Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) Opens Picturing the Senses in European Art

Picturing the Senses in European Art, organized by the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, explores artists’ interest in evoking the five senses through both allegorical and realistic associations. On view April 10-July 17, 2011.

The exhibition of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century paintings and works on paper is drawn largely from the permanent collections of the Blaffer Foundation and the MFAH, and offers an opportunity to see some significant works that are not often on display while viewing others in a fresh context.

The theme of Picturing the Senses is simple and accessible, yet rooted in classical philosophy and art-historical tradition. “Picturing the Senses includes and reaches beyond the traditional scenes and cycles of the senses,” says Leslie Scattone, assistant curator of the Blaffer Foundation, “and covers a variety of subjects that evoke one or more of the senses. While all of the works are mediated through the sense of sight, many appeal to multiple senses, and the discovery of these can be an intriguing process.”

The five senses as a theme in art first emerged in the medieval period, when they were often associated with vice. During the 16th century, the senses began being treated as independent subjects, usually as allegories. A shift to more naturalistic depictions took place in the 17th century, paralleling intellectual developments of the time.
Among the highlights are two etchings by Rembrandt: The Goldsmith (1655) pictures a man creating a sculpture, holding his tool in one hand while embracing his work in the other, and A Man Drawing from a Cast (1641) also illustrates an artist at work, immersed in the subject of his study. Two Jusepe de Ribera paintings are also of note. One represents taste and depicts a man holding a small cask, presumably filled with wine, and the other illustrates touch and depicts a blind scholar feeling the face of a sculpture. Here, the focus on textures and details, such as the creased brow, eye wrinkles, and blackened edge of the thumbnail emphasize the comparison between sight and blindness and perhaps also between painting and sculpture.

In addition, a lush flower and fruit still life by Jan van Huysum evokes a viewer’s senses of smell and taste. Other artists represented are Cristoforo Munari, Pieter de Grebber, Clara Peeters, Frans van Mieris the Elder, Pieter Claesz, Parrasio Micheli, Adriaen van Ostade, Bartolomeo Bettera, Mattia Preti, Edwaert Collier, Jean Lemaire, Jan Saenredam, Hans Collaert II, Jean Le Pautre, Franz Cleyn, and Sebastiano Ceccarini.
The exhibition features fifteen paintings, ten prints and one book, and will be on view from April 10 to July 17, 2011, in the Audrey Jones Beck Building.

MFAH and The Blaffer Foundation
MFAH and the Blaffer Foundation, whose mission is to travel artworks to museums and galleries throughout Texas, share a long partnership. Since 2000, the Blaffer Foundation has exhibited highlights of its collection in five dedicated galleries in the Beck Building at the MFAH. The foundation’s collection of early European paintings is complemented by a substantial collection of Old Master prints.

Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH
• Heinrich Kühn March 6–May 30, 2011
• Antiquity Revived: Neoclassical Art in the Eighteenth Century March 20–May 30, 2011
• Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork May 8—September 11, 2011
• Beauty, Humor and Social Justice: Gifts from Joan Morgenstern May 15-August 31, 2011
• Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland May 22–August 14, 2011

MFAH Collections and Campus
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest art museum in America south of Chicago, west of Washington, D.C., and east of Los Angeles. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers nearly 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. The MFAH collections are presented in six locations that make up the institutional complex. Together, these facilities provide a total of 300,000 square feet of space dedicated to the display of art. The MFAH comprises two major museum buildings, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo; the Glassell School of Art; two house museums, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, featuring American art and decorative arts, and Rienzi, featuring European art and decorative arts; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and home to modern and contemporary sculpture.

Image: Parrasio Micheli, Young Woman Playing a Lute, c. 1570. Oil on canvas. Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published.