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 considerations but salon-type placements throughout the 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.
Mainstream pre-WWII American tastes for French Impressionists, especially Renoir and Degas, are evident, among the most interesting examples a pre-Pointillist Seurat landscape comprised of steadily dabbed pure colors suggesting his dizzying optics to come; and check the subtle, possible plein air precedent by Gustave Courbet featuring his signature rocky topography. Top-tier American Realists and Impressionists also have a strong collective presence. Among several Thomas Eakins paintings is an important portrait of his acclaimed student Henry Ossawa Tanner; also seaside and garden scenes by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and a moonlit cricked-impasto Albert Pinkham Ryder. A narrow 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 the sultan of slickly appealing 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 via 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.