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2013 Acquisition Highlights

Rineke Dijkstra, I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman)

Rineke Dijkstra, I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), 20092009

Rineke Dijkstra, I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), 2009, three-channel HD video with sound, 12 minutes, Purchased with funds donated by Joseph M. Cohen Family Collection and Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2013.138.1

The Gallery’s first work by the Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959), a three-channel HD video installation with sound, is on view through September 2, 2013 in the West Building Project Room (on the Ground Floor adjacent to the West Building Lecture Hall). Its purchase was made possible by Joseph M. Cohen and the Collectors Committee.

For two decades, Dijkstra has been celebrated for her penetrating portraits that strive to reveal, as she has said, “the specialness of the ordinary.” While she is acclaimed for her large-scale photographs that express emotional depth and complexity, she has also made videos since the mid-1990s. The most accomplished of these is I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman) (2009).

The work consists of three adjacent screens across which viewers see nine British boys and girls, all about 11 years old, wearing Catholic school uniforms and standing before a white background. They have been asked to speak about a painting that is never shown or identified in the video: Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937, Tate Modern). They begin by slowly describing the painting, yet their remarks quickly escalate as their imaginations are sparked: “Maybe her stepmum was like…evil; maybe nobody liked her”; “Maybe that’s a million-pound bill and she can’t pay it.”

With the naïveté of youth and the safety of a group of friends, the children are unconcerned with providing the “right” answers and instead simply express their ideas. Thus, the video achieves the same level of startling authenticity that Dijkstra captures in her still photographs.

Hans Haacke, Condensation Wall

Hans Haacke, Condensation Wall, conceived 1963/1966, fabricated 2016conceived 1963/1966, fabricated 2016

Hans Haacke, Condensation Wall, conceived 1963/1966, fabricated 2016, Plexiglas and distilled water, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2013.44.1

The Collectors Committee of the National Gallery of Art recently made possible the acquisition of Condensation Wall (1963–1966/2013) by Hans Haacke (b. 1936), a breakthrough kinetic work from the artist's early career. Now on view in the East Building Concourse, this sculpture introduces an important example of kinetic art into the collection, joining works by Alexander CalderHarry Bertoia, and George Rickey. It also has strong resonances with the Gallery's holdings of minimal art, in particular Larry Bell's Chrome and Glass Construction (1965), Anne Truitt's Knight's Heritage (1963), and Tony Smith's Die (model 1962, fabricated 1968).

Reflecting Haacke's involvement with the West German-based group Zero, Condensation Wall is one of Haacke’s breakthrough works—part of a set of sculptures, including Condensation Cube and Condensation Floor, that combine geometric shapes and organic materials to reveal physico-dynamical processes. Contemporaneous with minimal sculpture, Haacke's work transforms the boxlike forms and industrial fabrication of artists like Donald Judd and Larry Bell into a micro-environment contingent with its surroundings: depending on the ambient temperature, the water inside collects and "rains." The transparent box allows the viewer to perceive this natural process, the gallery in which the works are displayed, and the surrounding works all at once.

Born in Cologne, Haacke is one of the leading figures of conceptual art and post-minimalism, and one of the most important political artists working today. After studying in Kassel and Philadelphia, he moved to New York in 1965. There he befriended the emerging circle of minimalist artists including Eva Hesse and Carl Andre, and participated in the seminal conceptual exhibitions When Attitudes Become Form (Kunsthalle Bern, 1969), and Information (Museum of Modern Art, 1970).

Jean-Léon Gérôme, View of Medinet El-Fayoum

Jean-Léon Gérôme, View of Medinet El-Fayoum, c. 1868/1870c. 1868/1870

Jean-Léon Gérôme, View of Medinet El-Fayoum, c. 1868/1870, oil on wood, Chester Dale Fund, 2013.62.1

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) was the most publicly honored and financially successful French artist of the second half of the 19th century. His Orientalist scenes were inspired by the many voyages he undertook to Egypt, North Africa, Syria, Asia Minor, and the Holy Land over the course of his career. In View of Medinet El-Fayoum, c. 1868–1870, Gérôme depicts the oldest city in Egypt, located some 80 miles southwest of Cairo. Unlike many Orientalist pictures of the day—fantasies constructed in a Parisian artist’s studio—this painting is informed by empirical records, while maintaining a sense of the awe and mystery Egypt inspired in French visitors.

While the Gallery owns a drawing and two prints by Gérôme, View of Medinet El-Fayoum is the first painting by the artist to enter the collection. Purchased with the Chester Dale Fund, it joins a small group of Orientalist pictures in the West Building’s recently renovated 19th-century French galleries, including Delacroix’s Arabs Skirmishing (1862), Renoir’s Odalisque (1870), Benjamin Constant’s Favorite of the Emir (1879), and Matisse’s Odalisque (1923).

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Concert

This horizontal painting shows a group of eight light-skinned musicians and onlookers gathered closely around a rectangular, carpet-covered table. The front edge of the table runs parallel to the bottom edge of the painting, and seems close to us. Shown from about the waist up, the men and women’s vivid lapis-blue, coral-red, buttercup-yellow, lilac-purple, and moss-green garments fall in crisp folds. Bright reflections on the fabric suggest a satin-like material. Two women wear feathers in their hair and one man’s hat is plumed. One man, wearing crimson red and black, sits with his back to us to our left on the near side of the table. He holds the neck of a bass viol, about the size of a cello, with his left hand, and points to pages of an open music book with the bow in his right hand. The other people cluster on the far side of the table. A man to the left plays a violin; a woman at the center plays a guitar-sized bandora, and a woman to our right plays a lute. The musicians, along with a man who leans over the table from between the two women, look down at the music books. A young man behind the woman at the center holds up a glass of pale liquid with his right hand as he touches his left forefinger to his smiling lips. A man and woman stand close together in the background to our right, in the top right corner of the canvas.

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Concert, 1623, oil on canvas, Patrons' Permanent Fund and Florian Carr Fund, 2013.38.1

Gerrit van Honthorst's The Concert depicts a group of festively attired singers and musicians who bend forward with glowing enthusiasm to follow the musical scores laid out on a large, tapestry-covered table. Their joyous song fills the composition and—as close as the musicians are to the front of the picture plane—seems to pour out into our space. Indeed, standing behind the group assembled at the table is a smiling young man dressed in lavender and holding a glass aloft as he silences us so that we can fully enjoy the musicians’ sonorous tones.

Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656) executed this remarkable painting in 1623, shortly after he had returned to his native Utrecht from a prolonged stay in Rome where he had become transfixed by the revolutionary style of Caravaggio. Bright colors, strong chiaroscuro effects, and sensuous figures dressed in exotic costumes were all featured in Caravaggism, and nowhere are these pictorial elements expressed with more verve and assurance than in this masterpiece. With such works, Honthorst, along with his slightly older contemporary from Utrecht, Hendrick ter Brugghen, helped spread Caravaggism in the Netherlands, where it had a major impact on subsequent Dutch artistic traditions.

This recent acquisition, which measures over four by six feet, brings to the Gallery one of the most remarkable discoveries in Dutch art in many years. This masterpiece is not only visually exciting but also historically important: it was listed in an inventory of the collection of the Prince of Orange, Frederick Hendrik, in 1632. The Concert remained in the collection of the house of Orange until Napoleon’s troops seized it from the Dutch king Willem V in 1795 and took it to France. The Concert entered a French private collection and remained there, unknown to the art-historical community, until very recently.

This painting’s discovery has necessitated a reconsideration of the place Honthorst occupied in the artistic firmament of his day. Such a large work was undoubtedly commissioned, indicating that his artistic genius was widely recognized, most importantly at the Dutch court in The Hague, upon his return to Utrecht. In the 1620s and 1630s the Princes of Orange, intent upon raising the international status of the Dutch court, tried to develop an artistic and cultural ambience comparable to that of other European courts. The Concert, which represented the most modern of the modern, demonstrated that the Dutch court was well acquainted with international trends, and the Prince of Orange proudly hung it above a mantel in his private apartment in the palace, Noordeinde.

Until recently, the influence of Caravaggio on the art of northern Europe had not been represented in the Gallery's otherwise rich collection of Dutch art. The acquisition in 2009 of Hendrick ter Brugghen's Bagpipe Player, 1624, was a first step in addressing this gap. Together with the Gallery's Italian, French, and Spanish Caravaggist paintings, the works by these two Dutch masters convey the enormous impact of Caravaggio's style throughout Europe in the 17th century.

Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers

Verdant green fields roll in undulating waves back alongside a road in this horizontal landscape painting. The fields take up the left and center of the composition and are painted with thick, curling strokes of emerald, pea, and celery green, and corn yellow to suggest grasses and plants. The pale green road runs up along the right edge of the painting, and is layered with strokes and daubs in butter yellow, spring green, and faint blue. The fields and road meet the horizon line about halfway up the canvas, where an aquamarine-blue sky swirling with white and periwinkle-blue clouds fills the top half of the painting.

Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 2013.122.1

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) is one of the most popular and universally recognized artists of all time. A remarkably prolific artist, he produced approximately 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings during a brief career spanning a mere decade. Following a succession of jobs, including a position as an art dealer, he moved in 1880 to the Borinage region of Belgium to work as a lay missionary among the miners. It was there that he decided to become an artist. Largely self-trained, in 1886 he moved to Paris, where he spent three months in the studio of the painter Fernand Cormon. He also made the acquaintance of a number of avant-garde artists including Paul Gauguin. Following two fruitful but emotionally draining years, he left Paris and moved to Arles, a town in southern France. Deeply inspired by the sun-drenched landscape and the picturesque character of the region and its inhabitants, Van Gogh developed what would become his signature style, marked by lush impasto, energetic brushwork, and vibrant color. In May 1889, the emotionally troubled artist voluntarily admitted himself as a patient at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in nearby Saint-Rémy, where he remained for a year. In May 1890, he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he stayed until he took his own life two months later.

Green Wheat Fields, Auvers was painted during these final months in Auvers. In this village just north of Paris, Van Gogh painted the Romanesque church, the town hall, and some of the picturesque thatched-roof houses. As he did in the countryside surrounding Arles and Saint-Rémy, he also painted more or less “pure” landscapes. This work is indeed singular in that there is no legible motif beyond the grassy field, road, and sky, no animals or figures, but instead lush flora whipped up by the wind.  Two-thirds of the composition consists of the field in a rich range of greens and blues, punctuated by outbursts of yellow flowers. The artist wrote of his return to northern France as a kind of homecoming, a peaceful restoration in which the vibrant, hot colors of the south were replaced by cool, gentle hues in green and blue. Van Gogh’s energetic strokes describe the movement of grassy stalks in the breeze, their patterned undulations creating a woven integral form anchored at the right by a juncture of field, road, and sky. There the turbulent vibrations are held in place, just barely. Over the scene the clouds whip around in spinning circles, opening out and closing in, Van Gogh’s brush squiggling across the surface in broad calligraphic strokes. The paint is applied in thick impasto, creating the textured surface of Van Gogh’s best-loved paintings. Through his dynamic touch and vivid, rich color, Van Gogh expresses the intense freshness of this slice of countryside.

Green Wheat Fields, Auvers is a marvelous complement to the Gallery’s Van Gogh collection. The ninth oil painting by the artist to come to the Gallery, it along with Girl in White represents Van Gogh’s wildly prolific Auvers period. It hangs in the Gallery’s West Building (M-83 gallery) with several works from Provence, including La Mousmé and Farmhouse in Provence, as well as from his stay at Saint-Rémy, where he painted Roses and his glowering Self-Portrait. This powerful landscape relates perhaps even more strongly to three of the Gallery’s pen and ink drawings by Van Gogh, all from 1888—HarvestThe Harvest—The Plain of La Crau, and Ploughman in the Fields near Arles—in the rhythmic weave of the marks made to describe his sense of nature’s unifying energy.

The painting spent its early life in Germany, represented about 1905 by the brilliant modern art dealer Paul Cassirer and moving to Britain with F. H. Herrmann in 1936–37. Herrmann sold it through the Carstairs Gallery in New York to Paul Mellon in December 1955. It has remained in Mr. and Mrs. Mellon’s home in Virginia until now, with the exception of an exhibition devoted to their collection and that of Paul’s sister, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, at the National Gallery in 1966. Mrs. Mellon donated the painting to the Gallery in 2013.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Peacock Pie

On a tabletop spread with an ivory-white cloth, plates, and white porcelain bowls containing sweets, fruit, olives, and a cooked fowl are arranged around the largest platter, which holds the head, wings, and tail of a peacock stuck into a tall, baked pie, in this horizontal still life painting. The front, left corner of the table is near the lower left corner of the painting, so the tabletop extends off the right side of the composition. The white tablecloth lies over a second cloth underneath, which is only visible along the right edge. The cloth underneath has a leafy, geometric pattern in burgundy red against a lighter, rose-red background. The peacock pie is set near the back of the table, to our right, so it fills the upper right quadrant of the composition. The bird holds a pink rose in its beak. In front of it, near the lower right corner of the painting, a white porcelain bowl painted with teal-green floral and geometric designs holds about ten pieces of pale yellow and blush-red fruit. A pewter plate next to it, to our left, holds dried fruit and baked, stick-like sweets, some covered with white sugar. A pile of salt sits atop a gold, square vessel between the sweets and the peacock pie. Another blue-patterned, white porcelain bowl filled with green olives sits near the back of the table next to a lidded, pewter pitcher with a long spout. Other pewter plates hold a baked fowl, like a small chicken, and, closest to us, a partially cut lemon with its peel curling off the plate. Nuts, more fruit, an ivory-handled knife, bread rolls, and flat biscuits sit on the white cloth among the plates. One glass with a wide stem covered in nubs and a flaring bowl sits near the back, left corner of the table, filled with a pale yellow liquid. An empty glass lies with the upper rim on another pewter plate, to our left. Also on the plate is a bunched up white napkin and a leather case for the knife. The background behind the still life is brown.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Peacock Pie, 1627, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund , 2013.141.1

In this large―more than four feet across―and magnificent banquet piece, Pieter Claesz (1596/97–1660) demonstrates why he was one of the most important still-life painters in Haarlem. A sumptuous feast is set with some of the most extravagant foods available in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. A large peacock pie is festooned with the fowl’s own feathers and gullet—a true delicacy marking only the most special occasions—plus a pink rose placed in its beak. An array of foods surrounds the garnished game, including a cooked bird, olives, lemons, breads, peaches, nuts, and candies. Many of these foods, which Claesz rendered beautifully in pewter platters and Wan-li bowls, were delicacies imported from foreign lands. A small mound of salt, which was itself a precious spice, in a gilded saltcellar adds even more flavor to the meal. Perched at the ready is a berkemeier filled with glistening white wine poured from a pewter pitcher. 

Painted in 1627, the size of this spectacular banquet feast is critical to its impact. Using life-size pictorial elements, the table top becomes extension of the viewer’s space. Claesz subtly enhances the effect with evidence of human presence―food partially eaten, a napkin crumpled―and precisely captured textures: the pebbly lemon peel cascading from the plate, the shining pewter pitcher, the tablecloth’s crisp folds. He harmonized and animated the scene with subtle shadows and delicate touches of light, as in the light passing through the glass of wine and reflecting on the cloth. This banquet scene was purchased through the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.

A related work in the collection is: Banquet Piece with Mince PieWillem Claesz Heda, 1635. Heda and Pieter Claesz were the most important still-life painters in Haarlem.

Romare Bearden, Home to Ithaca

Printed with mostly geometric shapes in vibrant, flat colors, this stylized horizontal screenprint shows buildings lining a harbor across from us, with a sailboat entering the scene from our right. The top quarter of this print has a band of pale turquoise clouds against a vibrant cobalt-blue sky. The buildings on the shore across from us are mostly nickel or slate gray with black squares and rectangles for windows and doors. A few of the buildings are white and two are hot pink. One arched, sunshine yellow form at the center of the composition could be an opening or a domed roof. One gray building, in front of the yellow, has a band and roof picked out with glittery gold. Several palm trees grow atop the spring-green hills beyond the buildings. A band of caramel brown near the water could be a sandy beach. Lumpy brown forms could be rocks in the water near the shore. The waterway is celestial blue with a few bands in grape purple, light gray, spring green, and turquoise. Billowing white sails pull the boat into the image. A person silhouetted in black holds a shield and spear at the bow. Three long black sticks with white arrows at the end, perhaps more spears or paddles, protrude from the front of the ship, and the side is decorated with several shield-sized panels. The artist signed the paper in the margin under the bottom right corner of the printed image,

Romare Bearden, Hugh MacKay’s Atelier 52, Home to Ithaca, 1979, color screenprint on wove Lana paper, Purchased as the Gift of Richard A. Simms, 2013.142.6

Romare Bearden mined a wide range of sources: the Bible, the writings of French satirist François Rabelais, his childhood memories of Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, the people and streets of Harlem, the epic poems of Homer, and more. He revisited many of these themes time and time again. Thus he made ink drawings and watercolors inspired by Homer’s Iliad in the 1940s, and a series of twenty collages based on The Odyssey in 1977.

Bearden’s collages drew strong praise when they were exhibited at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in New York’s Upper East Side in the spring of 1977, and he went on to make watercolor versions around the same time. About two years later, he translated six of the collage compositions into screenprints, which were published as the Odysseus Suite in 1979.

In Home to Ithaca, the fourth print of the suite, Bearden added a twist. Homer relates that Odysseus was asleep on the ship’s deck when his vessel sailed into Ithaca’s harbor. But Bearden portrays Odysseus poised triumphantly on the ship’s bow, a shield in one hand and a spear in the other. In creating a black Odyssey—all the figures in the suite are dark skinned—Bearden not only cast Homer’s tale in unconventional terms, he underscored the myth’s universality, such that a “child in Benin or [one] in Louisiana,” in his words, would appreciate its relevancy.