February 6, 2012

At the Met: The New American Wing

 Ammi Phillips, Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog, 1834-36; oil on canvas.

One of the many treats awaiting me during my visit last week to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the new wing for American art, with spacious rooms exhibiting a range of painting, sculpture and objects. There is even a large study collection, which I will write about soon. This post is a very personal tour of the work on view; because of my love for primitive art, that was my primary focus in my first trip through the galleries. First up is one of my very favorite paintings by one of America's foremost portrait painters. The form is clear and simple, the child's portrait is touching, as are the charming faces of her pets. I had been used to seeing this work at the American Folk Art Museum, but since their recent troubles, they've made an extended loan of this and other works to the Met, which is very fortunate for us.

 Oliver Tarbell Eddy, The Alling Children, ca. 1839; oil on canvas.

This group portrait is very different from the Phillips work; the form is much softer and there's more sentiment in the portraits. But I still find a great deal of charm in the painting, in the child holding the cat, in the figure at left, who is a little boy who died; (I'd wondered why what I thought was a girl was holding a hammer and nail).

 The Alling Children, detail.

And I loved the bold pattern of the rug, with the little black slipper and white sock clad feet on top of it.

 Side Chair, Connecticut, 1740-70; painted maple.

I could see a similarity in design in this embroidered chair cushion with the rug above. Both have grand swirls of stylized foliage.

Doorway, Westfield, Massachussetts, ca. 1765; painted white pine.

Another example of foliage design rises on columns surrounding an imposing doorway from a house in Massachussetts.

 James Peale, Still Life: Balsam Apple and Vegetables, ca. 1820-30; oil on canvas.

 Peale offers us a bounty of vegetables, naturalistically rendered, fresh and lively.

Decoys from the Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, 19th century. 

 From the plant to the animal kingdom: a beautiful collection of sensitively carved and painted decoys. I'm very fond of decoys of all sorts; last summer I blogged about about the animals in the collection of the Shelburne Museum

 Attributed to Asa Ames, Phrenological Head, ca. 1850; polychromed wood.

This strangely compelling sculpture, also from the Folk Art Museum collection, has carefully mapped areas of the head, which according to phrenology (called a pseudo science) are keys to character. 

 Edward Hicks, The Falls of Niagara, ca. 1825; oil on canvas.

Still in the animal kingdom, a detail of Edward Hicks painting of Niagara Falls, with three animals native to North America: a moose, a beaver and a rattlesnake. I tend to see the snake in its biblical character, knowing some of Hicks' other paintings.

 Martin Johnson Heade, Approaching Thunder Storm, 1859; oil on canvas.

My final three images are of water, so important to those of us on the Northeast coast. This painting by Heade, with its dark sky and ink black water, is one of my very favorites of American landscape. It perfectly captures that moment when the sky is letting loose in the distance, but near at hand all is still. The water reflects the dark sky, absorbing all light, while white spots of sail and rowing man are illuminated. The scene is unreal, yet believable; we can feel the weather in our bones.

 Fitz Henry Lane, Stage Fort across Gloucester Harbor, 1862; oil on canvas.

Another artist of light and stillness, Lane (formerly known as Fitz Hugh Lane), distills forms into a clear essence and creates a mood of transcendent calm.

Albert Pinkham Ryder, The Toilers of the Sea, 1880-85; oil on wood.

The turbulence of Ryder's sea and its storm tossed boat are calmed by the glowing moon which illuminates clouds and foam. Like much of 19th century American landscape painting, there is a sense of spirit in nature, of the life and harmony in all things. 

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