Escape in Cummer Museum Modern art collection

Travel has always captivated me. I love places. The visual stimulation of seeing new things.

My constant urge to get out and look around helped spark my mid-life interest in art. The first artworks I became interested in were western landscapes. Thomas Moran and Maynard Dixon and Ed Mell “took” me to the mountains and desert. I could travel through their paintings, capture a taste of these wonderous, far-off places – some I’d been to, some I hadn’t.

The Cummer Museum Modern art collection allows visitors to travel far and wide – and back in time –without leaving its galleries.

John Singer Sargent, In the Alps, 1911

Long my favorite painting in the museum, in this video I share what excites me about this picture from one of America’s most celebrated artists.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Midday, Tangiers, 1912

Henry Ossawa Tanner, ‘Midday, Tangiers,’ (detail), 1912

I like this painting more each time I see it. Move in close and notice the smeared texture of the paint, applied wet-on-wet. Notice all of the subtle color variations and combinations: pink, purple, lavender, peach. “Feel” these colors reflecting off the stone at midday in Tangiers, the oppressive heat bowing the heads of the few loosely suggested figures in the scene.

That heat! Tanner makes you feel the scoring desert sun. He “takes you there” to where any hint of shade is a godsend and humans beg for dusk. Bring your sunscreen before approaching this work.

Marvel at his paint-handling with the figures – totally abstracted when you look from close up.

Tanner, like Sargent, stands as one of America’s most important painters – an essential – and the nation’s first “superstar” Black painter.

Edmund William Greacen, Brooklyn Bridge, East River, 1916

Edmund William Greacen, ‘Brooklyn Bridge, East River,’ 1916

Coal smokestacks belch out pollution creating a hazy, smoggy, industrial landscape screening the Brooklyn Bridge and obscuring Manhattan in the background. This is New York’s brawny, tough, working-class side.

The brick buildings appear heavy, square, with no hint of architectural consideration. Imagine the terrible working conditions inside. Stifling heat in the summer, bone rattling cold in the winter.

Contrast this to John Marin’s Related to St. Paul’s, New York (1928), pictured above.

Marin’s New York is Manhattan. Energetic, optimistic, dazzling, fun, lively, architectural. No smog here. No backbreaking labor here. This depiction is bright – literally and figuratively – positive, speedy – the speed of Marin’s brushwork imbues in the painting a rapidity of modern life – it’s angular and bustling. City life, like Greacen’s, but very different.

Tourist Manhattan vs. blue-collar Manhattan?

Marin’s painting makes me want to hop the next flight for NYC and run through the streets. Greacen’s painting helps remind me why the New York of my imagination is a thin slice of the city, one mostly curated for visitors.

Zanele Muholi exhibition Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
Zanele Muholi exhibition Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

Jonas Lie, View of the Seine, 1909

Jonas Lie, ‘View of the Siene,’ 1909

This fresh spring day in Paris requires a jacket and scarf, but the sky is clear and bright, the puffy white clouds briskly moved along by the breeze. Steamboats chug up and down the river as people clamber over the bridge on what must be a weekend in this idyllic depiction.

The year is 1909. Not far from here in the Montmartre neighborhood, Picasso has recently completed Les Demoiselle d’Avignon.

This is an age of promise. An age of science and discovery and enlightenment. The long 19th century stretches on, European empires mostly stable, World War I not yet on the horizon.

Lie’s Paris, like Marin’s New York, is the Paris of our dreams. It’s vibrant, colorful, modern. This is Paris when it was the center of the world.

Completed at nearly the same time, Richard Emil Miller’s Café L’Avenue, Paris, provides a glimpse of high society Paris. Cultured Paris. Wealthy, prim and proper Paris.

Richard Emil Miller, ‘Cafe L’Avenue, Paris,’ 1906-1910

What must be assumed to be classically trained musicians play violin, cello and piano. Their music fills the café’s air, along with the customer’s gossip and… boredom? Would the people here trade their stiff bourgeoise play-acting for time spent in Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s bawdy, bohemian Paris? I would.

If ever an artist “took you there,” it was Lautrec to turn of the century Paris.

Childe Hassam, Afternoon in Pont-Aven, Brittany, 1897

Childe Hassam, ‘Afternoon in Pont-Aven, Brittany,’ 1897

300 miles west of Paris, Pont-Aven hugs the Atlantic seashore. Here is where Paul Gaugin earned stripes. The Nabis took Modern art in exciting new directions late in the 19th century.

Childe Hassam’s Impressionist-inspired scene varies greatly from the modern depictions of Paris on view nearby. There’s no steam here. Movement is slow. People stop to watch geese – a signifier of the area’s rural traditions – cross a cobbled street.

The locals are dressed traditionally, this scene could have been painted in 1897 or 1797. It’s borderline feudal. Religious iconography, not industry, technology or culture centers this picture.

Hassam saw bustling Paris, is this portrayal a commentary on which lifestyle he preferred, obviously favoring the nostalgia or a “simpler” time – whatever that is supposed to mean? This, too, is an idyllic scene. A clear blue sky beckons above the small town where people seem to be living harmoniously, communally.

Willard Leroy Metcalf, Ponte Alla Badia, Florence, 1913

Willard Leroy Metcalf, ‘Ponte Alla Badia, Florence,’ 1913

Florence, yes, but not the Florence of European grand tourists and global tourists ever since. You don’t see the Duomo or the city’s famous skyline here. This is the outskirts of Florence.

Again, as with Hassam’s picture, Metcalf paints a bucolic, pastoral, dreamy Florence warmed by a nurturing sun – not the oppressive broiler of Tanner’s Tangiers.

This painting is soft, gentile, pleasant.

Where would you most like to go? At the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, you don’t have to choose.

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