Gargoyle of the Day: Buen Retiro Park, Madrid

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Fountain of the Fallen Angel in Buen Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain. Photo by Ulleskelf via Flickr [Creative Commons].

These gargoyles may not be on a building, but they are certainly serving their proper purpose. Located on the base of the Fountain of the Fallen Angel (Fuente del Ángel Caído) in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park, these eight devil figures spit water out of their mouths and the mouths of their reptilian pets. The statue, designed and constructed between 1877 and 1885 and inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost, was designed by Ricardo Bellver. The devil-encrusted base was designed by Francisco Jareño.

American Art of the Week: Houston Street by George Luks

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Houston Street by George Luks (1917). Saint Louis Museum of Art. Photo via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

George Luks (1866-1933) was an American social realist painter. He is known best for his images of New York City, specifically its working-class and immigrant neighborhoods, and his energetic style seems to suit these scenes’ vibrancy perfectly. He also studied and painted in Europe. Along with fellow American painters of urban life, Luks was part of the so-called Ashcan School that stood against academic traditions of the time. Houston Street, characteristic of Luks’s usual style and subject matter, depicts street vendors in lower Manhattan.

Gargoyle of the Day: Turnblad Mansion, Minneapolis, USA

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Turnblad Mansion Gargoyle. Photo by the American Swedish Institute via Flickr [Creative Commons].

I belong to a wonderful group on Facebook called Mansions of the Gilded Age. Last month, I asked some of my fellow group members whether they knew of any gargoyles on Gilded Age homes. They came back with quite a few great examples, including the Turnblad Mansion in Minneapolis. Commissioned by Swedish-born newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad and his wife Christina in 1903, the house was designed by architects Christopher Boehme and Victor Cordella in the Chateauesque style. Popular in America and Canada at the time, Chateauesque got its name from the French country homes it emulated.

Always keen to honor their homeland, the Turnblads donated the mansion to the  American Swedish Institute in 1929; it is unclear whether they were also the institute’s founders. The American Swedish Institute still operates in the Turnblad Mansion and other buildings today, with a mission “to share experiences around themes of culture, migration, the environment and the arts, informed by enduring links to Sweden”.

The Turnblad Mansion is home to several true gargoyles (as opposed to non-functional grotesques). It appears that the creature shown above was pressed into service as the ring bearer at a wedding held in the mansion. In the  exterior view of this Swedish-American answer to Cinderella’s castle, you can see the profiles of several other gargoyles projecting from the corners of the front and side porticos.

Sources: “Swan Turnblad”, Wikipedia.org, accessed 5/29/16. “American Swedish Institute”, Wikipedia.org, accessed 5/29/16. “Turnblad Mansion”, American Swedish Institute, accessed 5/29/16.

So many thanks to Mansions of the Gilded Age TJ Bren for introducing me to this beautiful house and gargoyles!

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Exterior of the Turnblad Mansion, Minneapolis. Photo by the American Swedish Institute via Flickr [Creative Commons].

American Art of the Week: Paris La Nuit by Charles Courtney Curran

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Paris La Nuit by Charles Courtney Curran, 1889. Terra Museum of American Art. Photo via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

I think there’s something quite fascinating about paintings of Europe by American artists. It’s interesting to compare how European cities look through American eyes with American scenes and with European artists’ representations of the same cities. Does a Frenchman represent Paris differently than an American? How does an American see London compared with how he sees New York? Since so many nineteenth and twentieth-century American artists visited and studied in Paris and other major European art capitals, such images are more common than one might think. This painting of Paris at night by Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942)  is truly magical. By focusing on the narrow view of lights, people, and activity rather than a wider view of more permanent attributes like architecture, Curran presents a homey little scene that feels more small town than big city. Paris certainly didn’t feel much like this when I visited over a century later, but I’m intrigued by the possibility that it once did.

American Art of the Week: The Cathedrals of Broadway

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The Cathedrals of Broadway by Florine Stettheimer, 1929. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo via Wikimedia Commons [Public domain].

I saw Florine Stettheimer’s Cathedrals series when I was at the Met last month, and I’ve been eager to learn more about it ever since. Stettheimer (1871-1944) was a New York state-born modernist artist and theatrical set designer; you can certainly see evidence of both her theatrical experience and her modernist leanings in these paintings. There are four works in the Cathedrals series – The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Art (1942), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931). Each painting concerns a different cultural center of New York City, presenting the sights, events, institutions, and characters in massive, stage-like displays. The Metropolitan’s collection database calls the works “extraordinary composite visions of New York’s economic, social, and cultural institutions”. Of this work in particular, the museum notes the “magical atmosphere of neon-lit theatres” and “little hint of the harsh conditions that confronted many New Yorkers in the 1930s”. However, it’s difficult not to read some degree of satire and social critique into the bright, chaotic compositions and slight tone of surrealism. After all, Stettheimer would be neither the first nor the last artist to draw attention to Wall Street and Fifth Avenue’s foibles.

Gargoyle of the Day: Reims Cathedral, France

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A restored gargoyle on Reims Cathedral. Photo by G Bayliss via Flickr [Creative Commons].

This gargoyle on Reims Cathedral seems to have had a head transplant some time since the Middle Ages! The concept is actually not that unusual, since centuries of running water often erode functioning gargoyles over time. It’s difficult to tell from this photo if the replacement was done in metal or a differently-colored stone. Either way, the end result kind of looks like this rhinoceros is wearing a battle helmet.

American Art of the Week: May Night by Willard Metcalf

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May Night (1906) by Willard Metcalf. Corcoran Gallery of Art. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I thought that the title of this painting made it appropriate for today. Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) was an influential American artist from New England. He painted this work in Old Lyme, Connecticut when he was associated with the art colony there.* I love the mystery and beauty of this painting. Who is the girl? What is the building, and why is she going there at night? The neoclassical façade calls to mind an ancient temple, though why one would appear in the middle of Connecticut, I have no idea. The unexplained light source, dense foliage, and long shadows also add to its air of intrigue, as does its Impressionist style.