Writer and art historian Avis Berman is the curator of The Barnes Foundation‘s latest exhibit, “William Glackens.” William Glackens was a Philadelphia-born painter and friend of art collector Albert C. Barnes. We asked Berman about Glackens as an artist, the exhibit, and its signature piece, Family Group (above).
How and when was Family Group made? William Glackens always painted his environment, especially the immediate world around him, and one of the reasons for Family Group is that its contours changed. He and his wife and son moved from a small apartment on Washington Square into a larger apartment on Lower Fifth Avenue in autumn of 1908. The parlour or living room was subsequently decorated with richly patterned rugs and furniture, and Glackens wanted to capture that riot of color and texture, illuminated by streaming sunlight, after the room took shape. It was clearly a challenge to incorporate four figures into that complex background, and he worked on it in 1910 and 1911. It is the largest canvas he ever painted, and one critic was amazed by its “power of organization” and “sustained effort.”
Who are the people featured in Family Group? The people in Family Group are Edith Dimock Glackens, the artist’s wife, who is standing with her arm on the chair; her sister, Irene Dimock, who is seated below her, Edith and William Glackens’s four-year-old son Ira, and, at the far right, an old friend of Edith’s named Grace Dwight Morgan.
How did the painting compare with its contemporaries? Family Group was certainly more advanced than the work Glackens’s original Philadelphia gang, headed by Robert Henri and John Sloan, were doing, although it was not as avant-garde as abstract and semi-abstract as some of the younger American artists in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz. But here Glackens charts his own path between. He’s moved beyond Impressionism and into territory pioneered by Henri Matisse—every surface is radiant, as Glackens begins to blur boundaries between background and foreground. And as with Matisse, light transforms and idealizes material things. Only a handful of American artists at that time were familiar enough with Matisse to experiment with his innovations, and it’s no surprise that one shocked reviewer called the canvas “a scream of color.”
What does the painting symbolize to you? Since the painting is titled Family Group, you might wonder why Grace Morgan, who is not a family member, is in it. Originally she was not included in the picture, but when Glackens saw her in the colorful red-and-white dress she had just bought at Paul Poiret in Paris—making the other women’s garb look comparatively frumpy—he changed the entire composition and palette to put her in. Morgan’s addition to the canvas symbolizes the necessity for progressive American artists to recognize and embrace contemporary currents in French art. Glackens had already assimilated the discoveries of the Impressionists, Cézanne, and the Fauves, and in 1913 he would publish an article proclaiming the importance and value of French art. In a sense, Family Group predicted these sentiments and made them sartorially concrete.
How does Family Group represent the exhibit as a whole? I wanted to talk about Family Group for several reasons. First, it is an expression of Glackens’s aesthetic credo, as I’ve talked about in the previous question. Second, it is critical to the history of the Barnes Foundation. Family Group, along with other paintings similar in color and ambition, would have been in Glackens’s studio when Albert C. Barnes, who had gone to Central High School with Glackens, looked him up in late 1911 and renewed their friendship. From the canvases he saw, Barnes would have been secure that Glackens understood modern painting. He knew that the artist could be trusted to be his eyes in Paris when he sent him to France in February 1912 with $20,000.00 to buy modern French art for him. Glackens came back with 33 paintings and works on paper by, among others, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cézanne, and his purchases represent the genesis of the Barnes Foundation’s collection.
Family Group also represents the exhibition because it was in the epochal International Exhibition of Modern Art of 1913, known as the Armory Show. Glackens was an important advocate for the introduction of modern art in this country. He was in the thick of such landmark exhibitions as the Armory Show, as well as The Eight in 1908, the Independents Show in 1910, and this painting is connected to his role as a significant cultural figure in the struggle for the acceptance of avant-garde painting in America.
10 Things To Do In Philly This Weekend: Tig Notaro Live, First Friday, A New Barnes Exhibit, First Person Arts Festival and More
From now through September 19th, art aficionados can head to the museum from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays for special evening hours, where you can peruse the collections at your leisure while indulging in cocktails and witty conversation inside the expansive indoor spaces, or outdoors along the terrace.
Newsworks reports that President Obama will award the National Medal of Arts to Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, architects of the new Barnes Foundation (as well as Penn’s Skirkanich Hall and two dorms at Haverford College), and to James Turrell, the extraordinary light artist who recently created one of his signature “skyspaces” in Chestnut Hill, along with nine other recipients.
Last week the Barnes Foundation hosted an intimate dinner party for their trustees and supporters of their new exhibit “The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne” which opens at the Barnes on Sunday, June 22nd, and runs through September 22nd. The show features 21 borrowed works from museums and private collections from around the world.
The exhibit was curated by Judith F. Dolkart — the Barnes curator who has since departed from the museum to become director of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusettes — and Benedict Leca, director of curatorial affairs at the Hamilton art gallery.
I’ll be the first to admit that the probably-expired yogurt in my fridge has more culture than I do. I barely made it out of Art History 101 alive, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “symphony” is the candy bar, and most of my exposure to opera has come in the form of commercials for canned ravioli. That’s not to say that I don’t consume massive amounts of culture on the daily — it’s just not the classy, smart-people-at-an-erudite-cocktail-party kind. It’s more the kind with Jason Statham.
I felt a little out of my league during a recent visit to the Barnes Foundation, which is approaching its second anniversary in its controversial new space on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Not having visited the original Merion location prior to its relocation, I was wowed by the intricacies of the idiosyncratic layout of each room, to say nothing of the tremendous work itself.
Of course, since I know very little about any of the incredibly important artists represented in the collection, I felt my brain turning the reins over to the neurons responsible for rotting it. I began noting every portrait that bore even the slightest resemblance to a dumb celebrity or personality, writing the names of the pieces down in my notebook with a pen, until security flexed on me and insisted I use a tiny golf pencil instead. The results are laid out for you after the jump.
I was having fun, but I felt like a total moron — but then I overheard a tourist telling his wife that the dark, disturbing work of morose expressionist Chaim Soutine reminded him of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. We immediately became best friends, forever, in my head.
I’m sorry Dr. Barnes.
Before another stupid storm comes and makes us all squirrel away at home for far too long, get out and see some art.
Tonight the Center for Art in Wood opens “Roy Superior: Patent Models for a Good Life,” which is being billed as “a remembrance of his furniture, sculpture and drawings.” Superior, who passed away last August at age 78, was clearly influenced by the machine drawings of Da Vinci, but they clearly have their own contemporary aesthetics and practical uses. Superior was a guy who dug comfort, food, and the joys of human life. Or at least that’s what we can glean from his contraptions. This collection of Superior’s work should be able to give us insight into a man whose art was a reflection of the things he loved. Feb. 7–April 19, 5 p.m.-8 p.m., free, The Center for Art in Wood, 141 N. Third St., 215-923-8000, centerforartinwood.org.
On Friday night, January 31st, young professionals gathered for Global Glam! to celebrate the Barnes Foundation’s newly commissioned works by contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare MBE. The evening started with an intimate cocktail party with the members of the Contemporaries in one of the private rooms. The Contemporaries are a dynamic group of young patrons and art enthusiasts that promote The Barnes Foundation’s educational mission through a wide variety of programs and social events (membership starts at $500). Then the party really got started in the main hall with DJ Royale spinning tunes from the ’80s and ’90s that packed the dance floor. The guests enjoyed the colorful Shonibare exhibit, some items which will be available for sale in the future, as well as global fashion ensembles on loan from Moore College of Art and Design.