Above: Mehretu, Among the Multitude VIII, 2022.
The Detroit Institute of Arts announced the recent acquisitions of five major works by women artists Angelica Kauffman, Félicie de Fauveau, Artis Lane, Julie Mehretu and Deborah Roberts, unique pieces that build on the DIA’s continued commitment to highlighting and collecting works of art by prominent women artists across all time periods, movements and backgrounds.
These acquisitions range in chronology from the eighteenth century to the present and by artists from Europe and Canada to Michigan.
The new acquisitions are:
• Pair of Group Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph May and their Children (1780) by Angelica Kauffman
• Portrait Bust of the Duchess of Berry (1840) by Félicie de Fauveau
• Woman (1989) by Artis Lane
• Among the Multitude VIII (2020-22) by Julie Mehretu
• Mud Pie (2022) by Deborah Roberts
“We are excited to acquire these five outstanding works by leading women artists, representing a wide range of artistic voices across generations, cultures, and styles,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “These new additions to the permanent collection greatly enhance the visitor experience and present a more robust and diverse view of creative perspectives within the museum.”
“I grew up going to the DIA and my earliest museum memories come from how utterly awestruck I was by the Diego Rivera murals,” said artist Julie Mehretu. “These made such an impact on me as a kid, but also clearly have been in my creative DNA as an artist. I feel an immense pride and honor to have my work enter this important collection, but especially so as my formative and home museum.”
Pair of Group Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph May and their Children (1780) by Angelica Kauffman
Swiss-born painter Angelica Kauffman was one of only two female members of the Royal Academy at its founding in 1768 and is considered one of the most sought-after painters in later eighteenth-century Great Britain, if not all of Europe. Kauffman is renowned for her great skill, her “lightning brush,” and welcoming gentility.
These two rare pendant canvases depict the successful British mercantile family of Joseph May and his wife Mary, respectively. Accompanying their father are the couple’s three sons, while the couple’s three daughters are depicted with their mother.
Responding to the natural symmetry of the family, Kauffman’s treatment of the subject involves a visual program based on the separation of the female and male domains, and, accordingly, the traditional divide of nature and culture. With almost life-size figures, which create a sense of engagement with the viewer, she emphasized the contrasting yet complementary roles of her sitters within generally accepted domestic and societal hierarchies.
Portrait Bust of the Duchess of Berry (1840) by Félicie de Fauveau
An ardent supporter of France’s Bourbon monarchy who became a political rebel and revolutionary, Fauveau was considered one of the most promising sculptors of the then new, French Romantic School of the 1830s and 1840s. However, her work was forgotten for more than a century, until a recent resurgence in collecting artworks by early modern European women painters and sculptors.
Fauveau’s major patron, friend, and fellow rebel, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, Duchesse de Berry, could have been Queen of France if not for the political fortunes of the Restoration era. The Duchesse commissioned this bust in 1840. Like a few related marble busts that Fauveau carved for her patron during this time, this portrait presents its subject as a dynastic icon. It celebrates the Bourbon monarchy and the duchess who might have been queen.
The sculpture depicts the duchess enshrined in a niche with the Bourbon coat of arms below. She wears a jewel-studded Renaissance-revival gown and a crown punctuated in royal fleurs-de-lis. Her historicizing garments evoke powerful French women of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She wears a long, jeweled necklace and large drop around her neck, which, together with her crown symbolizes her unwavering claim to royal status.
The most important marble dynastic portrait by Fauveau, this marks the first work by the recently reassessed nineteenth-century French sculptor to enter the DIA’s collection.
Woman (1989) by Artis Lane
For over seven decades, Artis Lane has been a professional fine artist, producing drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures and depicting dignified portraits of famous and everyday people. Her contributions to contemporary art are apparent through several of her figurative sculptures in which she has consistently highlighted the human body as a vehicle for spiritual journey.
Woman points to women’s struggle to spiritually transform into freedom. To add to the unfinished, time-worn appearance, Lane left casting material exposed in the right leg of the figure. For her belief system and artistic vision, these aesthetic features indicate the process of metamorphosis and humanity’s desire to transcend. The figure in Woman is in a stage of development, shifting from a bodily form to a spiritual one. Its representational elements and abstraction also allow for multiple interpretations, collapsing traditional boundaries between objective and nonobjective. The entirety of the figure supersedes the materiality of the work, focusing more prominently on conceptual narratives. Woman symbolizes Lane’s belief that humans never reach a state of arrival. The many characteristics of this transformational piece visually render the idea of continual evolution.
Among the Multitude VIII (2020-22) by Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu is widely regarded as one of today’s most influential artists. Her layered paintings explore how forces of history, colonialism, and migration shape the world.
Mehretu’s work has deep ties to Detroit and the DIA. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mehretu grew up in East Lansing, MI, where she moved with her family when she was seven. In 2007, the DIA presented one of her most important early museum exhibitions, for which she produced five new paintings and led a month-long residency with art students from Detroit Public Schools.
Among the Multitude VIII is part of a new body of nine paintings that Mehretu began in 2020, amidst the upheaval of the global pandemic and calls for justice during the Black Lives Matter movement. In these works, Mehretu harnesses the power of abstraction to convey the realities of living in a state of social, political, and environmental emergency. As visible in just one passage of Among the Multitude VIII, inky black brushstrokes ripple across the surfaces of the canvas, atop indistinct washes of brilliant orange, pink, and turquoise acrylic paint. To create these paintings, Mehretu digitally manipulated photographs of suffering, violence, and political unrest – typically pulled straight from the headlines – until the images dissolved into a collection of abstract lines.
In the work, the tumult of the past two years is both acutely personal – deeply felt in the body and spirit – and almost incomprehensibly complex, distributed across a series of calligraphic marks that never quite come fully into meaning. Instead, shapes and forms roll across the canvas in much the same way the events of the past several years have reverberated worldwide. Gone is the graphic clarity and precision of her earlier work, and in its place a more visceral experience of how events feel as they unfold in real time, before they are absorbed into history.
This is the second work by Mehretu to enter the DIA collection, joining the monumental etching, Auguries (2010).
Mud Pie (2022) by Deborah Roberts
Mud Pie exemplifies the artistry of Roberts’s collage work, for which she is internationally recognized. Her works are powerful, yet vulnerable sociocultural critiques that interrogate the stereotypes and expectations that society imposes on Black children.
Standing pigeon-toed with small brown hands relaxed at the sides, the prepubescent girl in Mud Pie dons a flowery shirt, with blue cheetah-patterned sleeves, cuffed in black and white stripes and collar of alternating red and white. Eyes from two separate figures and a mouth reproduced from a third combine to form an awkwardly tilted head with a haphazardly placed ribbon to exude innocence. Yet, she peers out from the canvas, implicating the viewer in the process of forcing an identity on her and questioning the viewer’s complicity in creating barriers for her. Her painted hands and pants are reminiscent of Roberts’s characteristically unique collage style. Yet, her feet breach the edge of the canvas, making her a much more intrusive figure than those in Roberts’s previous works.