Chazen Museum of Art

Blog: Collections

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art

Posted January 26, 2018 by Chazen Education

Collection Connections

(South African, b. 1955)
Il Communicato N. 81
India ink on book pages
63 x 47 1/2 in.
Joyce and William Wartmann Fund purchase

The son of two anti-apartheid lawyers, South African artist William Kentridge has been engaged in the defense of anti-apartheid activists from a young age. In the 1980s, his animated films created from “erasure” drawings gained international recognition. Deeply personal and complex, his narratives reflect his own journey through the aftermath of Apartheid and Colonialism and document a legacy of abuse and injustice in his homeland. The rhinoceros is a recurring motif for Kentridge who uses the rhino as a symbol of an exploitative colonialist view of Africa representing the subjugation of a continent whose resources were stripped away by European colonizers. 

William Kentridge has said “forgetting is natural, remember is the effort one makes”. What techniques do Aboriginal artists employ to make outsiders “remember” their legacy?

 Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection

Portrait of Lady Spencer: The Chazen’s connection to Diana, Princess of Wales

Posted August 30, 2017 by Michelle Michiko Prestholt

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Chazen Museum would like to highlight our portrait of the Princess’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Margaret Georgiana Spencer (née Poyntz), the Countess Spencer (1737–1814). The enamel on copper Portrait of Lady Spencer was completed in 1833 by Henry Pierce Bone (1779­­ –1855) after an earlier work by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792).

Georgiana, as she preferred to be called, was married to John, the first Earl Spencer (1734–1783). Their marriage was a love match, a rarity for their time. Despite not possessing a title himself at the time of their courtship, John came from a noble family and was the most eligible bachelor in Britain after inheriting an enormous fortune from his great-grandmother. The Spencer family disapproved of Georgiana’s lesser wealth and her family’s connections to trade, but the couple persisted, waiting until John’s twenty-first birthday, at which time he no longer required his family’s permission to marry. In 1755, John and Georgiana married in a secret ceremony in the Oak Bedroom of Althorp, the traditional seat of the Spencer family, where Princess Diana herself grew up and is interred.

John’s loyalty to the Whig party in the House of Commons earned him the reward of an earldom, allowing him to become the first Earl Spencer in 1765. The Earl and the Countess Spencer were both highly educated and were enthusiastic patrons of writers and artists. They spent lavishly to build a London home, named Spencer House, to hold their art collection. The Countess Spencer was well known in London society as a fashionable hostess and philanthropist, giving her time and money to various charitable organizations.

Further breaking with the traditions of their era and status, the Earl and Countess Spencer were demonstratively doting parents to their three children. Lady Spencer’s favorite child was her eldest daughter and namesake, the infamous Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), who was portrayed by Kiera Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess. After the Earl Spencer’s death in 1783 at the young age of 48, Lady Spencer took an active role in the education and upbringing of her numerous grandchildren. Lady Spencer maintained her reputation as an influential and esteemed member of British society until her death at the age of 76 in 1814.

Henry Pierce Bone, (English, 1779­­–1855), Portrait of Lady Spencer, 1833, enamel
on copper, Gift in memory of Mrs. Frederick W. Miller, 1992.332

Indian Miniature Paintings and Japanese Woodcut Prints

Posted February 15, 2013 by Andrew Stevens

When next you’re in the museum, seek out the niches on either side of the Asian gallery, where we recently changed the Indian miniature paintings and Japanese woodcuts. We regularly rotate art in these areas for two reasons: since we have a substantial works on paper collection and want to give visitors a sense of the range; also, many of our works on paper are light sensitive, especially the Indian Miniatures and Japanese prints, and we can’t leave them out permanently lest the images slowly disappear. Among my duties is to regularly select new groups of Indian miniatures and Japanese prints to go on display in the small niches.

The Indian miniatures niche now holds images of Hinduism, particularly of the life of Krishna, selected with the advice of Professor Emeritus Joan Raducha. Krishna was a material manifestation in the world (an avatar, if the word hasn’t been skewed by the movies) of the supreme being Vishnu. Krishna’s Sanskrit name translates as “black” or “dark,” so he is usually portrayed with black or, as in most of these images, blue skin. The largest work on display, The Transfer of Babes, shows scenes from the story of his birth. It was foretold that he would destroy an evil king, who therefore tried to kill Krishna at birth. Krishna was miraculously protected—in the painting his father slips past sleeping guards and escapes from the King’s prison, crosses a river protected by a giant snake, and delivers the baby Krishna to a family of herders. Popular images of Krishna show him as a young adult, and he is often depicted with his consort Radha and a group of lovely Gopi (usually translated as cowherding women).

Unknown (Indian), The Transfer of Babes, early 19th century, watercolor, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper, 11 3/4 x 18 7/8 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earnest C. Watson, 69.28.16

One image in this niche doesn’t feature Krishna—an illustration of Devagandhari Ragini. This painting is based on a ragini, a musical piece from a large series called the Ragamala. Each of the ragas and raginis that make up the Ragamala represents a particular season or time of day; each is also associated with a mood. The depicted Devagandhari Ragini is to be performed in the morning hours, and its mood is one of supplication, interpreted in this case as a woman doing her devotion by garlanding a lingam with blossoms. Look closely at the image of a woman worshiping in the painting—the centers of her earrings and some other bits of jewelry are inset with iridescent insect parts to give them a dark glitter.

These Indian miniatures were all intended as manuscript illustrations, which explains their small scale. While the prints in the Japanese niche were not tied to particular stories or bound into texts, they still refer to literary traditions.

In the Japanese niche we currently display images related to the spectacular samurai armor that is the niche’s centerpiece. The two smaller prints depict samurai in their armor, while the larger prints show warriors in the process of attacking and being attacked by monsters. All of these prints are in wonderful condition, their colors are unfaded, and they are masterfully printed, but I especially like the two large prints, triptychs by Kuniyoshi.

Kuniyoshi was a very popular and prolific designer of prints. Like his master, Toyokuni, he often depicted warriors. The subject of both of these triptychs is Minamoto no Tametomo, a twelfth-century warrior who became the subject of what today we might call historical fiction. He was also portrayed in fantastic prints. In one of those on display, Tametomo Shipwrecked by a Giant Fish is Rescued by Tengu, Tametomo, his wife, and his son are nearly lost at sea when their ship founders in a storm and they are set upon by a giant fish. The despondent Tametomo is on the verge of suicide when he is restrained by ghostly tengus (a usually malevolent birdlike monster) sent by an ancestral spirit. They stabilize the boat and the spirits pacify the fish, saving the family so that Tametomo’s son, cradled by the man astride the fish, can one day become king of Okinawa.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1798–1861), Tametomo Shipwrecked by a Giant Fish is Rescued by Tengu, early 1850s, color woodcut. John H. Van Vleck Endowment Fund purchase, 2008.39a–c

The other triptych, Minamoto no Raiko Slaying the Monster Kidomaru, shows Tametomo during the period when he was commissioned by the Emperor to rid the countryside around Raiko of bandits (Tametomo’s name in this print, Minamoto no Raiko, reflects this duty). Kido Maru, a bandit-wizard who learned his magic from tengus (unfriendly ones, apparently), lunges through the soldiers to attack Tametomo as he rides by. The monster is doomed, of course, but this foreknowledge doesn’t detract from the print’s excitement.

I’ve only glossed over the complex and exciting tales that gave rise to these images, but I hope it spurs further interest. One of my favorite ways to enjoy art is learning these stories. It’s a bit like going to the farmers’ market and meeting the folks who make your cheese; knowing where it comes from enhances the flavor. For extra flavor on the life of Krishna there are many websites, but has a concise breakdown of Krishna’s historical growth in Hindu literature and notes that many of stories of his early life are gathered in the Bhagavata Purana. Wikipedia has a breakdown of the sections of the Ragamala under Ragamala paintings (though the entry’s links need updating). The Wikipedia entry on the historical Minamoto no Tametomo is useful. Readers of Japanese can find more fanciful tales of him in the book Chinsetsu yumiharizuki by Takizawa Bakin. An excellent book on Kuniyoshi’s work is Timothy Clark’s catalogue Kuniyoshi: From the Arthur R. Miller Collection.

These works on paper will be up until mid-April before they need to be switched out again for other miniatures and prints. Works on paper enthusiasts can also make an appointment in the Print Study Room (call 263-2246) to see their favorite paper-based art.

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