Recent acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art include a monumental 18th-century Chinese landscape painting; a 16th-century Mannerist painting by Maso da San Friano; 38 photographs of the Indian Rebellion; a selection of works on paper by influential Latin American artists; and a contemporary sculpture by celebrated artist Simone Leigh.
Cantilevered Road to Shu
Eighteenth-century landscape painting among the largest ever produced by Yuan studios
Created by artist Yuan Yao, Cantilevered Road to Shu is among the largest and most successful landscape paintings produced by the Yuan studios in 18th-century Yangzhou. It’s a pivotal and important work that represents China’s last flourishing period in the arts before the modern era. Few other works by the Yuan masters present an equally monumental and continuous composition of such scale. Cantilevered Road to Shu depicts the trade of goods over long distances and through mountainous terrain. Travelers lead heavily loaded mules over footbridges, mountain paths wind along steep slopes, bridges at soaring heights cross from one slope to another, and towering peaks are divided by deep gorges.
Landscapes have been the primary subject of classical Chinese painting since the 11th century. In Chinese art, landscapes are images of the universe; they represent an ideal world in which humans live in harmony with nature under a government that received its mandate to rule from heaven. In landscapes of the Yuan school, it was the impressive scale and rich narrative detail that entertained and engaged Chinese viewers. Works produced in the Yuan studios in Yangzhou decorated the spacious residences of the legendarily wealthy local salt merchants of the time. Allusions to literature and drama evoked in the titles of these paintings satisfied the owners’ aspirations to be associated with the educated scholar class of officials.
Cantilevered Road to Shu is the first work by the Yuan school to enter the CMA’s collection. It provides a previously missing link in the museum’s collection and enhances the importance of its internationally renowned holdings of classical Chinese paintings.
Holy Family with the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
Mannerist painting now signature work in museum’s collection
Florentine artist Maso da San Friano (1531–1571) worked for the Medici court and the most eminent ecclesiastical and private patrons of his time. Maso was renowned for his distinctive style characterized by smooth flesh tones, a rich color palette and clearly delineated, sculptural figures. Holy Family with the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (c. 1560) is a masterpiece of High Mannerist painting and among the best preserved 16th-century panel paintings to come on the market in decades. Research suggests that the painting once belonged in the private collection of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Maso imbues this popular post-Reformation subject with his idiosyncratic style, introducing a young Saint John the Baptist and emphasizing the nude Christ’s humanity as he symbolically weds the virgin Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The work was painted when Maso was at the height of a successful career that ended prematurely when he died in 1571 at age 39.
Highly fluent in the visual vocabulary of revolutionary Florentine painters of the previous generation, Maso was adept at combining Mannerist proportion and elegance with High Renaissance balance and tonal clarity. He excelled at painting portraits, cabinet pictures and large altarpieces, but this intimate subject was probably executed for the personal devotion of a private patron.
While the CMA has masterpieces by Renaissance master Filippino Lippi and celebrated Italian Baroque paintings by Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci and Orazio Gentileschi, Maso’s Holy Family brings the first significant Italian Mannerist painting to the museum’s collection. The painting will become a lynchpin connecting the CMA’s strong holdings in Renaissance and Baroque painting.
Leigh’s sculpture evokes global references to explore the female body, race and beauty
Simone Leigh (b. 1967) is one of the most innovative and celebrated sculptors working today. Las Meninas (2019) exemplifies the artist’s approach of drawing on traditions found throughout global art and culture to address issues surrounding the female body, race, beauty and community. The sculpture is informed by Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas (1656). While Leigh’s skirted form evokes Velazquez’s infanta, it also refers to the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition candomblé, and the architecture of Mousgoum communities in Cameroon. The skirt’s raffia material, ubiquitous throughout Leigh’s work, evokes traditional African masks, which have long been a visual touchstone for the artist. The white-glazed terracotta torso of Las Meninas was inspired by sacred and secular traditions of body painting, especially the use of white powder in Haitian ancestral rituals to access the dead, and the use of white clay in South Africa to protect skin from the sun. The torso leads to a faceless head, creating a balance between figuration and abstraction, also characteristic of Leigh’s work. Las Meninas expands the CMA’s holdings of figurative sculpture and enhances the presence of artists of color and women in the contemporary collection. Las Meninas will go on view in early November 2019 in the Paula and Eugene Stevens Gallery (229b).
Leigh’s work has been presented in numerous group and solo exhibitions. In 2018 she was the winner of the Guggenheim Foundation’s 2018 Hugo Boss Prize and her exhibition Simone Leigh: Loophole of Retreat is on view at the Guggenheim Museum through October 27. Leigh’s monumental sculpture Brick House (2019) was the inaugural commission for New York’s High Line Plinth and currently soars above the city. Leigh’s work is part of major private and public collections, including the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the MFA Boston.
A Group of 38 Photographs of Lucknow, India, after the Siege
Photographs capture the terrible wages of war
These 38 photographs of the Indian Rebellion of 1857–58—among the earliest efforts to systematically document the tragic results of armed conflict—occupy an important place in the history of photography. They were taken by Italian-born British photographer Felice Beato (1832–1909), a pioneer war photographer and the first to cover multiple major conflicts.
Due to technical constraints of photography, early representations of war typically showed only its aftermath: ruined structures and battlefields already stripped of bodies. Beato broke new iconographic and emotional ground in Lucknow by including skeletons, the horrific wages of war. A significant event in both Indian and British history, the rebellion was a mutiny by Indian soldiers serving in the East India Company’s army, coupled with civilian uprisings. Lucknow, the site of two lengthy sieges, became an iconic symbol of British resolve. Lucknow after the Seige: Interior of the Secundra Bagh after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels by the 93rd Highlanders and 4th Punjab Regiment, which presents the bones of slain rebels, may be the first war photograph to show corpses. These photographs complement and amplify the museum’s holdings of the origins of war photography, falling chronologically between Roger Fenton’s photograph of a British lookout in the Crimean War and George Barnard and David Woodbury’s images of military sites from the American Civil War.
Along with that scene of slaughter and many of ruined buildings, Beato also recorded numerous undamaged structures, providing important documentation of Indian architecture and daily life in that era.
Latin American Works on Paper
The museum has acquired several works on paper by Latin American artists, bringing greater geographic diversity to the collection of prints and drawings. Central to the group is a watercolor by Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam (1902–1982). Lam combined the influences of European avant-garde movements, such as Cubism and Surrealism, with Cuban symbolism and imagery to create his own distinctive style. After working alongside Pablo Picasso and André Breton in Paris during the late 1930s, Lam returned to his native Cuba in 1941. The newly acquired watercolor (1947) dates to this period when Lam immersed himself in Cuban culture and produced an innovative body of work.
Inspired by the supernatural elements of religious practices in Cuba, the drawing features fantastical winged creatures, a subject that recurred throughout the artist’s work during years that are widely considered his most formative and creative.
A drawing by the influential Argentinian artist León Ferrari (1920–2013) was also acquired. Influenced by Minimalist and Conceptual Art movements and political turmoil in his native country during the 1960s, Ferrari made a series of drawings that he referred to as “written paintings,” which used abstract ink marks to suggest handwritten text. Based on news articles about local violence, Ferrari’s 1976 composition, Untitled, a pen-and-ink drawing, mirrored the frustration of artistic expression under a repressive regime. The artist’s estate has also made a gift of a late drawing and an example of Ferrari’s printmaking, allowing the museum to fully represent the artist’s career.
The museum also acquired a lithograph by German-born Venezuelan artist Gego (1912–1994) who was central to the kinetic art movement that began in Caracas during the 1960s and emphasized geometry and bold colors. Based on her experience creating the 1966 print Untitled at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, Gego founded her own print shop in Caracas to encourage experimental printmaking in Venezuela.
Finally, the museum acquired a 1968 etching with embroidery by the Argentinian artist Liliana Porter (b. 1941). Man (To Be Embroidered) features a man’s silhouette with three-dimensional embroidery, contrasting this technique’s feminine associations with the image itself.
The works are the first by Ferrari, Gego and Porter to enter the CMA’s collection. Along with the newly acquired Lam watercolor, all will be featured next spring in an exhibition focused on Latin American prints and drawings at the Cleveland Museum of Art.