Master Drawings and Radical Photographs: Meet the Museum's Newest Art Acquisitions
A selection of drawings, photographs, and Post-Minimalist art make up the latest lot of acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art this year. New works accessioned into the museum's collection include An Album Folio from the Collection of Padre Sebastiano Resta, one of the most important collectors of old master drawings in his day; The Agony in the Garden, a pen and ink and wash drawing by the late 16th century Florentine artist Santi di Tito; an enigmatic portrait by the innovative British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron of her favorite niece, Julia Jackson, dated 1867; The Thinkers, by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz; and Pure Cadmium Red, Medium, a work by Dale Henry. These additions to the Cleveland Museum of Art's collection will enhance its already world-renowned reputation for its quality and breadth. Learn more about each of these works below!
Priest’s collection of drawings offers insight into 17th-century collecting practice
Design for a Wall Decoration with pasted-in sketches after Raphael, c. 1580s-90s, Federico Zuccaro (Italian, 1540/41-1609.) Pen and brown ink, brown wash, and red chalk with traces of black chalk; the three pasted-in compositional sketches in black chalk; all on laid paper; all laid down onto an album sheet. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Born in Milan of a noble family, Padre Sebastiano Resta joined the Oratorian order at age 20 and lived in Rome until his death in 1714. A keen observer of the art market with sources and suppliers up and down the Italian peninsula, he collected more than 3,500 drawings that he bound into 31 albums. This double-sided sheet is a fascinating document in the history of collecting, which sheds light on late 17th century connoisseurship.
The more significant of the drawings that occupy both sides of the folio is an architectural design by Federico Zuccaro, who, during the last quarter of the 16th century, was among the most famous artists in Europe, traveling widely to work for Queen Elizabeth I in England, King Philip II in Spain and almost every significant court and city in Italy. The drawing probably is a study for the frescoed decoration of a palace wall.
Most of Resta’s albums were dismantled in the 18th century. This folio not only gives the museum its first drawing by one of Italy’s leading Mannerist artists, but it also augments the collection in that it provides an opportunity to explore the centuries-old tradition of drawings connoisseurship and collecting.
Florence’s leading artist helped lay foundations of Florentine Baroque.
This delicate, well preserved drawing on blue paper, executed in pen and ink and wash and extensively heightened with white, was made by the 16th century Florentine painter Santi di Tito. Santi is thought to have trained with Agnolo Bronzino, but his work has little in common with his Mannerist teacher’s exaggerated forms and unnaturalistic use of color.
Instead, Santi’s work embodies the shift in late-16th century Florence away from Mannerism (a style characterized by ornament, eccentricity, crowding and cool light) toward greater naturalism and clarity, especially in the depictions of biblical subjects. Santi’s compositions are rational and focused, and his well-proportioned figures rendered with precise draftsmanship. A prolific draftsman, Santi’s emphasis on light, simplicity of composition, and drawing from life helped lay the foundations of the Florentine Baroque.
Santi treated the subject of this drawing – The Agony in the Garden – in an altarpiece formerly in the church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, Florence. In the painting, which is signed and dated 1591, the figure of Christ is reversed and the three apostles are posed quite differently from those in the present sketch. Despite these differences between the drawing and the painting, it is likely that the sheet embodies one of the artist’s early ideas for the composition. This is the first drawing by Santi di Tito to enter the collection, and it is one of only a small number of sheets by later 16th century Florentine artists in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Radical portrait by an early innovator in photography
Among Julia Margaret Cameron’s many contributions to the history of photography was the advancement of portraiture from physiognomic depiction to evoking a sitter’s inner essence. Julia Jackson, 1867, depicts one of the artist’s favorite sitters – her beloved niece, namesake and goddaughter Julia Jackson. This intensely introspective portrait was taken in April 1867, just weeks before twenty-one year old Jackson was to wed.
The print is a reversal of another photograph of Jackson already in the museum’s collection, Julia Jackson Duckworth, 1867. The pair constitutes half of a group of four – one “original” and three variants – all based on the same negative. The “original” is the clearest and sharpest print. The first variant, a print of which is already in the museum’s collection, is a reversal of that image. The new acquisition is second variant that appears to be a reversal of the first variant, while the third variant is a reversal of the second. With each reversal, sharpness and clarity diminish, but the sense of mystery is enhanced. Cameron seems to have considered all of these interpretations of her original negative as valid, making multiple prints of each of them.
This group of four works demonstrates that Cameron was experimenting conceptually with the negative as early as the 1860s and that the overarching aim of her photography was the creation of an expressive, rather than a merely representational, image. These are extraordinarily innovative and modern practices for the late 19th century, when photography was still in its infancy. The acquisition of this photograph, an exceptionally fine, rich vintage print in unusually good condition of a key image in Cameron’s portrait oeuvre, provides an opportunity for the museum to demonstrate the radical nature of her art.
Look closely: An image made from family photos
The apparent subject of The Thinkers is a couple posing by Rodin’s The Thinker in front of the south façade of the Cleveland Museum of Art. But this 10-foot color photograph is not as much a comment on the museum or Rodin as it is a meditation on the meaning of photography in the daily lives of individuals, the different roles that photographs can play during their history as objects and images, and the way artists construct images and viewers “read” them.
Muniz has always employed appropriated images in his work. While past series have been based on pictures from mass media, fine art and other public sources, the works in his current series, Album, are “images made out of family pictures,” according to the artist. Over the past decade, Muniz began collecting vernacular photography—images of everyday life, often by amateur photographers--and incorporating it into his artwork. Many of these analog images have been discarded as a result of the shift to digital photography and the passing of generations.
The overall composition in The Thinkers is based on a snapshot from the artist’s collection of vernacular images. An inscription handwritten on the bottom of the print labels the couple as “The Thinkers.” Based on their clothing, the photo was probably taken between 1938 and 1942. Muniz’s version of this memento of the couple’s visit to the museum (and perhaps to Cleveland) is a photographic enlargement of a collage he created from fragments of many other vernacular photographs in his collection.
From a distance, the enormous photographic reproduction of that collage reads as a single image. Upon closer examination, it dissolves into a hundred different bits of other people’s pasts, severed from their familial context and from personal memories. However, the artwork elicits a resonance and sense of nostalgia, since we all have similar scenes documenting our families’ lives. This is the second work by this important contemporary artist to enter the collection and will join other large-scale works that belong to the museum in an exhibition in 2016.
A key figure of the 1970s is rediscovered
Dale Henry was a productive and respected artist in New York from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. His work was shown in institutions and at the well-regarded John Weber gallery. Henry was part of MoMA P.S. 1’s inaugural, highly influential Rooms exhibition in 1976, at a time when artists in different media such as installation, performance, film and video were rapidly expanding the definition of what art could be.
Henry became disenchanted with the commercialization of the art world, and felt underappreciated by critics, dealers and even his peers. In 1986, he permanently left New York for the rural town of Cartersville, Virginia. For an artist not well established, to leave New York was to risk being forgotten, and this decision haunted Henry for the rest of his life. He unsuccessfully approached curators, including Clocktower Founder and Director Alanna Heiss, to undertake responsibility for his work and legacy. The day of his death, Henry wrote a final letter bequeathing all of his work and papers to Heiss, with the proviso that the work remain outside of any commercial activity. As a result of that bequest, a series of exhibitions at Clocktower Production in New York took place in 2013 and 2014. The “rediscovery” of Henry’s work made a strong impression on curators, critics and historians. A selection of works have been proposed as gifts to specific American museums and arts institutions, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, providing a unique opportunity to incorporate Henry’s work into their collections.
Henry worked primarily with paint, resin, glass and wood, creating diverse and sometimes challenging post-minimalist and conceptual works that not only embody key artistic concerns of the period, but also were often ahead of their time. Pure Cadmium Red, Medium is a prime example of Henry’s innovative artistic practice, and together with the museum’s recently acquired felt piece by Robert Morris from 1976 (Untitled, 2014.11.b), it is a meaningful addition to the narrative of concept-based art from the 1960s and 1970s and of the shift from minimalism to post-minimalism.
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