Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Haida Tribe Masks / Bill Reid: The Raven and the First Men

Haida Masks - Ethnological Museum in Berlin

The Haida were one of many Northwest Coast Native American tribes that revered the Raven as a trickster and transformer. They believed that this particular bird set into motion the world as it was. Such examples of the Raven's deeds would be his releasing of the sun from a wooden chest, thus granting light to the world, and by opening a clam shell in order to coax the first men out so that he could play. To the Haida, the Raven became a common figure throughout all of their art forms. In the picture above, the Raven is shown in the form of masks, which were most likely worn in ceremonies in order to pay homage to it.

The Raven and the First Men by Bill Reid, 1980. Vancouver, British Columbia.

As with before, the story of the Raven coaxing the first men out of a clam shell in order to play is a powerful story of the Raven's deeds to shape the world. In this particular piece, Bill Reid portrays just that. Bill Reid is a contemporary Haida sculptor who still uses a style not unlike his ancestors did in ages past. His heritage is clearly important to him, and thus he shares the stories of those who came before him to modern audience.

Picture 1: from quinet's photostream

Picture 2: from goldberg's photostream

Paul Revere:The Bloody Massacre (1770)

The Bloody Massacre. 1770. Hard-colored engraving. 8 15/16 x 10 11/14 in. Currently at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, NY.

The picture above was created by Paul Revere (who in turn copied this after artist Henry Pelham) which depicted the Boston Massacre of 1770 as a brutal attack on the American colonists by the British. It started when the Americans started to rebel against the British troops, causing them to open fire ultimately kill five people. This Massacre and later pictures which represented it fueled the idea that the British were heartless brutes who would kill in the face of turmoil and conflict.

However, in the later years it is looked at as propaganda, depicting the Americans as poor, helpless victims, while the British gun them down--even with a random dog between them to garner sympathy.In truth Americans were protesting the British against their taxes, to which violence arose and the British shot, mainly in self defense. The five deceased--Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, and Crispus Attucks--are shown either on the ground or being carried by survivors (except for Attucks, who as a freed African slave had to be "replaced" in the picture by a dead white man).

This type of propaganda fueled the idea of Britons being ruthless, killing fiends, while the Americans were pure, true and only fighting for what was right. Both sides had flaws and both sides needed support any way they could. When The Boston Massacre happened, it gave critics of England and the crown to verbally attack them for their hold on America. Although legend says this depiction of the Boston Massacre started the Revolutionary War, in truth it had started long ago. This just helped pour more gasoline onto the flames.

Source:(photo and information) Library of Congress

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thomas Cole: View on the Catskill, Early Autumn

Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1836-37, 39 x 63 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Cole was well known for his breathtaking paintings of landscapes. In 1825, Cole discovered the beauty of the Catskill wilderness which he depicts in the painting "View on the Catskill, Early Autumn". The painting was in response to the construction of the Canajoharie and Catskill Railroad through his much loved Catskill wilderness. The painting, however, does not include the construction of the railroad. Cole wanted to paint the landscape the way he knew it before the deforestation. Cole wrote about the deforestation:

"The copper-hearted barbarians are cutting all the trees down in the beautiful valley on which I have looked often with a loving eye—this throws quite a gloom over my spring anticipations—tell this to Durand, not that I wish to give him pain, but that I want him to join with me in maledictions on all dollar-godded utilitarians."

Even though the Cole chose to omit the construction of the railroad he still leaves a small warning in the left corner of a stump of a tree that has been cut down. The people in the foreground are enjoying nature without disrupting it "showing a healthy relationship between human beings and the natural environment, one which Cole hoped would be preserved despite the onslaught of technology"


Emanuel Leutze: Study for Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (Westward Ho!)

1861. Oil on canvas 33.25 x 43.375 in.
Current location: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

This painting, by German native Emanuel Leutze, is a compilation of ideals regarding the conquest of the American West. Each portion of the scenery depicts common examples of both struggles and achievements of exploring the west. In the foreground, settlers begin to see the landscape of their destination: the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. These figures, including the guide, point to their ultimate goal with expressions of joy, satisfaction, and relief. Just beyond the foreground, other settlers are portrayed in manners of exerting physical and mental anguish. Note the burial cross and recently deceased. Centered, atop a soaring peak, two settlers climb and wave victoriously over their feat. Also take notice of the placement of major landmarks; Pacific Ocean (left), plateaus (center), and Rocky Mountains (Right).

The surrouding framework consists of small scenes which exemplify the earlier stages of the conquest for he west. The two lower corner portaits, Daniel Boone (left) and William Clark (right), portray the merging of unique cultures in America. Clark wears clothing made of furs and hides in the manner of Native Americans.

Like the works of Nicolas Poussin, Benjamin West, and Theodore Gericault, the painting is composed with the images places in orderly pyramid fashion. Leutze also used this style in "The Storming of the teocalli by Cortez and His Troops" 1848. It gives the viewer a rising sense of importance to certain figures.

"Description of Westward the Course of Empire..." Accessed on Feb. 15, 2011,

Image 1 found at:
Image 2 found at:

Lilly Martin Spencer, "Pealing Onions"

Pealing onions, from 1852, is one of the several scenes Lilly Martin Spencer produced of women

in the kitchen preparing meals. It is a realistic outlook on the mid 19th century domestic lifestyle. In this oil on canvas painting, a woman who is tearing up because of the onion she is cutting is highlighted in front of a dark background. The vegetables along with the pans/spoons around the onion give the image a more realistic feel because women typically set out all of the ingredients before cooking.

The real life aspect is greatly shown through because Lilly Martin Spencer actually used her family as models. The painting is as natural as a photograph, especially in "Kiss Me and You'll Kiss the 'Lasses" (1856). Which also has a darker background, with the woman standing out, cooking.

This image caught my attention because of the practical aspect of 19th century domestic "responsibilities." It really shows how hard women worked, yet it shows her in a nice blue dress, which is what women would have chosen to wear while cooking/cleaning house.

Harriet Hosmer "Beatrice Cenci"

Beatrice Cenci
This photograph taken by Jodi Kovach (MA 2003) is "Beatrice Cenci" a marble statue (17 1/8 x 41 1/8 x 17 in) created by Harriet Hosmer in 1857. This statue can be viewed in the St. Louis Mercantile Library in St. Louis, Missouri.
This statue was commissioned to Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) depicts a young woman the night before her execution in a state of tranquil contemplation in spite of the hideous past she was forced to endure. The gruesome background to this praying young women in the late 16th century was when a Roman noblewoman and her mother, Lucretia, killed her abusive and tyrannical father Francesco. Both women were condemned to death and beheaded, despite numerous pleas to clemency.
This statue of "Beatrice Cenci" is the first departure from the classical subject matter for Harriet Hosmer. The simple elegance and grace in this sculpture depicts undeniable beauty. The hideous past of this young woman does not show through from the relaxed pose of the body and the head laying softy of the pillow. The hand clutching the rosary seems to add a higher purpose to this statue to the viewer as well.
Harriet Hosmer is an American sculptor who studied anatomy in St. Louis and then traveled to Rome. In Rome, Hosmer became a pupil of the famous sculptor, John Gibson. Some of Hosmer's other famous works include, "Zenobia in Chains" and "Queen of Palmyra."

Zenobia in Chains

Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer, 1859. St. Louis Art Museum

When strumming through the pages of Framing America:A Social History of American Art by Frances K. Pohl I stumbled upon the image of a beautiful marble sculpture; this sculpture is Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer. Though in the book the sculpture is accredited to being displayed in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, I recognized this sculpture from the American Art Collection in the Saint Louis Art Museum. I could not determine whether this was the same exact sculpture or a copy because to my knowledge Hosmer sold the original and four copies to patrons. These copies only varied in the different articulations of the belt buckle.
The sculpture of this queen of Palmyra in Syria greatly exemplifies the lineage of art through classical Greek and Roman art to mid-19th century American art; Zenobia in Chains is just that. It is the portrayal of the queen after her defeat and capture by the Romans. She is presented in a very noble manner, quite upright with no remorse in her defeat. Her robes are neatly gathered in her arm along with her chain, grasping them firmly as she ponders her future. She is a defeated leader, but not in her posture. The great story of this captive ends with her captor releasing her because he was so impressed by Zenobia's strength in adversity.
Zoomed image of sculpture. St. Louis Art Museum

The idea of this strength Zenobia has reflects the strength of Hosmer. Hosmer was a female artist in a time when for women it was difficult to become a recognizable artist in any medium in the 19th century, let alone a woman working in the medium she did, which resulted in even stronger prejudices against women taking it up. Hosmer achieved her talent when she studied in St. Louis at what is now Washington University. Hosmer put forth all her talents in this piece with the delicate floral work on the crown to the sweeping chain that suspends from the sculpture that would seemingly rattle in a breeze.

This sculpture is profound to me due to the fact the craftsmanship is unimaginable and also because the artist was woman. I really relate to this sculpture and all the ideas behind it. Hosmer studied at the school I desire to go to, she was an excellent craftsman in a medium I am utterly intrigued by and would like to study, and she focuses on the political and personal struggles of women against men and male-defined industries.
Shot of head of Zenobia in Chains. St. Louis Art Museum
Information from:

- Framing America: A Social History of American Art by Frances K. Pohl


Images from: from Aniruddha & Gauri's photostream

John James Audubon: Birds of America

Carolina Parakeet
Photo by: © Musée de la civilisation 2003

John James Audubon was one of the most noted Ornithological artists of his time, and still is today. Not only was he a naturalist, he was also a well rounded taxidermist which gave him an even broader view of the bird anatomy.

Even though Audubon's affinity for birds and nature rang true from such a young age, his biggest endeavor didn't set fourth until years later. He began in October of 1820. Starting in Mississippi, he worked his way from there as well as Florida and Alabama. He attempted to paint at least once a day and would teach the children of wealthy plantation owners the fundamentals of drawing techniques to make spare money along the way. This way he could keep the artist supplies coming in when needed. With this equipment Audubon would produce these beyond intricate paintings of birds found in wildlife. He would continually be developing his technique upon learning a new skill from a fellow painter. Audubon was quit the perfectionist and would throw out earlier works just to re-do them with a more developed approach. By looking at any of his paintings you can closely depict the intricate detail he so highly demanded of himself.

About four years later Audubon set home to try and find a publisher for his collection of work, unfortunately there was no interest in the area. So two years later, he decided to travel on a cotton hauling ship to England, hoping for better success. He was quickly accepted and recognized for his work and soon had enough money to begin publishing immediately. The finished product was composed of 435 hand colored prints of 497 bird species; and was properly named Birds of America. Then after he was known as the "Woodsman" of America by fellow peers and fans. His fame continued to grow through England as well as Scotland and soon followed over to the States where it still holds true today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thomas Nast and his "Grand Caricaturama"

In 1867, Thomas Nast produced his “Grand Caricaturama,” a series of thirty-three large paintings which, through use of political caricature, capture the failings of Reconstruction due to policies, and lack of policies, Andrew Johnson had put in place after he acquired the Presidency in 1865. As states refused to keep their promises outlined in Johnson’s Amnesty Proclamation, by electing former confederate officials and passing “Black Codes,” Congress and Nast’s fellow Radical Republicans lost faith in the President, feeling that he was practically giving away the Northern victory.

In an effort to sway public opinion in support of the Radical Republicans, Nast painted scenes such as “The Massacre at New Orleans,” openly criticizing Johnson for allowing and even promoting events such as which took place in New Orleans on July 30th, 1866. The painting depicts an angry Johnson to the right, coming out of a shabby looking building to look upon the slaughter of unarmed black and white Radical Republicans by white vigilantes and law enforcement. He wears a crown and robe, indicating his yearning for political power, and also establishing his connection to the armed policemen.

The paintings over all scene makes reference to Goya’s “The Third of May” in which pleading civilians are gathered to be shot by Napoleon’s soldiers at close range. Likewise, the Republicans, raising their hands and make shift white flags in an effort to stop the murdering, are being shot at point-blank.

Goodrich, Loyld. "Thomas Nast." (accessed 2/14/2011).

Pohl,Frances. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. 2nd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.

"Simple Art." (accessed 2/14/2011).

"The massacre at New Orleans." (accessed 2/14/2011).