Sunday, November 4, 2007

19th Century German Art Exhibit at the Taft Museum

Today a friend and I went down to the Taft Museum (on the final day) to see the exhibit Romanticism to Post-Impressionism, 19th Century German Art from the Milwaukee Art Museum. The art was from the 1800's. There were 71 pen and ink drawings, watercolors, etchings and lithographs and oils depicting German literature, the Bible, landscapes and figures. They were not only dark in color, but dark in theme. Woman with Raven at the Abyss (1803) by Caspar David Friedrich (1740-1840) is an etching that shows a woman about ready to step off a ledge at the top of a mountain pass. A raven is flying in the distance while another is perched on a tree limb above her watching and waiting for her demise. And they called this the period of Romanticism! I know that the term and time was about expressing "feelings". These works were executed very well once you looked past the dark nature of most of them. An oil, by Christian L. Bokelman (1844-1894), The Peoples Bank before the Crash (1877), shows people lined up outside a building as if they are waiting to get in. A basket of ashes has been tossed on to the street. People are gossiping as they wait. The detail of the people and their dress is amazing. The artist shows so much detail in two ladies silk shawls they sparkle in the middle of all the other dark clothes and grim faces. Another exceptional piece was done by Max Libermann (1847-1935). The black crayon sketch, Dutch Orphan Girls (1885-90), showed three female children sitting outside sewing. I really loved this drawing because of the detail that was done with the crayon. This drawing was in a double sided frame because it had unfinished sketches on the back of a woman in four different spots on the page. As always the Taft Museum does a nice job on small shows and tying the work with other works found in the permanent collection. An example is of the Dutch Orphan Girls with a painting by Jozef Israels called Sewing School at Katwijik off the Taft dinning room. This painting shows a room full of girls learning stitches from an instructor. Lots of dark shadow on the walls behind the girls and with light from the large window behind the instructor. Like the Dutch Orphan Girls, their dress is dark with white aprons and bonnets. Both paintings show the girls concentrating on their sewing. Even though there are many great pieces at the Taft, we went to see three of my favorites. They are of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, Working Boy by Duveneck and At the Piano by James McNeil Whistler that are featured in the same room. At the Piano is of a woman at a piano with a little girl watching intently. I am always impressed with these three artists brushwork. They make it look so easy. Like the exhibit, the clothes are dark, but the subjects and brushwork makes them come alive. Robert Louis Stevenson has this impish look on his face as he smokes. You feel like he just told the most amazing tale. In Working Boy I like how the young boy seems to be looking straight at you as he smokes his stogy. He almost reflects Robert Louis Stevenson in his casual manor of smoking. Obviously something that was normal for a working child in the 1800's, but would be out of place today. I could sit in here and look at these paintings all day. Gaylynn

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