Monday, September 15, 2008

george de forest brush

on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 
September 14, 2008 through January 4, 2009

George de ForestBrush (American, 1855 - 1941) The Head Dress, 1890 oil on canvas Property of the Westervelt Company and displayed in The Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

George de ForestBrush (American, 1855 - 1941) Indian Hunter, 1890 oil on panel Private Collection

I went to the National Gallery of Art for a lecture on the new show of old works by George de Forest Brush (1854 or 1855-1941) an academically trained artist of the 19th century who studied in New York and Paris. He returned from his Parisian academy training to New York City and found his work needed something to distinguish him from his peers. He accomplished this by painting romanticized paintings of American Indians in his studio with a goal of painting the story of every man by focusing on a single genre of the little known culture of the Indians. He was sympathetic to the plight of the Indian, in the 1880's when they were being hunted down while fighting to save their way of life and lands. He was also sympathetic to the plight of the beautifully plumed birds which were also being slaughtered for ladies hats of the day.  He Incorporated them both in his small studio paintings after about a year or two with his brother in the west living with the Indians studying them. George de Forest Brush created his distinctive series of paintings while teaching students drawing and painting in NYC at the Art Students League to support his growing family.  I was happy to see this American student of the École des Beaux-Arts Paris instructor Jean-Léon Gérome now being shown in our national gallery. He, like Thomas Eakins, learned to paint beautifully accurate detailed textures and live figures. You will see amazing details in every one of his paintings. I have posted two of my favorites from the show lent to me by NGA press office to help get the word out about this show. Be sure to double click them for the larger image blowup.

In the introductory history lecture by Nancy Anderson curator of American and 
British paintings. I learned a lot of things that are not posted on the walls of the gallery and I was astonished at how small the paintings were after seeing them on the huge screen of the auditorium where they held up in every detail. The show of deForest Brush's Indian paintings has 20 works the show was postponed for 10 years because five of these paintings were still lost to the world.  Anderson told us the families of the people who bought the paintings kept them and passed them down, leaving them lost to the greater art historians world for many years. One of the paintings of a white crane and the Indian artist carving a marble rendition of the bird was show to the curator housed in a decaying card board box  it's varnish badly yellowed where it had been for the last 30 years unnoticed in storage it also had a coat of dirty white paint on the old frame. Now it has been restored and reframed and looks brillant.  Brush had 8 children and six of them survived to adulthood and there are many descendents who will be coming to the gallery in a couple weeks for a special "family day" in the exhibit. I sat in the lecture behind a few of his family who revealed themselves to Ms. Anderson at the end of the lecture. These twenty paintings are proudly on display for all of us lucky Washingtonians  to see and revel in one of our skilled American academic painters of the 19th century. I should note here the National Gallery has a fantastic web feature which is a slide show of most of the paintings the exhibit. If you are unable to get to the gallery in person try this link: 
Here I  have to note it is a modern marvel that we can enjoy current exhibitions in the comfort of our homes but it doesn't completely replace the experience of marveling at the real thing in front of your own two eyes. 


wondermachine said...

I found myself actually disturbed by this show. I mean the work itself was stunning. Beautiful, sinuous, erotic and shimmering. But I found the whole conceit disturbing and downright unforgivable, even through a backwards historiographical lens. Brush seemed as guilty of the devastation he seemed to be alerting the viewer to. I wrote a few lines about the exhibit while I was there -- perhaps a future poem -- but they were not charitable.

Frederick said...

I hear that Dan, It was pointed out that DeForestBrush was a memeber of the liberal group "friends of the Indians" who orchestrated the Christian Schools that were intended to make Indians into American Farmers with good Christian values. As history has shown that was a horrid mistake. I am happy to say that they know the images are corrupt and they have entered into a partnership with Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian to discuss and highlight the images and how they make us understand or misunderstand as the case may be.
Amer. Indian Museum is doing a film and discussion series Which will culminate with a symposium in December.

Special Screenings: FILM INDIANS NOW!
Sunday, October 5, 2008, 2:00 p.m.
Rasmuson Theater

NMAI's Film and Video Center and the National Gallery of Art present a remarkable eight part screening series, imparting fresh views regarding the Native American experience as described in contemporary Media. Each program will include a moderated discussion on how media affects and empowers our collective image of what a Native person is.

Club Native(2008, 78 min.)
Director: Tracey Deer
On the Mohawk reserve of Kanawake there are two firm, but unwritten rules: don't marry or have children with a white man. Doing so means losing all status as a Native person, for you and your children. Documentarian Tracey Deer follows four Mohawk women, as they battle to protect their status as tribal members and the rights of their loved ones.
Sunday Oct. 5th at 2:00 PM is the next film and discussion. Want to go?