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Blog Category: Features

April 13, 2021

Pleasurable and daunting: a wife’s work on her late husband’s archive

Art Historian Magda Salvesen, author of Artists’ Estates: Reputations in Trust, writes about the emotional aspect of her work as the curator of the estate of her husband, the American painter Jon Schueler.

Jon Schueler. Next Summer. 1966. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

“Art must take reality by surprise,” the writer Françoise Sagan said in a 1965 interview. With the arrival of Covid-19, however, I have frequently found myself considering the reversal of these terms.

The sudden closure of a Jon Schueler exhibition in March 2020, two postponements of other shows, the absence of studio visits by potential clients or gallery reps, and the inability of my assistants to return any time soon ironically created what I had long desired: open time, month after month, to work on the Jon Schueler Archive.

Jon Schueler. Sahara, I. May – July 1973. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

In the living space of the loft, Jon’s paintings reminded me daily of the imperative to create administrative order for the material that would provide a context for Schueler’s oils, watercolors, drawings, and prints, and which would eventually be available in the Jon Schueler Foundation. The companion of Jon Schueler since 1971 and the curator of the collection since the artist’s death in 1992, I had to find a way of bringing order to the vast amount of information held in my mind and stored in countless files and boxes, according to my own quirky methods, so that they would be accessible to the next person in charge.

Two long trestle tables took over the studio. I heaved box after dusty box of tax returns from the 1940s to 1992 into the open for sorting and archiving. Concrete evidence of what initially seemed a closed and hermetic narrative emerged: the cost of studio rentals and expenses, the orders for specific tubes of oil paints, train and airplane tickets confirming travel dates, deposit slips recording the sales of paintings, records of payments to models in the ’60s. The list could go on and on.

Jon Schueler. [Sun and Sleat Blue]. 1969. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

Jon Schueler. Blue Sky and the Sea. Nov. 1973. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

My next project was dealing with out-of-date technology. The three films made about Jon Schueler had already gone through several transformations—each one promising to be the final iteration—but now the DVD stage was hopelessly out of date. Therefore, I had to have them digitized, along with all the taped interviews with or about the artist. Receiving yet another delivery of archival boxes to hold this organized material then became the high point of the day.

These updates involved me again with Artstor. In 2010 I had spent many hours agonizing over which slides would suggest the trajectory of Jon Schueler’s paintings, from the late 1940s as a student in California through to his last years. These slides, scanned to create digital images, now looked embarrassingly inadequate. I imagined university art historians selecting Schuelers for a lecture being underwhelmed. Drawing on the library of high-resolution images, meticulously photographed during the past ten years, my assistant, Stephen Turner—returning after many months—worked with Artstor on the replacements, a time-consuming and heavy financial investment, but the best way to bring Jon Schueler’s work to art history classrooms throughout the United States.

Jon Schueler. The Island. 1956. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

Most emotionally demanding were the personal photographs. So many dead friends. I chose the best prints for albums (acid free), arranged them chronologically, placing all the negatives and left-over prints in a different set of files. Pleasurable, though daunting, was the next task: writing all the captions. No one else would know who these people were. Naming them would rescue them from anonymity and keep them in Jon’s life. Thankfully, a close friend in Mallaig, Scotland (where Schueler had his studio) was able to help with the names of the Scottish fishermen who, from their small wooden boats in the 1970s, launched Jon into the weather of his own paintings.

The archival work is ongoing. I am now tackling the tedious project of transcribing the Schueler interviews. Inexplicable to most of my friends, my greatest thrill during this period of looping backwards and inwards is now to view the rows of boxes lined up on shelves with their magnificent labels proclaiming what is inside! The next step is to welcome the scholars.

Jon Schueler. Death of the Father. June 1966. Oil on canvas. Image and data from the Jon Schueler Estate.

Explore the Jon Schueler Estate on Artstor

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August 26, 2019

Browsing Artstor just got easier!

Great news for those who enjoy discovering unexpected new images in Artstor: We made some changes that make it easier to browse works by a single creator and images related to a specific subject!

Now, when you view an image record in Artstor, you can click the name in the creator field to search for other works by the same creator, such as the example below showing works by the photographer Pierre Louis Pierson.

Animated gif showing a view of browsing by author

Pierre-Louis Pierson. Countess de Castiglione. 1895. Image and data courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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March 4, 2019

What’s in the box? The art of reliquaries

A gilt-silver reliquary with translucent enamel decoration.

Attributed to Jean de Touyl. Reliquary Shrine from the convent of the Poor Clares at Buda. ca. 1325-50. Image and data courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Cloisters Collection.

Relics—bits of bone, clothing, shoes or dust—from Christian martyrs became popular in Western Christianity in the Middle Ages. The cult of relics dates back to the second and third centuries, when martyrs were persecuted and often killed in ways that fragmented the body, which was taboo in Roman society. The intention was to desecrate the body through execution and burning. But, Caroline Walker Bynum and Paula Gerson state that by the “late third to early fourth centuries the fragments of the martyrs had come to be revered as loci of power and special access to the divine” and, by the Second Council of Nicea in 787, relics were required for the consecration of altars.

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February 25, 2019

Walking the red carpet through history: fashion in Artstor

A dress made of beads is displayed on a mannequin.
Beadnet dress. Egyptian. c 2551-2528 BC. Image © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
A painted wooden figure of a woman.
Estate Figure. Egyptian. c. 1981-1975 BC. Image and data courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A peach colored evening dress decorated with rhinestones and a black waist tie.
Norman Norell. Evening dress. c. 1963. Image and original data from the Brooklyn Museum. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A Roman caryatid.
Caryatid of the Canopus. Roman. c. 420 - 413 BCE. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.
A white gathered evening dress displayed on a mannequin.
Madame Alix Grès. Evening dress. 1937. Image and original data from the Brooklyn Museum. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It may come as a surprise that the Artstor Digital Library is flush with fashion. For a dose of glamour, how about a stroll down the red carpet, exploring designs through the ages?

Let’s begin with the ancients: In early dynastic Egypt, the beadnet sheath dress is often depicted in paintings and statuary. A faience (sintered-quartz ceramic) dress from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, reconstructed from thousands of beads found in a burial site, is our oldest surviving example from approximately 2551–2528 BC (this particular garment was used to dress a mummy). In life, these decorative nets were probably worn over plain linen sheaths, giving an effect that approximates the elegant lines of a deftly carved offering figure from the tomb of Meketre (c. 1981-1975 BCE). A similar silhouette is achieved five millenia later in an evening gown by the pioneering American designer Norman Norell through the layering of a peach satin under slip and black rhinestone beaded netting (c. 1963).

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January 31, 2019

Picturing the Little Ice Age

Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Return of the Hunters. 1565. Oil on oak panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Image and data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y. Photo Erich Lessing.

In the summer of 1675, Madame de Sévigné, a doyenne of letters, protested from Paris: “It is horribly cold… we think the behaviour of the sun and of the seasons has changed,” prescient witness to the phenomenon now referred to as the Little Ice Age. Over the last century, scientists and historians have gathered evidence of a prolonged period of global climatic volatility from the thirteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, culminating in a cooling trend in Northern Europe during the 1600s — frigid winters and wet, cold summers. As we bear our share of winter hardships, it might be comforting to gain some historical and pictorial perspective on the polar vortex.

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November 19, 2018

The art of plenty: in praise of still life painting


Bartolomeo Bimbi. Pears. 1699. Oil on canvas. Villa Medicea. Image and data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Every year the subject of food rises in our thoughts and comes into greater and more glorious focus as we are swept up in a wave of planning, preparation, and consumption for the holidays. In anticipation and celebration of our sumptuous banquets and stolen treats, Artstor offers a feast of foodie still lifes. Think of this selection as an appetizer: with heaping mounds of fruit, Bartolomeo Bimbi’s monumental Pears (1699) heralds the abundant extreme of the genre.

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October 17, 2018

The strange fates of pillaged mummies


Mummy of Ukhhotep, Egypt. Detail. c.1981-1802 B.C.E. Wood, cartonnage, paint, linen, human remains, obsidian, gold, alabaster. Image and data provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In an 1898 article for Scientific American, a chemist describes his process for working with a powdered material that smelled of myrrh and meat extract:

On heating the powder turns dark brown black, with a pleasant, resin-like odor of incense and myrrh, then throws out vapors with an odor of asphaltum; it leaves a black glossy coal which leaves behind when burnt 17 percent of ash with a strongly alkaline reaction, evolving plenty of carbonic acid when sprinkled with acids. In the closed tube vapors of acid reaction are obtained. With hot water a yellow brown solution of neutral reaction is obtained which smells like glue and extract of meat when inspissated…”

The powder in question was in fact the ground desiccated corpse of an ancient Egyptian, heated for the purpose of creating commercially-produced oil paint. Shocked? Let us treat you to a short history of the many strange fates of pillaged mummies between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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November 29, 2017

A brief history of Majolica

George Jones. “Punch” Bowl. 1870-1880. Image and original data provided by Majolica International Society.

“Majolica” is the word used to denote the brightly colored, low-fired earthenware commercially introduced by the Minton Company at the 1851 London Exhibition of All Nations. This was in accordance with Herbert Minton’s long-held desire to capture the market of the newly emergent Middle Class. Majolica, a Victorian phenomenon, was a huge success at the Crystal Palace and soon became a worldwide fad, with factories on three continents and Australia to satisfy the buying craze it had inspired. Deborah English, Librarian, The Marilyn Karmason Majolica Reference Library of the Majolica International Society (MIS), has provided a history of the wares to celebrate the addition of the MIS collection to the Artstor Digital Library.

Staffordshire potters first developed lead glazes of green and brown in the 18th Century, but it was not until Herbert Minton of Stoke-on-Trent brought the French chemist Leon Arnoux to England, that more vibrant colors began to appear. This was possible, thanks to Mr. Arnoux’s previous work with the sumptuous porcelain glazes of Sèvres. Mr. Arnoux also persuaded several prominent French sculptors to join him at Minton, including A.E. Carrier-Belleuse, Paul Comolera, and Pierre Emile Jeannest. They joined the already formidable staff that Mr. Minton had built, including Alfred Lord Stevens, Baron Carlo Marochetti, John Bell, A.W.N. Pugin, and others. Mr. Minton formally introduced his new ware at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, even though English potters and English-born potters in the USA had been working on the formulas for some time. Arnoux’s saturated colors were the radical boost the new material needed. It soon happened that an astonishing number of forms evolved, sometimes in bizarre combinations.

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August 22, 2017

The bourgeois pup: artists and dogs in the 19th-century home

Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art

Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art

From the wild wolves of our ancestors to today’s lap dogs, canines have played an important role in the lives of humans. They helped hunters find food, they served as entertainment, and they provided emotional support. And they were artist’s models. Art history is filled with works featuring the image of a dog. The Native Americans had vessels shaped into dog form, medieval manuscripts featured dogs, and numerous Renaissance paintings feature a rogue dog or two.

Echoing many other aspects of France in the 19th century, including fashion and interior design, dogs became customizable as well, and at times were imported from other countries. And at the same time as dogs entered the home, so did artists: bourgeois and modern life became the subject of art as the number of domesticated dogs and breeds grew.

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