art · life curation

Edmonia Lewis’s Work at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum

Happy Friday, friends! We made it through another week – hurrah!

Earlier this week – before the Mid-Atlantic region got hit with another round of snow – I stopped by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Visits to the museum are good for my soul, and, since most schools are still in session, I don’t have to navigate around a lot of tourists. I can usually get to the museum, tour to my heart’s content, and return to my desk in under an hour. Sometimes I really love working in DC!

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Anyways, I recently went to SAAM for a very specific reason. I had researched Edmonia Lewis’s existing artwork and confirmed that one of her most famous pieces, The Death of Cleopatra, was located at SAAM. After learning that it was currently on view, I knew that I had to go and see it for myself.

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Photo of Edmonia Lewis (as shown on SAAM’s website)

I talked about Lewis when I wrote about my current favorite app. In that same post, I referenced an Art History Babes podcast episode that discussed Lewis’s life. I saw a few of her works on Google Arts & Culture but viewing art in person is so much more enjoyable. The surprise for me was that several of Lewis’s pieces were on view, so I took lots of pictures during this visit.

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Here is The Death of Cleopatra. This depicts Cleopatra seated on her throne, life slowly slipping away after being bitten by a poisonous snake. She’s dignified even in death, wearing her crown and full regal attire.

 

She’s substantial and powerful, and has chosen to die on the throne that she worked so hard to preserve. It’s a moving piece and a fine example of Lewis’s marble sculpting prowess.

 

A close up of the throne detailing and Cleopatra’s lifeless hand.

Lewis also sculpted Moses, a replica of the statue of Moses rendered by Michaelangelo (the original is at St. Peter’s in Rome). The original is much larger than Lewis’s version, but the resemblance is uncanny. Lewis skillfully imitated the works of great masters.

 

I wish I could have gotten some better photos, but it’s in a case so the reflection off the glass makes it hard to capture the detailing.

This whimsical statue is Poor Cupid, depicting the god of love caught in a trap. Cupid’s “aww shucks” expression made me chuckle.

 

 

As always, I enjoyed my trip to SAAM. There are a few other pieces by Edmonia Lewis on display: I may do a follow-up post about those works. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post! This weekend, see if you can spend a little time at your local museum. You’ll be glad that you did. Until tomorrow . . .

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