Enfilade

Exhibition | Japan: Courts and Culture

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 16, 2020

Press release (12 November 2019) for the exhibition from the Royal Collection Trust (stay tuned for updates on the schedule; listed are the original dates). . .

 Japan: Courts and Culture
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 12 June — 8 November 2020

Curated by Rachel Peat

Arita, Hizen Province (Japan), Jar and Cover, 1690–1720, porcelain with moulded relief decoration and painted in underglaze blue, overglaze enamel, and gold; French mounts, 1780–1820, gilt bronze; 42.5 cm high, purchased for George IV in 1820 (Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 39239).

The Royal Collection contains one of the finest holdings of Japanese works of art in the Western world, significant for both the unique provenance and exceptional quality of the objects. Now, for the first time, highlights from the collection are brought together in the exhibition Japan: Courts and Culture, which tells the story of the diplomatic, artistic, and cultural exchanges between Britain and Japan from the reigns of James I to Queen Elizabeth II. Including rare examples of porcelain, lacquer, armour and embroidered screens, the exhibition offers a unique insight into the relationship between the imperial and royal courts over a period of 300 years.

The formation of the East India Company in 1600 paved the way for direct contact between Japan and England. In 1613, the first English ship to reach Japanese shores was captained by John Saris, who brought with him letters and gifts from James I for Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military leader who governed Japan on behalf of the imperial family. Saris returned with a letter granting the English permission to live and trade in Japan, and with gifts for the King. These included a samurai armour, the earliest to arrive in Britain and the first surviving non-European work of art to enter the Royal Collection.

This first contact between England and Japan was short-lived. From the 1630s, for some 220 years, Japan closed to the West in an attempt to regulate foreign influence. During this time, the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to trade directly with Japan through one small enclave at Nagasaki. Demand for exotic East Asian wares remained high in Europe, where the secrets of porcelain and lacquer manufacture were yet to be discovered.

The British royal family led the way in collecting highly prized examples of Japanese lacquer, porcelain, and textiles—much of which was produced specifically for the export market. In the 17th century, Mary II displayed Japanese porcelain in her apartments at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace. In the 18th century, Queen Caroline, consort of George II, formed a significant collection of Japanese lacquer. A century later, George IV incorporated Japanese porcelain into the opulent decorative schemes at Carlton House in London and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Many of the pieces acquired by the King were given new functions through the addition of elaborate gilt-bronze mounts, turning a simple jar into a pot-pourri vase and animal figures into incense burners.

When Japan reopened to the West in the 1850s, goods began to flow freely, and diplomatic and political links were re-established. Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was the first member of a European royal family to visit Japan when he arrived there in 1869 during a world naval tour. The Prince met the Emperor Meiji at the Imperial Palace, where an exchange of gifts took place, and was presented with samurai armour, including a helmet dating from 1537. In a letter to his mother, Alfred wrote: “To give you any account of this country, I feel quite at a loss. Every thing is so new & so quaint that I am quite bewildered.”

The next members of the British royal family to visit Japan were Queen Victoria’s grandsons Prince George of Wales (the future King George V) and his brother, Prince Albert Victor. In 1881, the teenage Princes were serving as midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante and were granted shore leave to meet the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. They returned with presents for their family, including a teapot and cups for their father, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and with diplomatic gifts from the Emperor. According to the official diary of the tour, compiled by their tutor, the Reverend John Dalton, the Princes had their arms tattooed during their visit to Japan—Albert Victor with ‘a couple of storks’ and George with a dragon and a tiger, a combination said to signify East and West.

In the early 20th century, a defensive Anglo-Japanese Alliance was formed to secure both nations’ interests in the Pacific. This was also a period of growing artistic exchange. The most significant cultural event was the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, which included demonstrations of Japanese crafts, music, sports, and entertainments. More than eight million people visited the exhibition, including Queen Mary, consort of King George V, who was an enthusiastic collector of East Asian art.

The relationship between the Japanese and British imperial and royal families has continued to flourish through reciprocal royal visits, attendance at coronations, and the exchange of gifts. In 1902, Prince Komatsu Akihito attended the coronation of King Edward VII on behalf of the Emperor Meiji and presented the King with an embroidered folding screen of the four seasons. In 1911, Queen Mary received a coronation gift of a miniature cabinet bearing the imperial chrysanthemum crest, created by Akatsuka Jitoku, one of the most accomplished lacquerers of his generation. On the occasion of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) sent Her Majesty a cosmetic box decorated with a heron by the great lacquer artist Shirayama Shōsai.

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In the United States and Canada, the catalogue is distributed by The University of Chicago Press:

Rachel Peat, ed., Japan: Courts and Culture (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2020), 320 pages, ISBN: 978-1909741683, $70.

Japan: Courts and Culture tells the story of three centuries of British royal contact with Japan, from 1603 to c.1937, when the exchange of exquisite works of art was central to both diplomatic relations and cultural communication. With discussions of courtly rituals, trade relationships, treaties, and other matters of concern between the two nations, this book provides important historical and political context in addition to granting a new look at the works of art in question. Featuring new research on previously unpublished works, including porcelain, lacquer, armor, embroidery, metalwork, and works on paper, this book showcases the unparalleled craftsmanship of these objects, and the local materials, techniques, and traditions behind them. Japan: Courts and Culture is published to accompany a spectacular exhibition of the same name, which opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, in June 2020. The book’s stunning photography, contextual essays, and historical insights offer a highly visual record of a royal narrative and history that has not yet been widely documented.

Rachel Peat is assistant curator of non-European works of art at Royal Collection Trust.

C O N T E N T S

Foreword, HRH The Prince of Wales and Princess Akiko of Mikasa
British and Japanese Royal Family Trees
Map of Japan

1  Introduction, Rachel Peat
2  First Encounters, 1600–1639, Rachel Peat
3  Trade, 1639–1854, Rachel Peat
4  Porcelain, Melanie Wilson and Rachel Peat
5  Lacquer, Rachel Peat
6  Travel, 1854–1901, Rachel Peat
7  Samurai, Arms and Armour, Gregory Irvine
8  Metalwork, Kathryn Jones
9  Treaty, 1901–1937, Rachel Peat
10  Artistic Exchange, Kathryn Jones
11  Courtly Ritual, Caroline de Guitaut
12  Coda, Rachel Peat
13  Appendix: The Model of the Taitokuin Mausoleum, William H. Coaldrake

Glossary
Timeline of Key Events
Bibliography
Acknowledgements
Index

Exhibition | The Curator’s Bookcase

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 7, 2020

Fredrik Boye, Målare-lexikon til begagnande såsom handbok för Konstidkare och Taflesamlare, Painter’s Dictionary
(Stockholm, 1833)

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Now installed (if not on view) at the Nationalmuseum:

The Curator’s Bookcase: Stories from the Archives
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, 19 February — 28 June 2020

Using examples from the Art Library’s older collection of books, The Curator’s Bookcase gives an insight into the emergence of art history as an academic discipline in the 19th century. General handbooks on art, biographies, and other examples of literature that kept the museum professionals of that time up to date are exhibited along with photographic reproductions from the Image Archive.

In the 19th century, art history emerged as an academic discipline. This took place in the first half of the century in Germany, and mid-century in Sweden and had a decisive impact on museum practices. Being an artist or a well-read connoisseur was no longer sufficient—academic studies were also required to become a curator. Thus, the museum practice was professionalised. The curators used a scientific approach to analyse, identify, and classify objects of art putting them in a historic context. The collections were presented chronologically and geographically in different schools. The Nationalmuseum gave the most space to the Italian, Dutch, French, and Swedish schools, which dominated the Royal collection donated in 1792 to the Museum, then known as the Royal Museum, one of the first public museums in northern Europe.

The growing interest in art history is reflected in the many books on this subject that were published and spread. Subjects of special interest were the Greco-Roman period and national ideals. Swedish museum curators had lively contacts with colleagues abroad, and it was part of their job to keep abreast with the latest research. The books displayed in this exhibition are from the Art Library’s older collection. They are mainly textbooks on art history, general handbooks, and monographic biographies. The books give an idea of the literature that would have been found in a curator’s bookcase. Several of these books are exquisitely and artistically bound and were published in limited, numbered editions. The exhibition also includes examples of older displays of the collections as photographic reproductions from the Image Archive.

The masterpieces of art have always been of great importance to museum professionals and artists. In the current exhibition on the 6th floor Inspiration: Iconic Works you can discover more about how contemporary artists have been inspired by the old masters. The Curator’s Bookcase is on display in the Old Library.

Exhibition | Hidden Valuables: Early-Period Meissen Porcelains

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on April 10, 2020

The catalogue is published by Arnoldsche and distributed by ACC Art Books:

Hidden Valuables: Early-Period Meissen Porcelains from Swiss Private Collections
Musée Ariana, Geneva, 7 February — 6 September 2020

Switzerland is well-known for its host of remarkable collections of eighteenth-century European porcelain. Exemplary representatives of these are such extraordinary collector personalities as Albert Kocher or Dr Marcel Nyffeler. A number of these magnificent collections can be found today in Switzerland’s renowned institutions, and the ‘white gold’ from Saxony still fascinates Swiss connoisseurs. This exhibition is dedicated to their passionate collecting and exceptional treasures, while the catalogue is enriched with essays by renowned art historians and porcelain experts.

Sarah-Katharina Andres-Acevedo, Alfredo Reyes, and Röbbig München, eds., Hidden Valuables: Early-Period Meissen Porcelains from Swiss Private Collections (Stuttgart: Arnoldsche, 2020), 416 pages, ISBN 978-3897905863, £78 / $135.

New Book | Becoming America

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on April 5, 2020

Distributed by Yale UP (portions of the collection have been on view at The Huntington since October 2016) . . .

James Glisson, ed., with contributions by John Demos, Jonathan and Karin Fielding, Robin Jaffee Frank, James Glisson, Stacy Hollander, Christina Nielsen, Sumpter Priddy, Elizabeth V. Warren, and David Wheatcroft, Becoming America: Highlights from the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection of Folk Art (San Marino: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2020), 264 pages, ISBN: 9780300247565, $50.

Becoming America offers a multifaceted view of one of the foremost collections of 18th- and 19th-century American folk and decorative art from the rural Northeast. Essays by leading specialists discuss the culture of furniture workshops, exuberant painted decoration, techniques of sewing and quilting, and poignant stories about the families depicted in the portraits. The collection itself includes Shaker boxes, a beaded Iroquois hat, embroidered samplers, metalwork, scrimshaw, handwoven rugs, ceramics, and a weather vane. The majority of these works have never before been published. With lively essays and profuse illustrations, this handsome volume brings to life the aesthetic of early Americans living in the countryside and is an essential exploration of the period’s taste and style.

James Glisson is interim chief curator of American art at The Huntington. Jonathan Fielding is the former director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Distinguished Professor at UCLA. Karin Fielding is a trustee of the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

The Burlington Magazine, March 2020

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, journal articles, reviews by Editor on March 30, 2020

The eighteenth century in The Burlington:

The Burlington Magazine 162 (March 2020) — Drawings

Luigi Valadier, Pyx, 1769–71, gilt silver, 22 × 11 cm, one of eighteen pieces of a pontifical mass service belonging to the cathedral of Portalegre, Portugal (Church of S. Miguel, Castelo Branco).

A R T I C L E S

• Teresa Leonor M. Vale “A Portuguese Bishop’s Pontifical Mass Service by Luigi Valadier,” pp. 196–203. A gilt silver pontifical mass service belonging to the cathedral of Portalegre, Portugal, is here identified as the work of the celebrated Roman silversmith Luigi Valadier and dated 1769–71. It is closely similar to a contemporary service owned by Cardinal Domenico Orsini and both services can be linked to a group of drawings from Valadier’s workshop.

S H O R T E R  N O T I C E S

Kee Il Choi, Jr., “Ornament from China: Sources for a Garden Folly Design by Jean-Jacques Lequeu,” pp. 216–19.

R E V I E W S

• Kirstin Kennedy, Review of Carolina Naya Franco, Joyas y alhajas del Alto Aragón: esmaltes y piedras preciosas de ajuares y tesoros históricos (2018).

• Stéphane Loire, Review of Nicola Spinosa, ed., Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) e le Arti a Napoli (2018).

• Aileen Dawson, Review of Claudia Bodinek (with contributions by Peter Braun, Tobias Pfeifer-Helke und Claudia Schnitzer), Raffinesse im Akkord: Meissener Porzellanmalerei und ihre Grafischen Vorlagen (2018).

• David Bindman, Review of the exhibition Canova Thorvaldsen: The Birth of Modern Sculpture (Milan: Gallerie d’Italia, 2019–20).

• Daniel Stewart, Review of the exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality (London: British Museum, 2019–20).

• Christiane Elster, Review of the exhibition History in Fashion: 1500 Years of Embroidery in Fashion (Leipzig: GRASSI Museum of Applied Arts, 2019–20).

• Philippa Glanville, Review of the exhibition Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 (Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, 2019–20)

• Kamila Kocialkowska, Review of the exhibition Peter the Great: Collector, Scholar, Artist (Moscow Kremlin Museums, 2019–20).

• Eckart Marchand, Review of the exhibition Near Life: The Gipsformerei: 200 Years of Casting Plaster (Berlin: James-Simon-Galerie, 2019–20).

Exhibition | Power Mode: The Force of Fashion

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 22, 2020

Now installed at the Fashion Institute of Technology:

Power Mode: The Force of Fashion
The Museum at FIT, New York, 10 December 2019 — 9 May 2020

Curated by Emma McClendon

Today, we see a multitude of sartorial power symbols, from ‘power suits’ to ‘power heels’. But what makes a garment ‘powerful’? According to sociologist and political theorist Steven Lukes: “We speak and write about power, in innumerable situations, and we usually know, or think we know, perfectly well what we mean … And yet, among those who have reflected on the matter, there is no agreement about how to define it, how to conceive it, how to study it, and, if it can be measured, how to measure it.”

If we think of power in terms of kinetic force (for example, electrical power or a person’s physical power over another), clearly an inanimate item of clothing does not have actual power. The force of fashion is symbolic. It is social. It lies in the sphere of interpersonal relations and cultural dynamics. There is no single, universally accepted definition of power. Power means different things to different people at different times. As such, its connection to fashion is multifaceted, and a multifaceted approach is necessary for considering the role fashion plays in power dynamics both historically and today.

The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections, each devoted to a particular type of sartorial ‘power’. In each section, men’s and women’s clothing are considered side by side, and pieces from as early as the eighteenth century are juxtaposed with looks from contemporary collections.

The exhibition opens with a display of military and military-inspired ensembles, including a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel’s ‘dress blue’ uniform, a World War II–era ‘Ike’ jacket, and looks from Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry, and Ralph Lauren. Modern military uniforms combine tailoring with an elaborate code of patches, braiding, stripes, colors, and metalwork that makes the soldier a walking extension of the state’s power. In fashion, a company logo replaces the state’s seal, but uniform-inspired silhouettes, colors, textiles, and buttons become visual shorthand for the power, strength, and authority of the military. It is the power of association.

The next section focuses on different modes of status dressing that have emerged over the last 250 years, from ermine capes and luxurious brocade fabrics to contemporary “It” bags and logo-covered products. Aspiration, wealth, and Thorstein Veblen’s theory of “conspicuous consumption” are key to understanding the role status dressing plays in modern society. An 18th-century robe à la française demonstrates the importance of ornate, expensive textiles to courtly dress, while a Balenciaga puffer coat shows the way brand names have become crucial decorative elements in luxury fashion today.

From status dressing, the exhibition moves to consider the history of the suit. The sharply tailored suit is perhaps the most conventional example of ‘power dressing’. Indeed, the term power dressing was often used to describe the big-shouldered suits worn by upwardly mobile business men and women during the 1980s. However, the history of the suit is more nuanced. Anne Hollander points out, “Heads of state wear suits … and men accused of rape and murder wear them in court to help their chances of acquittal.” In court rooms and office spaces, the suit isn’t just a symbol of authority. It is also a sign of blending in—submitting to established norms and dress codes.

The fourth section considers the role of resistance dressing. Blue jeans, printed T-shirts, and black leather jackets have become some of the most common symbols of resistance in clothing. They signal a certain type of power that is subversive of established authority. It is the power of protest and rebellion. There is a tension between resistance clothing and ‘fashion’, with the later often being dismissed as surface-level commodification. But the relationship is not so simple—fashion can also be a vehicle for protest as seen in the recent work of Kerby Jean-Raymond for his label Pyer Moss.

Finally, the fifth section analyzes objects that are culturally coded as ‘sexy’. Corsets, leather, lingerie, and high-heeled boots are but a few examples. The power dynamics of these garments are inherently complex. How a garment is interpreted can fluctuate between dominance and subjugation. As fashion critic Holly Brubach once said of Versace’s famous 1992 bondage collection, it “riles women who think this is exploitative and appeals to women who think of his dominatrix look as a great Amazonian statement. It could go either way.”

Power Mode is a curatorial experiment. It aims to combine theory with history and object analysis in order to better understand the complex nature of power in fashion as well as the ways fashion can be key to a broader understanding of power dynamics in culture. The exhibition is organized by Emma McClendon, associate curator of costume.

Emma McClendon, ed., Power Mode: The Force of Fashion (Milan: Skira, 2019), 128 pages, ISBN: 978-8857239873, $45 / €39.

A more in-depth discussion of the themes represented in the exhibition is articulated in the lavishly illustrated accompanying book, also titled Power Mode: The Force of Fashion, edited by exhibition curator Emma McClendon and published by Skira. The book delves deeper into theory and history to investigate how certain garments have come to be culturally associated with power, as well as how their meanings have evolved over time. It also examines how fashion designers have interpreted these stylistic archetypes—both to convey and to subvert power. Chapter texts by McClendon are joined by object-based essays from renowned fashion scholars Valerie Steele, Christopher Breward, Jennifer Craik, and Peter McNeil, as well as Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Robin Givhan. The book also includes an essay by Kimberly M. Jenkins on the intersection of race, fashion, and power. This collection of texts will offer readers a variety of perspectives to help form a theoretical framework for considering the power dynamics inherent in fashion objects.

Art Market | The Bachofen von Echt Ukiyo-e Collection

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 16, 2020

Scheduled to correspond with New York Asia Week, exhibitions like this one at Scholten Japanese Art may still be on view this week, though the auctions have been postponed until June, as noted by The Art Newspaper (also see this press release, published at Art Daily on 17 March). . .

The Baron J. Bachofen von Echt Collection of Golden Age Ukiyo-e
Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 12–21 March 2020

Scholten Japanese Art is pleased to participate in Asia Week 2020 with an extraordinary offering of Japanese woodblock prints: The Baron J. Bachofen von Echt Collection of Golden Age Ukiyo-e. The collection is comprised of a highly selective group of twenty-two figural woodblock prints produced during a period considered the highpoint of the genre, known as the ‘golden age’ of ukiyo-e, reaching its peak in the last decade of the 18th century. The prints depict bijin-ga (literally ‘beautiful person’), the influencers of their time—famous courtesans, waitresses, and beloved actors—with works by the most acclaimed ukiyo-e artists of the late 18th and early 19th century. There are works in this collection that are possibly unique, or one of only a handful of recorded examples, with connections to some of the most prominent early collectors and dealers of ukiyo-e. In many cases, these are the only examples still remaining outside of museum collections.

Kitao Shigemasa, Geisha and Maid Carrying a Shamisen Box, unsigned, with seal Hayashi Tadamasa, ca. 1777.

The term ukiyo (literally ‘floating world’) references an older Buddhist concept regarding the impermanence of life, but during the prosperity of the Edo Period in Japan the term began to be used to encompass and embolden everyday indulgences because of that impermanence.  One of the tangible records of those indulgences was the production of nishiki-e (literally ‘brocade pictures’), the full-color prints that we recognize today as ukiyo-e—images of the floating world celebrating youth and beauty, which began in ca. 1765.  After the advent of full-color woodblock printing, the market for nishiki-e, accessible to everyday people, steadily grew, and the materials and methods used to create this art rapidly evolved. A significant change that came about in the 1770s was that the craftsmen involved with production developed techniques for full-color printing on larger sheets of paper, and, as a result, this led to the general adoption of the standard ‘oban’ (approximately 15 by 10 inches) size by publishers. Larger paper was followed by an increase of the scale of the figures within compositions.  An excellent example of this is the earliest print in the group, a ca. 1777 design by Kitao Shigemasa (ca. 1739–1820), Geisha and Maid Carrying a Shamisen Box (15 by 10 1/8 inches). Shigemasa was primarily a designer of illustrated books, producing over 250 in his lifetime, many of which were erotic in nature.  With a comparatively small output of single sheet designs, the scarcity of extant Shigemasa prints belies his talent and influence on the genre. He worked with over twenty publishers, often with the innovative Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750–1797), whose impact looms large in the ‘golden age’ and likewise, in the Bachofen Collection. In 1774, the first book published by Tsutaya, Thousands at a Glance (Hitome senbon), featured illustrations by Shigemasa.  Approximately three years later Tsutaya published an untitled series depicting full-length images of geisha of which this is a part.

Eishosai Choki, Woman and Servant in Snow (Sechu sho shiki jo), this impression unsigned and without censor or publisher seals, published by Tsutaya Juzaburo, ca. 1790.

One of the finest prints included in this show, Woman and Servant in Snow, ca. 1790 (14 1/2 by 10 inches), is by an artist whose work is particularly rare to the market: Eishosai Choki (fl. ca. 1780–1809). Also published by Tsutaya Juzaburo, the print demonstrates one of the hallmarks of golden age prints—the introduction of lavish printing techniques such as mica ground printing. The print is from an untitled group of four portraits of beauties presented in a dramatic outdoor setting that are among the most reproduced and coveted works in all of the ukiyo-e genre. The designs are distinctive in the way that Choki positions the figure off to the side, roughly occupying only two-thirds of the composition. In this print we see a beauty pausing beneath an open umbrella which shields her from the fat flakes of falling snow, shimmering (or shivering) against a cold mica background. She leans on the back of her burly servant who is bending over, reaching beyond the frame of the composition to clean the clumps of heavy wet snow off of her geta.  Although they are a study in contrasts, she is lovely and delicate, he is solid with rough whiskers on his face, Choki conveys a sense of quiet intimacy shared between the two.

An example of a lavish printing is by Hosoda Eishi (1756–1829), Selection of Beauties from the Pleasure Quarters: Hanamurasaki of the Tamaya in Procession (15 by 10 inches), which utilizes both an incredibly dramatic dark mica background as well as metallic printing on the hem of the sauntering courtesan, Hanamurasaki. This design was formerly in the esteemed collection of the French connoisseur Henri Vever (1854–1942) and was the subject of extensive research by the American collector Louis V. Ledoux (1880–1948), who had a variant impression which he identified as a later state of the print. His research led him to conclude that there may have been four states of this scarce print, of which this (the Vever impression) is the earliest and (he thought) one of only three extant examples. Current research clarifies that this one is one of only two recorded impressions of the earliest version of the print.

Another development in print production was the issuance of multi-panel prints- most typically in the format of triptychs.  One of the most stunning works in the show which shares the Vever Collection provenance is a triptych by a student of Eishi, Chokosai Eisho (fl. ca. 1795–1801) titled A Glimpse of the Ogiya: Hashidate, Nanakoshi and Hanabito (triptych 15 by 28 inches). This breath-taking composition presents three beautiful women who are seated in a brothel reception room decorated with an elaborate painting of a peacock covering the background wall. The three women are identified from right to left as the well-known and high-ranking courtesans: Hashidate, Nanakoshi, and Hanabito. The title places them at the Ogiya brothel located in the Yoshiwara. All three courtesans worked at the Ogiya and seem to be engrossed in a private conversation away from their customers. Perhaps they are sharing an amusing story related to the folded love letter which Hashidate is handing to Nanakoshi. There are few copies of this triptych extant and almost all are now in museum collections.

The bijin-ga of ukiyo-e were represented by beautiful women and beautiful men, and kabuki actors enjoyed celebrity-worship that would surely resonate with that of today. The Bachofen Collection includes three prints depicting kabuki actors, including a powerful bust-portrait by Utagawa Kunimasa (1773–1810), Actor Ichikawa Yaozo III as a Bandit (15 by 10 inches). This intense okubi-e portrait of Ichikawa Yaozo III (Suketakaya Takasuke II, 1747–1818) shows the actor in the role of a yamagatsu (lumberjack), who is actually a legendary warrior in disguise. The print was made at the time of Yaozo’s performance in a play that was staged at the Miyako-za theater in the 11th lunar month of 1796. The artist Kunimasa died at the young age of only 37 with approximately 125 recorded designs with few impressions extant. Of the four known examples of this print, this is the only one currently in private hands.

The Bachofen Collection has several highly important works by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), arguably the leading painting and print artist of his time who practically owned the market for images of beauties in the 1790s and early 1800s, until his untimely death in 1806 which marks the close of the ‘golden age’ period. In most ukiyo-e collections just one of these works would be the treasured highlight, in this collection there are nine Utamaro prints, including three okubi-e (‘big head’ or bust portraits) and one half-length portrait, each one a masterpiece in and of itself.

Kitagawa Utamaro, Seven Women Applying Make-up before a Full-length Mirror (Sugatami shichinin kesho), signed Utamaro ga with censor’s seal kiwame (approved) publisher’s mark of Tsutaya Juzaburo (Koshodo), sealed Wakai Hayashi, and oval WS (Schindler) collector’s seal on verso, ca. 1792–93. The title indicates this print is one from an intended series of seven, although only this one design is recorded.

The earliest Utamaro print in the exhibition is a compositional tour-de-force. Dated to around 1792–93, the print, Seven Women Applying Make-up Before a Full-length Mirror (14 1/4 by 9 1/2 inches), was issued at the beginning of a productive period for Utamaro during which he designed a number of ambitious half-length and bust portrait images of beauties primarily in collaboration with the publisher Tsutaya. The title in the bookmark-shaped cartouche indicates this print is one from an intended series of seven, although only this one design is recorded.  While the term ‘sugatami’ in the title refers to a full-length mirror, the composition is that of a reflection of a bust portrait of a beauty as seen from over her shoulder. The effect is to both share her gaze into the mirror, while simultaneously appreciating her coiffure from behind as well as a titillating view of her erikubi (the nape of her neck). Her facial features and the crest on her kimono suggest that this is a portrait of one of Utamaro’s favorite subjects, the teahouse waitress Naniwa Okita. Tsutaya spared no expense with this production, generously embellishing the print with mica both on the background and on the mirror. The red seal to the left of the signature sheds light on the print’s provenance of having been in the hands of Wakai Kenzaburo (1834–1908), a highly influential Japanese art dealer and collector who was vital to the formation of ukiyo-e collections in Paris in the 1870s and 1880s. Wakai’s seal confirms that this exact impression was illustrated in Dr. Julius Kurth’s 1907 monograph on Utamaro (the first in a European language) when it was in the hands of Rex & Co in Berlin, an early importer of Asian art; it then passed into the hands of Werner Schindler (1905–1986) of Bienne, Switzerland. Highlights from the Schindler Collection were exhibited in several cities in Japan in 1985, and this print was illustrated on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.

In about 1792–93, the publisher Tsutaya began producing print series by Utamaro depicting half-length portraits of beauties with glittering full-mica backgrounds. These lavish images elevated print production to new aesthetic heights, establishing both Utamaro and Tsutaya as pre-eminent ukiyo-e artist and publisher, respectively. The portrait of Wakaume of the Tamaya in Edo-machi itchome, kamuro Mumeno and Iroka (14 1/2 by 9 5/8 inches) is dated to around 1793–94 and is associated with a group of three portraits that were likely intended as an informal triptych, each featuring a courtesan identified in the title cartouche with her house and naming her two kamuro (child attendants) with an accompanying kyoka poem. Of the three designs, this composition functions best at the central panel because the figure’s body faces one way while she turns to look in the opposite direction, and one of her kamuro peeks out from behind in a rare instance of frontal portraiture. The courtesan is Wakaume of the zashiki-mochi (‘having her own suite’) rank of the Tamaya house, and two kamuro, Mumeno and Iroka, are mentioned in the cartouche along with a poem playing on the literal meaning of her name, Wakaume, or White Plum.

The ca. 1795–96 bust portrait, Painting the Eyebrows (15 by 10 inches), is another masterpiece by Utamaro included in this group. It depicts a beauty leaning forward in concentration while applying make-up to her eyebrows. We catch a glimpse of her reflection from another angle in her hand-mirror, which is highlighted with mica to suggest the polished surface. This print was produced by a rather small publishing house, Isemago, about whom very little is known, which may explain why this design is extremely scarce. Of the three recorded impressions of this design, this is the only one currently in private hands.

The final Utamaro okubi-e in the exhibition is a delightful portrait of the famous courtesan Komurasaki of the Tamaya House after a Bath (15 by 10 inches) from around 1797–99. The portrait is of the famous courtesan Komurasaki, who held the highest rank of yobidashi (‘on call’), which meant she only could be seen by making an appointment through a teahouse, the same rank as her ‘house sister’ Hanamurasaki featured in the full-length mica-ground print by Eishi. This print bears the collector’s seal of the artist Paul Blondeau (ca. 1860–1920) and was later in the collection of Charles Haviland (1839–1921), which was sold in Paris in 1922. This print is one of only two recorded impressions of this design.

The exhibition will feature twenty-two woodblock prints including works by major ukiyo-e artists such as: Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820), Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), Katsukawa Shuncho (fl. ca. 1780–1795),  Eishosai Choki (fl. ca. 1780–1809), Hosoda Eishi (1756–1829), Chokosai Eisho (fl. ca. 1795–1801), Chokyosai Eiri (fl. ca. 1795–1800), Ichirakutei Eisui (fl. ca. 1795–1803), Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769–1825), Katsukawa Shunei (1762–1819), and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806).

Katherine Martin, Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Six, The Baron J. Bachofen von Echt Collection of Golden Age Ukiyo-e (2020), $40.

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Note (added 17 March 2020)— The original posting did not include the link to the press release posted at Art Daily.

Exhibition | Turner: Paintings and Watercolours from Tate

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 16, 2020

From the Jacquemart-André, which is—like most other public museums—currently closed until further notice in response to the Coronavirus pandemic: 

Turner: Paintings and Watercolours from Tate
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 13 March — 20 July 2020

In 2020 the Musée Jacquemart-André will present Turner, peintures et aquarelles, a major retrospective of the oeuvre of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851). Undoubtedly the greatest representative of the golden age of English watercolours, he experimented with the effects of light and transparency on English landscapes and Venetian lagoons. Celebrated by his contemporaries, Turner still has many admirers. Thanks to exceptional loans from Tate Britain in London, which houses the largest collection of Turner’s works in the world, the Musée Jacquemart-André will hold an exhibition of sixty watercolours and ten oil paintings, some of which have never been exhibited in France.

Apart from his finished works intended for sale, Turner kept a considerable collection of works for himself, which were kept in his house and studio. With their unique qualities, these sketches, which were more expressive and experimental, were certainly closer to nature than those he painted for the public. In 1856, after the artist’s death, an enormous collection of works was bequeathed to the British nation, comprising many oil paintings, unfinished studies, and sketches, as well as thousands of works executed on paper: watercolours, drawings, and sketchbooks.

John Ruskin, who was one of the first to study the entire bequest, observed that Turner had executed most of these works for his “own pleasure and delight.” Now held at Tate Britain, the collection highlights the incredible modernity of the great Romantic painter. The exhibition will display part of this private collection, which provides illuminating perspectives about Turner’s mindset, imagination, and private works. The young Turner, who came from relatively humble beginnings, taught himself to draw; an insatiable traveller, he gradually freed himself from the conventions of the pictorial genre and developed his own technique. A chronological itinerary enables visitors to discover every phase of his artistic development: from his youthful works—which attest to a certain topographical realism and which he sent to the Royal Academy—to his mature works, which were more radical and accomplished, as fascinating experiments with light and colour. Displayed in this exhibition alongside various finished watercolours and oil paintings to illustrate their influence on Turner’s public pictures, these highly personal works are as fresh and spontaneous as they were when first set them down on paper.

David Blayney Brown, Jobert Barthelemy, Pierre Curie, Turner: Peintures et aquarelles de la Tate (Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2020), 192 pages, ISBN: 978-9462302204, 40€.

Exhibition | Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings

Posted in exhibitions, on site by Editor on March 12, 2020

I noted here at Enfilade back in 2014 that plans were established to preserve Turner’s house, but I realize that I never followed up. Turner’s House opened to the public in 2017 after a £2.4 million restoration, and it’s now hosting its first exhibition of original oil paintings by the artist. CH

Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings
Sandycombe Lodge, Twickenham, 10 January — 30 April 2020 (extended from the original March closing date)

Turner’s House Trust are thrilled to announce their first exhibition of J.M.W. Turner’s original oil paintings in the house he designed for himself. Thanks to a generous loan from Tate, the exhibition opened on January 10th and will run until 30th April 2020. Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings features rare oil sketches, seldom seen by the public. The works have been chosen for their depictions of scenes close to his house near the river and feature riparian landscapes from Isleworth to Windsor. The Thames enticed Turner to buy a plot of land in Twickenham on which to build a retreat for him and his father in the 1800s, and he designed the villa so that he could glimpse the river from his bedroom window. Turner spent a lot of time on the Thames both working and fishing, keeping his catch in two ponds in what was then a large, country garden.

The exhibition is included in the price of general admission to the house. Special tours may also be purchased for up to ten people for £120 and the group will have the house to themselves. These tours would make excellent presents for special occasions for friends and family. If you are interested in booking on of these tours please contact Ricky Pound at housedirector@turnershouse.org.

Conservation of The Blue Boy Completed

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on March 11, 2020

Press release from The Huntington (27 February 2020) . . .

The conservator removed dirt trapped underneath the varnish (as seen on the cotton swab), which clouded the clarity of Gainsborough’s masterful brushwork (The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens).

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that the extensive 18-month initiative to analyze, conserve, and restore The Blue Boy (ca. 1770) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) is complete, and the iconic painting will go back on view Thursday, March 26, in the Thornton Portrait Gallery. With much of the process carried out in public view during the Project Blue Boy exhibition (22 September 2018 — 30 September 2019), the major undertaking involved high-tech data gathering and analysis as well as more than 500 hours of expert conservation work to remove old overpaint and varnish, repair and reattach the lining and other structural materials, and inpaint areas of loss as a result of flaking and abrasion. Now, minute shades of color, fine brushstroke textures, and nuanced details of the famous figure of a young man in a blue satin costume, as well as the landscape in which he stands, are once again legible and closer to what Gainsborough intended.

The Blue Boy has been a star of The Huntington’s collections since we opened as the first old masters museum in Los Angeles in 1928, when visitors flocked to see this magnificent work of 18th-century British portraiture,” said Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence. “Now the painting is again the center of a joyous occasion, as we celebrate the completion of a robust and thoughtful conservation project. A well-attended exhibition showcasing the conservator at work, more than 100 public talks, and the convening of experts in the field all helped to define Project Blue Boy as an ambitious and successful project with an educational focus.”

More than 217,000 people visited the Project Blue Boy exhibition. Christina O’Connell, The Huntington’s Mary Ann and John Sturgeon Senior Paintings Conservator and leader of the project, gave about 170 gallery talks, emphasizing the guidelines and code of ethics in the field of conservation as she responded to visitor questions on topics ranging from the history of the painting, to details of the technical study, to the structural elements of the work.

The conservation project involved slowly removing several uneven layers of dirt and discolored varnish with small cotton swabs to reveal Gainsborough’s original brilliant blues and other pigments. Then, with tiny brushes, the artist’s brushstrokes were reconnected across the voids of past damage as part of the inpainting process.

As O’Connell worked on the painting, she became intimately aware of Gainsborough’s every brushstroke. “It’s been an incredibly deep professional experience,” she said. “Conservation work is very much a process of discovery. I’ve not only had a view of the painting at the microscopic level, but I was also able to observe each stroke as the true colors of Gainsborough’s palette were revealed from underneath many layers of dirt and discolored varnish.” During the process, O’Connell discovered that although Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy on a recycled canvas (as revealed in earlier X-rays), he made considerable use of a complex network of paint layers and pigments to create a painting that truly showed off his skills.

“We have to remember that this painting wasn’t commissioned, but rather was produced by Gainsborough for the express purpose of showing off his prowess at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770—where it would be seen next to the work of his rivals,” said Melinda McCurdy, The Huntington’s associate curator for British art and co-curator of Project Blue Boy. “Gainsborough intended it to grab attention, and conservation work has revealed the incredible technical skill he brought to this showpiece.”

Other discoveries made over the course of the project, which was supported by a grant from Bank of America as a part of its global Arts Conservation Project, include one relating to the painting’s lining. After observation and analysis, conservators determined that the lining adhesive for The Blue Boy correlated to a historic recipe for a paste made of rye flour and ale. O’Connell enlisted the help of a food historian to recreate the paste with modern ingredients to construct a mock-up in order to observe how the materials for the lining behaved. More discoveries should be forthcoming once the copious data that was collected during the project is analyzed. Information was gathered via X-radiography, infrared reflectography, cross-section microscopy, and macro X-ray fluorescence scanning. The results of the analysis will take several more months.

Conservation was funded by a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.  Additional generous support for this project was provided by the Getty Foundation, Friends of Heritage Preservation, and Haag-Streit USA