12 for 12: James Roy Hopkins and Edna Boies

Edna Boies Hopkins Garden Flowers

In the next in our 12 for 12 series highlighting local artists for the Columbus Bicentennial, we feature James Roy Hopkins and Edna Boies.

Ohio born James Roy Hopkins (1877-1969) met his future wife Edna Boies (1872-1937) while they both were students at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.  James was primarily a painter and Edna quickly became an accomplished printmaker, fascinated with 19th century Japanese woodblock prints.  The couple married in 1904 following a two year stint James had made in Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi.  During their honeymoon, they had a protracted visit to Japan where Edna further perfected her woodblock printmaking techniques.  James and Edna settled in Paris as did many American artists of the day only to return home to Cincinnati, Ohio when World War I broke out.  James taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and Edna successfully continued her career making floral woodblock prints.

The summer of 1915 was pivotal for both artists.  Edna visited artist friends who were living and working in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she began using the so-called “white line” method of making woodblock prints that was special to a small group of artists there. These prints were less laborious to produce than previous methods and their look tended to reflect the Modernist aesthetic that was becoming widespread in American art.  The Columbus Museum of Art’s recently acquired Garden Flowers is a prime example of her floral work likely made in Provincetown but in the traditional multi-block method.   James, on the other hand, visited Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, a rural resort fashionable among Cincinnati society, and was captivated by the hand-working Appalachian people who worked at the local Brunson Inn.  One character in particular, Andy Vanover—and later other members of his clan—was a frequent sitter for James’s paintings.  In subsequent summers, Edna would join James in Cumberland Falls and she too produced some marvelous woodblock prints, images of rural Appalachia that have become as highly prized and her husband’s oil paintings of similar subjects.

Edna and James both led productive and successful careers.  Edna traveled extensively between Provincetown, Paris, New York, and Columbus, where James had been appointed artist in residence at the Ohio State University.  He soon was given the position of chairman of OSU’s art department.  Although they worked in different media and styles—Edna in a Modernist style, James in an Impressionist—they valued each other’s work and maintained a loving and mutually supporting relationship throughout their lives.

(Edna Boies Hopkins, Garden Flowers, c. 1915, Color woodcut,
Museum Purchase Howald Fund)

American Scene Acquisition Honors Laborers

Recently the Columbus Museum of Art acquired a number of new acquisitions including this important American Scene painting by Joe Jones, a fitting tribute to the American worker as we celebrate Labor Day weekend. Threshing No. 1 is, without a doubt, a paean to the rural, working-class laborer and his mythic connection to the natural cycles of the land, a theme at the heart of American Scene painting.  The farmer stands thigh-deep amidst a glorious golden field of wheat.  Wheat, pitchfork, and hand converge in the very center of the painting, the spray of sheathes balanced at this fulcrum with the enlarged left hand at the end of the fork.  The towering stature of the laborer and the projection of his enlarged hand wielding the pitchfork constitute a dynamic presence that does, in its way, make the rhythmic, stylized figures of Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton seem anemic in comparison.  The vigor of the composition also ties this work to the Social Realism of the era, which was not missed by a number of contemporary critics, including Archibald MacLeish, who noted that “If this picture here seems non-political to you, thank Jones’s insistence on objectivity and examine more thoughtfully the face of the farmer and his left fist in yours (a probably deliberate paraphrase of the communist salute) which bring the whole landscape into line.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that Joe Jones exploded on the national art scene in 1935, when, as a completely unknown, former-house-painter-turned-fine-artist from St. Louis, his solo exhibition at the ACA Galleries in New York City became the most talked about event of the season.  The exhibition garnered headlines in the New York Times, Fortune, Time, Magazine of Art, Newsweek, and The New Yorker.  Jones had become a Communist out of his response to the deprivation of the Great Depression, and the works in the exhibition—such as our own American Justice, 1933; Roustabouts, 1934, now in the Worcester Art Museum; and We Demand, 1934, in the Butler Institute of American Art—forcefully conveyed this intense social concern.  In fact, Jones is noted, historically, for being one of the first artists to legitimize social realism within the art world elite, and for providing a much needed model to other artists who had been struggling to push the propaganda of social commentary graphics into the realm of fine art.  As the New York Times noted, “In his case one never suspects that painting, as an art, has figured exclusively, for him, as a crude machine by means of which propaganda broadsides may be catapulted into the face of the public.  On the contrary, a spectator is pretty sure to feel the artist’s intense concern for esthetic content.”

When the art world clamored to attend the opening of his second solo exhibition the next year at the Walker Galleries, they were again taken aback and left the galleries again animated—this time by canvas after canvas that unapologetically reveled in the lush wheat fields of Missouri.  Jones was unanimously anointed “the Professor of Wheat,” and the vigor of his style was considered by critics a great improvement upon the increasingly stale productions of Regionalist exemplars Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood.  The unanimous start of this second exhibition was Threshing No. 1, and, in fact, this specific painting was the work most associated with the artist through the remainder of his career.  The strength of the art world’s adulation and confidence in Jones’s historic position was confirmed in 1937, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought Threshing No. 1 for $1,000 from the 28-year-old, making him one of the youngest artists, still, to enter the collection.  The work was shown in their American galleries on a regular basis until around 1950, when the rise of abstraction effectively marginalized figurative, “populist” artists such as Jones.

The work is an incredibly significant addition to CMA’s collection on multiple fronts.  Threshing No. 1 is a signature Regionalist farm scene that heroicizes the rural laborer.  Jonas’s painting is one of those very rare works that rises to the top echelon of American Scene aspirations. As the art world continues the trend of the past decade in returning attention to the country’s figurative artistic tradition, artists such as Jones have received increasing critical acclaim. In this role, Threshing No. 1 will be a cornerstone in our American Scene collection. It offers a prominent counterpoint to other signature American Scene works in the CMA collection that celebrate the urban working-class, such as Bellows Snow Dumpers. Its evocation of the power of the natural environment is a partner to Arthur Dove’s Thunderstorm. Furthermore, in its inclusion of a rural environment—grain elevator, Missouri mule, and threshing equipment—it offers a compelling parallel to depictions of the urban environment, such as Precisionist works like Charles Demuth, Modern Conveniences, or Niles Spencer, Buildings in our Howald Collection, or Edward Hopper’s Morning Sun, and Reginald Marsh’s Hudson Bay Fur Company.

(Threshing No. 1, Joe Jones, 1935. Museum Purchase).

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Dominique Vasseur, Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of European Art

The Impact of Caravaggio

The response to our exclusive Caravaggio exhibition has been extremely gratifying.  Everyone is fascinated to see the work of Caravaggio and his followers, and genuinely moved by the drama and psychological intensity of Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo. The other day, walking through the exhibition, I saw two friends in their 20s sitting in front of the painting, deep in thought.  Clearly, as our Museum’s tag line states “art speaks.”

In 1951, Roberto Longhi, the great Italian art historian, brought Caravaggio to the world’s attention through a major exhibition in Milan, Italy. Bold, brash, dramatic, theatrical, perhaps even macho, Caravaggio’s style of painting had captivated a generation or more of artists during his lifetime and in 1951, he once again gained a new star-struck 20th century audience.  In 1951, on this side of the Atlantic, the most famous living painter was a man named Jackson Pollock.  His painting style can also be described as “bold, brash, dramatic, theatrical,” and, yes, perhaps even “macho.”  Interestingly, for 60 years now, the stars of both artists have remained high in the sky of popular acclaim.  But sadly too, the lives of both artists ended tragically.  Caravaggio was only 38 when he died trying to return to Rome; Pollock was 44 when he crashed his car not far from home in Springs, New York.

Get to know Caravaggio this Saturday, November 12, at 2:00 pm during our Cunningham lecture. The young Italian scholar and art historian, Lorenzo Pericolo, will be speaking at CMA on Caravaggio’s powerful painting, the Ecce Homo. Like Roberto Longhi before him, Dr. Pericolo, believes that the face of Pontius Pilate is actually a highly caricaturized self-portrait of Caravaggio.  Pericolo has found a number of fascinating reasons to support this argument.  Please join us Saturday to learn more about Caravaggio and this fascinating and moving painting.

Also check out the recent press on our Caravaggio exhibition:

WOSU ArtZine (Tuesday 11/8/11): Was Caravaggio the greatest artist ever?

Columbus Dispatch (Sunday, 10/16/11): Work by Influential Italian Master to Make First Appearance Here.

Columbus Alive Preview: (10/20/11): Caravaggio: Behold the Man! The Impact of a Revolutionary Realist

Caravaggio: Behind the Scenes

It has been just about a year since I visited Genoa, Columbus’s Sister City, to meet with Piero Boccardo, the director of the Musei di Strada Nuova. My mission, if you have been following the news here at the CMA, was to secure as a loan the great Ecce Homo by Caravaggio, Genoa’s only work by this remarkable painter. It was my first visit to Genoa, and I was much impressed by both the city and the wealth of artistic treasures in the museums there. But more to the point, my meeting with Dr. Boccardo and his curator, Raffaella Besta, went extremely well. They both were impressed with our concept to highlight Caravaggio’s revolutionary creativity and his impact on his European contemporaries. And as Besta says, “The loan of the Caravaggio painting has become a sort of symbol of the friendship between the two cities and we want it to be a concrete sign of the cooperation between Musei di Strada Nuova for the Columbus Museum of Art on the occasion of Columbus’  Bicentennial celebration in 2012.”

This past Sunday morning was unlike many I have experienced. I came to the Museum at 10 am, where I met our exhibition crew and registrar along with the courier from Genoa. The Caravaggio had begun its voyage from Genoa to Columbus on an Alitalia freighter destined from Milan to New York and then Chicago; the final leg was a seven-hour truck ride to Columbus. After the crated painting had acclimatized for a day in our secure store rooms, we were ready to install the painting. Our crew members carefully lifted the painting out of the crate, unwrapped it from its protective covering, and the Genoese courier then checked its condition to see if anything adverse had happened during the 4,500-mile journey; all good news there! As this was happening, our crew had measured the hanging devices for the painting, and within a few moments it was installed in the place of honor in the exhibition.

For all that we know about this painting including many contemporary references, there are a few scholars who question its authorship. Having studied the painting for the past two years that this exhibition has been in process, and now finally seeing it once again in person and in strong, clear light, I cannot imagine anyone would doubt that this is by the master Caravaggio. Numerous pentimenti–changes made by the artist during the creation of the work—are easily visible, and much of the work is painted rapidly, all signs that this is an original work and no copy. Yet more compelling still, the emotional intensity and visual power of the work is further proof of the hand of Caravaggio. It is a great honor to host such an amazing work and immensely gratifying to see it finally here in Columbus, Ohio.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Dominique Vasseur, Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of European Art

A Curator’s Reflections on the last days of “To Live Forever”

 

 

I like to joke that if America were closer to Egypt than Europe is, my American art colleague Melissa Wolfe, would have been the in-house curator responsible for “To Live Forever.”  As it turned out, I could not have enjoyed my involvement with this exhibition more.  Looking at this material, reading the excellent catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, I remembered being a kid again, awaking on Saturday morning’s and reading my Golden Book Encyclopedia about the ancient Egyptians, mummies, their tombs, and their after-life beliefs.  And that’s exactly what we brought to Columbus!  The exhibition of over a hundred objects of ancient Egyptian art, drawn from the revered collection of the Brooklyn Museum, had all the hallmarks of being an important exhibition for us, but I don’t think anyone here could have envisioned how popular it would be.  Attendance has been strong and steady ever since the Friday February 13 opening–a lucky day for us after all.  The stars were definitely aligned for success.

Finding an exhibition topic that appeals to people of all ages and other demographics is often difficult.  French Impressionism seems like a good bet, but as we have found out, ancient Egypt is of near universal interest.  Not only was it a stroke of good fortune that we were able to participate in “To Live Forever’s” national tour, but the exhibition could not have been scheduled at a better time.  We were able to take advantage of the Columbus Arts Festival, which is being held in our own neighborhood for the second year as well as a one-week overlap with COSI’s own exhibition “Lost Egypt.”  What a better way to build excitement in the community than through synergism and cooperation of this sort.

It’s been really gratifying to see so many school groups, college age students, senior citizens and especially families come to the exhibition, and clearly, they all seem to be having a great experience, which is the core of our Mission Statement “Great Experiences with Great Art for Everyone.”  As with all our exhibitions, everyone here tries to make our visitors feel welcome, to make the art accessible, to help explain things while allowing our visitors to have a say too with a variety of interactive moments, where they can share their thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing.  “To Live Forever” offered us an important way to reach out not only to our core audience of Members and art lovers in the community but to people who perhaps had rarely or never visited us.

But back to my own experience, as a curator, I have learned a great deal about the ancient Egyptians and enjoyed sharing it in a number of gallery and community talks and through a program that Nannette Maciejunes, our Executive Director, decided to call “Mummy Myth Busters,” although as she pointed out, since we didn’t blow anything up, we really couldn’t call it “Busters.”  It turned out to be fun and informative.  On two different Thursday evenings, Nannette, Jeff Sims, our Educator for Adult Programs, and I talked about ancient Egypt–and mummies–as they were and are portrayed in popular culture and showed clips of old and new “mummy movies.”  Boris Karloff was truly creepy.  And did you know, for example, that several hundred years ago, mummies were ground up and used as snuff, drunk as tea, or put on wounds to staunch the bleeding?  Or that in the 1890s tons of cat mummies were sold to a company in Liverpool, England to be ground up and used as plant fertilizer?  Appropriately, I called those “Freaky Mummy Facts.”

So, I wonder what Demetrios, Brooklyn’s two-thousand year old mummy upstairs in our galleries, would think of all these people staring at him and whispering “Wow!, is there really a body in there?”  Actually, just as the title of the exhibition is “To Live Forever,” I guess Mr. Demetrios is in his own way “living forever” and getting a lot of attention in the process.  It’s been a great treat to host him here in Columbus, Ohio.

Dominique H. Vasseur, Curator of European Art