art

A Tale of Two Cleopatras: Comparing and Contrasting Art

Happy Thursday, friends! After a recent trip to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I found myself with a few art photos that I wanted to share with you all, but I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of sharing the photos and simply telling you what I think about it, I decided that it would be more fun to compare the art with a similarly themed piece that I’ve also viewed in person. That way, I can describe the similarities, differences, and which piece I favor most.

(from left to right) Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra; William Wetmore Story, Cleopatra

As you can see from the title, I’m comparing two marble Cleopatras today. The first work was part of my review of Edmonia Lewis’s work at the Archives of American Art (housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum). Lewis’s The Death of Cleopatra was easily one of my favorite marble works of art at the museum.

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Photos of Lewis’s version of Cleopatra

The second Cleopatra is by William Wetmore Story, and is located at VMFA. This Cleopatra – his earliest version of the tragic Egyptian queen – is located in the American galleries at the museum. The massive work sits imposingly in the gallery and, in true queenly fashion, all other art in the room are dwarfed by the stunning Cleopatra.

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To keep this focused strictly on the works themselves, I avoided reading up on Wetmore Story. So there won’t be a comparison of the artists’ lives or legacies, but we will get into these pieces and discuss what they have in common and how they differ.

For starters, the subject is the same with both pieces. Both depict Queen Cleopatra, and (interestingly) both of the pieces portray her as having traditionally Greco-Roman facial features (kudos to the artists for remaining historically accurate when it came to her face). Both statues are massive: Lewis’s is a bit taller, but the posture is different, so they are actually very close in size. Amusingly, both also depict Cleopatra with one breast exposed. Perhaps they knew something about traditional Egyptian dress that I don’t?

While both of these Cleopatras are regal and elegant, the theme of the works couldn’t be more different. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is pensive and in deep contemplation: she is troubled by something and has probably just asked her servants to give her some privacy. Is she thinking about lost loves, or the impending downfall of her rule? Her mind may be racing over any number of things.

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Lewis’s Cleopatra has just committed suicide and is dying on her throne as her last royal act. She has just closed her eyes and her left arm has fallen limply to her side. Even in death, her face is struggling to relax comfortably: this queen is pained to the grave.

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As far as fine detailing on the pieces, I’m a fan of Wetmore Story’s version. To be fair, Lewis’s work had been exposed to considerable environmental elements and poor handling, so the sculpture isn’t as impeccably detailed as it (likely) once was.

My favorite Cleopatra is probably Lewis’s version, for this reason: she captured death and pain without making it grotesque or unnaturally pretty. This Cleopatra is finding it difficult to “rest in peace” but, ever the royal, she makes us feel pride, and not pity, for her. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is enchanting, for sure: I loved how well he captured her troubled mental state behind her stoic, regal expression. His Cleopatra is alive with emotion; however, Lewis’s Cleopatra moves us even in death.

That’s my not-so-quick comparison of two Cleopatras. I hope you all enjoyed and will make it a goal to see both of these beautiful works at some point in time. Enjoy your day, and I’ll chat with you all tomorrow!

 

art · culture

Howardena Pindell’s “What Remains to Be Seen” at VMFA

A few months ago, I went to a special event at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, announcing an upcoming exhibition. That exhibition was a retrospective of the creative career of Howardena Pindell, multimedia artist, activist and professor. “What Remains to be Seen” is an impressive ouevre that showcases Pindell’s evolution as an artist, and is broken down into the different phases of her life and creative journey.

Today (November 25) is the last day to see the works, so I’m heading to the museum shortly so I can enjoy them one last time before they leave. However, I’ve got a few pictures for you all in this post, some additional commentary (of course LOL!) as well as a YouTube video of Pindell’s most famous short, “Free, White and 21”. Enjoy!

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Howardena Pindell

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Pindell’s use of grids and numbers created some of her most riveting work. I love seeing how she turns numbers and otherwise sterile, math-related tools and objects, into art.

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The 3-d grid below is a good example of the blend of art and math. It’s probably one of my favorite works by her.

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The tiny individual circles affixed to many of Pindell’s pieces reveal her love of mathematic perfection reinterpreted. These pieces, attached to the grids she loved to work with, were occasionally numbered individually.

Like many artists, Pindell sought to promote cultural shifts through activism. Her works also featured socio-political themes that were near and dear to her.

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One of my favorite themes explored by Pindell was that of science. Closely related to her mathematics fascination, her interpretation of natural phenomenon and wonders created some of her most aesthetically charming works (though, to be honest, I love all of her work and find it all aesthetically pleasing). I especially loved “Nautilus” and “Night Flight” (pictures are below).

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Finally, here is “Free, White and 21”, Pindell’s video experiment where she aims to repair her memory loss (caused by a serious car accident) by recalling memories from earlier in her life.

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 . . .

culture

Women’s History Month in Washington, DC

As many of you know, I work (and play) in Washington, DC. Since I’m in the District several times a week, I try to explore and take in the city as much as possible during my breaks and (occasionally) after work. Out of curiosity, I looked up what is happening in DC during Women’s History Month (WHM), happening right now, until the end of March. I’m happy to say that DC didn’t disappoint, with several museums and other institutions hosting WHM events for the public.

You can find a list of events on the Women’s History Month website (click here for more information). I’m really eager to go to the Library of Congress, to view the exhibition, Drawn to Purpose, which puts the spotlight on women illustrators and cartoonists. Even if you can’t make it in person, you can view the exhibit online. I’m also excited to see Michelle Obama’s portrait over at the National Portrait Gallery.

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Anita Kunz’s Tugged is one of the photos featured on the main page of the Drawn to Purpose exhibition at the Library of Congress

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The portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by Amy Sherald, is a popular new addition at the National Portrait Gallery

Now, on this blog, WHM is EVERY month. But I love that DC has so many events that reflect the month’s theme. I’m looking forward to sharing all of the photos with you as I tour around and have a good time in DC!

life curation

Do You Know Your Black Art History?

In honor of Black History Month, I want to share some of my favorite Black women artists. These gifted creators established themselves during a time when most Black women were relegated to the roles of maid, cook, or caretaker. I love that these women dared to share their gifts and provide a diverse representation of Black womanhood.

Because I’m a geek for 3-dimensional art, I’m focusing on Black women that created sculptures. At one point, I was interested in sculpting as a profession: I even competed in art contests (and won a prize to boot!) So today, I’ll provide a list of notable Black sculptresses and then I’ll include some photos of their most famous works. There are literally too many of them to write mini-bios for each, but please take the time to check out a few of them. Their stories and their works are fascinating.

Tina Allen

Camille Billops

Erlena Chisolm Bland

Selma Burke

Fern Cunningham

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Ruth Inge Hardison

May Howard Jackson

Harriet Forte Kennedy

Edmonia Lewis

Winnie Owens-Hart

Alice Patrick

Nancy Elizabeth Prophet

Augusta Savage

Beulah Woodard

Here are some of my favorite works by a couple of the artists above (I’m skipping Edmonia Lewis because I featured her in my Current Favorite App post, that I’m sure you all read and enjoyed):

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George Washington Carver, by Tina Allen (In the Missouri Botanical Garden)

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Bust of an Ethiopian Woman by Tina Allen

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Sojourner Truth by Ruth Inge Harrison

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Maudelle by Beulah Woodard (1937-1938)

The Talking Skull, 1939, Bronze

The Talking Skull by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1939)

 

If I left out any Black women sculptors that you think should be added to the list, let me know in the comments below! I’d love for this to be a comprehensive list with lots of good links to information on how Black women have contributed to the world of sculpture.