30

May

2014

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Discovering the artwork of the original AA/PG Library

by Anne Evenhaugen

~This post was written by Katherine Williamson, an intern at the American Art/ Portrait Gallery library.

Smithsonian NCFA/NPG Library c. 1975. Photo by Wolfgang Freitag

Cast-iron Eagle in the Smithsonian NCFA/NPG Library c. 1975. Photo by Wolfgang Freitag

Smithsonian NCFA/NPG Library, 1975. Photo by Wolfgang Freitag

Smithsonian NCFA/NPG Library, 1975. Photo by Wolfgang Freitag

As part of my work as an American Art/Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG) intern, I answer reference questions from patrons that involve some type of research, either within our collection or using  online sources that the library subscribes to. One of the most interesting reference questions I have received actually came from our Head Librarian, Doug Litts. Through his own research involving the original location of the AA/PG library – Room 331 of the main museum building – he came across a list of paintings, a marble bust and a cast iron sculpture, that were located in what was known as the NCFA/NPG Library when it was housed in the museum. Through circumstances unknown to us, those artworks were never transported to the Victor Building when the library moved here in 2000. He became very interested in the history of the artworks, as well as where they are now, and recruited me to help him in his research.

The piece of artwork that I found the most fascinating was a cast iron sculpture of an eagle, dating to about 1868, which the Smithsonian purchased from Lansburgh’s Furniture Store, now the headquarters of the Gallup Organization. It was assigned on loan to the library in January 1970, “to be mounted on the south wall of the library, visible above the center window”. After almost four and a half years of cleaning and refinishing, the eagle was finally installed in its place on the wall of the library. Librarian William B. Walker expressed his excitement for the arrival of the piece in a letter to the Chief of Exhibition & Design David Keeler, dated to November 15th, 1971. This eye-catching piece is no longer on view, and is located within the American Art Museum’s storage.

Alexander Próvost. Unidentified Artist. c. 1850. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

The second of the two sculptures acquired by the library was a bust of Alexander Provost, of the company that supplied the marble for the Capitol and for the Patent Office Building. The bust was donated by George H. O’Connor in 1967, the great-great nephew of Mr. Provost. Described as a “charming and delightful gift” by Charles Nagel, the Director of the National Portrait Gallery at the time, the bust is sculpted from marble, and sits atop a pedestal also donated by Mr. O’Connor. The precise location of the sculpture was described by Charles Nagel as “one of our most delightful areas and one that is common to both the National Collection of Fine Arts and the National Portrait Gallery.” Like the cast iron eagle, the piece is no longer on display, and is still owned by the National Portrait Gallery.

The final pieces of artwork that were acquired by and displayed in the museum were a series of five paintings by three different artists. These five were chosen from an original list of seven that had been approved by William Walker, the first NCFA/NPG Librarian. Three of the five were painted by H. Lyman Saÿen, and the final two were painted by Sakari Suzuki and Elias (Ilya) Bolotowsky.

Child Reading. H. Lyman Saÿen. 1915-1918. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

 

All of the paintings done by H. Lyman Saÿen were given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum as “Gifts of H. Lyman Saÿen to his nation”. Mr. Saÿen, born in Philadelphia in 1875, was an early American modernist painter. He began his career as an engineer, and began to study art in 1899 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. During a trip abroad in 1906, he became fascinated with modern art, and joined Henri Matisse’s first class in 1907-1908. Many of his pieces were strongly influenced by Matisse. The paintings donated by Mr. Saÿen are called Child Reading, 1915-1918, Calligraphic Interior, 1915, and Nudes, 1915-1918.

 

Calligraphic Interior. H. Lyman Saÿen. ca. 1915. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sakari Suzuki, born 1899 in Japan, moved to San Francisco in 1918 to join his father. It was here that he attended art school in 1924. In 1936, Mr. Suzuki worked for the Federal Art Project creating murals for the Willard Parker Hospital, which has since been demolished. Shortly before his work with the Federal Art Project, he created a painting called Maverick Road, dated to 1934. It is owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, but was a transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor in 1964.

Maverick Road. Sakari Suzuki. 1934. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The final painting in the American Art Portrait Gallery Library, when it was located in the museum, was a painting called In the Barber Shop by Ilya Bolotowsky. Born in Russia in 1907, Mr. Bolotowsky immigrated to the United States in 1923, where he attended the National Academy of Design the following year. In the Barber Shop was painted shortly after he graduated from the Academy, in 1934, and before he began his lengthy career in academia. He taught at no fewer than eight universities throughout the United States, and he passed away in New York in 1981. This piece was also a transfer from the U.S. Department of State.

After noting that all five paintings and both of the sculptures are currently not on display, the American Art/ Portrait Gallery Library hopes to someday soon be able to re-display these beautiful pieces of art. If not the original paintings, at least large professional copies of them, to add to the ambiance of the library. There are also hopes to reacquire the cast-iron eagle, as it would be a great addition to the library as a whole!

In the Barber Shop. Ilya Bolotowsky. 1934. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

 

 

For further information on H. Lyman Saÿen, Sakari Suzuki and Ilya Bolotowsky, please visit the Smithsonian American Art/Portrait Gallery Library to view our Art & Artist Files! Also, see;

H. Lyman Saÿen. / [Text by] Adelyn D. Breeskin, N40.1 S27B83

Ilya Bolotowsky : [catalog of an exhibition], December 20, 1974 – February 17, 1975, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C, N40.1 B696N2 1974

Ilya Bolotowsky : the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, N40.1 B696S6

For further information on H. Lyman Saÿen, Sakari Suzuki and Ilya Bolotowsky, please visit the Smithsonian American Art/Portrait Gallery Library to view our Art & Artist Files! Also, see;

H. Lyman Saÿen. / [Text by] Adelyn D. Breeskin, N40.1 S27B83

Ilya Bolotowsky : [catalog of an exhibition], December 20, 1974 – February 17, 1975, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C, N40.1 B696N2 1974

Ilya Bolotowsky : the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, N40.1 B696S6

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