Posts Tagged ‘Portrait of a Young Woman

06
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

A magnificent exhibition of the work of Edgar Degas at NGV International. So nice to see a blockbuster without papered walls or patterned floors, an exhibition that just allows the work to speak for itself. Review to follow in part 2 of the posting.

“Il y a quelque chose plus terrible encore que le bourgeois – c’est l’homme qui nous singe [There’s something even more awful than the bourgeois – it’s the man who apes us]”

Edgar Degas as noted down by Oscar Wilde when he met him in 1883.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Female nude

 

Edgar Degas. 'Female nude' 1905

 

Edgar Degas
Female nude
1905
Charcoal and brown pastel
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Gift of Mr Noah Torno, 2003

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1863

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1863
Oil on canvas
89.5 x 66.7 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2650)
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)

 

 

At the start of the 1860s Degas’s family still acted as his primary models for portraiture. In early 1863 he painted this engagement portrait of his sister Thérèse. He shows her as a young woman all dressed up to go out; in fact, to go abroad. Timidly she show off her engagement ring before a view of Naples, her face serene, the sky blue with future happiness. She was to move to Naples after her marriage in Paris on 11 April 1863 to her first cousin Edmondo Morbilli, the son of Rose Morbilli, the sister of Degas’s father.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, in the centre, Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar

 

Edgar Degas. 'Degas's father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar' after 1874

 

Edgar Degas
Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar
after 1874
Oil on canvas
81.6 x 65.1 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bequest of John T. Spaulding
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (two of four states) (installation view)
1857
Etching and drypoint
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (third of four states) (detail)
1857
Etching and drypoint
23.0 x 14.4 cm (plate), 34.9 x 25.7 cm (sheet),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

While studying in Rome as a young man degas became increasingly interested in printmaking and also in the portraits of Rembrandt, which he first saw in publication by the French art writer Charles Blanc. The effects of light and shadow in Rembrandt’s portraits inspired Degas to undertake a series of self-portraits including this, his only self-portrait etching, which he produced in four separate states. He experimented with altering the appearance of these etchings through leaving varying amounts of ink on the plate before printing. Degas was very pleased with this exercise, and gave away examples of these trials to his friends.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne including at left, Thérèse De Gas (c. 1855-56)

 

Traces of Ingres’s influence on the young Degas are clearly visible here in the clean, firm contours delineating the face of his hen fifteen-year-old sister Thérèse De Gas. Offsetting the crisp edge drawn along her cheek i a subtle modelling of the chin and cheeks produced with smudged pencil, recalling the sfumato (soft or blurred) effects of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1855-56

 

Edgar Degas
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1855-56
Black crayon and graphite on brown paper
32.0 x 28.4 cm (sheet)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Julia Knight Fox Fund
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edgar Degas. 'René De Gas' 1855

 

Edgar Degas
René De Gas (installation view)
1855
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Purchased 1935

 

 

Degas’s family members were his principal models in the early years of his career. His first art lessons were undertaken with Louis Lamothe, a loyal follower of the Neoclassical master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This portrait of his younger brother René, the family darling, betrays Degas’s resolve to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Ingres, whose work was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in September 1854. Degas visited the elderly master of Neoclassical portraiture in 1855, the year the he undertook this portrait. Preparatory drawings show that degas radically simplified his composition, eliminating a complex interior setting in favour of a dramatic dark background reminiscent of the Mannerist Old Master, Angolo Bronzino.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women]

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women] (installation view)
1857
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Purchased 1960
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

This work is both a portrait and a genre scene, but it leans towards the former in that there is little trace of narrative, local colour or exotic reference. Degas details the marks of old age, fatigue and poverty – wrinkled skin, gnarled hands, the motley garments of a pauper – along with the faded colours that he recorded in a contemporary notebook: ‘figure of an old woman / very tanned skin, white veil / cloak thrown over / shoulder faded brown / faded free dress / a little like the back wall / of my room / yellow apron’

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, Family portrait also called The Bellelli family 1867

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family (installation view)
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

 

In 1858-59, during an Italian sojourn, Degas stayed in Florence for nine months with his aunt Laure and her husband, Baron Gennaro Bellelli. There he embarked on the largest painting he would ever create – a monumental portrait of Laure, Gennaro and their daughters, Giovanna and Giulia. A study of marital discontent presented on the scale of a history painting, Family portrait, also called The Bellelli family, reflected Degas’ recent study of the dignified sitters in the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck’s early seventeenth-century portraits, which he had seen in Genoa. He worked on this painting continuously after his return to Paris, completing a final version of it for the Paris Salon of 1867. Alive to the unhappy marital dynamics between Laure and her husband, a political exile from Naples, Degas showed his morose relatives in their rented apartment, physically separated from one another by items of furniture and Giovanna (on the left) and Giulia. Although expecting her third child, Laure Bellelli (la Baronne) stands proud and aloof, in full mourning for her recently deceased father (Degas’ grandfather) Hilaire Degas, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind her. Meanwhile, her husband, conspicuously not in mourning, sits in comfort by the fire. Adults and children are compressed into a shallow plane, an airless, static vacuum. The uneasy ambience is accentuated by Giulia’s absent leg and the family dog, shown without its head, in the right foreground.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Monsieur Reulle (1861) and at right, Portrait de jeune femme [Portrait of a young woman] (1867)

 

In this portrait of Monsieur Ruelle, Degas shows his father’s former bank cashier as a man of seriousness and restrained sophistication, dressed in a dinner suit and black bow tie as if preparing to go the opera. In its combination of informality and masculine severity the portrait conforms to a convention among ninetieth-centruy Realist artists of portraying each other and their friends as modern men of leisure and the metropolis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas
Étude pour Jeunes Spartiates s’exerçant à la lutte [Study for The young Spartans exercising] (installation view)
c. 1860-61
Oil on paper on paper on cardboard
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Friends of the Fogg Museum

 

 

On returning to Paris from Italy in 1860 Degas began work on scenes from the Bible and ancient history, including this preparatory oil sketch for a vignette from an ancient greek subject. In the foreground two groups of adolescents are seen confronting each other on the plains of Sparta, watched over by the white-haired law-giver Lycurgus and the teenagers’ mothers. The subject has conventionally been read as the exercises traditionally undertaken by Spartans in preparation for war, but it has also been suggested that it represents Spartan courtship rites. In the Life of Lycurgus  it was noted that display of physical prowess by girls assisted young men in choosing strong mothers, who would produce strong children.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

installation-p

 

Edgar Degas
Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartan girls challenging boys] (installation views)
c. 1860
Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli' c. 1865

 

Edgar Degas
Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli
c. 1865
Oil on canvas
116.5 x 88.3 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

An exhibition of one of the world’s most beloved artists, Edgar Degas, opens to the public from tomorrow at NGV International showcasing significant works never-before-seen in Australia.

In its world premiere, Degas: A New Vision presents the largest display of Degas’ works to ever come to Australia, and forms the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre in decades. Featuring more than 200 works, Degas: A New Vision reveals Degas’ talent in a new light; not only as a great master of painting, but also as a master of drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. The works travel to Melbourne from 65 lenders in more than 40 cities across the globe.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, said, “Degas: A New Vision is a coup for the NGV and for Victoria. Local audiences will be the first in the world to experience this incredible exhibition – another example of how we are leading the way as the creative state. Part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, this exhibition continues the tradition of creating drawcard cultural events for locals and visitors and bringing must-see art to our city each year.”

Some of Degas’ most famous masterworks are presented including the bronze sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer, 1879-81, and In a café (The Absinthe drinker), c. 1875-76. World-renowned paintings, never-before-seen in Australia, are also exhibited such as the celebrated ballet paintings The rehearsal, c. 1874, and Finishing the arabesque, 1877, and Degas’ monumental portrait The Bellelli family, 1867.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “Presenting Edgar Degas’ magnificent oeuvre in a fresh and reinvigorated light showcases him as one of the defining artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated and significant artists, his influence upon modern and contemporary art is undeniable. Degas: A New Vision provides audiences with a rare experience to truly be immersed in the creativity and originality of his art, giving visitors a deeper and richer understanding of his brilliance.”

Degas: A New Vision is presented thematically, grouping together the subjects which Degas continually returned to throughout his career, including not only his famous ballet scenes but also arresting portraits, the nude, horse-racing, the social world of Parisian nightlife, and women at work and leisure. The exhibition also explores the great technical, conceptual and expressive freedoms that Degas achieved in his later years, and reveals his experiments with a range of mediums including sculpture and photography. This approach emphasises Degas’ obsessive and highly creative working methods, and allows visitors to enjoy the development of Degas’ art from its beginnings.

Degas was fascinated by aspects of modern life – voraciously painting Paris’ dance halls and cabarets, cafés, racetracks, opera and ballet stages. He also studied the simple, everyday gestures of working women: milliners, dressmakers and laundresses. He was drawn to explore movement that was precise and disciplined, such as that of racehorses and ballet dancers, and absorbed a diverse range of influences from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism.

The National Gallery of Victoria is pleased to be working with the world’s pre-eminent expert on Edgar Degas, Henri Loyrette, former Director of the Musée du Louvre (2001-13) and Musée d’Orsay (1994-2001), who is principal curator of the exhibition. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, are both staging this major retrospective, which has been developed by both institutions in association with Art Exhibitions Australia. Degas: A New Vision travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in October 2016.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre left, Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring (1867-68) and, a centre right, Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet The Spring) (1867-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas
Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring
1867-68
Oil on canvas
130.8 x 145.1 cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood, 1921

 

Edgar degas. 'Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas 
Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet ‘The Spring’] 
(installation view)
1867-68
Oil on canvas
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Portrait d’homme [Portrait of a man] (c. 1866) and a right, Victoria Dubourg (1868-69)

 

 

Among Degas’s circle of Realist painters were some outstanding practitioners of still life, a genre that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity following the revival of interest in the French eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. The identity of the man in this portrait is unknown, although he seems to be a still-life artist. He is depicted by Degas in his studio, informal seated with hands clasped, surrounded by the standard props of his trade: hunks of meat, white cloths, glassware and sketches of past still lives displayed on a wall as aides-mémoire – a masculine counterpart to the portrait of Victoria Dubourg that is also displayed here.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Victoria Dubourg' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Victoria Dubourg
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 64.8 cm
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Levis

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

 

Berthe Marie Jeantaud was the wife of Charles Jeantaud, with whom Degas served in the artillery company under the command of Henri Rouart in 1870-71, during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune. Following Berthe Marie’s marriage to Jeantaud in 1872, Degas produced this as well as a second portrait of her. Her cousin was Vicomte Ludovic Lepic, a landscape painter and etcher who taught degas methods of manipulating plate tones in his monotypes. In this remarkable candid and economical oil sketch, Degas depicts Madame Jeantaud at home with her two small dogs at 24 rue de Téhéran.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877 (detail)

 

Edgar Degas
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view detail)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871–72

 

Installation view of Degas’s Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas
Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène
1871-72
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 74.9 cm
Courtesy of Acquavalla Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

So cordial were Degas’s relations with Henri Rouart and his brother Alexis, who was also an art collector, that he dined with Alexis on Tuesdays and Henri on Fridays. In 1906 Degas wrote to his sister Thérèse that the Rouarts were his only remaining family in France. This portrait of Henri with his daughter Hélène was the first of many portraits. Henri is seen here as a paterfamilias, head of his household (a role that Degas esteemed) and in front of one of his landscapes, which degas also admired enough to invite Henri to exhibit with the ‘impressionists’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dead fox in the undergrowth (1864-68)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dead fox in the undergrowth' 1864-68

 

Edgar Degas
Renard mort, sou-bois [Dead fox in the undergrowth]
1864-68
Oil on canvas
35.0 x 58.0 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais

 

 

While his colleagues exhibition plein-air landscapes as ‘Impressionists’, degas adhered to his position as a ‘Realist’ during the 1860s and 70s, with at times awkward results. Dead fox in the undergrowth displays the powerful sense of physical presence that can be achieved by studying a dead fox in the studio under artificial light, and by using a brush to render the fox’s luscious pelt. Less convincing is the forest setting, which is invited and only roughly blocked out. Here Degas applied thin slashes of green and brown paint to suggest trees and forest floor, emulating, some have suggested, the Realist technique of Gustave Courbet.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The little fourteen-year-old dancer (1879-81) and at centre bottom, The song rehearsal (c. 1872-73)

 

Edgar Degas. 'The little fourteen-year-old dancer' 1879-81, cast 1922-37

 

Edgar Degas
The little fourteen-year-old dancer
1879-81, cast 1922-37
Bronze with cotton skirt and satin ribbon
99.0 x 35.2 x 24.5 cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 73 (cast unlettered)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

 

At the 1881 ‘impressionist’ group exhibition Degas unveiled a large wax sculpture of an immature ballerina (of which this is a bronze version), which he provocatively clad in real clothing. Critics were scandalised, accusing him of having dredged ‘the lower depths of dance’, choosing his dancer from among the ‘most hatefully ugly’. Degas’ model, ballet student Marie Van Goethem, the daughter of a tailor and a laundress and part-time prostitute, was later to abandon her dance studies and disappear into Paris’ underworld.

Degas produced sculptures in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. He modelled them in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly, his primary subjects being thoroughbred racehorses, female dancers and women at their toilette. As Degas’ eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly said that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’ death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze, by the Adrien-A. Hébrard Foundry, Paris, and their Milanese master craftsman Albino Palazzolo, of seventy four of the most intact of Degas’ sculptures. While many of Degas’ original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The song rehearsal' c. 1872–73

 

Edgar Degas
The song rehearsal
c. 1872-73
Oil on canvas
81.0 x 64.9 cm
House Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Cotton merchants in New Orleans' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Marchands de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Cotton merchants in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gift of Herbert N. Strauss

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' (installation view) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau

 

 

In October 1872 Degas travelled to New Orleans in the United States, where he stayed for five months with his late mother’s brother Michel Musson and the extended Musson family. The artist’s younger brothers René and Achille had already relocated there, and had opened a wine import business financed by the Parisian Degas family bank. During his stay in Louisiana, Degas painted A cotton office in New Orleans, 1873, which reflected his observations of the industry that was central to that city. This now celebrated painting, which became the first work by Degas to enter a public collection when acquired by Pau’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in 1878, depicts Michel Musson in the foreground sampling cotton fibre in the office of his cotton export business.

René and Achille De Gas appear as relaxed visitors – René reading a newspaper and Achille casually observing the other men at work – in this complex group portrait of fourteen men, which has echoes of the artist’s love of seventeenth-century Dutch guild portraits. A cotton office in New Orleans was the prototype for many of Degas’ works of the 1870s and 1880s: framing that cuts to the heart of the subject and slices through men and objects alike; a de-centred composition viewed from slightly overhead, with a steep, diagonal perspective; a depth of field that creates close-ups while miniaturising anything farther off; and contrasts provided by light sources and, more particularly, by the frequently reproduced backlighting effect.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) 1873

 

Edgar Degas
Cour d’une maison à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch)] (installation view)
1873
Oil on canvas
Ordeupgaard, Copenhagen
Bequest of the Danish government, 1951

 

The partially finished state of Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) reflects Degas’s experiences in the city, as he struggled to fulfil social obligations with his American relatives. The view here looking out from a shaded interior also indicates that Degas was already experiencing problems with his eyesight, which was affected by the harsh Louisiana sunlight.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The pedicure' 1873

 

Edgar Degas
The pedicure
1873
Oil and essence on paper on canvas
61.5 x 46.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1986)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

The young girl being attended to by a chiropodist in this painting is believed to be Joe Balfour, daughter of Degas’s widowed cousin Estelle Musson, whose husband had been killed in 1862 during the American Civil War. Degas here uses a technique he invented, peinture à l’essence (which entailed using oil pigments with most of the oil blotted away, thinned out with turpentine). Applied like watercolour, it dried with a soft matt finish that Degas preferred to the glossy sheen of traditional oil paintings.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Edgar Degas Interior c. 1868-69 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing Interior (c. 1868-69)

 

Edgar Degas. 'Interior' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas
Interior
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 114.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Degas ironically referred to this painting as ‘my genre picture’, by which he understated the gravitas of this domestic scene. This drama of seeming violation perpetrated on a young working-class woman b a man displaying the clothing and posture of a young bourgeois acquired in Degas’s hands the breadth and intensity of history painting. The muted colours and dim light accentuate the unspoken violence, anguish and simmering tension between the two people. The open box on the round table at the centre of the painting is a telling symbol of lost virginity. The rosy interior of the gaping jewel-case is brutally expired by the lamp standing next to it.

 

 

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07
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31th July 2015 – 8th November 2015

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces 2015

 

 

Some beauty to cheer me up from my sickbed.

These are the official press photographs for the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great. To see my installation photographs of the exhibition go to this posting.

The paintings look as fresh today as when they were first painted, some of them in the early 1500s. To see the thumbs up gesture in Diego Velázquez’s Luncheon (c. 1617-18, below) echoing down the centuries, is worth the price of admission alone. We cannot imagine what life would have been like back then… no medication, rampant disease and malnutrition, little law enforcement with danger lurking around each turn (see Matthew Beaumont. Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015).

And yet these talented artists, supported by the elite, produced work which still touches us today.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art works.

 

 

Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace in Winter, St Petersburg Photo: Pavel Demidov

 

Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace in Winter, St Petersburg 
Photo: Pavel Demidov

 

Chinese. 'Cup' early 17th century

 

Chinese
Cup
early 17th century
Silver, enamel
4.0 x 3.0 x7.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-133, ВВс-250)
Acquired before 1789

 

Chinese. 'Teapot with lid' 17th century

 

Chinese
Teapot with lid
17th century
Silver, enamel
18.0 x 5.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-80 а, б, ВВс-219)
Acquired before 1789

 

Sevres Porcelain Factory Sèvres (manufacturer) France est. 1756 'Cameo Service' 1778–79

 

Sèvres Porcelain Factory
Sèvres (manufacturer) France est. 1756
Cameo Service
1778-79
Porcelain (soft-paste), gilt
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg Commissioned by Catherine ll as a gift for Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1777; Potemkin’s Taurida Palace, St Petersburg from 1779; transferred to the Hofmarshal’s Office of the Winter Palace after his death; 1922 transferred to the State Hermitage Museum

 

Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna (engraver) Russia 1795–1828 Russia (manufacturer) 'Catherine the Great as Minerva' cameo 1789

 

Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna (engraver) (Russia 1795-1828)
Russia (manufacturer)
Catherine the Great as Minerva
1789
Cameo
Jasper, gold
6.5 x 4.7 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. К 1077)
Acquired 1789

 

James Tassie, London (workshop of) (England 1735–99 ) 'Head of Medusa' 1780s

 

James Tassie, London (workshop of) (England 1735-99 )
Head of Medusa
1780s
Coloured glass, gilded paper
7.6 x 9.2 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. R-T, 3296 a)
Purchased from James Tassie 1783-88

 

Chinese. 'Toilet service' early 18th century

 

Chinese
Toilet service
early 18th century
Glass, mercury amalgam, paper, silver, filigree, parcel-gilt, wood, velvet, peacock and king-fisher feathers, mother-of-pearl, crystals
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-472/ 1,2, ВВс-373)

 

Chinese. 'Table decoration in the form of a pair of birds' 1740s –50s

 

Chinese
Table decoration in the form of a pair of birds
1740s-50s
Silver, enamel, silver-gilt
26.0 x 26.0 x 15.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-26, ВВс-189)

 

Chinese. 'Crab-shaped box on a leaf tray' 1740s –50s

 

Chinese
Crab-shaped box on a leaf tray
1740s-50s
Silver, enamel, silver-gilt
(a) 4.0 x 14.0 x 13.0 cm (box)
(b) 3.0 x 22.0 x 17.0 cm (stand)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ЛС-9 а,б, ВВс-186)

 

Marie-Anne Collot (French 1748–1821) 'Voltaire' 1770s

 

Marie-Anne Collot (French 1748-1821)
Voltaire
1770s
Marble
49.0 x 30.0 x 28.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. Н.ск. 3)
Acquired from the artist, 1778

 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741–1828) 'Catherine II' 1773

 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741-1828)
Catherine II
1773
Marble
90.0 x 50.0 x 32.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. Н.ск. 1676)
Transferred from the Stroganov Palace, Leningrad, 1928

 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French 1725–1805) 'Head of an old man. Study for The paralytic' 1760s

 

Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French 1725-1805)
Head of an old man. Study for The paralytic
1760s
Red and black chalk
49.3 x 40.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-14727)
Acquired from the artist in 1769 for the Museum of the Academy of Arts. Transferred to the Hermitage in 1924

 

François Boucher (French 1703–70) 'Study of a female nude' 1740

 

François Boucher (French 1703-70)
Study of a female nude
1740
Red, black and white chalk on brown paper
26.2 x 34.6 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-382)
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

Charles-Louis Clerisseau (French 1721–1820) 'Design for the paintings in the cell of Father Lesueur in the Monastery of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome' 1766–68

 

Charles-Louis Clérisseau (French 1721-1820)
Design for the paintings in the cell of Father Lesueur in the Monastery of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome
1766-68
Pen and black and brown ink, brown and grey wash
36.9 x 53.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-2597)
Acquired from the artist by Catherine II on 5 May 1780, Provenance: before 1797

 

Carlo Galli-Bibiena (Austrian 1728–87) 'Design for the interior decoration of a library' 1770s

 

Carlo Galli-Bibiena (Austrian 1728-87)
Design for the interior decoration of a library
1770s
Pen and ink, grey wash and watercolour over pencil
32.0 х 44.0cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-231)
Acquired before 1797

 

Giacomo Quarenghi (Italian 1744–1817) 'Façade of the Hermitage Theatre' 1780s

 

Giacomo Quarenghi (Italian 1744-1817)
Façade of the Hermitage Theatre
1780s
Pen and ink, watercolour
33.0 х 47.0 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-9626)
Acquired from Giulio Quarenghi in 1818

 

Konstantin Ukhtomsky (Russian 1818–81) 'The Raphael Loggia' 1860

 

Konstantin Ukhtomsky (Russian 1818-81)
The Raphael Loggia
1860
Watercolour
42.0 х 25.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ОР-11741)
Acquired from the artist, 1860

 

 

“Over 500 works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great will travel to Australia in July. Gathered over a 34-year period, the exhibition represents the foundation of the Hermitage’s collection and includes outstanding works from artists such as Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens and Titian. Exemplary works from Van Dyck, Snyders, Teniers and Hals will also travel, collectively offering some of the finest Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia. The exhibition, presented by the Hermitage Museum, National Gallery of Victoria and Art Exhibitions Australia, is exclusive to Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP said: “Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will showcase treasures from one of the largest, oldest and most visited museums in the world. Another major event for Melbourne, this exhibition will provide visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see first-hand the extraordinary personal collection of Catherine the Great, drawn from the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.”

NGV Director, Tony Ellwood said, “This exhibition celebrates the tenacity and vision of a true innovator in the arts. Catherine the Great’s inexhaustible passion for the arts, education and culture heralded a renaissance, leading to the formation of one of the world’s great museums, the Hermitage.”

“We are delighted that we have the good fortune of bringing one of the world’s most important collections to Australian audiences. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the world of Catherine the Great and her magnificent collection of art,” Tony Ellwood said.

Catherine the Great’s reign from 1762 to 1796 was known as the golden age and is remembered for her exceptional patronage of the arts, literature and education. Of German heritage, Catherine the Great was well connected in European art and literature circles. She saw herself as a reine-philosophe (Philosopher Queen), a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, such as the French philosophers Voltaire and Diderot, she sought to modernise Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from classical antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe.

A prolific acquirer of art of the period, Catherine the Great’s collection reflects the finest contemporary art of the 18th century as well as the world’s best old masters of the time, with great works by French, German, Chinese, British, Dutch and Flemish artists. Notable in this exhibition are entire groups of works acquired from renowned collections from France, Germany and England representing the best collections offered for sale at the time. The exhibition will feature four Rembrandts, including the notable Young woman with earrings, known as one of most intimate images Rembrandt ever created. The exhibition will also include 80 particularly fine drawings by artists including Poussin, Rubens, Clouet and Greuze.

Exquisite decorative arts will be brought to Australia for this exhibition, including 60 items from the Cameo Service of striking enamel-painted porcelain made by the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory in Paris. Commissioned by Catherine the Great for her former lover and military commander, Prince Grigory Potemkin, the dinner service features carved and painted imitation cameos, miniature works of art, based on motifs from the French Royal collection.

Director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky said, “These outstanding works from the personal collection of Catherine the Great represent the crown jewels of the Museum. It was through the collection of these works and Catherine the Great’s exceptional vision that the Hermitage was founded. Today it is one of the most visited museums in the world. We are very pleased to be able to share these precious works with Australian audiences at the 250-year anniversary of this important institution.”

Catherine the Great’s love of education, art and culture inspired a period of enlightenment and architectural renaissance that saw the construction of the Hermitage complex. This construction includes six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment as well as the spectacular Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. On view in the exhibition will be remarkable drawings by the Hermitage’s first architects Georg Velten and Giacomo Quarenghi, complemented by excellent painted views of the new Hermitage by Benjamin Patersen. These, along with Alexander Roslin’s majestic life-size portrait of Catherine, set the scene for a truly spectacular exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to immerse themselves in Catherine the Great’s world evoking a sensory experience of a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The exhibition design will have rich treatments of architectural details, interior furnishings, wallpapers and a colour palette directly inspired by the Hermitage’s gallery spaces. Enveloping multimedia elements will give visitors a sense of being inside the Hermitage, evoking the lush and opulent interiors.

The Hermitage Museum was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. With 3 million items in its holdings, the Hermitage is often regarded as having the finest collection of paintings in the world today. In 2014, The Hermitage celebrated its 250-year anniversary and opened a new wing of the museum with 800 rooms dedicated to art from the 19th to 21st centuries. The exhibition is organised by The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg in association with the National Gallery of Victoria and Art Exhibitions Australia.

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great will be at NGV International from 31 July – 8 November 2015 and will be presented alongside the David Bowie is exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of the 2015 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Jean-Baptiste Santerre (French 1651–1717) 'Two actresses' 1699

 

Jean-Baptiste Santerre (French 1651-1717)
Two actresses
1699
Oil on canvas
146.0 х 114.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1284)
Acquired 1768

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599–1641) 'Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton' 1640

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641)
Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton
1640
Oil on canvas
162.0 х 130.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-533)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Jean Louis Voille (French 1744–1804) 'Portrait of Olga Zherebtsova' 1790s

 

Jean Louis Voille (French 1744-1804)
Portrait of Olga Zherebtsova
1790s
Oil on canvas
73.5 х 58.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-5654)
Acquired from the collection of E. P. Oliv, Petrograd, 1923

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577–1640) 'The Apostle Paul' c. 1615

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640)
The Apostle Paul
c. 1615
Oil on wood panel
105.6 х 74.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-489)
Acquired before 1774

 

Leonardo Da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' early 16th century

 

Leonardo Da Vinci (school of)
Female nude (Donna Nuda)
Early 16th century
Oil on canvas
86.5 х 66.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-110)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606–69) 'Portrait of a scholar' 1631

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69)
Portrait of a scholar
1631
Oil on canvas
104.5 х 92.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-744)
Acquired from the collection of Count Heinrich von Brühl, Dresden, 1769

 

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (French 1715–83) 'Portrait of a boy with a book' 1740s

 

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (French 1715-83)
Portrait of a boy with a book
1740s
Oil on canvas
63.0 х 52.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1270)
Acquired from the collection of A. G. Teplov, St Petersburg, 1781

 

Domenico Capriolo (Italian (c. 1494)–1528) 'Portrait of a young man' 1512

 

Domenico Capriolo (Italian (c. 1494)-1528)
Portrait of a young man
1512
Oil on canvas
117.0 х 85.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-21)
Acquired from the collection of Baron Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers, Paris, 1772

 

Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

 

Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-93)
Portrait of Catherine II
1776-77
Oil on canvas
271.0 х 189.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1316)
Acquired from the artist, 1777

 

Titian (Italian (1485–90)–1576) 'Portrait of a young woman' c. 1536

 

Titian (Italian (1485-90)-1576)
Portrait of a young woman
c. 1536
Oil on canvas
96.0 х 75.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-71)
Acquired from the collection of Baron Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers, Paris, 1772

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606–69) 'Young woman trying on earrings' 1657

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69)
Young woman trying on earrings
1657
Oil on wood panel
39.5 х 32.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-784)
Acquired from the collection of the Comte de Baudouin, Paris, 1781

 

Francois CLOUET (French (c. 1516)–1572) 'Portrait of Charles IX' 1566

 

Francois Clouet (French (c. 1516)-1572)
Portrait of Charles IX
1566
Black and red chalk
33.1 x 22.5 cm (sheet)
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. OР-2893)
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

David Teniers II (Flemish 1610–90) 'Kitchen' 1646

 

David Teniers II (Flemish 1610-90)
Kitchen
1646
Oil on canvas
171.0 х 237.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-586)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Cornelis de Vos (Dutch/Flemish (c. 1584)–1651) 'Self-portrait of the artist with his wife Suzanne Cock and their children' c. 1634

 

Cornelis de Vos (Dutch/Flemish (c. 1584)-1651)
Self-portrait of the artist with his wife Suzanne Cock and their children
c. 1634
Oil on canvas
185.5 х 221.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-623)
Donated by Prince G. A. Potemkin, 1780s

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599–1641) 'Family portrait' c. 1619

 

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641)
Family portrait
c. 1619
Oil on canvas
113.5 х 93.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-534)
Acquired from a private collection, Brussels, 1774

 

Charles Vanloo (French 1705–65) 'Sultan's wife drinking coffee' 1750s

 

Charles Vanloo (French 1705-65)
Sultan’s wife drinking coffee
1750s
Oil on canvas
120.0 х 127.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-7489)
Acquired from the collection of Madame Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, Paris, 1772

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577–1640) The Adoration of the Magi c. 1620 Oil on canvas 235.0 х 277.5 cm The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. № ГЭ-494) Acquired from the collection of Dufresne, Amsterdam, 1770

 

Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640)
The Adoration of the Magi
c. 1620
Oil on canvas
235.0 х 277.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. № ГЭ-494)
Acquired from the collection of Dufresne, Amsterdam, 1770

 

Diego Velazquez (Spanish 1599–1660) 'Luncheon' c. 1617–18

 

Diego Velázquez (Spanish 1599-1660)
Luncheon
c. 1617-18
Oil on canvas
108.5 х 102.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-389)
Acquired 1763-74

 

Melchior d'Hondecoeter (Dutch 1636–95) 'Birds in a park' 1686

 

Melchior d’Hondecoeter (Dutch 1636-95)
Birds in a park
1686
Oil on canvas
136.0 х 164.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-1042)
Acquired from the collection of Jacques Aved, Paris, 1766

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579–1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630–40

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds
1630-40
Oil on canvas
136.5 х 240.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ГЭ-607)
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours for exhibition
10am – 5pm daily

NGV Masterpieces from the Hermitage website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

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The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

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Many thankx to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

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American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

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Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.193

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 - died Greenbrae, CA 2009) 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 – died Greenbrae, CA 2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy, 1989.58
© 1988, Larry Sultan

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In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944) 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm) sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1168
© 1974, Eugene Richards

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943) 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow, 1992.73.4
© 1972, Mark Cohen

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In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

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Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

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Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2 cm) sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8 cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 - died New York City 1896) 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 – died New York City 1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.6

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954) 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

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In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951) '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.43, © 2010, Deborah Luster

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This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

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Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

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Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.220

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944) '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl, 1997.118.2, © 1981, Anthony Barboza

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 - died Los Angeles, CA 1952) 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 – died Los Angeles, CA 1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

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Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875) 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

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Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavor. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolized American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 - died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 – died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.1

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Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924) 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937) 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.9
© 1973, Robert Adams

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As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 - died Oakland, CA 1903) 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 – died Oakland, CA 1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.5

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Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognized the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 - died Monterey, CA 1984) 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 – died Monterey, CA 1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1992.101.3, © 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasize the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939) 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

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John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic color palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates color and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

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“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolized American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organized by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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Connecting online
A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 - died New York City 2009) 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 – died New York City 2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.16.4, © 1981, Helen Levitt

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Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighborhoods.

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 - died New York City 2001) 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 – died New York City 2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase, 2002.47.6, © Estate of Louis Faurer

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942) 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne, 1988.52.8, Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery and Dektol.wordpress.com

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939) 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein, 1985.87.12

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An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful color photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighborhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with color photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of color.

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945) 'Marina's Room' 1987

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1989.5, © 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 - died Providence, RI 1991) 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 – died Providence, RI 1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4, © 1940, Aaron Siskind

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In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 - died New Haven, CT 1975) 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 – died New Haven, CT 1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

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During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945) 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.505, © 1980, Judy Fiskin

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For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991) 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.10

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Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 - died 1987) 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 – died 1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, 1990.19.9, © 1932, Robert Disraeli

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Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 - died Greenbrae, CA 1975) 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 – died Greenbrae, CA 1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 1986.54

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931) 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.57.1, © 1966, Ray K. Metzker

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Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 - died New York City 2009) 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 – died New York City 2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist, 1988.83.39

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Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 - died Carmel, CA 1958) 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 – died Carmel, CA 1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1985.56

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 - died San Francisco, CA 1976) 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 – died San Francisco, CA 1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952) 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick, 2013.29
© 2012, Ellen Carey

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Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary color filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a color enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

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Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

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1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

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Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied color
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

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1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

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Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

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Julian Vannerson
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

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Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

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Egbert Guy Fowx
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

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1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

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1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

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Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

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Andrew Joseph Russell
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

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1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

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Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

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Brett Weston
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659
© 1973, Brett Weston

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1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

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Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

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Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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