Friday, January 25, 2008

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

829 Riverside Ave
Jacksonville, FL 32204

Review by Mia Carlin

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens began with one couple’s passion for art; Arthur and Ninah Cummer. Built on the site of the home of Arthur and Ninah Cummer, The Cummer Museum opened its doors November 10, 1961, upon the last dying wishes of Ninah Cummer. From Ninah Cummer's relatively small collection of sixty pieces that launched the museum, the Cummer's permanent collection has grown to over six thousand works of art encompassing eight thousand years of art history.
This enormous growth was accomplished through the generosity of numerous patrons whose gifts of art ranged from single pieces to entire collections. Other notable acquisitions were purchased with endowments established for that purpose by benefactors and The Cummer Council. Particularly noteworthy additions are the Wark Collection of early Meissen porcelain, the Dennis C. Hayes Collection of Japanese woodblock prints, and the Eugène Louis Charvot Collection of nineteenth-century prints and paintings.
The building that used to house the Woman's Club of Jacksonville was to be restored into the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The Club had purchased the riverfront site in 1926 for $125,000, according to Dr. Wayne Wood in his Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage. Mrs. Ninah Cummer and other Cummer in-laws provided financial assistance for this purchase. Architect Mellen C. Creeley (1880-1981) was selected to design the new facility. As Dr. Wood writes: "The Tudor Revival style was chosen to blend harmoniously with the neighborhood, which was then solidly residential (the elegant Cummer mansion, which at time stood next door, was perhaps an influencing factor in the selection of the Tudor Revival style). The structure was built at a cost of $60,000 and features half-timbering and a tile roof."In 2004, The Cummer Museum Foundation purchased the property for $1,380,000 from the ladies of the Woman's Club. The adjoining riverfront garden had been purchased for $450,000 two years prior. This collassal museum measures 13,400 square feet, while the entire parcel is two acres.

Permanent Collections of the Cummer

Recumbent Feline Vessel 700-400 BC Chavin Culture, Peru

Chavin, on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountain is the location of the oldest known civilization in Peru. Jaguar inspired feline forms are common in Pre Columbian art. In their belief system, the jaguar symbolized supernatural powers because of its hunting prowess. Peruvian Shamans or ritual specialists often identify w/ the Jaguar, particularly during hallucinogenic trances. The detailed clay workings of the Feline Vessel are mystical beyond all means and bring a sense of playfulness to the collection. A beautiful and rare find indeed.

Bridal Mirror Etruscan, late 4th Century BC

The production of mirrors in Etruria, located in what is now central Italy, began during the second half of the sixth century B.C. Mirrors were often engraved with scenes of daily life and mythology; The Cummer Bridal Mirror, cast in one piece, is incised with a scene of adornment. A woman is seated on a stool surrounded by items related to her toilette. A winged hermaphrodite stands poised to crown the woman with a wreath, while a bird brings her a necklace in its beak. The seated woman has been identified as Malavisch, the Etruscan figure associated with wedding rituals. Scenes of bridal adornment are common on Etruscan mirrors, supporting the opinion that these objects were given as wedding gifts.

Stela of Iku and Mer – imat Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty 2100 BC Painted Limestone

This stela depicts a nobleman named Iku and his wife, Mer-imat. The vertical inscription located in front of the striding Iku is a written "appeal to the living." It asks viewers to read the text of the offering aloud, providing the deceased with "a thousand of bread and beer, a thousand of beef and fowl, and of everything good, for the high official, the honored Iku." The text above Mer-imat's head describes her titles as "king's [ornament], priestess of Hathor, honored one, beautiful of ornament, overseer of oasis-dwellers." That Mer-imat's titles are significantly more elaborate than those of her husband suggests that Iku may have owed his noble position to their marriage. Ingraved with detail, the mysticism of this artifact is quite astounding. It’s hard to believe this ancient relic has held up with such precision over the centuries.

Cinerary Urn 1st Century AD Marble

By far the most beautiful of the ancient artifacts, was this 1st century marble Cinerary Urn. Chiseled to perfection, this urn bears a resemblance to a mini mausoleum; fashioned with beautiful rams, birds and flowers; elegantly engraved in smooth white marble.

Before Her Appearance Frederick Carl Frieseke 1913 Oil on Canvas

A painting from the turn of the 20th century; Before Her Appearance portrays the innocence and beauty of the classic American lady. The painting depicts a dancer dressed in a baby pink gown with pink ballet slippers, applying lipstick at her floral covered vanity. This painting was created while Frieseke spent the winter of 1912 on Corsica, an island off the Italian coast. He rented a house and garden there and sent for his favorite model Marcelle, who posed as the dancer in this painting. Before Her Appearance was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1913 and was very well received. It was bought by Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt for her private collection.
String of pearls, perfume bottles and powder puffs capture pure femininity with floral drapes, pink satin and soft ivory chiffon.
A painting so real, you can almost smell the baby powder.

William Zorach
Spirit of the Dance 1932

William Zorach's Spirit of the Dance was selected by the Rockefeller family to be placed inside Radio City Music Hall in New York. Cast in the then ultra modern medium of aluminum, the monumental dancer taking a bow was completed in 1932. Considerable controversy developed over the nudity of the figure when the sculpture was first exhibited, and for some months the dancer disappeared from view. When the artist exhibited a clay model, however, it was so well received by art critics and the general public that the aluminum sculpture was returned to public view at Radio City Music Hall where it can still be seen. Zorach authorized an edition of six bronze casts of this sculpture. A rather large sculpture, one can possibly be spooked by the figure. While, beautiful it is - the neck, arms, legs and feet are freakishly large. It’s as if the artist modeled the torso after a woman and the limbs after a man. Overall it is a beautiful piece and stands out as one of the most captivating works of art in the museum.

Charles Joseph Natoire
The Awakening of Venus 1741

As a student at the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Charles Natoire was awarded the coveted Grand Prix de Rome in 1721. Natoire studied in Italy from 1723 to 1729, and returned to Rome in 1751 to serve as Director of the French Academy, a position he held for twenty-three years.

This painting was originally part of an elaborate interior and was set into a paneled wall. The awakening and adornment of Venus by her attendants, the Three Graces, was a popular subject because of its mythological and literary associations. The theme also provided an acceptable vehicle for the inclusion of the light, often sensuous subject matter associated with the Rococo style. The splendor of the painting illustrates the smooth skin of "Venus" as fresh and soft as a newborn baby. One could mistake her skin for ivory satin or soft flesh colored velvet. Natoire succeeds in depicting Venus as both virtuous and sensual as she can possibly be; a naturally naive seductress.

William Adolphe Bouguereau Return from the Harvest 1878

Considered Bouguereau's masterpiece, Return from the Harvest was commissioned in 1874 by the American department store owner, A.T. Stewart. His only stipulation in awarding the commission was that the painting be Bouguereau's greatest work and could not be a nude subject. Stewart died before Bouguereau completed the work.

Bouguereau often combined Christian and pagan themes in his art. Return from the Harvest presents more than just an idealized scene of life among the peasantry. The dancing peasants could be the devotees of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, personified by the infant crowned with grape leaves. The subject could also refer to Mary, wearing the symbolic colors of red, blue, and white, and the Christ Child, whose head is encircled by a kingly crown. Regardless of the ambiguity of the narrative, Bouguereau paints each figure with realism virtually unrivaled.
Viewing the painting you are hardly aware that it is a painting. Bouguereau’s strokes and shadowing are so precise it appears as if you are looking at an enlarged photo. With beautiful color and distinctive expression, Return From Harvest leads you to believe that you actually took a step back in ancient Roman times.

Cummer Featured Exhibits

In Stabiano. Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite

On a bluff overlooking the Bay of Naples and the modern city of Castellamare di Stabia, approximately 3 miles southeast of Pompeii, are the remains of the ancient site of Stabia. For the first time in the United States, this exhibition brings to light art objects and archaeological artifacts found in five ancient Roman villas built on that bluff. Wealthy Romans built luxury summer resort villas here. For a short time, these villas of extraordinary proportions, innovative design and luxurious decoration were a center of political power, wealth, culture and intrigue during the hot summer months. This thriving microcosm of privilege suffered destruction on August 24, 79 A.D., buried in ash by the same eruption that destroyed Pompeii. This stunning exhibition in the Raymond K. and Minerva Mason Gallery will be the last stop on an exclusive tour of nine American museums.
Organized by the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii and the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation, tour managed by International Arts and Artists, and partially sponsored by NIAF, Grand Circle Foundation and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Los Angeles.

Joseph Jeffers Dodge
The Artist and His Muse 1992

A charming picture of an artist and his muse, this portrait portrays an aging man painting a portrait while a half naked woman stands behind him, watching him adoringly. It’s almost as if the woman were a guardian angel; gazing upon the old man with love, while smiling serenely and keeping her hands folded gently under her bosom.
Dodge’s paintings portrayed naked men and women in unusual scenarios from the 50’s and 60’s era; a time when nudity was barely a norm in art culture. Naked musicians wrapped in sheets sprawled out on brick rooftops on a hot day, a naked woman lounging in a chair in front of an open window or topless ladies playing catch in a mid summer afternoon; these were not your typical run of the mill 1950’s pinup portraits, however, they are painted with such leisure and tastefulness that you hardly notice the nudity and plainly admire the beauty of the naked bodies instead.
Joseph Jeffers Dodge was trained as an art historian and museum administrator at Harvard University before accepting his first job as curator of the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York. At the same time, he began actively painting and exhibiting his work. In 1962, Dodge was invited to take the director's position at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, a job he held for ten years before making a full-time commitment to painting. The Dodge Collection was bequeathed to the museum in 1997.
Admitting that Jazz music and the female figure was his primary muse; Dodge claimed that his female model, Jeanne Klempf, was the ideal beauty. Not only was Jeanne his model but she was also a friend that he shared his triumphs and tribulations with as years passed.

Joseph Jeffers Dodge No Turning Back 1959

Perhaps I took this next piece too personally. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much. Sometimes it’s necessary to hear the artist’s thoughts or original intentions of the piece to truly appreciate it. That’s what happened when I looked at No Turning Back. Viewing Dodges wonderful work I was suddenly drawn to this portrait. The child in the picture was so beautifully sad; a young girl at the ripe age of pre-adolescence, looking up at you with pleading eyes surrounded by toys of her past and blossoming flowers of her future. The development of her upper body reveals that she is no longer a child, but her eyes tell you she is not yet ready to be a woman. Wanting to know more of the painting I read the marker hanging next the painting which says: "In discussing No Turning Back Dodge explained that the young woman "is looking backward with regret and forward with apprehension, or perhaps with eagerness, depending on the girl. She is in a child-like pose astraddle a bench on which are the mementos and symbols of her childhood-including a doll struggling with the symbolic, umbilical cord-and the sheltered violets just coming into bloom. The upper half represents maturity and things to come: just as the upper part of her body is more that of a woman. The cut roses symbolize love, or the full bloom of life, and finally death, in contrast to the early spring of the violets growing below. The apples, of course, refer to Eve, The Garden of Eden, and the Temptation. On the lower shelf the apple is whole…while above, it’s been cut and one slice is missing-presumably eaten. There’s a certain ominous finality about this section which is very effective, I think in this context-and by itself, for that matter."
Dodge was always very proud of this work noting, "This is one I’d surely consider as among my very best."
I couldn’t agree more.

Museum Hours:

10:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Noon - 5:00 PM

FREE Tuesdays
4:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Sponsored by AT&T

Closed Mondays and Major Holidays

Telephone: (904) 356-6857

** Some descriptions in this review are courtesy of The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens **

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