Throughout its 101-year history, the Cleveland Museum of Art has cultivated the reputation as having a collection of masterpieces. Selecting objects from around the world that tell the story of human achievement in the arts, we continue to add to our renowned collection. The museum’s curators seek out works of art that are rare, historically significant, well preserved, finely crafted, aesthetically powerful, and emotionally gripping. This issue of Cleveland Art highlights selected acquisitions from 2017. These objects come from all four corners of the globe and span the centuries. The examples presented in the pages that follow include two beautifully preserved Andean textiles—a head cloth and a tunic—made by the Chancay people; a late Gothic sculpture of Saint John the Baptist attributed to the Netherlandish sculptor Jan Crocq, likely made to decorate the exterior of the Sainte-Chapelle of Dijon; and Moria Camp, Lesbos, a monumental photograph from 2016 by Richard Mosse, who used a thermal-radiation camera to address Europe’s current refugee crisis from a totally new perspective.
Generous donors enriched many areas of the collection. Agnes Gund’s spectacular gift to the contemporary collection included three paintings—Brice Marden’s Sea Painting I, Robert Colescott’s Tea for Two (The Collector), and Donald Sultan’s Forest Fire, January 5, 1984—as well as Adja Yunkers’s pastel Sestina II and Claes Oldenburg’s Standing Mitt with Ball, a beloved monumental sculpture on view in the Ames Family Atrium. Donna Reid gave a group of ten Chinese ceramics, ranging from the Neolithic Majiayao culture through the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). This significant gift complements the museum’s strong collection of Chinese ceramics. Frances “Franny” P. Taft, a museum trustee who died last May, bequested several works from her personal collection, including the Taft Anniversary Necklace by Cleveland goldsmith John Paul Miller. Taft’s husband commissioned this fabulous necklace—a masterpiece of Miller’s “gold nugget” or “fragment” style—to mark a milestone in the couple’s long marriage. John and Agneta Solomon provided the funds for an ancient Andean vessel with a reclining figure and birds in the Cupisnique style, now on view in the Pre-Columbian galleries.
This spring, selected works that entered the museum over the past four years are showcased in Recent Acquisitions 2014–2017 in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery. Twenty-nine objects provide a sampling of the more than 2,500 objects added to the collection during that period. In the following pages, our curators discuss a number of objects featured in the exhibition, including two old master paintings: Johan König’s Ascension of Christ from 1622, a vividly colored German Mannerist painting on copper; and Joseph Wright of Derby’s Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote from about 1771–72, which combines a meticulous, highly detailed technique used in the subject’s face and costume with expressive, almost abstract brushwork in the landscape. Also described are a beautifully preserved 14th-century Japanese Buddhist painting, The Wisdom King of Passion(Aizen Myoo), who converts carnal lust into a desire for enlightenment, and three Nabeshima dishes that exemplify the first porcelain ever made in premodern Japan.
Unconventional juxtapositions in the focus exhibition prompt visitors to discover common themes in diverse art forms. For example, the late Gothic sculpture of Saint John the Baptist, in which the saint holds a lamb—a symbol of Christ in his sacrificial role as the Redeemer—is on view near a monumental photograph from 2016 by Pieter Hugo, Portrait #16, South Africa, in which a boy holds his younger brother in a pose that recalls the Pietà.
Three Chinese ceramics given by Donna Reid include a Meiping vase made to hold a flowering plum branch and a conical bowl created for whipping powdered tea—both from the Song Dynasty—as well as a green-glazed covered jar decorated with carved lotus petals from the Northern Dynasties period. Also on view are two Pre-Columbian gold objects: a beaker from Peru’s Lambayeque people depicting the visage of either the culture’s principal deity or the deified founder of its ruling dynasty, and a large chest ornament from Colombia’s Calima region.
Visitors are encouraged to seek out more than 50 additional recent acquisitions throughout the museum’s permanent collection, their labels marked with “Recent Acquisition” stickers. Forty-two landscapes and still lifes from the Brett Weston Archive donated to the museum in 2017 by collector Christian Keesee are featured in the exhibition Brett Weston: Photographs, on view in the Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery through May 6. Last year the CMA also acquired its first example of performance art: Pierre Huyghe’s Name Announcer from 2011 reflects the growing presence of scripted performance, live action, and interpersonal exchange in contemporary art. Visitors can experience Name Announcer in the contemporary galleries on weekends beginning Saturday, March 17.
Susan E. Bergh Curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American Art
The Pre-Columbian collection comprises works from the three ancient American macro-regions: Mesoamerica (mainly Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize), the Isthmian Area (Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia), and the Central Andes (principally Peru). Historically, the museum’s collection has tilted strongly toward Mesoamerica, the land of the Aztec Empire, the earlier Maya city-states, and many other cultures that developed after about 2000 BC. Equally important, however, are the cultural achievements and artistic legacy of the Central Andean region—home of the Inka and Wari Empires, which stood on the shoulders of civilizations that date back to 3000 BC. Over the past 15 years, acquisition efforts have thus focused to a large degree on building the Andean collection. Last year brought the addition of seven objects, including three of the artistically elaborate textiles for which the region is rightfully famous.
The earliest object illustrated here is a fascinating, perhaps unique vessel made by the Cupisnique (coo-piz-knee-kay), the earliest ceramics-producing people of Peru’s north coast. The vessel’s small size and sculptural complexity give it the power of a miniature to draw the viewer close. The stirrup-shaped spout, a north coast hallmark that may once have had symbolic meaning, forms a framing arch. The mythical creature in relief on two sides of the spout may be inspired by an insect or even a caiman (New World crocodile). Beneath the spout’s arch, two birds perched on the vessel’s doughnut-shaped chamber peck at a supine human—a presumed reference to death. Like other Cupisnique ceramics, this example was fired in a low-oxygen environment that drove carbon into the surface and turned it black; after firing, the imagery was highlighted with red pigment, probably cinnabar.
Next chronologically is a beautifully carved bone object made by an artist of the highland Wari Empire (600–1000), the most complex civilization to develop in Peru before the Inka. Once lashed to the shaft of a spear-thrower, it served as the weapon’s thumb rest or grip as well as its most sculpturally elaborate element. The subject matter echoes the function. It involves a supernatural creature—its other-than-human nature signaled by a fanged mouth and avian wings and tail feathers—crouching over a small human victim, the head visible on the front of the object and the feet and legs on the back. The human’s head twists to one side to expose the throat to a knife held in the larger figure’s right hand. Thus, the scene captures the crucial moment in a sacrificial offering likely made to ensure the benevolence of divine forces. The so-called Sacrificer or Decapitator is one of the major supernatural beings depicted in Wari art.
Finally are two garments from the later Chancay (1000–1532), whose coastal homeland the Inka conquered before they, in turn, succumbed to Spanish forces in the early 16th century. These welcome textiles inaugurate the museum’s representation of the Chancay weaving tradition, one of the Andes’s most distinguished. One, a square cloth with two deep blue corners and a field patterned in pale orange and brown, probably served as a head cloth, an important item of women’s wear. Chancay weavers are most noted for head cloths with decoration created through gauze weaves. This example represents a less common type, patterned not during weaving with gauze but rather with tie-dyeing, which typically produces diamond-shaped or rhomboid motifs like those in the field. Its beautiful colors evoke deep twilight, when the sky turns a luminous dark blue and a shimmer of orange light appears on the horizon.
A sleeved tunic, made with yarns dyed in a pleasing pink and gold palette, seems to have been made by Chancay weavers after the Inka conquest in the 1460s. Two traits indicate its status as a high-prestige garment: its labor- and resource-intensive technique—slit tapestry—and its copious use of alpaca fiber imported from the highlands. The wide, short proportions and sleeves are typical of Chancay, as is the small-scale, interlocked design that repeats in the eight patterned columns. The stepped blocks along the edges, however, seem to be drawn from a poorly understood, contemporary textile style that strongly appealed to Chancay weavers and their patrons.
Clarissa von Spee Curator of Chinese Art
Donna and James Reid gave a group of ten Chinese ceramics to the museum in 2017; three of these—a large Meiping vase and a conical bowl from the Song dynasty (960–1279), and a covered jar with lotus design (illustrated here) from the Northern Dynasties period (AD 386–581)—are included in the Recent Acquisitions focus exhibition that opens in March.
The jar still has its original cover, which is rare among surviving examples. Its missing knob most likely had the shape of a lotus bud. Beautifully carved lotus petals cover the vessel’s shoulder and lid under a translucent green glaze. In Buddhism, the lotus flower symbolizes purity and detachment from worldly affairs; its presence suggests that this vessel was meant to be used in a religious context. The well-crafted double-loop handles may have held a silk cloth or other textile that would have been folded over the lid to keep it in place. This aesthetic prefigures the celebrated green celadons in adjacent regions.
Sinéad Vilbar Curator of Japanese Art
Among the year’s important Japanese art acquisitions is a painting of Aizen Myoo, one of the Five Great Wisdom Kings who protect the Five Wisdom Buddhas. In Japanese, Aizen means “passion”—literally “dyed with love”—and myoo means “bright king.” As the Wisdom King of Passion, Aizen converts carnal desire into a more constructive quest for enlightenment, illuminating the world and dispelling ignorance. Although the myoo are a category of deity incorporated into Buddhism from Hindu traditions, Aizen does not exist in Indian texts or iconography.
Befitting his association with passion, Aizen’s body is red. The deity is generally depicted with six arms, as in this painting. In his principal arms, he holds a vajra bell and pestle. One pair of subsidiary arms holds a bow and arrow, and the other pair a lotus bud and an item hidden by Aizen’s closed fist. Characterized by a flaming mandorla, or body halo, he sits upon a lotus supported by a vase from which flow flaming, wish-fulfilling jewels. This medieval representation of Aizen is of excellent quality, conveying the color palette, complexity of design, fine line work, and use of cut gold characteristic of the best 14th-century Japanese Buddhist painting. Images of Aizen were especially prevalent in the 1300s and 1400s due to the deity’s association with the repulsion of attempted invasions by Mongol forces; gallery 235B currently features a wood sculpture dated to the 1200s. Our newly acquired painting will serve as a wonderful complement, especially as it depicts implements now missing from a number of the sculpture’s hands.
Also new to the collection are three elegant Japanese porcelain dishes produced by elite ceramicists working for the Nabeshima clan in the country’s southern island of Kyushu. One of the three, made between 1688 and 1704, is entirely in underglaze blue, with a dynamic, graphically powerful design of abstracted gingko leaves and other foliate motifs. The other two dishes, created between 1688 and 1716, have both underglaze blue and overglaze color enamels ranging from bright oranges to subtle pale greens. Every other year, most of the regional rulers serving the Tokugawa military regime, lords known as daimyo, were required to reside in the military capital of Edo, present-day Tokyo, where they presented gifts to the Tokugawa shogun. Taking advantage of the recent discovery of kaolin in northern Kyushu, which attracted the best ceramicists in the realm, the Nabeshima clan daimyo¯ of the Suga domain offered the shogun exquisite sets of porcelain tableware with appealing motifs and color schemes. The maple leaves floating along the turbulent river current in one of the museum’s recently acquired dishes relate to a motif derived from classical Japanese poetry, in which the red leaves of autumn ride along the Tatsuta River in Kyoto. A poem by courtier and poet Ariwara no Narihira (825–880) reads:
Chihayaburu Kamiyo kikazu Tatsuta-gawa Kara kurenai ni Mizu kukuru to wa
Unheard of even in the legendary age of the awesome gods: Tatsuta River in scarlet and the water flowing under it.
–Translated by Joshua Mostow
No small portion of the porcelain produced in Japan during the Edo period was intended for the European market, replacing difficult-to-obtain Chinese export porcelain after the fall of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). As a result, many of the ceramicists involved in its creation catered to European taste. Nabeshima ware offers us insight into what sophisticated Japanese made for their own use, combining their admiration of Chinese porcelain shapes and motifs with elements drawn from Japan’s rich cultural sources.
Emily J. Peters Curator of Prints and Drawings, and James Wehn Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow
Giovanni de’ Vecchi’s The Entombment is a preparatory study for an altarpiece he painted in 1596 for the church of Santa Prassede in Rome. This spirited drawing depicts the dead Christ carried to an open tomb in the upper left background by John the Evangelist, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea. Christ’s grieving mother collapses into the arms of her female companions, while Mary Magdalene adoringly cradles his feet. De’ Vecchi, among Rome’s most interesting and distinguished painters during the late 1500s, practiced a late Mannerist style characterized by an emotional intensity that contrasted with the coolly elegant artifice of works by most other artists of the period.
In this working drawing, looping strokes and animated squiggles of the pen simultaneously evoke and dissolve the forms of the figures, which de’ Vecchi typically modeled using touches of purple-pink watercolor. Particularly fascinating are passages where the artist appears to have been “thinking” on paper, such as the dark flurry of lines forming the torso and turbaned head of Nicodemus, and the face of Christ’s mother, drawn once in brown ink and again, higher up, with purple wash.
In 1675–76, about 80 years after Giovanni de’ Vecchi’s commission in Rome, the artist Domenico Maria Canuti was there to execute a ceiling fresco for the grand Palazzo Altieri. His pen and ink drawing Apotheosis of Romulus features a design for a quadratura, an illusionistic type of painting where images of architectural elements depicted on a wall or ceiling appear to be part of the actual architectural setting. Canuti made the drawing in order to establish the relationship between the figural group and the quadratura with geometric precision. In the center he sketched Romulus, founder of Rome, floating upward toward a bank of clouds to be welcomed by Jupiter, Venus, and other Olympian gods. Three dotted perspectival lines, rendered with chalk, radiate from the figural group. Two of the lines meet at right angles on the figure of Venus, extending vertically downward to the tip of a 24-pointed star and a perfectly rendered circular crown, and horizontally toward an architrave on the left. A third line angled at 45 degrees establishes the corner of the room, aided by another 24-point star rendered in perfect perspective. This extraordinary drawing shows a Baroque artist using all of his training and talent to execute a design both mathematical and imaginary in its scope.
The Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka made Birth of a Child during a period of political upheaval and intense personal anguish, just a few months after the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. The sheet is preparatory for a large decorative fresco planned for a reception hall’s interior walls at a cemetery complex in the city of Breslau in present-day Poland. Using tempera paints in brilliant, contrasting colors, Kokoschka applied them with a brush at various thicknesses and incorporated some of the drips of paint into his design.
The work’s visible brushstrokes and strongly directional patches of color create vigor and movement around a central reclining white-clad figure—a woman giving birth. The hardship of the birthing process is relayed through the motions of the three surrounding women: a woman in pink holds the birthing woman’s arms above her head, while another in green at her side grasps her shoulders, a gesture almost violent in its force. A third woman pours a basin of water between the birthing woman’s legs. Has the baby been born? Taken away? The newborn is noticeably absent, and the mother’s lifeless pallor foretells a tragic outcome. Indeed, Kokoschka intended this scene as the opening to a sequence portraying the inevitability of death at every stage of life.
Kokoschka’s tormented relationship with Viennese socialite Alma Mahler ended around the time this painting on paper was made. He was particularly grief-stricken by Mahler’s decision to end her pregnancy. Responding emotionally through his art, Kokoschka created a number of works in 1914 that, like this one, featured women as life-giving mothers, but also as torturers of men. This work is on view through May 13 in the exhibition Graphic Discontent: German Expressionism on Paper.
Emily J. Peters Curator of Prints and Drawings, and James Wehn Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow
The Adoration of the Shepherds was made after 1550, when the artist Battista Franco had returned to his native Venice after working in Rome, Florence, and Urbino. This large and carefully worked etching depicts a group of shepherds who visit the Virgin Mary and Christ child just after the birth, guided by a host of angels and a shining star. The Virgin and Child are flanked by the half-clothed visitors, portrayed in dynamic, twisting positions, whose pointing gestures and directional gazes—mirrored by those of an ass and a cow—offer witness to the miraculous birth.
To the right of the child sits Joseph, his right hand poised in a contemplative position below his chin. Joseph’s thoughtful approach to the birth is complemented in the middle ground by two groups of men who converse with one another rather than peer at the child. Franco thus juxtaposes action and reflection, emphasizing two possibilities for spiritual engagement. In the background, ancient ruins on the left and an Italian city on the right suggest that the narrative takes place both as a historical event in the distant past and as a spiritual event in the present-day lives of its viewers.
Made a few decades after Battista Franco’s etching, the brilliantly luminous engraving Wealth Permits Stupidity examines affluence as the source of all ills. The allegorical print was produced in Antwerp in the Netherlands at the end of the 16th century, when moralizing imagery was common. The interior palace scene features a king, a personification of Greed, who counts his money at a large table. Dazzled by the precious metal wares at his feet, he is unaware that a jester wearing a paper crown places a fool’s cap on his head. Across the well-appointed table, the king’s female counterpart demonstrates Vanity, one of the pitfalls of wealth. She stares into a mirror—its reflection has transformed her into an elderly woman—while a monkey looks up her skirt. An older woman with a parrot on her arm, a personification of Flattery, cools the vain lady from behind with a fan.
A well-dressed female figure with a boar’s head, representing Stupidity, brings food and drink served with opulent plate. However, the victuals are not abundant: no glasses are full, no platters piled; even the servant in the back carries a barren tray. The birdcage above is also empty, a reference to loss or barrenness. Wealth has overcome the couple’s senses. Their pointless lives will end with neither truth, nor issue. Wealth Permits Stupidity would have found a ready audience among Antwerp’s sophisticated local and international merchants and courtiers, for whom such allegory was a typical feature in visual imagery, plays, and street theater of the period.
Three recently acquired prints by internationally acclaimed media artist Walid Raad explore timeless social concerns about access to information, the assertion and perception of truth, and the nature and role of mass media. All three prints are from Raad’s series Better Be Watching the Clouds. To create the series, the artist appropriated colorful pages from a Middle Eastern botanical guidebook and added black and white photos of world leaders involved in the Lebanese Civil War (1975–91). The collaged faces form the center of blossoms, as if the influential leaders have seeped into the ground of the Middle East and sprouted in an eerie transmutation of its landscape.
Born in Lebanon, Raad grew up in East Beirut. In 1983 escalating violence led to his relocation to the United States, where he finished high school and went on to pursue photography and Middle Eastern studies. In his work, which includes documentary-style photographs, videos, and notebooks, Raad weaves together fictional stories with real events to raise questions about Lebanon’s modern history and to challenge the foundations of what people believe to be true. For example, according to Raad, Better Be Watching the Clouds is a logbook made by Fadwa Hassoun, a Lebanese intelligence officer and botanist who was responsible for assigning floral code names to political and military leaders during the war. Thus in the surreal Plate 438, former Lebanese politician Kamal Joumblatt is Pink Sorel, a “herbaceous plant” found in “waste ground, originally cultivated.” Raad leaves it to the viewer to decide whether the code name is arbitrary or carries a hidden, satirical meaning. The print’s imaginary history as an intelligence record further confuses the boundaries between real and fake, public and secret, art and artifact.
Barbara Tannenbaum Curator of Photography
The 230 works added to the photography collection in 2017 represent a plethora of periods, styles, and subjects. Techniques range from 19th-century photographs on enamel to contemporary tintypes and gelatin silver and digital prints. Artists hail from as near as Cleveland and as far as Iran and South Africa.
Generous gifts of work by three important American photographers deepened our holdings of documentary and landscape images. The family of Walter Rosenblum donated 19 of his photographs, including eloquent street scenes and illuminating portraits of residents of New York’s poor neighborhoods between 1938 and 1980 and of Haitians in 1957–59, along with an iconic image shot on the beaches of Normandy when Rosenblum served as an Army combat photographer during the Second World War. Roman Vishniac photographed Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe in the mid-1930s. His daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn, gave 22 haunting works that powerfully convey the privations of discrimination and record a way of life extinguished by the Nazis and the war. Vishniac’s and Rosenblum’s images hold hallowed places in the annals of documentary photography. The Christian Keesee Collection donated 51 photographs by the masterful Brett Weston. Forty-two of these images of the natural and built environment are on view through May 6 in the photography gallery.
In an inspiring example of arts patronage combined with social advocacy, the George Gund Foundation commissions distinguished artists to photograph areas of interest in northeast Ohio for the foundation’s annual reports. To ensure that this legacy remains within the community, the foundation each year generously donates prints from the project. In 2017 the museum received 12 portraits by Andrea Modica of Cleveland women who launched nontraditional careers with help from the organization Hard Hatted Women, along with 11 landscape views by Jeffrey Whetstone exploring the evolving Cuyahoga River.
The largest and most technically innovative photograph acquired last year was Richard Mosse’s Moria Camp, Lesbos. Part of the Irish artist’s Heat Maps series—stunningly beautiful yet chilling images of the overcrowded, squalid camps that house Middle Eastern and North African emigrants in Europe—this enormous panoramic landscape view from 2016 was purchased with funds generously donated by William and Margaret Lipscomb. The work comprises approximately one thousand individual photographs digitally stitched together to form a unified whole. Mosse used an extremely high-resolution camera that records thermal radiation rather than light; it can detect a human body from 30.3 kilometers. This technology was created for military use to track and target enemies in border surveillance and combat.
Through the camera’s eye, humans become biological traces instead of individuals, a condition that echoes the treatment of the refugees. Stateless, they lack a legal identity and basic human rights, including freedom of movement. Created with a camera that dehumanizes its subjects, Moria Camp also contains numerous close-up views of domestic life in the compound that do just the opposite. Adults cook and wash clothes; children play. The mundane, fragile nature of daily life contrasts with the gravity of the content.
Moria Camp’s monumental scale and conflation of historical fact with artistic imagination and invention argue for its location within the tradition of history painting as well as photography. Viewing this detention camp in the country revered as the cradle of democracy delivers a gut punch. Mosse brilliantly subverts a technology of covert surveillance and destruction, using it to foster awareness and empathy.
Mark Cole Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
The museum’s noteworthy collection of American painting recently added Alabama, a superb work by Norman Lewis. Visually arresting and generously scaled, Alabama is a powerful abstract composition with vigorous white brushwork applied in linear and curved swaths against a black background. The brushstrokes gather in such number and intensity amid the lower central area of the canvas that the background is obliterated in places, creating an overall effect of jostling white forms in inky darkness. In terms of style, the painting is a key contribution to Abstract Expressionism, the mid 20th-century movement devoted to communicating psychological and emotional impulses through line, shape, color, and texture, most often without overtly recognizable references to the visible world.
Harlem-based Norman Lewis was the only African American artist to associate with and exhibit alongside the founders of Abstract Expressionism. During his career he had several solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows, including the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1956. Yet despite his achievements, Lewis did not attain the level of fame necessary to guarantee him a place in the early histories of Abstract Expressionism; indeed, prejudicial attitudes toward his race hampered his acceptance among the dominant circles of networking and patronage. However, following a period of limited attention in the decades after his death in 1979, interest has steadily increased during the past quarter century. In recent years the artist has rightfully joined the acknowledged ranks of essential Abstract Expressionist painters.
Produced intermittently throughout the 1960s, Lewis’s most original and admired works are the approximately two dozen canvases constituting his Civil Rights series, which provide a unique fusion of Abstract Expressionist aesthetics and social commentary. Energized by the civil rights movement in the United States, and unwilling to ignore the significant transformations taking place, the artist searched for a way to align his abiding interest in abstraction with current events. Alabama distinguishes itself as the masterpiece of the series. The painting’s title refers to one of the most notoriously recalcitrant states in the struggle for African American civil rights, and Lewis’s choice to limit his palette to black and white offered a symbolic duality for a time entrenched in racial conflict. In addition, the painting’s composition has prompted viewers to draw associations from its abstract shapes, such as a nocturnal conflagration with sparks flying upward—or, more emphatically, a nighttime Ku Klux Klan gathering. Widely published and exhibited, Alabama is regarded by aficionados and scholars of Lewis’s work as his most emotionally resonant and intellectually forceful creation.
Stephen Harrison Curator of Decorative Art and Design
The remarkable Frances “Franny” Taft served as a museum trustee from 1973 until her death in 2017 at age 95. She taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art for 62 years and was a ubiquitous presence at northeast Ohio art openings with her husband, Seth, who died in 2013. Franny made a bequest to the museum of a magnificent group of works by goldsmith John Paul Miller and silversmith Frederick Miller, both based in Cleveland. These treasures represent an important patron relationship unlike almost any other in the two artists’ careers. John and Frederick worked with Franny at the Cleveland Institute of Art and enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the Tafts. As a result, their work for the couple represents a collaborative process that elevates each piece above a mere commission to a more personal expression of a cherished relationship.
The Taft Anniversary Necklace from 1991 was commissioned by Seth Taft as a gift for his wife on their golden anniversary celebrating 50 years of marriage. John Paul Miller had previously created two smaller, less ambitious works in this “gold nugget” or “fragment” style in 1971 and 1986, but the Taft necklace synthesized his understanding of weight, balance, texture, and form in a new way. A masterwork of goldsmithing, it represents a pinnacle in Miller’s career. The CMA archives house drawings and preliminary studies for this work.
Also in the bequest are works such as Miller’s early Seedpod Brooch, made after his landmark discovery of the granulation technique in 1952–53. Here he contrasts hammered planes with granulated surfaces to emphasize texture and enhance the drama of discovery—a technique that would become a hallmark of Miller’s naturalistic compositions.
Stephen N. FliegelRobert P. Bergman Curator of Medieval Art
This remarkable life-size sculpture of John the Baptist immediately impresses with spectacular three-dimensionality: its deeply undercut draperies, the saint’s sharply incised crescent-shaped curls and beard and his camel fleece coat, the fur of the lamb. Undoubtedly carved by Netherlandish sculptor Jan Crocq, an artist who delighted in bold and distinctive patterns, Saint John the Baptist is stylistically datable to about 1500, when Crocq was working in eastern France. A native of the Burgundian Netherlands, the artist is mentioned in the guild registers for the cities of Bruges and Antwerp where he was known as an engraver and a carver of architectural ornaments. Crocq moved to eastern France early in his career to serve René II, Duke of Lorraine and Duke of Bar, from 1486 to 1510, working mostly in the town of Nancy.
John the Baptist was a much beloved and widely venerated saint throughout the Middle Ages. Represented here in a formal manner typical of Netherlandish art of the late 1300s and 1400s, Saint John wears his traditional camel fleece coat mentioned in the Gospels. The beautifully sculpted fleece, with its scrolling, sinuous patterns, is visible beneath the saint’s heavy, luxuriant outer mantle, which drapes downward over his right shoulder, revealing its finely textured lining. A band of carved pearls and a simple vine-like incised pattern decorate the garment’s hem, suggesting a richly embroidered border and giving the mantle a vestment-like quality. The lamb, an attribute of John the Baptist, rests on the closed book held in the saint’s left hand. Here it serves as a symbol of Christ in his sacrificial role as Redeemer. John’s right hand, now missing, would have pointed to the lamb.
Crocq’s style is deeply rooted in the prominent works by sculptors Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve at the Carthusian monastic complex at Champmol, near Dijon, in the late 1300s and early 1400s. The sculpture of the Chartreuse de Champmol still held strong influence over regional artists even a century later, and Crocq must have been no exception. Our sculpture of John the Baptist reputedly comes from the Sainte-Chapelle in Dijon, seat of the Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1430. This provenance has been consistently associated with the sculpture since the late 19th century. The chapel housed clerestory sculptures mounted high on consoles within its apse, so John the Baptist would have been seen at a significant height, perhaps 20 or more feet above floor level. Located here were the family monuments and tombs of Crocq’s patron, René II, himself a member of the chivalric order. René is known to have contributed embellishments to the Sainte-Chapelle at this time, and our sculpture may have been one of his commissions.
About two dozen statues, almost all preserved in the region of Lorraine, have now been attributed to Crocq. They are, for the most part, stylistically and technically consistent. Moreover, they represent the finest works produced in the region at the end of the 1400s. On the basis of compelling similarities, the CMA’s newly acquired Saint John can be identified more specifically as a pendant to a figure of Saint Catherine, also attributed to Crocq and of similar dimensions, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This would make both sculptures the only known works by this artist outside France.
The John the Baptist and its corresponding figure of Catherine in New York may have together once formed part of the large suite of apsidal figures at the Sainte-Chapelle in Dijon. The association of these two specific saints is likely intentional, as they are the patron saints of the dynasty’s founders, Philip the Bold and Margaret of Flanders. Their association here would have clearly denoted and honored the founders.
Saint John the Baptist carries forward the heritage of Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve from the Chartreuse de Champmol, original home of the ducal tombs and their figural mourners. It provides the museum’s medieval collection with a welcome example of the later development and evolution of Sluterian sculpture.
Marjorie E. Wieseman Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800, and Cory Korkow Associate Curator of European Art
Over the past year, major works by Johann König, Joseph Wright of Derby, and William Blake entered the CMA’s collection of European painting and sculpture before 1800. The earliest of these was created by Johann König, one of the most distinguished masters of German painting at the start of the 17th century.
Following a period of study in Italy, König worked primarily in Augsburg and Nuremberg, creating small, vividly colored cabinet paintings of historical or mythological scenes on copper or vellum supports. Painted in 1622, The Resurrection of Christ is an unusually large example of the artist’s work on copper, beautifully showcasing his stunning command of fine detail and color harmonies.
Although Christ’s resurrection is a common subject in Christian art, the Gospels contain no direct account of the event. In König’s interpretation, the triumphant Christ soars up from his tomb toward heaven’s golden light, surrounded by clouds of putti. In dynamic disarray around the empty sarcophagus are the gaudily costumed soldiers who were charged with guarding it—some still slumbering, others scattering in fright and shielding their eyes against the brilliant light. König used the darkness of the burial chamber to heighten the effect of the blaze of light. Through the massive archway at the back of the scene, dawn breaks over the city of Jerusalem as the holy women Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleopas, and Mary Salome hasten toward the sepulchre and its mysteriously empty tomb. Merging elements of a Mannerist aesthetic—powerfully muscled bodies in twisted poses, a heightened color palette—with a dynamic, centrifugal organization more characteristic of the Baroque era, König’s Resurrection of Christ demonstrates the fluid exchange of stylistic trends across Europe around 1600.
While the acquisition of Johann König’s compelling work underscores the CMA’s intent to provide a more representative understanding of diverse European traditions, other recent acquisitions have added depth to a noted strength of the collection—namely, British painting of the 18th century. Joseph Wright spent most of his life in his native city of Derby, apart from brief periods in Liverpool and Bath, and a visit to Italy in 1773–75. He produced portraits, landscapes, historical scenes, paintings, and modern scientific subjects, many of which demonstrate a profound preoccupation with dramatic lighting effects. Wright’s portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote (1734–1797) depicts the subject at full length, wearing his military uniform and standing beneath a large oak tree at the center of an expansive landscape. It is one of a handful of small-scale likenesses by Wright of full-length figures in natural settings, compositions that have been described as among the artist’s most successful and appealing portraits. These works also represent Wright’s first forays into the genre of landscape painting. While the figure of Colonel Heathcote is painted in a relatively smooth and detailed technique, the landscape is energetic and thickly encrusted, almost impressionistic. In the trees next to Heathcote, for example, Wright juxtaposed daubs of different colored pigments, applied with palette knife as well as brush, to re-create the texture of fluttering leaves and gnarled and weathered bark. Indeed, he gave the landscape as much personality and presence as the colonel himself. Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote, on view in the focus gallery from March 17 to June 6, will be a striking addition to the British gallery, demonstrating the lively tradition of small-scale portraits that flourished throughout the 18th century alongside life-size Grand Manner portraits by artists such as Gainsborough, Lawrence, and Reynolds.
A decidedly original and independent voice in British art of the same period is that of William Blake, an avid disciple of art history who particularly admired the work of Michelangelo. Blake’s uniquely idiosyncratic, antiestablishment style was guided by visions in which he communicated with God, spirits, and the deceased. A small group of patrons believed in his genius and commissioned works that allowed him to give free rein to his unusual visions. Saint Matthew was painted for Thomas Butts, for whom Blake made at least 53 paintings of biblical themes between 1799 and 1803. Butts let Blake choose the subject: characteristically, in this case, a departure from traditional depictions of the angel dictating the gospel to Saint Matthew. Instead, Blake’s angel presents the completed text––a scroll with blood-red Hebrewesque letters––to the bewildered evangelist.
A prolific engraver and watercolorist, Blake eschewed oil painting in favor of a glue tempera medium that he called “portable fresco”—its recipe, he claimed, revealed to him by Saint Joseph in a dream. This experimental medium allowed Blake to retain the linear drawing essential to his compositions (note the delicate pen-and-ink outlining visible in Saint Matthew), but it was extremely fragile. Saint Matthew, one of a small number of surviving Blake temperas, communicates the artist’s belief in timeless, supernatural inspiration.
In addition to the painting’s illustrious early ownership by Thomas Butts, during the 19th century it was in the collection of William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel, both members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and after that in the collection of William Bell Scott, a Victorian poet, author, and intimate of the Pre-Raphaelites, for whom Blake was a critical model. The painting is now on view in the British gallery, where Blake’s distinctive style and visionary subject matter contrast sharply with highly finished landscapes and portraits more typical of the period.
William H. Robinson Senior Curator of Modern Art
During the early months of the First World War, German artist Heinrich Davringhausen painted Der Krieg (War), a haunting vision of a village in flames. Tiny black figures, some carrying and firing guns, find themselves engulfed in an apocalyptic vortex of burning, collapsing buildings, perhaps alluding to the potential obliteration of cities and countries, even of the foundational social structures of Western civilization. Among the undifferentiated masses there must also be civilians seeking refuge from the raging violence that threatens to overwhelm them. Davringhausen achieved maximum emotional impact in Der Krieg by engaging modernist compositional structures—from highly intensified color to the tightly compressed space of intersecting geometric planes, here shattered into sharp, piercing shapes, like shards of broken glass. This masterful merging of German Expressionist emotion with Cubist and Futurist frameworks represents a significant contribution to the apocalyptic war scenes painted by fellow Expressionists Franz Marc, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, and Vassily Kandinsky.
Born in Aachen in 1884, Davringhausen studied at the Düsseldorf Academy and was active in Cologne. During his early years as an avant-garde artist in the Rhineland, he exhibited with August Macke, Heinrich Campendonk, and Max Ernst. Der Krieg belongs to a small number of surviving works from this period and predates the “realist” style Davringhausen developed as a member of the postwar New Objectivity movement. In the 1930s, the Nazis denounced Davringhausen as a “degenerate” artist and removed 44 of his works from German museums. He escaped from Germany with his family in 1939 and spent the years of the Second World War living in obscurity in southern France. Most of his early avant-garde paintings were lost or destroyed during the war. Der Krieg must have held a special meaning for the artist; it remained in his personal collection until his death in 1970.
Reto Thüring Curator of Contemporary Art, and Emily Liebert Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
Last year the Cleveland Museum of Art received an outstanding gift of five important contemporary artworks from Agnes Gund, a deeply committed supporter of the museum and a visionary collector. Among these works is Robert Colescott’s Tea for Two (The Collector) from 1980. With raw imagery, garish colors, expressive gestures, and visual puns, the painting is a superb example of the artist’s pictorial style. Its characteristic subject matter challenges racial and gender-related stereotypes and visual tropes: unlike the centuries-old art historical tradition of featuring white collectors as the subjects of portraits, the collector in Colescott’s painting is a man of color, surrounded by artworks reminiscent of those by Frank Stella, David Smith, Roy Lichtenstein, and other blue-chip artists. A servant of ambiguous race and gender presents tea to the collector and his seated white female companion. Colescott has deeply influenced a younger generation of artists whose work uses appropriation to address the politics of race and gender. His groundbreaking work made him the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1997.
Gund’s generous gift also included Brice Marden’s Sea Painting I of 1973–74, which exemplifies the seminal artist’s early experiments with bold color in a wide range of unusual hues. To make this abstract painting, Marden covered two rectangular canvases with encaustic, a mixture of beeswax and oil, creating a smooth, dense surface. Tones of gray-green, reminiscent of water and atmosphere, split sharply to suggest the division between sky and ocean and a limitless view of the horizon, introducing a poetic dimension. In addition to the works by Colescott and Marden, Gund donated Claes Oldenburg’s Standing Mitt and Ball (1973), Donald Sultan’s Forest Fire, January 5, 1984 (1984), and Adja Yunkers’s large pastel drawing Sestina II (1958).
The contemporary art department also acquired Sylvia Sleigh’s Vincent Longo and Pat Adams, which depicts the eponymous married artists in a domestic setting. Sleigh, a figurative painter who in the 1960s was central to feminist art circles in New York, often challenged the art historical tradition of male artists portraying female subjects as objects of desire by reversing the gaze in her own works. She remains a touchstone for contemporary artists who have taken up portraiture to address political and ethical concerns. An early work in Sleigh’s oeuvre, this painting from 1962 shows her affinity for close observation and attention to detail—hallmarks of the intimate portraits for which she is internationally known.
The CMA’s acquisition of Name Announcer (2011) by Pierre Huyghe marks the first performative work to enter the collection. When this work is staged, a tuxedoed performer at the gallery entrance politely requests each visitor’s name. Once a visitor steps into the gallery, the greeter announces their name to everyone within earshot. In its performative formality, the piece invokes royal court protocol, only to undercut official hierarchies by giving every entrant’s presence equal prominence. Name Announcer invites passive spectators to become active participants, challenging the conventions of detachment and anonymity within shared public space.
Since the early 1990s, Huyghe has worked across media, including sculpture, installation, film, performance, photography, drawing, and music, often playfully blurring the line between fiction and reality and questioning the rituals of everyday life. By posing sophisticated questions through a diverse range of artistic strategies, Huyghe has emerged as one of the most influential artists of the past few decades. Tea for Two (The Collector) and Vincent Longo and Pat Adams are currently on view in the contemporary galleries; Sea Painting I is part of the exhibition Recent Acquisitions 2014–2017, running March 17 to June 10 in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery. Name Announcer is performed in the contemporary galleries on weekends beginning Saturday, March 17.