The Gare Saint-Lazare was the largest and busiest train station in Paris. Early in 1877, with help from his friend Gustave Caillebotte, Claude Monet rented an apartment in the nearby rue Moncey and began painting the first of twelve canvases showing this icon of modernity. Monet displayed seven of them, including this one, at the third Impressionist exhibition, in April of that year. Legend has it that he arranged to have the standing locomotives stoked with extra coal, so that he could observe and paint the effects of belching steam — dull grey when trapped inside the station, but white and cloudlike when seen against the sky.
Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) was Photographed at the Institute, Chicago.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s association with the Moulin Rouge began when it opened in 1889 and the owner bought the artist’s Equestrienne (at the Cirque Fernanado) to decorate the foyer. Lautrec populated the scene depicted in At The Moulin Rouge (1892/95) with portraits of the regulars at the dance hall, including himself — the diminutive figure in the center background — accompanied by his cousin and frequent companion, the physician Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran. The woman on the right is the scandalous English singer Mary Milton. At some point, the artist or his dealer cut down the canvas to remove her from the composition, perhaps because her shocking appearance made the work hard to sell. In any case, by 1914 the cut section had been reattached to the painting.
This striking, six-pronged Green Glass Vase (circa 1931) is part of a small group of modernist art glass by Frederick Carder for the Steuben Division of Corning Glass Works. Carder was a glass blower, born and trained in England. He preferred traditional forms and elaborate ornament, but like many of his contemporaries active in the late 1920s, he responded to the international interest in abstraction and avant-garde experimentation by incorporating sharp angles, asymmetry, and bright color combinations into some of his designs.
Contrary to its title, this intriguing and enigmatic self-portrait, The Artist Looks at Nature (1943), shows the artist ignoring the brightly lit landscape in front of him. Nature, as depicted here, is surreal, with inexplicable discrepancies of scale and perspective. The fields suggest the terrain around Sheeler’s Connecticut home, while the massive walls recall Hoover Dam, which the artist photographed in 1939. In the painting, Sheeler works intently on a monochromatic drawing of an antiquated stove, which is based on a photograph he took in 1917. Yet despite these deliberate references to his own work, the painting’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps Sheeler wished to evoke the many vistas open to an artist, the literal and figurative landscapes of the mind.
The Bench I I a (2017) by designer Max Lamb is one of the first prototypes made from solid textile board, a material composed of waste cotton. Lamb created this piece for Really, a Danish company that focuses on upcycling discarded textile waste.
Really mills used textiles into small fibers that are then bonded together with a special agent. The dark blue color of this bench comes from the cotton material, which is discarded denim. The bench is at once a functional object and a conversation starter regarding the reuse of waste materials. The museum installation includes a video (iPad screen seen above) in which Lamb discusses the making of the Really collection of furniture.
Giorgio de Chirico’s work represents an unexpected form of classicism in early avant-garde painting. The Philosopher’s Conquest (1913 – 14), one of six in a series, combines a Mediterranean cityscape with familiar still-life objects that appear in many of the artists’s paintings, including a classical arcade, a cannon and cannonballs, a clock, chimney and a train. The stage set is an Italian piazza, virtually deserted except for the menacing, shadowy figures outside the edge of the scene. Rendered with a matter-of-fact — though intentionally crude — precision, de Chirico’s paintings seem rife with meaning but are resolutely enigmatic. Indeed, by juxtaposing incongruous objects, he sought to produce a metaphysical art, one that “resembles . . . the restlessness of myth.”
In 1927, Paul Frankl wrote, “In my own creations for the modern American home, I have kept within the architectural spirit of our time,” citing the New York City skyline as his most powerful design source. Indeed, the architecture of Manhattan is reflected in every detail of Frankl’s Skyscraper Cabinet, including its simplicity, continuity of line, flat surfaces, sharp and clean moldings, quality of restraint, and overall feeling of power. Not even 18-inches deep, Frankl’s cabinet was designed to conserve space in small city apartments. See other examples of Paul Frankl’s Skyscraper-influenced designs Here and Here.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) was fascinated by the animal bones, weathered and worn, that she found in the desert in New Mexico. In Red and Pink Rocks and Teeth she presented a jawbone alongside two stacked rocks that appear both monumental and indeterminate. The smooth, rounded forms of the red and pinks rocks appear in enigmatic relation to one another, as the red pebble seems to recede from the picture plane even though it must be perched on top of the pink stone. Their abstracted forms and warm colors contrast sharply with the bleached, angular teeth and hard, cracked appearance of the jawbone and together construct a tromp l’ceil that questions the nature or representation and perception.
By the early 1940s, the largely self-taught, Armenian-born Arshile Gorky had formed close friendships with several members of the Surrealist group in New York, including Roberto Matta, who encouraged him to develop his own personal abstract language through experimentation with automatism and biomorphic forms. Gorky turned to the subject matter of fertility and nature; at the same time, he frequently visited the Connecticut and Virginia countrysides, which reminded him of his homeland.
Combining these ideas around 1944, the artist began to work on the theme of The Plough and The Song (1946). Though the organic forms and sinuous, curving lines here seem spontaneous, Gorky planned the composition very carefully, systematically developing the imagery of this canvas in at least three drawings and three oil paintings.
Surrealism was identified by its proponents as a way of reuniting the conscious and unconscious realms of experience so that the world of dream and fantasy could be joined to the everyday rational world — or what one critic called “an absolute reality, a surreality.” René Magritte accomplished this by merging dreamlike imagery and naturalistic detail, as in his iconic canvas Time Transfixed (1938). He also worked carefully on his titles, and he was ultimately unhappy with the English translation of the title of this painting. The original French, La Durée Poignardée, literally means “ongoing time stabbed by a dagger.” Magritte hoped that when his patron Edward James purchased this painting, he would install it at the bottom of his staircase so that the train would “stab” guests on their way to James‘ ballroom. In an ironic twist, he hung it over his fireplace, to Magritte’s great dissatisfaction.