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Montgomery Museum of Fine Art

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Month: April 2014

Early Modern

MaxWeber_LibCongress_blogThe painter Max Weber was one of the first American artists to personally experience the art world in Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century, a time of amazing transition in the history of art. In Weber’s case, this experience included meeting and learning from artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, and taking tea at the salon hosted by art collectors Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo… in other words he was in the heart of it.

After his return to the U.S. in 1909, Weber created a range of work that was influenced by the Cubists initially, but his style regularly evolved over his forty-year career. The MMFA’s most recent acquisition, using funds bequeathed by Ida Belle Young in 2007, is a painting by Weber created during the 1920s when he had moved to Long Island. (below: View of Roslyn, New York, ca. 1922-1925, oil on canvas) It is a landscape depicting the village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island, painted from a vantage point just across a body of water known as the Roslyn Pond. While representational (we can readily see trees, town, and pond), it is also clearly in keeping with the reductive tendencies of Modernism—buildings composed of simple geometric shapes and the rest a symphony of varied brushstrokes in green, blue, rust, and tan. Though he largely left Picasso’s Cubism behind, he maintained a love of the style of the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, who created monumental landscapes in this same palette and with the same intent: to capture the soul of this peaceful place in paint.

MaxWeber_blogWhen Weber moved to Long Island in 1921 he and his wife left the urban bustle of upper Manhattan for a quieter natural environment where they could raise a family. They purchased a small house about five miles south of Roslyn, and the artist purchased a car (he named it Dinky) so that he could drive the rural roads looking for likely subjects. The Museum’s painting View of Roslyn, New York, is one of a number of works he painted while he lived in this house near Garden City.

Our Museum collection has grown significantly with the additions made using the funds provided by Ida Belle Young’s gift. Most of these works were made in the nineteenth century and have helped to enhance and further shape the core collection of works given by Winton Blount in 1989, and expand the resources our educators use to teach about the development of American art. When the Weber became available, it was immediately clear that this painting was going to play a significant role in our collection—it opens a chapter that takes viewers into twentieth-century art and introduces the modernist approach to art and design that dominated in Europe and America for years to come. It is a much-needed addition to our collection, and we look forward to sharing it with our audiences when it is installed next month.

Arthur D. Chapman, Max Weber, 1914, platinum print, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-90145]

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

There’s a Story in Here Somewhere…. 

We will be hearing a lot in the next year about Selma, most of it related to the historic events that surrounded “Bloody Sunday” and the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. Those events put Selma on the map, both nationally and internationally, but the town has been on Alabama’s map for a very, very long time, and what you don’t know about Selma may surprise you. One thing you might not know? There have probably been more creative and literary people in Selma per capita than in any other place in Alabama—maybe the whole South.

The curious coincidence that brought this to mind is the presence of two wonderful works of art that are currently in our galleries. They just happen to depict two members of a Selma family—two members who lived almost one hundred years apart.

Siegel_Fax_blogThe first is found in Romantic Spirits: Nineteenth-Century Paintings of the South from the Johnson Collection. The painting is by an artist named George Cooke who came to Alabama in the summer of 1848. He was traveling and took commissions to paint members of Alabama’s Black Belt planter families. He was given the task of painting a young boy named Joseph Fairfax Lapsley, known to his family as “Little Fax.” Like many children in the nineteenth century, Little Fax had a brief life, dying when he was only two. Little Fax’s father, Colonel John Whitfield Lapsley commissioned the painting as a memorial of his young son. Little Fax stands on a porch overlooking what was certainly the Alabama River as it winds past Selma. Up the river we see a steamboat, carrying away people and goods to a world little Fax would never know. It is a melancholy painting, intended to remind his parents of a life cut woefully short.

Flash forward to 2004 and a photograph by  Selma artist, Jerry Siegel in the exhibition Creator/Created: Jerry Siegel Portraits and Artists from the Permanent CollectionSiegel_lapsley_blogIt depicts the painter John Lapsley, the great-grandson of Colonel John Whitfield Lapsley, and an artist who is well represented in the MMFA permanent collection. Unlike Little Fax, John Lapsley had a long, very productive life as an artist, dying at the age of 90, but they are both depicted at the end of their natural lives. John Lapsley died a year after the photograph was made; Little Fax’s portrait was made the year after his passing. Those who knew John Lapsley knew a genuine Alabama character; like another Alabama native, author Truman Capote, he had a sharp wit and a sense of irony that was always present. John’s works in the Museum’s collection  date from the 1930s to the late twentieth century, fulfilling his destiny in a way that Little Fax unfortunately could not.

And there’s one more Selma art family to consider—that is the Siegels. Photographer Jerry Siegel was preceded one generation by his uncle, Jerome E. (Jerry) Siegel, Jr., who was for many years one of the best and most respected dealers in Southern art. As a true, old-fashioned gallerist Jerry nurtured the careers of artists such as John Lapsley, Crawford Gillis, Charles Shannon and others now in our MMFA collection. siegel_self_blogHis nephew continues that tradition through his photographs of artists in their studios, and although he makes his home elsewhere now he clearly knows his roots, artistic and otherwise. His own self-portrait in Creator/Created was made at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday,” and a reminder that Selma is at the heart of Alabama’s history, both artistic and social.

Alabama’s greatest storyteller, Katherine Tucker Windham (and, yes, she was also from Selma) would have made a fine tale out of the Lapsleys, the Siegels and their lives across the centuries. Like all us Southerners, she did love a good story.

Margaret Lynne Ausfeld
Curator of Art

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