Work of famed French sculptor turns up in NJ council room

Madison, NJ, might seem an unlikely locale for the discovery of a long-lost art treasure.

While Madison, located in the northern half of the Garden State, has an array of large homes, some dating back to the Gilded Age, and is the site of Fairleigh Dickinson University, the town is also home to fewer than 16,000 residents.

But Madison’s local government meets in the Hartley Dodge Memorial, an elegant building donated by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, daughter-in-law of Standard Oil co-founder William Rockefeller and wife of Remington Arms Chairman Marcellus Hartley Dodge.

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was a great patron of the arts, amassing an impressive collection during her long (1882-1973) life. Among the pieces she acquired was a bust of Napoleon crafted by Auguste Rodin, the famed French artist.

The work, titled “Napoleon Wrapped in His Dream,” was commissioned in 1904 and completed around 1910. It was on display for several years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before being purchased in 1933 by Dodge at an auction. The bust, the only known political or military figure sculpted by Rodin, was installed in the memorial building in 1942.

It would then appear that everyone, at least in Madison town government, forgot what they had.

It wasn’t until 2014, when the Hartley Dodge Foundation, which maintains the building’s artwork, hired a 22-year old as a temporary archivist, that the sculpture was “rediscovered.”

Image showing artist Auguste Rodin with Napoleon bust in early 20th century.

While making a list of what was in the building, young Mallory Mortillaro came across the bust of Napoleon, which had been pushed up against a wall in the council room of the building.

Mortillaro “ran her hand at the base of the bust and felt something chiseled,” said Nicolas Platt, the foundation’s president. It turned out to be Rodin’s signature.

“I was intrigued,” Mortillaro told CNN. “I was a little confused about why this piece would be here without anyone knowing anything about it.”

Mortillaro told the trustees what she had found, and they blew her off at first. “She said, ‘You don’t understand. I think we have a Rodin.’”

A Rodin, it might be added, worth between $4 million and $12 million.

The foundation had no information on the bust’s provenance, so Mortillaro began to seek out details that would determine its authenticity.

She contacted a variety of scholars but had little luck until she reached the Rodin Museum in Paris.

Rodin expert Jérôme Le Blay wrote back to Mortillaro saying he would fly from Paris to see the piece, according to CNN.

The art world, it turned out, had lost track of the Napoleon bust decades previously, Le Blay told the foundation.

The discovery of the Rodin was made public only this month. The work was on display at the Madison town hall through Oct. 22, after which it was sent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it will be on loan for the centenary of the artist’s death next month.

(Top: Napoleon bust shown in Madison town hall before being shipped for display in Philadelphia Museum of Art.)

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Works of famed Lowcountry artist go on display in Charleston

mending-a-break

Artist Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was both enigmatic and straightforward.

The famed Carolina Lowcountry painter (1876-1958) took classes at the Carolina Art Association in the 1890s but otherwise was largely self-taught. She disdained travel and few outside influences are evident in her work.

She has been criticized in recent years for presenting images of an idealized antebellum South, featuring “happy ‘darkies’ and benevolent masters,” according to one modern historian.

But she was also critical in helping raise the consciousness of indigenous Carolina Lowcountry culture and was at the forefront of the preservation movement in Charleston.

While Smith is best known for 29 watercolors included in A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, she painted all sorts of pictures, from portraits early in her career to simple landscapes of long-leaf pine or swamp cypress.

Beginning this week, a collection of more than four dozen of Smith’s works will be on display through next summer in Charleston, including watercolors, oil paintings on mahogany panels and several sketches.

The artwork will be on display at both the Edmonston-Alston House and in the house museum at Middleton Place, both in Charleston.

The rice plantation watercolors belong to the Gibbes Museum of Art; numerous other paintings are in private collections and rarely seen by the public, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

To be certain, Smith was a product of her times. The daughter of a former Confederate artilleryman, she sought to highlight the remembrances of the simpler pre-Civil War era that wealthy South Carolinians recalled in the decades after the war. Smith preferred to capture Lowcountry rural landscape to urban cityscapes of Charleston and enjoyed recording vanishing ways of life.

Those included the scenes from rural salt marshes, areas which had once been used for tidal rice cultivation but had been abandoned as the rice economy moved west and the land had fallen into disuse, to be reclaimed by salt water.

In addition, a small amount of rice was still being grown in the Lowcountry through the 1920s, giving Smith a glimpse of the industry that dated back to the late 17th century in South Carolina and had made many white planters wealthy and broken many enslaved blacks.

She worked with her father, Daniel Elliott Huger Smith, a historian, on The Dwelling Houses of Charleston (1917), a biography of the Charleston miniaturist and portrait painter, Charles Fraser (1924), A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties (1936), and A Charlestonian’s Recollections, 1846-1913 (1950), the last two completed after her father’s death in 1932.

Smith’s works, like the artist herself, are unique and worth taking the time to visit.

(Top: Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith.)

Century-old stained glass underscores priest’s legacy

stained glass

This past weekend a small Roman Catholic parish in Chapin, SC, unveiled its new church, a Modern Gothic Revival-style structure 10 years in the making.

Our Lady of the Lake Church features an impressive bell, a beautiful ambo and a striking altar. But perhaps what sets it apart from most new churches is its stained glass windows.

Unlike most of what is in the new structure, the eight windows are more than a century old, having come from the old Monastery of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, NJ, also known as “The Blue Chapel.”

They were made at Buffalo Glass Works in New York by well-known stained glass artist Leo P. Frohe, who created them in the spirit of the Munich School style of glass, common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The set of windows was once called “the poor man’s Bible” by Frohe and his contemporaries because they offered a physical way for worshippers to experience the transcendence of God.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Detail of stained glass window depicting Mary and infant Jesus.

Five of the windows depict the joyful mysteries of the rosary, and the other three show images of the Sacred Heart appearing to St. Gertrude, Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s coronation in heaven.

Frohe (1851-1919) was born in The Netherlands. He came to Buffalo in 1862 with his mother and sisters, joining his father, a classically trained artist who had arrived in the US a year earlier.

For many years Frohe was the manager of the Buffalo Stained Glass Works. Frohe’s work for the company won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1889.

In 1895 he established his own workshop, called Frohe Art Glass, in Buffalo.

The Blue Chapel was built between 1912 and 1914, and housed the Order of the Perpetual Rosary which was started by Dominicans nuns who emigrated from France.

The monastery closed in 2008 when its last two nuns retired and moved to a hospice in New Jersey.

Father Andrew Vollkommer, the longtime pastor at Our Lady of the Lake, arranged that the eight windows be transferred to South Carolina in exchange for paying for the reburial of nuns who were interred on the property of the New Jersey monastery.

The windows were then restored at a Charlotte studio that specializes in stained glass.

Stained glass from the Munich School, created during the late 19th and early 20th century, possessed unique characteristics.

It is said to mirror “the European Romantic-era style of artistic, musical, and religious philosophy that took the lofty, hyper rational ideals of the preceding period and brought them, in a sense, back to earth,” according to the Hudson (NY) Reporter.

“It was believed beforehand that nature and the body were imperfect and that spiritual enlightenment could only be achieved by rejecting one’s earthly experience,” according to the publication. “The Romantic era proposed that true spiritual revelation was achieved instead by embracing nature and human emotion.”

Unfortunately, the man so instrumental in bringing the windows to the new church, along with everything else associated with the elegant structure, wasn’t on hand to witness the dedication.

Father Vollkommer died in his sleep in late January at age 60, after overseeing nearly every aspect of the structure nearly through to completion.

In more than 20 years of shepherding the parish, Father Vollkommer helped it grow from 60 families to 800, so there was more than a tinge of sadness that he wasn’t on hand this past weekend to see the fruits of his labor.

However, it’s not often that any of us are able to leave a legacy that will last generations. Buried a short distance away, Father Vollkommer will remain figuratively and literally in the shadow of the new church for decades to come.

New Caravaggio said to have been uncovered in France

Judith Beheading Holofernes

While its authenticity has yet to be fully determined, a painting discovered in a French attic is being attributed by some to the Italian master Caravaggio.

At least one expert said the 400-plus-year-old work, called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” could be worth as much as $135 million.

However, experts aren’t in agreement as yet regarding the work’s authenticity, with some attributing the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures, according to the Associated Press.

The painting was discovered two years ago in Toulouse, in southern France, when the owners of the house went into the attic to repair a leak.

The picture was kept out of the public eye while it was cleaned and submitted to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays, the wire service added.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation.

The work depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general and is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1600.

The work is believed to have gone missing about 100 years after it was painted. Another version of it, which was also thought to be lost before its rediscovery in 1950, hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Ancient Art, according to the BBC.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was among the most innovative of the Renaissance painters, and his works are often spectacular for their realism and dramatic lighting. Only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings survive.

Turquin told a news conference Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.

Turquin believes the work “must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

While the work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”

Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Christ” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.

“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he told the Associated Press.

Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”

“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if they correspond to those used by Caravaggio, he said.

On the other hand, Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.

Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.

“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.

(Top: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” a different version of the work discovered in the attic of a house in southern France recently and purported to be the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio. The above is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.)

 

Youth gets up close and personal with $1.5 million painting

I don’t know what’s worse: to be the above kid, or his mother.

A 12-year-old Taiwanese boy, touring a Leonardo da Vinci show in Taipei with his mother Sunday, stumbled and accidentally tore a hole in a 17th century painting worth nearly $1.5 million. Surveillance video (above) captured the incident.

Paolo Porpora's 17th century work "Flowers," damaged Sunday.

Paolo Porpora’s 17th century work “Flowers,” damaged Sunday.

The youth, meandering through the tour while drinking a carbonated beverage, lost his footing next to Paolo Porpora’s oil painting “Flowers,” stumbled over the safety rope and pressed his can or cup into the painting as he tried to steady himself.

Andrea Rossi, the exhibition curator, asked that the boy not be blamed for the damage. The family will not be asked to pay the restoration costs.

The rare piece, which belongs to a private collector, is insured and will be shipped back to Italy for further restoration this week, Focus Taiwan, a local news agency, reported.

Porpora (1617–1673) was an Italian painter of the late-Baroque style, specializing in floral still lifes.

Lesser-known Dutch Golden Age artist no less magnificient

A View of St. Bavo's Haarlem

One is staggered by the quality and quantity of work produced during the Dutch Golden Age of art.

Lasting roughly the entire 17th century, the epoch produced such luminaries as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Franz Hals, Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch.

A testament to the excellence of work created during this period is the fact that many gifted individuals have largely been neglected – except by those inside the art world – because of the glut of talented painters from the era.

Among these was Gerrit Berckheyde, a Haarlem painter who was one of the early Dutch specialists in townscapes.

I came across Berckheyde this past weekend while at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His 1666 work, A View of St. Bavo’s, Haarlem, is a strikingly detailed effort that shows a Protestant church (and former Catholic cathedral) on the central market square in the Dutch city of Haarlem.

A View of St. Bavo’s is a work one can study endlessly. It possesses many intricate features: the cobblestones in front of the church; the cracks in the structure’s brick walls, and the mortar used to repair those cracks, particularly around and between the windows; and the slate tiles on the church roof, to name just a few.

The image at the top of this post doesn’t do justice to the crisp clarity evident in Berckheyde’s work. Of course, the details are so exacting that many are only visible in person or through a high-definition photograph.

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The analogy was a bad one, not unlike a illogical comparison

analogies

The above seems plausible enough. I was once in high school and undoubtedly penned a number of bad analogies, though I also recall having considerable difficulty differentiating analogies, metaphors and similes from one another.

While most of my analogies were sports-related – “the sound his head made as it bounced off the pavement was a sharp thwack, resembling the tone of a Nolan Ryan fastball being fouled off by Reggie Jackson” – and many were substandard, they probably weren’t as cringe-worthy as the above.

But, of course, the Internet being the Internet, it turns out that the above analogies weren’t written by high school students but by readers of the Washington Post.

In July 1995 the Post ran a contest asking for outrageously bad analogies, according to the blog Socratic Mama. Readers were asked to write the most hideous prose they could imagine. The above is a selection of those submissions.

It wasn’t long before a sample of these were being gleefully passed around the web, attributed to high school students.

I suppose because nearly all of us were high school students at one time, and most of us have struggled with analogies – at least in practice if not theory – the idea that teens could come up with the above seems utterly plausible.

After all, high school students struggle with analogies in much the same way that a thirsty, yet dignified souse struggles not to break into a trot when he hears a beer truck has overturned just up the road.

To see the Post’s collection of reader-inspired bad analogies, click here.