Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Steeplechase



Edgar Degas, Scene from the Steeplechase--The Fallen Jockey (1866)

The horse seems a perfect subject for the artist—it exhibits both beauty in movement and unpredictability in the power of nature. Edgar Degas was one artist who looked towards these beasts for artistic inspiration. During the 1860s, horse racing, particularly the steeplechase, was considered a popular pastime of the French well-to-do. The steeplechase originated in the English and Irish countryside, where the opponents would race towards a fixed point in the distance, typically a church steeple (hence the name). This early form of the steeplechase proved dangerous, sending riders to harsh landings, and occasionally—death. The first steeplechase is said to have taken place in County Cork, Ireland in 1752. Two daring men, Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake, raced 4 ½ miles towards a distant church.[1] The accounts of this race solidified and popularized races of this nature. The French took this informal style of racing and gentrified it—creating an aristocratic pastime with rules and regulations.
Degas’ Scene from the Steeplechase—the Fallen Jockey (1866), was one of Degas’ largest paintings—measuring almost 7 by 5 feet (and currently on display at the National Gallery of Art). There is a stark disparity between the serene backdrop of man interacting with nature and the aggressive activities of the steeplechase. If one looks at the jockey, his delicate face portrays a sense of calm—even while he lies below the horse’s hooves and is subject to imminent danger. The jockey is said to have been based on Degas’ younger brother, Achille.[2] Perhaps that is why there is such a strong element of portraiture. Many sketches remain of Degas’ in depth study of this portion of the work. In this painting, Degas exhibits a noticeable amount of pentimento, or a reworking, where shadows remain of the original positions of both the horse’s tail and its inner-front leg. Stylistically, Degas juxtaposes the softness of the jockey’s face with the bold outlines of the horses. These outlines were seen in many of his final works, dating from the 1890s to the early 1900s.[3] The richness of the black brushstrokes symbolizes free-movement and at the same time—discipline. They sought to constrain and emphasize movement captured at a given moment.
  Clarice Smith, Leaving the Gate (2011)
A strong parallel can be seen between Degas’ equestrian pieces and works by the contemporary artist Clarice Smith, which are now on view in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery. Smith’s Leaving the Gate (2011) and Steeplechase (2012) also make use of bold outlines to create movement in the dark figures of the horses. While her works emphasize form more than movement, Leaving the Gate shows a contrast of color that stresses the lively action from the serene setting. She makes use of lush oranges and dimensional black to frame her narrative. Aside from the obvious relation in subject matter, Smith brings a uniquely stylized view of this pastime. It is as though she captured a single moment in intense movement—showing grace in tension.    

[1]Degas: At the Races. Washington: National Gallery of Art, n.d. Print.
[2]"History of Steeplechase." Iroquois Steeplechase. N.p., 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.
[3]Schenkel, Ruth. "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." Edgar Degas: Painting and Drawing. Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Larry Fink : Scenes of American Character


“The photograph is an attempt to give the perception of the moment some relationship to immortality.” [1]
-- Larry Fink


Pat Sabatine’s Eighth Birthday Party, PA, 1977, 
cover photograph of Social Graces
When it comes to defining the American experience, photography is often the medium of choice, from the striking Great Depression imagery of Dorthea Lange to the graphic contemporary portraits of Annie Leibovitz.  One such photographer that excels at capturing the American spirit is Larry Fink.  Fink portrays the American lifestyle with a balanced mixture of bitter social commentary and intimate sentimentality.  In his first publication Social Graces, 1984, Fink nostalgically compares the celebrations of varying social classes[2], whereas the artist reveals poignant poverty in America in his 2003 series “Diminishing Returns”, originally published in Vanity Fair and later exhibited at Princeton University[3].  Fink’s oeuvre encompasses a large range of themes and evokes every imaginable emotion. 



Kate Moss, NYC, 1999
Fink was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941 and began his career as a professional photographer in the 1970s, photographing events of the upper classes, such as museum galas and art openings.  He has gone on to show work regularly in galleries in New York, L.A., and Paris as well as one man shows at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and many more both in America and abroad.  He worked as a photographer for Vanity Fair, chronicling celebrity and high society nightlife.  He has also published multiple books, most recently a retrospective collection of works titled Attraction and Desire: 50 Years in Photography[4]. 

Fink often opts for closely cropped, confrontational compositions that press closely into the psyche of his subjects.  Alternatively, he may avoid faces altogether for a voyeuristic style. Black and white is his forte, and he effortlessly manipulates light and dark to isolate subjects from a crowded room and create graphic shapes.  Though he is often recognized for his iconic, glittering imagery of Hollywood, Fink has done projects of every imaginable subject, including beatniks, boxers, working class families, and the occasional presidential candidate, including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.


Declaration of Independence, Martin’s Creek PA, 1978,
 “Making Out: 1957-1980”, 
GW Permanent Collection, Gift of Adam J. Rappaport, 2010.
In a New York Times interview Fink commented on his work, “My life is profoundly physical. Photography for me is the transformation of desire" [5].   Certainly this concept presents itself in his series titled “Making Out: 1957-1980”.  In this series, Fink explores the intimate nature of human relationships by capturing personal moments between friends and lovers. In Declaration of Independence, Fink casts light only on faces and body parts, allowing the emotions of his subjects to come to the forefront in tangible form, while the background seems to recede into vague darkness.  The clever inclusion of “Declaration of Independence” banner on the wall behind the subjects’ heads highlights the serie’s themes of American passion.



Larry Fink currently works as a professor of photography at Bard College while continuing his work as an artist, and has educated students there for the past 16 years.  Whether documenting the biggest stars or the smallest basements, Fink’s work is a lively testament to the beauty of the human condition.

Visit Larry Fink’s blog at http://larryfink.blogspot.com/ for updates on his current projects!


[1] Larry Fink, interview by Adriana Teresa, “A Moment with Larry Fink”, New York Times, January 6, 2011, accessed January 25, 2013, http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/a-moment-with-larry-fink/.
[2] Larry Fink, “Publications: Intros : Social Graces,” Larry Fink Photography, accessed January 25, 2013, http://www.larryfinkphotography.com/publications_intros.html#socialgraces
[3] Jenny Boyar, “Poignant photos from controversial artist Larry Fink,” The Lafayette, March 11, 2005, accessed January 25, 2013. http://www.thelaf.com/a-e/poignant-photos-from-controversial-artist-larry-fink-1.2517150.
[4] “Biography,” Larry Fink Photography, accessed January 25, 2013, http://www.larryfinkphotography.com/bio.html.
[5] Fink, “A Moment with Larry Fink,” New York Times.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Steeplechase



Edgar Degas, Scene from the Steeplechase--The Fallen Jockey (1866)

The horse seems a perfect subject for the artist—it exhibits both beauty in movement and unpredictability in the power of nature. Edgar Degas was one artist who looked towards these beasts for artistic inspiration. During the 1860s, horse racing, particularly the steeplechase, was considered a popular pastime of the French well-to-do. The steeplechase originated in the English and Irish countryside, where the opponents would race towards a fixed point in the distance, typically a church steeple (hence the name). This early form of the steeplechase proved dangerous, sending riders to harsh landings, and occasionally—death. The first steeplechase is said to have taken place in County Cork, Ireland in 1752. Two daring men, Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake, raced 4 ½ miles towards a distant church.[1] The accounts of this race solidified and popularized races of this nature. The French took this informal style of racing and gentrified it—creating an aristocratic pastime with rules and regulations.
Degas’ Scene from the Steeplechase—the Fallen Jockey (1866), was one of Degas’ largest paintings—measuring almost 7 by 5 feet (and currently on display at the National Gallery of Art). There is a stark disparity between the serene backdrop of man interacting with nature and the aggressive activities of the steeplechase. If one looks at the jockey, his delicate face portrays a sense of calm—even while he lies below the horse’s hooves and is subject to imminent danger. The jockey is said to have been based on Degas’ younger brother, Achille.[2] Perhaps that is why there is such a strong element of portraiture. Many sketches remain of Degas’ in depth study of this portion of the work. In this painting, Degas exhibits a noticeable amount of pentimento, or a reworking, where shadows remain of the original positions of both the horse’s tail and its inner-front leg. Stylistically, Degas juxtaposes the softness of the jockey’s face with the bold outlines of the horses. These outlines were seen in many of his final works, dating from the 1890s to the early 1900s.[3] The richness of the black brushstrokes symbolizes free-movement and at the same time—discipline. They sought to constrain and emphasize movement captured at a given moment.
  Clarice Smith, Leaving the Gate (2011)
A strong parallel can be seen between Degas’ equestrian pieces and works by the contemporary artist Clarice Smith, which are now on view in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery. Smith’s Leaving the Gate (2011) and Steeplechase (2012) also make use of bold outlines to create movement in the dark figures of the horses. While her works emphasize form more than movement, Leaving the Gate shows a contrast of color that stresses the lively action from the serene setting. She makes use of lush oranges and dimensional black to frame her narrative. Aside from the obvious relation in subject matter, Smith brings a uniquely stylized view of this pastime. It is as though she captured a single moment in intense movement—showing grace in tension.    

[1]Degas: At the Races. Washington: National Gallery of Art, n.d. Print.
[2]"History of Steeplechase." Iroquois Steeplechase. N.p., 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.
[3]Schenkel, Ruth. "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." Edgar Degas: Painting and Drawing. Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Larry Fink : Scenes of American Character


“The photograph is an attempt to give the perception of the moment some relationship to immortality.” [1]
-- Larry Fink


Pat Sabatine’s Eighth Birthday Party, PA, 1977, 
cover photograph of Social Graces
When it comes to defining the American experience, photography is often the medium of choice, from the striking Great Depression imagery of Dorthea Lange to the graphic contemporary portraits of Annie Leibovitz.  One such photographer that excels at capturing the American spirit is Larry Fink.  Fink portrays the American lifestyle with a balanced mixture of bitter social commentary and intimate sentimentality.  In his first publication Social Graces, 1984, Fink nostalgically compares the celebrations of varying social classes[2], whereas the artist reveals poignant poverty in America in his 2003 series “Diminishing Returns”, originally published in Vanity Fair and later exhibited at Princeton University[3].  Fink’s oeuvre encompasses a large range of themes and evokes every imaginable emotion. 



Kate Moss, NYC, 1999
Fink was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941 and began his career as a professional photographer in the 1970s, photographing events of the upper classes, such as museum galas and art openings.  He has gone on to show work regularly in galleries in New York, L.A., and Paris as well as one man shows at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and many more both in America and abroad.  He worked as a photographer for Vanity Fair, chronicling celebrity and high society nightlife.  He has also published multiple books, most recently a retrospective collection of works titled Attraction and Desire: 50 Years in Photography[4]. 

Fink often opts for closely cropped, confrontational compositions that press closely into the psyche of his subjects.  Alternatively, he may avoid faces altogether for a voyeuristic style. Black and white is his forte, and he effortlessly manipulates light and dark to isolate subjects from a crowded room and create graphic shapes.  Though he is often recognized for his iconic, glittering imagery of Hollywood, Fink has done projects of every imaginable subject, including beatniks, boxers, working class families, and the occasional presidential candidate, including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.


Declaration of Independence, Martin’s Creek PA, 1978,
 “Making Out: 1957-1980”, 
GW Permanent Collection, Gift of Adam J. Rappaport, 2010.
In a New York Times interview Fink commented on his work, “My life is profoundly physical. Photography for me is the transformation of desire" [5].   Certainly this concept presents itself in his series titled “Making Out: 1957-1980”.  In this series, Fink explores the intimate nature of human relationships by capturing personal moments between friends and lovers. In Declaration of Independence, Fink casts light only on faces and body parts, allowing the emotions of his subjects to come to the forefront in tangible form, while the background seems to recede into vague darkness.  The clever inclusion of “Declaration of Independence” banner on the wall behind the subjects’ heads highlights the serie’s themes of American passion.



Larry Fink currently works as a professor of photography at Bard College while continuing his work as an artist, and has educated students there for the past 16 years.  Whether documenting the biggest stars or the smallest basements, Fink’s work is a lively testament to the beauty of the human condition.

Visit Larry Fink’s blog at http://larryfink.blogspot.com/ for updates on his current projects!


[1] Larry Fink, interview by Adriana Teresa, “A Moment with Larry Fink”, New York Times, January 6, 2011, accessed January 25, 2013, http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/a-moment-with-larry-fink/.
[2] Larry Fink, “Publications: Intros : Social Graces,” Larry Fink Photography, accessed January 25, 2013, http://www.larryfinkphotography.com/publications_intros.html#socialgraces
[3] Jenny Boyar, “Poignant photos from controversial artist Larry Fink,” The Lafayette, March 11, 2005, accessed January 25, 2013. http://www.thelaf.com/a-e/poignant-photos-from-controversial-artist-larry-fink-1.2517150.
[4] “Biography,” Larry Fink Photography, accessed January 25, 2013, http://www.larryfinkphotography.com/bio.html.
[5] Fink, “A Moment with Larry Fink,” New York Times.

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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