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Friday, October 21, 2011

Thayer's unfinished "Gladys" at the Brooks Museum, Memphis

Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) is one of those names that everyone should know but somehow he did not get invited to Art History's cool table.  Painters love him for his monumental compositions, fearless broad handling of the brush, great color, and solid architecture of his heads. 

My first trip to the Brooks Museum in Memphis I was smitten with (by?) this crazy painting of Gladys Thayer, Abbot's daughter.  I tried to photograph this painting last time I was in Memphis just before I was busted by their security guards.  Yes, they have one of those backward policies that you can't even take non-flash photos, but I won't complain, because it's the best museum day-tripable from Little Rock.  I searched the internet for years looking for a photo of it, but just recently I found these nice reproductions on  this blog

It never occurred to me that Thayer's process would look so chaotic.  The slashes of thick thick, gooey paint look much like what I've seen while watching Steven Assael paint, although the form is more like chiseled stone than Assael's rounded clay-like form.  The long, quick strokes are fearless, and most of the drawing seems to be done into a layer of already thick paint.  Startlingly unacademic, and almost alien.

The second thing to surprise me was the color choices in the flesh mixtures.  The green here is much more limey than the photo reveals, The rest of the neck is a pure blob of naples with a red slash through it, redefining the border of the back of the neck.

The third thing is the Auerbach-like hand with the curious black "S" shape next to it.  Do they all start this way?  Look at the pink on the arm, the way the form turns blue as the breast turns under.  No feigned mastery here, this is the real thing.

If you aren't familiar with Thayer's work, below are a few of his greatest hits.


File:Thayer - A Virgin.jpg

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