Unreal Nature

August 31, 2017

“I Had Seen Something Living”

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… “I had seen something living, something that would live with me, and that has lived with me.”

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000). The Rodin chapter is by Anne McCauley, and the Matisse chapter is by John Cauman:

… If anyone embodied the aesthetic goals of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen during the pre-war period, it was the internationally celebrated French master Auguste Rodin. Exalted for his powerful portrayals of fundamental human emotions, Rodin was also cast as a fighter against the establishment, the prudes and right-wing politicians who cloaked their nudes in allegory and drapery.

Stieglitz certainly would have known about Rodin’s reputation as the great refusé whose Balzac had been rejected in 1898 and whose other public projects had been criticized or never realized. He also could have seen his works in Europe prior to 1908. His immediate interest in the artist, though, was fueled by Edward Steichen. Steichen had met Rodin in 1901 during his first stay in Paris, and Rodin became one of his closest friends, favorite sitters, and mentors. After Steichen returned to New York in 1902, he took it upon himself to try to promote Rodin among American collectors.

Edward Steichen, Rodin, “The Thinker,” and “Victor Hugo,” 1902

… For Stieglitz, the fight to gain acceptance for Rodin’s works in America was over in May 1912 when the Metropolitan Museum inaugurated its Rodin sculpture galleries to much fanfare.

… For Steichen, Rodin continued to be a force and inspiration. … Kind to younger artists, humble, committed to the power of art to transform life, Rodin the man remained a role model for the rest of Steichen’s long and varied professional career.

[ … ]

… In April 1908 Alfred Stieglitz presented Henri Matisse at 291 — an exhibition of drawings, watercolors, lithographs, etchings, and one painting — and ushered in the first wave of modernism in America. This event was a direct consequence of Edward Steichen’s scouting expedition to Paris in the autumn of 1906.

Edward Steichen, Matisse — The Serpentine, c. 1910

… Despite this smattering of praise [along with much strong criticism from critics], Matisse found no champions in the New York press. For artists, however, the show was a revelation. One young artist attended out of curiosity and left profoundly changed. William Zorach described his visit to 291:

I rode up in the tiny elevator and entered the little gallery. The quiet light was full of a soothing mystic feeling and around the room, and on the square under glass in the middle of the room, I looked at what I now know were Matisse drawings. I was all alone and I stood and absorbed the atmosphere of the place and of the drawings. They had no meaning to me as Art as I then knew Art, but the feeling I got from them still clings to me and always will. It was the feeling of a bigger, deeper, more simple and archaic world. … I left feeling I had seen something living, something that would live with me, and that has lived with me.

… Among the European artists introduced by Stieglitz, Matisse stands apart. Only Matisse was given three one man shows at 291; only Matisse was considered a leading spirit of younger American painters. Matisse affected not only how American artists viewed Europe, but how they viewed themselves.

My most recent previous post from Greenough’s book is here.




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