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: New Accessions in Painting


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
During the past week three paintings, recent purchases from various funds, have been hung in Gallery C-5. From the Elbridge C. Cooke Fund comes a Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson by Sargent; from the John R. Van Derlip Fund a small painting of The Bull Fight by the little-known nineteenth-century Spaniard Eugenio Lucas; and from the Julia B. Bigelow Fund, bequeathed by the late John Bigelow for the purchase of American paintings, The Holiday, a characteristic landscape with figures by Maurice Prendergast.The Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson epitomizes the style both of Sargent and the period in which he flourished. It was executed in 1891, not as a commission but as a sort of bread-and-butter letter to a hostess under whose roof Sargent had passed a good part of that year. The painting went to London with the artist when he returned there after his visit to America, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy with great success.It is a charming and characteristic work, executed with the grace and lightness of touch one expects to find in Sargent’s portraits. Seated on a square sofa upholstered in pale salmon brocade sprigged with flowers, the subject has all the elegance of her era. She is clad in a gown of heavy silk shot with red and black whose voluminous skirt billows from a tightly fitting basque with a red bodice. The elbow length sleeves are finished with deep frills lined in red. Above the low, squared neck of the gown the head rises proudly above against a neutral dark background. It is a splendid characterization, presented in Sargent’s most masterly manner. The dark eyes, candid and faintly amused, are especially striking.This portrait has been called one of Sargent’s most unified and harmonious compositions. But unity and harmony of composition were so much a part of his work that it is hard to say that one portrait surpasses any other in this respect. Certainly it is a distinguished portrayal in which color is handled with extraordinary felicity, and it brings to the permanent collections one of Sargent’s most characteristic works. The possession of one of his works is almost essential in a representative collection of American painting, for he was one of the most famous of our native artists.Unlike many others, he was never oppressed by circumstances. He was born in Florence in 1856 and spent so much of his life in foreign lands that many people are even yet not sure of his nationality. He was an American and proud of his citizenship. Despite the fact that he made his residence in London, he was fond of this country and enjoyed being here.He received his early education in Italy, studying part of the time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Later he went to Paris, where he entered the studio of Carolus Duran, then the most celebrated portraitist in Paris. Sargent learned much from Duran, and subsequently from Velasquez, yet he was never dominated by anyone. In 1884 he moved to London, making his home there for the remainder of his life.Success came early to Sargent. In Europe and in this country his portraits were in great demand, and it is a tribute to his craftsmanship that in all the great number he painted he can seldom be accused of perfunctory execution. His facility was partly the result of his natural bent and partly of his own rigorous training. It is deceptive in its easy elegance, for it conceals precise and careful workmanship.It is not uncommon for a man who succeeds easily to be assailed by critics, and Sargent was no exception. He was accused of superficiality, excessive worldliness, and many other faults. Worldly he undoubtedly was, but his work was performed in a worldly atmosphere and his subjects drawn from a worldly class. For what they represent, his portraits are as perfect an expression as one could ask, and it is illuminating, in this period of reversion to an earlier age of manners, to consider them from his point of view.The acquisition of the Manson Portrait is a particularly happy one because it, together with the charming painting of the Luxembourg Gardens acquired in 1916, present two quite different aspects of one of our most celebrated painters.In 1912, when a retrospective exhibition of Eugenio Lucas’ paintings was held in Spain, the already sound reputation of the artist became more solidly established than ever, yet his work is still little known in this country. Like those of many other minor Spanish artists, however, his pictures are beginning to sift out of his native country, and it is not improbable that he will eventually become far more widely known in America than he now is.In the Institute’s newly acquired canvas, Lucas shows himself to be closely related to Goya, whom he greatly admired and with whose works his own are sometimes confused. His rendition of The Bull Fight, one of the most popular of all Spanish subjects, is executed with greatest freedom, foreshadowing the liberty of treatment that was to become so conspicuous a part of the equipment of later nineteenth-century artists.The interest of the canvas is concentrated in the central scene, which is sharply delineated in contrast to the rather sketchy treatment of the rest of the composition. The frenzied horse, rearing over the figure of a toreador being gored by the bull, present a high focal point from which the figures of other participants in the fight, lightly sketched in, recede in a dropping wave. The figures looking on from an open balcony in the left background are merely suggested, their vague features giving a ghostly and somewhat macabre aspect to the scene. Beyond the wooden fence surrounding the arena other spectators observe the progress of the battle, and from a sullen, lurid sky a murky light breaks on the central group.The painting is full of movement vividly presented in a sort of shorthand style of drawing. The man on the left, running forward with his cape, and the one on the right drawing away from the slaughter before him, are important, if minor factors in the composition.In its treatment of color the painting is reminiscent of Goya. Violent tones, violently introduced, add to the brutality of the scene. Strong blue, crimson, and ocher break out like flames in the general darkness of the composition. Such treatment was not so natural to Lucas as the peculiar golden tone to be found in many of his paintings, and particularly in his magnificent portrait of Perez Rubio, but it is one that he used effectively in scenes such as this.Lucas is counted among the precursors of impressionism, and that he did in fact anticipate it is shown in this painting of The Bull Fight. But he was above all things a painter of movement. That, too, is evident in the Institute’s picture. It is in his larger compositions, however, such as the Battle of Bailen, in a private collection in Spain, that his gift for portraying action is shown at its best. The ebb and flow of movement, in man or beast, captivated him, and he depicted it supremely well.Eugenio Lucas was born at Alcala de Henares in 1824 and died in Madrid in 1870. He studied at the Academy of Madrid under various masters, but it was from Goya that he drew his greatest inspiration. In acquiring his painting of The Bull Fight, the Institute is adding to its collection a new personality as well as a vivid and interesting work.Maurice Prendergast’s painting of The Holiday is far removed in both spirit and technique from the two works described above. It is informal, decorative, and vibrant, executed in flat masses of color so that it resembles a piece of tapestry.Prendergast was keenly interested in people and liked to depict them in their moments of recreation, in the park, at the beach, or in the fields. The Holiday shows a group of women and children resting or strolling in a little park. Carefree and languid in their glowing landscape, they convey an atmosphere of joy that is one of the greatest charms of Prendergast’s paintings. About them all is an air of unreality, achieved partly through the use of color and partly through the vaguely suggested figures that wander at large in a painted fairyland. Yet this scene has the stamp of reality, for it is obvious that the artist has drawn his subjects from life.Prendergast was a painter who attained little success during his lifetime. He was a simple man, and apparently a dreamy one, who was content to go his own way oblivious to criticism or praise. From his childhood he liked to draw, and he used to spend his holidays in the country sketching anything that caught his fancy. During his early youth he worked in a dry goods store, and when he was not busy at the tasks assigned him he passed his time drawing the gayly colored dresses displayed about the store. Pretty costumes always delighted him, and his joy in painting them, with their enchanting frills and ribbons, may be observed in his work to the end of his life.In 1886, when he was twenty-seven years old, Prendergast went to Paris for three years. During part of that time he studied at Julien’s. It was then, possibly, that he became familiar with impressionism, for he later manipulated it so that his work took on a quality anticipating post-impressionism. He was interested in more than the effect of light. He wanted to convey, in a fashion that became peculiarly personal to him, his own thoughts and moods.After he returned to Boston from Paris, Prendergast continued painting the show cards which contributed to his livelihood. He also did some work in illustration, and spent much of his time making frames for his pictures. In his estimation they were an important part of any painting, and whenever he saw one that pleased him he made a note of it for future use.Except by a few, Prendergast’s work was more tolerated than admired during his lifetime, for by some freak of chance this simple, detached personality achieved in his art a modernity so intense that it was incomprehensible to most of his contemporaries. It is only quite recently that he has come to be more widely recognized as a subtle and original painter. A retrospective exhibition of his work and that of his brother Charles, held at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover last summer, is responsible for an increased interest now manifested in the painting of the Prendergasts and especially in that of Maurice. The Holiday is a thoroughly characteristic expression of his philosophy, and an interesting addition to the collection of American paintings.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson by John S. Sargent
    Purchased from the Elbridge C. Cooke Fund
  2. The Bull Fight by Eugenio Lucas, Spanish, 1824-1870
    Acquired from the John R. Van Derlip Fund
  3. The Holiday by Maurice Prendergast, American, 1859-1924
    The Julia B. Bigelow Fund Bequeathed by John Bigelow
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Source: "New Accessions in Painting," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 28, no. 1 (January, 1939): 2-6.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009