Art News

"Van Gogh to Munch" at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art This Summer

artwork: Berthe Morisot - "Young Girl With a Dog (Jeune Fille au Chien)", 1887 - Oil on canvas. Michael Armand Hammer & the Armand Hammer Foundation. On display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art between June 4 and August 28.

Santa Barbara, CA.- From June 4 to August 28, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) is pleased to present a selection of important paintings that have been generously lent by two Foundations: the Armand Hammer Foundation and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation. “Van Gogh to Munch: European Masterworks from the Armand Hammer Foundation and Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation” presents nearly 30 works, combining 12 paintings from SBMA’s permanent collection with 17 extraordinary loans from two of the most important American collections of Impressionist and Modern art in the last century. Upon conclusion of this special summer exhibition in McCormick gallery, the loans from the two Foundations will be reintegrated into the Museum’s permanent collection installation in Preston Morton and Ridley-Tree galleries, where they will be on view for the next two years.

The paintings on view from the Armand Hammer Foundation represent just a small fraction of the ravishing collection put together by Dr. Armand Hammer (1898-1990), an American business tycoon most closely associated with Occidental Petroleum, a company he ran for decades; but also well-known for the extraordinary works of art he gifted to his namesake, the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1965 through 1990. His interest in art originated during his travels to the former Soviet Union in the early 1920s, where he had initially hoped to practice medicine, but realized the greatest need of the people was a reliable source of food – which turned into one of his first business ventures. Hammer began collecting art as he decorated his home in Moscow, and brought many of the works back when he returned to the United States in 1929. These pieces were the foundation for the Hammer Galleries in New York, which continues to operate today. The works on loan in this exhibition complement beautifully many of the most beloved works of art in SBMA’s collection of 19th-century French art and have been installed so as to demonstrate this easy dialogue.

Works by Corot, Chagall, Degas, Fantin-Latour, Morisot, and Renoir from the Hammer Foundation are presented side-by-side with canvases by the same or related masters from the Museum’s own collection or from area private collections.  For example, the exquisite van Gogh from the Hammer Foundation dates from just one year after the landscape on deposit here from a private collection of the outskirts of Paris; and yet there is a dramatic transformation of the artist’s palette from the earthy tones of the landscape to the bursts of pigment swagged on with a loaded brush in the floral still life.  Alongside the Museum’s Villas in Bordighera (1884) by Monet, the Hammer Foundation’s Renoir landscape instances these two artists’ shared passion for the Mediterranean landscape in the 1880s.

artwork: Edvard Munch - "The Kiss (On the Shore)", 1921 - Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston.

Native Texan Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885-1975) was an art patron and philanthropist, and daughter of William Thomas, one of the founders of the Texas Company (later Texaco). Her devotion to the visual arts began during a visit to the Louvre on her wedding trip to Europe in 1909 after her marriage to Robert E. Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining. Blaffer formed her Foundation in 1964 with the primary goal to bring the visual arts to people throughout the state of Texas. The Foundation’s collection, comprises mostly old master paintings dating from the Renaissance through the 18th century. The handful of early 20th-century, northern modernist paintings were available for extended loan, offering a rare means of counterbalancing the Museum’s recognized strength in the area of French 19th- and early 20th-century European paintings. The large canvases by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, in particular, are powerful embodiments of Western sensibilities at the turn of the last century, when cutting-edge art strove to represent the angst-ridden experience of the modern individual, alienated from society and suffering from the neuroses that Sigmund Freud would so eloquently describe in his Civilization and its Discontents (published in 1930).

The paintings by Lyonel Feininger and Max Beckmann exemplify the German adaptation between the World Wars of French avant-garde technique, meshing van Gogh’s expressive facture with the Fauves’ willful rejection of a conventional palette in favor of strident, anti-naturalistic hues characteristic of the movement generically termed German Expressionism. American artist Feininger and his work “Zirchow 1” makes for an intriguing, but perhaps less obvious, comparison with SBMA’s painting by German painter Max Pechstein, “Die Alte Brücke (The Old Bridge)” Zirchow I is part of a series of increasingly abstract landscapes, centering on the architectural motif of a church.  The sharply delineated shards of color reflect the artist’s debt to Cubism. By contrast, Pechstein’s landscape, which was probably done just after his visit to Paris where he encountered the strident hues of Matisse and the Fauves, is more blatantly anti-naturalistic in palette. Despite these differences, the works were completed only a year apart when both artists were members of the Dresden-based alternative art movement group, Die Brücke (in English, ‘the Bridge’), whose name alludes to the artists’ aspiration to create a new pictorial language that would pave the way to the future.

artwork: Max Pechstein - "Die Alte Brücke (The Old Bridge)", 1910-11 - Oil on canvas Collection of Santa Barbara Museum of Art. On display in "Van Gogh to Munch"

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened to the public on June 5, 1941, in a building that was at one time the Santa Barbara Post Office (1914–1932). Chicago architect David Adler simplified the building’s façade and created the Museum’s galleries, most notably Ludington Court which offers a dramatic sense of arrival for museum visitors. The newly renovated Park Wing Entrance and Luria Activities Center open in June 2006. Over its history the Museum has expanded with the addition of the Stanley R. McCormick Gallery in 1942 and the Sterling and Preston Morton Galleries in 1963. Significant expansions came when the Alice Keck Park Wing opened to the public in 1985 and the Jean and Austin H. Peck, Jr. Wing in 1998. The Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House, a center for art education activities, was established in 1991. Today, the Museum’s 60,000 square feet include exhibition galleries, a Museum Store, Cafe, a 154-seat auditorium, a library containing 50,000 books and 55,000 slides, a children’s gallery dedicated to participatory interactive programming and an 11,500-square-foot off-site facility, the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House. Visit the museum’s website at …