Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boston Athenaeum/Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum in the 21st Century

William McGregor Paxton, Elizabeth Vaughan Okie, ca. 1895

Link to the Exhibition Website:

Curator: David Dearinger, Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings and Sculpture and Director of Exhibitions

PR Buzz: Collecting for a New Century: Paintings and Sculptures is the first in a series of four exhibitions that will be held in the Athenæum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery between 2013 and 2018. Respectively, these exhibitions will focus on paintings & sculpture; rare book; maps; and prints & photographs. Collectively, they will celebrate the Athenæum’s continuing commitment to scholarship, preservation, and the dissemination of knowledge as represented by its extensive collections of rare and unique materials.

Recommended For: a mid-morning escape on Beacon Hill

Collecting for a New Century is a fascinating assemblage of objects acquired by the Athenaeum since 2000. Dearinger has arranged the show into a neo-classical sequence of portraiture, figural work, landscape, still life, cityscape and genre works. He has also penned a thorough guide and checklist which makes for good reading after having seen the exhibition. When I visited the cozy galleries on the first floor of the Perkins mansion, I was the only one viewing the show which allowed me to take my time and intimately take in a selection of works with surprising emotional range.

In my own mind, a few of my favorite works rearranged themselves into a new set of categories. 

There was the Curiously Intriguing, encompassing Enrico Meneghelli's Studio Interior (1879) and Picture Galleries, the Museum of Fine Arts at Copley Square (1877), David D. Neal's Winter Fishing on the Charles River (1857) and Russell Smith's Study for the Drop Curtain of the Boston Theatre (1864).

The Delicately Beautiful, with William Trost Richard's Breakers and Dunes (ca. 1885) and Maurice Prendergast's Telegraph Hill, Nahant (1896-97).

The Surprisingly Emotional, featuring John Sloan's defiant Miss Boston (1935), William McGregor Paxton's effusively romantic Elizabeth Vaughan Okie (ca. 1895) and Alexander Brooks's warmly affectionate Going, Going, Gone (Peggy Bacon) ( n.d.).

And then there was the Downright Funny, with Polly Thayer's Shopping for Furs (1943), George Deem's George Washington and His Portrait (1972) and Peter Lyons's Kaleidoscope (2011).

A small show to be sure, but one you will be happy you saw.

-Vident Omnes

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