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January 23, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 23, 2004

In your face In your face (January 23, 2004)

Portraits and self-portraits of artists on display at Stanford

by Robyn Israel

A nyone not acquainted with 19th-century French painter Gustave Courbet should check out the latest exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.

Entitled "The Artist Observed: Portraits and Self-Portraits," the collection includes three images of Courbet: a self-portrait, a caricature and a photograph, each offering a different representation of the 19th century artist.

"Some were intended for public viewing, others as private documents, but that's what enlivens the show -- you see a different side of the artist," said Betsy Fryberger, the Cantor Arts Center's curator of prints and drawings, who was responsible for selecting the 70-plus works seen in the exhibition.

The first Courbet image, an oil on canvas featuring Courbet's stark profile kicks off the show. The self-portrait was completed in 1872, soon after he was imprisoned for being an agitator in the uprisings of the Paris Commune. It is typical of the Realism that Courbet pioneered, endowing ordinary individuals with a grandeur traditionally reserved for historical or biblical subjects, according to Cantor's Chief Curator, Bernard Barryte.

The second image -- a caricature of Courbet painting his most famous self-portrait, "Good Morning M. Courbet" -- offers an irreverent look at the French artist. Drawn in pen and colored crayon by Louis-Alexandre Gossett de Guines (known professionally as Andre Gill), the satirical work pokes fun at Courbet's gargantuan appetites, depicting him as a bloated artist with oversize beer mugs. Gill's drawing was published on the cover of his satirical Parisian weekly, "La Lune," in 1867.

In the 19th century, caricatures became more popular and were sold," Fryberger explained. "The public was interested and art became a part of society. Prints served a different public than, say, a large painting. This was an irreverent public and they weren't placing the artist on a pedestal."

The third depiction of Courbet is a woodburytype portrait (an early photograph) done by Etienne Carjat, a fellow French artist who achieved early success as a photographer. Published in the Parisian Weekly, "Galerie Contemporaine," the image shows an older, white-bearded, heavy-set Courbet. Though near the end of his life, Courbet was still considered a celebrity worthy of coverage.

The exhibition, laid out in chronological order, was culled from the Cantor Arts Center's permanent collection. They range from the early 17th century to the present and feature artists as subjects. The museum began amassing the works in the early 1970s, using them for a colloquium entitled "The Artist in Society," taught by the late Professor Albert E. Elsen, a Rodin scholar.

"We have an interest in this area," Fryberger said. "It's an obvious area for a university museum to collect."

Today, the Cantor Arts Center continues to collect pieces. A 2003 acquisition, entitled "And at What Time Could I Come?," shows a disheveled, absent-minded French artist arriving late to an event. The 1838 hand-colored lithograph was created by Sulpice-Guillaume Chevalier Gavarni, who spent his lifetime observing Parisians and their habits.

One of the earliest works in the show is "The Goldsmith," a 1655 etching by Dutch printmaker and painter Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. Unlike Rembrandt's portrait sitters, the etching presents an allegory of artistic creation. Pygmalion-like, he caresses the statue he has just completed. His expressively magnified left hand reveals the hand's twin functions: creating and loving.

More formal group portraits, typical of the late 18th century, depict members of the Royal Academies in London and Vienna. Richard Earlom's 1772 mezzotint (modeled after a group portrait by academician Johann Zoffany) clearly illustrates what it was like for female members of the academy. The print shows male members drawing nudes by candlelight, while the two female academicians, Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser, are presented only in wall portraits, since they were barred from studying nude models. Zoffany is shown on the lower left, with his palette in hand.

Kaufman, a Swiss-born artist, became one of the most famous painters of her day. She traveled throughout Europe painting portraits and charming her sitters. In this exhibition, she is also depicted in an 18th-century portrait done in black, red and ocher chalk over charcoal and heightened with white. The drawing depicts a woman in an allegorical role, as Hope, resting on an anchor.

Also included is a self-portrait by Francisco Jose de Goya. Completed in 1799, the etching depicts a hatted, collared figure staring off to the side of the print, quite unlike the usually extroverted artist. This reserved self-portrait served as a title page and preceded an album of biting allegories of moral and political corruption, "Los Caprichos" ("caprico" means "whim" or "caprice," but with a darker connotation). Goya printed the series in an edition of 300, but sold fewer than 30 copies when first issued.

As court painter, Goya witnessed the dissolute life of Spain's rulers and other members of the nobility. In the album, he not only exposed their failings, but also those of Catholic clerics and the uneducated masses -- some 80 memorable images of the depths of human folly.

Auguste Rodin is one of the most prominently featured artists in the exhibition. Although he created portraits of the rich and famous, he is not known to have produced a single self-portrait. However, as one of the most famous men of his day and a symbol of artistic modernism, Rodin was a favorite subject for painters John Singer Sargent and Eugene Carriere, as well as photographers Edward Steichen and Gertrude Stanton Kasebier. He often signed these portraits and sent them to friends and patrons as tokens of gratitude, according to Barryte.

"He loved posing for people," Fryberger said. "He was a celebrity and enjoyed his celebrity status."

Kasebier, an American photographer who first met Rodin in 1905, said he would "stiffen into the most grotesque and absurd postures." But she was finally able to catch him in a "relaxed and brooding" stance, touching the "Bust of Baron d'Estournelles de Constant," with the "Gates of Hell" behind him. Kasebier considered her photographs of Rodin among her finest works.

Visitors to "The Artist Observed" will also learn about the many faces that James McNeil Whistler presented to the world: artist, aesthete and man about town.

"I've long been interested in him," Fryberger said. "I think he's an outstanding American artist and a wonderful printmaker."

Whistler's burgeoning skill as a printmaker can be seen in an 1858 informal self-portrait he completed while still a student. The etching, done in a light, typically French fashion (he took art classes in Paris) shows Whistler wearing a broad-brimmed hat, intently sketching as curious children gather around him. The work was published as the title page of Whistler's first set of prints. In those days, Fryberger said, he would carry a copper plate in his pocket and sketch in the field.

Two later portraits emphasize Whistler's public persona as a stylish bon vivant: Mortimer Menpes' "Whistler: Wiser Than the Wise (Whistler with Monocle in Left Eye"), c.1890, and William Nicholson's 1897 "James McNeil Whistler."

"Whistler was a know-it-all," Fryberger said, referring to the title of Menpes' drypoint.

Two works by Ansel Adams are on display, both showcasing Georgia O'Keefe in her New Mexico home in 1937. One light-hearted photograph captures O'Keefe with Orville Cox, the wrangler of her Ghost Ranch home. In capturing this intimate moment, Adams used a hand-held camera rather than his customary stationary view camera, which contributed to the spontaneity of the scene.

"The Artist Observed" also offers fascinating glimpses into the interiors of artists' studios. Such portraits span the centuries, from an Italian 17th-century engraving of a painter's academy as a laboratory with many students, to a photograph of a solitary Willem de Kooning.

Taken in 1946 by his friend and painter Harry Bowden, the gelatin-silver print shows Kooning as an awkward young artist, uncomfortable in front of the lens. He wears heavy clothes, probably because the studio was so cold. His feet lie on top of drawings that litter the floor.

Matisse's studio at the Villa d'Alsesia is captured in a photograph taken in 1939 by Hungarian artist Gyula Halasz, whose professional name was Brassai. The image depicts Matisse, dressed in a white lab coat, seated next to his nude model. Brassai recalled that the septuagenarian Matisse resembled the "chief of staff of some hospital." Affixed to the walls of the studio are several unfinished works -- yet another significant observation pointed out by Fryberger.

"So much of art is never finished," she said.

Also on view are several photographs by Leo Holub, who, in 1969, became the first person to teach photography at Stanford. The exhibition features Holub's shots of several artists associated with Stanford's studio art program: Richard Diebenkorn, who, in 1963, was the first artist-in-residence ; Nathan Oliveira (shown in his printmaking studio in 1971) and Frank Lobdell (shown in his studio in 1980), who both taught at Stanford for nearly 30 years; and Kristina Branch, who has now taught for more than 20 years. All four portraits clearly show Holub's gift for putting his sitters at ease.

One of the last images in the exhibition is a stylized self-portrait by Alex Katz. One of many self-portraits done by Katz, the 1970 lithograph features a close-up focus of the artist wearing sunglasses. It boasts an exaggerated perspective, characteristic of the pop-inspired realism of the 1960s and 1970s, Fryberger said.

"It's about revealing yourself and hiding yourself at the same time," she said. "Self-portraiture is like that. It's an intensely psychological subject."

What: "The Artist Observed: Portraits and Self-Portraits." The exhibition will feature more than 70 prints, drawings and photographs from the early 17th century to the present, featuring artists as subjects.

Where: Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.

When: Through May 2. The center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday until 8 p.m.

Cost: Admission is free.

Info: Please call (650) 723-4177 or visit
Stanford Continuing Studies will offer a three-week course entitled "Artists Observed: Portraits and Self-Portraits." Betsy Fryberger, the Cantor Arts Center's curator of prints and drawings, will teach the course, which runs Jan. 22 through Feb. 5. The cost is $125. Register online at For more information please call (650) 725-2650.

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