By Carolyn Allmendinger, Director of Academic Programs at the Ackland Art Museum.
When the Ackland’s acquisitions committee discusses the reasons to add a work of art to the collection, one of the things we consider is how our audiences might engage with that work. In the case of Barn with Deer, we knew that we wanted to include it in the exhibition All About America. In addition, we remembered that one of our Ackland Student Guides had designed a gallery tour called “The Art of the Hunt.” Barn with Deer, we thought, would be a great addition to that tour if she wanted to offer an encore performance. Thematically, it goes particularly well with Gustave Courbet’s painting, Roe Deer in the Snow (pictured), on view in the Museum’s collection galleries. Both Uzzle’s and Courbet’s works depicted rustic winter scenes in which deer figured prominently – in Courbet’s painting they are just off of the composition’s center and Uzzle’s a deer skin with head attached is at the lower left.
On the evening of the Friends’ First Look for All About America, Burk Uzzle spoke to the Ackland’s members (and staff) and I was struck by his reminder to pay attention to the photographs’ compositions and not just to what they represent. As I continued to think about Barn with Deer and Roe Deer in the Snow, I began to notice more similarities between them. In each work, a diagonal divides the foreground area in the right half of the scene from the background in the left. Courbet’s diagonal is a snow-covered pathway or perhaps a dry stream bed; Uzzle’s is the not-yet-snow-covered road. In each work, the foreground is dominated by a large mass – the titular Barn in the photograph and a rocky outcropping in the painting. And, noticeable especially in the center background of each work, each artist maximizes his medium’s potential to suggest the cold, misty, atmospheric quality of the snowy air.
I think that if our Ackland Student Guide doesn’t want to reprise her “Art of the Hunt” tour I might just have to ask her if she’d let me try it….
Gustave Courbet, French, 1819-1877, Roe Deer in the Snow, 1868, oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 39 1/8 in. (81 x 99.4 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ackland Fund, 62.1.1. Conservation treatment for this painting, completed in 2008, was made possible by the generous support of Carol McNeel.