Published: November 20, 2001
Great Things in Small Packages:
NEW YORK CITY – “The Christmas Show: Great Things in Small Packages” will feature 80 American and European vintage paintings, eight-by-ten inches or less, through December 31 at Spanierman Gallery.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an 120-page catalogue with color plates and artists’ biographies.
The majority of the works date from the last 50 years on American art of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. The gallery is also branching out, however, to include examples of small works by European artists from the Fourteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries.
Many of the works are by well-known artists, including Ralph Albert Blakelock, Arthur B. Davies, Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Pena, Arthur Weley Dow, Henry Farny, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Robert Henri, William Morris Hunt, John Frederick Kensett, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Thomas Moran, Maurice Prendergast, Theodore Robinson, Martin Rico y Ortega, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Elihu Vedder.
The earliest work is Bernardo Daddi’s roundel (circa 1300) that was once part of an altarpiece. Created in tempera on a gold background, this finely wrought piece portrays a prophet unrolling an ancient scroll. Created in the Baroque era, “The Adoration of the Magi” (1720) is an oil on panel attributed to the French painter Nicholas Vleughels, who was a friend of Jean-Antoine Watteau.
For artists of the Nineteenth Century, small formats provided a range of new expressive possibilities. The American painters associated with the Hudson River School used small formats to create detailed, panoramic views of vast wilderness areas, such as Sanford Gifford’s “Edge of a Lake” (circa 1850).
By contrast, artists working in the Barbizon mode found small works well suited to capturing quiet, lyrical moods of nature. The forest of Fontainebleau, a favorite subject for the French Barbizon School, is portrayed in a vigorously painted scene (circa 1830) by a leading figure in the school, Narcisse Diaz de la Pena.
Influenced by the Barbizon approach, late Nineteenth Century American Tonalist painters were particularly fond of small formats. Bruce Crane used this approach in “Across the Fields” (circa 1890), a scene of a peaceful valley on a misty spring day, as did William Fitler in a view of haystacks in a marshy, hazy landscape in New York state (circa 1890), and J. Francis Murphy in a scene from below through the midst of a garden of wild hollyhocks.
Barbizon influence is also apparent in romantic, small works by Ralph Blakelock, who expressed the descent of nightfall in powerful terms in “Sunset on a Lake” (circa 1880-90), and by Thomas Moran, who, inspired by the brilliance of J.M.W. Turner’s Venetian scenes, captured many different light effects in “Sunset, Beyond the Cottage” (1899).
The freedom that Impressionism engendered is evident in Maurice Prendergast’s “Beach Scene” (circa 1903-06), in which the artist’s expressive brush handling conveys the carefree pleasures of a breezy day at the coast.
The Impressionist interest in recording quick glimpses of everyday life is reflected in Karl Anderson’s sun filled “Dining on the Terrace” (circa 1910), possibly painted in Giverny, Joseph Gies’ “By the Ocean” (circa 1900), in which a young fashionably garbed woman is illuminated by a warm, coastal sunlight, and in Theodore Robinson’s sketchy, candid portrayal of his friend, the English landscape painter, William Stott (1879), which reveals the artist’s synthesis of academic painting with a new concern for working outdoors.
Due to its humble and straightforward subject matter, still life is a genre that has always been perfectly accommodated by an intimate scheme. Among American artists, George Henry Hall continued the “tabletop” tradition established by Raphaelle Peale in “Still Life with Strawberries” (1868) as did Carle Shi (one of two contemporary artists in the exhibition) in her classically composed “Lemons and Olives” (circa 1999).
Johan Laurentz Jensen, known as the “Father of Danish Flower Painting,” was among the most adept floral renderers of his generation; in a work of 1835, he included pansies, apple blossoms, gloxinia, phlox and primula auricula in a gracious table-top bouquet. Fruit was the favorite subject for the American still-life painter Carducius Plantagenet Ream, whose placement of realistic grapes and peaches in a natural setting in a work of circa 1880-90 reflects the inspiration of the truth-to-nature approach advocated by the English theorist John Ruskin.
Trompe l’oeil works include the exquisitely crafted “A Hanging Bird on the Lid of a Cigar Box” (1880) by German artist Friedrich Heimerdinger; “Honest Tobacco” (1872), a delightful and humorous image by the Philadelphia-based German expatiate Robert Godfrey Sprunk, in which the accoutrements of a smoker, including playing cards and a pipe, appear to rest on a table; and “Fresh Peanuts” (circa 1890) by the American painter Victori Dubreuil, which depicts peanuts as if seen under a broken glass.
The Austrian painter Hans Hamza created a realistic crowd scene (circa 1900) that captures the liveliness of a Viennese marketplace in the early Twentieth Century, while the Czech artist Antoinette Brandeis specialized in small, precise views of Italy, such as her sparkling “A View of the Boboli Gardens, Florence” (circa 1880-90).
A slice of life in old Spain is captured by Valencian-School painter Francisco Domingo y Marques, whose “By a Doorway” (circa 1860) evokes the tonal, painterliness of the Spanish tradition of Velazquez and Goya. The quiet, picturesqueness of a Neapolitan street is expressed in Neapolitan genre scene painter Vincent Caprile’s “La Salita di San Martino, Naples” (circa 1890).
The leading figure in the Ashcan School, Robert Henri, is represented by a scene of a gray day in Haarlem, Holland (1907), while Everett Longley Warner conveyed the bustle of New York at the turn-of-the-century in his luminous Impressionist “View of Municipal Building, New York City” (circa 1900).
Of the few modernist works are images by Ilya Bolotowsky and Charles Green Shaw, both members of the American Abstract Artists, established in 1937, who explored a nonobjective language of angular hard-edged shapes, linear patterns, and grid-like arrangements.
The gallery is at 45 East 58th Street. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm