). CH.

Now on view at Boston’s MFA:

Michaelina Wautier and The Five Senses: Innovation in 17th-Century Flemish Painting
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 12 November 2022 — 12 November 2023

Organized by Christopher Atkins and Jeffrey Muller, with six PhD students from Brown University

Centered around her rare series The Five Senses (1650), this is the first gallery space in the Americas dedicated to the art of Michaelina Wautier (1614–1689), a painter from Brussels all but forgotten until the recent rediscovery of her work. The set of five pictures was virtually unknown until it was acquired by Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and lent to the MFA in 2020. Here, it is joined by Wautier’s remarkable Self-Portrait (1645), on loan from a private collection and on public view in the US for the first time.

Wautier’s technique, process, and training are mysterious. Few records about her life exist, due in part to her gender. This exhibition, organized by the MFA’s Center for Netherlandish Art in collaboration with a professor and six doctoral students from Brown University, presents new scholarship about the artist and her unusual career as a female painter working in mid-17th-century Brussels.

The Five Senses and Self-Portrait, all of which have only been attributed to Wautier in recent years, are among fewer than 40 known works by the artist. Wautier focuses on boys—a different model in each painting—performing everyday activities in her detailed portrayals of Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch. Accompanying prints by her predecessors and contemporaries, including Cornelis Cort (1533–1578) and Johannes Gillisz. van Vliet (about 1610–about 1640), demonstrate Wautier’s originality, showcasing how she defied a convention at the time of depicting the senses as experienced by idealized women. In her Self-Portrait, Wautier presents herself both in a formal aristocratic setting and as a professional artist, facing an easel and holding painting tools. Together, these extraordinary pictures are exemplary of Wautier’s unique style and brushwork. The exhibition also features a print after a now lost portrait by Wautier from MFA Boston that has never been on view.

The installation is accompanied by the first volume of the digital publication series CNA Studies, edited by Professor Jeffrey Muller and with essays by the six organizing students: Yannick Etoundi, Sophie Higgerson, Emily Hirsch, Regina Noto, Mohadeseh Salari Sardari, and Dandan Xu.

This is the second in a series of collaborations between the CNA and its academic partners that draws on MFA Boston’s deep collection of Dutch and Flemish art in new and unexpected ways, bringing new perspectives and diverse voices to the forefront while showcasing cross-disciplinary scholarship. The previous installation, A Modern Art Market, was on view from November 2021 through October 2022.

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More information is available from this piece in The NY Times:

Milton Esterow, “For Centuries, Her Art Was Forgotten, or Credited to Men. No More,” The New York Times (2 December 2022). The work of Michaelina Wautier, a 17th-century artist, was long overlooked. She is belatedly gaining recognition as an old master, as the first US show of her work opens in Boston.
In addition to the MFA’s exhibition, the article addresses the work of Professor Katlijne Van der Stighelen (University of Leuven), who learned of Wautier’s work in 1993 and organized the 2018 exhibition Michaelina Wautier: Baroque’s Leading Lady, held at Antwerp’s Museum aan de Stroom.

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