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Discovering Onya La Tour

Today's guest blogger is IMA Docent, Nancy McMillan.

As a life-long resident of Indiana, I have been visiting Brown County since I was 10 years old. In spite of that, I had never heard of Onya La Tour. So, when I learned that the IMA would have an exhibition of works of art from her collection, and that she was a some-time Brown County resident, I jumped at the chance to learn more about her and her passion for collecting Modernist art.

Painting of Onya La Tour in Brown County Public Library.

Painting of Onya La Tour in Brown County Public Library.

Brown County has always had a magical allure for me. As a child, I thought nothing could be greater than living there—in a log cabin, perhaps, on acres and acres of land. My new-found friend, Onya La Tour, bought a farm—118 acres—and an old house in southeastern Brown County in 1939. She settled there—not far from the iconic Stone Head sculpture—in 1940. Intending to establish the Indiana Museum of Modern Art, way down there on Christiansburg Road, Onya moved in and attempted to create not only a museum but also an artists’ residence. She lived there about seven years before moving to a hilltop home just north of the north entrance to Brown County State Park. (The Indiana Museum of Modern Art didn’t really take off.)

From the house on the hill, she had a wonderful view of the north entrance to the Park. There, she entertained various artists and other luminaries. They climbed the hill to her house—near dusk—where they shared artistic stories and ambitions and admired the sweeping views of the valley at sunset. What a magical time they had!

Onya’s art-collecting began in the early 1930s. By that time, she had moved from her home in Washington County, Indiana; relocated to the Pacific Northwest with her then-husband, where she gave birth to her only daughter, Manya; moved on to California then Puerto Rico; and finally arrived in New York City, where she hobnobbed with the artists of the Works Progress Administration and operated art galleries of her own. How interesting, eclectic, and eccentric she was.

Her move back to Indiana was not by chance. She was looking for a place where she could bring modernist art to a population that didn’t know about it. At that time, of course, Brown County hosted an active artists’ colony. It had served as the home to some members of the Hoosier Group—wonderful representational artists like T.C. Steele. There was a rich artistic tradition there, but Onya had other ideas: why not expose Brown County and Indiana to a new artistic experience—modernism? At first, the locals were skeptical, but they came to embrace Onya, her dedication to modernist artists and her desire to bring something new to Brown County.

Original home in Brown County purchased by Onya La Tour in 1939.

Original home in Brown County purchased by Onya La Tour in 1939.

As an IMA docent, I am always dedicated to studying and learning as much as I can about the artists whose works the IMA exhibits; however, Onya La Tour provided me, and my fellow docents, Susanne Morreale and Ieva Straatman, an opportunity to do a “road trip”—we traveled to Brown County and located the farmhouse that Onya purchased in 1939. In person, it looked exactly the same as it does in photos from the era when Onya was there trying to establish the Indiana Museum of Modern Art. We knocked on the door of the house, hoping to encounter the current residents, but no one was home. Then we traveled north, closer to Nashville, to the hilltop where Onya moved in the late 1940s—her home known as “Spellbound.” We climbed the steep hill—in the car—and there, we found a house. But it did not at all resemble the “Spellbound” home we saw in Onya’s photos. Apparently, there had also been an art gallery on the hill that Onya called “Bluecloud,” but we found no evidence of that structure either.

Dedication plaque outside meeting rooms in Brown County Public Library.

Dedication plaque outside meeting rooms in Brown County Public Library.

Mantel in Brown County Public Library meeting room, with painting by La Tour’s brother, Alva La Toor.

Mantel in Brown County Public Library meeting room, with painting by La Tour’s brother, Alva La Toor.

Shortly thereafter, we went into Nashville, and visited both the Brown County Historical Society and the Brown County Public Library. The library was of great interest—we found a couple of conference rooms that a bequest from Onya’s estate paid for. Her name was on a plaque, announcing that she had funded the rooms. In addition, over the fireplace mantle in one of the rooms, we located a painting—signed “Alva La Toor.” Alva La Toor? Now that’s a coincidence—La Tour, La Toor? Apparently, frère La Toor decided to spell his name differently from his sister’s.

What a fun treasure hunt this has been! Onya La Tour and her art collection are quite a story.

Nancy McMillan and fellow docents will be giving public tours of The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana on December 26, January 10, February 24, March 14 and April 11.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Road Trip

 

Dutch Heads: Portraits and tronies in the circle of Rembrandt

One of the most captivating works in the Clowes Collection is the diminutive Old Man in a Tall, Fur-Edged Cap [Fig. 1]. Painted with a warm palette of earth tones, this venerable man seems lost in thought as he gazes out of the panel, his lips slightly parted in an expression of emotional absorption. His wrinkled skin and downy beard evoke his age and imbue him with a wisdom derived from a life long lived.

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

The painting has long been associated with the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Not only did the artist delight in depicting the folds and bags of old skin from early on in his career, but the manner of applying paint to the panel – contrasting thinner layers with thicker ones, using primarily broad brushstrokes – distinctly recalls the artist’s late style. Furthermore, such heavily clothed elderly men appear frequently in the artist’s compositions. They appear in various iterations as a disciple in the Supper at Emmaus of 1648, as a wise poet in his Homer of 1663, as Jacob in an illustration of Joseph recounting his dreams of the early 1640s, and even as a simple old man in a sketch from the 1640s. The clear differences in pose and scale, however, reveal that the Clowes panel is neither a preliminary study for nor direct copy after any of these works.

In addition, all indications suggest that this painting is not a fragment but a wholly independent, finished work. The man’s bust is framed at the center of the panel, without any disturbing cropping of his clothing or appendages. The neutral background does not expose any discontinuities in pattern, nor does it indicate shadows that would have suggested now-missing objects from a larger composition. The turned head and distant gaze of the sitter could imply a missing conversation partner, but it is equally likely that such a figure would have been merely implied. In fact, the averted gaze, combined with the fur-lined cap and coarse mantle, distinguish this figure as a tronie, or character study.

A tronie, a historical term meaning “head” in old Dutch, has been found to occur in 17th-century inventories to describe paintings of individual faces removed from their narrative context. The variety in usage of the word can be seen in the inventory recording the vast stock of the high-end art dealer Johannes de Renialme (c. 1600-1657): while the simple designation tronie seems to refer generically to a painted face, the term can also be used to specify the age (out troni or “old face”), sex (vrouwetronie or “woman’s face”), or even the fashion (antycqe troni or “antique face”) of the head portrayed. The term distinguishes the painting from a portrait (contrefeijtsel or portret in 17th-century Dutch), the foremost function of which is to convey the facial features of a specific person (contrefeijtsel van de Hartogh or “portrait of the duke”) and to indicate their profession or social status with secondary attributes. Tronies also differentiate themselves from single-figure history paintings, in which there is a concentration upon emotional expression and costume but also a notable narrative action. Tronies can be discerned through the handling of the paint, the posture of the body, the exaggerated facial expression, and sometimes through the obstruction of the face through dramatic shading and a communicative turn of the head. A second example in the IMA’s collection is a tronie [Fig. 2] depicting a young woman adorned with pearls and a diaphanous veil by Rembrandt’s pupil, Govaert Flinck (1615-1660).

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

Tronies occupied a special place in the oeuvres of Rembrandt and his colleague-cum-competitor Jan Lievens (1607-1674): the artists seem to have commodified the tronie as a new product for the art market during their early years in Leiden. Art historians like Yoriko Kobayashi-Sato and Franziska Gottwald have emphasized the origins of the tronie in the studios of late 15th- and early 16th-century artists like Perugino (1446-1523) and Leonardo (1452-1519), but the immediate examples for this “young and noble pair of painters” would have been the Antwerp artists Frans Floris (1517-1570), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The major difference between the examples in the Flemish studios and those executed by Rembrandt and Lievens, however, would have been in their function. In the studio of Rubens, for example, a tronie would be painted by the master and employed as a model – by the master himself or his assistants – when executing a more complete narrative composition. Lievens and Rembrandt were young masters with few or no assistants in their Leiden workshops, and their highly worked-up tronies have little in common with their paintings of historical or mythological subjects. Rather, they came to market their tronies as independent paintings for the open market and developed such original character types as the “oriental” and “Rembrandt’s mother.” Dagmar Hirschfelder has found a reference to a tronie by Rembrandt in an inventory of 1628, just three years after he had begun to work as an independent master, which suggests that these paintings were immediately popular among art-loving audiences. The continued popularity of their tronies is demonstrated by the presence of such types of paintings by the hands of both Rembrandt and Lievens in Renialme’s estate inventory of 1657.

While the hand that executed our old man remains unknown, the overall proximity of the painting to Rembrandt’s style and its categorization as a tronie makes it a valuable asset to the Clowes Collection. Not only does this classification arrest our hunt for the composition for which it would have been made, but it redirects our attention to the general character that the artist captured through his attractive combination of costume, lighting, and facial expression. By qualifying this work as a tronie, this charming painting becomes an important marker of Rembrandt’s pioneering pictorial inventions.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, History, The Collection

 

Autumn arrives at the IMA

It’s mid-October in central Indiana, and that means fall leaf color is gearing up for going full swing. Driving down any highway it seems clear that maples make the biggest impression, but take a stroll through the IMA’s gardens and Art & Nature Park and you’ll quickly notice there are many other plants that are praiseworthy as we approach the end of October and beginning of November. Represented here is a small handful of what will be changing their stripes over the next several weeks.

While Oriental spicebush (Lindera angustifolia) doesn’t have many frills the rest of the year, it captures this season perfectly with its stunning display of reds and oranges that set off the fruit like small black pearls when the light catches them. Every fall I get sucked in trying to capture the fiery perfection of the leaves from up close with my camera, but no photograph can truly substitute for the sheer marvel of coming across these beauties on a crisp, autumn day’s stroll.

101714_lindera_angustifolia

Lindera angustifolia

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is an herbaceous perennial, but by this point in the season it carries the same weight as a mounded shrub. This thing practically wears a halo when it glows on rainy, overcast days.

Amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii

Both in the gardens and at the Art & Nature Park, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shows off not only golden leaves, but an even more impressive load of poppy-red and coral berries that make great bird candy. The berries begin coloring up much earlier while the leaves are still green, but will persist, as long as the birds allow, long after the leaves have dropped and cold weather has moved in to stay.

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata

Another plant that is frequently seen along the highway is staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which is an Indiana native that thrives in tough soil conditions and provides lovely masses of red and orange for fall road trips.  But let’s not forget some of the other native sumacs that are just as stunning without being quite as prolific.  Shining sumac (Rhus copallina) brings in a different color palette than the others with its rich, purple-hued reds, while fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) transitions into a low-growing carpet mirroring similar shades of the orangey-red of the staghorn sumac.

Rhus copallina (left) and Rhus aromatica (right)

Rhus copallina (left) and Rhus aromatica (right; photo courtesy of highcountrygardens.com)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is one of those rare garden shrubs that look great year-round, but if a “best” season needed to be determined I would have to pick fall. It has enough orange to make it noticeable among the many yellows of the season, yet is soft enough to blend well with just about anything with which it is paired. Fitting into nearly any type of landscape, this plant will always find it has my undying devotion as a lovely and deserving specimen.

Amelanchier x grandiflora

Amelanchier x grandiflora

One shrub that requires both space and patience to develop is bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), but it is well worth the wait. It provides both a stunning floral display at a time in the summer when few other shrubs are blooming, and a vibrant yellow tapestry in the fall that may serve as either a backdrop for other fall fancies or proudly star, front and center. Either way it is a showstopper.

Aesculus parviflora

Aesculus parviflora

Oh, boy, is this one inspiring! Redbud hazel (Disanthus cercidifolius) is not commonly used and may be mistaken for common redbud when its leaves are green, but it makes its presence known in the fall when its heart-shaped leaves turn a deep burgundy-red that echoes the marvel of sweetgum and pagoda dogwood. As an understory shrub, it doesn’t even need sun to bring out the best of its colors, and as icing on the cake, when the leaves drop on this little gem the small, deep red flowers along the stem are exposed as the season moves from fall into winter.

Disanthus cercidifolius

Disanthus cercidifolius

Over the next month if you’re looking for a place to take in the glory of the changing season, look no further than the IMA’s backyard and come lose yourself in the heady glow of a living, picture-perfect color palette.

101714_hosta_curve

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

 

Art & Science Collide: The IMA at Celebrate Science Indiana

Guest bloggers Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler are painting conservators at the IMA.

On October 4, the Indianapolis Museum of Art was present in full strength at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana Fair at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith along with Paintings Conservators Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler demonstrated the link between science and art to fair-goers of all ages. Throughout the day, the IMA booth was filled with lively conversations about art conservation and conservation science, including the different analysis techniques that help conservators examine great works of art and reveal secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Using a photographic examination technique, visitors excitedly observed a painting in-situ with a specialized infrared camera, which allowed them to see beyond the upper paint layer and discover a hidden figure beneath. Guests analyzed artists’ materials with X-ray fluorescence, a technique used to identify the presence of elements (such as iron or lead). Once identified, these elements help the conservator determine which pigments were present on the artist’s palette.

For many, the highlight was handling the raw artists materials including 6,000 year-old lapis lazuli, a rare blue mineral once worth its weight in gold. Visitors also guessed the contents of a test tube containing cochineal insects, which are processed to make the red dye, carmine. Many were shocked to discover that the dye not only provided color for artworks, but is also present in many of today’s food and cosmetic products!

Visit us next year (Saturday, October 3, 2015) and see what else art and science have in common!

In the meantime, you can visit Coat of Many Colors at the IMA to discover how scientific imaging and dye analysis has helped us to pinpoint a creation date for an Uzbek garment.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Education, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Technology

 

#ArchivesMonth at the IMA

archives_month_banner

… and to celebrate, I am going to share items from some of my favorite collections in the IMA Archives. But first, you may be wondering, “What is an archives?”

An archives is a place where people go to find information. But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.

- The Society of American Archivists

As the IMA’s Archivist, I manage over 130 years of institutional records and special collections that relate to all aspects of the museum’s historic and current operations. While I often work with documents and photographs, the IMA Archives includes textiles, architectural drawings, landscape and sculptural models, scrapbooks, films, and a variety of other unique materials – not limited to the physical. As the IMA and its staff move further into the digital age, I do my best to combat the possibility of a “digital dark age” for the museum by ensuring that both born digital and digitized electronic records are preserved and made accessible for current and future needs.

While the museum’s records date back over 130 years, the IMA Archives was officially established only four years ago. In that short time, some very amazing collections of archival material have become available for research. Not only do these collections document the operations of the museum and the work of IMA departments and governing bodies, but they also give a glimpse into the lives of the people who made the IMA what it is today — our founders, donors, staff members, and patrons throughout the museum’s history. By documenting the actions of these individuals, the archival material also speaks volumes about the vital role that the arts have played in our city and throughout Indiana for generations.

The following are some of my favorite collections and individual items from the IMA Archives …

IMA Exhibition Records
The IMA Archives Exhibition Records document the planning and execution of exhibitions from the first exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883 to the present day. The records of individual exhibitions may include checklists, exhibition catalogues, ephemera, images of installations and artwork, correspondence, press clippings and other documents.

Indiana Art and Artists
Indiana artists and their works are well-represented in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and have naturally found their way into many of the collections within the IMA Archives. Photographs, correspondence, scrapbooks, exhibition ephemera, scale models, and other artifacts in the IMA Archives document the relationship between the museum and Indiana’s artists since the founding of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.

Onya La Tour Papers (M005)
An avid art collector and dealer, Onya La Tour traveled extensively and made connections with many modern artists. After amassing her personal collection of artwork, La Tour returned to her home state of Indiana and founded the Indiana Museum for Modern Art in Brown County. Before her return to Indiana, La Tour served as director of the Federal Art Gallery  and the Onya La Tour Gallery in New York City. The collection contains La Tour’s diaries, daybooks, correspondence, personal memorabilia and research files, exhibit and gallery brochures and catalogues, published books and journals, and historical material related to the Onya La Tour art collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Select items from the Onya La Tour Papers will be on display October 17, 2014, through April 12, 2015, in the exhibition, The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana.

Miller House and Garden Collection (M003)
The Miller House and Garden, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist architecture, was designed by Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley. Commissioned by industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, the Miller House and Garden was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 2009, members of the Miller family donated the house and garden, along with many of its original furnishings, and the archives collection to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The archival collection documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the Miller House and Garden from 1953 to 2009 and includes documents, photographs, architectural and landscape drawings, and material samples. This collection is currently being digitized by IMA Archives staff, and unique and interesting finds are shared on the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design, History, IMA Staff, Indiana, Technology

 

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