Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Friday, February 10, 2017
The Smith College Museum of Art is dedicated to bringing out works on paper into the main galleries, where all visitors can see them. Since works on paper are more sensitive to light than other mediums, SCMA has installed special Works on Paper cabinets throughout the galleries for the display of prints, drawings and photographs. Today’s post is part of a series about the current installations of the Works on Paper cabinets, which will remain on view through April 2017.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Woman in Black(Dame in schwarz). 1913. Woodcut printed in black on tan wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-75
Given the new interest in human psychology spurred by Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century, introspective art like the work by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) tapped directly into a new cultural awareness and exposed the hypocrisy of polite society. This new understanding of the human psyche led to a growing appreciation of Munch’s work, especially in more urban modernist environments like Berlin and Paris. As Munch said of his work, “I paint not what I see but what I saw.” His artwork became a direct outlet for suppressed emotions and anxiety, touching upon the darker side of human consciousness as his most famous painting The Scream attests.
(The Scream, 1893, National Gallery, Oslo, Norway).
Edvard Munch’s life was overcast with sickness, death, and mental instability. Born into a devout, cultured family in Norway, Munch lost both his beloved mother and eldest sister to tuberculosis at an early age and was raised by his obsessively religious and anxious father. The artist was plagued with bouts of melancholy and depression throughout his life and later battled alcoholism.
Munch’s success was hard-fought; his contemporaries in Norway originally rejected his psychological “realism” and attacked his lack of technical ability, criticizing his disregard for what they considered to be “good form.” They dismissed his work as “sick” and “an insult to art.”
Even though most of Munch’s work stems directly from the artist’s own troubled psyche, not all his work was autobiographical. Raised on literature, art, and music, Munch, like his father, was a great story teller, who wrote poetry and illustrated books and plays. Although originally ostracized by most of his fellow Norwegians, who rejected his work, he found a kindred spirit in the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who personally encouraged Munch during one of his poorly-received exhibitions in Norway. Munch illustrated many of Ibsen’s plays, which, like Munch’s art, addressed societal hypocrisy and complex human emotions.
As the famous art critic Robert Hughes said of Munch’s self-portraits, “It is hardly surprising that someone as miserable and self-obsessed as Munch should have painted so many self-portraits.” The artist suffered from an unhappy childhood and seemed unable to escape the overriding gloom that dogged his life. His relationship to “his children”—as he called his artworks—as well as his own personal angst, affected his ability to have normal interactions with people, especially with women. Munch became his own, best subject, obsessively recorded in hundreds of self-portraits, including the famous painting, The Scream. Each of these images captured a different aspect of Munch’s troubled psyche.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm. 1895. Lithograph with crayon, tusche, and needle on paper. Purchased. SC 1969:75
Munch’s first print was this early Self-Portrait with Skeletal Arm, created when he was 31 years old and living in Berlin. Beautiful in its simplicity and seemingly devoid of emotion, the pallid face rises from the black background. The simple skeletal arm at its base, however, evokes complex feelings. The use of a skeleton within a self-portrait, in combination with the inscription at the top, harkens back to memento mori (Renaissance portraits with skulls). The sitter’s contemplative stillness, surrounded by a black void, could therefore be interpreted as Munch’s acceptance of the inevitable end of life.
Edvard Munch. Norwegian, 1863–1944. Printed by Otto Felsing. German, 1854–1920s. Christiania Bohème I. 1895. Etching and drypoint printed in black on wove paper. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927. SC 1972:50-69
This print depicts a group of Munch’s friends drinking absinthe and wine during one of their many gatherings. They represent Christiania Bohème, the Bohemian atheistic, anarchist movement of the 1880s in Oslo (formerly called Christiania) that promoted free love, modernist art, and literature. Playwright Henrik Ibsen was a major figure in the movement, but at that point had already been living abroad for sixteen years. Munch’s friend and mentor Hans Jäger was the group’s leader; his autobiographical novel From Christiania’s Bohemia gave the movement its name.The print lacks the usual anxiety of Munch’s other works even though some undefined dark shadows are looming behind the seated figures at the right. The casual expressions on their faces suggests an amicable assembly of kindred spirits.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Laura Grant '17 discusses her show "The Candid Effect: Street Photography of Women" which will be on view FRIDAY, February 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you there!
How are women photographed in public spaces? This show examines the ways in which women are portrayed in street photography—a type of photography in which subjects are captured candidly participating in everyday activities. However, it is often difficult to determine the extent to which the photographs are actually candid. The photographs in this show demonstrate this ambiguity.
Lisette Model. American, born Austria (1901 - 1983). Woman with Veil, San Francisco, 1949. Gelatin silver print. Purchased with the gift of past and present members of the Visiting Committee in memory of Charles Chetham.
In Lisette Model’s Woman with a Veil, a nicely dressed older woman sits on a bench. The close-up shot suggests that the woman was aware she was being photographed, but her turn of the head and disregard for the camera give the sense that it is a candid shot.
Garry Winogrand. American (1928 - 1984). Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from Women are Beautiful, ca. 1975 negative; 1981 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall.
Other photographs also blur the line between chance encounter and posed scene. Garry Winogrand’s Two women with a child at the entrance to Central Park from his series Women are Beautiful is a much wider shot than Lisette Model’s photograph; it is possible the subjects were not aware Winogrand was taking a photograph focused on them.
Danny Lyon. American, born 1942. Port-au-Prince (woman carrying wood structure on shoulders, holding hand of another woman), 1983-1986 negative; 2007 print. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.
The candid effect of street photography is even more apparent in Danny Lyon’s photograph Port-au-Prince where the subjects are seen from behind. It appears that Lyon captured this encounter without the subjects’ realization, and they do not seem posed.
Yet, the unposed quality of the photographs is not merely an innocent aesthetic choice. These photographs cause us to question whether the subjects knew their photograph was being taken and whether they wanted it to be taken and displayed.
Mikiko Hara. Japanese, born 1976. Still from the series These Are Days, 2009. C-print. Purchased with the Carroll and Nolen Asian Art Acquisition Fund.
Mikiko Hara’s still from the series These Are Days is the only photograph in which the subject looks directly at the camera. Her expression is difficult to read. Is she unnerved, annoyed, or surprised? Nevertheless, she is the only subject to look back and show any ambivalence towards her role as a subject of a street photograph.
Friday, January 6, 2017
Guest blogger Renee Klann is a Smith College student, class of 2019. She is the 2015-2017 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This post discusses the art of Barry Moser, an printmaker and professor at Smith College. A recent gift of 91 of his works was made to the museum by Jeff Dwyer and Elizabeth O'Grady.
Although Barry Moser primarily works in wood engraving, he has also illustrated numerous books in watercolor. What drew him to such different media? In an interview he said that he enjoys watercolor and wood engraving because “My personality is kind of pig-headed and tenacious, so I like working with materials that are difficult.” Moser was certainly tenacious when learning to paint with watercolor, since he taught himself solely by studying the work of other artists.
Moser often uses watercolor to illustrate books for children. When he accepts an illustration commission, it’s usually expected to be in a particular medium. However, sometimes he debates with a publisher about what medium would be best. The technique of watercolor, which requires painting an image on a blank white sheet, is nearly the opposite of wood engraving, in which every area of white has to be cut from the black background of the inked wood block. Moser has adapted to the difference by taking an unconventional approach to watercolor. He says, “I often start off with the darkest rather than the lighter areas, which is pretty much backwards from what most watercolorists do.” This unique method makes sense in the context of Moser’s experience with wood engraving.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Archy, 1988. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-69
One of Moser’s watercolor illustrations is Archy, a depiction of a character created in 1916 by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper. Archy was a cockroach who had been a free verse poet in a previous life, and he wrote poems and stories on a typewriter at the newspaper office after all the humans had left. His best friend was an alley cat named Mehitabel, and their published adventures included satirical commentaries on everyday life in New York City. Moser painted Archy for an edition of the book archy and mehitabel that was never published.
In this humorous image, Archy stands on two legs, wearing a shirt and tie and holding a pipe in his mouth. His anatomy makes him recognizable as a cockroach, while his outfit and pose are human-like. Despite his somewhat irritable expression (and his species’ bad reputation) this portrayal of him is endearing. The medium of watercolor is an ideal match for Archy’s whimsical nature, which Moser captures here.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. In the Park from Kashtanka, 1991. Watercolor on thick, rough, white paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-19
In the Park is a watercolor illustration from Kashtanka, Anton Chekhov’s tale about a lost dog and becomes part of a circus before being reunited with her owner at the end. The image of a sleigh traveling through a snowy forest balances the coolness of the blue-gray trees and sky with the warm glow of the lamp in the background. The trees in the foreground distance viewers from the action of the horse and sleigh, but creates the feeling of being in the forest as well, drawing viewers into the world of the story.
Barry Moser, American, 1940-. Three Kings of the Desert from The Holy Bible, 1990. Watercolor on thick, moderately textured, cream-colored paper. Gift of Elizabeth O’Grady and Jeffrey P. Dwyer. SC 2014:54-64
Moser painted Three Kings of the Desert for an edition of the Bible published in 1990. It preceded his own 1999 Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, which he designed and illustrated with over 200 wood engraving prints. The three kings riding camels in this image are shown in silhouette, casting shadows on the ground. In addition, the background depicts the night sky in a swirling, textured shade of blue-green, with the Star of Bethlehem standing out clearly against it. The dramatic composition and style of the illustration conveys the sense of awe that the three kings felt on their journey.
Barry Moser’s watercolors range from biblical figures to poetry-writing insects, but they all have styles appropriate to their subjects. Seeing Moser’s watercolors in addition to his wood engravings offers a new perspective on his work as an illustrator, since each medium has different challenges and possibilities.