Oberlin Blogs

The Allen's Greatest Hits, 2011 edition (part 2 of 3)

January 9, 2012

Prof. Erik Inglis ’89

In addition to measuring which pieces were selected most often, it's also interesting to approach the pieces in chronological terms. Here, there are two paths: one can divide them by the periods in which they were produced, which I'll do here, and by the date they were acquired by the Allen, which I'll do in a later post.

The class coverage was divided equally into four periods, classical, medieval, Renaissance/Baroque, and Modern. If we use these periods to categorize what students wrote about, they selected two pieces from classical antiquity, one from the Middle Ages, thirteen from the Renaissance and Baroque, and forty-six from the period after 1800.

The last two broad chronological sections can be broken down in a bit more detail:

The period

- from 1400-1500 had five works;

- from 1500-1800 had eight works, including two of the most popular:
Hendrik Ter Brugghen, St. Sebastian tended by Irene, 1625,
Michiel Sweerts, Self-Portrait, c. 1656;

- from 1800-1900 had fourteen works, including two of the most popular:
Claude Monet, Garden of the Princess, 1867,
Henri Edmond Cross, Return of the Fisherman, 1896;

- from 1900-45 had fifteen works, including six of the most popular:
Ernest Lawson, Harlem River, c. 1910-15
Ernst Kirchner, Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915
Pierre August Renoir, Landscape at Cagnes, c. 1916
Amedeo Modigliani, Nude with Coral Necklace, 1917
Ernst Kirchner, Standing Female Nude, 1919
Paul Klee, The Kettledrum Organ, 1930

- from 1945-present had seventeen works, including four of the most popular:
Barnett Newman, Onement IV, 1949
Joan Mitchell, Café, 1956
Roy Lichtenstein, Craig, 1964
Alison Saar, Lave Tête, 2001.

The oldest piece that a student wrote about was this Greek amphora depicting an abduction:

This work dates to between 525 and 515 BCE.

The most recent was Alison Saar's Lave Tête, of 2001.

(picture from the Allen's website).

A moment's glance shows that the selections skew modern; of the sixty-two works selected, over two-thirds date after 1800. Though I am a medievalist, this skew does not particularly surprise or dismay me; in fact, this temporal emphasis is baked into the course, which spends an equal number of sessions on each of the four periods. While this may look like equity, it conceals a modernist tilt. Each succeeding period is shorter than its predecessor, with antiquity lasting about 1000 years, the Middle Ages about 800, the Renaissance and Baroque about 500, and the modern about 200. Since we spend an equal amount of time on each of these four periods, the years after 1800 received more fine-grained attention than the preceding ages.

Within the modern period we also concentrate heavily on the period between 1900 and 1920, which brings in cubism, abstract painting, and dada in quick succession; this temporal concentration is reflected also in the works the students selected. With nineteen works dating between 1900 and 1920, almost one third of the works selected by students come from this chronologically brief and art historically rich period.

I'll be back later with thoughts on about the chronology involved in the Allen's acquisition of these works.

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