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September 23, 2021

Four Centuries of Artists Explore the Many Faces of Women

James Tissot (1836-1902), Summer Evening, 1881, etching, drypoint, state II/II, 32.9 x 48.8 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Continuing their extended history of major benefactions to the Museum’s print collection, Freda and Irwin Browns recently donated eight prints, all in magnificent impressions, in which the artists’ relationships to women are depicted.

Hilliard T. Goldfarb

Senior Curator – Collections and Old Masters

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669)

The earliest of these donations is Rembrandt’s celebrated The Great Jewish Bride (1635), a soubriquet it has borne since so identified in a 1733 inventory. While his recently married, beloved Saskia served as the model, the actual subject of the print is unresolved. Though the flowing hair, pearl necklace and held document (possibly a ketuba, the Jewish wedding contract) would conform to such a subject in 17th-century Holland, the work is more likely a depiction of the Biblical Esther, a subject Rembrandt painted in 1633 (now at the National Gallery of Canada). In this scenario, she would be preparing to meet King Ahasuerus, whom she had recently married, to plead for her people, her face reflecting her determination. The document held could be the royal death decree against the Jews, issued by his minister, Haman. Rembrandt took great pains in gradually working up the subject in several states. This print, the fifth state, embodies his fully realized conception.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669), The Great Jewish Bride, 1635, etching, drypoint, engraving, state V/V, 22.5 x 17.1 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns in honour of Hilliard T. Goldfarb. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

James Tissot (1836-1902)

Another tender image of a more intimate kind is presented in Tissot’s Summer Evening (1881). The artist has depicted Mrs. Newton, a young divorcée and his model and companion since 1876, in her last months of life, debilitated by tuberculosis. The work is masterful in its use of media and evocation of textures and shadows, notably in the darkening of the shadows about her eyes in this, the second state of the print. She reclines on a wicker chair in the garden of his home, the composition influenced by his study of Japanese prints and of photography, as evidenced in its perspective and cropping, and the ornamental pond behind her.

James Tissot (1836-1902), Summer Evening, 1881, etching, drypoint, state II/II, 32.9 x 48.8 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Depicting one of the most popular and scandalous figures of the contemporary Paris cabaret scene, La Goulue (1894) is a rare print by the artist that reflects his mastery of lithographic technique. La Goulue was renowned for her revealing low-cut costumes and bawdy conduct, epitomized in her dancing of le chahut, a vigorous, high-kick cancan she often performed without undergarments. Her conduct ultimately led to her firing from the Moulin Rouge. Here, she is shown dancing a waltz with her famous partner “Valentin le Désossé” (known for his smooth dance style, extreme thinness, and very pronounced jaw), a boozy patron looking on. This print, numbered by the artist himself, with an extra TL monogram, belonged to the great collector and patron of the artist, Édouard Kleinmann.

Henri de Toulouse‑Lautrec (1864-1901), La Goulue, 1894, lithograph, only state, 37.4 x 27.5 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)

The late Romanticism and dream world characterizing Redon’s art are both evident in the two prints Young Woman (1887) and Perversity (1891). The former was executed in only 25 impressions and reflects his study of earlier artists, such as Leonardo and Vermeer, as well as contemporaries like Millet. It presents a naturalistic yet softened image of a young girl, without symbolic allusions, probably after a drawn study. The second print, in a rare example of his work in intaglio, is an etched image of a simplified figure, dominating the plate, with abstraction and flattening of the surrounding space, the rich velvety blacks enlivened by vibrant touches of drypoint in this superb impression. The female profile figure is reminiscent of one he had created of a prostitute in the first plate of his 1888 series, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.” This etching is the fourth state, printed in 30 impressions, but the first three experimental states exist in only a single impression each.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Perversity, 1891, etching, drypoint, state IV/IV, 35.6 x 27.1. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Young Woman, 1887, lithograph on chine collé, only state, 46.7 x 37.4 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns.

Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

The Two Sisters-in-law of 1898-1899 is the first colour lithograph by this artist to enter our collection. Vuillard had been a young member of the group Les Nabis, which sought to synthesize memory and imagination into depiction, using colours to convey sensations and emotions. He also was influenced by contemporary theatre. Vuillard conjured the quiet and richly patterned textures of private life in Paris’s homes and gardens. In the 1890s he contributed to the recently founded cutting-edge art journal La Revue blanche. Depicted in this print are Misia Natanson, wife of the cofounder, Thadée, and herself editor of the publication, towards whom Vuillard had an unrequited romantic crush, huddled with her sister-in-law, Marthe, dressed in black. Of his works, the artist commented, “I don’t do portraits. I paint people in their surroundings.” The print was published by the young Ambroise Vollard and, uncommonly for Vuillard, is signed by him.

Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940), The Two Sisters‑in‑law, from the series “Landscapes and Interiors,” 1898‑1899, lithograph, only state, 38.2 x 31.6 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Self-portrait with Decorated Hat (1928) immediately recalls the early self-portrait etchings of Rembrandt, but the artist has infused the image with his unique humour and anecdotal details, in which his beloved wife, Bella, and his daughter, Ida, both appear. Printing on a large sheet of Arches paper (edition of 60 impressions), Chagall shows himself immersed in his life history. Sketched onto and about his hat and an apparent small canvas at left are dream-like images of the floating violinist (with Chagall’s signature), the head of his young daughter peering over a chair, the village, or stetl, of his youth, his former fenced home in Vitebsk, and, movingly, across the crown of the hat, Chagall and Bella kissing, her hand outstretched with flowers. To the right, a moonlit Russian village is visible.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Self‑portrait with Decorated Hat, 1928, drypoint, state II/III, 27.5 x 22.1 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière. © SOCAN and ADAGP 2021, Chagall ®

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978)

The work Adolescence (1932) completes this ensemble. From his youth, the artist had been acclaimed as a great draftsman, winning the highest number of awards ever presented by the Royal Academy Schools in London. Brockhurst was influenced by the works of Piero della Francesca and Botticelli as well as Leonardo, and incorporated their inspiration to varying degrees. Depicted here is his model, Dorette, who would become his second wife. Adolescence is the artist’s most celebrated print, marked by technical brilliance, notably in the creations of shadows and transitioning halftones, and velvety strokes of drypoint evident in the hair. The composition captures the figure in private contemplation, vulnerably nude, seen both from behind and in reflection in the mirror.

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978), Adolescence, 1932, etching, drypoint, state IV/V, 50.2 x 37.5 cm. MMFA, gift of Freda and Irwin Browns. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière
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