Posts Tagged ‘american art’

The Peacock Room—More than they Bargained for

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Who said art history is boring? If you’re inclined to think that, read the story of the Peacock Room

This view of the Peacock Room shows some of the ornamentation added by Whistler, with his peacock mural in the background. Photo: Flickr user Laura Padgett

This view of the Peacock Room shows some of the ornamentation added by Whistler, with his peacock mural in the background. Photo: Flickr user Laura Padgett

In 1876, a wealthy English shipping magnate named Frederick R. Leyland hired an architect named Thomas Jekyll to redesign his dining room, where he wanted to present his large collection of Chinese porcelain. All was going well until Jekyll asked painter James McNeill Whistler, who had been engaged to decorate Leyland’s entrance hall, for advice on what color to paint the dining room’s shutters and doors.

Since Whistler’s painting Princesse du pays de la porcelaine — or The Princess from the Land of Porcelain — would be the room’s centerpiece, Jekyll wanted to make sure everything matched. Whistler had a couple of suggestions about the trim and other decorative work in the room, and offered to do the minor retouching required. Jekyll, who was happy to have the artist help out, agreed to Whistler’s recommendations and left the job site with the understanding that work was nearly complete.

Left to his own devices, Whistler gave his creativity free reign. He recovered the ceiling in imitation gold leaf painted over with peacock feathers. He then gilded the shelving designed to showcase Leyland’s Chinese porcelain collection and embellished the wooden shutters with four elaborately plumed peacocks. At the same time, he encouraged his client to stay away, saying that he wanted everything to be perfect upon Leyland’s return.

Here’s where the story gets even more interesting. While Leyland was dutifully staying away from his own house so the artist could finish his work in peace, Whistler entertained friends and hosted the press in his client’s dining room. Upon returning home, Leyland, who had not authorized the work that Whistler had done, or the after-parties, refused to pay the bill. After an angry dispute, Leyland paid about half the money. Whistler may have had the last laugh, though. He painted a humongous pair of peacocks fighting over gold coins opposite Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, a lasting reminder of the controversy. After completing the room in 1877, the artist never saw it again.

Despite all the drama, Leyland kept the room exactly as Whistler had left it, and displayed his porcelain collection as he had intended to until his death in 1892. Charles Lang Freer purchased the Peacock Room in 1904, having already bought Princesse du pays de la porcelaine. Freer had the Peacock room added on to his home in Detroit, where he used it to display his own porcelain collection. The room was moved to Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, where it stands today, in 1919.

What famous artist would you want to redecorate your home? Please share.

Did you know that Whistler attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY? You can learn about his time as a student there on this fall’s Art Along the Hudson tour, one of our most popular trips.

Video: The Smithsonian Craft Show

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Simply put, the Smithsonian Craft Show is one of the most prestigious contemporary art events in the United States. More than 100 exhibitors meet in Washington, D.C. at the National Building Museum to not only show and sell their limited edition creations; they also connect with visitors to discuss their work in person. This unique opportunity provides art lovers the opportunity to meet expert artisans in jewelry, furniture, glass, ceramics, and basketry. Check out some of the most amazing pieces from the 2009 Smithsonian Craft Show.

What would you buy at the Smithsonian Craft Show? Share below.

Get the inside scoop on all the artists and a private curator-led tour of the Renwick Gallery on The Smithsonian Craft Show tour.

Video: Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck

Friday, May 15th, 2009

In his late 40s, artist Winslow Homer moved to a renovated carriage house 75 feet from the surf in remote Prout’s Neck, Maine. It was here that Homer painted some of his most regarded works—his monumental sea scenes.

Here, conservators describe how they worked in Winslow Homer’s tiny studio after his family left it to the Portland Museum of Art.

Read more about Homer and his way with watercolors in this article from Smithsonian magazine.

See it all for yourself on our Art Along the Coast of Maine tour.

Georgia O’Keeffe at 92

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Thanks to YouTube, we were able to locate this phenomenal video with Georgia O’Keeffe when she was 92 years old. She discusses her love of the New Mexico landscape, her paintings of bones, and her Model-A Ford, among other things. Below the video,  Journeys Study Leader Ellen Bradbury Reid follows up on her previous post about O’Keeffe with more memories of the artist.

Some recollections from Ellen Bradbury Reid, who shared a personal bond with Georgia O’Keeffe in her later years.

“O’Keeffe never wore sunglasses because they changed the color of things. She wore big brimmed black hats. She made or had all her clothes made. She always made her own clothes, even when she was a small girl. When she was at Chatham Academy, an Episcopal girls school in Virginia, she would wear very plain simple dresses. Most of the Chatham girls were from the South and had lace and pretty bows on their dresses, and they longed to dress O’Keeffe up…but she resisted. She once said that if she had to figure out what color to wear each day it would be a waste of time. As a young woman she wore black, brown, and white, but as she grew older she wore only black and white.

O’Keeffe had many patterns for dresses that she saved and reused for years. Most of the dresses were cut on the bias and had batwing sleeves so that they moved beautifully and were comfortable. Once when she was older, her friend Juan Hamilton had a dress made following one of her standard patterns but in a mauve, plum color. O’Keeffe refused to wear it and gave it back to the dressmaker.”

Can’t get enough Georgia O’Keeffe? Join us in Santa Fe and walk in her shoes for a few days.

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Who is your favorite artist and why? Tell us below.

The Day I Met Georgia O'Keeffe

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I first met Georgia O’Keeffe on a spring morning. I had been invited to meet her because of my job as Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico. I had studied her and knew that she could be cranky and that younger women fawning over her was one of her pet peeves. Nevertheless I could not resist bringing her some white lilacs from a beautiful old bush that had been planted by one of her old enemies, Edgar Hewett*.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Only One. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Only One. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

So, like so many others, I watched as she came out of her Abiquiu house, dressed in black, looking exactly as she did in the famous photos, and wearing the spiral Calder brooch. I was struck speechless.

As I was introduced, she looked hard at me and said: “Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, how did they let that happen?” I had no idea what to say, so I didn’t say anything, and she went on: “A woman, how did they let that happen? Come in.”

“I brought you some lilacs.” I finally ventured.

“They are dead,” she said. She was right; they were. It had been a hot drive from Santa Fe and I didn’t have the stems in water. “We have very good lilacs here in Abiquiu.” “I know,” I said, “but these are the last lilacs from a bush planted by Edgar Hewett.”

“Oh, then I like them very much,” she smiled. (more…)