Archibald J. Motley Jr.Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s Between Acts of 1935 is an important addition to the American Scene paintings from the 1930s in the Terra Foundation’s collection. Known for his colorful portrayals of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the African American artist often evoked musical entertainment associated with black culture: jazz and the blues. In Between Acts he created one of the era’s most provocative images: a quiet moment behind the scenes in a vaudeville theater. In contrast, Reginald Marsh’s Pip and Flipof 1932 pictures the boisterous chaos of New York’s Coney Island from the viewpoint of entertainment consumers. In the past, Motley’s racial identity and experience influenced interpretation of his work, but recent scholarship emphasizes his contribution to American Scene painting in his depictions of one of the nation’s largest black urban communities. Motley’s representation of urban entertainment in Between Acts differs dramatically from the lyrical cityscape seen in Les Invalides, Paris by expatriate African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, also in the collection.
John StorrsThe acquisition of the 1931 painting Politics by John Storrs enhances the Terra Foundation’s collection of modernist art from the early twentieth century and adds to its holdings of works produced in Chicago. Politics joins diverse recent acquisitions from the late 1920s and 1930s, including Illinois Central of 1927 by George Josimovich; and John Marin’s Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skylineof 1934. In this work, Storrs used a starkly limited palette of white, red, gray, and black to depict a human face in profile, at the far left. As its title indicates, the image is a condemnation of the dangerous international politics through which Fascists and Nazis began to gain power in Europe in the 1930s. Known for his nonobjective sculptures influenced by architectural forms, Storrs spent most of his career in France, where he studied with Auguste Rodin. Oil paintings by Storrs are rare, making Politics and its preliminary sketch (Sketch for ‘Politics’, 2008.2) important additions to the collection.
Lily Martin SpencerWith its acquisition of Lily Martin Spencer’s Home of the Red, White, and Blue of about 1867, the Terra Foundation enhances its rich holdings in nineteenth-century genre painting and adds to the many works in the collection by women. The painting joins a group of works thematically related to the Civil War, including Frederic E. Church’s Our Banner in the Sky, Winslow Homer’s On Guard, and William Sydney Mount’s Fruit Piece—Apples on Tin Cups. Spencer’s scene of a family picnic combines national politics with the artist’s favorite theme, the domestic gathering. Here, generations of family members are joined by several obvious outsiders in a metaphor for the gravely fractured nation at its crucial moment of reunification, symbolized by the tattered flag under repair in the foreground. Now considered one of the leading genre painters of the antebellum period, Spencer created narrative works in which women are uniquely central. Since her rediscovery beginning in 1974, scholars and art enthusiasts have come to value Spencer’s images for the important insights they offer into middle-class domesticity, the cultural politics of gender roles, and the turbulent state of the American nation in the mid-nineteenth century.
Painted in Paris in 1927, Illinois Centralis George Josimovich’s tribute to the railroad, an archetypal symbol of modernity, and to his hometown of Chicago. The artist first exhibited this work at the 1928 Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists annual exhibition. With its acquisition of this abstract painting of industrial Chicago, the Terra Foundation strengthened its holdings of paintings made in France, of works by Chicago artists, especially those with a Chicago theme, and of non-representational works of modern art from the 1920s. While Illinois Central evokes the idea of the railroad, the train itself is suggested only by the clouds of steam. Inexplicably, the sensuously curved forms of a female body blend with geometric shapes, perhaps the artist’s ironic comment on the relationship between technology and humanity. With its distinctive geometric purity, Josimovich’s vibrant painting complements the collection’s other examples of experimental modernism from the 1920s, notably Super Table by Stuart Davis and Charles Sheeler’s Flower Forms. Illinois Central unites transatlantic influences and local identity.
The Terra Foundation acquired John Marin’s Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skyline of 1934 to enrich its already strong holdings of early American modernism. The painting complements works in the collection by artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz and his New York gallery, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O’Keeffe, and depictions of the Brooklyn Bridge by such artists as Ernest Lawson and John Taylor Arms, as well as Marin’s own Brooklyn Bridge, on the Bridge of 1930, a watercolor, and his etching Brooklyn Bridge, No. 6of 1913. The Brooklyn Bridge was a recurring theme in Marin’s work and he depicted it in a variety of media throughout his career. The dynamic brushstrokes of this work emphasize the vitality of New York City, an urban environment that attracted many American artists. Through a combination of blocky forms, strong outlines, and a crowded picture plane, Marin conveys not only the Brooklyn Bridge, but its surroundings. River, boats, and distant skyscrapers are compressed into an energetic composition that synthesizes the interplay of dynamic forces the artist saw in the urban scene.