BMA exhibit peeks at studios of artists through the years


September 15, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Within the protective sanctuary of his studio, Picasso imagined himself as a modern-day satyr, as a disembodied head summoning beautiful female forms into existence, even as Pygmalion, the mythical Greek sculptor of antiquity who created a marble statue of a woman so lifelike that he fell in love with her.

For Picasso, as for generations of artists before him and since, the studio was a unique place rich in associations - not only a magical site of inspiration, artistic production and spiritual retreat but also a symbolic expression of the artist's individual creative identity, working methods and professional status.

How artists have conceived of their studios, and represented them in their artworks, is the subject of In the Artist's Studio, a delightful mini-exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The show brings together some 60 works on paper from the Renaissance to modern times - all drawn from the BMA's permanent collection - that reflect on the idea of the studio and its place in the imaginations of both artists and their publics.

In the 1930s, for example, when Picasso was heavily influenced by classical Greek art, he depicted his studio as a mythological place where he re-enacted antiquity's tales of creation.

In Picasso's depiction of the Pygmalion story, In the Studio, it is the artist himself who appears as the work of art (in the form of an ancient marble bust), while the woman in the artwork seems to spring fully formed from his mind, like Minerva emerging from the head of Jupiter.

Four hundred years earlier, the German artist Albrecht Durer had also depicted himself at work in the studio, though in rather more prosaic terms.

Durer's 1527 woodcut Draftsman Drawing a Reclining Nude shows the artist viewing his female subject through a grid made of threads, which serve as an aid to perspective.

Durer's matter-of-fact depiction of a technical procedure was produced to illustrate a contemporary instructional manual for young painters. But it also reflected artists' changing status in 16th-century society - from mere craftsmen to professionals trained in the liberal arts and sciences.

In 17th-century Netherlands, the Dutch painter Hendrick Goltzius treated the story of Pygmalion and his sculpture, Galatea, as a metaphor for artistic creation based on the imitation of nature.

Goltzius depicts the sculptor Pygmalion with chisel in hand gazing longingly at his handiwork just before the statue comes to life at the bidding of Venus, goddess of love.

By the 19th century, painters were using images of the studio to honor their celebrated predecessors and to tout the contemporary glories - and frustrations - of the artistic life.

The French painter Auguste Lemoine, for example, portrayed the Italian Renaissance master Tintoretto tenderly sketching his daughter as she lay on her deathbed. It was a favorite motif of Romantic artists inspired by the revival of interest in Renaissance forms.

By contrast, Honore Daumier, with his usual scathing sarcasm, produced a priceless caricature of an artist destroying his canvas after being rejected by the official French salon.

In the 20th century, the theme of the studio was taken up by artists as diverse as Henri Matisse and Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen and Joel-Peter Witkin

The Hungarian photographer Brassai produced a wonderful image of the elderly Matisse sketching in his studio, while Alexander Liberman's portrait of sculptor Alberto Giacometti in his workplace sums up the Romantic myth of the tortured artist that Giacometti cultivated.

This is a thought-provoking, richly evocative and visually rewarding show that will both inform and enchant viewers with its deft exploration of a perennially fascinating topic.

The show runs through Feb. 27. The museum is at 10 Art Museum Drive, off 31st and Charles streets. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission is $7 adults, $5 students and seniors. Call 410-396-7100, or visit

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