The Cleveland Museum of Art Announces New Acquisitions
Cleveland (September 30, 2021)—The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) continues to actively engage with the global art market despite travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum has recently made important acquisitions that it looks forward to sharing with its visitors in the months ahead.
Recent acquisitions include three objects in stone and ceramic that enhance the museum’s collection of Pre-Columbian art; a pair of folding screens by Watanabe Shikō, a pioneer of scientific realism in 18th-century Kyoto; a pastel portrait by Simon Vouet who took inspiration from Guido Reni and Caravaggio; a rare portrait of Pierre-Auguste Renoir by Impressionist Frédéric Bazille; and five photographs by Shawn Walker and Chester Archer Higgins Jr. that build upon the CMA’s broad commitment to diversifying its collections.
Reclining Dog Vessel; Plate with Supernatural Being; Square Bowl with Pampas Cats
Three objects enhance the museum’s collection of Pre-Columbian art
The Reclining Dog Vessel is a major addition to the CMA’s collection of Chimú and Chimú-Inka arts. The vessel represents a Peruvian hairless dog that has recently given birth. The dog is depicted cocking its head backward and raising a rear leg to scratch its ear, its mouth parted in concentration and its forepaws grasping the edge of the rectangular chamber. The meanings of such dogs may be connected to the trade networks that brought them to Peru from the north in the late pre-Hispanic period. The vessel, which incorporates a whistle at the base of the broad strap handle, is one of a tiny group of similar vessels distinguished by their refined realism and craftsmanship. It was made on Peru’s north coast, probably after the Inka descended from their stronghold in the Andes Mountains to conquer the coastal Chimú Empire in the 1460s. It will be included in an upcoming CMA exhibition that traces the Chimú Empire from its founding in the year 1000 through the arrival of the Inka to the Spanish conquest in 1532.
The Cupisnique (koo-piz-nee-kay) culture of the first and second millennia BC created the earliest corpus of imperishable art works on Peru’s north coast. The most complex artistic expressions of Cupisnique cosmology occur on stone vessels and plates like this Plate with Supernatural Being. Cupisnique stone plates are rare, and this plate is outstanding among them, based on the clarity of carving, its realistic modeling, and a complexity of imagery. With its acquisition, it has become the most important object in the museum’s early north coast collection.
The exterior is very finely carved with a supernatural feline creature identified as a sacrificer by the expressive severed human head it holds in its clawed paws. The creature’s head features a divided eye along with two fanged mouths, one at the back of the head from which a pair of human legs and a human hand dangle. Other elements in the composition tie the sacrificer and death to the earth’s fertility.
Ceramic was an important artistic medium for the Paracas, an early village culture of Peru’s south coast. They often decorated their fine ceramics with geometric representations of the native Pampas cat, a small, wild, reclusive feline that lives on the margins of agricultural fields. The Square Bowl with Pampas Cats features two iterations of the Pampas cat that alternate on the sides of the bowl; both have characteristic spotted bodies and banded limbs and tails. Because Paracas paint was applied after firing and thus is not bonded to the surface, it is fragile and often flakes away; however, this vessel is very well preserved—the paint retains a thick, intact crust.
Flowers and Trees of the Four Seasons (四季花木図屏風)
The CMA acquires a pair of screens by Watanabe Shikō, pioneer of scientific realism in 18th-century Kyoto
Watanabe Shikō’s Flowers and Trees of the Four Seasons is a pair of six-panel folding screens featuring plants of spring and summer on the right screen and of autumn and winter on the left. They represent Shikō’s mature style, a combination of Kano school training with Rinpa style and scientific realism. The CMA holds the best works by Shikō in the US in the Kano and Rinpa styles. Flowers and Trees of the Four Seasons adds to an existing strength in the CMA’s collection, providing depth to the representation of Shikō’s paintings and helping to convey the story of his evolving style.
Shikō’s Kano school training is seen in the powerful ink lines of the painting, while the Rinpa style is evident in his use of striking colors and the use of “dripping-in” (tarashikomi), a wet-on-wet technique for pooling ink and color. It can also be seen in the presence of decorative gold and silver powder application and gilding. Shikō developed an interest in scientific realism through his connection with aristocratic patron Konoe Iehiro. The plants in these screens are easily identifiable as botanical specimens, including the striking turmeric plant, native to Okinawa, at the center of the right screen.
In addition to his official post as painter to the Konoe family, Shikō worked on commissions for the imperial family as well as for Buddhist temples. Some of his works are designated as Important Cultural Properties by the government of Japan and remain in situ in temples.
Portrait of a man in profile, turned to the left
The first drawing by French artist Simon Vouet to enter the CMA’s collection
Portrait of a man in profile, turned to the left is one of a group of portraits that artist Simon Vouet drew after he was declared first painter to King Louis XIII in 1627. It becomes a significant highlight of the museum’s French Baroque holdings.
Vouet was the dominant figure in French painting in the 1630s and early 1640s, known for bringing an Italian idiom to France. Returning to Paris after almost two decades in Rome, he drew a series of portraits of members of the court at the king’s behest, to teach the king himself how to draw.
Vouet’s portraits marked a shift in French portraiture toward greater naturalism. Vouet characterized his sitter with a spontaneous pose and specific facial expression. The man’s distinguishing features are his deeply lined, almond-shaped eyes and unruly head of hair, flattened by a hat which he holds at his side. The addition of pastel plays a special role: pink on the eyelids and the length of the nose lend a warm, lively color, and the yellow on the edge of the nose, beneath the eyes and perimeter of the hair and body provide a vibrant glow around the sitter. Dressed in a black cloak and linen ruff, as opposed to the colorful, patterned clothing that characterized attire at Louis’s XIII’s court, the man was likely a civic or provincial official or advisor to the court.
Portrait of Renoir
The CMA acquires one of the finest portraits by Frédéric Bazille to appear on the market in decades
Despite his tragically brief life, Frédéric Bazille played a vital role in the early history of Impressionism and enjoyed a close relationship with Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Bazille was killed at age 28 while serving in the French army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Significant paintings by Bazille rarely appear on the market due to the artist’s untimely death and small oeuvre. This acquisition represents a significant addition to the CMA’s collection and is particularly important as Bazille was the only major Impressionist not represented in the museum’s collection.
Portrait of Renoir offers a rare glimpse into Bazille’s close friendship with Renoir at a time when they were just beginning to develop an Impressionist style. Renoir is portrayed seated in a red chair and looking directly at the viewer with a pensive, wistful expression. His jacket and blue cravat are rendered with quick, sketchy brushstrokes. The white, rectangular shape in the right background suggests a framed painting, or perhaps a mirror with a figure reflected in the center. The entire surface is animated by lively brushwork, giving the composition a sense of informality that is not found in commissioned portraits of the period.
Bazille’s Portrait of Renoir forms a wonderful companion to the museum’s Impressionist portraits by Degas and Caillebotte and joins Monet’s Spring Flowers and Renoir’s Portrait of Romaine Lacaux as significant works from the 1860s by these closely allied artists.
Invisible Man: Untitled and Harlem: Untitled (18th Street, Harlem, New York) by Shawn Walker
Looking for Justice, Civil Rights Rally, Montgomery, Alabama; Early Morning Coffee, Harlem; and A Young Muslim Woman in Brooklyn by Chester Higgins Jr.
Photographs by Shawn Walker and Chester Higgins Jr. expand the CMA’s representation of works by African American artists
Photographer and filmmaker Shawn Walker was one of the original members of Kamoinge, a groundbreaking Black photographers’ collective, founded in New York City in 1963. The museum currently owns photographs by the group’s co-founders Roy DeCarava and Louis Draper and two other members. With the acquisition of Invisible Man: Untitled and Harlem: Untitled (18th Street, Harlem, New York), five members of this historically important and extremely influential collective are now represented in the CMA’s collection.
Invisible Man: Untitled is a self-portrait, but provides few of the photographer’s features. The viewer is presented only with Walker’s beret-topped silhouette reflected in a murky window. The photographer peers into the window looking at his own reflection and, thus, directly at the viewer. The elusive nature of this portrait makes sense in the context of the series to which it belongs, Invisible Man, a reference to Ralph Ellison’s important 1952 novel of the same title about Black people’s invisibility in society. In Walker’s Invisible Man images, the photographer is always present in the image, but only as a shadow or silhouette.
Harlem: Untitled (18th Street, Harlem, New York) depicts a surreal tableau that Walker likely encountered in Harlem, where he spent his entire life. His symmetrical framing of the scene of two twin beds on a rooftop emphasizes their vulnerability. The image’s meaning is ambiguous: do the side by side white-sheeted beds represent a romantic union, an exposed home without walls or structure, or a moment of rest, love, and comfort amid a harsh urban environment? The photograph invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Chester Higgins Jr. is one of only a few Black photographers who had a long and successful career in both mainstream media and the art world during the late 20th century. The three acquired works by Higgins speak to Black life in America and represent three distinct periods in the artist’s 50-year career.
Looking for Justice, Civil Rights Rally, Montgomery, Alabama, was taken in 1968, the year that Higgins began shooting photographs while pursuing a degree at the Tuskegee Institute. He used photography to document protests on campus and other activities during the Civil Rights Movement. Here Higgins focused not on the orators but on the audience listening to speeches at a rally. Although the expressions on the faces of the crowd vary from hope to cynicism, they all demonstrate determination.
Early Morning Coffee, Harlem, was created after Higgins graduated in 1970 and began working as a professional photographer in New York City. This painterly photograph of a man in a neighborhood diner is at once a study in light and dark, a portrait, and a reflection on the loneliness of urban life—a daytime photographic response to Edward Hopper’s 1942 famous painting on the subject, Night Hawks.
A Young Muslim Woman in Brooklyn is a dramatic portrait, one of Higgins’s best known and most often reproduced. A white veil covers the hair and much of the face of the sitter; only her expressive eyes are visible. In much of his professional and personal work, Higgins chose to be an unseen observer; however, here he enters directly into dialogue with the sitter, who boldly confronts the camera’s gaze.
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