Cleveland, OH (September 27, 2017)—The Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent acquisitions include a portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote by British artist Joseph Wright of Derby, a drawing by German Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, a 14th-century Japanese hanging scroll featuring the Buddhist deity Aizen Myōō, Wisdom King of Passion, and a monumental oil painting on canvas by contemporary Chinese artist Liu Wei.
Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote
18th-century artwork showcases innovative figurative and landscape painting
Often described as among the artist’s most successful and appealing portraits, Joseph Wright of Derby’s Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote is one of a limited group of small-scale likenesses made in the early 1770s, depicting the figures at full length in a landscape setting. The subject, Charles Heathcote, of Derby, joined the army in 1745 at the age of 15, and rose through the ranks. At the time of his retirement in 1772, Heathcote was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 35th Foot (Royal Sussex).
The figure is painted in a relatively soft and smooth technique: facial features are carefully characterized and minute attention paid to rendering details of costume. However, the landscape is painted in a more energetic, almost impressionistic, technique. Indeed, Wright gave the landscape as much personality and presence as he did Heathcote himself. The group of small-scale portraits to which the Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote belongs mark the beginnings of Wright’s interest in landscape painting.
This innovative approach to combining figure and landscape was not particularly well received by critics at the time, who were more accustomed to portraits entirely dominated by a figure alone. When viewed close up, the variance in technique can seem jarring, but when viewed from the intended few steps away, Wright’s radical approach results in a compelling image of an elegant figure in verdant natural surroundings. Wright painted the landscape in bold, broad brushstrokes that call attention to artistic process in a way that seems dazzlingly modern for a painting executed in 1771–72.
Joseph Wright’s Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote makes a striking addition to the museum’s display of eighteenth-century British art. It complements and offers a counterpoint to the full-length, life-sized Grand Manner portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence and Joshua Reynolds in the collection.
Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote (1730–1803), c. 1771–72. Joseph Wright of Derby (English, born Derby, 1734–1797). Oil on canvas; 127 x 100 cm (50 x 40 in.). Cleveland Museum of Art
Wisdom King of Passion, Aizen Myōō
Icon exhibits the spectacular goldwork and vibrant color of Japan’s medieval painting
Aizen Myōō is the Wisdom King of Passion, one of the Five Great Wisdom Kings who protect the Five Wisdom Buddhas. Aizen Myōō converts carnal desire into a lust for enlightenment. Icons of Aizen were especially prevalent in the 13th and 14th centuries in Japan due to the deity’s association with repulsing attempted invasions by Kublai Khan’s forces in the late 13th century.
Aizen Myōō is depicted with a red body and six arms. He has a flaming mandorla, or body halo, and sits on a lotus supported by a vase from which flaming, wish-fulfilling jewels flow. This medieval Japanese representation of Aizen conveys the color palette, complexity of design, fine line work, and use of cut gold characteristic of the best 14th-century Japanese Buddhist paintings.
This painting complements a 13th-century sculpture of Aizen Myōō in the museum’s collection, as the painting depicts implements now missing from the sculpture’s hands, as well as the type of dais on which the wooden sculpture would have once been placed.
Birth of a Child
A quintessentially Expressionist drawing by Oskar Kokoschka
Born in Pöchlarn, Austria, in 1886, Oskar Kokoschka was a key figure in the development of Expressionism in Austria. Between 1909 and 1915, spurred by his withdrawal from art school, his acquaintance with other Expressionists, and his tempestuous affair with the Viennese socialite Alma Mahler, Kokoschka entered a period of prolific creativity. With their expressive brushstrokes and fragmentation of the human body and face, Kokoschka’s portraits ushered in a new era of portraiture that emphasized the uncompromising analysis of the human psyche.
Birth of a Child, executed in tempera and charcoal, was made in 1914. The drawing features Kokoschka’s characteristically energetic brushstrokes and brilliant, contrasting colors, which create vigor and movement around a central woman, in white, who gives birth. The hardship of the birthing process is relayed by the gestures of the three women who surround her: a woman in pink holds the birthing woman’s arms above her head, while another in green at her side grasps her shoulders. A third pours a basin of water between her legs. The newborn is noticeably absent, and the birthing woman’s lifeless pallor foretells a tragic outcome.
This large sheet was preparatory for a commission Kokoschka received for the interior decoration of a reception hall at a new cemetery complex in Breslau (Wroclaw). A related drawing in Switzerland reveals the concept for a wall fresco exploring the inevitability of death at every stage of life. World War I derailed plans for the cemetery, and Kokoschka’s fresco project went unrealized. This drawing resonates with other works Kokoschka made around the same time that exhibit a preoccupation with women as both torturers of men and life-giving mothers. His relationship with Alma Mahler and his anguish over Mahler’s abortion of their child formed the undercurrent of much of his work at this time.
This is the first drawing by this artist to enter the collection and joins a small but strong collection of German Expressionist drawings, including works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Egon Schiele, Emil Nolde, Käthe Kollwitz, Ludwig Meidner, and Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Birth of a Child, 1914. Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886–1980). Tempera or opaque watercolor, black chalk, and graphite on paper; 19.4 x 22 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art
Panorama No. 2
Painting is a superb example of artist’s technique and approach
Liu Wei is among China’s most accomplished contemporary artists. Born in 1972 in Beijing toward the end of the Cultural Revolution, he belongs to a generation of artists whose careers emerged during a period of accelerating urbanization and globalization.
Working with a wide range of media, including film, painting, sculpture, and installation, Liu Wei’s work addresses the rapidly changing social and architectural landscape of China while simultaneously taking global issues into account. Free of the visual tropes associated with historical Chinese painting, Liu Wei’s artistic practice frequently references the computer age.
The monumental diptych Panorama No. 2 exemplifies a technical shift that Liu Wei introduced into his work in 2010, when he began using computer software to generate patterns of pixels that are converted onto canvas and subsequently filled with specific color palettes. The semi-abstract imagery of Panorama No. 2 recalls the vast skylines of mega cities. At the same time, by employing the binary code of the computer to generate the painting’s overall composition and oscillating pattern of grey, orange, purple, and yellow, the imagery is removed from primarily functioning as a social or political commentary. Instead, the abstract quality of the painting is so strong that it becomes unclear whether the viewer is looking at a landscape or a purely abstract pattern.
Panorama No. 2, 2015–16. Liu Wei (Chinese, b. 1972). Oil on canvas; 350 x 400 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art
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