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.

Dix-Gallery_February-2016_07

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.

5 Fast Facts: Suzanne Valadon

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938), whose work is in NMWA’s collection.

Suzanne Valadon, Girl on a Small Wall, 1930; Oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 29 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Girl on a Small Wall, 1930; Oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 29 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

1. Artist Model Turned Model Artist
As a young woman, Valadon acted as a model for well-known artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The enchanting female figure in Renoir’s Dance at Bougival (1883) is said to be Valadon. Inspired and mentored by these artists, she began her own career in her 30s.

2. Bosom Buddies
In the late 1800s, Valadon and Edgar Degas developed a close friendship that lasted until his death in 1917. Degas, who affectionately addressed Valadon as “ferocious” and a “she-devil,” championed her work and taught her the etching printmaking technique.

Suzanne Valadon, Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase, 1920; Oil on canvas, 28 ¾ x 21 ½ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase, 1920; Oil on canvas, 28 ¾ x 21 ½ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

3. All in the Family
Valadon’s son Maurice Utrillo and second husband André Utter were also recognized artists.

4. Collectables
The five works by Valadon in NMWA’s collection are a representative sample of her preferred subject matter—still lifes, nudes, and portraits—and her favored artistic techniques of printmaking and oil painting.

5. Out of this World
A crater on Venus is titled Valadon. Her namesake is in good company, as all 899 Cytherean calderas are named after famous women or female first names. Other artists in NMWA’s collection have their own Venusian cavities, including Valadon’s gallery neighbors Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954).

—Adrienne Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

 

The Female Form through Female Eyes

Nearly 300 years apart, Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656) and French artist Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938) both used their perspectives as women to capture the power and complexity of the female form in their art. Although they had extremely different artistic educations—Gentileschi was educated in her father’s Caravaggisti studio while Valadon was a model and student to Parisian avant-garde greats—the two progressively explored the physical and emotional worlds of women in their art.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), 1609–10; Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 × 33 7/8 in.; Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence; inv. 1890 no. 2129

Artemisia Gentileschi, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), 1609–10; Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 × 33 7/8 in.; Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence; inv. 1890 no. 2129

Gentileschi and Valadon use drastically different approaches to portray the female state. Gentileschi’s Madonna and Child (1609–10), currently on view in Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea presents an intimate portrait of Mary preparing to breastfeed her infant son. Madonna and Child captures the signature power of Gentileschi’s women through Baroque color and detail. The rich turquoise and pink of Mary’s clothes, as well as the intense use of shadow in the background, create a sense of dynamic realism and naturalism. Rather than overtly sexualizing Mary and constructing her as an object for masculine desire, Gentileschi uses Mary’s partial nudity to emphasize the maternal intimacy of the scene.

Her depiction of the female body’s strength, enhanced by Mary’s large size and dominance of the composition, reveals the reality—and necessity—of women in giving and sustaining life. The use of chiaroscuro also highlights the naturalism of the moment between mother and child, revealing the nurturing and maternal sides of Mary.

Suzanne Valadon, The Abandoned Doll, 1921; Oil on canvas, 51 x 32 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, The Abandoned Doll, 1921; Oil on canvas, 51 x 32 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Valadon also explores the physical and psychological depth of women in The Abandoned Doll (1921) part of NMWA’s collection. In this secular scene, a mother dries off her naked adolescent daughter as the girl turns toward her handheld mirror, musing over her own reflection. Through the use of thick contours, intense color, and flattened planes characteristic of Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, Valadon constructs a modern representation of female identity. The unidealized figures of the mother, child, and the doll tossed on the floor represent three distinct stages of life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Reaching puberty, the girl disregards her doll and instead focuses on her reflection.

Although the viewer’s eye is drawn to the girl’s exposed breasts, she is not objectified. Instead, other elements, such as her hair bow and the bow of the doll, play off of each other to create an atmosphere that is more about the loss of youth than sexualizing the female body. Valadon’s perspective as a woman aided in this poignant physical and psychological depiction. By having the girl stare into the mirror, Valadon hints at both the vanity of youth and the psychological interiority of women, an idea that is even more striking given the figure’s nudity. Like Gentileschi before her, Valadon transformed the female body into a tool for providing insight into women’s experiences and perspectives.

—Margie Fuchs is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

Don’t miss your chance to visit NMWA and see Picturing Mary, on view through April 12!

From the Collection: “The Abandoned Doll”

 

Suzanne Valadon, The Abandoned Doll, 1921; Oil on canvas, 51 x 32 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. ©Valerie Jaudon/VAGA, New York.

Suzanne Valadon was always best known for her powerful, unconventional, and sometimes controversial figure paintings that included many female nudes. The Abandoned Doll is one of two double portraits the artist created of Marie Cola and her daughter Gilberte, who was Valadon’s niece.

This painting exhibits all the characteristics of Valadon’s mature work: brightly colored forms defined by heavy, dark outlines; strange, somewhat awkward poses; and deliberately simplified, distorted anatomy and space. These traits are also found in the work of post-impressionist painters like Paul Gauguin and fauve pioneers such as Henri Matisse, but Valadon denied being affected by their work and avoided all attempts to label her painting style.

In addition to its unusual aesthetic elements, this painting also has a strong psychological dimension: as the mother dries her daughter’s back after a bath, the girl turns away to study her own image in a hand mirror. Meanwhile, her doll lies on the floor, symbolizing the adolescent’s transition into adulthood.

Although her body is obviously maturing, Gilberte still has a child’s large pink bow in her hair, identical to the one worn on the doll. Avoiding the voyeuristic aspect of so many female nudes painted by men, Valadon gives viewers a compassionate glimpse of an intimate moment in a young girl’s life.

Nancy G. Heller, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an art historian.