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February 14, 2012

"Snapshot: Painters and Photography"

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Excerpts from Rachel Wolff's February 4, 2012 Wall Street Journal review of this new show — up at the Phillips collection in Washington, D.C. through May 6 — follow.

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Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection in January, but one Washington, D.C., museum is looking back to the days when the company's famous cameras stirred iPhone-worthy levels of excitement—among well-known artists.

"Snapshot: Painters and Photography," looks at what seven late-19th-century artists did with their new Kodak hand-held cameras. The exhibition… presents more than 200 photographs and about 70 related paintings, prints and drawings by such prominent post-Impressionist artists as Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis. Many of the photos have never been shown before.

When George Eastman released the hand-held, layman-friendly Kodak camera in 1888, artists were among the first to get on board. Formal studio photography (i.e., telling subjects to "sit still, look at the tripod") had been established in the mid-1800s, but Eastman's invention offered portability and relatively quick results.

The way the artists took their photos—their trained eye — sets them apart. "If you look at general amateur photographs, they tend to be like academic paintings — you center the couple in the middle of the frame, standing very far away from them so you can contain the whole scene," Ms. Easton says. "But painters would stick their camera 2 inches from their subject's face and experiment with focus and angles."

Bonnard photographed his wife and muse, Marthe, in the country and in bed; Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner snapped bustled ladies on busy city streets and erotic nudes; Denis focused on his children; Vuillard fixated on his mistress (who was also his dealer's wife); and, Henri Rivière, a French printmaker, documented the beam-by-beam construction of the Eiffel Tower.

Sometimes, a photo, like Breitner's shot of a kimono-clad girl reclining on a bed (top), led directly to another work — in this case, his vibrant "Girl in Red Kimono" (1893-95; second from top).

Some people found this kind of adaptation dubious. English artist Walter Sickert, Ms. Easton notes, pushed for some sort of requirement forcing artists to flag works that were based on photographs.

February 14, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

Id love to see this exhibit! Bookmarking in case a trip to dc appears on my travel horizon. ... Photo -> painting is such a given today, it's funny to think about a "photo disclaimer" suggestion.

Posted by: Colleen | Feb 14, 2012 2:18:48 PM

I shall miss Kodak. I already miss Kodachrome.

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Feb 14, 2012 11:31:38 AM

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