Janine and J. Tomilson Hill have been collecting bronzes for the last 25 years and they have generously lent 33 of their Renaissance to early 18th century bronzes to the Frick for exhibition from January 28 til June 15.
If you like bronzes, it is a must. Even if you don’t, give it a chance you may be surprised. In museums we, as viewers, are usually separated from the art by barriers and vitrines. The latter are a particular hindrance in relating to a work of art. There are fields of art such as manuscripts that I have great difficulty relating to in a vitrine but put one in my hands and it is a whole other experience. What makes this show especially exciting is that the Hills have allowed the Frick to show their bronzes without cases. Be warned the guards are, therefore, extra vigilant so don’t lean on the cases, but you can get quite close and there are no stand back lines on the floor. We can, in this way, more readily appreciate the hand that worked the finished bronze not just the creator of the model.
The curator of the exhibition, Denise Allen, wrote very clear labels helping to give the viewer insight into the works of art. Since she was in the galleries when we were there, I asked her a totally unfair question that I thought she would refuse to answer but figured it was worth a try. I asked which was her favorite bronze in the show. She replied immediately that there were so many to choose from but she did have a favorite and I was surprised by her choice. It was a pacing horse, one of the most common subjects for small bronzes. Curators often pick something that is unusual and that they do not see very often. Mind you this horse is by one of the Renaissance’s greatest Italian sculptors, Giovanni da Bologna (ca. 1529-1608) but Denise had other very good reasons as well. She pointed to the modeling and detail and made another excellent point, it stood up to enlargement. Many more artists can work in small scale but when they try to enlarge their work it falls apart. In this case the small statuette stands up so well to enlargement that a detail was used for the poster for the show.
What is nice about art is that I do not have to agree with the expert and I am not wrong. I just have a different eye and look at art differently. My favorite bronze in the show is one of Mars by Willem Danielsz van Tetrode (Dutch, ca.1525-1580). He is a warrior leading his troops into battle. Unfortunately, this Mars has lost his sword which was originally in his right hand. This is not unusual since it would have been a separate piece of bronze and fell out over the centuries. But look at the detail of the head, with his hair flying as he surges forward. I find it so exciting.
The Hills collect modern art as well but I don’t feel that the juxtapositions or justifications on the labels work for several of the examples but one I found compelling. It was in the room where there are bronzes related to religion including several crucifixies. A bronze Christi Vivo (living Christ) by Allesandro Algardi (Italian 1598-1654) hangs near a colored terracotta by Lucio Fontana (Italian 1899 –1968). For me they both show the same nervousness in the handling something that catches one off guard and draws you in.
One bronze is larger than all the rest in the show; it is almost 3 feet tall. The sculpture is by Adriaen de Vries (The Hague ca.1545-1626 Prague). Called a Bacchic Man, he holds grapes in his hand and has his left foot on a pail with grapes on it. He also seems to wear a wreath of grapes on his head. It is possibly a unique cast and makes quite an impression in the small Frick galleries. It has a rather rough surface, which may be more due to the fact that it started its life out of doors than to the finishing, but for me it just adds to the power of the figure.
Patricia Wengraf the renowned London dealer has written the excellent catalog with contributions by Denise Allen, Claudia Kryza-Gersch, Dimitrios Zikos and Rupert Harris.
If you cannot see the exhibition the excellent reproductions showing the bronzes from different angles and with details make it worth its $100 price tag.
I have referred to just a fraction of the bronzes in the exhibition and I could make another list just as easily. Please go and make your own choices. Remember, unlike a museum collection, anything in a private collection just might be available again, in the fullness of time.