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2016 Acquisition Highlights

Simon Vouet, Madonna and Child

Simon Vouet, Madonna and Child, 16331633

Simon Vouet, Madonna and Child, 1633, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 2016.20.1

Simon Vouet studied in Rome during the first decades of the seventeenth-century, succumbing to the pervasive, pan-European influence of Caravaggio's realist revolution in contemporary painting. In 1627, King Louis XIII called Vouet home to Paris to be his court painter, and Vouet refined Caravaggio's innovations into a style that would become the French school of painting so exquisitely represented by the Gallery's newly acquired Madonna and Child.

The cult of the Virgin was in full swing during this period, inspiring the king to dedicate the empire to her in 1638. Encouraged by the Counter-Reformation, Catholic societies advanced the idea of Mary as the privileged intermediary to Christ. Images of her proliferated, not least in the oeuvre of Vouet, who painted more than a dozen compositions of the Virgin and her son at half-length, many of which were reproduced as prints. A recent discovery, the Gallery's Madonna and Child seems not to have been engraved, and, also unlike the others, is signed and dated, quite rare in the work of the artist. 

While the dark background and monumental composition remain from his Roman manner, Vouet's mastery of exquisitely subtle light, and his use of clearer, brighter colors — the strong blue and red against the delicate tones of white and yellow — mark his new French style. Supported by a classical stylobate, the Virgin holds her son on her lap, gazing at him adoringly with heavy eyelids. Her thick hair is pulled back loosely with a fabric band, exposing the ivory tones of her neck and shoulder. The Christ child reaches up to kiss his mother, his body twisting as he pulls her face toward him. This brilliantly executed moment expresses extreme tenderness and intimacy, as well as a prescient gravitas.

Madonna and Child bridges the Roman-period painting by Vouet in the Gallery's collection, Saint Jerome and the Angel (c. 1625), with a later decorative panel, Muses Urania and Calliope (c. 1640), completed with the help of his studio, the largest in Paris. The painting also establishes contextual origins for the Gallery's works by Vouet's successor in the royal court, Nicolas Poussin. Likely commissioned as an altarpiece for the private chapel of a wealthy Parisian, the painting provides a commanding anchor for the seventeenth-century French galleries.

Caspar Netscher, A Woman Feeding a Parrot

Caspar Netscher, A Woman Feeding a Parrot, with a Page, 16661666

Caspar Netscher, A Woman Feeding a Parrot, with a Page, 1666, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2016.118.1

Caspar Netscher trained in Deventer with Gerard ter Borch, from about 1654 to 1659. Like his teacher, Netscher became an outstanding portraitist as well as a master of portraying the social interactions of the Dutch elite. He also developed an exquisite painting technique that allowed him to imitate a wide range of textures, whether linen, satin, or the rough nap of an oriental rug. Around 1662, after a short trip to France where he married, Netscher settled in the courtly city of The Hague. There he found a clientele eager for his refined scenes of ladies at the toilet, musical companies, and gallant soldiers. He soon turned his attention to portraiture, much like other contemporary “high life” genre painters, including Frans van Mieris.

Signed and dated “CNetscher . Ao . 16.66,” A Woman Feeding a Parrot, with a Page is one of Netscher’s finest genre paintings. It depicts an elegant young woman, wearing a gold-colored dress with split sleeves, gazing coquettishly out at the viewer as she feeds an African grey parrot perched on her right hand. Peering up at her from the dim recesses of the interior is an attentive pageboy holding a silver tray. The woman and her attendant stand behind an illusionistic stone niche with a bronze-colored silk curtain pinned to the side. A sumptuous oriental carpet spilling out over the bottom ledge adds to the illusionism as it partially obscures roman numerals that are seemingly carved into the stone. The remarkable range of Netscher’s painting techniques is evident in the juxtaposition of the precisely articulated steel bird cage and the woman’s shimmering dress, which Netscher modelled with softer and more fluid strokes.

A Woman Feeding a Parrot, with a Page is in excellent condition. Netscher’s brushwork is exquisite, his textures dazzling, and his colors disarmingly radiant. This masterpiece, which the Nazis confiscated from a Belgian family in 1942, has been in the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal since 1952. It was recently restituted to the family’s heirs, and sold at auction in 2014, where it was purchased by the art dealer Richard Green. This acquisition will complement the Gallery’s other outstanding high-life genre scenes by Gerard ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Jacob Ochtervelt, and Johannes Vermeer. Fortunately, Lee and Juliet Folger/The Folger Fund have offered to purchase the painting, another extraordinary demonstration of their generosity and commitment to the National Gallery of Art. 

Frans van Mieris, A Soldier Smoking a Pipe

Frans van Mieris, A Soldier Smoking a Pipe, c. 1657/1658c. 1657/1658

Frans van Mieris, A Soldier Smoking a Pipe, c. 1657/1658, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2016.10.1

Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) was one of the most celebrated Leiden fijnschilders ("fine painters"), whose elegant works are marked by smooth execution, invisible brushwork, and extraordinary attention to detail. His small paintings of convivial genres, portraits, and allegories delighted both local and international collectors with their lively, often ambiguous narratives. Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), with whom Van Mieris studied, described him as "the prince of all my pupils."

Soldier Smoking a Pipe, which dates from about 1657/1658, encompasses all the qualities that earned Van Mieris his fame. The intimate scale of this extraordinarily well-preserved painting, its high degree of refinement (particularly in the soldier's aubergine costume and the gold fringe of the nearby cloak), and its engaging subject are all characteristics of his finest works. The soldier is most likely a member of the local militia company, judging by the trumpet, banner, and armor on the floor. By the late 1650s, militia companies had a largely ceremonial role and were often called on by their cities to parade during times of celebration. The soldier's knowing gaze, paired with the deck of cards, half a glass of beer, and empty chair, suggest the aftermath of such an event, and invite the viewer to imagine a humorous, if unexplained, storyline.

This painting has the distinction of having been owned by Augustus the Strong (1670–1733), elector of Saxony and king of Poland. During the 18th century, paintings from his collection were given gilt frames with little doors by order of his son and successor, Augustus III (1696–1763). These frames could be opened with a graceful key, which enabled Augustus and his privileged guests to the study the paintings closely. Soldier Smoking a Pipe remains in this frame as a special reminder of its distinguished provenance.

Chuck Close, Keith

Chuck Close, Crown Point Press, Parasol Press, Keith, 19721972

Chuck Close, Crown Point Press, Parasol Press, Keith, 1972, mezzotint in black on Rives BFK wove paper, Purchased as a Gift of the Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation, Stephen Dull, Frank H. and Eva B. Buck Foundation, Nelson Blitz, Jr. and Catherine Woodard, Avalon Fund, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund and Jordan D. Schnitzer, 2016.90.1

When Chuck Close took up portrait painting in the late 1960s, he says that “painting was dead, figurative painting was deader than a doornail, and portraiture was the most moribund of all activities.” Undeterred, he set out to make massive-scale portraits – or “heads,” as her prefers – such as Nat (1971) and Fanny/Fingerpainting (1985) in the Gallery’s collection.

The Gallery’s recently acquired Keith is a stunning eleven-foot-square, black-and-white portrait done in mezzotint, a printmaking process that experienced its heyday in the eighteenth century. Its obscurity appealed to Close. In mezzotint, the surface of a copperplate is roughened so that it will print as a velvety dark. Highlights are rendered by burnishing areas so they retain less ink and print lighter. The simplest way to think about the process is to envision covering a sheet of paper with black chalk and then “drawing” back into the chalk with an eraser, working from dark to light.

Close based Keith on a 1970 photograph of his friend, the artist Keith Hollingworth. (That photograph, now in the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, is promised to the Gallery.) Close had earlier drawn a grid on the photo, the first step in an age-old method called squaring, which facilitates the transfer of an image from one surface to another. He later incised another grid of equivalent ratio on the copperplate used to make Keith. By essentially dividing the primary image into small, digestible squares, he was able to approach the image piecemeal, painstakingly burnishing it onto the plate one square at a time.

Ranked as milestone both in Close’s career and in the history of printmaking, Keith was Close’s first mezzotint – indeed, it was his first print as a professional artist. He anxiously monitored his progress, producing as many as fifty test impressions, or working proofs, during the course of the project. As a result, the center of the copperplate began to degrade, and the squared grid – meant to be invisible – came into sight, especially in the vicinity of the mouth. Close considered various means of correcting the problem but decided to retain the grid as evidence of his process, a seminal choice for his subsequent work in all media. “After finishing Keith,” Close says, “I started doing [works] in which the incremental unit was visible and ultimately celebrated in a million different ways. That all came from making this print.”

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 19931993

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993, complete set of fourteen busts: seven in chocolate and seven in soap on fourteen pedestals, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2016.49.1

Lick and Lather comprises fourteen self-portrait busts that Janine Antoni cast in two materials, with seven in chocolate, and seven in soap. Each cast was identical until the artist undertook the task of licking the chocolate busts and bathing with the soap busts, hence the playful title, Lick and Lather. Antoni’s labor in making the work resulted in two sets of fourteen: seven autonomous soap-chocolate pairs and the Gallery’s fourteen busts. The number seven is significant for it represents the average number of heads measuring a full female figure, a metric used in drawing classes. In this sculpture, the artist’s self-effacing erasure differentiates her self-portrait from her self, thus Lick and Lather reflects on the inherent nature of cast sculpture as a reproductive medium. It also riffs on the idealizing representations in classical sculpture, which over time have become worn. Materially, the chocolate has a textured patination, akin to bronze, while the soap busts are smooth, resembling a cross between marble and wax. As the only extant full grouping, the Gallery’s set of Lick and Lather is the fullest iteration of Antoni’s concept.

Janine Antoni was born in the Bahamas in 1964, attended boarding school in Florida, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, and received her M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design. She has lived and worked in Brooklyn for more than thirty years, accumulating awards and honors, including a “genius” grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1998. She is also on the visual arts faculty at Columbia University.

Antoni’s performative work regularly transforms the processes of daily rituals (eating, washing, sleeping, and walking) into art. To create her work, Antoni has consistently employed her body as a tool, upending more traditional modes of art making. She insists that the process becomes the end and the material the means for her work. By pushing herself to the limits of exhaustion in interacting with all the busts, Antoni references the test of ones’ body to process socially coded consumption: desire, symbolized by chocolate on the one hand, and beauty, symbolized by soap, on the other. Antoni has said, “All of my objects sort of walk the line between sculpture, performance, and relic. Any time I use performance, it’s not so much my interest in performance but my interest in bringing you back to the making.”

In 1993, the year Antoni made Lick and Lather, the artist received considerable attention. That year, she also made Loving Care, by loading her hair with dye, the titular product, Loving Care “Natural Black” used by her mother, and proceeding to paint or mop the floor of the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. Eventually, she covered the entire surface, and backed the viewer out of the space. Trained in dance, Antoni’s performance was deliberate and rhythmic, pushing herself once again to physical limits.

The Gallery’s set of Lick and Lather was first presented at the 1993 Venice Biennale, where it was displayed in a church, followed by a show in New York at the Sandra Gering Gallery. It has been included in important exhibitions ever since. Lick and Lather is Antoni’s most revered work, one that marks a specific moment in art history, focusing on the philosophical matters of identity that continue into the present. Altogether, it compels the viewer to consider Antoni’s process while also engaging with a long arc of art making.

Herman Saftleven, Imaginary Landscape

Herman Saftleven, Imaginary River Landscape, 16701670

Herman Saftleven, Imaginary River Landscape, 1670, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2016.147.1

Imaginary River Landscape, monogrammed and dated 1670, is one of Herman Saftleven’s most charming and delicately rendered depictions of this meandering river valley. Here he has harkened back to the worldview landscapes of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, positioning the viewer in an elevated position so that the expansive vista extends to the distant horizon. Saftleven’s earthy colors and precisely executed foreground elements gently morph into a more suggestive rendering of faraway pictorial motifs such as walled towns, church towers, and villages along the river, all of which are bathed in atmospheric misty blues. Figures enliven the scene, including travelers on mountain trails and a shepherd guarding his flock. At the landing, a boatman tends to his cargo ship, while others have just set out on the winding waterway. All of these details and color effects can be fully enjoyed because of the painting’s excellent condition.

A native of Rotterdam, Herman Saftleven the Younger likely trained with his father before settling in Utrecht in 1632. Saftleven initially painted genre scenes of peasant life, but he soon turned to landscapes, producing close to 120 known ones over the course of his long career. After the end of the hostilities of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, he journeyed along the Rhine River, a trip into the German countryside that inspired many of his finest works: fanciful panoramas of the Rhineland’s hilly landscape.