One of the things we are excited about for the Generations Gallery going forward is that the space allows us to make changes and rotate artifacts. The exhibit opened in August 2020, and we are excited to share we opened our first new rotation last week!
The first rendition of the Art section featured Nature in Art. Now we are rotating in Portraits. These depictions of people from all different time periods and backgrounds are all from the Neville Public Museum’s collection. You might even recognize a few artist or sitters. Here are 5 things you want to look for!
George Catlin (1796-1872), well-known for his paintings of Native Americans, drew a series of self-portraits in 1821. They found their way to Green Bay through his nephew, Theodore Burr Catlin.
George Catlin did the self-portraits at night, before a mirror, simulating facial expressions of various emotions. The drawings all have similar facial outlines and hairlines; the eyes and mouth, however, differ with the feelings he portrayed.
Soon after, Catlin began a journey crossing the United States from the Great Lakes to the Rockies and into the southwest Mexican territory. He visited more than 45 Native American tribes between 1830 and 1836 and created more than 600 portraits of Native American life. He spent part of 1836 in the area he referred to as Ouisconsin, painting the Menominee, Winnebago, and Chippewa tribes. He briefly stopped in Green Bay during that same year.
The drawings were given to Theodore Catlin in 1839, when he was in New York studying art with his uncle George. The younger Catlin and his family settled in Green Bay sometime before the Civil War. After returning from military service in the 1870s, Theodore opened a shop, “Fresco and Ornamental Painter.” It was located on North Washington Street, over Cook’s Marine Saloon.
Theodore’s business did not go well, and he either sold or traded the Catlin drawings to Robert Cook, the Saloon’s owner. They hung behind the bar for decades—subjects of curiosity and frequent toasts. After Robert Cook’s death, they became the property of his son, James. In 1919, James gave the drawings to the Green Bay Public Museum, now the Neville Public Museum.
The American painter John Vanderlyn painted a full-length image of Ariadne while studying painting in Paris in 1814. Vanderlyn was an acclaimed artist in Paris, a friend of Vice President Aaron Burr, and known in New York for portraits of Andrew Jackson and James Monroe, but he never met with popular success for his images of Greek and Roman history and myth. After his return to America in 1815, Vanderlyn exhibited his Ariadne Asleep on the Isle of Naxos to a storm of criticism, as the work was the first important painting of a nude woman in the history of American art. Angry, Vanderlyn replied that Ariadne represented the grand tradition of European art and literature.
In classical Greek myth, Ariadne was the daughter of the king of Crete. Ariadne fell in love with the Greek hero, Theseus, who came to Crete on a quest to kill the Minotaur, a monster the Cretan king kept in a famous maze, called the Labyrinth. Ariadne helped Theseus kill the Minotaur, and the two escaped to the island of Naxos, where Theseus abandoned her. Bacchus, the Greek God of Love and Wine discovered Ariadne, asleep, rescued and later married her. The lovely heroine, Ariadne, was a popular subject in European painting from the time of the Renaissance.
This painting of Ariadne differs from the 1814 painting. In the original, the young woman is shown full-length, sleeping in a meadow, and Theseus' ship is seen sailing away in the distance. Purchased by Green Bay's Morgan L. Martin sometime in the 1830s, this version hung at Martin's home, Hazelwood, throughout his lifetime. Perhaps Martin, who also chose the Greek Revival architectural style for Hazelwood, agreed with the artist that the painting symbolized the type of culture and learning Martin believed desirable for Green Bay.
Tammy Konitzer Williams
13 is the newest piece in the exhibit. It was a part of the 2020 Art Annual, a juried art show hosted by the museum each year. It represents the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution: Section 1, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Section 2, "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The piece led to many conversations in the 2020 show and the museum staff felt it was important to add to the museum’s permanent collection. While it’s not your classic portrait it belongs among the rest as a representation of social issues today.
King Louis XVI
This piece has been in the museum’s care for almost 100 years. It’s been studied and conserved but still has a few mysteries including who the artist is. It is alleged to have been painted by the great French artist Jean Auguste D. Ingres.
The story of the painting goes like this:
In 1848, when Eleazer Williams was returning from a trip east, he stopped overnight at Temperance Inn, Sheboygan. The next morning, he went to the Sheboygan House and called for this painting, which had been left there addressed to him. He returned with it to Temperance Inn, where he opened it and told the onlookers it was a portrait of Louis XVI sent to him by the Prince of Joinville. The picture is painted on wood and was wrapped in the unfolded pages of a French book.
On his trip east, Williams had collected a great deal of clothing and equipment for the Oneida, and as he traveled in an open wagon over dirt roads, was afraid the painting might be damaged on this trip. He left it with Cordelis Brown, wife of the innkeeper, with instructions not to let anyone see it and not to give it to anyone without handwritten instructions from him.
Two years later, Williams went east to Hogansburgh, N.Y., where he died in 1858. Doubtless he never told anyone where he left the painting as it was never called for and remained in Mrs. Brown's family until 1926. It was then purchased for this Museum from Mrs. Francis Talmadge, Sheboygan, who was the grand-niece of Mrs. Cordelis Brown.
When Mrs. Talmadge was selling it she used an art dealer from New York who alleged the artist may be Jean Auguste D. Ingres. Ingres painted portraits of French royalty around this time and was inconsistent on how be marked his work.
Two portraits selected about a year ago were somewhat damaged and have been in the collection since the early 1900s. These paintings of Native American men are signed by F. R. Grout. The notes on the gift receipt indicate that they were found in collection in 1964 but are considered to be part of the Frank J. B. Duchateau collection. We don’t know much about the artist or if they were painted from life or something Grout saw somewhere else or read about, but we knew if we wanted to display them they’d need some conservation. Both pieces were extremely dirty and needed cleaning, restoration, and frames. One had evidence of water damage, which was addressed by the conservator.
The Neville Public Museum Foundation was happy to help with this endeavor. They funded the cleaning, restoration, and framing for the protection of the portraits for years to come. Check out the before and after photos!