“Singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind.” This is how the radical philosopher William Godwin described his daughter, the Romantic novelist Mary Shelley, who achieved fame and infamy for her groundbreaking Gothic fiction Frankenstein (1818), written at the remarkable age of twenty-one. Here, the Italian neoclassicist Camillo Pistrucci uses the imposing genre of the white marble portrait bust (1843) to present Shelley in the grand manner of a virtuoso. Balancing the rhythmic forms of the face and drapery with the dazzling details of her sweeping Victorian hairstyle, Pistrucci achieves a precision and finesse that betrays the influence of his father, Benedetto Pistrucci, the unrivaled cameo carver. The artist carved the bust in Rome in the year of Shelley’s Italian sojourn.
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)
Photographed in the British Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
This compelling portrait of a Baltimore toddler picking berries from a surreally-scaled goblet is an icon of the American vernacular painting. Joshua Johnson, who was self taught, is the earliest known African American painter to make his living from his art. Emma Van Name (1805) is his most ambitious and engaging portrait of an individual child. Revealing the hallmarks of Johnson’s characteristic style in its naturalistic precision and imaginative flair, the painting is distinguished by a bravura demonstration of his talents in its nuanced palette, compositional complexity, and deft handling of details, especially in the child’s dress and demeanor.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In 1947, while a student at Back Mountain College, Ruth Asawa (1926 – 2013) made a visit to Toluca, Mexico. There, she was introduced to a local method of crocheting wire to create baskets for carrying eggs. The discovery led Asawa to experiment with weaving wire into continuous, organic forms like the above Untitled sculpture (1955), which is described as a hanging six-lobed, complex interlocking continuous form-within-a-form, with two interior spheres. These works challenged conventional ideas of sculpture by embracing utilitarian craft methods and relying on the ceiling instead of the floor for support.
Photographed September 2020
In the early 1950s, Asawa later explained, the art establishment passed over her work because “it wasn’t traditional sculpture. They thought it was craft, or something else, but not art.” For Asawa, woven wire offered many possibilities of form and resulted in a work that was both transparent and airy, qualities that make the surrounding space part of the experience of the work and emphasize the connection between the interior and the exterior of the object.
Modjesko was a popular drag performer in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century. Art critic, Félix Fénéon, included this portrait in several exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, including the group show Portraits of Men. In 1909, he signed artist Kees van Dongen to a seven-year contract. Both anarchists, van Dongen and Fénéon shared a desire to advocate for the rights of socially marginalized people.
Modjesko, Soprano Singer (1908) was Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
The idea for this work began when Salvador Dalí discovered an inkwell illustrated with the praying couple (from Jean-Francois Millet’s painting The Angelus, 1857–59). He embedded the inkwell in a loaf of bread and placed them both on the portrait bust of a woman.
In 1931, Dalí described Surrealist sculpture as “created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.” Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933) not only presents a woman as an object, but explicitly as one to be consumed. A baguette crowns her head, cobs of corn dangle around her neck, and ants swarm along her forehead as if gathering crumbs. Ants, of course, are a common reoccurring motif in Dali’s work.
Famous for his depictions of modernist icons such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Italian-born Joseph Stella immigrated to New York in 1896. There, he produced Cubo-Futurist compositions of the city that captured the tempo and dynamism of urban life. In later years, however, Stella returned to Italy and focused increasingly on religious themes. In The Virgin (1926) the Virgin Mary appears against a dense array of fruits and flowers — common symbols of fertility — with a view of the Bay of Naples in he background. Reinterpreting Italian Renaissance altarpieces through a brightly saturated palette and bold modeling of form, Stella’s Madonna embodies the early twentieth-century interest in region and spirituality.
Born in the United States, Isamu Noguchi (1904 – 1988) lived in Japan until he was 13 years old, and was deeply affected by Japanese art and culture. In 1930, the artist returned to Japan to study its sculptural traditions and ceramics
Miss Expanding Universe (1932) was the first sculpture Noguchi made upon his return to the United States in 1932. In this work, he combined machine-age streamlining with characteristics of ancient Japanese funerary sculpture (haniwa).
Later that same year, the artist transformed this flowing form into a sacklike costume for the pioneering dancer and choreographer Ruth Page and her ballet, Expanding Universe.
Ivan Albright painted this lurid work for the 1945 movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Wilde’s tale, Dorian Gary commissions a portrait of himself as an attractive young man, and later trades his soul for an ever-youthful appearance. As the still-handsome Gray leads an increasingly dissolute and evil life, his painted representation rots and decays, revealing the extent of his moral corruption. Albright’s renown as a painter of the macabre made him the ideal choice to paint the horrific image of Gray for the film. Although the movie was shot in black and white, director Albert Lewin filmed the painted portrait in color to emphasize Gray’s shocking transformation.
The careers of some women artists are intimately linked to those os their spouses. This is the case with Elizabeth Jane Gardner, wife of the famous painter and teacher, William-Adolpe Bouguereau. Gardner once declared, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than nobody!” Like many of her peers, she overcame formidable obstacles to achieve artistic success: she disguised herself as a man so that she could gain access to life drawing classes with nude models, she actively cultivated connections with powerful men, and she weathered sexist accusations that her husband was the painter fo her works.
La Confidence (1880) was Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Women Artists In Paris The Clark Institute, Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Amedeo Modigliani’s mother wrote that at about the age of fifteen the artist attended is first seance. His youthful spiritual and esoteric inclinations took him in the direction of the occult, reflected in this drawing, Portrait of a Medium (1906), made from memory, of a session he attended in Venice, where he studied for two years before coming to Paris.