Warren Street, Glens Falls, New York.
Run-through of the permanent collection and a print exhibition of Picasso, Braque and Leger (through January 5):
When traveling through the New England hinterlands, check into historic house museums that dot region, e.g., the Hyde complex in Warren County. The core experience is a kind of mini-Frick (initiated by local paper mill magnate couple, Louis and Charlotte Hyde), from the 1912 faux-palazzo façade and indoor central courtyard of the main building to the substantial focus on 14th to 17th century Italian painting and a few corresponding sculptural works, e.g., a ceramic Della Robbia shop Madonna and Child relief.
Look carefully for a tiny Tinteretto “True Cross” scene (there’s also a larger portrait by the prolific Venetian) and a velvety Veronese of the biblical Rebecca, as the lighting is very low and indirect in spots not only due to conservation concerns but mainly small domestic spaces including alcoves and stairwells. In one of the larger reception rooms, you won’t miss a bust-height, glassy-eyed portrait attributed to Raphael–worthy even if workshop or follower, and excellent “International Gothic” French-produced tapestries with charmingly conventional allegorical themes (faith; eternity). Lowlands Renaissance and Baroque painting is also amply represented, not least by a sensitive Rembrandt of a long-maned Christ and a lively unfinished Rubens portrait of an African male model.
The mainstream pre-WWII American taste for French Impressionists, especially Renoir and Degas, is evident. A gem of an example is a pre-Pointillist Seurat landscape comprised of dabbed pure colors that suggests his dizzying optics to come. A subtle, possible plein air precedent by Gustave Courbet featuring his signature rocky topography is nearby. Top-tier American Realists and Impressionists also have a notable collective presence. Among several Thomas Eakins paintings is a portrait of his acclaimed student Henry Ossawa Tanner; there are seaside and garden scenes by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, and William Merritt Chase; and a quintessential moonlit cracked-impasto Albert Pinkham Ryder. A charming vertical Blue-to-Rose Period Picasso of a lithe youth surprises in madame’s bedroom, although acquired after her death (1968), as both the collection and exhibition space has continued to expand.
The current print show of illustrative suites based on literature by Picasso, Georges Braque and Fernand Leger is lovely. Starting with, Picasso (of course, and this spread is a good argument for why), the monochrome coverage extends to nearly the full iconographic range of his oeuvre, from the Blue Period, through shattered Cubist still life, through Surrealist-styled figures including auto-portrait minotaurs, to scathing cartoons of Franco, and classically-tinged lover-muses like a profile head of Marie Therese “carved” out with chiaroscuro. Fortuitously, one can appreciate his facility with classical contouring (when he wanted to employ it) through comparison with a painted portrait head by Ingres in the house library, along with two others by this sultan of slick academic painting. The latest Picasso images here, from the 1960s, are incredibly reduced caricatures that bring a semiotic mixing of the most minimal markings to life. The overriding technique is etching, with some technical variation (most by specialty print houses but a few early ones his own pulls).
Picasso’s early Cubist art-brother Braque is seen in this display veering into frenemy Matisse’s territory with softer organic forms, specific nature imagery and some color; and Leger’s contributions combine strongly contoured, bold figuration a la his constructivist-like direction, with flat, abstract color blocks characteristic of his post-WWI paintings.
A new gallery (opened 2017) highlights continuing acquisitions of post-WWII works with the current installation focusing (not exclusively) on geometric abstraction by Jean Arp, Joseph Albers, Frank Stella, and Al Held, among others. Veering off, but wonderful, a characteristically conceptual Tim Rollins and K.O.S. wherein pages from a text of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream are pasted as a picture plane and embellished with colorful floating abstract “blots”–the perceptual apparition not wholly unlike the effect of the scaffold-stablized shapes of in Leger’s prints (as above).
It’s a pleasantly scaled excursion in which all can be taken in leisurely, and special programming, judging from this visit, is thoughtful and erudite within the context and means of the institution as a whole.