Dreamlike, monochromatic images are not among the things people think of as spring, but a new exhibit at the LaGrange Art Museum is attempting to change that perception.
“A Mother’s Day Celebration: Creative Energy, A Celebration of Spring,” which opened last month, displays the works of two complimentary artists — famed French painter Eugene Carriere and local watercolorist Morrill Turner Hutchinson as well as other selections from the museum’s permanent collection.
Carriere’s moody images in a subtle palette of earth tones serve as a start to the exhibit. Some 50 works from the collection of local physician, Dr. Nick Vlachos, cover the artist’s life and plot his development. There is a definite feeling of the earliest days of spring — the time just as the frost begins to thaw or the last moments of hibernation — in Carriere’s work.
In his earlier works, children and domestic scenes are a common subject with his favored theme of a mother and child stemming from that. As he matured, his works took on darker, more psychological undertones that depict profound emotions just as color withdraws and his paintings become increasingly monochromatic. As his subjects become more languid and hazy they take on “a more spiritual flair directed at the mind and soul,” says Vlachos.
Carriere’s roots are quite humble and he spent many years struggling to make a living as an artist. He did not gain recognition for his talent until the 1890s when he began to gain acceptance among elite circles of artists and intellectuals, building friendships with such names as Auguste Rodin, Isadora Duncan, Paul Verlaine and Emile Zola. He was praised for his unique style which influenced many other artists, possibly including Picasso’s famed “Blue Period.”
Despite the quiet, contemplative feelings of his works, Carriere’s life at home was “a cacophony of children and dogs,” according to Karen Briggs, the museum’s executive director. The moments that he captures, despite the frenzied energy around him, are quietly recorded with profound love.
On his deathbed in 1906, his final words commanded “love each other wildly,” and Carriere’s work is imbued with deep passion for life and love. While well-known and influential in his life, his work has passed into obscurity, though a recent exhibit at Paris’ Musee d’Orsay — which has the largest public collection of Carriere’s work — traced the friendship between him and the sculptor, Rodin.
At the LaGrange Art Museum in the gallery above Carriere’s work — almost as if springing from the ground, seeds and themes of Carriere’s work — are Morrill Turner Hutchinson’s vibrant watercolors of flowers and birds with complimentary works from the museum’s permanent collection with pieces from local collections.
Hutchinson, a local artist, educator and philanthropist who is described in the exhibit as LaGrange’s “Beloved Mother-of-Watercolor,” depicts spring in full flower. Moving from Carriere’s work, his themes of maternal devotion and domestic tranquility are applied by Hutchinson to the natural world. Chipmunks hibernate in the embracing roots of a tree while snowy egrets coddle their young and hummingbirds buzz about flowers in full bloom.
The themes are further elevated into other styles and mediums by highlights from the permanent collection including works by Grady Haugerud, Alexander Kalinen and Pat San Souci.
“We are so fortunate to have serious private collectors here [collecting everyone] from [Andy] Warhol to Carriere. The reason the museum can present such works is through the generosity of those collectors,” adds Karen Briggs.
The exhibit runs through August 10th and is free and open to the public. The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.