Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Indexes to Painting Reproductions

The World Wide Web has opened up an amazing array of images in digital format. However, even though the internet provides a true bounty, it is by no means complete and it is not as well-organized as the indexed bibliographies created by a librarian’s hand.

The library has a number of resources for finding paintings that go beyond websites like Google Images, Yahoo Images, or the Artcyclopedia. The Art Museum Image Gallery is a database of high quality digital reproductions of more than 150,000 artistic works. It is available in the library, and remotely to San Francisco Public Library card holders.

Perhaps the most in-depth source is the World Painting Index by Patricia Pate Havlice, first published in 1977 and supplemented by three later editions. This set is comprised of volumes indexing paintings both by artist and by title. It provides citations for reproductions in thousands of books published between 1940 and 1999. The works indexed may include any painting rendered using oil, tempera, gouache, acrylic, fresco, pastel or watercolor. The index also indicates whether the reproduction is in color, or whether only a detail is reproduced.

The World Painting Index builds on the work of earlier works by Isabel Stevenson Monro and Kate M. Monro – their Index to Reproductions of American Paintings (1948) with its supplement (1964), and Index to Reproductions of European Paintings (1956). These reference books along with the later Index to Reproductions of American Paintings (1977) by Lyn Wall Smith and Nancy Dustin Wall Moure share an important feature. They provide indexing for paintings not only by the artist’s name and the painting’s title but also by their subject matter. Thus, there are listings for categories like children, animals (by name), churches, circuses, cities (by name), railroads, etc…

Do not overlook our department’s Picture File. This resource also provides access to thousands of images organized by subject.

Related blog entry: Images from Life.

World Painting Index by Patricia Pate Havlice. (Scarecrow Press, 1977).

Index to Reproductions of American Paintings: Guide to Pictures Occurring in More Than Eight Hundred Books by Isabel Stevenson Monro and Kate M. Monro. (H.W. Wilson Co., 1948).

Index to Reproductions of American Paintings, First Supplement : Guide to Pictures Occurring in More Than Four Hundred Works by Isabel Stevenson Monro and Kate M. Monro. (H. W. Wilson, 1964).

Index to Reproductions of American Paintings Appearing in Over 400 Books Mostly Published Since 1960 by Lyn Wall Smith, Nancy Dustin Wall Moure. (Scarecrow Press, 1977).

Index to Reproductions of European Paintings: A Guide to Pictures In More Than Three Hundred Books by Isabel Stevenson Monro and Kate M. Monro. (Wilson, 1956).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blue, Indigo and Violet


... is the color of the sky, and the oceans and of tranquility. Lapis lazuli was the stone that was ground to create the intense blue of medieval paintings and Tibetan wall murals; this stone
was first imported from India. It’s name changed to ultramarinus, “coming from beyond the sea”, but today we use ultramarine to describe this intense shade of blue.

Perhaps because of its scarcity in nature, blue became more revered and prized before the advent of synthetic dyes.

Reticulated plate (Meissen c. 1774-1814) Blue Onion


... is derived from the Greek term meaning “from India.” Once upon a time, or actually several times upon a time, indigo was the most important dye in the world. At one time it helped prop
up an empire, and then later it helped destabilize it. Ancient Egyptians used indigo-dyed cloths to wrap their mummies, in Central Asia it was one of the main color of carpets, and for more than three centuries in Europe and America it was one of the more controversial of dyestuffs…the original blue jeans, invented by Levi Strauss in the California gold rush of 1850, were dyed in France with indigo grown in the west indies…indigo can give many results from stone-washed pale to nearly black…

Indigo resist fabric used in the 18th century in America. Most probably printed in England.


... has had many names – purple –mauve – lavender…..first called Tyrian purple by an English chemist then changed to a more marketable name of a flower – violet. Violet is the last color
in the rainbow spectrum, symbolizing both the ending of the known and the beginning of the unknown…It is the color of emperors and royalty.

The Phoenicians were traders of the luxurious ancient dye made from a type of shellfish, murex trunculus; the Japanese extracted the color from the murasaki root; but the English were the first to develop the modern synthetic dye in 1856.

Madame Gautreau (unfinished copy) 1884, oil on canvas

John Singer Sargent painted this famous portrait of Madame X, aka Madame Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, who was a professional beauty of her day. Her reputation as such was built
on her use of violet-colored powder and low-cut dresses. The extreme whiteness of her skin, said the skeptics, was caused by her ingestion of arsenic. She swallowed a small amount every day, it was said, just enough to maintain her otherworldly shade of lavender-white without actually killing herself.

The Colour Amour exhibit will continue on the 4th floor through March 26, 2008.

Visit Smithsonian Global Sound on the Library's Articles and Databases page to listen to two related playlists of streaming audio. Following the tab for Playlist Folders and go to the bottom of the page. Under "Course Folders" there are two playlists:

"Songs of Blue" (24 tracks, 61 minutes in length)

"Songs of Purple and Indigo" (8 tracks, 22 minutes in length)

Recommended reading:

Colors: What They Mean And How To Make Them by Anne Varichon (Abrams, 2006)

Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Painting in Europe by Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick (Getty Museum, 2003)

Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis (Penguin Group, 2003)

America’s Indigo Blues: Resist-Printed and Dyed Textiles of the Eighteenth Century by Florence H. Pettit (Hastings House, 1974)

Blue and White Japan by Amy Sylvester Katoh (Charles Tuttle, 1996)

Islamic Tiles by Venetia Porter (Interlink Books, 1995)

1000 Tiles: Ten Centuries of Decorative Tiles (Chronicle Books, 2004)

Chinese Indigo Batik Designs by Lu Pu (Dover Publications, 2007)

Meissen’s Blue and White Porcelain by Nicholas Zumbulyadis (Schiffer Publishing, 2006)

John Singer Sargent
by Carter Ratcliff (Artabras, 1982)

Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau (Princeton Univ. Press, 2001)

Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield (Norton, 2001)

The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, Mary Kellogg Rice and Jane Barton (Kodansha International, 1983)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Colour Amour

Colour Amour, an exhibition celebrating the history, science and art of color, opened January 10 at the Main Library, Fourth Floor.

Inspired by the book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay, the floorwide exhibit features 16 display cases, each devoted to a different aspect of color. This exhibit highlights the collections of the Art, Music and Recreation Center and Business, Science and Technology Center and also features colorful objets d’art and other visual treats.

In addition to the artistic aspects of color, the exhibit also touches on color in music, the technical aspects of creating color, color in nature, the history of specific colors and more.

The exhibit runs through March 26.

Additional reading:

Color in Art by John Gage. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006).

Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments by Francois Delamare. (New York: Abrams, 2000).

Colors: What They Mean and How to Make Them by Anne Varichon. (New York: Abrams, 2006).

Video documentation of the Colour Amour exhibition (2009).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

20,000 Years of Fashion

An excellent source for a historical perspective of costume is 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher. This book uses photographs of the art works of civilizations over the millennia to deduce what people through recorded history wore and why they wore it. The book is divided into large sections organized chronologically and by geographic region and then further into chapters by civilization. Within these chapters there are sections that describe the general conditions, geographical setting, trade, and adornments of that time and place.

For the earliest recorded costume, the book employs anthropological and archaeological resources to analzye ancient works of art. A statue of Idi-ilum, Governor of Lagash from the 3rd century BC shows great detail (shown above). The Sumerian shawl, a fashion staple of that time, is enriched by carefully knotted curled fringe – a level of detail that is astonishing considering the medium of its reproduction is stone.

As the centuries move forward into more recent history the sources available to study costume expand to include painting and writing. The chapters on Renaissance costume are full of portraiture showing styles of the day. The dress finery of the seventeenth century depicted in these paintings gives an indication of the wealth of the sitter, and also provides a challenge to the artist in depicting drapery and textures. Many paintings of impressionists will look familiar; Picasso and Matisse also depict fashions of the day, though these pieces may not be as well-known.

Photographs dominate the last pages. In a cluster of black and white photos from the twentieth century one shoe, with its heel placed forward over the arch is reminiscent of those of eighteenth century France, recycling the past into a new package.

Those interested in finding more titles on the subject of costume can browse the Dewey 391 call number in the library's circulating and reference collections. Other related areas to browse are the call numbers 646 (which includes works on sewing and clothing patterns), 746.92 (which includes works on fashion design and fashion designers) and 792.026 (stage costume).