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Acquisition Highlights

In over 75 years of its existence the National Gallery of Art has amassed one of the world’s most significant collections of European and American masterworks of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. From a beginning with a selection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures given by the Gallery’s founder Andrew W. Mellon, the collection has grown to more than 145,000 works today.

The Gallery’s treasures come from many diverse times and places of origin and each work of art in the permanent collection is a private donation, acquired either directly or with contributed funds. Listed below are some of the most important recent additions to the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art.

2021 Acquisition Highlights

Christopher Myers, What Does It Mean to Matter (Community Autopsy)

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Christopher Myers, What Does It Mean to Matter (Community Autopsy), 2019, cotton appliquéd on furnishing and specialty fabrics, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Glenstone Foundation, 2021.1.1, Courtesy of the artist and Fort Gansevoort

Christopher Myers (b. 1974) creates works of art in a variety of media, from books and films to theater and quilts, that address the experience of people of color around the world. He has collaborated with the American artist Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) and with craftspeople and musicians in cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Yogyakarta, and New Orleans. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, What Does It Mean to Matter (Community Autopsy) (2019) memorializes adults and children who have died at the hands of the police or while in custody. Acquired in January 2021, the work is the first by Myers to enter the National Gallery of Art's collection, made possible by a generous gift of Mitchell and Emily Rales.

A combination of sumptuous pattern and tragic content, What Does It Mean to Matter (Community Autopsy) was first shown at a 2020 exhibition of Myers’s fabric works at the Fort Gansevoort gallery in Los Angeles. The title of the show, Drapetomania, was a reference to both the draped medium of the works and the name of a 19th-century pseudo-disease used to pathologize the behavior of fugitives from slavery.

Myers has said: “The image of the autopsy sheet marked by a coroner has become central to the imagery and conversations of Black Lives Matter. Here I combine several of the wounds from some of the more high-profile cases. . . . I wonder what can be done to tell our young people that they matter, before they are inscribed in a coroner’s report. Included in the piece are the autopsies of Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown Jr., Antwon Rose Jr., Miriam Carey, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., Ezell Ford, and Jordan Edwards.”

Jonas Wood, Helen’s Room

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Jonas Wood, Helen’s Room, 2017, oil and acrylic on canvas, Purchased as the Gift of Stuart Barr, Sarah MacKey, and TSL, a Private Asian Collector, 2020.13.1, Photography by Brian Forrest, Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by contemporary artist Jonas Wood (b. 1977). Wood’s graphic painting style uses familial relations to address the real and psychological spaces that capture the intimacy and personal nature of his work. An important example of the artist’s work, Helen’s Room (2017) refers to an upstairs bedroom in Wood’s maternal grandfather’s home in Binghamton, New York. This painting, the artist has explained, created a "new, heightened memory of spending time with family."

Wood combines several studies into a single image, resulting in spatial contradictions and subtly interrupted or overlapping elements. Characteristic features of his work include art historical references (Henri Matisse’s cut-outs and Jasper Johns’s linear inventions) and the interaction of pattern with large areas of color, a mix of acrylic paint (for flat areas) and oil (for impasto details).

In Helen’s Room, Wood combines autobiographical elements and historical references with a deliberately cool tone that is highly personal. These elements create a viewing experience of depth and complexity. "Helen" refers to a housekeeper who had used the bedroom shown in the painting. Aided by a photo of the original space, Wood made the work as a combination of real and invented imagery "as remembered at age nine." The "real" elements from the photo include the cat (a Siamese belonging to the artist’s parents), the bed, copies of Matisse paintings made by SUNY Binghamton students commissioned by his grandfather, the lighting, folded maps behind the floor lamp, the phone, and the remote control on the side table. To these items, Wood added the butterfly/moth picture above the bed (a colored version was owned by Wood’s maternal uncle in a different home), and the nature scene out the window to the right (which was covered with a drape in the photo.)

Richard Estes, Portrait of I. M. Pei

Richard Estes, Portrait of I.M. Pei, 19961996

Richard Estes, Portrait of I.M. Pei, 1996, oil on canvas, Gift of Ian M. and Annette P. Cumming, 2020.21.1

Best known for his complex photo-realistic scenes of urban environments, Richard Estes (b. 1932) rarely painted portraits, except for a few images of close friends. Portrait of I. M. Pei (1996) is the first painting by Estes to enter the collection, where it joins 34 prints by the artist. The work is as much a portrait of the Gallery’s Study Center as it is a portrait of the architect.

Portrait of I. M. Pei is unique among Estes’s art because it combines a portrait with complex architectural forms. In 1995 Dodge Thompson, chief of exhibitions at the Gallery, approached Estes to paint a portrait of Pei (1917–2019), who was the architect of the East Building. Ian M. Cumming, a patron of the Gallery, and John Wilmerding, the Gallery’s deputy director, encouraged Estes to paint the portrait against the setting of the East Building.

In 1967 Andrew Mellon’s children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce, offered funds for a second National Gallery of Art building, and Pei was selected to design it. The modernist structure he conceived was inspired and informed by its trapezoidal site, located between Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall and between Third and Fourth Streets NW. Pei designed the East Building as two triangles—one to hold a library, offices, and community of scholars and the other as public gallery space for the permanent collection and exhibitions. Pei linked his design for the East Building to John Russell Pope’s neoclassical design of the West Building by using the same Tennessee pink marble to clad the exterior. Construction of the East Building began in 1971, and on June 1, 1978, Paul Mellon and President Jimmy Carter dedicated the new museum to the people of the United States.

Dora Maar, Père Ubu

Dora Maar, Père Ubu, 19361936

Dora Maar, Père Ubu, 1936, gelatin silver print, Gift of J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy, 2020.110.1

Père Ubu (1936) by Dora Maar (1907–1997) is an iconic photograph of the surrealist movement. This exceptional print has recently been given to the National Gallery of Art by J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy. It joins two other works by Maar already in the collection and strengthens the Gallery’s holdings of surrealist photography.

Compelling and repellent, Maar’s unusual portrait of a bizarre animal with a flat, angular head, elephantine ears, and curved arms with claw-like appendages is meant to evoke the monstrous, dictatorial lead character from Alfred Jarry’s controversial absurdist play Ubu Roi (1896). Maar’s creature highlights the bestial nature of Jarry’s antihero, whose greed, cruelty, and vulgarity were manifested in his horrid appearance. Maar never confirmed her source material, preferring to let viewers ponder what this armored yet oddly vulnerable and soft-skinned creature might be. Many contemporary scholars believe that the photograph depicts an armadillo fetus preserved in formaldehyde.

Susan Hiller, Ten Months

Susan Hiller, Ten Months, 1977–19791977–1979

Susan Hiller, Ten Months, 1977–1979, 10 gelatin silver prints and 10 text panels, Gift of the Collectors Committee, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, Gregory and Aline Gooding Fund, and David Knaus Fund, 2020.76.1.1-20

Working in a variety of mediums, including painting, video, film, installation, performance, and photography, Susan Hiller (1940–2019) folded elements of anthropology, psychoanalysis, and the occult into her art. The National Gallery of Art recently acquired Ten Months (1977–1979), its first work by Hiller and an important piece in her oeuvre that enhances and expands the Gallery’s collection of conceptual and performance photographs.

Like other feminist artists of the 1970s and early 1980s, such as Valie Export (b. 1940), Ana Mendieta (1948–1985), or Francesca Woodman (1958–1981), Hiller makes herself both the subject of her art and the object of her own gaze. Ten Months consists of 10 framed pictures, each containing 28 individual photographs—one for each day of the lunar month—of her growing stomach over the course of her pregnancy. The framed photographs are paired with texts from the artist’s journal that refute sentimental notions of pregnancy, instead providing critical observations of a woman’s position in society. Installed in an arc, with the first month of her pregnancy positioned high off the floor and each succeeding one placed slightly below the one before it, Ten Months reflects on the physical and psychic weight carried during pregnancy.

Installation view of Susan Hiller’s Ten Months (1977–1979), gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, Gregory and Aline Gooding Fund, and David Knaus Fund © The Estate of Susan Hiller; Courtesy Lisson Gallery, 2020.76.1.1-20

Seven Works by Five Contemporary Artists

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Amy Cutler, Gorge, 2009, gouache on paper, Gift of Heather Podesta, 2020.106.2, © Amy Cutler, Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, Photo: Jeffrey Sturges

The National Gallery of Art has been given seven superb works by five contemporary artists, two of whom are not currently represented in the collection. Donated by Heather Podesta, who has given numerous works over the years, this outstanding gift includes a work by Liza Lou (b. 1969), two works on paper by Amy Cutler (b. 1974), and four chromogenic prints: two by Sharon Core (b. 1965) from the Thiebaud series, one by Thomas Demand (b. 1964), and one by Frank Thiel (b. 1966).

Paintings and Works on Paper
Best known for her iconic beaded sculptures and paintings, Liza Lou centers her artistic practice on issues of materiality and social consciousness. In 2005, she set up a studio in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where she works alongside local Zulu women who are skilled in the craft of traditional beadwork. Woven in collaboration with her studio assistants, Blue (2016) is a monochromatic red square made from strips of sewn glass beads that were handcrafted in Japan. Originally titled Crimson, it was retitled Blue in 2016 when the artist donated the work to a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Blue is the first work by Lou to enter the National Gallery’s collection.

Amy Cutler’s imaginative scenarios explore the complexities of human relationships and conventional gender roles. She often juxtaposes traditional costumes, patterned textiles, and other aspects of material culture with references to history, folklore, fairytales, popular culture, and personal experience to address misperceptions of women and underscore female resilience. Her intricate and enigmatic narrative drawings Gorge (2009) and Export (2007) are the first works by this contemporary figurative artist to enter the National Gallery’s collection. 

Photographs
Trained as both a painter and a baker, Sharon Core made the candies and cakes depicted in her Thiebaud series to precisely mimic those in Wayne Thiebaud’s iconic 1960s paintings. Using reproductions of his paintings as guides, she carefully replicated not only the objects he painted, but also his compositions, lighting, shadows, textures, and perspectives. Candy Counter 1963 (2004) and Pie Counter (2003) are excellent examples of Core’s exploration of the boundary between artifice and reality.

Thomas Demand is celebrated for appropriating already existing photographs—often from newspapers and the media but also from cell phones—and making life-sized sculptural reconstructions of them out of colored paper and cardboard. After carefully lighting and photographing the model, he destroys it. In Wand/Mural (1999), Demand photographed a world map on a wall, including part of the floor, ceiling, and an electrical outlet. He suggests the vulnerability of the world by leaving only the photographic record.

Frank Thiel is best known for his large-scale photographs of Berlin that address the massive changes in the city in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Often photographing large buildings under construction, he creates pictures that point to the shifting social and cultural landscape of the city, new modes of living, and the temporality of urban existence. In Stadt 2/75 (Berlin) (2003), Thiel focuses on tightly interlocking structural forms to suggest the endless replicability of the new architecture.

Nancy Shaver, Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon

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Nancy Shaver, Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon, 2011, wooden blocks, fabric, paper, Flashe acrylic paint, and house paint, Gift of Elizabeth Kessenides, 2020.19.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first sculpture by Nancy Shaver (b. 1946) entitled Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon (2011). Given to the Gallery by Elizabeth Kessenides, it joins an earlier photograph, Striped T-shirt on Plywood (1975–1977), in the nation’s collection. This work amplifies the aesthetic traditions that celebrate the humble, the colloquial, and the undervalued in American material culture.

Georgiana, Shirley, and Sharon is an example of the recent series of hybrid painting-sculptures that Shaver has referred to as “blockers.” These works straddle the distinct categories and genres of painting and sculpture and defy easy classification. The blockers are rooted in the “junking trips” Shaver made with Walker Evans while studying photography with him at Yale University. They shared an interest in the vernacular, a commitment to an art “about the democracy of things,” and a trust in the role of a discerning eye in pursuit of their respective “finds”—castoffs in her case, postcards in his.

Each work is composed of irregular wooden blocks of roughly the same size that have either been painted a monochrome hue or covered with a piece of patterned fabric. Arranged in grids to form squares or rectangles, the vivid, chunky compositions are installed flush to the wall. Shaver uses house paint or gouache alongside fabric from women’s clothing found in secondhand stores and flea markets. The textiles are often vibrantly colored or busily patterned. In what she sees as a fundamentally redemptive act, Shaver challenges herself to use this material, which she acknowledges as “pretty bleak,” to create something that in its very unfamiliarity reveals “the width of beauty.”

Alighiero Boetti, Untitled

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Alighiero Boetti, Untitled, 1988, embroidery, 112.5 x 104 cm (44 5/16 x 40 15/16 in.), Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2020.103.1

Alighiero Boetti (1940–1994) was one of the leading artists associated with the arte povera movement in Italy and a major figure of international conceptualism from the 1960s through the 1980s. Untitled (1988), a rare example of arte povera, is the first work by the artist to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Art.

Boetti’s most iconic works are the embroideries he began to produce in Afghanistan in 1971 and subsequently in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He worked with local craftspeople, mostly women, to produce three distinct types of embroideries: Arazzi (word square tapestries), Mappi (maps), and Tutti (representations of “everything”). Untitled is an example of the Arazzi style and is comprised of 25 rows. Each row consists of 25 individual blocks that feature a single letter of either Italian lettering or the Arabic script of Farsi, the spoken language of the work’s embroiderers, who were then living in exile in Peshawar. Evoking Boetti’s deep interest in Afghan culture and his interrogation of artistic identity, the work is a true collaboration between the artist and his gifted collaborators. Boetti determined the format of the embroidery as well as the layout of the letters, which contain messages in Italian and English. The embroiderers selected the color scheme and the four Farsi texts that are stitched in yellow and black, which include their names, the equine game of buzkashi (the national sport of Afghanistan, “land of the horse-riders”), and Afghan Independence Day.

Leonardo Drew, Number 76S

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Leonardo Drew, Number 76S, 2019, cotton, 152.4 x 152.4 x 13.3 cm (60 x 60 x 5 1/4 in.), Purchased as the Gift of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Meredith and Brother Rutter, and Joan and David Maxwell, 2020.105.1, Courtesy Anthony Meier Fine Arts, Photo by Phillip Maisel, San Francisco

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Number 76S (2019) by contemporary artist Leonardo Drew (b. 1961). Drew is best known for large wall reliefs composed of blackened pieces of wood and often incorporating larger natural wood forms (twisting roots and branches), all packed into tight but sprawling grids that both cover and come off the wall. Number 76S is a work made entirely of cotton, a material that he used early in his career and to which he has recently returned. It joins 14 prints by the artist that were given to the National Gallery of Art by Kathan Brown in 2019.

Drew addresses themes of time, labor, life, decay, order, and chaos throughout his sculptural works. He has explained his attraction to the grid as a matter of practicality as well a testament to the influence of Piet Mondrian, one of his heroes. He is known for bringing the influence of his travels (to Senegal, Brazil, Peru, and Japan) into his work in subtle ways and for his practice of taking apart and reusing previous works to give them new life. In the early 1990s, Drew began to use rust, cotton, and wood in his sculptures. Cotton refers to historical African American experiences of labor as well as his artistic improvisation, both of which have been a central theme in his work since 1994.

Thomas Schütte, Man Without Face

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Thomas Schütte, Man Without Face, 2018, cast patinated bronze on artist’s steel base, overall (sculpture and pedestal): 223 × 80 cm (87 13/16 × 31 1/2 in.), overall (sculpture): 123 × 67.5 cm (48 7/16 × 26 9/16 in.), pedestal: 100 × 80 cm (39 3/8 × 31 1/2 in.), gross weight: 113.399 kg (250 lb.), Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2020.104.1

Working across media to explore themes of cultural history and the human struggle for progress, Thomas Schütte (b. 1954) is best known for his sculptural output and his focus sculpture and the role of the monument. A leading artist of his generation, Schütte demonstrates his concerns in a variety of scales, often within a given series and a combination of architectural and figurative elements. Man Without Face (2018) is the first work by Schütte to enter the Gallery’s collection.

Using new approaches to traditional sculpture, Schütte’s examines the human form by presenting the figure in a series of anti-heroic postures. In 1982/1983 Schütte made his first figural work, Man in Mud, which developed from the simple solution to a problem: to keep a figure upright, the artist inserted the figure’s legs in a box that came up to its knees. The work came to represent the existential crisis of modernity’s constant need for progress.

The artist has made more than 20 variants of this work in different sizes and configurations, each subsequent work unmaking the previous work’s meaning and interpretation. Schütte’s most recent series of bronzes explores new dimensions of this earlier work to look at the artist’s own progress. The National Gallery’s cast of Man Without Face, is the second largest of these works and features a laborer standing up to his shins in muck. In place of his face is a sheer vertical surface, as if his identity had been sliced off, and in his right hand he holds his own mask-like visage, with eyes open and gazing back, away from the figure. In Man Without Face, Schütte imagines a way forward by looking back.

Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21

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Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21, 1980, single-channel video with sound, color, 12:15 minutes, Gift of Garth Greenan, 2020.20.1

The Gallery has acquired Free, White and 21 (1980) by Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), the first video by the artist to enter the collection. Given by Garth Greenan, it joins one early work on paper, three prints, and a promised gift of one of her highly textured collaged canvases comprised of hole-punched paper dots.

Pindell made her influential video Free, White and 21 following a car accident in 1979 that left her with partial memory loss. In the video, Pindell faces the camera and recounts her personal experiences of racism as an African American woman in America. Throughout the video, she adds to or takes away materials from her head and face, concealing and revealing the social construct of race based on skin color. These segments alternate with footage of Pindell—dressed as white woman with a blond wig, skin-lightening makeup, and sunglasses—responding to her own testimonials with victim-blaming statements. The video concludes with Pindell’s white character stating unapologetically, “You must really be paranoid. I’ve never had an experience like that. But, then, I’m free, white, and 21.”

Yvonne Thomas, Portrait

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Yvonne Thomas, Portrait, 1956, oil on linen, Gift of Estate of Yvonne Thomas, 2020.22.1

Yvonne Thomas (1913–2009) is among several important artists from the abstract expressionist era, many of them women, who have been rediscovered in recent years. Portrait (1956), a pivotal work in Thomas’s career, is the first of her paintings to enter the Gallery’s collection and joins an untitled screenprint from 1967.

In 1938 Thomas studied fine art at the Art Students League of New York as well as with Amédée Ozenfant in his atelier. She began to associate with the abstract expressionists, joining discussions at The Club (where she was one of the few members who were women) and at the short-lived school called The Subjects of the Artist. She also studied in Provincetown with Hans Hofmann and exhibited at the renowned Ninth Street Exhibition in 1951. Throughout her work, she combined the gestural language of the New York School painters with sensitive brushstrokes and a lyrical sense of color. In Portrait, the ghostly figurative suggestions and tinted grays evoke an image coming into focus. The painting resonates with works by Judith Godwin, Jack Tworkov, and Frank Lobdell in the Gallery’s collection.

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, c. 1602c. 1602

Aurelio Lomi, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, c. 1602, pen and ink with oil over chalk on four sheets of paper, New Century Fund and The Ahmanson Foundation, 2020.101.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired The Stoning of Saint Stephen (c. 1602) by Aurelio Lomi (1556–1622), the leading painter in Pisa during the last quarter of the 16th century. It joins two other works by Lomi in the Gallery’s collection: a figure study in chalk, Studies of a Youth Pulling Ropes (recto); Faint Study of a Youth Pulling a Rope (verso) (1610s), and a small monochrome bozzetto of the Visitation, a preparatory work for a Florence altarpiece from around 1590.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, a large study in oil on four joined sheets of paper, depicts the martyrdom of one of Genoa’s patron saints. The composition refers to a touchstone for the entire school: Giulio Romano’s altarpiece from c. 1521 in the church of Santo Stefano. The study is closely related to Lomi’s altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria della Pace (now in Genoa’s Musei Civici). Besides composition and subject, the two works share certain distinctive details, such as the luminous celestial sphere. However, the study is more expansive and densely populated than the altarpiece, suggesting it may have been an autonomous work.

Created while Lomi was living in Genoa (1597–c. 1604), this work is an exquisite example of the artist’s meticulously constructed compositions and figures, as well as his ability to create works suffused with light. It epitomizes the transition from the stylization of late mannerism to the more naturalistic light, movement, and texture of baroque style.

Jean Dughet, after Nicolas Poussin, Baptism

Jean Dughet, Nicolas Poussin, Baptism, c. 1650c. 1650

Jean Dughet, Nicolas Poussin, Baptism, c. 1650, etching with engraving on two sheets of laid paper, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2020.102.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Jean Dughet’s (1619–1679) The Seven Sacraments (c. 1650), a rare complete set of etchings after Nicolas Poussin’s (1594–1665) paintings of the seven sacraments. There are only three other known complete sets of these prints in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Museum, and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Poussin painted a first set of the Seven Sacraments in 1638–1642 and a second set in 1644–1648. He made the first set for Cassiano dal Pozzo, secretary to Cardinal Francesco Barberini and one of Poussin’s most important patrons. Cassiano took an active interest in the early history of Christianity and most likely suggested the almost unprecedented subject to Poussin. Dughet, Poussin’s secretary and brother-in-law, made these large-scale etchings after the first set of paintings, which were hung in Cassiano’s home. Baptism is the first plate in the series and features an elaborate dedication to Cassiano at upper left; the other prints are sequenced according to numbers etched at lower center. Dughet recorded the exact compositions in all of Poussin’s paintings except for Ordination, in which he incorporated the landscape background from Poussin’s second painting of this sacrament.

These are the first works by Dughet to enter the collection. They expand the Gallery’s holdings of 17th-century French art, which include Poussin’s painting The Baptism of Christ (1641/1642), from Cassiano’s first set of the Seven Sacraments.

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves)

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves), 18641864

Charles Aubry, Untitled (A Study of Leaves), 1864, albumen print, Purchased as the Gift of Diana and Mallory Walker, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, and W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, 2020.97.1

Charles Aubry (1811–1877) is highly regarded for his impeccable photographic still lifes. Untitled (A Study of Leaves) (1864) is the first work by the artist to be acquired by the National Gallery of Art. It complements the various still life paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs already in the collection, from the celebrated Dutch paintings of the 17th century to the works of modern artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edward Weston, and Irving Penn.

Working in a variety of sizes, Aubry made about 200 photographs of flowers and fruit. His larger prints, such as Untitled (A Study of Leaves), have a dazzling luminosity. Using a technique of his own invention, Aubry dipped leaves and flowers into plaster and placed them in elaborate arrangements, piling different varieties on top of one another. The plaster coating enhanced the texture and three-dimensionality of the foliage and allowed him to capture detail in green objects such as leaves (his collodion negatives were overly sensitive to the color green). Aubry often arranged his still lifes on a table, lit them from above, and photographed them from a downward angle to fully illuminate each element and to minimize shadows. He also was known to hang objects on a fabric-covered wall and light them straight on for the same reasons.

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