DIA News March 2011

In This Issue
Director's Letter
Detroit Film Theater
New Acquisition
Rivera Court Tours
Art Studio

Director's Letter

Graham W.J. Beale, Director 

The idea for an exhibition focusing on Rembrandt's images of Jesus--which ultimately resulted in our fall 2011 exhibition Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus--originated at the DIA with our former Chief Curator and Curator of European Paintings George Keyes. George, now retired, has been serving as guest curator for the project.

It has long been recognized that, over the years, Rembrandt developed an image of Jesus markedly different from those of other western European artists, who tended to depict him as relatively light haired and blue eyed. So powerful was this convention that, even in the nineteenth century, an artist as dogmatically realist as the English Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt (who actually visited the Holy Land to paint the landscape of one of his moralizing canvases) depicted Jesus in his painting Light of the World as essentially Anglo Saxon.

The Netherlands in the seventeenth century was not only a lonely republic in a sea of kingdoms, it was also a refuge for a wide array of fugitives: from English philosophers and kings to whole communities, such as the Sephardic Jews, driven from other countries by persecution. Rembrandt's relatively close association with members of the Jewish community led him to use individuals from it as models and, in doing so, created the first images in Western painting that openly proclaimed "Jesus was a Jew." In fact, Rembrandt remained singular in this regard for a longtime after his death in 1669. Our exhibition examines in detail how one of the greatest figures in Western art arrived at this position and how it may have informed his personal faith.

One of the last such images Rembrandt made, The Supper at Emmaus, stands as the culminating work in the artist's progression. It is a painting in the Louvre, and, without this work, the exhibition would lack an appropriate finale. It would, in fact, not be worth doing. As a work on panel, the Louvre's painting was much less likely to be considered suitable to sustain the rigors of international shipping than one on canvas, and after preliminary enquiries at the curatorial level, we met with the curator of Dutch painting at the Louvre as well as the director. Not only were they willing to lend, they wanted the exhibition to be presented at the Louvre--and sooner rather than later. By this time, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was part of the mix but, working together, we were able to rearrange the tour of the exhibition so that it opens next month in Paris, then proceeds to Philadelphia for the summer and early fall, and arrives in Detroit to open on November 20.

In Michigan, only the DIA has the connections and influence that can bring approximately forty Rembrandt paintings, drawings, and etchings together in an exhibition of this magnitude. It is not an exaggeration to say that these works may never come together in this fashion again. Please mark your calendars, as I am sure you will want to join us for this extraordinary presentation.

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Still Life with Carnations


Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries

Through April 10, 2011
Special Exhibition Galleries: South

Sometimes even the most sophisticated analysis can't come up with an answer and the attribution of a work of art remains a mystery. Such is the case with Still Life with Carnations (above), which could be by Vincent van Gogh but, then again, may not be. If it is by the well-known post-impressionist, it would date to an early period of his career, when he was living in Paris. The brushwork seems similar to that in works in Van Gogh's Paris series, but the colors are somewhat muted and their combinations a bit off.

Our research scientist took a cross-section of paint, a sample smaller than the size of the dot above the letter i, from the work to examine all layers of pigment from the canvas to the surface. When the cross section was analyzed, all the pigments were consistent with those that Van Gogh used during the Paris period, including a ground layer immediately next to the canvas containing chalk followed by a priming layer containing lead-white paint. After a conservator cleaned the surface with a mild detergent to remove an oily, grimy film that had accumulated over the years, the painting's true colors were revealed, making the work more consistent with others from the Paris series.

While in Paris, Van Gogh wrote a letter to a fellow artist saying, "I have made a series of color studies in painting simply flowers....seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red with green, yellow and violet." That lends credence to the attribution to Van Gogh but does not rule out the possibility that the painting was created by another artist working at the same time. A still life known to be an original, on loan to the exhibition from the National Gallery of Canada, allows viewers to compare color combinations and brushwork for themselves and come to their own conclusions about the authenticity of the DIA's painting. To learn what other visitors to the exhibition think, click here and scroll to the Faux/Real? tab. For videos on how curators, conservators, and scientists determine authenticity, click here.

Timed tickets are necessary to see the exhibition. Click here to purchase them. Members see the exhibition free. Don't forget to bring your cell phone to access Director Graham Beal's audio commentary on the exhibition. The cell phone gallery guide is provided free of charge; however, you will use your cell phone minutes while connected, regardless of your carrier. A printed copy of the tour is also available.

Attributed to Vincent van Gogh, Dutch; Still Life with Carnations, oil on canvas. Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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It's A Zoo In Here! Prints and Drawings of Animals

March 23-July 24, 2011
Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings

Recumbent Lion 

Albrecht Dürer, German; Recumbent Lion, ca. 1494/95; brush and brown ink, black chalk, watercolor. Gift of Abris Silberman

All Souls: Zungeru 

Jane Hammond, American; All Souls: Zungeru, 2008; gouache, acrylic paint, metal leaf on handmade papers with graphite, colored pencil, archival digital prints, false eyelashes, feathers, horsehair. Bequest of James Pearson Duffy ©Jane Hammond


Countless creatures of many species fill the galleries in this exhibition of more than 150 prints and drawings drawn entirely from the museum's holdings and designed with fun in mind for everyone. The images range from a watercolor of a lion made by Albrecht Dürer in the mid-1490s to butterflies created in 2008 by Jane Hammond. Filling in the 500-year gap between these two are many famous works, such as a John James Audubon eagle from Birds of America, Manet's vision of Edgar Allan Poe's raven, Matisse's wolf from Jazz, bulls by Goya from his Tauromachia series, a monkey family by Edvard Munch, parrots by Mary Cassatt, vultures by Diego Rivera, and doves by Picasso.

These works, by more than one hundred American, European, and Asian artists, provide a look at how animals--as pets, beasts of burden, wild in nature, and metaphors and symbols--were portrayed in different cultures at different periods of history. Whether in watercolor, pencil, or chalk, or as engravings, woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, or screenprints, these images act as documentation, teaching tools with instructive or moralizing points, illustrations, or observations that sometimes carry religious, political, or historical meaning. Others are far simpler depictions with no deeper agenda than serving as reflections of the natural world.

The scope is intentionally broad, encompassing fireflies, bobcats, bees, geese, camels, turtles, elephants, coyotes, donkeys, peacocks, pigs, foxes, rabbits, roosters, dolphins, cats, horses, dogs, fish, and cows, as well as lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!).

The interpretations and the installation are intended for audiences of all ages. A portion of the exhibition is at an eye level comfortable for the youngest museum goers, with labels that incorporate poems and fact-finding questions to encourage children to look more closely at the images.

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An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs, 1914-69

Through May 29, 2011
Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography

A Corner of Place Mouffetard 

Eugène Atget, French; A Corner of Place Mouffetard, 1900/1927; albumen print. Gift of anonymous donor

André Kertész "Shadows of the Eiffel Tower" 

André Kertész, American, born Hungary; Shadows of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1929; gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Noel


The city of Paris has been a popular subject and inspiration for many photographers since the nineteenth century. André Kertész was aware of the work of his predecessors, who had documented the streets, people, and architecture of the city. While some focused on iconic landmarks, the remnants of medieval Paris, or architectural details, others found beauty in out-of-the-way locations or in small details and everyday activities of life.

Frenchmen Eugène Atget and Charles Marville documented the city in the late 1800s and celebrated the parts of Old Paris that remained after widespread modernization in the 1850s. Brassaï, Kertész's  contemporary, looked to nocturnal life in the streets, cafes, and other bohemian enclaves notorious in their time. Photographers working in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Robert Doisneau and Izis, were influenced by the works of Kertész, embracing his capacity for capturing distinct but fleeting moments that characterized Parisian city experiences. They photographed Parisians at work and at play in an effort to convey the commonplace experiences of city dwellers that uniquely defined the city.

Works by these individuals as well as other well-known photographers of Paris are included in the exhibition.

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Detroit Film Theatre

The DFT is one of the major players in the Detroit art and indie film scene, according to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press about movies beyond the mainstream. And not just locally. The DFT often draws bigger audiences here than art houses in cities on both coasts when playing the same film.

More people came to see the two-part French crime thriller Meserine during the two weeks it played at the DFT than saw it in the opening two weeks in New York and Los Angeles. "The movies did gangbusters" in Detroit, said a Chicago-based based booking agent. The same attendance pattern held for the two-week showing of Academy Award Nominated Short Films. The exclamation from the film's New York distributor upon hearing the Detroit numbers can't be repeated in a family newsletter. Overall, attendance at DFT films has increased 18 percent since 2008.

Simon and Garfunkel 

In more DFT-related news, two documentaries commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the release of Simon and Garfunkel's landmark album Bridge over Troubled Water have been added to the schedule on Thursday, March 3, at 7 p.m. The first film, Songs of America, was originally broadcast in 1969 on CBS television. It includes footage of Simon and Garfunkel on stage, in the recording studio, and traveling on tour across the country, intertwined with news footage of the explosive political and cultural events of the era. The Harmony Game, the second film, is a new documentary featuring exclusive interviews with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and never-before-seen footage, photos, and memorabilia.

Originally slated for January but snowed out, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, a documentary about another 1960s musical icon, has been rescheduled for Friday, March 11, at 9:30 p.m.

For the complete DFT schedule or to purchase tickets, click here.

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New Acquisition

Iris Bud Vase 

Taxile Doat, French; Iris Bud Vase, 1902; Hard-paste porcelain with gilt brass mount. Museum Purchase, Joseph M. de Grimme Memorial Fund


French ceramicist and painter Taxile Doat (1851-1939) was one of the principal artists at the Sèvres Manufactory in Paris and was instrumental in the development of Art Nouveau decorative art works at the turn of the twentieth century. He and other modern, French ceramists enthusiastically adopted the naturalism, spontaneity, and the glorification of common woodland animals and plants associated with Asian, especially Japanese, decorative arts. This round-bottomed vase, suggestive of an iris bud that is about to open, is an excellent example of the period style so admired by collectors and critics in Europe and the United States.

The vase is made of white porcelain predominantly decorated with high-fired red and blue flamelike (flambé) crystalline metallic glazes, an innovative technique Doat invented and published in his book Grand Feu Ceramics (1905). He possessed masterful skills in potting, casting, firing, kiln technology, glaze chemistry, drawing, and painting. While working at the Sèvres National Manufactory, Doat installed a kiln at his home to facilitate his research into clay and his production of experimental ceramics and porcelain glazes. As demonstrated by the refined Iris Bud Vase and other pieces with copper glazes, Doat experimented with clay, metallic oxides, natural forms, and running glazes inspired by Japanese stoneware. Two small stemlike handles flank the sides of the DIA vase. The whimsical and sculptural garden snails that decorate the gilt metal mount, by the Parisian metalwork firm Cardeilha, and support the vase are appropriate companions as an element of the French national cuisine and a universal symbol of fertility.

Doat's work was extremely influential on the Art Nouveau movement in America, where it was praised at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904. In 1909, he was hired as the director of that city's School of Ceramics Art. Doat returned to France in 1915, where he continued to work at a masterly level until shortly before his death at the age of 87, in 1939.

To watch a video of Alan Darr, Walter B. Ford II Family Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, offering additional insights on the DIA vase, click here.

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Seeing Rivera's Detroit Industry In New Ways

Visitors using the Rivera multimedia iPad tour 

There are two new ways to explore and view Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals, one for inside the museum and the other for the virtual world. A more than sixty-minute multimedia tour, providing in-depth examinations of the work's layers of meanings, is now available for use on an Apple iPad that can be borrowed from the Rivera Court information desk. The tour includes interviews with scholars, historic photographs of the Rouge Plant, and film footage of Rivera creating the frescoes.

Before receiving an iPad to take the tour, we'll ask for a valid driver's license or state-issued ID and a credit card. The two will be placed in an envelope, which will be sealed and initialed by the attendant and the visitor across the back. When the iPad is returned, the sealed envelope is given back to the visitor.

Acoustiguide Multimedia tour on the Apple iPad is available in English and Spanish. The project is generously sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and developed by the Detroit Institute of Arts and Acoustiguide, Inc.

You can virtually put yourself in the middle of Rivera Court at this Web site. Synthescape, a company that works with museums on digitizing collections, created a multiperspective version of Detroit Industry. The view changes from North Wall to East Wall and continues around the court with a click of an arrow. Move the cursor and click anywhere on the image for a magnified detail of the wall.

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In The Art Studio

Back by popular demand is another mini-CSI lesson, DIA style. The first Mysteries of Paint Revealed class, combining time in the art studio, a tour of museum galleries, and a visit to the rarely seen conservation laboratory, was a sellout with a waiting list. So we've scheduled another one Saturday, March 26. Explore color mixing and expressive brush work in the art studio, then take a walk through the galleries with one of our art experts and see how artists from different times and places used paint. Finally, get a behind-the- scenes peek at the DIA's conservation lab and see how conservators learn about and take care of museum paintings. This popular class filled quickly when previously offered, so register early.

For another behind-the-scenes tour, check out the new studio class Set the Stage: Dioramas. In this class, offered Saturday, May 7, design and build your own stage set in a shoe box using found objects and recycled materials. A tour of the DIA's historic theater, home of the DFT, is included.

For a complete list of classes or to register, visit the DIA Web site.

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