Friday, November 23, 2007

Vassar Loeb Art Center

View of the galleries of the Loeb Art Center looking towards the Egyptian red granite head.

After visiting the Hessel Museum at Bard, I headed South to visit the very fine small museum at Vassar, the full name of which is: The Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center. I have been there before but not for a long while, so a visit was overdue. It has a small diverse collection, with some very nice Hudson River Paintings, a few antiquities, and old masters. They have visiting exhibitions, the current one was "Saul Steinberg: Illuminations", a touring exhibition. Finding the college and museum was not difficult although the directions tell you to look for a stone arch that serves as the entrance, and what is in fact there is a large Gothic revival building with a tiny pointed arch road entrance going through it, so I missed it. The museum is just inside that entrance.

The entrance is through a beautiful glass, steel and wood tunnel that leads you back into the building housing the museum. The design of the galleries is quite contemporary and simple, the objects well displayed and lit. Currently in the entrance hall are three Chinese objects on loan from the Sackler Collection, most of which is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. They are two archaic Chinese bronze vessels and a Buddhist schist carving from the Wei Dynasty, nice and give some needed depth to the museums holdings. Once inside antiquities are on the left, where I headed, to see what for me was the most beautiful work of art that I saw that day, an Egyptian granite head from a sarcophagus, 19th Dynasty, of the highest quality and of a good size.

Head of Merymose from his sarcophagus, Egyptian, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1375 B.C. in red granite.
Beautifully carved the details are crisp and well defined with the lips outlined by the sharp ridge referred to by Egyptologists as the vermilion line, a feature of the highest quality sculptures. Here the perfect slight smile captures that sense of knowing and slight sadness that typify Egyptian art. This sculpture is as fine as Egyptian art gets, it is large, the face is complete, the surfaces polished and smooth, it competes with the best examples in any other museum in the world. As such an argument could be made that this is the best piece in the museum, certainly it is my favorite.

side view of the head of Merymose.
(I just learned from a friend of mine who is an Egyptologist, who worked for many years at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, that the donor of this head had shown it first to the MFA, but that the head curator at that time did not seem interested in it, so when Vassar was soliciting donors, she gave it to them. Boston's loss is the Hudson Valley's gain, I for one am glad it ended up at Vassar. Boston is already art rich.)

The next piece to capture my attention was this small but romantic head of Hercules, late Hellenistic Period Greek.

head of Hercules, Greek, late Hellenistic, ca 200 B.C.
This small head comes from a statuette of Hercules crowned as the victor after the completion of his labors and when he has become a god. The eyes are hollow as originally they were inlaid with white and black stone to give the figure a more lifelike appearance. The turn of the head and open mouth animate the head, the carving is soft but the forms are ideal and beautifully defined, with the bulging brow and curly beard and hair typical of Hercules. Again, there is a sense of sadness to it which exemplifies the best of Classical art.

Nearly missed in a case of Greek vases was this beautiful rhyton in the form of the head of a dog, one of the most sympathetic renderings of a dog I have ever seen. Not the best example of its type, not in perfect condition as its surface is missing the paint that would have given it more detail and color, it still manages to capture and express a feeling and the naturalism and quality of the modeling is very high.

rhyton, terracotta, Greek 4th Century B.C. probably from South Italy.
the thin face of this expressive dog looks like it is of a greyhound, or whatever ancient equivalent breed they had.

The next piece that captured me was this beautiful vibrant panel painting of the pieta.

Crucifixion with the donor, oil on oak panel.
Netherlandish, 15th Century.
A jewel of a painting the exquisitely fine details are beautifully painted and the colors remain vibrant and intense the whole jewel like feeling heightened by the gold leaf ground.

some other paintings that captured my affection are below

this little painting is by Benjamin West I think, of a mythological subject. Unfortunately I did not note the title, but reading the image now, I can tell why I selected it, I think it depicts Achilles morning over Patrocles, visited by his mother Thetis bearing new armor for him. The male nudity of course caught my eye, the gay subject matter my unconscious mind. The fact it is by one of America's first painters is a side note.

The Defense of Paris, 1871 by Gustave Dore, French, oil on canvas.
This large painting is by one of my favorite painters, whose works are not common in America. Painted in grisaille, the only color is in the flag held by the winged figure behind her back. It was painted to commemorate the Prussian siege of Paris in 1870-71, which was a traumatic event for France.
view of the room of 19th Century American paintings, of the Hudson River School. While the paintings are mostly small, this is a very nice group of paintings, and a good study collection for those who like the Hudson River School, of which I am one. Just beautiful, although I could not identify the artists in this view.

another jewel of a painting, by Sanford Gifford, of Lake George I think.

view of the Catskills, can't remember the painter. a very familiar view to me, the area still looks like this.

This has to be the strangest painting in the Loeb. Titled, "Who Wears the Pants has the Power"
by Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne, Flemish, early 17th Century.
Hard to make out, there is a group of woman, some presenting bare buttocks, being spanked by a man behind the mass of figures, overseen by a man with pants hanging down loosely below the knees, it is the strangest subject. Sort of salacious but also with a message, maybe an early women's lib pitch? Weird but amusing.

Petrus Staverenus, Dutch, 17th Century, oil on canvas.
This amusing painting exemplifies the unsympathetic naturalism the Dutch often went for. The untidy drunken features of this hag with missing teeth contrast with the exquisite Venetian blown glass that she is tippling from. Scenes like this can be had at the Red Dot in Hudson today! This is a great little Dutch painting.

For more information and directions please visit the website for the Loeb Art Center:

Here are some other things at Vassar that caught my eye.

The Gothic revival architecture of much of the campus would make Hogwarts proud.

This huge tree is a sycamore and one of the largest I have ever seen, it dominates a vast area hundreds of feet in circumference.
Another view of the great tree, the bench gives you a sense of its vast size, the trunk must be over 10 feet in diameter.

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