The Artists to See

This is the first of a series of articles on Painting and Sculpture. Contributors to it will comment on the major exhibitions, the one-man shows, the controversies, and the books which feed the interest of those to whom the fine arts are a burning issue. Critics, connoisseurs, curators, and artists will take part. Each will be encouraged to speak out with the candor, the affirmation, and the magnificent prejudices of his particular camp. To open the series we turn to MACKINLEY HELM, the Boston collector, an authority on modern Mexican painters, and the biographer of John Marin. His home is an intimate museum of paintings, the expression of a taste diverse and decided. Next month we shall hear from Fishe Kimball, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


IT was with a “quick Relish,” a fooling familiarly felt by Sir Richard Steele, that I heard from the Editor of his intention to allow painting and sculpture to speak as a recurring feature in those months when the galleries are most exciting. I must add that it was equally savory to be asked to write the first of a series of articles intended to accent, through news and comment from regional sources, the high function that art can exercise in a free nation’s life. I propose to look at some memorial and jubilee exhibitions which our museums are disclosing this fall.

The Cleveland Museum of Art will open, on the last day of October, a retrospective collection of the paintings of William Sommer, an Ohio landscapist who died in 1949 in his eighty-fourth year. The water colors of this highly original genius are almost unknown outside his own region, the Western Reserve; though readers of White Buddings may remember the name. Hart Crane, then writing advertising copy in Cleveland, visited Sommer at his “Brandywine” studio, in the summer of 1922, and w rote some lively lines about one of his friend’s spirited still lifes: —

Beloved apples of seasonable madness That feed your inquiries with aerial wine. Put them again beside a pitcher with a knife, And poise them full and ready for explosion — The apples, Bill, the apples!

Dodge Macknight, who died only last May in his ninetieth year, will be memorialized in OctoberNovember by a showing of about 90 water colors at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A hearty and colorful man, Macknight lived for fifty years by the sea, at East Sandwich, Cape Cod, from time to time issuing out of that respectable village to visit exotic places like Mexico, Spain, and North Africa. From the turn of the century until 1930 — when he made his last sales exhibition in Boston — his New England and Canadian landscapes and bright-colored renderings of picturesque Hispanic byways were much sought after by New England patrons. Boston collectors such as Mrs. Jack Gardner and Franklin Huntington Beebe paid up to $2500 for the transparent papers whose intention and meaning were always as forthright as their manly creator’s open-faced character. It is said that the late Desmond FitzGerald of Brookline bought scores of the paintings and cased them, like the well-known Back Bay pancakes, in trunks concealed by his drawing-room sofas.

Nearly 100 of Armenian-born Arshile Gorky’s abstract and Expressionistic drawings and paintings will be shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York just after the first of the year and will go on to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Art in the spring. Gorky, who died by his own hand two years ago, was one of the seven Americans chosen to represent our advanced schools of painting at the twentyfifth Venetian Biennale during the summer. The other six, for the record, were Willem de Kooning and Rico Lebrun, foreign-born painters long resident here; Jackson Pollock of Wyoming; Hyman Bloom, the Boston Expressionist; Lee Gatch of New York and Baltimore; and John Marin, who was given a retrospect of 48 paintings to celebrate his forthcoming eightieth birthday.

The staff of the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum is presently studying and documenting the paintings of Clayton S. Price, a Portland artist whose work reached really heroic proportions before his death early this year at seventy-five. Scheduled for a March vernissage, this showing of the work of a lifetime will then goon tour: whereupon the country at large can judge, for the first time in the round, the work of a first-rate regional painter who began life as a Wyoming cowboy and died loving perfection. The surviving paintings are all pretty wonderful, the best of them strongly built up like a good Marsden Hartley. The failures were fed by their author’s own hand to the sea.

Of the three current or forthcoming exhibitions of foreign artists of major importance, Chaïm Soutine, Edvard Munch, and Christian Bérard, only that of Bérard, who died last year, is billed as a memorial showing. A cross-section of his work as portrait and figure painter, book illustrator, and theatrical and fashion designer will go on display on October 3 at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. It will be viewed at the Contemporary Arts Association of Houston in December; the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, in January; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art from the last week in February till the middle of March; the Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, in April; and at Knoedler & Company, New York, in May.

Bérard, called Bébé for the childish pink and white cheeks hidden beneath a Charles LaughtonGalileo beard, will be best remembered in this country for his designs for Jean Cocteau’s baroque film Beauty and the Beast and the New York production of Jean Giraudoux’s Maduroman of Chaillot, with its dramatic red bed in a cellar lighted with pink overtones — as in Paris he is remembered for attending first nights at the theater with his dog Hyacinth and for his “Portrait” by Gertrude Stein. He belonged to the neohumanist school of painters, of which Pavel Tchelitehew was chef d’école, and Cocteau and the Bermans were members. Bérard’s portrait of Cocteau is one of the highlights of the Institute show.

The most dazzling foreign show of the season will be the Soutine exhibition w hich opens in New York the first of November as a joint undertaking by the Museum of Modern Art and the Cleveland Museum. Amedeo Modigliani’S portrait of Soutine, painted not long after the Lithuanian youth had reached Paris in 1911, by way of the Vilna Academy, shows that inscrutable boy intent upon some secret vision, and Soutine’s early paintings will show that his visions then were somber, foreboding. The brilliant tones that most of us look (and long) for in the work of Soutine began to appear about 1920. The sundown in Pyrénées Orientales, shining brightly on tulips and rosebay, inspired the artist to paint more than 200 pictures in high-keyed, glowing color during his three years in Céret.

The surviving corpus of the work of this fastidious Expressionist painter — Soutine died in Toura ino in 1914—is disappointingly small because, in agonies over subjectively fell imperfections, the artist destroyed so much canvas. He used to repeat a still life arrangement — nature morte — until the inanimate objects appeared to take life and breath from his palette. Not even Cézanne could put more life into dead nature. Anne Collié, after Modigliani the only person ewer known to have watched him at work, has reported that he never set down a brush stroke without measuring it up against the preceding stroke, and always painted at a high nervous tension. The pictures give off that tension with the greatest excitement.

The Edvard Munch exhibition to be installed in October at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had its dramatic unveiling at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, last April and has been on the road ever since. During the remainder of the tour of the work of this great Norwegian Expressionist, the citizens of Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis will have a chance to tremble in front of his airless and frightening canvases. The low-priced catalogue which goes with this show — 79 illustrations, six in color, a solid text by Frederick Deknatel of Harvard — is probably the best monographic buy of the season.

The Metropolitan is currently showing twentieth-century American paintings already acquired by the Museum collections. The picture book produced for tins exhibition shows 100 choice paintings, eight in color, but at one time or another, during the next few weeks, a regular visitor will be able to see most of the paintings in the Metropolitan’s great store of work from more than 500 modern American painters and sculptors. Two hundred oils and 109 water colors will be on the walls every day. You get a free ticket and you lake your choice: Homer, Ryder, Whistler, Abbey, Cassatt, or Sargent; Hassam, Henri, Luks, Bellows, or Sloan; Hartley, Marin, Weber, Grant Wood, or Walt Kuhn; Hurd and O’Keeffe and Corbino or Hopper and Biddle; Reginald Marsh or Boardman Robinson; Stuart Davis, Rattner, Sheeler, Pereira, or Zerbe, Jack Levine, and Ben Shahn.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will honor the memory of the late Edward J. Holmes, who, with his wife and his mother, Mrs. Scott Fitz, during the fifteen years of his chairmanship of the Board of Trustees, presented scores of objets d’art to the Museum, the greatest treasure being surely the miniature ivory and gold statuette, the Snake Goddess, a priceless and exquisite relic of the Minoan culture from sixteenth-century (B.C.) Crete.

Two of the “jubilee” shows are already on view. One of them, an exhibition of historical portraits, hangs in Washington’s National Gallery of Art to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the removal of the Federal government to our present capital.

Everybody of consequence in our Federal history is there represented: the Washingtons, George and Martha, the former by the ubiquitous Stuart, himself embodied in the John Neagle portrait and his own popular talent likewise secured in the faces of John and Abigail Adams and Monsignor John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic archbishop in the youthful republic. The duelists Alexander Hamilton and Stephen Decatur hang with the whole White House collection of American Presidents on the stately walls of a connected series of some of the National Gallery’s 105 public chambers — along with Rembrandt Peale’s full-bosomed and spitcurled Mrs. James Madison, Sam Morse’s wonderful broad-faced Lafayette, and Benjamin West’s portrait of Elizabeth Kortright in ermine. As Mrs. James Monroe, and during her husband’s unsuccessful diplomatic mission to republican Paris, Elizabeth Kortright successfully wangled her friend Lafayette out of prison. West caught her just then, and set down the impression that between James and Elizabeth, the latter might have made the more positive President.

A patriotic show at the Corcoran Gallery in the national capital goes even farther back into American history: back, indeed, to the Venetian Sebastiano del Piombo’s ideal portrait of the Genoese Christopher Columbus. Among the hundreds of pictures and prints assembled from European, Canadian, Mexican, and American sources to follow the turn of events through the nineteenth century, Benjamin West’s “Death of Wolfe,” down from Ottawa, looms up largely.

In honor of living painters, the Kansas City Art Institute is reviving its celebrated Mid-America Annual, a juried show of oil paintings, water colors, prints, drawings, and sculptures. Eugene Kingman, director of the Joslyn Art Museum at Omaha, will judge the hundreds of entries which began to arrive before the end of September. Something over 100 examples of the five specified mediums will be exhibited during November at Kansas City’s William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, a resplendent limestone museum built, at a cost of nearly three million dollars on the lush Kansas City estate of the Nelsons. Twentieth-century art owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art now fills the walls at 10 West Eighth Street, Manhattan, and will remain there until November 10, when the 1950 winter exhibition of new American painting goes up to remain through the year. Sixty of those brand-new creations will go on a countrywide tour next year, some of them newly acquired, no doubt, for the Museum’s permanent holdings, from funds realized by a spring sale of the nineteenth-century paintings and sculptures held up to this mid-century year in the Whitney collections.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York will inaugurate, in early October, the second of its “New Talent” series with paintings so literally new as to be, some of them, palpably not. quite dry, by painters whose names were unknown in New York as lately as day before yesterday. The first event of the series, held last spring in the members’ Penthouse, introduced Seymour Drumlevitch, a Rome Prize man, William D. King, a Florida sculptor, and Raymond Parker, a Twin City artist who showed virtuosity in applying lacquer to Masonite panels. Three sculptures and two paintings were sold. The newest “new talent.” can be viewed in the Penthouse by nonmembers on Mondays,

Sculptors everywhere notoriously have a bad time of it in respect to patronage and public relations. The galleries are reluctant to pay the high cost of packing and transporting stone and bronze figures, and most gallery goers, starting perhaps to reach for inhibited wallets at the infrequent showings, have to remember that sculptures want more space and stability than most modern living allows for. So that among the museums herein noted, only one has a new sculpture show in immediate view.

From October 24 to December 3 the Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, will present 20 portable figures, together with superb working drawings, by the great Lithuanian modernist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who now lives in New York. Lipchitz, whose Expressionist sculptures will decorate Father Couturier’s new green granite church in the French village of Assy in the Graian Alps, was the only sculptor associated with the Picasso-Braque-Juan Gris Cubist group in the second decade of this century. In the later work, as will be seen in Portland, and thereafter in San Francisco and Cincinnati, Ohio, the Cubist angles of the earlier figures have given way to curved lines which enhance the feeling of flight that Lipchitz likes to capture. He calls his plant like bronze forms “aerial transparencies” and explains that all the parts are intended to be seen and give off emotion coincidentally.

A prodigious technician, Lipchitz makes scores of drawings and sometimes miniature sketches in wax before building up the full-scale plasteline models which he hacks at with knives and longhandled hammers until the work in his hands corresponds to the ideal forms which have grown up in his mind. He torments his first plaster casting with rasps, as Henry James tormented the printed proofs of his novels with pencils, and files through the film on the ultimate bronze until highlights of clear color gleam through the oxidized surface. The finished figure never appears to rest its weight on its perch. It sparkles and leaps into space.

“I admire an egg,” Lipchitz says, perhaps with a wry glance at the rounder forms of Hans Arp and Brancusi. “Nature has perfectly shaped it both for function and mode of production. But I am no hen. I do not want to lay eggs.”