Monthly Archives: March 2011

European Drawings at the Portland Museum of Art

By Margaret Burgess
Associate Curator of Modern and European Art

Just like the crocuses that are beginning to bloom, the exhibition European Drawings, on view at the Museum through May 22, has had a long germination process and the works have seen many dark days in storage! Studying the drawings in the Museum’s special works-on-paper storage room was one of my first projects when I arrived here at the Museum as the new associate curator of European and Modern Art in January 2009. My colleague Allyson Humphrey, registrarial assistant, and I would spend hours in the storage facility in the depths of the Museum, pouring over the fragile drawings which are carefully conserved in either black Solander boxes or large folios depending on their size. Based on a search in our collections database, I had pinpointed those drawings that I wanted to view, but we uncovered many more along the way!

In addition, a year into the exhibition planning, a wonderful gift arrived! I was introduced to a couple who collected drawings and wanted to give them to the Museum. This was marvelous—not only for the Museum’s collections in general, but for the exhibition in particular. It was a windfall for the show. Another year into exhibition planning, another longtime member of our Museum family approached us to offer on loan additional drawings for the exhibition. They had heard about the exhibition and were eager to share their works! Altogether these works round out the exhibition in ways I could never have imagined and I am immensely grateful to all of our loyal members of the Museum family. It is so gratifying for me to see the drawings now on display, flourishing in the 2nd floor galleries and seeing the light of day—just like the flowers of spring!

Image credit: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (France, 1780-1867), Portrait of the Honorable Frederick Sylvester North Douglas, Son of Lord and Lady Glenbervie, 1815, graphite on paper, 8 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches. The Joan Whitney Payson Collection at the Portland Museum of Art. Gift of John Whitney Payson.

The Big Draw

By Artist Kimberly Convery

Drawing is one of the art forms that can sometimes be taken for granted. Artists through the centuries have been drawing the world around them turning these drawings into paintings, etchings, and sculptures. The Big Draw event, on Saturday, March 26, will show how drawing can make you think about mark making. There is something so fantastic when you have the right pencil and the right piece of paper. The feeling of scribbling will inspire you to feel the image emerge on to paper.

When I was first approached to do The Big Draw event for the Museum, I started thinking about what I enjoyed about drawing. Over the past few years my personal work has evolved into a series of minimal landscapes surrounded by silvery oceans. The feeling of drawing these oceans is what I’ve been enjoying the most with my work so I asked myself the question, how can I translate what I love for others to share? The process of experiment and play is where I decided to make this cross over. Each person who comes to the event will be given the chance to make six, 30 to 60 second drawings. However, these drawings will not be of anything at all—scribbles, lines, and marks—finished with a grand finale scribble! After the six experiments are done, each artist will then be able to choose a pencil they like best (determined by the experiment area) and sketch among the collection of the Museum and the exhibition European Drawings on the second floor. With the drawings made in the galleries, each artist will come back to the experiment area, and each drawing will be placed back together to reveal a larger drawing. Being curious and playful with the act of drawing is so much fun! I’m looking forward to having a fantastic day of drawing, and I know that everyone who comes will look at drawing in a different way.

Join Kimberly at the family festival The Big Draw on Saturday, March 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free with Museum admission. Learn more…

What is So Interesting About That?: John Frederick Peto: “Rack Picture with Portrait of Lincoln”

By Vanessa Nesvig
Coordinator of Special Projects

This piece has a lot going on underneath the surface of its well painted trompe l’oeil façade. Not knowing much about this painter, I dug a little deeper for our “What Do You Think?” discussion group. Quickly I realized why I didn’t know much about the artist. It turns out that most of his life, and even after his death, people confused him with his much more prolific friend and mentor, William Harnett.

What is amazing to me is that he was ever confused with Harnett at all, since in a short period of time, you can see that their styles and subject matter are very different. Peto’s fault could be that he didn’t consider many of his pieces finished and so consequently didn’t sign them. Years after he had passed away, people thought they were the work of Harnett, and signed them as such.  That set Peto back another couple decades so that it was only recently that these works were discovered to be his.

This series, which was created towards the end of Peto’s life (his short life), featured painted versions of Abraham Lincoln (from a photo he had) and some ambiguous objects that were intensely personal and held great meaning for him. Having lost his father some years before, these images of Lincoln show some correlation between mourning his father’s death, and the nation who still mourned the loss of a President. Scholars have said the torn cards and ripped articles have “an undercurrent of violence and baroque restlessness.” This is something not seen in Harnett’s work. The “1864” scratched into the wood surface refers to the year Lincoln was re-elected, a year before his assassination, and the ribbon rack has a resemblance to the Star of David that is also seen in many paintings of his at this time. What do you think the dinner coupon suggests?

Next look at the Harnett on view, and then tell me if you think they look alike.

Image credit:John Frederick Peto (United States, 1854–1907), Rack Picture with Portrait of Lincoln, circa 1904, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Walter B. Goldfarb, M.D.

William Michael Harnett (United States, born Ireland, 1848–1892), Still Life with New York Herald and Butler’s Hudibras, 1880, oil on canvas, 11 1/2 x 15 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Walter B. Goldfarb, M.D. Photo by meyersphoto.com.