Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Thomas Charles Farrer (British, 1839-1892)
Mount Holyoke, oil on canvas, 1865.
My youngest brother is now living in Holyoke Mass, about an hour and a half from my home in Hudson, so I am exploring the very fine small college museums there. That area, Northampton, Easthampton, Holyoke, Springfield, has a number of colleges and a few good small museums. I am looking forward to getting to know more about them and the area. I am starting with the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum, which has a small but very satisfying collection. Above is a view of Mt. Holyoke painted by a British painter, and it captures the beauty of the landscape in that area. I happen to like this painting a lot, even though there are others of the same scene that are larger, as it reminds me of the luminist painters from the Hudson River School; it is remniscent of Kensett. And of course it is beautifully painted and polished in its execution.

Statuette of a Youth, Greek, early Classical, ca 470 B.C.
Bronze, cast and incised, Height: 9 inches.
This bronze statuette is the star of the collection in my eyes, I have known it since my early days of learning about ancient art; it has been included in a number of important exhibitions of ancient Greek bronzes and published many times. It is a Severe Period Greek statuette, a short moment between Archaic and Classical that lasted maybe 50 years, if that. It is characturized by the serious mein of the figure, and simplicity and severity of ornament, the way the garments drape, etc. So while a modest object in size, this bronze is very rare and quite important.

Head of a woman, Greek, Late Hellenistic, ca 200 B.C.
Marble, Height: apr 8 inches.

I could not this charming ideal head, typical in the soft carving and idealistic treatment of original Greek sculpture from the Hellenistic period. It is from a statue made of parts, the head and possibly the hands an feet being carved of high grade white marble, the body in limestone or lower grade marble. This is typical of sculpture from South Italy where marble was imported, they used it sparingly. You can tell this by the cut off at the neck, which was shaped to fit into a socket in the body, usually draped torso, with the drapery hiding the join. It is hard to know who is depicted, it could be a goddess, or a royal figure, the filet she wears in her hair was reserved for royalty, or gods.

Ideal head of a Woman, Ellie Nadelman, ca. 1910-1911
White marble, about 20 inches tall.
Ellie Nadelman is one of my favorite American sculptures. He was active in the first part of the 20th Century living from 1882-1946. He is best known for his wood figures of men and women, a few of which are at the Metropolitan Museum, but he did a series of ideal heads, and it follows on the Greek head I feature before. He was looking to classical antiquity for his inspiration and yet enfused this ideal type with the spirit of his age, the sharpness of the nose here, the small closed mouth, are very much the ideal of his time, not that of antiquity. But the softness of the carving with smooth transitions is very much like that of Greek sculpture.

The Holy Family, School of Joos van Cleve (Flemish, 1485-1540)
Oil on Canvas.
I thought this one of the most beautiful things I saw at the Holyoke College Museum. I always like Flemish Renaissance paintings, and this is a beautiful example, it is exquisitely painted with incredible detail, it has a sense of vista, you have the gorgeous cloth of honor behind Mary, and the view of houses, cliffs, water and mountains beyond. And like so many Flemish paintings the iconography is a bit mysterious, what is the man doing, he looks like he is feeding baby Jesus porridge. Perhaps he is. Given the splendor of Mary's raimnent, Joseph looks out of place, like a poor priest. It is a very satisfying gem of a painting, on loan to the museum; I hope it is gifted to them, it really adds to the collection.

Hetch Hetchy Canyon, by Albert Bierstadt, 1875
oil on canvas.

This beautiful luminist painting is a gem of a Bierstadt, it has the qualities of his best works, and is of a respectable size, in other words, it is a really good example of his work. Being one of Americas greatest lanscape painters, he was the heir to Thomas Cole and Church, and while he painted mostly in the West, he can be considered a member of the Hudson River School of painters. This is a view of a canyon quite close to the Yosemite, one of his favorite places to paint. I googled Hetch Hetchy Canyon and found out that this painting marked the founding of Mt. Holyoke College Museum of Art, it was purchased a year after it was painted. It shows vision on the part of the donors, a Mrs. A.L. Williston and Mrs. E. H. Sawyer. I also learned that this canyon was dammed up to provide water to San Fransisco, and that there is a group arguing for the restoration of the canyon to its natural state. It was described by John Muir, "Hetch Hetchy Valley is a grand lanscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples."

There are many other notable works at this very fine small museum, and if you are in that part of Massachusetts, you owe yourself a trip to it.

No comments: