- since 2011 -

World cities works of art: some offcuts

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dear Liverpolitan, we have no idea what you're on about, hence...

<i>Nighthawks</i>, 1942 (Edward Hopper) from Friends of American Art Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

Nighthawks, 1942 (Edward Hopper) from Friends of American Art Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

Thanks again to all those good sports from art galleries around the world, from Sydney to Madrid to Philadelphia, who nominated their favourite paintings of their towns for my previous blog. It was a terrific response: everything from medieval triptychs, watercolours and oils on canvas to silkscreen prints, serigraphs and chromolithographs (I didn't have a clue what they were either).

Not everyone could or would oblige, which was understandable given the fact that they didn't know me from, er, Soft Joe. The press department at Barcelona's Museu Nacional D'Art De Catalunya, for example, were awfully sorry but their director of five years had just left and was yet to be replaced. 'Nada.

I love this reply from the Public Affairs Office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC: 'Thank you for reaching out. Your blog, The Liverpolitan, is quite interesting. However at this time our curatorial staff are not able to participate in your project. We do wish you the best in your endeavour'.

In other words, 'Do one, no-mark'.

Due west at the Art Institute of Chicago, another Public Affairs person wrote back explaining that 'curators are loath to pick favourite works from their collections' and proposing instead that I might want to mention the two 'best-known' works from their American collection: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Grant Wood's American Gothic.

Which I shall. Nighthawks was painted in 1942 and, according to Hopper, inspired by "a restaurant on New York's Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." But the image, says the commentary on the Art Institute of Chicago's own website, 'has a timeless quality that transcends its particular locale... Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another'.

<i>American Gothic</i>, 1930 (Grant Wood) from Friends of American Art Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

American Gothic, 1930 (Grant Wood) from Friends of American Art Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

American Gothic dates from 1930 and 'depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter posing before their house whose gabled window and tracery inspired the painting's title... Wood was accused of creating in this work a satire on the intolerance and rigidity that the insular nature of rural life can produce. He denied the accusation. [It is] an image that epitomises the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character'.

<i>Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons</i>, 1925 (Otto Dix) Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons, 1925 (Otto Dix) Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

To Canada, finally, for a picture with a lovely provenance. Nathalie Bondil, the Director and Chief Curator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, got the wrong end of the stick and chose her favourite painting of all from the museum's collection rather than one specifically of the city of Montreal. Painted by Otto Dix in 1925, it's entitled Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons. Over to Nathalie...

'This painting relates the story of two men, Otto Dix and Hugo Simons, whose fates were entwined by history, and of the battle over a highly symbolic work won by a determined city. The warmth that emanates from this magnificent portrait can be attributed to the respect Otto Dix must have had for its sitter, an attorney in Dusseldorf who had recently defended and won a lawsuit on the artist's behalf...

'Dix had been commissioned by the father of a certain Miss Grunthal to paint her portrait, but in the end they refused to accept the painting on the grounds that it was a poor likeness. No less than artistic freedom was on trial. Hugo Simons collected German Expressionist works and admired this artist of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. A man of conviction, he had a keen intellect and was extremely eloquent...

'Dix painted this masterful portrait to thank him [for winning the lawsuit] - but not only for that reason: "When I tell people I would like to paint them, I already have their portrait in mind. I don't paint people who don't interest me." Devoid of caricature, this portrait also shows the technical experiments undertaken by Dix at the time, using a mixed media of egg tempera on wood panel...

'When the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws were enacted and Simons was prohibited from practising his profession, he fled with his wife and children to The Hague, taking a minimum of possessions - among them, this portrait. In 1939, the family escaped to Canada and settled in Montreal...

'Half-a-century later, in spite of many attractive opportunities to sell the painting, Hugo Simons' children offered it to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for a fraction of its actual value. The money to acquire the work was eventually raised thanks to federal funds as well as both large and small donations from many individuals. The degree to which people rallied together in Montreal for the sake of an artwork is without precedent in Canada'.

'The curators of the Art Institute of Chicago were loath to pick one favourite painting and instead proposed two 'best-known' works from their American collection: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Grant Wood's American Gothic'


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The Liverpolitan
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