Tuesday September 7, 2010
Tags for: The Cleveland Museum of Art Announces Newest Acquisitions
  • Press Release

The Cleveland Museum of Art Announces Newest Acquisitions

exterior of the CMA building

A rare pair of Russian candelabra made by the 18th-century craftsmen of Tula, a Byzantine icon attributed to the Cretan painter Angelos Akotantos, a 19th-century watercolor by William Turner of Oxford, a vibrant abstract painting by American artist Jack W

CLEVELAND (Sept. 7, 2010) – A rare pair of Russian candelabra made by the 18th-century craftsmen of Tula, a Byzantine icon attributed to the Cretan painter Angelos Akotantos, a 19th-century watercolor by William Turner of Oxford, a vibrant abstract painting by American artist Jack Whitten and a woodcut by contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing are among the latest works acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The acquisitions were approved by the Collections Committee of the museums Board of Trustees.

Among the works added to the collection by gift or purchase, the following are the most noteworthy:

Pair of Candelabra — Examples of distinctive Tula craftsmanship join only two other such pieces held in U.S. museums
The Pair of Candelabra (Russia, Tula; Neo-classical; cut and polished steel with gold and silvered decoration; c. 1790-95) are striking examples of the unique decorative wares created by the craftsmen of Tula during the 1780s and 90s. Works from Tula are rare on the art market, as most remain in the former Imperial collections of Russia. In the United States, only New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and San Francisco's Legion of Honor own single examples.

The most recognizable characteristics of Tula works are their multifaceted beads of steel, which replicate the look of faceted diamonds and crystals. The candelabra acquired by Cleveland showcase this distinct style, with inlaid and applied decoration of classical trophees; incorporation of iconic swags and geometric forms; and patinated surfaces of mixed metal. No significant elements of these works have been replaced, and the original patina exists over the majority of their surface.

In 1705, Peter the Great founded an armory at Tula, a small town southwest of Moscow, which grew to become one of the centers of Russian metalworking. Later, Catherine the Great took a keen interest in work produced there, sending several of the most proficient craftsmen to England to study the decorative application of steel. Tula craftsmen became known for the precision of their decorative wares, leading Catherine to commission diplomatic and royal gifts in the Tula style of cut steel, gilt bronze, silver and gold.

The pair of candelabra also enhances the museum's distinguished collection of Neo-classical decorative arts by expanding it to include masterworks from Russia, a center for production and commission during that time.

Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ (Virgin Eleousa) — Rare example of a Byzantine icon attributed to a known painter
The acquisition of the Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ (Virgin Eleousa) (c. 1425-50; Crete (Byzantine period); tempera and gold on wood (cypress) panel, 96 x 70 cm.) fulfills a long-standing collecting priority within the museum's medieval art department. Although painted icons are among the most characteristic examples of Byzantine art, this distinctive tradition has not been represented in the collection until now. This particular acquisition is also rare in that it can be attributed to a specific icon painter, Angelos Akotantos (died c. 1450), who signed as many as 30 icons and to whom an additional 20 are reliably attributed (including this work). Icons of this importance rarely appear on the market, and this painting stands out as one of the most significant icons to enter an American museum collection in recent years.

Akotantos had a workshop in Candia, the capital of Crete, from which he supplied icons to Greek churches and monasteries on Crete, Patmos, Rhodes and elsewhere. The large size of this icon may suggest its original placement on a templon in an Orthodox church. The icon represents a type known as the "Virgin Eleousa," or "Virgin of Tenderness," and is characterized by the touching cheeks of mother and child, a composition that combines spiritual majesty with human sympathy. The icon signifies the Christian doctrine of the incarnation: Christ born of human flesh and destined to die for the sake of humankind. The gaze of Mary, who cradles the Christ child, is filled with a sense of pathos, born of the knowledge of Christ's future sacrifice.

In addition to enhancing the Byzantine and eastern Christian collections, the icon also complements other works within the museum. It features an important sacred figure in Byzantine art, explores a subject — the human bond between mother and child — that is accessible to the museum's audience and serves as a point of reference for the museum's collection of Italian gold-ground paintings, demonstrating the distinctive blend of Italian Renaissance and Byzantine painting techniques developed by Cretan painters of the 15th century.

A View from Moel Cynwch: Looking Over the Vale of Afon Mawddach and Toward Cader Idris — Vibrant print highlights talent of overlooked British watercolorist
British watercolorist William Turner of Oxford (1789-1862) never achieved the fame of his similarly named contemporary, J. M. W. Turner. Yet works such as A View from Moel Cynwch: Looking Over the Vale of Afon Mawddach and Toward Cader Idris (c. 1850; watercolor with scratching out, heightened with white on wove paper; 48.9 x 70.3 cm.) demonstrate the refined and delicate style for which he is now admired.

A View from Moel Cynwch describes the dramatic mountain scenery of north Wales. The view in the drawing is seen from the steep slopes of Moel Cynwch, along what is now known as the Precipice Walk, overlooking the River Mawddach. The Cader Idris, a famous mountain in Snowdonia, and Barmouth Bay can be seen in the far distance. The close-up view of the hillside and sheep in the left foreground (with its details of ferns and foliage) juxtaposed with the sweeping vista of the background invites a comparison of the minute with the infinite.

In the 1851 edition of Modern Painters, the critic John Ruskin defended Turner against those who felt the artist had failed to fulfill his early promise by living out most of his career away from the artistic center of London: "I am sorry not to have before noticed the quiet and simple earnestness, and the tender feeling, of the mountain drawings of William Turner of Oxford ... It is not without indignation that I see the drawings of this patient and unassuming master deliberately insulted every year by the Old Water-Color Society, and placed in consistent degradation at the top of the room, while the commonest affectations and trickeries of vulgar draftsmanship are constantly hung on the line ... There are generally none in the room which deserve so honorable a place as those of William Turner."

The acquisition holds its own among Cleveland's most prized British watercolors, and it complements other works in the museum's collection by artists including John Robert Cozens, John Martin, J. M. W. Turner and Samuel Palmer.

Rho I — Abstract painting by American artist enhances CMA's contemporary art collection
American Jack Whitten (b. 1939) adds to the legacy of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol as an artist who devised methods of painting that pushed the medium to new expressive power and conceptual results. Rho I (acrylic on canvas, 1977) is part of his Greek Alphabet Series, consisting primarily of black-and-white paintings that brought about a consideration of how structural elements — such as the stretcher, brush and even paint itself — affect a viewer's experience of a painted image.

Born in Bessemer, Ala., Whitten participated in the Civil Rights Movement in Louisiana. In 1960, he continued his art studies in New York and, upon graduating in 1964, began painting socially pressing themes in an expressionist and surrealist form. In the late 1960s, he devised a very personal way to apply paint, with a solution that, in his own words, would "expand the gesture while taking my hand out of it."

For Rho I, the canvas was stapled to a platform on the floor and painted white. Thin objects, such as cotton strings, were thrown on and adhered to the canvas. Then, a layer of acrylic dark gray paint was poured over the surface. Finally, Whitten ran a long metal rod, regularly notched at 1/8-inch intervals, across the canvas to expose the underlying white paint. This intricate process gives an unusual vibrancy to the painting, where the dense, linear pattern plays with the randomness of the traces embedded under the gray layer.

The addition of Rho I to the museum's collection strengthens the museum's representation of abstract painting, and especially abstract works by American artists of African descent. The painting provides a connection between holdings of works by Franz Kline (Accent Grave) and minimalist painter Robert Mangold (Curved Plane/Figure VII (Study)), while hinting at influences that transformed painting in the 1980s, as seen at the Cleveland Museum of Art through examples by Jennifer Bartlett (Sunset and Concrete Dock) and Chuck Close (Paul III).

Five Series of Repetition: Moving Cloud (Yi-yun) — Chinese woodcut expands contemporary prints in museum's renowned Asian art collection
Chinese artist Xu Bing's (b. 1955) imaginative and original work is distinct for its successful use of traditional materials and techniques to express contemporary ideas. The museum has only one other print by a contemporary Chinese artist. This acquisition not only enhances this collection, but also complements the museum's renowned historic collection of Asian art, helping to expand this strength into the 21st century.

Five Series of Repetition: Moving Cloud (Yi-yun) (1985, woodcut on Chinese paper, lower margin in graphite, A/P Chinese characters, artist's proof, 51.9 x 71.6 cm.) is a characteristic example of the artist's work, part of a set produced between 1983 and 1986 when Bing was sent to Soulianggou, a village of the Huapen Commune in the hills north of Beijing, for re-education during the Cultural Revolution. The woodcut depicts a large cloud floating across a landscape, with the viewer looking down into the scene, which is described by a variety of patterns.

Xu Bing studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and received an MFA in 1987. In 1990, he moved to New York City. He has exhibited widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas gaining international recognition. He was awarded a five-year fellowship by the Macarthur Foundation in 1999 in appreciation of his "originality, creativity, self-direction and capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy."

About the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 40,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing a multi-phase renovation and expansion project, it is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. Admission to the museum is free.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has a membership of more than 21,500 households and is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org

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