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Cinnaminson, New Jersey
June 7, 2003
Peter Carl Faberge was a court jeweler to several of Russian tsars, and 50 imperial eggs for empress Maria Fedorovna and Alexandra Fedorovna made by Faberge are what he is most famous for. But this exhibit tries to illustrate that besides these treasures Faberge also created precious knickknacks, parasol handles, bell pushes, cigarette cases, stamp moisteners, and animal sculptures. The exhibit starts with the flower basins made of semiprecious stones in gilded bronze frame, table with malachite top, ceremonial cup with enameled horse, and tazzas that predate Faberge and show what inspired him to create a kovsh in the shape of a bat with the head of a Russian warrior made of silver and several other very traditional Russian items. Gradually it moves to Faberge’s objets de fantasie – cigarette cases made of nephrite with diamonds or of enameled quartz, stamp boxes, frames made of bowenite framed in gold, bookmarks, parasol handles that were purchased by Henry Walters in 1900 at Faberge headquarters in St. Petersburg as presents for his guests, swan kovsh made of nephrite with long swan’s neck in gold and 5-rouble Nicolas II coin dated 1898 inserted in the handle.
Several of the imperial eggs are also shown here: the first is the Orange Tree egg which a golden tree with 325 naturally veined leaves of nephrite, 125 flower blossoms of white enamel with diamond centers and fruits made of amethysts, rubies, and diamonds. The second is Gatchina Palace egg which is enameled with layers of white enamel over red gold background – this creates the look of moiré silk; inside the egg is a miniature gold replica of the Gatchina Palace (located in Gatchina – a suburb of St. Petersburg, Russia). The third is the Renaissance egg covered in enameled flower motifs in red, green and blue, with lions on each side. And the fourth is Rose Trellis egg which was supposed to commemorate the birth of the tsarevich but was presented later because of the war. The egg is made of gold with enamel showing rose flowers with diamond framework across and a large diamond in the middle.
The most interesting part of this exhibit is, however, Faberge’s netsukes – tiny animal scuptures, made in a style that reminds of the Japanese originals but instead of ivory Faberge used bowenite, obsidian, agate, nephrite, porphyry, rhodonite, lapis lazuli quartzes, chalcedonies with rubies and diamonds for eyes and tails. All together there are 500 of Faberge netsukes: rabbits, mice, swans, cockatoos, various dog breeds, squirrels, elephants, pigs, lambs, bulls, ducks, bears, chimpanzees, seals on the ice, rhinos, hippos, ladybugs, frogs, and fish, but of course not all of them were shown at this exhibit. To have something to remember this exhibit by, you might want to buy in the bookshop a couple of books like "Masterpieces From the House of Faberge" and "Russian Enamels". They also have a catalog of this exhibit for $25.
From journal For your next culture vacation choose Baltimore
The exhibit starts with paintings of Natalia Goncharova, who together with Mikhail Larionov are considered the creators of the Neo-Primitivism style. One of her most famous paintings "The Evangelists" is presented here. This painting is a mixture of the Russian icons tradition and lubok (seen in the flatness of figures) with western tradition. In this exhibit we can also see paintings by most of the artists from "The Jack of Diamonds" group which was organized by Aristarkh Lentulov, whose own work reminds very much of Robert Delaunay. The "Jack of Diamonds" group included Goncharova, Larionov, Lentulov, Malevich, Mashkov, Konchalovsky, and their exhibit took place in December 1910-1911. Later Goncharova, Larionov, Malevich and others left this group to form a group "The Donkey Tail" which in March-April 1912 exhibited a large number of paintings including 55 by Goncharova. Goncharova’s paintings from the "Mystical images of the war" series in this exhibit show great influence of Russian and Byzantine icons on her especially in the depiction of "Archistrategus Michael". Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin’s and Pyotr Filonov’s paintings are also greatly influenced by the Russian icons, with each artist’s own take on the subject. Petrov-Vodkin loves red color – you can see it in most of his paintings especially the most famous "The bathing of the red horse" (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and in this exhibit his image of the Madonna really grabs your attention. Filonov’s paintings have icon-like faces of people and horses that remind you of icons in Byzantine churches with long narrow noses and large eyes watching you from the painting. Even Kandinsky’s illustrations of that time remind very much of the static and primitive depiction of the human figures in Russian lubok.
Another very interesting artist is Mashkov, whose still-life is obviously based on the signboards of the time. However the choice of color and exaggeration of shapes, sizes, and vibrant colors also show the influence of Matisse and Cezanne. Next to him is David Burliuk, known as the father of the Russian Futurism, who in his "Portrait of poet Vasily Kamensky" paints Kamensky in an icon-like image with halo of "King of Poets, Fighter-Bard Futurist" words surrounding him, which is aimed to show disregard for tradition, almost disbelief in religion. In the next room we can see paintings of Olga Rozanova, who was originally influenced by Neo-Primitivism, and her landscapes of that time show her focus on visual rhythm instead of details. She later became a cubo-futurist, embarassed Malevich’s style and produced brilliant paintings. And of course the face of this exhibit is Kasimir Malevich, whose input in the development of the art in the 20th century cannot be overestimated. His paintings "Head of a Peasant", "Red Square" and "Reaping Modello" are the bright examples of Malevich’s unique style of suprematism in which he moved away from representation to abstract form.
The other exhibit that I highly recommend is "The Faberge Menagerie".
Continued in Part IV
The third floor is connected with Hackerman House that has a large collection of Asian art. The Hackerman House was built in 1850 but its subsequent owners kept changing it. The remarkable staircase adorned by carvings ends in cupola with Tiffany skylight showing a woman kneeling in prayer is as much art in itself as the Japanese and Chinese artifacts in the adjacent rooms. The rooms have a large collection of Chinese and Japanese furniture, vases, writing boxes, pipes, Samurai clothes and weapons, Japanese porcelain, silk screens and screen-like doors, swords, pagodas and Indian sculptures.
And then there is the fourth floor that starts with neoclassicism of David, Ingres, Delacrouix, moves on to the landscapes of Corot, Miller, Daumier, and continues with Puvis de Chavannes, as precursor of impressionism, and the impressionists themselves: Monet, Casatt, Pissarro, Sisley, Manet, Degas. Here also there are several of Rodin’s sculptures and a small but very beautiful collection of Art Nouveau vases and broches by Lalique, Tiffany, Galle, and others.
Also on the fourth floor there is a temporary exhibit of El Lissitzky. It shows his paintings from the series "Victory over the sun". El Lissitzky was a pioneer of Russian constructivism, a movement where art had to be practical, therefore it was geared towards designs of furniture, dishware and clothing. Under the influence of Malevich, Lissitzky tried to apply suprematism to everyday life, and his posters were very effective at delivering the message. He created a concept of Proun – a half-way between architecture and painting, and this exhibit shows his use of this technique in a series of paintings with two-dimensional images that represent costume design.
The museum also has two immensely interesting temporary exhibits: "Origins of the Russian avant-garde" (through May 25, 2003) and "The Faberge Menagerie" (through July 27, 2003). These two exhibits are part of the "Vivat! St. Petersburg" celebration that took part in Baltimore in February/March to commemorate 300-year anniversary of St. Petersburg, Russia.
"Origins of the Russian avant-garde" exhibit located on the third floor shows that Russian avant-garde takes its origins from the Russian folk art (lubok, toys, signboards, carved wooden kovshes, Zhyostovo trays, Palekh painted boxes, etc.) more so than or even instead of its reliance on French influence. The exhibit was organized with the help of the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, which has a collection of over 400,000 works of art including works by Russia’s most important painters like Kandinsky, Goncharova, Malevich and others who are represented in this exhibit as well. A lot of the names of the artists are not well-known and only now in this exhibit we can see the whole variety of Russian avant-garde, all the experimentation and individuality of each of the painters, their search for new way to express themselves.
Continued in Part III
The current collection of the Walters art museum was started by William Thompson Walters in 1860’s when he returned from Paris where he bought a lot of European works of art. When William died and left his collection to his son, Henry Walters continued the acquisitions and purchased Roman and Etruscan artifacts, Italian paintings of Baroque and Renaissance. In the beginning of the 20th century he built the museum building that the museum now occupies and bequeathed it and his collection to the city of Baltimore upon his death in 1931. The museum opened its doors to the public in 1934, in 1974 a new wing was added which created more space for the museum and it grew over the 70 years from 22,000 original works of art to 30,000 that it currently has.
The permanent collection is located on three floors. The building is in a neoclassical style. The main entrance is a two-story atrium with neoclassical white marble columns supporting each floor. Along the walls are the busts of various writers of the 19th century and della Robbia’s statues of Madonnas (unusual combination if you ask me but it works). As you proceed to the elevators, a statue of Apollo greets you.
The second floor houses statues of Egyptian pharaohs and gods, sarcophaguses and mummies, very well preserved Assyrian bas-reliefs, Roman and Greek statues, Roman sarcophaguses of white marble each telling a different mythological story like "Castor and Pollux seizing the daughters of Leucippus", antique urns, busts, amphorae and golden jewelry. The European art collection on the second floor was closed, when I was there.
The third floor collection starts with Byzantine vases, jewelry, icons, bas-reliefs, then there is Romanesque art with the clear influence of Byzantine art on it and typical prevailing red/black/green colors. Gothic stained glass from France and Belgium are really wonderfully preserved and bright colors tell us various stories from the bible. Gothic altarpieces nearby continue the same topics – crucifixion, annunciation. There is also a collection of crucifixes made of ivory, and the Knight’s Hall with a beautiful Belgium tapestry on the wall. Here you can seat down and play a game of chess. There is also a small exhibit of Islamic art with mudejar style doors and mihrab plaques so reminiscent of the south of Spain. On the other side of the floor you can see Renaissance and Baroque art represented by the paintings of Lippi, Raphael, Veronese, Signorelli, Vasari, Van Dyck, El Greco, Tiepolo, Brueghel, Ribera. One of the small rooms has a very unique 15th century French ceiling where each of the 20 scenes is a different proverb.
Continued in Part II
by Lulu Byrd
November 19, 2000
The building itself is quite beautiful with its roman columns and high ceilings. PERMANENT COLLECTION. I must admit that I was initially disappointed by the somewhat cursory glance at art from the Mesopotamian, Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Medieval periods. Although there are some well-preserved, beautiful sculptures and vases from these periods, these sections certainly are not the museum's main selling point, as other museums in the world have much larger collections.
The area that DID knock my socks off is the goldsmith and porcelain wings of the gallery. Here there are some truly delightful pieces including their Fabergé eggs (ornate, lovingly crafted, priceless works of art), the Tiffany's collection and the Sèvres/Vincennes soft-paste porcelain pieces. Some of the cabinets and snuff boxes in this section also simply delighted me not only with their meticulous attention to detail and beauty but also with their cleverness and humor in their design.
Presently there is an "Orientalism in America" exhibit (I believe it ends after winter season 2000-2001) on the 2nd floor of the gallery. This section is devoted to artwork from the late 1800s and early 1900s of American depictions of life in the Near East and North Africa. While many pieces (mostly paintings) are quite beautiful, the museum also discusses the inaccurate way in which this part of the world is often portrayed (often so as not to offend American sensibilities of the day). During this time period, art depicting the Near East apparently was not only in vogue, but also romanticized and exoticized.
There is also a theater where clips from 3 silent movies (Thief in Bagdad with Douglas Fairbanks, The Shiek with Rudolph Valentino and Salomé) may be seen. These movies are not only amusing at times but take the viewer back to this fantasy mind set of the Near East à la Arabian Nights of that epoch. Overall this section was worth the extra $2.
Located at the center of the Mount Vernon neighborhood, The Walters Art Gallery is about a 10-15 minute walk north of the Inner Harbor and about an equal distance south of Baltimore's Penn Station. Admission to the permanent collection is $5 for adults and the permanent collection plus "Orientalism in America" is $7. There are special rates for seniors, students and children; those who obtain membership can go for free.
From journal "Gritty Baltimore"