Studying the Art Object

Detail from William Merritt Chase, Courtyard of a Dutch Orphan Asylum, c. 1884

Fall 2010 Teaching Gallery exhibition investigates materials and methods

Posted by Karen K. Butler August 5, 2010

Studying the Art Object: Materials and Methods brings together a diverse but select group of paintings and sculpture from the Kemper Art Museum's permanent collection that lend themselves to a variety of questions relating to the methods and materials integral to art. The works gathered here provide a rich opportunity to explore topics such as artistic technique, condition, provenance, and exhibition history in order to uncover some of the ways that the material nature of a work of art can impact historical interpretation.

For example, scholars have been debating the function and authenticity of El Greco's The Resurrection (c. 1600–5) since it entered the Museum's collection in 1952. This painting, a smaller version of a monumental painting of the same subject in the Prado Museum in Madrid, is now accepted as a replica, largely painted by El Greco himself, and possibly made for display in the artist's workshop or for the artist's personal use. The provenance and exhibition history of Franz Seraph von Lenbach's Portrait of Prince Otto von Bismarck (1884–90), on the other hand, provides a fascinating glimpse into the identity of one of its owners, Adolphus Busch, co-founder, along with Eberhard Anheuser, of the Anheuser Busch Brewery. The painting, a portrait of the German Chancellor at the time, was displayed in the German Pavilion of the 1904 World's Fair, where it symbolized the cultural sophistication of the German nation. Along different lines, William Merritt Chase's Courtyard of a Dutch Orphan Asylum (1883) was made during a transitional period in the artist's work, and thus poses an interpretive challenge for scholars who attempt to reconcile seemingly conflicting aspects of the piece such as the combination of conventional Dutch subject matter with an interplay of light and color characteristic of the Impressionists.

This Teaching Gallery exhibition is organized by Mark Weil, E. Desmond Lee Professor Emeritus, in conjunction with the course "Looking at Art: Exercises in Learning to Know," offered by Washington University's Department of Art History & Archaeology in fall 2010.