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  • Joanne Platt

THE EYES HAVE IT: The Rewards of Close Inspection

Taking a patient close look at art can yield surprising results. Joanne Platt has made several “finds” in Mia’s artworks.

The Duluth Room

It was a quiet Saturday, and I was stationed outside the Duluth Room (G320) for a Cross Currents tour whose theme was "Inspired by Nature." This living room is one of Arts and Crafts designer John Scott Bradstreet's most noteworthy and complete interiors, and features paneling and furniture composed entirely of naturalistic jin-di-sugi wood carved with Japanese motifs such as lotus leaves and flowers. Continuing the theme, the room also contains an original Bradstreet lotus table, a lotus lamp, and glass bookcase doors with lotus flowers on them. To pass the time since visitors were scarce, I began shining my flashlight along the wall that contains the telephone nook. There are two sliding doors to hide the phone from view, with finger pulls to close the doors. As I peered closer, I noticed that inside the finger pulls were two lovely incised lotus flower decorations. I realized that Bradstreet had beautifully integrated his Japanese lotus flower theme down to the smallest detail; his commitment to the Japanese aesthetic allowed visitors to appreciate the room as a unified whole, but also afforded them opportunities that would delight the eye with closer viewing. I might never have noticed this charming feature had there not been a lull in my tour. This revelation inspired me to consider other examples in which close looking resulted in exciting discoveries.

Close-up of Duluth Room Interior and of Lotus Flower Door Pull

There are myriad rewards for careful looking at Mia's artworks. One especially noteworthy discovery this past spring was a partial fingerprint, almost certainly van Gogh's, found in Mia's own Olive Trees. While examining the painting prior to the recent exhibition Van Gogh and the Olive Groves, Dallas Museum of Art conservator Laura Hartman discovered traces of a fingerprint near the top edge of the painting, just to the right of the blazing sun. It is perfectly conceivable that van Gogh picked up the still-wet painting and carried it back to the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he was living at the time. What a stunning revelation that remained unnoticed for over 130 years!

Corot's Springtime of Life, on view in G357, evokes a quiet and delicate mood as a young woman in a pale pink dress wanders through a misty glade, collecting flowers. Petals lyrically swirl around her like snow, creating a scene of breathtaking and poignant beauty. Corot's softly muted color palette lends a dream-like quality to this tranquil composition. On tours, I like to point out a pentimento of a mother and daughter facing each other, which is faintly visible between the tree on the left and the woman in pink. A pentimento is a previously painted or drawn image that has been painted over but has bled through the subsequent paint layer. It is not unusual for artists to reuse an earlier canvas for a new idea, leading to these little discoveries. Look directly to the left of where the woman is carrying the flowers she has gathered in her skirt and you may see this faint image. Visitors are delighted when I point out this pentimento; it is like a secret shared between friends.

Detail from Springtime of Life, 1871, Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot. Oil on canvas.

Bequest of Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley in Memory of her Father, James J. Hill, 49.2

On View in Gallery 357

At a time when most women were forbidden to paint professionally, French Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot broke the rules and painted what she knew best -- her home and family life. In The Artist's Daughter, Julie, with Her Nanny (G351), Morisot's quick brushstrokes captured a simple moment of home life: her daughter Julie intently observing her nanny doing needlework. Impressionists worked quickly, with rapid brushstrokes that left much detail to the imagination. If you stand in front of the painting, and look to the right of Julie’s ear, you can see where Morisot added a white streak of paint to cover Julie’s original black eyebrow, a correction made necessary when Julie turned her head slightly while watching her nanny sew. This is a quintessential example of just how quickly Impressionist artists utilized their rapid brushstrokes to capture a fleeting moment in time, and how rapidly the scene before them could change.

Detail from The Artist’s Daughter, Julie, with her Nanny, c. 1884, Berthe Morisot.

Oil on canvas. The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 96.40

On View in Gallery 351

It takes time and patience to unlock the wealth of information and secrets contained within an artwork. There is often more to a picture than meets the eye. What rewards have you discovered when you spent time in front of an artwork and really looked closely?

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