Published: August 17, 2004
The Birmingham Museum of Art recently acquired ten works of art. Nine of these will be additions to the museum’s European art collection and one is a major gift of Indian sculpture to the Asian art collection.
Several works were purchased this spring at the European Fine Art Fair in Mastricht, The Netherlands. Four of these were acquired with funds provided by Mr and Mrs William T. Ratliff Jr.
The most significant purchase is a painting by French artist Laurent de La Hyre (1606-1656) titled “Saint Paul Shipwrecked on Malta.” The painting is an extraordinary discovery from the artist’s early, Italianate period and will be on view in the museum’s Kress galleries of Renaissance art. The oil on canvas measures 104.8 by 161.9 centimeters and was executed circa 1630. La Hyre often depicted rarely illustrated subjects, such as this episode in the life of Saint Peter, and faithfully represented them for easy recognition.
Also acquired at Mastricht is a Dutch work titled “Interior of the Cathedral in Antwerp” by Pieter Neefs the Younger (1620-1675), one of the most eminent Flemish painters of architecture in the first half of the Seventeenth Century. The interior of the soaring cathedral is meticulously depicted in the work, as well as elegant ladies and gentlemen, a priest, a beggar, children playing and dogs.
The third work made possible through the Ratliffs is an Impressionist pastel by Francois Millet (1849-1917), son of the renowned artist Jean-François Millet. The work, titled “The Old Home at Barbizon,” is an impeccable example of the pastel technique so favored by artists of late Nineteenth Century France. The work depicts a young woman digging up potatoes along the edge of the village of Barbizon and was executed circa 1885-1890.
The fourth work provided by the Ratliffs is a marble sculpture titled “Female Saint with Book,” dating from the Fourteenth Century. The saint’s characteristics have a Gothic quality, especially her elongated proportions. It was probably created by an artist influenced by Tino di Camaino, circa 1285-1337, an Italian Gothic sculptor whose style spread throughout southern Italy due to his time spent in Naples. Tino’s influence was felt long after he died. The work is the first piece of marble in the museum’s Italian collection.
An exceptional painting by the northern Italian artist Marco Zoppo is a significant addition to the museum’s collection. Titled “Christ as Man of Sorrows,” this moving work was also purchased at Maastricht and is the first example in the collection of a north Italian painting from the Fifteenth Century. By placing the figure of Christ immediately in front of the picture plane against a dark background, the artist invites the viewer to meditate solely on the death of Christ. The work is a gift of Mildred Tillman Camp in memory of her husband, Ehney Addison Camp Jr.
The first acquisition by the museum’s European Art Society is a painting by the Dutch Italianate artist Cornelis van Poelenburgh (1586-1667). The delightful painting on copper, titled “The Finding of Moses,” mid-Seventeenth Century, is an example of Poelenburgh’s polished style. Considered the most important painter of the first generation of Dutch Italianate artists, Poelenburgh excelled at painting female nudes within biblical or mythological scenes set in Italianate landscapes bathed in warm southern light.
Accordingly, the subject of the work, “The Finding of Moses,” is secondary to the depiction of the nudes in an Arcadian landscape with a panoramic view to the golden horizon. Poelenburgh lived in Italy from 1617 to 1626 and was active both in Rome and in the Medici court in Florence. His paintings were among the most prized by the classically educated aristocracy of northern Europe.
Three more stellar acquisitions to the museum’s growing Dutch collection are drawings dating from the Seventeenth Century, purchased with funds provided by Betty and Victor Hanson. One is by Herman Saftleven (1609-1685), an etcher who soon became a dominating figure as a painter and draughtsman of the Dutch landscape. This work, titled “A Mill along the Banks of the River Vecht,” is a luminous drawing that was hidden in a private collection for more than 100 years. A second drawing, also from this collection, is by Isaac de Moucheron (1667-1744), one of the leading representatives of French and Italian Classicism in the Netherlands. The work, titled “Landscape with Two Riders; In the Foreground a Huntsman and His Dog Drinking from a Pond,” has its appeal in the simplicity of the scenery that seems to have been closely observed from nature.
A third work, with figure studies drawn on both the front and back, is by Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651). Together with several other artists, Bloemaert represents the last phase of Mannerism in the Northern Netherlands. His exceptional talent as a draughtsman is manifest in this work, titled “Four Studies of Standing or Walking Men and a Sheep’s Head” and “Studies of Five Standing and Sitting Women and Draperies.” The work will be exhibited with both sides visible to the viewer.
A magnificent sculpted image of “Vishnu,” the Hindu god of goodness and mercy, is a gift of longtime museum supporters Eivor and Alston Callahan. Dating from the late Ninth Century, the sculpture is from Uttar Pradesh in northern India and is a complex depiction of the deity. “Vishnu” is a major addition to the museum’s Asian art collection.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is at 2000 Eighth Avenue North. For information, 205-254-2565 or artsbma.org.
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