Back to imamuseum.org

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

 

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

 

A Monuments Man from Indiana

Today's guest blogger is Annette Schlagenhauff, Associate Curator for Research at the IMA. She is in charge of researching the provenance, or history of ownership, of European paintings in the IMA’s collection.

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

On February 7, all eyes will turn to a movie called The Monuments Men, a much anticipated film directed by George Clooney and featuring a star-studded cast. It tells the story of several brave World War II soldiers who were tasked, against all odds, with preserving monuments in the paths of advancing Allied armies in the final months of the war. Once the war had ended, their mission was to find and safeguard treasures of European art stolen by the Nazis. Until now, their story was largely unknown to the general public, although art museums and provenance researchers had long been amazed by the valiant efforts of the men and women in the Monuments, Fine Art & Archives section of the military. They put their lives on the line in an effort to guarantee that Europe’s finest cultural treasures were preserved for future generations.

As it goes with many Hollywood movies, the broad outlines of the story are true, but names and circumstances have been changed to fit a two-hour narrative structure. So if you are expecting a documentary, you might be disappointed and should watch The Rape of Europa instead, a film released in 2008 which is based on the ground-breaking book of the same title by the historian Lynn Nicholas. But The Monuments Men is to be commended for its ability to focus our attention on the hardships and tragedies as well as the successes of these cultural soldiers, most of whom were older than the average GI and elected to leave careers as artists, architects, archivists, conservators and other museum professionals in order to bring their particular expertise to bear in the Allied war effort.

One of the real-life Monuments Men was Thomas Carr Howe Jr., a native of Indiana. Born in 1904 in Kokomo, Howe was raised in Indianapolis before he left for the east coast to attend university. (If the name sounds familiar to Indianapolis residents or Butler University alumni and students, it’s because his father taught at Butler and then served as its president from 1907 to 1920.) The younger Howe chose to pursue an art museum career and, in 1931, he was appointed assistant director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, becoming that museum’s director in 1939. During WWII, Howe joined the U.S. Navy and served there for two years before being recommended to serve as a Monuments Man.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

When Howe returned to San Francisco in February 1946, the head of Bobbs-Merrill, the Indianapolis-based publishing company, asked him to commit his experiences as a Monument Man to writing. Howe agreed to do so, and later that same year his recollections were published with the title Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. Here we can learn that Howe was present at the Alt Aussee mine when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, both looted by the Nazis, were packed up and brought out of the depths of the mine under considerable time pressure due to the advancing Russian armies. He was also present several weeks later when a group of Monuments Men evacuated the art stored at Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Movie goers will recognize these place names, and Howe’s published recollections were no doubt carefully studied by the team that created and produced the movie.

Saltmines and Castles tells yet another interesting story – and one that can be linked to a specific painting currently in the IMA’s collection. Howe’s first solo assignment in Europe – and the Monuments Men often travelled alone rather than as a team — was to retrieve a cache of 81 cases full of art from Grassau, a small town in southeast Bavaria, where Nazi loot had been discovered. In one of these cases was the IMA’s masterpiece by Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Profile of Laval. This painting had been looted, along with many others, from a prominent Jewish collection (the Herzog Collection) by Hungary’s Nazis in 1944. To safeguard their haul from the Russians, it was moved to the small town in Bavaria. Howe’s efforts were almost thwarted by the Hungarian museum curator who was charged with safeguarding the art, but Howe prevailed and he brought the paintings to Munich where the Central Collecting Point was located. Several years later, it was restituted back to Hungary, and then back to the widow of the Herzog heir. She allowed a dealer to sell it, and it had a number of owners before it was acquired by the IMA in 1998. Long story short, a painting now located in Indianapolis was safeguarded by a Monuments Man from Indianapolis!

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Museum Community, The Collection

 

Lesson from the cotton fields

Guest blogger Felipe Martinez is Associate Executive Presbyter, Whitewater Valley Presbytery, and moderator of the 2013 Spirit & Place judges panel.

On November 1, the Spirit and Place Festival will kick off its 2013 theme Risk with a gutsy event, $20K: A Competition about Race. Creators of four finalist projects will present their vision to an audience and a panel of judges, hoping to receive the $20,000 award to implement their innovative ideas inviting a fresh conversation about race in Indianapolis. The winner of this competition will help Indianapolis and central Indiana residents look back on our own histories, and challenge us to a shared commitment to reshape our communities in positive ways.

At some point in an honest, open dialogue about race in the United States, family stories surface. The stories might date back decades, or refer to events last week; the stories might be of facing and overcoming oppression, or of the perks and pitfalls of being a part of a racial majority. And then there are the stories which document the moments when we learn or unlearn how race contributes to the shaping of community.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

When I reflect on my earliest notions of race, I think about my dad, who was a public school teacher in Mexico for over 60 years. Dad always had a second job to help supplement his meager salary. One summer in the 1940s, he even traveled to southern Texas to work as a field hand picking cotton. There, for the first time, he labored side by side with African American workers. He spoke to me with compassion of their physical strength to do the work and their spiritual depth to survive in a blatantly racist society. Though his contact with them ended when he returned to Mexico, the impact of those relationships endured. Dad taught me to pray for those who suffer from injustice and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

If we risk together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to remember and re-imagine, to dream and dare, our actions will have a lasting impact in our richly diverse community.

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Indiana, Local, Public Programs

 

Recent Flickrs

Block Party photo boothBlock Party photo boothBlock Party photo boothBlock Party photo boothBlock Party photo boothBlock Party photo booth