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Robert Torchia, “George Baer/Masouba/1927,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/50243 (accessed October 20, 2018).

 

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Overview

This painting represents a young woman named Masouba from Colomb-Béchar—an oasis in the Algerian Sahara about 400 miles south of Oran. George Baer was intrigued by Masouba because she was of both Jewish and Muslim parentage. The artist explained that when Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain and settled in North Africa “they not only forgot or overlooked all prejudices and differences of religious beliefs, but worked and lived together and also intermarried. There was not the slightest vestige of segregation of Jews as prevailed in most of North Africa.”

Born in Chicago, George Baer and his brother Martin attended the Art Institute of Chicago until 1919, studied at the National Academy in Munich, Germany, and then proceeded to Paris. Masouba reflects the various influences that shaped George’s style, including El Greco, Eugène Delacroix, Chaim Soutine, and other modernist forms of expressionism that the artist encountered in Germany and Paris. George and Martin Baer achieved recognition together when a group of paintings they had executed in Morocco and Algeria in 1925 were exhibited at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1926. The brothers returned to North Africa in 1927 and lived in Colomb-Béchar. Their second successful series of North African subjects was exhibited at the Galerie Jeune Peinture, Paris, in 1928. Neither George nor Martin was ever able to repeat the critical acclaim of their North African subjects.

Entry

George Baer painted Masouba during his second extended trip to North Africa in 1927, when he and his artist brother Martin lived at Colomb-Béchar, an oasis in the Algerian Sahara about 400 miles south of Oran. The sitter’s elongated, half-length figure is pressed close to the picture plane. She rests her right hand on her head and looks down to her right. The girl has a pensive, remote expression. In the left background a bearded man is engrossed in reading a text of some kind. The painting’s title was derived from the girl’s Arabic name.[1] Baer commented on the sitter’s background:

The young girl in this painting was the daughter of a mixed marriage of Jewish and Moorish parentage. When the Jews and Moors migrated from Spain to North Africa, it appears both Jews and Moors had a great deal in common—survival. So, when this group settled here they not only forgot or overlooked all prejudices and differences of religious beliefs, but worked and lived together and also intermarried. There was not the slightest vestige of segregation of Jews as prevailed in most of North Africa.[2]

There are many possible antecedents for the painting’s imagery. Masouba recalls the North African exoticism and Orientalism of Eugène Delacroix, an artist with whom both Baer brothers were—and still are—often compared. The deliberate distortion evident in the exaggerated, elongated features of the two figures is also clearly related to El Greco and to German expressionism, a movement with which the Baers became familiar during their academic training in Munich. George and his brother may also have been consciously following the examples of Paul Klee and August Macke, who in 1914 had sought artistic inspiration in Tunisia. The unusually bold brushwork of Masouba is, moreover, similar to the technique of the expressionist painters Chaim Soutine and Oskar Kokoschka. Despite these many precedents Bulliet concluded that the North African works were more than the sum of their influences: “The Baer brothers have evolved something that is recognized in France and America as distinctively ‘Baer.’ It is easy to trace their influences. . . . But all such influences are offset . . . by something that is distinctively their own, that springs out of their inner consciousness and is readily recognizable in everything they paint.”[3]

A series of paintings that the brothers made during their initial visit to the area in 1925 had immediately garnered critical acclaim and attracted buyers when they were exhibited in the spring of 1926 at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, Paris, and later that year at the Art Institute of Chicago. Noting that the Baers “found the Algerians as much to their liking as Gauguin found the Tahitians,” in 1928 Bulliet extolled the works from the second trip—including Masouba—for “a loosening up of their technique, and a greater spontaneity of spirit.”[4] Masouba is a highly representative example of George Baer’s style of the 1920s, the most productive and successful decade of his career. Neither George nor Martin was ever able to repeat the critical acclaim of their North African subjects.

Robert Torchia

August 17, 2018

Inscription

lower left: Geo. Baer / Colomb / Bechar 27

Provenance

The artist; gift June 1929 to Maud Dale [Mrs. Chester Dale, 1875-1953], New York;[1] her husband, Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; his estate; bequest 1964 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1928
Exposition Martin & George Baer: Peintures des Frères Baer, Galerie Jeune Peinture, Paris, 1928.[2]
1929
Paintings of North Africa and The Grand Sahara Desert by Martin Baer, George Baer, Newhouse Galleries, New York; Newhouse Galleries, Saint Louis; Newhouse-Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles, 1929, unnumbered catalogue, repro.[1]
Exhibition History Notes

[1] The catalogue for the exhibition appears to have been The Art of Martin Baer, George Baer, Appreciations by C.J. Bulliet, Charles Fegdal, Georges Rémon, and Pierre Very, published by Newhouse Galleries, New York, 1928.

[2] The information about this exhibition was located in the vertical files of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library, and was produced by the Oakland Museum; copy in NGA curatorial files. The catalogue has not yet been located.

Technical Summary

The unlined, finely woven, plain-weave fabric support remains attached to its original stretcher with original tacking margins. The artist applied stiff paint squeezed directly from the tube, wet into wet, in thick, impastoed layers with broad brushstrokes onto a commercially prepared, thin, off-white ground. The buttery consistency and conformation of the well-preserved impasto seem to indicate the use of a palette knife to lay in several of the forms, particularly in the foreground. The x-radiograph confirms this evaluation but shows no artist’s changes. Infrared examination reveals neither evidence of underdrawing nor artist’s alterations. The painting is in very good condition with only minor deformations in the surface plane and a few small losses and abrasions marring its appearance. The surface is coated with a slightly yellowed layer of natural resin varnish. There is a good deal of grime accumulated in the troughs between the high impastos.

Bibliography
1928
Bulliet, C.J., et al. The Art of Martin Baer, George Baer. Exh. cat. Newhouse Galleries, New York, 1928: unnumbered, repro. (as "Mashouba, Colomb-Bechar, Afrique").
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 14, repro.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 23, repro.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 23, repro.
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