Maryhill Museum, a Beaux Arts style mansion, looks like a castle. When you enter Maryhill Museum you are greeted with gilt furniture donated by Queen Marie of Roumania.
Queen Marie of Roumania (1875-1938) was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England and Tsar Alexander the 2nd. She met Sam Hill (the builder of Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge) in 1893. Later Sam Hill, along with Alma de Bretteville Spreckels and Loie Fuller, provided generous war relief to Roumania. When Samuel Hill’s vision for Maryhill changed, Loie Fuller encouraged him to make Maryhill into a museum. Queen Marie dedicated the museum on November 3, 1926. She brought fifteen crates full of artwork and artifacts for the museum.
Who was Loie Fuller?
On November 3, 1892 a new performer premiered at the Folies-Bergere in Paris with a dance that was to take the world by storm. She called herself La Loie Fuller, and the dance, the Serpentine. On stage she was a riot of quickly changing colors and movement that magically transformed from one shape to the next through clever use of light, color and yards of gossamer silk. To her audience, she appeared out of the darkness “tinged with all the hues of the rainbow” as the art critic Roger Marx wrote. She was an overnight success, and she was to revolutionize the idea of dance and performance in the West.
Over the next several decades, La Loie performed in concert halls and theaters throughout Europe, the United States, South America and the Middle East. She constantly innovated and adapted her performances to take advantage of new technologies and scientific discoveries, including electricity, lantern slides, colored gels, fluorescent paints and more. With them she created evocative images of winged creatures and plant forms, and the elements of fire, earth, water and air.
While she was experimenting with dance presentation and performance, artists such as Cheret, Riviere, Lautree, Roche, Gerome, Rodin and Galle fell under her spell and, on paper and canvas, and in glass, bronze and marble, they recreated her performances over and over again. To them she epitomized the excitement, energy and natural expression of the various art movements and philosophies to which they subscribed. In the end, they lionized this American mid-westerner who spoke only pidgin French and who had come to Europe for fame and fortune.
And while they were recording her performance for posterity, she was advocating and promoting them and their work, encouraging patronage among her own friends and supporters, including Queen Marie of Roumania, Samuel Hill and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. In the end, La Loie greatly influenced several careers and was instrumental in the founding of at least two museums, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Maryhill Museum.
One of my favorite pieces among the museum was of Rodin. If you’re not familiar with who Auguste Rodin is, no judging here because I didn’t, he is the sculpture of The Thinker. This exhibit did not focus on his famous sculpture, but it did bring out aspects of another one of his works-Gates of Hell.
The Gates of Hell includes the monumental figures of Adam and Eve freestanding before the Gates, forming the base of a pyramid. At the zenith stand The Three Shades and below them, The Thinker. The remaining figures surge and fall across the Gates, not contained within architectural panels, but creating a rhythm of life which breaks out of the architectural confines.
In October 1880 Rodin wrote that The Gates of Hell were to be flanked by “two colossal figures, Adam and Eve.” The function of the biblical pair was to suggest the origins of the sufferings endured by the figures on the Gates.
Eve was Rodin’s first life size female figure since his accidentally destroyed Bacchante of 1864-70. Rodin used a beautiful, well known Italian woman as his model for Eve. As he worked, he noticed that her dimensions gradually appeared to change. He wrote:
“Without knowing why, I saw my model changing. I modified my contours naively following the successive transformation of ever-amplifying forms. One day, I learned that she was pregnant; then I understood. The contours of the belly had hardly changed; but you can see with what sincerity I copied nature in looking at the muscles of the loins and sides.
It certainly hadn’t occurred to me to take a pregnant woman as my model for Eve; an accident-happy for me-gave her to me, and it aided the character of the figure singularly. But soon, becoming more sensitive, my model found the studio too cold; she came less frequently, then not at all. That is why my Eve is unfinished.”
The Maryhill plaster is covered with “x’s” which refer to the pointing system used for carving a marble copy from the plaster original. This suggests that Maryhill’s Eve was Rodin’s original working plaster.
Among the pieces is an ugly distorted face that is easy to overlook. Little man with the Broken Nose.
Rodin’s original Man with the Broken Nose was made in 1863-64. He considered it to be his first major work. “That mask,” he said, “determined all my future work. It is the first good piece of modeling I ever did.” He selected a neighborhood handyman name Bibi as his model. Rodin admired his handsome face despite his battered nose. This early work became associated with Rodin’s lifelong preoccupation with fragments. While working on the original portrait, the terra cotta head froze in Rodin’s unheated studio and the back of the head fell away. At this point Rodin realized the expressive power of a fragmentary work.
One of Rodin’s most important legacies to modern art is that he boldly embraced the fragment as a complete and independent work of art. Rodin’s contemporaries were not unaccustomed to working with fragments. Indeed, 19th century artists studied Greek and Roman antiquities, early Christian reliquaries, primitive art from Africa and Pre-Columbia America and European decorative architecture in which partial figures were commonplace. However, according to academic tradition, such fragmentary objects were considered incomplete and imperfect, the result of accidental breakage and therefore not works of art. Rodin’s critics viewed his use of partial figures as morbid, ugly, and in violation of established aesthetics.
Rodin liked the poem Beauty by Charles Baudelaire. In fact, he named one of his pieces Je Suis Belle (I am Beautiful). Here is the first line of the poem, “I am beautiful as a dream of stone.” After seeing this exhibit you will agree with that line as well.
Another artist featured at Maryhill Museum is R.H. Ives Gammell. I like this quote:
Gammell was painting large canvases with mythological and biblical themes, but he recognized that he was out of step with the times.
In a Litany for Martyrs, Gammell revisited a theme he had explored previously in the 1938 painting, A Song of Lamentations-the prayer of the afflicted when they are overwhelmed. The artist drew inspiration from Psalms 102, which beings:
Hear my prayer, Lord; let me cry for help to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.
According to Richard Lack, this work conveys in a symbolic way the suffering of millions of human souls who were sacrificed to the stupidities of war and the injustices of tyranny. Here, Gammell chose to use contemporary, rather than classical and biblical references, to frame his composition.
The Native American exhibit was interesting because it didn’t just focus on the local Native Americans, but those from all over. Eskimos, Hopi, Pomo, plateau, and coastal. For me it was interesting to see the different styles of clothing, designs on baskets, hair styles, and accessories. The photography was just beautiful.
One unique exhibits at Maryhill Museum is the Theatre de La Mode. After World War 2 there was a shortage on food, fuel, and fabric. Due to this it was proposed that the fashion house create their collections on miniature 27 in mannequins.
Make sure to take time to explore the outside sculpture garden when you visit this beautiful museum of art.