Jessie Willcox Smith

Jessie Willcox Smith
Jessie Willcox Smith was a prominent American illustrator from Philadelphia who studied at the School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where her instructors included Thomas Eakins.

She began her career working in the production department of the Ladies’ Home Journal, but didn’t realize her potential as an artist until she left to study with the great American illustrator Howard Pyle, becoming a student in his first class at Drexel Institute.

It was there that she met Elizabeth Shippen Green, and later, Violet Oakley. The three of them would go on the become lifelong friends, and would be among Pyle’s most accomplished and successful students, joining a roster that includes a number of America’s greatest illustrators.

Smith, Green and Oakley together leased an old inn in the outskirts of Philadelphia known as the Red Rose Inn, and shared their lives, inspiration and working practice for a number of years (until Green broke their commitment to one another by leaving to marry).

There is an excellent book by Alice Carter, The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love, that chronicles their time together (out of print but available used). You can also find a selection of other books with Smith’s illustrations in print.

Smith, who never marred and had no children of her own, took childhood and the mother child relationship as her primary subject, becoming renowned for her cover and interior illustrations for Good Housekeeping, The Ladies Home Journal, Collier’s, Harper’s and other popular periodicals, as well as numerous books.

One of her best known books, and one of my favorites of those she illustrated, was The Water-Babies (images above, top two). There is a nice online exhibition of her work from the book on the website of Library of Congress, which has the originals in its collection.

Like Green, and to some extent, Oakley, Smith often took something of a mixed media approach to her illustrations, starting in charcoal, adding washes of watercolor and at times adding final touches in oil.

Smith moved away from the style of her mentor, and her later work reflects the graphic sensibilities of European poster art and Japanese woodblock prints.


BibliOdyssey at 7

BibliOdyssey: Wendel Dietterlin, Jacques Callot, Sir Peter Lely, Barbaro, Master IAM of Zwolle, James Bruce, Walter Rothschild, Charles Meryon, [unkonwn]
The amazing, fascinating, enlightening, bizarre and wonderful cornucopia of visual ephemera from books, periodicals and other sources known as BibliOdyssey recently turned 7.

That means the rabbit hole goes even deeper.

I’ll wish author peacay many happy returns, and if you get fascinated with this stuff the way I do, I’ll issue my Major Time Sink Warning, and wish you bon voyage.

(Images above: Wendel Dietterlin, Jacques Callot, Sir Peter Lely, Barbaro, Master IAM of Zwolle, James Bruce, Walter Rothschild, Charles Meryon, [unkonwn])


Fred Danziger

Fred Danziger
Fred Danziger is an artist originally from Western Pennsylvania and now based in Philadelphia, where he is also a member of the faculties of The Art Institute of Philadelphia and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He is also a visiting instructor at Rutgers University and Rosemont College.

Over his long career, Danziger has experimented with a variety of approaches and subjects, not just in phases, but in an apparently restless exploration throughout the years. Danziger has recently moved to a new web presence, and in the transition phase you can still access his archives of older work, which are fascinating for the variety of the work.

I had the chance yesterday to see a show at the Rodger LaPelle Galleries here in Philadelphia, in which a fine variety of Danziger’s work is showcased, from large scale landscapes and cityscapes to small plein air studies.

The matter of scale is one that is difficult to convey in images, and scale is one of the areas in which Danziger appears to enjoy experimenting. Some of his works are quite large, such as The Four Seasons (images above, third down), which is 44 x 96″, and 16th and Market (second down) which is 36 x 44″; others are small plein air pieces that are 5 x 7″ or 8 x 10″.

I find the drama of scale particularly effective in his intimate landscape subjects of leaves and grasses, like Autumn Drift (above, top) which is 36 x 50″ and Dewpoint (fifth down), which is 22 x 34″. These are just magical; the scale reinforces the contemplative subtlety of the work, reminiscent of Durer’s famous studies of turf and wildflowers.

Danziger’s accomplished portrait subjects often incorporate elements of cityscape, and his still life subjects feel continuous with his focus on the close up details of the landscape.

My schedule made me late in getting to the show at the Rodger LaPelle Galleries this month, so my notice to those of you in the Philadelphia area who might be able to get there is a bit short. The show ends this Sunday, September 30th, but it’s well worth trying to see it if you have the chance.

There is a short video on YouTube by John Thornton Fred Danziger: One Simple Idea, which features an interview with Danziger on the occasion of a previous show at the Rodger LaPelle galleries in 2009.

[Suggestion courtesy of Tom Jackson]


Leonardo’s younger Mona Lisa, or Mona wanna-be?

Younger Mona Lisa
Though it has been known of for some time, a painting known as the “Isleworth Mona Lisa” was officially unveiled in Geneva yesterday by the Mona Lisa Foundation.

The painting was uncovered by an English art collector, Hugh Baker, in 1913, and kept in his studio in Isleworth, London for several years, which is how the name was appended.

The Mona Lisa Foundation, a Swiss consortium, has kept the painting in a bank vault in Switzerland for the last 40 years. Backed by a research physicist from the U.S., a forensic image expert and an Italian expert on Leonardo’s work, the foundation has put forward a 300 page publication documenting their investigation and suggesting that the painting was indeed painted by Leonardo, and is the first portrait of the Italian noblewoman, portraying her at a younger age.

It is larger than the hyper-famous painting in the Louvre, and is painted on canvas rather than on wood, Leonardo’s usual preferred surface.

This, and other factors have led other experts to call the suggested attribution into question. They assert that the painting is likely a copy painted by another artist shortly after the original, in which the copyist has projected a younger version of the subject (see my recent post on the Mona Lisa copy from Da Vinci’s workshop in the Prado in Madrid).

In this version, the woman’s expression is less enigmatic, obviously a smile (though still, as I have pointed out, asymmetrical in the degree to which each side is turned up).

The Mona Lisa Foundation website has a variety of images and resources, including an interactive comparison in which they have juxtaposed the two versions, with the facial features matched up as closely as possible, allowing you to reveal more or less of each version with a slider.

It will be interesting to see if other experts are permitted access to the Isleworth painting and, if so, what conclusions are drawn.

I will say one thing, which is usually the bottom line for me in my assessment of any work in which attribution is in question — whatever the results from the experts regarding who painted it, this looks like a beautiful painting.


Museum Day, 2012

Museum Day, 2012: Brandywine River Museum, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Allentown Art Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Biggs Museum of American Art, Montclair Museum, Newark Museum
In what has become a welcome tradition, tomorrow, Saturday, September 29, 2012, is Museum Day here in the U.S.

Sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine, an offshoot of the cultural cornucopia of museums known as the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, all of which are free every day, Museum Day is a chance for participating museums to open their doors for free to encourage new visitors, albeit in a controlled, limited way.

Every U.S. household can order two tickets for any one museum, choosing from an extensive list of participating museums across the country. Not all of them are art museums, but a significant number are.

Most of the museums participating are smaller, regional museums. However, those, as I have pointed out in the past, are often treasure troves of wonderful specialized collections.

You can use the Find a Museum page on the event’s website to find a museum in your area, either by typing in a location, or by choosing from a dropdown menu of states.

You must order tickets online ahead of time.

For more, seee my previous posts on Museum Day 2011 and Museum Day, 2010.

(Images above: Some participating museums in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey: Brandywine River Museum, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Allentown Art Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Biggs Museum of American Art, Montclair Museum, Newark Museum)