The Gilded Age and Impressionists
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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
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Big surprises come in small packages, so don't open any ticking small packages.



on December 14, 1999.

Two permanent exhibits at the National Museum of American Art. The Museum closes for renovation on January 4, 2000.

Blake appears in red and Brian appears in blue.

Adolph Alexander Weinman. Rising Sun, 1914.
Frederic MacMonnies. Venus and Adonis, 1895.
John La Farge. Peacocks and Peonies I and II, 1882.
J. William Fosdick. Adoration of St. Joan of Arc, 1896.
Thomas Wilmer Dewing. In the Garden, 1889.
Ernest Lawson. Gold Mining, Cripple Creek, 1929.
We went to the Gilded Age and Impressionist exhibits at the National Museum of American Art, which are both permanent displays.

We made it to the exhibit a few weeks before things closed down for renovations.

I think I can summarize these. Impressionists: naked women. Gilded Age: naked angels, who are basically women with wings.

The Gilded Age was first. Amazingly the whole of the Gilded Age was squeezed into two rooms? Or three?

Two rooms and a hallway.

Now, mind you, there was a bit of variety. But over 50% of what we saw was... well, "clothing intolerant."

Definitely not a safe place for kids who haven't yet been taught the facts of life.

The Gilded Age mixed the nudity with God. The Impressionists, who did not deal with God nearly as much, had a lot more flowers.

If you were to ask Joan Osborne, the flowers could be God. So the exhibits would have been dealing with the same subjects. But we didn't ask Joan Osborne, so never mind.

Though I can say that what nudity there was had much more taste than what we saw in Regarding Beauty.

Yes, it was tasteful. The collections seemed to be very heavy on just a couple of artists, with miscellaneous pieces thrown in to lend the illusion of diversity.

Agreed. What art there was had a much higer talent ratio than some other exhibits. More talent, fewer pieces.

I think just about everything made out of bronze was by Adolph Alexander Weinman, at least in the Gilded Age exhibit. I wonder though, whether they could put in fewer pieces from any one person, and increase the diversity a tad. Surely there are more than a half-dozen Gilded artists.

I'd hope so. And what of Alexander? An interesting artist to say the least. What do you make of his works?

"Rising Sun" [Adolph Alexander Weinman, "Rising Sun" 1914] was a perfect example of Weinman. He was into full-nudity bronzes.

Which one was that?

Think leaves.

Ahh, yes. The male angel. Well, I think it was an angel... the wings were not very traditional.

I have to wonder at what point they invented clothes. Apparently in 1915 men were still using leaves to cover their privates, because just about every man in the place was wearing nothing but a leaf.

Which raises another question... How did they get the leaves to stay there? And with so many men in the world, you'd think that there would be a slight deforestation problem. However, it seems that the men did not need large leaves at all, and so were able to raise their own saplings to protect their privates. Which, again, I find astonishing considering the number of nymph-like angels and women walking around with nothing on. Now mind you, we also have seen evidence that it's only men that wear the leaves.

Yes indeed. The bronze in the Impressionist exhibit featuring a gentleman wearing a leaf, a lady wearing... well, nothing... and a dog also not wearing anything [Frederick MacMonnies, "Venus and Adonis" 1895].

Male dogs were standing proudly, showing their wares and lack of veterinarians while naked women were swooning over small-leaved men.

The dog was most certainly male, and not neutered either. You would think that he would wear a leaf. I wonder if the artist had an inferiority complex.

Quite remarkable... But perhaps this is more a statement about the artist than the time? If so, then I can only imagine that the artist should find his home on the Jerry Springer (spaniel) show.

Although frankly, I wonder if we protest too much. The male nudes in the Regarding Beauty exhibit were, shall we say, less than appealing. Perhaps it is better this way. Who cares if it is a double standard? Frankly, women look better than men without clothes on.

Indeeed..."Bring Me A Shrubbery!" I fully agree that women are the more elegant and asthetically pleasing of the two genders. No doubt whatsoever. Gentle curves, smooth skin... yet I digress.

You also took an interest in a stained-glass piece.

Yes, it was a pair of stained glass windows [John La Farge, "Peacocks and Peonies I and II" 1882]. I guess they caught my eye because they were very unique compared to the rest of the exhibit. They showed a lot of color, and were a bit more abstract (being stained glass). yet you could also tell that an artist took their time to really work with the pieces.

That's true. You don't often see stained glass in a museum, or at least I don't.

Very rarely. There was also the Joan of Arc work [J. William Fosdick, "Adoration of St. Joan of Arc" 1896]... It did catch our attention.

A woodcarving I think? A huge woodcarving?

Yes, wood with metal or metallic paint for shininess.

Using pre-renaissance cues to indicate the holy spirit. An interesting meld of modern, back-side-of-a-dollar-bill symbolism with classic lifelike representationism.

And she had clothes on. Fully dressed, in fact!

And armed. I think it was the only armed work in either exhibit.

It does make one wonder what kind of leader she really was if she kept holding her sword by the blade like that.

How about the impressionists? I think if a Martian landed on Earth and found nothing here but this exhibit, he would think that women came in threes and lived in fields.

There was also some impressive marble work in with the impressionists. These marble works tended to be women again, which went well with the folds and curves of what cloth there was. Giving a warm, smooth and rounded feel to the cold material.

The marbles were very nice. Even the one of the man, with all the robes.

Again, lots of curves and folds. The women that the Impressionists depicted were many times outside. Gardens really seemed to be a big theme at this time.

I don't think Dewing [Thomas Wilmer Dewing, various] ever saw a woman indoors in his life, and the exhibit was very, very heavy on his work. One thing really stood out for me was the Cripple Creek painting [Ernest Lawson, "Gold Mining, Cripple Creek" 1929]. I presume it's the same Cripple Creek as is featured in the song. The work wasn't mindblowing but it was so different from everything else there, it grabbed me. I guess the connection to the song helped too.

I remember that. Though, I must say I wasn't as taken by that. Overall, I did like the art in this exhibit, but I didn't find anything that really grabbed me. I liked the marble stuff though. I guess because it had a fairly classical feel to it. I'm not sure.

I would have to say there was nothing surprising in there. I liked a lot of the stuff, mostly from the Impressionist section. Heck I would even put one on my mantle, if I had a mantle and if they let you take the pieces home.

I'd go for the statue of the angel that was between the two stained glass windows. I thought the detail was good, and the vision and style of the piece was impressive.

Overall I'd say the Gilded Age and the Impressionists were people who weren't interested in challenging the status quo overmuch.

Well, that is, unless women did wear leaves, and the artists just didn't put them in.