Monday, February 26, 2018

JACOB and HIS TWELVE SONS at THE FRICK: Review By Polly Guerin

JACOB, ca. 1640-45
Why does Zurbaran's  JACOB and HIS TWELVE SONS resonate today? Quite frankly, it is one of the best stories told in any New York museum exhibition this season. which traveled to the United States for the first time from Auckland Castle, County Durham, England. The Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue presents a breath-taking panorama, a series of thirteen monumental figures painted by the seventeenth-century Spanish master Francisco de Zurbaran. Image: Francisco de Zurbaran (Spanish, 1598-1664) JACOB ca. 1640-45, Oil on canvas. (c)Auckland Project/Zurbaran Trust: Photo credit: Robert La Prelle.
     This exhibition, through April 22, 2018, begins with the Spanish baroque master  Zurbaran, who in the 1640s made thirteen paintings of Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch, and his sons, who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. Each figure carries his share of the story: Jacob, now old, is folded over his cane, eyes downcast, ruminating on the future.
      The prophetic poem, "The Blessings of Jacob" a prophetic poem in Chapter 49 of the Book of Genesis was Zurbaran's primary source for the imagery of the life-size figures, each of which is rendered with a strong sense of individuality yet forms a synergistic part of a cohesive choreographed group. For the Auckland paintings, Zurbarian turned largely for inspiration from engravings depicting Jacob and his twelve sons that were executed in 1589 by Jacques de Gheyn II after designs by Karel van Mander I. The expressive and highly distinctive faces of each son, however, suggest that they were painted from life.  On canvases measuring nearly seven feet in height, full-length figures wearing sumptuous, exotic costumes tower over varied landscapes. Who commissioned the series is a mystery.       
Reuben, Gad,  Naphtali, Joseph 
According to archival notes: It was likely intended for export to Latin America. However, the paintings first appeared in England in the 1720s. Twelve of the thirteen canvases were purchased in 1736 by Richard Trevor prince-bishop of Durham, a supporter of Jewish rights.  He installed them in the Long Dining Room of Auckland Castle, the traditional residence of the Anglican bishop, as a declaration of his commitment to the movement for religious tolerance. Image: Reuben, Gad, Naphtali, Joseph. Franciso de Zurbaran (Spanish, 1598-1664) (c) The Auckland Project/Zurbaran Trust. Photo Credit: Robert LaPrelle. 

STUDY THE IMAGES. Both eye and facial expressions and costumes tell a story about each son.For example, on his deathbed, Jacob assembled his sons to foretell what was to become of them. Describing his eldest son, Reuben, "unstable as water," Jacob stated, "you shall no longer excel because you went up onto your father's bed and defiled it," a reference to Reuben sleeping with Jacob's concubine Bilhah, as told in an earlier chapter of Genesis. In keeping with his status as firstborn, Reuben wears an elaborate costume and leans against a column, signifying his strength and fortitude.  His downcast, shaded eyes and inward expression, however, reflect Jacob's prediction that Reuben would not thrive.
Zebulun, Asher, Issachar, Dan
Zurbaran's luxuriant treatment of his figures did not spare on detail. 
Benjamin, known for his love of fierce battle, stands with a wolf looking angry to his side; and Issachar, the meekest of them all, is accompanied by a humble donkey and wears only a simple robe. The most blessed of Jacob's sons, Joseph, who according to Hebrew Bible wore "a coat of many colors, is handsomely appointed in a fur-lined robe, embroidered hosiery and a regal, deep-green scarf held together by a luxurious jeweled oval clip. Image: Zebulun, Asher, Issachar, Dan by Francisco de Zurbaran (Spanish, 1598-1664) Oil on Canvas ca. 1640-45. (c) The Auckland Project/Trust. Photo credit: Robert LaPrelle.
    The full and multi-layered story is told in a beautifully illustrated exhibition catalog, but in the galleries, the paintings speak for themselves. In his day, the artist was often, and for good reason, called the Spanish Caravaggio.
ABOUT THE SUBJECT OF THE SERIES: The subject of the series comes from the Old Testament.  Jacob, the son of Issac and the grandson of Abraham, fathered twelve sons with his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and two concubines Bilhah and Zilpah. The sons are considered to be the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the forefathers of the Jewish people.  For more information and a complete schedule of programs, lectures, talks and a symposium in conjunction with this exhibition visit:
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!   These awesome, monumental paintings are a testament to history and an opportunity to see Zurbaran's defining techniques that depict each son's individualistic character. Fan mail welcome, Polly would love to hear from you at: Visit Polly's website and click in the left-hand column on the Blog that resonates with your interest.  

Monday, February 19, 2018


Norman Norell       It is no wonder that NORMAN NORELL is called "The Dean of 
 American Fashion." His sleek, sophisticated, American glamour was   visible in all his fashion silhouettes.  With attention to couture-  inspired  detail and luxurious fabrics his designs attracted an A-List   clientele that included Lauren Bacall, Babe Paley, Jacqueline   Kennedy, Lena Horne, Lady Bird Johnson and a host of the   industry's fashionistas in the corporate and magazine worlds. Styled   with  classic and modern inspiration, Norell's vintage garments are   still worn by film stars and even former first Lady Michelle Obama.
      Image; Triana Norell, Roman-striped sequined evening sheath   worn by Dovima, 1959. Photograph by William Helburn.
     It is a timely recognition; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of   Technology (MFIT) presents NORELL: DEAN OF AMERICAN   FASHION (Through April 14, 2018). The retrospective exhibition 
celebrates the work of this pioneering designer who created some of the finest most innovative clothing ever crafted in the United States. Approximately 100 ensembles and accessories from MFIT's permanent collection, are on view, as well as a compelling selection of objects borrowed from the stellar private collection of Kenneth Pool. 
NORELL'S EXTRAORDINARY OUTPUT The garments, accessories and related objects are organized thematically to illustrate the range of Norell's extraordinary output and the consistently outstanding quality of work produced by his atelier.  Most prominent are the designs from Norell's career---from 1960 to1972.  All his formal clothing was noted for its clean lines and comfort. His love of wool jersey was paired with fabrics like organized for a dramatic effect. Norell also made coats and suits using jersey sometimes in contrasting colors. Image; Norell evening ensemble with striped Duchesse satin ball skirt trimmed in black fox. Photograph of Kenneth Pool Collection (c) Marc Fowler. 
MERMAID GOWNS As a fashion historian I can say, "I have always felt that fashion inspiration starts with the choice and quality of the fabric." That is certainly true in this case, because the most representative of 
Norell's work were his glittering "MERMAID" gowns that only a svelte goddess could wear. They were unique simplistic creations generously but carefully embellished with thousands of hand-sewn sequins.  The base for those formfitting evening dresses was the flexible knitted jersey fabric that could cling to the curves of socialites and other shapely movie stars and fashionable women. It was cut with rounded necks and a variety of sleeves, short, long or openwork.. 
      His other love of wool jersey began with the creation of solid or color-blocked shirtwaist dresses that were the antithesis of the splashy, floral, day dresses popular during the 1940s. 

Image: Norell sequined Mermaid evening dress, 1965. Photograph of Kenneth Pool Collection. (c) Marc Fowler.
Inspiration from menswear was another key element of Norell's oeuvre. As in men's clothing, in women's fashions, pockets and buttons were always functional, yet every buttonhole and pocket was beautifully finished; a hallmark of Norell's atelier. On view is a wide array of daywear with select menswear details and ensembles that clearly evoke the look and style of men's clothing,,,but after all, hasn't fashion traditionally borrowed from men's wear?
   Although Norell was not the first American designer to employ couture techniques, he was the most important creator to transpose them to the ready-to-wear level.
    The exhibition is accompanied by a book titled Norell: Master of American Fashion. Written by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de La Chapelle, it is the first monographic study of this groundbreaking designer. Published by Rizzoli.
     In conjunction with the Norell exhibit is THE BODY FASHION AND PHYSIQUE in the Fashion and Textile Gallery. A Fashion Symposium will be held on Friday, February 23rd. For details and to register for the symposium go to the MFIT website or call 212.217.4585.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Ah, to possess just one of Norell's classic, stunning fashions today. Rare to find, even in upscale Thrift Shops, to own a Norell garment is a timeless fashion to treasure. Fan mail welcome, I always love hearing from you, Visit Polly's Blogs at where in the left hand column are links to fashion, determined women, visionary men and poetry.

Monday, February 12, 2018

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: No Refuge but Writing Review By Polly Guerin

Tennessee Williams with Four Celebrated  Plays
The plays, "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "The Glass Menagerie" and "The Rose Tattoo" may be etched in our collective memories, but least we forget The Morgan Library and Museum's new exhibit on view through May 13, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: No Refuge but Writing
reminds us that Williams's plays (in in the image right) established the author as one of the greatest American playwrights of the twentieth century and his genre is even more relevant today. 
        Image: The portrait shows a pensive Williams in a dark suit and crisp bow tie, fingers crooked around a holder with an ashy cigarette. Photograph by Irving Penn for Vogue, April 15, 1951 (c) Conde Nast. Used with permission of George Borchardt. Inc. It was taken the year the celebrated movie "Streetcar" opened.  By 1955 he had earned two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards and a Tony.
      Williams was a master of language and a tireless craftsman and of said  he found, "no refuge but writing and couldn't resist gilding even his paintings with words." Yet, as anyone who's deeply read Williams knows, his plays reflect a great deal of his harrowing family life including Rose, his schizophrenia institutionalized sister, his parents poisonous marriage and later his own private turmoil from alcohol and drug addition to stormy relationships. 
A Streetcar Names Desire 19
The exhibition unites Williams' original drafts, private diaries, photographs and personal letters, and other ephemera that constituted his real and inner world. It reveals how, even as he battled critics and censors, the author found solace in his writing and his ability to weigh in on the theatrical productions of his work. The Morgan's show provides an upfront chance to peer into Williams' creative process and his ongoing struggle for self-expression, and how it forever changed the landscape of American drama. 

      "It is almost impossible to overstate the impact of Tennessee Williams on theater as we know it." said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library and Museum. "His plays are so acclaimed and so well-known that one can conjure his unforgettable characters and their immortal lines almost at will." 
      So it is that we, too, remember the unforgettable characters in the film version of, A Streetcar Named Desire: (1951) Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois and Marlon Brando as the brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.  A stage production rehearsal (1947), however featured Jessica Tandy who portrayed Blanche with Karl Marden, Marlon Brandon, and Kim Hunter.  
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS ON SCREEN: The Rose Tattoo, based on the 1951 Tony Award-Winning play. This classic drama centers on Serafina (Anna Magnani), a widowed Sicilian woman living  the American South who is left devastated by the death of her husband. The arrival of Alvaro (Burt Lancaster) offers new hope for love in her life. Friday, April 20, 7 pm,
        Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, adapted from the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, stars Paul Newman as Brick, an alcoholic ex-football player who drinks his days away and resists the affections of his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). His reunion with his father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) who is dying of cancer. jogs a host of memories and revelations. Friday, May 4, 7 pm. The exhibition Tennessee Williams, No Refuge but Writing will open at 6 pm for program attendees.  Ticket info: 
READING TENNESSEE WILLIAMS Adult workshop participants will engage in close readings on The Glass Menagerie and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and explore Williams's writing and revision practises. February 28 and
March 7 2-4 pm. Tickets (two sessions) $45, $35 for members.
     Just a reminder:  The Morgan invites LGBTQ friends to attend a special evening celebration feauring the work of two iconic gay artists on view this season; the playwright Tennessee Williams and photographer Peter Hujar with curator talks, live music, after-hours-museum access, and a wine bar. Tickets $25; $20 Morgan Members. Visit the website: to purchase tickets.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!  It is interesting to note how much of Williams would explore the dysfunction of his  home life in his plays, but after all, were we not advised by our teachers "Write what you know."  Fan mail welcome: I'd like to hear from you from time to time just to know how much a feature resonated with you.
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Monday, February 5, 2018

THOMAS COLE'S Journey: Atlantic Crossing at the Met Museum: Review By Polly Guerin

Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836
The Catskills with its cathedrals of natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes captured on the canvases by Thomas Cole (1801-1848) elude to America as a "new eden" in danger of destruction that Cole himself would shape a new metaphor in words as well as painting."
     I can but humbly remark that Cole's paintings are majestic reminders to remember how the artist did not sway from portraying how civilization would destroy the natural wilderness.
     THOMAS COLE'S JOURNEY: ATLANTIC CROSSINGS, a breathtaking exhibition  at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, through May 13, 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Cole's arrival in America in 1818. The exhibition presents a new take on Cole. By exploring the transatlantic career of the renowned founder of the Hudson River School the exhibition examines for the first time the artist's transatlantic career and engagement with European art. 
       With Cole's masterworks The Course of Empire Series (1834-36) and The Oxbow (1836) as its centerpiece, more than three dozen examples of his large-scale paintings, oil studies, and works on paper provide an engaging insight into the artist's expansive oeuvre.  Image: Thomas Cole (American, born England), Lancashire 1801-1848 Catskill, New York). View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts after a thunderstorm--the Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51 l/2 x 76 in. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage 1908. Image (c) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Oxbow is a seminal landscape painting depicting a romantic panorama of Connecticut River Valley,  just after a thunderstorm; interpreted as a confrontation between wilderness and civilization. 
COLE'S JOURNEY His arrival in the United States in 1818, and his embrace of the American Wilderness as a novel subject for landscape art of the New World reveals his prodigious talent, but then, too, he returned to England in 1829-31 and he traveled to Italy in 1831-32.  Cole embraced the on-site landscape oil studies and adopted elements of the European landscape tradition and learned from contemporary painters in England, including Turner, Constable and John Martin, and furthered his studies in landscape and figure painting in Italy. On view comparison study of works by these British masters figure prominent in the show whilst consummate paintings by Cole juxtaposed with those works, highlight Cole as a major figure in the 19th-century landscape art within a global context.
Scene from "The Last of the Mohicans" 1827 
WARNING AMERICA  Cole applied the lessons he had learned abroad to create the five-part series The Course of Empire (1834-36), warning the the American public that the rise and decline of ancient civilizations could be a potential fate for the young nation.  Image: Thomas Cole (American, born England) Lancashire 1801-1848 Catskill New York) Scene from "THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS," Cora kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 1827. Oil on Canvas, 25 3/8 x 35 l/8 in, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford , Connecticut. Bequest of Alfred Smith (1868-3) Photo: Allen Phillips\Wadsworth Atheneum. 
      This is a powerful exhibition that takes us to a time and place where the landscape rose with monumental majesty, pristine and abundantly rich in raw vistas of incredible beauty, captured by Cole. A series of educational programs include the MetLiveArts STING: will feature an intimate acoustic performance by Sting in the Museum's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on April 24 for members only, and on April 25 and 26 (7:30 p.m. for the general public.. Prior to each concert ticket holders will enjoy a special viewing of the exhibition with curators Elizabeth Kornhauser and Tim Barringer.  Several other educational programs are scheduled, visit  Exhibition location: Floor 1, Gallery 746, The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery.
Thomas Cole in Plein Air (1801-1848)
  Of special note, I wish to mention that Elizabeth Kornhauser will moderate a Sunday at The Met discussion on April 15 at 
2 p.m. on Cole's role as a proto-environmental artists with scholars Alan Braddock and Rebecca Bedell and artist Michel Auder. This program is free with Museum Admission. In a gallery performance on April 27 at 6:00 p.m. , exhibition curator Tim Barringer will explore in a slide lecture the musical and literary references that inspired Cole, who was himself an amateur musician. This will be followed by a series of works for soprano and piano from Cole's lifetime, performed by Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough.  This program is free with Museum admission, advance registration is required. 
     Ta Ta Darlings!!! Ti's time to visit not only The Met's Cole exhibit but also to day trip up to the Catskills and visit the Thomas Cole site. The panoramic view from the artist's house is worth the trip just to sit on the veranda and take in the breathtaking landscape. For information contact Fan mail always welcome at  Then, too, visit Polly's home page and in the left hand column are direct links to Polly's Blogs on visionary men, women determined to succeed, poetry and fashion.