The Love of my (Art) Life: An Ackland Student Guide Story

By: Paige Nehls

When I accidentally came across the Facebook post calling for student guide applications, I was thrilled. I love museums, but I particularly love the Ackland Art Museum. As an Art History major, it has become like a second home to me.

The Ackland is a haven for the intellectually curious and the aesthetically hungry. It’s always free and always welcoming.

I based my entire tour on Princess with a Musical Instrument in the Ancient Gallery, from the New Kingdom period of Egypt. Encapsulating so much of what drew me to art history in the first place, it is the love of my art life.

For one, it is amazing to me every day that here in Chapel Hill we have a relief sculpture that was carved in a workshop for an Egyptian pharaoh millennia before they knew this continent existed. It is incredible that I get to see it and study it, so far from its home, so long after it was created. I want to share that awe with my community! I think that everyone should be able to connect with art the way that my fellow student guides and I have been able to do.

When I speak like that about art, I usually get the “Yes, because you’re an art history major” eye roll, and yes, I am. However, the appreciation of and connection to art transcends academic categories. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a student guide has been connecting with other students of other ages, majors, and backgrounds. It’s given me an enlightening perspective on art and how it resonates with different people.

Some of the best advice I got while working on my tour came from my colleague and friend, Christina Barta, who is a first-year Computer Science major. For a while, I was stuck on how to present the objects in my tour. One day, Christina just looked up at me and said, “Change the order.” That seems so simple, and comical in retrospect, but I was so involved in my own tour I couldn’t see the forest for the trees

Growing up in ballet, I was trained to look for lines, for beauty, and for aesthetically pleasing forms. The lines that the artists use to create shapes in their works are very telling of the culture that produced both the artist and the work. When I was creating my tour, I viewed each object as a snapshot of the past. We can take one object and figure out what was going on at the time, why, who produced it, what they valued, and the list goes on and on.

The tours that my fellow student guides and I have created are fun, interesting, and rewarding. It is rare to watch people absolutely fall in love with what they are doing, but you see it at the Ackland every day. These tours are a learning process for everyone involved, including the guides, and that is what makes it such a remarkable experience.

Paige is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill seeking a degree in Art History. Her interests include, “Egypt. Just Egypt. Only Ever Egypt”.


Relief of a Princess with a Musical Instruments (Sistrum), c. 1360-1350 BCE: White sandstone, 6 1/4 x 4 1/2 x 1 1/4 in. (15.9 x 11.4 x 3.2 cm). Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund. 67.29.4.

Making Connections: “Becoming a Woman” and the Permanent Collection

By Carolyn Allmendinger, Director of Academic Programs, Ackland Art Museum

There are only a few weeks left to see Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment.  If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to spend some time exploring between now and its last day at the Ackland – April 8.

If you have seen the exhibition, have you noticed the connections between the paintings, sculptures, and drawings in the exhibition and the Ackland’s own eighteenth-century European works? There are five on view in Gallery 15: European Art of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Some of the resonances strike you even at first glance, while others require a little more careful attention to see.

Antoine Vestier’s Allegory of the Arts, for example, one of the first works of art you see when you enter Becoming a Woman, has an interesting counterpart in Jean-Louis le Barbier le Jeune’s portrait of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc. While Vestier’s painting is an allegorical image, it is also a portrait of the artist’s daughter Nicole, who, like her father, was an artist. Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc was an amateur draftswoman and her portraitist made a point of emphasizing her artistic abilities. In each of these paintings, we see a lovely young woman dressed in beautiful clothing that was probably not ideal for working in chalk or ink. (Note how close the tip of Madame de Villeneuve-Flayosc’s pen comes to her gleaming satin skirt!). Both women sit at gilded, ornate tables with antique sculptures and leather-bound books placed on them, and both have a supply of blue drawing paper handy.

How do you think these paintings of female artists compare with representations of male artists you may have seen? During your next visit, consider the examples on view in the Ackland: Charles-Antoine Coypel’s Self-Portrait in Becoming a Woman, and Joseph-Siffred Duplessis’ Portrait of an Artist (hanging beside the portrait of Madame de Villeneuve Flayosc).

In Becoming a Woman, look for Augustin Pajou’s delicate drawing of Venus Disarming Cupid and then find Jacopo Amigoni’s painting of the same subject in the Ackland’s Gallery 15. Think about the choices the artists made and how those choices affect the resulting depictions. Both Pajou and Amigoni successfully captured the playful interaction between mother and child – neither of these two Cupids seems to be in real trouble for all the matchmaking mischief they have caused. But consider the different formats of the two images – one horizontal, one vertical.

What is the effect of the additional space surrounding Pajou’s Venus and Cupid versus the more compressed composition of Amigoni’s? What about Amigoni’s decision to include three of Cupid’s companions and Pajou’s to focus on the two central characters? What might it have been like for eighteenth-century viewers to hold Pajou’s drawing in their hands and contemplate the fine, elegant chalk strokes that make up the scene? How might the larger size of Amigoni’s painting and the pink, coral, and blue tones alter that viewing experience? (We know that the original owner of Amigoni’s Venus Disarming Cupid was the famous castrato opera singer known as Farinelli).

What additional points of comparison can you find between the Ackland’s eighteenth-century art and the works in Becoming a Woman?

 

Painting with Dust

By: Franny Brock, Ackland Graduate Intern 2017-18, Ackland Art Museum

Léon-Pascal de Glain, French, 1715-1775, Young Woman in a Blue Dress with Muff, 1745

As a specialist of eighteenth-century French art, my job has been particularly exciting and rewarding this semester because of the Ackland’s new exhibition, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. This installation epitomizes so many of my research interests, including the work of women artists, collectors and collecting, drawing techniques, amateurism, and display of works on paper. Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition—the ones that I keep returning to over and over again—are the pastel portraits. The velvety texture and rich colors of these works drew me in immediately, but their contradictory classification and contested status in the eighteenth century keeps me coming back for more.

From a curatorial perspective, chalk pastel is fascinating because it occupies a place somewhere between painting and drawing. In the eighteenth century, pastels were considered a form of painting, comparable to oil. In 1701, Joseph Vivien (1657–1734) was the first artist accepted to the French Académie as a “painter in pastel.” The vibrant colors, high degree of finish, and size of pastels make them similar to paintings. However, works in pastel are done on paper and are extremely fragile. Like drawings, pastels are light sensitive and need to be stored in the dark most of the time (which makes it even more thrilling that we have eight on view at the Ackland right now). Anyone who has worked with chalk pastels knows that keeping the medium adhered to the paper is also a problem. Pastel is crumbly and dusty; it wants to lift off its support, especially when moved or jostled. Many strategies for fixing pastel to paper were invented in the eighteenth century.

Chalk pastel is made of powdered pigment and a binder, such as gum arabic, then formed into sticks. These pastel sticks can be applied directly to paper as a dry medium or mixed with water and applied with a brush. Pastel became popular in eighteenth-century France, especially for portraiture, because of its ability to mimic the tones and texture of skin, hair, and clothing. Gault de Saint-Germain’s Portrait of a Boy demonstrates how different colors of pastel were blended or “stumped” (sometimes also called “sweetened”) to create the luminous skin of the young man’s face. The powdery surface of this work reflects diffuse light off the facets of tiny particles of pigment, creating a sense of white light and a velvety texture.

Anna Gault De Saint-Germain, Polish, c. 1760-1832, Portrait of a Boy, 1788

Although both men and women artists used pastel, the medium came to be considered “feminine” because it relied on surface attributes such as color and shading, rather than the more masculine-associated line and structure, to define subject matter. Social critics also linked pastel to women’s cosmetics because of its physical similarity to powered rouge. While there was wide popular appeal for pastels in eighteenth-century France, this comparison emphasized the perceived artificiality and delicacy of the medium in the minds of its critics.

The pastel works in Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment show a range of techniques, including blending and the use of mixed media, and because they were never varnished, these pieces have retained their original brilliance. I encourage you to take the opportunity to view these pastels before they return to the dark to rest.