On View: Salon Style in the Eulabee Dix Gallery

Like many museums, NMWA is only able to show a small portion—perhaps 3%—of its collection at any given time. Many objects stay safely tucked away in storage until curators select them for display. In an effort to place more of NMWA’s collection on view to the public, the staff recently reinstalled the Eulabee Dix Gallery, located on the museum’s fourth floor, “salon style.” Open to the public during weekday hours, this gallery now showcases an array of landscapes, interior scenes, portraits, and still lifes.

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NMWA’s Eulabee Dix Gallery before (left) and after re-installation (right)

The new salon-style installation—a selection of artworks of varying sizes, with mismatched frames, arranged in a crowded manner—allows the museum to exhibit more of its smaller paintings. For years there were fewer than a dozen paintings in the gallery. The recent reinstallation enables NMWA to exhibit more than 30 works, some of which have not been seen by the public in over a decade. Visitors can rediscover treasures from the museum’s collection and encounter new favorites.

Jane Peterson, Tower Bridge, ca. 1907; NMWA, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan

Jane Peterson, Tower Bridge, ca. 1907; NMWA, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan

Landscape paintings in the gallery depict scenes as varied as Jessey Dorr’s Lone Cypress (1906), which shows a tree overlooking a waterside cliff, Grandma Moses’s Calhoun (1955), a farm scene awash in yellows, and Gabriele Münter’s view of a mountain lake, Staffelsee in Autumn (1923).

Two paintings by Jane Peterson (1876–1965) are on view, a sunny Beach Scene (ca. 1935) and a watery, shadowed Tower Bridge (ca. 1907). In Tower Bridge, Peterson evokes misty London, with a nearby dock and distant bridge rising above the water.

Two works are on view by French painter Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938). Nude Arranging Her Hair (ca. 1916) exemplifies Valadon’s style: rich colors, dark outlines, textiles, and simplified forms, with an awkwardly posed subject.

Suzanne Valadon, Nude Arranging Her Hair, ca. 1916; Oil on canvas board, 41 ¼ x 29 ⅝ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Nude Arranging Her Hair, ca. 1916; Oil on canvas board, 41 1/4 x 29 5/8 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Valadon had no formal training—instead, she grew up in Montmartre and modeled for painters. She learned from the artists around her, including friend and mentor Edgar Degas, and successfully transitioned from model into artist. Valadon also painted floral still lifes. Her Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase (1920), also on view, features her vibrant color palette, strong outlines, and palpable brushwork.

There are more still lifes to discover in the gallery, including two by Dutch painter and botanical illustrator Alida Withoos (ca. 1661–1730). She emphasized flowers’ growth and gave them a naturalistic appearance. Arrangements of cultivated flowers appear to grow from the earth, accentuated by blades of grass and a frog near the bottom.

With the new installation of the Eulabee Dix Gallery, visitors have the opportunity to encounter more work by women artists at NMWA, exploring the abundant details of these paintings and their salon-style neighbors.

The Eulabee Dix Gallery is located on the fourth floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, open to visitors Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

—Catherine Bade is the registrar and Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Snowy Spectacle: NMWA’s Wintry Works

American author and Baltimore native Mignon McLaughlin (1913–1983) once wrote, “Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition.” This adage may support why winter is a popular subject for artists. Two works in NMWA’s collection, Gabriele Münter’s Breakfast of the Birds (1934) and Joan Mitchell’s Sale Neige (1980), explore the depths of the season, eschewing comforting images of winter wonderlands to encourage deep contemplation.

Gabriele Münter, Breakfast of the Birds, 1934; Oil on board, 18 x 21 ¾ in, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Gabriele Münter, Breakfast of the Birds, 1934; Oil on board, 18 x 21 ¾ in, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Growing up in Berlin, German artist Gabriele Münter (1877–1962) was no stranger to harsh winters. Working in an expressionist style, she incorporated dense layers of paint, flattened forms, and bold black outlines in her works. In Breakfast of the Birds, a woman eating alone gazes out toward a snowy scene of birds sitting in the trees. The drapes and window frame strictly divide the space into interior and exterior. The woman’s concealed face adds an element of ambiguity. Obscured, it is difficult to determine whether the central figure enjoys the solitary moment or feels isolated. The work’s title implies that the woman is joined by the birds, and that they share a meal, separated by a thick pane of glass. Münter’s tendency to compress space and distort perspective gives the work a slight alienating, claustrophobic feeling. Outside, the birds perch on snow-covered branches, free to come and go as they please.

20111115_7939Sale Neige, meaning “dirty snow” in French, represents just that. Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) blanketed the canvas with a thick additions of paint—giving the work a complex, layered surface texture. Toward the top of the composition, the artist’s sweeping brushstrokes become more elongated in shades of white, periwinkle, and violet. Gradually, the strokes appear shorter and more condensed in darker shades of indigo, royal blue, orchid, and black. Mitchell’s color choices and active brushstrokes evoke a city after a snowstorm—particularly when snow melts and mixes with mud, asphalt, and bits of refuse. The painting’s large scale contributes to its powerful presence. Filling the visual field, the painting engulfs the viewer in its swirling storm. Sale Neige embodies the chaos of a blizzard while also encapsulating its icy beauty.

The psychology of winter is paradoxical. The season signals holiday warmth and cheer, but is also emblematic of harsh weather, isolation, and loneliness. However, through its representations, artists can channel the resiliency and spark of the human spirit. As the days grow colder, spend time contemplating winter in NMWA’s galleries through Gabriele Münter’s Breakfast of the Birds and Joan Mitchell’s Sale Neige.

—Marina MacLatchie was the fall 2015 education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Reflection on a winter’s day

Gabriele Münter, “Breakfast of the Birds”, 1934, oil on board, 18 x 24 3/4 in.,         National Museum of Women in the Arts

In Breakfast of the Birds, Gabriele Münter takes a surprising viewpoint: depicting from behind a woman seated at her dining room table. The woman—sometimes identified as the artist herself—looks out the window onto a wintry landscape, where a group of titmice and a robin are perched on the snow-covered limbs of a tree.

This painting demonstrates the signature elements of Münter’s style: broad, thick, quickly applied brush strokes; heavy dark outlines; the ambiguous use of perspective( as the tilted tabletop, which clearly reveals everything on it but which does not conform to the angles from which the other elements of the picture are being viewed); and the lack of modeling, which makes the empty plate, for example, seem two-dimensional.

Münter frequently painted images of women in domestic interiors. Here the figure, sporting a decidedly modern haircut, seems to ignore her modest meal in favor of bird-watching. While critical interpretations vary, many scholars view this as a painting that stresses the contrast between indoor and outdoor spaces, emphasizing the woman’s solitude and her physical and emotional isolation.

Nancy G. Heller has a doctorate in art history from Rutgers University, is a writer and lecturer on the arts who has presented numerous talks on women artists at various museums, colleges, and other universities.