Exhibitions and Installations, Paintings, Photographs, Film, and Video

Enchantresses on Film

Alla Nazimova as Salome. Photo: United Artists / Photofest

Alla Nazimova as Salome. Photo: United Artists / Photofest

The films we screen at the Getty go hand in hand with the art on view. Curating film series related to exhibitions is exciting, but it can also be challenging. How, for example, do you plan a movie event around a Japanese lacquer box? By connecting with a story—scenes from The Tale of Genji—that adorn the box.

This weekend’s free four-film series, The Ornament and The Enchantress, accompanies the new exhibition The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérome. To get ideas for the series, I met with Mary Morton and Scott Allan, curators of the exhibition, who discussed pictures they would be showing. Grand, theatrical, impeccably detailed, Gérôme’s paintings draw us in with their detailed narratives.

I was taken with Gérôme’s eroticism, in particular his paintings of women who appear mostly nude, secretly attentive to the viewer’s gaze. To me the most intriguing paintings are those inspired by Turkish harem scenes: here you have the beauty of the female form, soft and pillowy, matched with the exquisite colors, textures, and beauty of Middle Eastern architecture. The women are simultaneously seductive and innocently naïve, naked and captive, real and imaginary.

<em>A Greek Interior</em>, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1850. Oil on canvas. Collection of Lady Micheline Connery

A Greek Interior, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1850. Oil on canvas. Collection of Lady Micheline Connery

This romanticized Orientalism found its way into films: European-looking women playing Semitic characters, clothed in bangles and headdresses with much more exposed flesh than their Northern sisters would ever allow. Fantastic women, whose carnal powers were strong enough to bring their enemies to their knees.

Picking up this theme, the series celebrates so-called femmes fatales and includes two of the sexiest over-the-top Cecil B. DeMille spectacles, Cleopatra and Samson and Delilah, as well as the silent gem Salome (with live musical accompaniment), plus Greta Garbo in peak form as Mata Hari, erotic dancer turned courtesan turned spy.

We don’t know the fate of the women in Gérôme’s paintings (some are seen being sold as slaves), but in this film series we do—the notorious Salome, Delilah, Cleopatra and Mata Hari pay the ultimate price. But those girls sure put on a good show before they go.

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      #ProvenancePeek: Shark Attack!

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      This dynamic painting of a 1749 shark attack in Havana, Cuba, by John Singleton Copley was too good to paint only once. The original hangs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A second full-sized version of the painting, which Copley created for himself, was inherited by his son and eventually gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      The third version (shown here) is slightly reduced in size, with a more vertical composition. It resides in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

      A quick peek into the digitized stock and sales books of art dealer M. Knoedler & Co. at the Getty Research Institute shows the sale of Copley’s masterpiece. It was entered under stock number A3531 in July 1946 and noted as being sold to the Gallery by Robert Lebel, a French writer and art expert. The Knoedler clerk also carefully records the dimensions of the painting—30 ¼ x 36 inches, unframed.

      On the right side of the sales page you’ll find the purchaser listed as none other than the Detroit Institute of Arts. The corresponding sales book page gives the address: Woodward Ave, Detroit, Mich., still the location of the museum.

      Watson and the Shark, 1782, John Singleton Copley. Detroit Institute of Arts

      _______

      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.

      02/10/16

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