Monday, February 26, 2018

Freer Gallery of Art- Teaching Drawing in a Museum's Galleries

The inner courtyard of the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian in 
Washington, DC

Last weekend I traveled to Washington, DC to teach a drawing workshop in the Freer Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian Institution. Just reopened after a two year renovation, the museum is incredibly elegant. 

Grace Murray, the museum's Head of Public Programs, and her interns did a wonderful job organizing the workshop so we could get a lot done in just three hours. Grace began the afternoon with a slide show introduction to the museum and its collection- a highly unusual mix of Asian art and a small select group late 19th century American painters. Afterwards we worked in vine charcoal to make a quick study of Edward Hopper's composition. Then we headed out to draw the interior spaces in the museum galleries. The dozen students seemed like they had a great time.

Winslow Homer, Early Eveningoil on canvas, 1881-1907

While I didn't have a lot of time to explore the collection I did spend a half hour in Freer's galleries of Western oil paintings.
One just mesmerized me- Winslow Homer's Early Evening. A seemingly  restrained painting, it manages to evoke a powerfully monumental feeling with its two young women silhouetted against the evening sky. The sky is a deliciously creamy gradation of soft atmospheric hues.

But it's not all about softness. Homer wanted to surprise his viewer's eye and used his mastery of two-dimensional design to do it.  The above detail shows him squeezing the empty sky between artfully placed folds in the the skirts and carefully drawn rock outcroppings. 

 John Singer Sargent. Breakfast in the Loggia, oil on canvas, 1910

John Singer Sargent's oil paintings seem so spontaneously composed- almost like a snapshot, but better. I love how he makes the wild shape of the shadows on the far wall more dramatic than the poses of his women enjoying breakfast. It makes me think maybe they're trading salacious gossip...

The Freer has an impressive collection of work by the darkly romantic painter Abbot Handerson Thayer. On display when I was there was Monadnock in Winter from 1904. He deftly shifts from the softly out-of-focus evergreens to the delicate but crip touches in the mountain peaks. I figured out by looking at the direction of the light on the mountain's summit it is a painting of the morning, surprising me as it feels it's a tender elegy at dusk to winter's light. 

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