Scenes from a Few Marriages

June 10, 2009
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Installation view, Henry VIII and His Six Wives, 1999, Hiroshi Sugimoto

Tomorrow is the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s first wedding to Catherine of Aragon, and the occasion has me thinking about Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “portraits” of Henry VIII and his six wives, which Charlotte recently wrote about. It’s one of my favorite exhibitions to show my friends, as it allows me to gossip like a schoolgirl about the sordid stories behind each of the wives!

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Catherine of Aragon was a Spanish princess, originally married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who was sickly and died. After several years, Henry began to freak out about being married to his brother’s wife, so he had the marriage annulled.

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Anne Boleyn, meanwhile, had been successfully waging a six-year campaign of seduction of Henry. After they married, she failed in the son-bearing department. Henry decided she had beguiled him with witchcraft so she was charged with adultery, conspiracy, and incest, and then executed. She also was said to have had an extra finger on one of her hands.

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Jane Seymour was said to be Henry’s favorite wife. She was very well behaved and also bore him a son. She died shortly after childbirth.

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After Jane’s death Henry sent court painters out into the world to make portraits of potential wives. He found Hans Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves particularly fetching. When Anne arrived, however, he found her less than stunning, said she had “evil smells,” and called her the “Flanders Mare.” He ended the marriage within the year, deeming her his “Good Sister,” with a severance of property and stipend.

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Catherine Howard was a cheerful fifteen-year-old; Henry was fifty. She raised his spirits during his deteriorating health until he found out that she was having affairs with two men. Heartbroken, he had her executed.

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Catherine Parr was a caring nurse to Henry and his painful leg ulcers. Dignified, educated, and fashionable, her only hiccup was nearly getting arrested for heresy due to a penchant for spirited religious debate. Henry was most appreciative of her when he died, and left her a generous annuity and allowed her to keep her queen jewels. She then married Jane Seymour’s dashing brother Thomas, but died in childbirth a few years later.

Sarah Bay Williams, Ralph M. Parsons Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


Ask a Curator

June 9, 2009

Ever wonder about the history of a piece of art, the genesis of an exhibition, or how on earth we got our giant Richard Serra sculpture into BCAM? Here’s an opportunity to have your burning art questions answered—submit queries to us via comment or tweet and, for our upcoming Ask A Curator series, we’ll select a few for LACMA’s experts to answer.


Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

June 9, 2009
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Jeffery, graphic designer and Alvin, student

Why did you come to LACMA today?
Jeffery:
I’m here visiting L.A. for six weeks from Chicago and he’s just showing me some of the places I haven’t been to yet.

What do you think of L.A.?
Jeffery: I like it. As I’ve been exploring parts of it there is the nitty-gritty and then you can wander up in the hills and see amazing architecture. I’m staying up in Silver Lake and I like the diversity of all the hills and then walking around Sunset and seeing the urban street life.

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Kathy and John; both work at Screen Actors Guild

Where would you like to travel?
Kathy
: Greece. I like antiquities and there a lot I don’t know and I like history.
John: I think my next trip would probably be Brazil. I think that it’s a place that has everything—it’s got the beach, the mountains, rainforests.

What’s your favorite museum?
Kathy: I love the Met in New York.
John: I should just go for the obvious and say LACMA. I do live in the neighborhood and I love that it’s here and I love being able to come here. I love [the Pay What You Wish program] after 5 pm and the Friday jazz—the whole deal. I think it’s fantastic.


Curator’s Pick: The Lost Felice

June 8, 2009

Marsden Hartley’s The Lost Felice (meaning “lost happiness”) is a painting that I really love. It’s certainly not the most upbeat of pictures, but it is extremely powerful, and is a truly great work. I am always captivated by the painting’s solemnity, intensity, and strange beauty. It was originally envisioned for a seamen’s chapel (never realized), and this painting could have served as the altarpiece; it has a sacred impact for a variety of reasons.

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

The story behind The Lost Felice is a deeply personal one for Hartley, though I hesitate to tell it. An interesting experiment might be to look at it first, without knowing anything about it, to see how you respond to it. Then, read the whole, tragic story behind the work

I always feel this painting needs to be on its own wall if at all possible, so that a viewer can take it in and contemplate it without too much distraction. It is currently in the American galleries—in the same gallery that holds Thomas Hart Benton’s The Kentuckian.

As a postscript—a year or two ago we had a screening for our American Art Council of the film Cleophas and His Own—an adaptation of Hartley’s narrative about his experience with the family members represented in the painting. Here is the trailer:

Austen Bailly


And the City Said “Let There Be a Stoplight”

June 5, 2009

When I left work yesterday, I was quite surprised to encounter a crosswalk and stoplight in front of Urban Light where there had not been a crosswalk or stoplight when I drove in the same morning. As we told you a few months ago,  there’s been a lot of construction activity around here lately. But it felt like this most recent installment sprouted overnight–or, in this case, over the course of a day. Definitely a big improvement for pedestrians, making the BP Grand Entrance far more accessable to visitors on foot.

Allison Agsten


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