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“A Passion for Paintings” Presents Masterpieces by
Caravaggio, Tiepolo, Goya, Gentileschi, Rosa, and Zurbarán

Minneapolis, August 15, 2006—For the first time in its history, the oldest public art museum in the country is touring its best paintings, and they will be on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art this fall. Beginning October 8, MIA visitors will have the privilege of viewing sixty-one Old Master paintings from the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. A Passion for Paintings: Old Masters from the Wadsworth Atheneum comprises religious, mythical, and historical paintings, as well as portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. The works, spanning from 1490 to 1832, represent aesthetic high points from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Romantic eras. The exhibition began touring in 2004, and is possible because of an ongoing expansion and renovation of the Atheneum.

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Established in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth (a descendant of the family that left the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 to found Hartford), the Atheneum opened its doors in 1844. Its original collection of eighty paintings included contemporary works by Americans, as well as European works ranging from authentic to supposed originals and didactic copies of European masterpieces. The collection grew into one of the country’s most renowned, in terms of its depth and sustained quality, according to Eric Zafran, the Atheneum’s curator of European painting and sculpture. He notes the “process of passionate procurement,” which began in 1927 with the appointment of the legendary A. Everett (“Chick”) Austin, Jr. as the museum’s director. Austin’s preference for works of the Baroque period (1600–1750), at a time when such works were out of favor, enabled the Atheneum to lay the solid foundation of Italian baroque paintings at prices that, on today’s market, would garner only a square inch of the painting in question. Charles Cunningham, who succeeded Austin in 1946, continued to build on this foundation over the next twenty years—adding some of the museum’s greatest treasures.

Exhibition Details
One of the stars of the exhibition is Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (1594–5) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Acquired by the Atheneum in 1943, it was the culmination of Austin’s career-long search for a Caravaggio, and was also the first authentic Caravaggio to be acquired by any American museum. The painting also set some precedents for the artist: his first multi-figure painting, his first religious composition, his first use of a landscape setting, and his first use of light in dual roles. The artist’s reinterpretation of the saint’s ecstatic moment as an internalized transformation was innovative as well.

Caravaggio’s influence on later painters is evidenced in several works on view, but is perhaps most apparent in Orazio Gentileschi’s stunning portrayal of the apocryphal tale, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1610–12). The strong light pulls the main figures from the inky darkness at the suspenseful moment when their escape from the enemy camp, with the severed head of the Assyrian commander, is uncertain.

The most arresting image for both its technical prowess and riveting psychological power is Salvator Rosa’s masterpiece of the Italian high baroque, Lucrezia as Poetry (c. 1640–1). The stark realism of the picture and hard, disdainful gaze of its subject converts an allegorical representation of poetry into a confrontation with a forbidding muse. Rosa’s interpretation of the muse, however, is quite apropos given his own illustrious reputation as a satirical poet whose scornful verses garnered him many enemies.

The contrast between dark baroque drama and the light-spirited rococo that succeeded it is epitomized in François Boucher’s The Egg Seller (c. 1734–5). The oval composition stems from the early phase of the artist’s career and makes apparent his nascent interest in images depicting love and seduction. What appears to be an innocent scene is actually laden with meaning. The egg, long a metaphor for female virtue, makes clear that the young woman’s honor is at risk.

Visitors to the exhibition will experience an unusual side of Francisco Goya, whose fame rests predominantly on works of a dark and sometimes psychologically disturbing nature. Gossiping Women (c. 1792–6) reveals that the artist also painted lighthearted rococo themes, such as the two young women stealing a moment to exchange the latest news in a pastoral setting. It is believed the work was executed for a wealthy merchant in whose house Goya convalesced during the winter of 1792–3 from the illness that would leave him deaf. The merchant’s collection, replete with works by Titian, Rubens, and Velazquez, profoundly influenced the development of Goya’s rococo style, as is apparent in the luminous color and bravura brushwork of the composition.

One of the pleasures of visiting an exhibition is the unexpected discovery of works that stand apart in terms of sheer originality. Such a work is the magnificent canvas by Joseph Wright of Derby, The Old Man and Death (1773), a hybrid of moralizing narrative and landscape. Wright was an avid proponent for raising the status of the landscape genre, and in this instance he uses it to create mood and enhance the meaning of the story. The macabre subject is rendered with a photographic reality that moves it into the realm of the surreal. The sharpness of detail in the light-washed landscape also reveals the artist’s interest in science and light effects. The overall result is akin to the hyper-lucidity of an unforgettable hallucination.

This exhibition is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Local media sponsorship is provided by Star Tribune.

Ticket Information
A Passion for Paintings is a ticketed special exhibition. General admission is $8. To purchase tickets call (612) 870-3000. For general museum information call (612) 870-3131.

Public Programs
Opening Day Lecture:
Eric Zafran on “A Passion for Paintings: Old Masters from the Wadsworth Atheneum”
Sunday, October 8, 2006, 2 P.M., Free
Eric Zafran, curator of European painting and sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum, will discuss masterworks by Caravaggio, Hals, Zurburán, Canaletto, and others. Also learn about the Atheneum, the country’s oldest public art museum, which is based in Hartford, Connecticut.

This Agnes Lynch Anderson and Roger Lewis Anderson Lecture is co-presented by the Department of Public Programs and the Paintings Curatorial Council of the MIA.

Family Day: “It’s a Masterpiece”
Sunday, October 15, 2006, 11 A.M.-5 P.M., Free

Enjoy fun activities for the entire family on this day celebrating the special exhibition “A Passion for Paintings: Old Masters from the Wadsworth Atheneum.” Draw a picture from the perspective of a Renaissance painter. Paint a landscape that shows the dramatic effects of light and shade, just like master painters of the 17th and 18th centuries. Listen to music, and enjoy Baroque-era Commedia dell’Arte improvised drama by Dance Revels Moving History.

Published in conjunction with the exhibition, Renaissance to Rococo: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum includes an essay on the history of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s collection by organizing curator Eric M. Zafran, curator of European painting and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum. The catalogue also features catalogue entries by Joseph Baillio, Edgar Peters Bowron, Hilliard Goldfarb, Ronda Kasl, Cynthia Roman, and Amy Walsh. This fully illustrated 182-page catalogue with color reproductions is available at the MIA shop for $39.95. The catalogue is published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Tour Venues
The tour venues are the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Fla. (January 29–April 25, 2004), the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (June 27–September 26, 2004), Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Neb. (October 23, 2004–February 27, 2005), the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tenn. (May 19–August 21, 2005), the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC (September 17, 2005–January 8, 2006), Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Calif. (February 11–May 28, 2006) and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minn. (October 8, 2006–January 7, 2007).

About the Minneapolis Institute of Art

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses nearly 100,000 works of art representing more than 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolas Poussin, and Vincent van Gogh, as well as internationally significant collections of Asian art, decorative arts, Modernism, photographs, and African and Native American art.

General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 A.M.–5 P.M.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 A.M.–5 P.M.; Thursday, 10 A.M.–9 P.M.; Closed Monday. For additional information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit www.artsmia.org.

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