Art in local museums resembles the works in Hermitage exhibit

April 02, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

St. Petersburg, Russia, and Baltimore have much in common right now.

In St. Petersburg, you can see a Daumier painting that's based on a sculpture in Baltimore. In St. Petersburg, there's a Monet painting of his wife in a garden that was prefigured by a painting in Baltimore. In St. Petersburg, there's a 1927 Matisse painting of a ballerina that's closely related to another 1927 Matisse painting of a ballerina, in Baltimore.

And there are many other points of comparison between Baltimore collections and the exhibit "Hidden Treasures Revealed," just opened at the great Russian art institution, the Hermitage Museum. "Hidden Treasures" contains 74 impressionist, post-impressionist and other 19th-century masterpieces that the Soviets took from German collections after World War II and kept in secret for 50 years.

Of course, it would be ideal if we could all jet over to Russia to see "Hidden Treasures." But there is a less costly alternative. Of the 23 artists represented in the Hermitage show, you can see works by 18 at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery.

In several cases, the Baltimore works are directly related to paintings in the Hermitage show.

Take the Hermitage's 1927 "Ballerina" by Matisse and the BMA's 1927 "Ballet Dancer" by Matisse. Same year. Same model. Different costume but almost the same pose, seated with one leg out and one leg folded back. Same string of pearls at the neck, same black band on the left wrist, same pink tights, similar semi-abstract backgrounds with large areas of color, especially a bright blue just beneath and behind the figure.

Because the Hermitage painting is slightly more abstract, "that would lead you to think it was later, but that was not always the case with Matisse," says Brenda Richardson, BMA curator of modern painting and sculpture. The museum also has several lithographs (not on view) of the model wearing the same black and white costume she wears in the Hermitage painting.

In Honore Daumier's painting "The Burden (The Laundress)" (about 1850-1853), at the Hermitage, the pose of the woman bearing a bundle of laundry and the child beside her are virtually identical to the Walters Art Gallery's terra cotta Daumier sculpture "The Burden" (1849-1850).

"In all likelihood, the elaboration of this subject in painting was preceded by the small terra cotta sculpture . . . now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore," writes Albert Kostenevich, Hermitage curator of modern European painting and author of the "Hidden Treasures" catalog. "Such creative methods were peculiar to Daumier. Compared with paintings, the development process in sculpture was more concrete; the angle and turn of the figure of the laundress, the overall nature of movement, was defined there." Walters curator of 18th- and 19th-century art William R. Johnston agrees that Daumier no doubt used the sculpture in developing the painting.

Another painting at the Hermitage is Monet's "Woman in a Garden" of 1876, which shows the artist's wife, Camille, sitting on the grass in the garden of their house at Argenteuil. Four years earlier, when they lived at a different house in Argenteuil, Monet had painted the picture now at the Walters, which it calls "Springtime." It also shows Camille seated on the grass, wearing a hat, in a garden where sun drifts through trees to dot the lawn with patches of light.

Discussing the Hermitage painting, Kostenevich writes, "Monet . . . had shown her this way [in] 1872 . . . the painting that prefigured the [Hermitage] work. Clearly Monet liked this theme, which was inspired by his wife and her characteristic manner."

Indirect relationships

If not quite so direct, other relationships abound between Hermitage exhibition works and ones in Baltimore collections. Among the four Gauguins at the Hermitage is one called "Piti Tiena (Two Sisters)" (1892). It is from the same year as the Baltimore Museum's "Vahine no te vi (Woman of the Mango)," and shares other things, Richardson notes: "Both are portraits, both feature figures in the same kind of missionary dress, and both have the same treatment of the background with abstract blobs of color at the top."

While the van Gogh "Landscape with House and Ploughman" (1889) at the Hermitage is from the same year as the Baltimore Museum's "Landscape with Figures," the two do not immediately look alike. On closer inspection, however, as Sona Johnston -- BMA curator of painting and sculpture before 1900 -- points out, both feature landscapes divided into strips and have similar trees, brush strokes, use of small figures and placement of house.

Two Cezanne paintings, hung close to each other in a corner of the Baltimore Museum's Cone wing, come from two series also represented at the Hermitage, a painting of "Mont Sainte-Victoire" and another of "Bathers." The Baltimore bathers contains several figures in poses similar to those in the Hermitage painting.

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