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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

 

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

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… 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

 

The art in volunteering

Today's guest blogger is volunteer Pres Maxson. Pres has been volunteering for just a couple of months, but he is already an excellent addition. You can find him working at special events and the Visitor Information Desk. If you see him, be sure to say hi!

Today the air is crisp. I have all the windows down in the car, and I happily pull through the gates to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s perfectly autumnal outside, and I’m looking forward to starting my shift as an IMA volunteer.

A fan of the museum and art in general, volunteering my time at the IMA was a natural draw for me. As someone who strives to be creative and stay creative, the IMA is an obviously stimulating atmosphere. Not only is there beauty in the artwork itself, but the kind and talented people that I’ve already gotten to know a little bit in the process makes the entire experience all that much more enjoyable.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

From where I sit today at the visitor information desk on the second floor, I have a front row seat to Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing No. 652. Colorful, mosaic, and mind-bendingly expansive, it’s the perfect welcome to the galleries. If you stand just feet from it and gaze upward, it’s a reminder that life is especially attractive when all you see is art.

I also have a nice view into maybe my favorite area of the museum, the Sally Reahard Suite of European Art. Through its entryway directly in front of me, I get an excellent look at Fernand Leger’s Man and Woman and Joseph Bernard’s Young Girl Arranging Her Hair. The latter sculpture intrigues me because it seems to take on an almost entire different character when I walk around it. It’s almost as if the young girl’s mood changes, even though she stays perfectly still. Not bad for today’s office view.

Even more fun for me, is the scenery off to the right. Products of the Pont-Avon School, Seguin’s Two Thatched Cottages and Denis’ The Breton Dance hang in a soft and perfectly complementary light. If I crane my neck, I can also see a handful of Pont-Aven School etchings. My aunt and uncle have a small cottage in Brittany themselves, and the artwork has me wishing that my wife and I were back vacationing there, enjoying a pain au chocolat at a small café or strolling along the northerly coastline.

Setting my wanderlust and the artwork aside, I watch as several groups of students file through the second floor’s enormous sliding glass doors into Mary Fendrich Hulman Pavilion. Nearly everyone who passes greets me pleasantly, and I can’t help but feel slightly jealous that many of them will be experiencing the museum for the first time. For me, discovering the ambiance of the Clowes Pavilion, drawn to it by the quiet trickle of the fountain in the far back corner of the American and European art suites, is a moment I try to recreate every time I stroll through.

I also meet many of the museum’s members, some of whom I’ll admit know much more about the museum and its collections than I do. I learn something new every time that I volunteer, and I feel that I owe it to them more often than not. Since I began with the IMA, I have developed new favorite artists and pieces of artwork that I otherwise might not have noticed. Isn’t discovery half the fun of art?

If that’s the case, maybe the other half is rediscovery. Pieces like Edward Moran’s The Valley in the Sea say something different to me each time. Whether it’s noticing something in the brushwork that I hadn’t seen before or feeling a different dynamic from one day to the next, the ability to transform my perspective makes it a favorite. It’s tough to explain why a particular piece might resonate with me, and maybe as viewers we’re not supposed to try to put it into words. I’ve always thought that one’s relationship with artwork is largely personal, since everything speaks differently to every person.

So here I sit surrounded by all of it, pleasantly experiencing my fall afternoon. After today I’ll be back as a volunteer in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the whole experience already. I’ll surely meet plenty of new faces, and who knows? Maybe I’ll leave with a new favorite work of art.

If you are interested in becoming an IMA volunteer, please visit our website for more information.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, The Collection

 

Art at the ‘cutting’ edge: Cross-section sampling of paintings

Last month, I led a handful of members of the IMA’s Second Century Society through a special behind-the-scenes workshop in my laboratory exploring the practice of cross-section sampling in conservation science. A cross-section is a miniscule sample cut from an artwork so as to contain all the layers of the painting – from the topmost varnish to the lowest preparation layer. When examined under a microscope or probed using micro-analytical techniques, a cross-section tells the story of the artwork’s inception, creation, and aesthetic techniques in a way that no other analysis or connoisseurship can. Although the collection and preparation of these samples can take days, we whisked participants through the many steps of sampling, mounting, and analysis of a cross-section using materials prepared in advance – much like a cooking show – in order to explain this invaluable technique for understanding and interpreting artworks in the collection.

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Figure 1. The horizontal red and white element (#2013.443B) is seen in the foreground.
Roy Lichtenstein, Five Brushstrokes, designed 1983-84, fabricated 2012.
Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation with additional support from the Robert L. and Marjorie J. Mann Fund.
© Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Recently, we installed Roy Lichtenstein’s Five Brushstrokes on the Sutphin Mall. The extraordinary process of carefully positioning and stacking these monumental artworks – one that involved cranes, work crews, and conservators – was captured on time-lapse photography. The morning after the installation, I found a plastic baggie with two small paint samples on my desk. As I turned the chips over in my hand, it was obvious they told a story of the sculpture’s creation – so I prepared a cross-section to check it out.

The five components of Brushstrokes are made of painted aluminum. One of the samples came from the horizontal red and white brushstroke (Figure 1), and it is obvious from the cross-section (Figure 2) that the white highlights were painted first and then the sculpture was masked off to add the red passages – you see the red layer over top of the white in the cross-section meaning that the red paint had to be the last to be applied. But what is all that thick pink stuff below? An industrial product similar to Bondo! Yes, it is an epoxy version of a fairing compound like that used in bodyshops to level dents and scrapes on your car. When an aluminum sculpture is fabricated, the surface isn’t always smooth, and so an epoxy or polyester filler is troweled on top and sanded smooth to give an even surface that is then painted.

Figure 2. A magnified view of a mounted and polished cross-section from the horizontal red and white element of Five Brushstrokes. 1000 µm = 1 mm.

Figure 2. A magnified view of a mounted and polished cross-section from the horizontal red and white element of Five Brushstrokes. 1000 µm = 1 mm.

This layered structure seems complex, but cross-sections can get much more interesting! Check out this cross-section from a wooden shutter salvaged from a historic property on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate, Figure 3. Because the building was regularly repainted, the section shows over a dozen different paint schemes. Furthermore, irradiating your sample with ultraviolet light and imaging the visible fluorescence from the paints can help to identify additional layers in what looks like a single, thick white paint coat toward the bottom of the section – the shutter has obviously been touched up with the same color a few times too!

Figure 3. Visible (left) and ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence (right, reversed) photomicrographs of a wooden shutter from a building on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate in Delaware.

Figure 3. Visible (left) and ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence (right, reversed) photomicrographs of a wooden shutter from a building on the Dupont’s Winterthur Estate in Delaware.

Cross-section sampling is, by its nature, a destructive technique since a small sample of paint must be sacrificed. However, these samples can be vanishingly small, oftentimes less than the width of a hair, and yet they yield an enormous amount of information about the materials, craftsmanship, and condition of an artwork.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, IMA Staff, Installation

 

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