On 5th March 2019, I visited the Birmingham Museum of Arts in Birmingham, Alabama. This museum was founded in 1951, and it house several art collections. It was my first time at this historical place, having studied more about the art collections within the museum. The museum occupies an expansive area of more than 16,000 m2 (Birmingham Museum of Art, 1993). The architectural design of the vast building is attractive. Some sculptures are located within a garden outside the main building, adding to the artistic atmosphere of the surrounding. I went into the building through the Oscar Wells memorial entrance into a walkway with different paintings that bring out the aesthetic value of art.
The Birmingham Museum of Arts has more than 24,000 different types of art pieces such as paintings on the walls, drawings, prints, and sculptures. The arrangement of the artwork makes it easy to identify the different cultural backgrounds they represent. The artistic impressions illuminate on early works of the American, Asian, Native-American, African, European, and Pre-Columbian ways of life. Some of the decorative arts in the museum date back to the 13th century, during the Renaissance Period. Moreover the museum has a number of the 18th century European artwork including fine English ceramics and the French furniture. With over 24,000 types of artwork, it is the most resourceful fountain of the art knowledge in the Southeastern United States.
The visit to this museum introduced me to some of the fine artwork in history. In particular, I was attracted by the art paintings on the walls. I chose three for analysis. These are; City River Scene (1952) by Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999), The Arab Lamenting the Death of his Steed (1812) by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844), and The Remains of the Roman Forum (1861) by David Roberts (1796-1864). I took time to study the three paintings, looking at the illustrations to understand the intended interpretations.
City River Scene (1952) by Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999)
Figure 1: City River Scene (1952) by Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999
City River Scene by Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999) was published in 1952. In this painting, a young man stands near the door of a house that seems to have been demolished. The door do not lead to a house but it gives the view of the seascape on the opposite side. Other than a demolished wall, power lines lay down near the ruins. According to Birmingham Museum of Art, 1993), Hughie Lee-Smith seems to depict alienation and an urban system without order. Being Black, he struggled with his racial identity, something that may have inspired City River Scene. Lee-Smith lived at a time when American society was segregated in terms of races. To the Blacks like him, the society had no order. Although America was urbanized, some of the young men never experienced real order.
The Arab Lamenting the Death of his Steed (1812) by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844)
Figure 2: The Arab Lamenting the Death of his Steed (1812) by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844)
The Arab Lamenting the Death of his Steed was painted by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844) and published in 1812 in France. In this painting, an Arab man laments the death of his horse. He sits on a rock crying while a bloodstained sword lies down. It seems to be a difficult moment for the Arab considering the desert nature of the surrounding. There seems to be another horse lying dead nearby, showing that his horse may have been killed in vengeance. Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse did the painting during the romantic period in France. According to Boswell & Howard (1951), romanticism was a period characterized by artwork depicting imagination and emotion. Therefore, it is difficult to critic the painting because Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse did not work on it out of exact truth but to convey the feeling of the Arab (Tekiner, 2000). The audience easily feels the pain and anguish the man feels from losing his only companion in the desert.
The Remains of the Roman Forum (1861) by David Roberts (1796-1864)
Figure 3: The Remains of the Roman Forum (1861) by David Roberts (1796-1864)
The Remains of the Roman Forum is an 1861 oil on canvas painting by David Roberts (1796-1864). Historically, Roman Forum was the religious and political center of the ancient Roman Empire. This painting shows the ruin with only three pillars standing. The Scottish Roberts loved travelling during his days. Most of his paintings are about the architectural design of his times (Reynolds, 2010). He may have gotten his inspirations from his journeys around the world. In this painting, he brings out the remains of the Roman Forum; however, he continues to add certain elements to give the general perspective with respect to the environment. His last version of the same series with various perspectives of the same Roman Forum remains. The painting shows the great architectural designs of the ancient times.
A visit to the Birmingham Museum of Arts was an eye opener on some of the great paintings and painters. The chosen three paintings gave me a glimpse to some of the various historical times in relation to art. Indeed, one way of understanding history is in studying the art. While analyzing the pieces, one is forced to get the historical facts about the art. On the same note, the audience also learns more from the biographical information of the artists and the influence on the art piece.
Birmingham Museum of Art. (1993). Masterpieces East & West from the collection of the
Birmingham Museum of Art. Birmingham, Alabama: Birmingham Museum of Art. ISBN 0-931394-38-4.
Boswell, H. H. & Howard, R. F. (1951). Catalogue of the Opening Exhibition. Birmingham
Museum of Art: Birmingham, Alabama. April 8 through June 3, 1951.
Reynolds, N. (2010). Building Romanticism: Literature and Architecture in Nineteenth-century
Britain. University of Michigan Press.
Tekiner, D. (2000). Modern Art and the Romantic Vision. Lanham, Maryland. University Press