Monday, November 7, 2011

Stieglitz and his Watercolorists:

John Marin and Charles Demuth
new blog post by Miriam Schulman, @schulmanArt

Many know Stieglitz as a photographer, and as the man who made Georgia O'Keeffe a household name. However, what some may not know is that he was a visionary art dealer and gallerist in his day and was the first to promote the most modern artists making many careers. For example, Stieglitz was the first to stage a Picasso exhibition in America. From this exhibit he only sold one painting and bought one for himself. He offered the eighty or so unsold paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $2,000 and the museum turned down his offer dismissing Picasso as "not an important artist." Fortunately for the Metropolitan, the museum acquired  a portion of his collection of exceptional breadth and depth as a bequest from his estate. For more than sixty years, the Alfred Stieglitz Collection has been the cornerstone of the Museum's holdings of modern American art.

This exhibition features some two hundred major works by American and European modernists. Highlights include works by Picasso, Kandinsky, O'Keeffe, Charles Demuth and John Marin.

The Watercolorists

London Town, Watercolor by John Marin
John Marin was one of the artists that Stieglitz promoted. He started showing Marin's work when Marin was in his early forties. Up until then Marin's paintings were very straightforward and were purchased as souvenir paintings. Stieglitz supported Marin by providing him a salary and told him to break out of this style and experiment. A visual language and unique style began to emerge during this time.

Brooklyn Bridge, Watercolor by John Marin
Brooklyn Bridge, communicates his sense of the excitement of urban life. About these experimentations he wrote, "While these powers are at work pushing, pulling, sideways, downwards, upwards, I can hear the sound of their strife and there is great music being played. And so I try to express graphically what a great city is doing. Within the frames there must be a balance, a controlling of these warring, pushing, pulling forces." The Brooklyn Bridge was a also a symbol of modernity during his time.

A Town in Maine by John Marin mounted on paper with a watercolor "border"

Red Mountain, Watercolor by Charles Demuth
The other watercolorists featured in this exhibition is Charles Demuth. Demuth worked in two styles. He had the watercolors, many of which were pedestrian paintings of flowers and vegetables, as well as his more linear style of his better known paintings such as "Number Five" Stieglitz initially did not want to promote Demuth since he felt that he already had a watercolorist and Marin was enough. He did include Demuth's paintings in a show of American artists which included his oil paintings. Stieglitz also found Demuth "annoying". He complained to O'Keeffe that Demuth would sit in the gallery all day during the show. Demuth did have a friendship with Stieglitz's wife, O'Keeffe, and he left all his paintings to her at his death. So that is how Demuth's collection came to be included in the Stieglitz collection.

watercolor by Charles Demuth--emergence of linear style
Unfortunately, not one of Georgia O'Keeffe's watercolors are on display as part of this exhibition. There is a lovely charcoal as well as an example of her famous black irises and cow skull. In addition, one  never can grow tired of Stieglitz's photographic portraits of O'Keeffe also on display.
 Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O'Keeffe  through January 2, 2012 at Metropolitan Museum of Art

mentioned in this article @metmuseum


What do you think of Marin and Demuth?