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Winslow Homer
Prout's Neck
1883



John H. Twachtman
Path in the Hills, Branchville, Connecticut
ca. 1888-91



Samuel Colman
Along the Arno, Florence, Italy
ca. 1875



John Marin
Back of the Waters, Landscape No. 2
1942



Arthur Bowen Davies
Life Study, Dancing Nude
ca. 1920



Lauren Baxter
Untitled
2001
at Cynthia Broan



Lauren Baxter
Untitled
2001



James Ensor
Self Portrait
1885
at the Drawing Center



James Ensor
The Boulevard van Iseghem in Ostend
ca. 1880-85



James Ensor
Ensor and General Leman Discussing Painting
1890



James Ensor
The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and Christ Shown to the People
1887



James Ensor
The Letter-Writer
1883


Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins


"Two Hundred Years of American Watercolors, Pastels and Drawings," a huge show of about one hundred pieces, should have every lover of American art scanning the walls of the Spanierman Gallery.

One of Winslow Homer's increasingly hard-to-find watercolors, Prout's Neck (1883), is the show's star. Homer painted this drawing during his first summer in Prout's Neck, Me. It can be seen as an affectionate portrait of the austere coastal spot that would become the artist's home base during roughly the last third of his life. Scrub, rock, sand and sea become a shifting mix of cool and warm shades, further differentiated by a variety of strokes, flecks, fillips and washes. In line with the dearth of work available by this master realist, it will cost a dedicated collector $925,000.

Also wonderful to see are a group of pastels by John H. Twachtman, still one of our most underrated artists. His Path in the Hills, Branchville, Connecticut (ca. 1888-91) echoes Whistler's appreciation of flat pattern and design, which both artists developed from viewing Japanese prints. It's $120,000, as are three other pastels of places in this country, while a Dutch Landscape, produced a few years earlier, will set you back $95,000.

Not everything in the show is in six figures. Samuel Colman's charming 4 x 7 inch Along the Arno, Florence, Italy (ca. 1875) is a steal at $3,500. And a larger, hot-hued watercolor, Flowering Wall (ca. 1915) by the Cincinnati-based Annie Gooding Sykes is $15,000.

Two lively black ink drawings by Joseph Raphael (1872-1950) have more to do with his etching skills than his better-known sunny landscapes and flower and vegetable gardens. He spent many years living in Europe. His Winter, Linkeback Village, Belgium (ca. 1910), gently priced at $6,000, brings to mind the angular strokes of van Gogh's reed pen drawings.

Totally different in feeling, though also done abroad, is one of Jane Peterson's lush people-filled shorescapes, the Venetian gouache The Schiavone with Sunshine from 1923, at $35,000.

Modernist works are abundant. One of John Marin's explosive watercolors, Back of the Waters, Landscape No. 2 from 1942 is a modest $40,000. Though more noted as a sculptor, William Zorach's watercolors in brilliant hues, like his St. Georges, Grenada of 1962 (listed at $22,000) deserve to be more widely seen and appreciated. Jules Pascin's pastel, Seated Girl (ca. 1920) is beautifully colored and saturated with emotional ambiguity, while a Life Study, Dancing Nude, a pastel of the same date by Arthur B. Davies, kicks up her heel. The Pascin is $30,000, but the Davies is already sold.

A sly and sexy black ink drawing by Alexander Calder, Horse Tricks (no date), shows a female nude with raised arms to the left and a horse balanced on its hind legs with an erect penis to the right. Suggestive? Funny? It's worth every bit of the $52,000 asked.

If you can't make it to the gallery, you might want to buy the handsome catalogue, although not all of the items will still be available.

"Two Hundred Years of American Watercolors, Pastels and Drawings" is on view through June 30, 2001, at the Spanierman Gallery, 45 East 58th Street, New York, N.Y.

*        *        *
A pair of "interventionists" known as Andrew Andrew took over the Cynthia Broan Gallery in Chelsea in January and February to present their own art version of Survivor. For those of you who don't indulge in the tube, Survivor is a reality-based show in which a bunch of folks vie for big money by roughing it together in some exotic locale. Contestants periodically vote to eliminate one fellow until only a winner is left.

"Andrew Andrew Present Viewer's Choice" displayed works by 11 artists and asked gallery-goers to vote for their least favorite. Every few days, more works were draped in black.

Comments ranged from critical to nasty to ... unprintable. Some artists resorted to the usual political strategies. But Lauren Baxter kept her head down and emerged the winner.

Now Baxter has a solo show of her erotic line drawings curated by Andrew Andrew at the same venue, the prize for the competition. All the works are untitled, in black ink, with a few with a little added color.

Nude bodies or body parts shoot out in ink lines to morph into surreal and often very real and sexy relationships in a roundelay with realistic objects floating nearby. Baxter has a thing for animals, so cats and dogs and parts of animals, like hooves, mix with people, whole or in bits.

Lauren Baxter's so artistically inventive that the usual male and female self-stimulation and couplings are always fresh and sexy. Not bad for someone just starting to show her work and still a student at the School of Visual Arts.

A drawing that is not erotic but represents several blacks of different ages may be where her work is headed. It will be interesting to see how she uses color, too. Currently, she uses very little, shading in small, discrete areas and sometimes suspending areas of color on their own.

Already impressive is her willingness to attack a drawing almost 4 by 5 feet. It's priced at $2,500, but most of her pieces are 17 by 14 inches and a mere $950.

Lauren Baxter is on view through May 12, 2001, at Cynthia Broan Gallery, 423 West 14th Street, New York City.

*        *        *
The Belgian artist James Ensor (1860-1949) is best known for his monumental and macabre painting Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, oils with figures in grotesque masks, and still lifes of fish and rays that possess a visceral intensity.

The Drawing Center's new show, "Between Street and Mirror: The Drawings of James Ensor," presents about 80 drawings from 1880 to around 1895 that show how early Ensor matured as an artist, how he combined his academic training and illustrative skills with satiric exaggeration straight from the popular press. The street refers to Ensor's spirit of social protest and delight in thumbing his nose at the bourgeoisie of Belgium through cast-of-thousands extravaganzas, while the mirror refers to his intense pondering of his own image through many self-portraits.

It's not taking too much liberty to imagine the lone figure in his Boulevard van Iseghem in Ostend (black chalk, ca. 1880-5) -- Ostend being his hometown -- as the artist, who early on aspired to become a leading avant-gardist. He would soon transform an evocative cityscape like this by adding shoving crowds of workers, maskers and the poor demanding social reforms, making a mockery of Catholicism as followed by contemporary Belgians.

A Self-Portrait from 1885 in black lead and charcoal practically hides the artist behind his pencilings. His flamboyant artist-as-social-reformer can be seen in his caricatural visage in Ensor and General Leman Discussing Painting, a colored pencil and gouache from 1890, a scant five years later.

James Ensor seems to have gotten a penchant for pranks and disguises as early as five years of age when his grandmother, who owned a tourist curio shop and kept a pet ape in coastal Ostend, dressed him up in Mardi Gras costumes and masks and let him play with the merchandise. While he admitted that his maternal grandmother's shop both inspired and terrified him, his nuclear family's precarious finances and its dependence on his mother's relatives led to another kind of love-hate relationship.

A drawing entitled My Mother, or Sloth (1888) is one manifestation. There are also more playful images of the female relatives with whom he shared a house after his father and mother declared bankruptcy, like Aunt Asleep Dreaming of Monsters (ca. 1888). One of the most lovely drawings in the exhibition is the straightforward The Letter-Writer (black chalk, 1883) with its many sorts of strokes.

One rarely sees Ensor's adored Dad, who was English, rarely employed, and died in 1887, probably from alcoholism. An exception is My Father Dead, a small black crayon and pencil drawing of 1888, perhaps based on a photograph.

Ensor made drawings based on photos, but also prints after paintings and copies of paintings, paintings of prints, and inserted copies of this and that into old versions of work to create new ones. His process is utterly modern.

Ensor's process and disinterest in reality allowed him to meld bits and pieces of earlier drawings into surreal combinations, like Nude and Balustrade (charcoal, 1880-5, 1886-88) in which a female nude's breasts are monstrous heads and her head sports a fantastic fish/lobster on top.

In 1887, Ensor made a huge splash with large drawings on the life of Christ in a show put on by the modernist group Les XX (The Twenty) in Brussels. He was already using themes that he would be exploring the rest of his career, as his The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem and Christ Shown to the People (black chalk, 1887) illustrates.

It should be remembered that Ensor, who identified with Christ and projected a persona of the artist as eccentric, did not show his bitterly satiric oil of The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 until after 1929. By then, as Ensor scholar Susan M. Canning notes in an essay in the show's catalogue, he had been made a commander in the Order of Leopold, an officer in the French Order of the Foreign Legion of Honor, an honorary baron and a naturalized Belgian citizen.

"Between Street and Mirror" consists of Ensor drawings gathered from Belgian public and private collections along with loans from this country. The exhibition is curated by Catherine de Zegher, director of the Drawing Center, and Robert Hoozee, director, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Ghent.

A catalogue will be forthcoming.

James Ensor is on view through July 21, 2001 at the Drawing Center, 35 Wooster St., New York City.


N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.

 
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