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Hoosier thoughts on a Haarlem artist: Booth Tarkington on the IMA’s Portrait of Frans Hals

Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), "Portrait of Booth Tarkington," 1941 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

[Fig. 1] Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), “Portrait of Booth Tarkington,” 1941
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

In the preface to a catalogue of an exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum (the predecessor to the IMA) in 1937, Indianapolis native Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) [Fig. 1] expresses his admiration for the Portrait of Frans Hals [Fig. 2], then thought to be by the master’s own hand:

“…a keen and living bit of analysis from as quick and sure a brush as ever flicked canvas or panel.  Admirably and pathetically lacking the remotest taint of vanity, this picture would have satisfied Robert Burns; battered Frans Hals, without self-pity, could see himself as others saw him, but more shrewdly.”

Unknown artist (Dutch), "Portrait of Frans Hals," about 1650 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

[Fig. 2] Unknown artist (Dutch), “Portrait of Frans Hals,” about 1650
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

 

 

 

 

 

The painting has since been qualified as the best surviving copy after a lost original by Hals. As the copyist retained many elements of the master’s signature style, however, Tarkington’s poetic words are still of interest to the modern viewer.

Tarkington’s characterization of Hals’s manner as “quick and sure” underscores the artist’s distinctive approach. The sketchy contours that suggest movement, the creation of tone through unblended brushstrokes [Fig. 3], and, foremost, the crisp slashes of color that sit unapologetically upon the surface – the final “master stroke” flicked onto the support that defines form – these are the elements that comprise the painter’s recognizable “rough” style. Hals puts these components into the service of a “keen and living bit of analysis,” suggesting the persuasiveness of the representation. Surprisingly, the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s brief description echoes many of the earliest commentaries upon the artist, such as those composed by Cornelis de Bie (1627-c. 1715), Govaert Bidloo (1649-1713), and Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719).

The portrait under consideration is not just any likeness, however, but the artist’s own visage. Tarkington celebrates the honesty with which Hals approached his own face, writing that the portrait lacks “the remotest taint of vanity.” Furthermore, he alludes to the difficulty of viewing oneself with such frankness by referencing Robert Burns’s 1786 poem “On a Louse”:

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!”

[Fig. 3] Detail of "Portrait of Frans Hals."

[Fig. 3] Detail of “Portrait of Frans Hals.”

Tarkington likely meant the furrowed brow, the bags under the eyes, the slightly misaligned eyelids, and the thin cheeks when he wrote about Hals’s “shrewd” perception of himself. Tarkington’s descriptors of “battered” and “without self-pity,” however, smack of early authors’ incorrect portrayals of the artist as a drunkard and hedonist. (For a laugh, read Houbraken’s life of the artist, in which the author notes that Hals’s students often helped their inebriated master home from the tavern and, once, played an ambitious prank on him.) These characterizations resulted from centuries of confusion between the painter and his cousin of the same name – thankfully, these accounts have been discredited. On the contrary, the respectable, though oft indebted, painter appears to have received a quarterly stipend from the city of Haarlem during his final years in recognition of his artistic abilities!

Though removed in time and space from the early writers on Hals, Tarkington continued their perceptions of the artist’s stylistic strengths. Employing zippy language and an evocative reference to Scottish poetry, Tarkington provided a captivating variation upon past literature that reinvigorates this portrait for viewers of the 20th century and beyond.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, History, Indiana, The Collection

 

Wine cups for your garden

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Don’t go grabbing a bottle of wine just yet! These wine cups, Callirhoe involucrata, belong to the Malvaceae, or the mallow family. It is native to many of the plains states, including Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This is a drought tolerant plant that does well especially during hot summers without much rain and in the sun. It will also tolerate some partial shade. Due to the overall tolerance of the plant, it is recommended that one does not try to transplant as it will give resistance. The resistance comes from the long taproot of the plant. The plant prefers well-drained sandy or loamy soils but will tolerate clay. It can rot if the soil is poorly drained.

Wine cups is a purple flowering perennial that is also known as the purple poppy mallow. Its low and mat-forming habit makes it a great groundcover plant that does well in Zones 4-8. Eventually, this plant will spread to about 3 feet wide and about 6 to 9 inches tall. It can easily be used for naturalized areas but can also easily fit in amongst formal areas. Palmately arranged leaves and magenta flowers help characterize the plant. Each magenta colored flower has five petals in an upward cup formation and can be found from mid-spring through fall. Each flower will close in the evening and open again in the morning. Once a flower has been pollinated, it will remain closed.

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

This plant is great sprawling over rock walls, in rock gardens, and elsewhere. Plant individual plants only several inches apart so that they will mat together. One can plant with a variety of plants depending on the purpose of the garden. Some suggested plants to plant with the Wine Cups are Veronica, Stachys (lamb’s ears), Hemerocallis (daylillies), and Aquilegia (columbine).

 

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

An obedient plant?

Can a plant actually be obedient? Why yes, there is one that can be and it just so happens to be commonly known as the obedient plant. The Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) gets its name from the flowers’ ability to stay in place according to how you move them. The flowers are on each side of the spike and can act like a hinge. In this way, one can push them to the right or left, up or down, and have them stay in that position. It might change its position on its own after some time has passed, but for the time being, it will stay in the position you place it in.

That is the extent of this plant being obedient, for it can be aggressive and spread to places where you don’t want it. That is the main issue with the plant. Otherwise, one can prune it in the spring to help reduce its height. It can also be divided every two to three years to help keep this clump-forming Obedient Plant under control. Each clump can get up to 2 to 3 feet wide. Overall, the plant is tall, reaching heights of 3 to 4 feet. These heights sometimes lead to floppiness in the plants, so staking helps to keep them upright.

These plants are more of a prairie type plant, being a great perennial plant for the wildflower garden, the prairie garden, native gardens, and meadows. One can also use their color in a perennial border. The nectar will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so it is a possible plant for a butterfly or hummingbird garden. The plant just requires a sunny to partly shady location that has moist, well-drained soils.

The leaves are sharply toothed and lance-shaped, growing up to 4 inches in length. Square, stiff stems allow flowers to be born on four different sides. This stem is typical of the Mint Family, of which this plant is a member. When the flowers bloom, they start opening at the bottom of the spike first, moving toward the top. Flowers usually bloom from June to September, providing some summer color. They are usually pink in color, but can also be white. Individual flowers resemble the flowers of snapdragons and thus the obedient plant is also called false dragonhead. One can see these pink flowers around some of the apple trees in the IMA’s orchard.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

100 Acres’ Play Patch

“Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.” – Henry David Thoreau

One thing that the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres has in abundance is space for exploration. After all, it has a lake, a river AND a canal, wetlands that fill and drain with the seasons, a perfect tadpole pool, dense woods that are like a barricade, open woods that invite a proper game of cops and robbers, a meadow for chasing fireflies, heavy grapevines that resemble something old and gnarled from the Forbidden Forest, and twisty paths that don’t show up on the map but mysteriously disappear over a ridge or around a corner. And that’s just on the nature side of things.

The evolution of 100 Acres and its visitors has been an interesting one, and as we begin to better understand why people come and what they are looking for, we can begin to interpret the natural part of our piece of White River floodplain in a way that the Indianapolis community and beyond can appreciate. There is still quite a bit of “wild” in 100 Acres and, to some degree, we want to keep it that way. What better opportunity for teaching visitors how to respond to and respect the nature they are experiencing? There are many different vines in the park; which ones are okay to touch and which ones will make your skin itch and burn the next day? Oops; that river embankment is too steep to scale and forces you to find a better way back up. Ouch! What makes that specific spot so ideal for that ground bees’ nest? Our goal is to make things accessible without making them too easy, without removing all risk and therefore all opportunities to learn something nature can teach about our place in the environmental community.

play_patchAs a way to address this challenge of cognitive accessibility, a new element was introduced to the park this season: a Play Patch. The idea is a simple one, using all wood materials found onsite to create a creative play area that includes interactive elements that can be moved, manipulated and explored. If the whole of 100 Acres is a bit intimidating, the Play Patch was designed in an effort to ease people into interacting with natural elements that haven’t been shellacked, plasticized or cleaned up. A ring of seats cut from recycled tree trunks, loose branches for building structures, and tree cookies made from cross-sections of smaller branches make up the play pieces within a mulched area in the shape of a tulip poplar leaf – Indiana’s state tree. The educational implications are intentionally subtle; one can count the rings on the seats or tree cookies to discover how old the pieces were when they were cut, use the tree cookies as counters or to visually express mathematical equations, or maybe learn in very basic terms how to engineer a tower of cookies that can stand on its own. Or you can just play. There are natural processes at work that can be observed by way of bugs, fungi, worms and bark that is peeling off the harder, inner wood. Or you can just play.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

Tree cookies in the Play Patch.

The point is, playing in this setting, with these elements, can educate someone without them realizing they’re receiving instruction. Early naturalist Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach …” Beautiful thought, Mr. Thoreau, but I would hedge a bet that even if you don’t go to the woods to live deliberately, you are still likely to learn a thing or two before you come out. Maybe it’s a boost in confidence, or hearing a bird call you don’t recognize. Perhaps it’s as monumental as self-discovery or self-expression, or as mundane as being grossed out by a slug. Whatever you learn, it is important to make connections between oneself and the natural world in order to better understand both.

The Play Patch is a small step to achieving this, and the hope is for other Play Patches to spring up around the park featuring different natural elements, such as stone or grasses. Don’t look for one yet on any map; you’ll just have to come discover where they are hidden, in the woods.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Education, IMA Staff

 

Two Indiana plants

There are multiple plants throughout the gardens that are native to Indiana, others to the United States, and still many more from other countries, as well as those of a cultivated origin. With this wide array of possibilities, it is nice every now and again to focus on something found originally in the state of Indiana. Two native Indiana plants are Spigelia marilandica and Delphinium exaltatum. These two flowers bring color to the garden, and can be used in various places, especially when trying for a more naturalized appeal. Seasonal horticulturalist Helen Morlock considers Spigelia marilandica to be her favorite flower while I really enjoy seeing Delphinium exaltatum amongst many other native Indiana plants.

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink)
Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica is known as Indian Pink. This shade loving plant is great for many homeowners’ shady areas created by windbreaks and other trees and shrubs. This woodland native loves moist and rich soils that have good drainage and some organic matter present. It is a perennial native, growing well alongside the native Aquilegia canadensis (columbine), or in among other summer blooming perennials, such as salvias and geraniums. One can also plant it beside or among a variety of hostas, lungworts, and other shade perennials.

In the spring, the plant should be divided if already present, or planted as transplants. It will self-seed, as the mature seeds will pop out of their seedpods and onto the ground around the plant. Maintenance-wise, this plant requires little once it is in a shady spot with a moist, well-drained soil. (Try to help keep the soil moist during the hot summer months!) Just remember to cut the plant back to the ground in the fall for winter protection.

Red and yellow tubular shaped, star flowers (two inches in length) can be found in early summer on plants that can be up to 2 feet tall and wide. These plants have opposite glossy green leaves that can get up to 4 inches long. The flowers for the Indian Pink are one-sided as well. The best flower display occurs in June, with blooms reoccurring throughout the rest of the summer. Right now, we have some blooming on the museum grounds along the tennis courts. This is along the drive of the Lilly house, where the tennis courts used to be located.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum is known as the Tall Larkspur. It is named thus due to its height of 4 to 6 feet, whereas many others in the Delphinium genus do not reach such heights. Flowers occur on terminal racemes, being gentian blue in color. Others might consider this color to be more of a purple than a blue. So be sure to know that sometimes when you ask for blue flowers (especially from a florist) that they might actually be closer to what you consider as purple. Larkspur comes from the shape of the flower, which looks like it has a spur. Dark green leaves are palmate, each with three to five lobes.

Protect the tall larkspur from the winter winds. In summer, color might fade in hotter weather but usually does better here in the north than further down south, so give it some afternoon shade from the hot summer sun. Flowers bloom during the summer, later than others of the same genus. Overall, this native plant enjoys full sun, well-drained fertile soils, and can be 4 to 6 feet high, as mentioned above, and 1 to 2 feet wide. Once the flowers have finished, remove the stalk so that the plant has a chance to produce more flowers for you to view and enjoy.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Photo by Audra Franz

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Photo by Audra Franz

Here at the IMA, the tall larkspur can be found in the more naturalized area of the Formal Garden. Facing the entrance to the Formal Garden with the lawn area (tennis court area) to your back, the larkspur can be found on the left, before getting to the pots sitting at that entrance.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Indiana, Oldfields

 

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