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I have read too many headlines this morning. My head is full of thoughts. I think I shall take a break from the computer screen until I can sort them. Meanwhile, I share these last images from my recent visit to the Boston Public Library’s Abbey Room and painter Edwin Austin Abbey’s expression of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

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Panel XIII. Sir Galahad crosses the sea in Solomon’s Ship

As for what’s happening in this scene, from the BPL website: “Sir Galahad crosses the seas to Sarras in Solomon’s Ship, guided by the Grail borne by an angel. Sir Bors and Sir Percival accompany him, while three spindles for the Tree of Life rest upon the stern of the ship.”

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/sets/72157647672175522/with/15074561737/

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St. Dominic’s life is on display in Stephen’s living room. Grand in its expression, it appears in a small painting on paper, only slightly larger than 2′ x 2′ unframed. It is in fact the colorful sketch for a much larger work — a mural on the wall of St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington, D.C.

Each section of the painting, and of the final mural, has meaning. The image is divided into seven parts, depicting seven scenes from Dominic’s life, from the center upper part where “God’s Hand puts halo around St. Dominic and drops into beggar’s bowl a star …” to the center lower part where “Two Angels lift the saintly pilgrim by his bleeding feet toward the stars in heaven.

The painting was in the possession of Ludwig Joutz (1910-1998), an architect with the D.C. based firm, Thomas H. Locraft and Associates, noted for what today is often described as sacred architecture. In 1960, his company designed a new priory for St. Dominic’s Church. Construction was completed in 1962.  On a lined office pad Joutz sketched the initial concept for the mural. That yellowing piece of paper remains with the painting, a painting that is signed and dated by artist Pierre Bourdelle (1901-1966).

Loutz must have treasured Bourdelle’s work.  After he retired, he and his wife moved to Florida and with him he carried Bourdelle’s painting. Loutz, himself an artist, would sketch the interior of his home in Florida. In one drawing there on the wall is the same painting that Loutz’s son would eventually give to Stephen after his father’s death.

artwork by ludwig joutz

artwork by ludwig joutz

Ludwig’s son remembered his father meeting with Bourdelle as he worked on the mural but little else could he tell me and so my research began. Thankfully, there was quite a bit of information to be found online and in newspaper archives.

Born in Paris, France, Pierre Bourdelle was the son of famed sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.  He studied under Auguste Rodin in whose studio his father worked from 1893-1908. During his time as Rodin’s chief assistant, his father taught the likes of Henry Matisse and Alberto Giacometti. One biographer notes that with Rodin, a young Bourdelle visited Europe’s great Cathedrals.

rodin by edward steichen, 1911

rodin by edward steichen, 1911

Eventually Pierre would move to the United States and set up a studio in New York. In effect, he stepped out of his father’s shadow.

antoine bourdelle, 1925

antoine bourdelle, 1925

In a 1934 interview, he expressed: “In France, a man is judged by what his father did or by his family tree. In the United States a man is judged by himself, his personality, his own work. In France, they offered me mural jobs because my father was a well-known artist. They did not even look at my work.

pierre bourdelle, 1934

pierre bourdelle, 1934

A man of diverse interests and talents, he’d traveled the world studying the art of different cultures, observing the nature of different places.  Over time, based on some of the things he’d seen, he developed a new technique that set him apart as a muralist.

excerpt from 1934 article

Search online and you’ll find a wealth of information about his Art Deco paintings and sculptures from the 1930s and 1940s. His bold and vibrant work adorned the interiors of ocean liners, railway lines like the California Zephyr, and the walls of institutions like Union Terminal in Cincinnati.

jungle mural by bourdelle for cincinnati terminal

He was a versatile artist capable of working with many media.  For Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, he not only created exotic jungle murals carved in linoleum, he also painted the ceilings of several rooms using an electric spray gun on canvas.

For the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, he created murals for Food Building North No. 2.  As described by a journalist covering the fair for Collier’s Magazine in 1939, There was Pierre Bourdelle, stripped to the waist in the hot sun and covered with red plaster dust. Gobs of wet plaster, a good blank wall, tools in his hands. That’s all Bourdelle, pupil of Rodin, asks to make him happy.”

His design motif for the fair was described as low bas-relief representing Bacchantes reveling at a wine-harvest festival, mythological animals, and scenes of beverage-making in various cultures.

sunshine and rain by bourdelle 1939

larger detail of vineyard mural on food building, 1939

Vineyard by Bourdelle 1939

While not everyone appreciated his style, e.g. so many sinuous forms wrapped around each other, few could deny the provocative and captivating nature of his work.

When World War II broke out, Bourdelle felt compelled to join the war effort.  He’d served in France during World War I. He’d been too young, only 15, but he’d lied about his age and was able to join an aviation unit.  When his plane went down, he suffered traumatic ear injuries.  A number of the biographies I found suggest that the horrors of that first war, the so-called Great War, influenced his art as no doubt did his participation in World War II. While unable to enlist because he was considered too old, he did serve in his own way, as a volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service at the North African and Italian fronts.

In 1945, upon his return to the U.S., Bourdelle would produce a book of images, simply titled, War. For the foreward, Stephen Galatti , the Director General of the AFS, would write, “Overseas Pierre Bourdelle saw suffering. He did his best to alleviate suffering, driving the wounded soldiers of many Allied armies. Helping staunch and bind their wounds in the field dressing stations. He knows the agony of war. He has no fear of showing war at its useless worst. He is not only a personally brave man who volunteered to go, and went, wherever the wounded were. He is an intellectually brave man, who makes no pretense at hiding the bare hideousness of warfare. … They are not pretty pictures. They show nothing but reality …”

Et Quare Tristis Incedo

They may not be pretty but they are horribly beautiful.  And as I perused all 50+ images, viewable online here, I could not help but be fascinated by Bourdelle’s evolution as an artist …

Land Mine

… seeing these works done in the 1940s and then …

Calvalry

… being able to look at the drawing he did in the early 1960s for the St. Dominic mural.

I suspect I will never see in-person the actual St. Dominic mural.  First of all, it is in a monastery chapel. Second of all, it has been covered in an attempt, I believe, to preserve it from the deterioration of time.

During the latter years of his life, Pierre Bourdelle continued to work as an artist and as a teacher.  He taught at C. W. Post, part of Long Island University, as an artist-in-residence. He died in 1966 while traveling with his family in Switzerland.

 

Sources and Additional Reading

Bourdelle Family History – http://www.mountharmonyfarm.com/GH-P-BourdelleItems.html

SS America Unique Story of a Great Ocean Liner/Bourdelle Page – http://www.ssamerica.bplaced.net/art2-en.html

Artwork for the California Zephyr – http://calzephyr.railfan.net/artists/bourdelle.html

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Art – Murals – Food Buildings – The Vineyard (Pierre Bourdelle)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1935 – 1945. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-7352-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Collier’s, Volume 103, p. 16

Bourdelle Art for Dallas Fair Park – http://frenchsculpture.org/dallas-fair-park-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_Museum_Center_at_Union_Terminal

The Glass Storybook and the Great Menagerie The Art of Winold Reiss and Pierre Bourdelle – http://www.cincymuseum.org/union-terminal/art

History of Cincinnati Union Terminal – http://library.cincymuseum.org/75th-anniversary/main.swf

Bourdelle’s War – http://www.ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/Bourdelle/pbTC.html

Bourdelle Papers at Syracuse Libraries  – http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/b/bourdelle_p.htm

 

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These are the hands of St. Paul, St. Peter and Jesus as painted by John La Farge in the murals for Trinity Church.  I was inspired to create this compilation by the moving images and words in Steve McCurry’s recent post, The Language of Hands. I may write more about hands in the future, but for now, I hope you enjoy these images.

St. Paul’s hands

St. Peter, the key in his hand

Jesus with Nicodemus, hands resting

Hands of Christ and Woman at the Well

St. Paul Mural by John La Farge, 1877

St. Paul

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ by John La Farge, 1878

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ

 

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In The Art and Thought of John La Farge, author Katie Kresser writes that John La Farge (1835-1910) completed his first sketch of Nicodemus and Christ in 1874.  That biblical encounter is a subject that La Farge would depict in several different forms over time.  Here is a sketch dated 1877 in the Yale University Art Gallery, and here is an oil painting completed in 1880, now housed at the Smithsonian.  He would also create a stained glass window for the Church of the Ascension in New York.  The following image, The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, is a photograph of the mural La Farge painted on the walls of Trinity Church in Boston.

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, mural by John La Farge

The Visit of Nicodemus to Christ, mural by John La Farge, 1878

It is one of several murals that La Farge painted inside the building with the aid of assistants like Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Francis D. Millet and Francis Lathrop.  I keep photographing them because I think that there is always something new to see and experience.

In the literature of the time period critiquing his work, there is often reference to La Farge’s use of color in the murals that borders on the poetic.  For example, “In his “Christ and Nicodemus,” … we find the color quality strongly dominant. … the rich blues vein the draperies and background like the threads in a Flemish tapestry …” (The Churchman newspaper, July 6, 1901).

Christ Woman at Well, mural in Trinity Church by John La Farge

Christ Woman at Well, mural by John La Farge, 1877

The beauty of La Farge’s murals is constant but their colors do shift in the light.  Different details become present depending upon where one stands and at what time of day.

David, mural by John La Farge

David, mural by John La Farge, 1877

My favorite is perhaps the painting of David, because of the colors and especially for the expression on the young man’s face.

I had originally titled this post “in his own words” because I came across John La Farge: A Memoir and a Study compiled by Roy Cortissoz, literary and art critic for the New York Tribune, and La Farge’s friend.  In the book, completed in 1911 shortly after La Farge’s death in 1910, La Farge reminisces about what it was like painting the murals at Trinity under tight time constraints, in poor health, up high on scaffolding.  Reading the words made me appreciate the skills of all the artists even more.  If you’d like to read La Farge’ account, begin at the end of page 31 of the book, available online here.

Learn how you can see these murals and other architectural and design features at Trinity Church first hand here. Postcards of some of these images available via The Shop.

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The Abbey Room at the Boston Public Library, with its richly colored wall paintings, is one of my favorite indoor sites in Boston.  The murals depict the Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail and, according to the Boston Public Library website, were installed in 1895 by Edwin Austin Abbey.  Today I had the opportunity to drop in for a moment to snap a few photos. Here are a few favorites from the day.  You can read more about the Grail story here and you can read more about Edwin Austin Abbey here.

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As a child in Virginia I never imagined that I’d spend so much time as an adult in a place like Trinity Church watching sunlight stream through stained glass windows and play upon walls designed and painted by the likes of artist John La Farge.  This is a photograph of one of those murals.  I’m pleased at how it turned out as a postcard.  Soon to be available in the church Book Shop.  There is a wealth of information available in books and online about John La Farge.  I found particularly interesting this article about the rivalry between La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Below are a few additional images of the murals.  Just a tease really because no picture can compare to the real thing. 😉

Learn more about the artist John LaFarge, architect Henry Hobson Richardson and much more on the church website.

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Based on yesterday’s post, I was asked by a few folks if I went up one more flight of stairs to view the hands of the Sargent murals.  Oh, yes indeed I did.  I did not begin with the Madonna of Sorrows with her silver crown.  With my limited time, I focused first on the prophets.

At the end of my stay, as I focused more on the Madonna of Sorrows, I had to stand close to a young security guard.  Finally I turned to her and asked, “Do you ever get bored?” She smiled and suddenly looked about twelve years old.  She said, “No, ma’am.  Every day I see something new.”

See all of the Sargent murals, in context, via this link.  This is an excellent site as well: http://www.sargentmurals.bpl.org/

 

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