Sunday, October 10, 2010

Museum days

kw: photographs, museums, fine art

A relative is visiting for a couple of days, and he is even more of a museum fanatic than I am. He has already seen everything in Philadelphia and nearby, so we dropped by the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, which has a couple of unique collections. Firstly, starting well before 1910, the museum began collecting works by illustrator Howard Pyle.

Not only do they have The Mermaid, unfinished at his death in 1911, they have this portrait of his studio, made by one of his students shortly after his death, showing The Mermaid as it was when he died. Rather than reproduce a bunch of the paintings here, I'll leave it to readers to search his name in Google Images. Be sure also to check out this Wikipedia article on him.

Howard Pyle inspired two generations of painters and illustrators, including N. C. Wyeth of nearby Chadd's Ford, PA. Among the Pyle works I could also see hints of a style that was developed further by Norman Rockwell. The emotional "bang" of a painting by Pyle, Wyeth or Rockwell simply overwhelms me. It is much more satisfying than the more cerebral art called "Modern". Look here for more by Rockwell, here for more by and about Wyeth, and here for more by and about Pyle.

The British Pre-Raphaelite Brethren (PRB) painted (and produced other works) in styles primarily reminiscent of late Medieval art, rejecting the conventions of their time and anything that was not "pre-Raphael". This is Mother of Moses by Simeon Solomon. The girl is Moses' sister Miriam. It is an earlier example of PRB work, done when they were focusing on classical and biblical themes. The later "stunners", paintings of the beautiful women they gathered as their mistresses, are characteristic of the waning days of the movement.

Ten of the best Pre-Raphaelite works are showcased here. The website discusses the development of the movement, and tells a bit about Samuel Bancroft, the Wilmington industrialist who collected the paintings that form the bulk of the museum's PRB collection. It is the finest collection of these works to be found outside Britain.

Also among the later works by the PRB is this stained glass piece, produced by Tiffany Studios for Dante Gabriel Rosetti, one of the founders of the movement. The museum houses another piece of Tiffany work on a similar scale, by one of Howard Pyle's students.

While a Tiffany window is a spectacular artwork when seen as a whole, what I find most interesting is in the details. Tiffany glass firstly has almost a fractal quality, produced by many sections being "confetti glass", in which chips and shards of multicolored glass were dropped into a molten glass pane and allowed to halfway melt into it before it was cooled, annealed and cut for piecing. Secondly, the layering is quite unique, bulking up some sections to a few cm thick (an inch or more).

This closeup shows both techniques. Lead piping from an underlying layer is visible to the right of center, and the primarily green confetti chips are visible throughout.

That touches on only half of what the museum has to offer. They also have a stellar collection of John Sloan and members of his "Ashcan School" art movement, the Copeland Sculpture Garden on the museum grounds, and two visiting collections.

More museums tomorrow!

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