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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

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Kate Oberreich

 Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

This 10th and final post in this series features Kate Oberreich, the IMA’s membership associate and talented local artist.

autoportrait_ko_042814_01

The number 7 has always been my lucky number … I was born on the seventh and bought my first home in July … good things seem to happen for me involving the number seven. It’s been a such a good number I used it twice (my other lucky number is two).

81 is a simple one — the year I was born.

Kate's self-portrait in cartoon form!

Kate’s self-portrait in cartoon form!

The words I chose for my Autoportrait involve my passions and important places. When I’m not assisting IMA members, I can be found in my studio painting. I have a BFA in art with an emphasis in painting. Seed & Star is the name of my studio which I share with three other amazing artists.

I spent childhood summers in Petoskey, Michigan, and have made a couple of trips out to Beaver Island (a two-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix). I still try to go back whenever possible.

My favorite color has almost always been purple, but lately grays have been popping up more and more.

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, IMA Staff

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Lynne Habig

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

This ninth post in this series features Lynne Habig, the IMA’s Greenhouse Shop Coordinator. Lynne is looking forward to this weekend’s Perennial Premiere.

autoportrait_lh_042114_04

Red, white & blue: I was born into a military family and, for many years, was fortunate enough to live abroad. I learned as a young child that America, warts and all, is still WAY ahead of whatever is in second place. I still love to travel overseas; but I never fail to get ‘goose bumps’ when I return home and see Old Glory flying!

autoportrait_lh_042114_016: The number 6 is significant to me for a number of reasons. 6 appears in the day, month and year I was born – I was 60 in ’06 thus beginning my 6th decade, there are 6 Brandenburg  concerti (my favorites) – and there are 6 strong women in my immediate family!

Faith, family & flowers: My life has been defined by faith, family and flowers. Our world seems to be in a perpetual state of (at best) organized chaos. My parents’ mantra was, “With a solid faith in one hand, and a sense of humor in the other, one can handle anything.” They were right!

Family has always been the bedrock of my security, even when said ground was really rocky. After one particularly disastrous foray into teenage rebellion, I can still hear my mother saying, “I really hate what you’ve done, but nothing can change the fact that I love you.” Whew, lucky me!

autoportrait_lh_042114_02And finally, flowers … Gardening has kept me truly grounded (pun intended) all my life. Season after season, I have watched the interaction of plants with weather, animal life, insects, etc. and have concluded that there is indeed order in our universe. And I travel with hope that eventually there will be a happy ending.

39.8 & 86.1: These are the latitude (degrees north) and longitude (degrees west) of Indianapolis. Rudyard Kipling said it best, “God gave all men all earth to love, but since our hearts are small, ordained for each one spot should prove beloved over all.” And in Dorothy’s words, “There’s no place like home!”

Filed under: Art, Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, Greenhouse, IMA Staff

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Marc Anderson

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The eighth post in this series features Marc Anderson, the IMA’s preparator. For those not familiar with the term “preparator,” that means Marc is part of the team that builds and installs exhibits and displays.

autoportrait_ma_041414_01

Here are a few things about me: I really like working here installing art, and I also enjoy eating/making food, groovin’ to music, petting cats, doing math in my head, recording sound effects, and taking pictures.

"Art Hero" Josh at work on Julianne Swartz's "How Deep Is Your."

“Art Hero” Josh at work on Julianne Swartz’s “How Deep Is Your.”

As an installer of art, I have the privilege of working behind-the-scenes with the rest of the collection support staff/art heroes. The amount of effort and energy that goes into preserving and displaying artwork is pretty incredible! Most of it goes sight unseen, and much of it is not very glamorous, or all that interesting to most people. Though sometimes we face unique challenges that are REALLY far removed from our normal duties. They are opportunities only made possible in the name of art. I like to capture those ridiculous moments; included here is one of Josh going above and beyond.

So, on to my Autoportrait:

  • 8: musical notes on my tiny xylophone and the best visual shape.
  • 617 & 314: Boston and St. Louis are places I once called home.
  • Resonance:  The physics of how sound is made fascinates me to no end!
  • Sugar: My favorite food group and Stevie Wonder song.
  • I used these colors because navy blue was not a choice. They also look really good together.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Installation

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Caitlyn Phipps

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The seventh in this series features intern Caitlyn Phipps, the IMA Scholar in  the Conservation Science Lab since January, shares her Autoportrait.

autoportrait_cp_040714

I decided to do a mix-up of things that have made impacts on my life during college. 3 stands for the number of times I switched my major to something other than chemistry, but now I can’t imagine not studying chemistry! 512 stands for May 2012, the year I graduated Wingate University with my bachelor’s in Chemistry and also the month that my mom finished her chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. All which happened in a matter of 3 days, so May 2012 really means a lot to me. 262 stands for the 2 colleges I have studied at (Wingate University and Western Carolina University), 6 years I have been in college , and 2 degrees in total. JHSWGS are the advisors that I have had over the last six years, all have helped me along the way and I truly don’t know where I would be without them. NCSWDRIN are the places I have been in the last six years: North Carolina, Switzerland, Dominican Republic and Indiana. Lastly, there is a question mark. Currently, my plans are up in the air, so not knowing where I will be next is at times scary but also exciting!

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, IMA Staff

 

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