The Sixteen Luohans

16th century

Attributed to Qiu Ying Chinese

Best known for his paintings rendered in brilliant mineral colors, Qiu Ying sometimes worked in ink alone to demonstrate his skill as a draftsman. In this dynamic procession of luohans and their attendants, the figures are enlivened through exquisitely controlled, undulating and folded brush lines and luminous graded washes. Qiu’s enthusiasm for detail is evident in the remarkable individualization of the holy men’s eccentric features and the delicate textile designs of their robes. Although the artist’s inscription credits the monk-artist Guanxiu (832–912) as the source of his inspiration, the ninth-century master’s grotesque luohans have here been replaced by elegant Sinicized ascetics.

Reflecting the blending of Buddhism and Confucianism in later Chinese culture, this procession of luohans is shown ceremoniously escorting a Chinese scholar—identifiable by his tall cap and full robes—and his retinue out of the clouds.


A Hypocrite and a Slanderer

ca. 1770–83

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt German

Messerschmidt, the leading sculptor at the court in Vienna in the 1760s, was forced, for personal and professional reasons, to leave for the provinces and by 1777 had settled in Pressburg (today Bratislava). There he concentrated on a private series of heads, completing more than sixty in his preferred medium of tin alloy or in alabaster.

While acknowledging the artistic tradition of exploring facial expressions and emotions, these Kopfstücke, or head pieces, as he called them, were highly original for their combination of realism and abstraction. Visitors to his studio observed the artist studying himself in a mirror. Some of the heads are straightforward self-portraits, smiling or frowning; others are satirical or comic, the sitter reacting to a strong odor or yawning widely. A few, such as this one, called “refusers” by an early critic for the way they deny contact with their surroundings, are deeply introspective.

The meaning of the series has been long debated. The titles were conferred after the sculptor’s death, when forty-nine works were exhibited in 1793. Messerschmidt was aware of contemporary medical theories, such as Johann Caspar Lavater’s 1775 study of physiognomy’s relation to human character, and he certainly knew his Viennese neighbor the physician Franz Anton Mesmer, who believed that outward senses connect to inner emotions and developed related therapies to treat his patients. However one assesses it, the series of is exceptional in eighteenth-century sculpture, stylistically advancing beyond Neoclassicism to a reductive simplicity, forecasting modern minimalism, and psychologically rendering serial states of mind in a project that was novel for the pre-Freudian world.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 548


Marble right foot wearing a sandal

1st or 2nd century A.D.

Roman

Right foot and ankle, wearing a sandal.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 171


[Album page: New York City]

1929–30

Berenice Abbott American


Striding figure with ibex horns, a raptor skin draped around the shoulders, and upturned boots

ca. 3000 B.C.

Proto-Elamite

This solid-cast sculpture is one of a pair of nearly identical images of a hero or a demon wearing the upturned boots associated with highland regions, his power enhanced by the mighty horns of the ibex on his head and the body and wings of a bird of prey draped around his shoulders. It was created at the time the first cities emerged in ancient Sumer. A new world view conceived of human figures in realistic terms, through accurate proportions and highly modeled forms with distinctive features – here, the triple belt and beard that define divine beings and royalty. The blending of human and animal forms to visualize the supernatural world and perhaps to express shamanistic beliefs, however, is more characteristic of the contemporary arts of Proto-Elamite Iran, where a remarkable tradition of metalworking developed during this period.


The Turkish Family

ca. 1496

Albrecht Dürer German


Breton Fishermen and Their Families

possibly ca. 1880–85

Théodule-Augustin Ribot French

Toward the end of his life, Ribot, who was strongly influenced by seventeenth-century Spanish painters, especially Ribera, brought a vigorous realism and a predilection for contrasting values to the subject of Breton and Norman peasants. Beginning in the 1870s, he painted several group portraits similar to this one.


Street Scene in Paris (Scène de rue à Paris)

1897

Félix Vallotton Swiss

Félix Vallotton made a significant contribution to the graphic arts in Paris in the last half of the 1890s, where he painted this charming gouache of pedestrian traffic on a bustling boulevard. In an extraordinary series of prints and drawings, his “snapshots” of fin-de-siècle Paris laid out a sharp visual critique of modern bourgeois society. Vallotton emerged as a force among Nabis artists in the 1890s, and this Lehman drawing is in every way exemplary of their graphic style. Its flat surface patterning, seemingly random yet carefully ordered placement of figures, dogs, and carriages, disquieting perspective, and insistent two-dimensionality all find counterparts in the drawings and prints of Nabi artists Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, among others. The Nabis openly drew inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints, then all the rage in Paris. Writing of Vallotton’s gouache in the New York Times in 1978, John Russell noted, “The Bonnard bit and the Vuillard bit and the Toulouse-Lautrec bit are all in there at once, and none of them quite knows who’s boss. But at least we look at this little piece of cardboard with a genuine sense of shock and discovery.”


Plaque with the Journey to Emmaus and Noli Me Tangere

Spanish

ca. 1115–20

According to the Gospels, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times after the Resurrection, including on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. In the encounter, represented at the top of this plaque, the disciples lament the Crucifixion, while Jesus explains the redemptive nature of his sacrifice. Below, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, who at first thinks he is a gardener. When she recognizes him, he tells her not to touch him (noli me tangere) since the Ascension has not yet occurred.

The swirling drapery, elongated bodies, and emphatic gestures convey the drama of these miraculous events and relate the plaque to works produced in León, an important royal city on the pilgrimage road. This precious ivory carving was part of a larger ensemble, perhaps a reliquary shrine decorated with other scenes from the life of Jesus.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 304


Five Seated Women

1921

Diego Rivera Mexican

Rivera made this drawing shortly after returning to Mexico from Europe, where he had lived since 1907. A gifted master of the Cubist idiom (see his The Café Terrace of 1915), Rivera painted little after Cubism gave way to a “return to order” and classicism. In 1920 he was petitioned to return to Mexico and participate in a state-sponsored mural program envisioned by Minister of Education José Vasconcelos. Rivera devoted half of that year to traveling in Italy, studying murals by Renaissance masters such as Giotto, Masaccio, Andrea Mantegna, and Piero della Francesca. Here, Rivera depicts everyday life in Mexico in a style that recalls both Italian fresco painting and the African and Iberian forms embraced by Picasso.


Royal hand

ca. 1353–1336 B.C.

Amarna is the name that excavators have given to the site of King Akhenaten’s residence in Middle Egypt, Akhetaten (the horizon of the god Aten). Akhenaten’s reign (beginning ca. 1353 B.C.), including the years when the pharaoh resided at Amarna (ca. 1349-1336 B.C.), was characterized by a major revolution in ancient Egyptian religion and art. The king promoted worship of one sole god, the solar deity Aten. His artists, liberated from some of the confines of tradition, created works of hitherto unseen inventiveness and subtlety of execution.

Relief decoration in the Amarna temples included naturalistic details, such as this one, and transitory gestures that are unique in Egyptian art. Here, the gesture of a queen’s hand was captured at the moment she pointed out marsh fowl to the king during a hunting interlude. The languid grace of the bent wrist and the sensitivity of the long fingers – represented with an unusual sense of perspective that depicts the thumb and index finger in the foreground – express perfectly the essence of Amarna art.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 121


Court Ladies at a Ceremony

ca. 1353–1336 B.C.

This group of figures gazes upward at a much larger figure, presumably the king. They hold something to their mouths, perhaps some kind of food. The variability of their poses and adornment suggests a diverse crowd and a festive mood. On the left side a policeman oversees a scene, now missing.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 121


Studies of Hands

1630–80

Sir Peter Lely (Pieter van der Faes) Dutch, British


The Street

1977

Philip Guston American, born Canada

This monumentally large painting brings together many of the raw and visceral themes that characterize Philip Guston’s return to figurative subject matter in the late 1960s. Prior to that he had been for many years one of the most lyrical abstractionists of Abstract Expressionism, a group that also included Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. The painting’s poignant narrative of confrontation, struggle, and uncertainty is as ambiguous as it is compelling, with precedents in the social commentaries Guston painted during the 1930s and 1940s.


“The Street” is a serious investigation into states of disorder and confusion presented in the vernacular language of cartoon figures and naïve drawing. The composition is divided into three vertical sections, each depicting a different state of being: passive decay, violent aggression, and total disarray. At the right, a large trashcan is stuffed to overflowing with empty bottles, old strips of wood, a shoe, and other refuse. In the center is a barrage of disembodied limbs, hairy and paw-like, wielding trashcan lids as shields. These arms confront to the left a wave of skinny, interlocked legs whose movements seem thwarted by their own oversize shoes. Below, on the horizon line, which is the street itself, a pair of large spiders ominously sits poised for action.


Guston’s work remained an intensely personal statement throughout its many transformations, often relying on his private iconography of images to convey ideas about the human condition and to express the artist’s own fears and crises. As he wrote in 1974, his late paintings depict a “sort of Dante Inferno land.” The unsettling color scheme of “The Street”—red, bright pink, and gunmetal gray—and its crude style of painting add to the sense of urgent turmoil and despair.


[Album page: New York City]

1929–30

Berenice Abbott American


Marble right hand and wrist with a supporting strut

1st or 2nd century A.D.

Roman

The strut supported the arm against the side of the (now lost) statue.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 171



16 of 75Marble right hand and wrist with a supporting strut
18 of 75Group of Men

Marble left hand holding a small box

1st or 2nd century A.D.

Roman

The hand must have belonged to a female statue. The box has holes on the lid, perhaps for sprinkling incense.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 171


Group of Men

17th century

Master of the Large Figure Brush Drawings


[Album page: New York City]

1929–30

Berenice Abbott American

In 1921 Ohio-native Abbott left New York to study in Paris. Returning to the city in 1929, she found it transformed and ripe with photographic potential. Following the model of the French photographer Eugène Atget, whose street views of Paris she admired, Abbott ventured around New York photographing seemingly incidental, but often profound, scenes that captured the city’s changing character. This page of small-scale photographs is one example of many of similar album pages in the Metropolitan’s collection. Assembled by Abbott, the album from which they derive comprised a kind of photographer’s sketchbook for subjects and themes.


19 of 75[Album page: New York City]21 of 75Untitled (Portrait of Betty Fulton)

Study for “Flanders”

1961

Franz Kline American


Untitled (Portrait of Betty Fulton)

1938

Jackson Pollock American


[Album page: New York City]

1929–30

Berenice Abbott American


22 of 75[Album page: New York City]24 of 75[Album Page: Chinatown, New York City]

Edouard Manet at the Races

ca. 1865

Edgar Degas French


[Album Page: Chinatown, New York City]

1929–30

Berenice Abbott American

In 1921 Ohio-native Abbott left New York to study in Paris. Returning to the city in 1929, she found it transformed and ripe with photographic potential. Following the model of the French photographer Eugène Atget, whose street views of Paris she admired, Abbott ventured around New York photographing seemingly incidental, but often profound, scenes that captured the city’s changing character. This page of small-scale photographs is one example of many of similar album pages in the Metropolitan’s collection. Assembled by Abbott, the album from which they derive comprised a kind of photographer’s sketchbook for subjects and themes.



24 of 75[Album Page: Chinatown, New York City]
26 of 75Studies of Figures on a Street

States of Mind: Those Who Go

1912

Umberto Boccioni Italian



28 of 75Window Shopper
30 of 75[Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Construction, Broadway Looking North at 101st Street, New York City]

Small Market in Front of the Church in Place Saint-Médard

1898

Eugène Atget French



29 of 75Small Market in Front of the Church in Place Saint-Médard
31 of 75The Photographer

[Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Construction, Broadway Looking North at 101st Street, New York City]

1900

William B. American


The Photographer

1942

Jacob Lawrence American

This is one of thirty paintings Lawrence created between 1942 and 1943 on the theme of everyday life in Harlem. The scene is filled with swirling urban activity: an itinerant photographer, located by the jagged flash of the camera, snaps a portrait of a well-dressed family, a construction worker descends into a manhole, a finely dressed businessman with a briefcase hurries to work, and a horse-drawn cart bearing a bed frame progresses down the street. The range of activity here hints at the broader movements of African Americans in this moment, as the Great Migration brought many to cities in the North.


Untitled

ca. 1950–52

Franz Kline American

Kline is most well-known for his large-scale abstract paintings in black and white from the 1950s. Many of them began with small-scale drawings that the artist would make in ink on the pages of phone books or collage out of scraps in his studio (around 1948 he had seen Willem de Kooning enlarging his own sketches with a projector). For this diminutive but powerful work, the artist formed an elegent, calligraphic composition by collaging together small fragments of other drawings on a single card.


The Blues Singer

1976, printed 1979

Dawoud Bey American


The Forest (Composition with Seven Figures and a Head)

1950

Alberto Giacometti Swiss

The artist recalled that the arrangement of figures in this work was arrived at almost by accident. He placed some figures and heads on the floor at random. Later, he “realized that they formed two groups which seemed to correspond to what I was looking for.” Giacometti’s title refers to the final effect, but the inspiration came from elsewhere. The walking men and male busts in his work usually reflect the artist or his brother, Diego. Standing women, more often than not, embody an archetypal female goddess, whom he modeled on the prostitutes he frequented.
When Pierre Matisse showed Giacometti’s work at his gallery in 1949, the show created a sensation and immediately established his reputation in New York. The Steinbergs acquired this work out of the next show, held in November 1950.


[Pedestrians, New York City: Woman in White Collarless Jacket; Man and Manhole in Foreground; Young Man Carrying Shoe Boxes; Taxicab, Three Women, and Lamppost]

ca. 1939

Rudy Burckhardt American, born Switzerland


[Pedestrians, New York City: Legs of Woman in Circle Pattern Dress Walking Past Sidewalk Skylights; Legs of Woman Walking Across Manhole Cover; Legs of Two Women Crossing Next to Sidewalk Skylights; Pedestrians’ Legs]

ca. 1939

Rudy Burckhardt American, born Switzerland


[Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Construction, 25th Street and Fourth Avenue, New York City]

1906

W. R. C. American

These two photographs are from a group of some two thousand that were commissioned by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) to document the construction of the first official subway line in New York City, which opened in 1904. The line connected City Hall to Times Square via Fourth Avenue (now Lexington Avenue) and then ran up Broadway. While the upper photograph shows the early phases of construction of the underground subway line, the other picture, taken in 1906, documents the subsequent construction of the eastside “el,” or elevated line.
Although we do not know who took these photographs, they appear to be the work of a single individual with a fine sense of composition and keen eye for detail. The fact that they were produced as platinum prints rather than as gelatin silver prints also suggests an artistic sensibility at work. Like Eugène Atget, who photographed the streets of Paris during the same years, this photographer recorded the rapidly changing face of the city, imbuing his images with an understated lyricism that transcends their function as documentation.


Quai St. Bernard, Paris

1932, printed 1946

Henri Cartier-Bresson French

Although he had made pictures from an early age, it was only in 1931 that Cartier-Bresson found his calling as a photographer. First with an unwieldy box camera then in 1932 with a 35mm camera (a new compact Leica), he set out to photograph life in the streets of various cities in his native France and abroad. He quickly developed what would become a hallmark of twentieth-century photographic style. In his landmark 1952 monograph The Decisive Moment, Cartier-Bresson defined his philosophy: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which gave that event its proper expression.”


Third Avenue Elevated, New York City

1948

Ralston Crawford American, born Canada


Lead Falling in a Shot Tower

1936, printed 1960s

Harold Edgerton American


42nd Street

1929

Walker Evans American

The Ford Motor Company Collection includes another version of this image, in which Evans cropped out the stairs at the right. The severely cropped print is more a portrait of the woman, and it allows the viewer leisure to take in the fullness of her presence. This print, however, retains the ambiguity of the moment when the uniformed man descended the stairs.


[Male Pedestrian in Cap and Overalls, Detroit (for Fortune Magazine Article “Labor Anonymous”)]

1946

Walker Evans American


[Female Pedestrian in Print Blouse, Detroit (for Fortune Magazine Article “Labor Anonymous”)]

1946

Walker Evans American


A Holiday Visit

1895–1908

Arnold Genthe American, born Germany

Shortly after arriving in California from Germany in 1895, Arnold Genthe began wandering the streets of Chinatown with a hidden camera, intent on recording the surviving vestiges of old-world traditions in this thriving ethnic enclave. Over the next ten years, he returned repeatedly to the “Canton of the West,” finally publishing the photographs as a book, Pictures of Old Chinatown, in 1908. In his autobiography, Genthe recorded his first impressions of Chinatown with the giddy fascination of a recent immigrant who has accidentally stumbled upon a strange new world: “The smell of the place—it was a mixture of the scent of sandalwood and exotic herbs from the drugstores, the sickly sweetness of opium smoke, the fumes of incense and roast pork … And in the air there was always the sound of temple gongs, the clashing of cymbals and the shrill notes of an orchestra. It was something for me to write home about.”


Boy carrying hats. Blee[c]ker St., N.Y.

February 1912

Lewis Hine American

In 1908 Hine left his teaching position at the progressive Ethical Culture School in New York to become a staff photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. The same year, he described his pictures in a reform journal as “graphic representation of conditions and methods of work, through pictures for exhibits, reports, folders, magazine and newspaper articles, and lantern slides.” Over the next decade Hine made thousands of negatives-often undercover-of children working in mills, sweatshops, factories, and various street trades, such as the delivery boy pictured here. Through a steady accumulation of specific, idiosyncratic facts, the photographer hoped to reveal the larger, hidden patterns of exploitation upon which the American city was rapidly expanding. More important, his reports and slide lectures were not meant solely as tools for labor reform but as ways of triggering a more profound, empathetic response in the viewer, one that would cause him to reconsider his relationship to society.


On the Boulevards, Paris

1934

André Kertész American, born Hungary

A.M. Cassandre’s famous poster plays with the name of the aperitif: Dubo (du beau, “beautiful”), Dubon (du bon, “good”), Dubonnet. The solitary woman is as oblivious to this jaunty refrain as she is to the inviting smile of the top-hatted fellow at her shoulder. Kertesz saw these inapposite conjunctions and in the same instant knew that the pedestrian departing the poignant scene should not be allowed to make his getaway.


New York

ca. 1938

Helen Levitt American


[Children with Soap Bubbles, New York City]

ca. 1945, printed 1970s

Helen Levitt American

Helen Levitt’s photographs of everyday life in her own New York neighborhood have epitomized domestic urban life for over sixty years. This image of children – one of her most common subjects – demonstrates Levitt’s astute portrayal of gesture, praised as “lyrical” by James Agee in the introduction to her book, A Way of Seeing. As the viewer’s attention echoes the children’s glance toward the left of the scene, the picture poses a riddle as to the bubbles’ source, transforming this gritty city street into a magical metropolitan playground.


New York

1971

Helen Levitt American


Runner in the City

ca. 1926

El Lissitzky Russian

In 1926 Lissitzky joined colleagues from the Association of New Architects (ASNOVA) in designing a new sports club, and he created this frenzied representation of an urban athlete as a model for a large frieze. He combined images of at least three separate elements-the runner, the track and hurdle, and a double exposure of Times Square-into a single print and then sliced that print into strips, creating an object that is both constructed and deconstructed. The visual result is a suspenseful moment-shattered, separated, and stretched-that weaves the mechanics of man into a dynamic tapestry of industrial optimism. The heroic pose of the runner, transposed to the center of New York City, becomes an emblem of triumphant human achievement: man and metal engage in an ambitious leap across several voids in the service of industrial progress.


[Bird in Flight]1886

Etienne-Jules Marey French

One of the nineteenth century’s premier scientific investigators of the phenomenon of movement, Marey designed a process that could make multiple exposures on a single photographic plate in rapid succession. This innovation allowed him to capture the visible traces of an entire motion in regular intervals and to study that action at a level of detail not attainable by earlier photographic technologies. With this remarkable image of a bird in flight, Marey has produced a sequence of the individual moments that comprise a continuous movement, freezing for contemplation and study the fleeting contortions of the animal’s wings, not visible to the naked eye.


Arbeitslos

1928

August Sander German

This photograph is the final plate in “Antlitz der Zeit” (“Face of the Time”), Sander’s typological study of German citizens. A poignant image of disempowerment, the picture reveals Sander’s prescient understanding of the social and economic forces at work in the Weimar Republic. Taking Sander’s sympathetic portrayal of Germans of all occupations and ethnicities as a serious threat, the Fascists destroyed the printing blocks and most copies of this book in 1934. This print of the whole negative, showing both the “last” man and his desolate corner, is the only one known to survive.


A Taxi Driver, Calcutta, West Bengal

1987

Raghubir Singh Indian

Born into an aristocratic family in Jaipur, Singh lived and worked in Paris, London, and New York, but his lifelong subject as a photographer was the vibrant culture and landscape of modern India. With its emphasis on visual surprise and spontaneity, Singh’s work belongs to the tradition of small-format street photography pioneered by such artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Unlike many of his European counterparts, however, Singh worked exclusively in color, often composing his images with a graphic complexity akin to that of Mughal miniatures. Singh’s prolific career was cut short when he died in 1999 at the age of fifty-eight.


Subhas Chandra Bose Statue, Calcutta, West Bengal

1986

Raghubir Singh Indian

Born into an aristocratic family in Jaipur, India, Singh lived and worked in Paris, London, and New York, but his lifelong subject as a photographer was the vibrant culture and landscape of modern India. With its emphasis on visual surprise and spontaneity, Singh’s work belongs to the tradition of small-format street photography pioneered by such artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Unlike many of his European counterparts, Singh worked exclusively in color, often composing his images with a graphic complexity akin to that of Mughal miniatures. This photograph, with its motley collection of urban details thrust into perfect balance by the camera, is typical of Singh’s breathtaking visual dexterity.


Conversation

1916

Paul Strand American


Untitled

1960

Garry Winogrand American

This is an unusual image in the oeuvre of a photographer known chiefly for a confrontational style that made instances from everyday life on the street look like snippets from a well-choreographed farce. Rather than dancing about to the rhythm of urban life, these people seem suspended for eternity as static weights in a three-dimensional balancing game predicated on their own insubstantial shadows. If Winogrand’s normal mode was one of witty graphic innovation, here he probes the tragic undertones in life’s dark comedy.





Street

2011

James Nares British

Youth Voices is an open publishing platform for youth. The site is organized by teachers with support from the National Writing Project. Opinions expressed by writers are their own.

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