To see work from some of the most famous artists of our time, one has to go no further than the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
SBMA has just received 13 new works of art from private donors including Winifred Vedder and her late husband, Dwight Vedder. The most significant contribution in the museum’s 60-year history, the pieces represent French, British and American artists from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries, featuring big names such as Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt.
The highlight of the collection is unarguably Marc Chagall’s “Horse-Woman (Femme ˆ Cheval),” an oil on canvas depicting a red horse head protruding from a woman’s body. A full moon shines overhead as mythical creatures dance in the background. The rich, bold colors allow the viewers to insert themselves into the dreamlike melancholy of the piece.
The painting’s past further imbues it with a powerful, haunting quality. “Horse-Woman (Femme ˆ Cheval)” was created as a tribute to Chagall’s beloved wife and muse, Bella, who died a year before. Grief-stricken, Chagall couldn’t paint for nine years after her death. Some art historians argue that the horse is a self-portrait and that the mysterious, dark-haired woman is an idealized rendering of Bella herself.
Until now, the SBMA has not owned a single painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir or Mary Cassatt. Now it has two of each. “The Blond Baby” reflects the height of Cassatt’s talent, portraying the dreamy, introspective face of a young child with impressionistic brush strokes. The dappled light on the child’s face and hair attest to Cassatt’s compassion and sensitivity. “Helene of Septeuil with Parrot” is a rough, unfinished pastel piece, imbued with a stunning effortlessness and vitality.
“Woman in a Chemise” is a portrait of Renoir’s niece, one of his favorite subjects, who was supposedly forced to leave due to Madame Renoir’s jealousy. The pastel colors, soft expression, and wispy, light brush strokes contribute to the painting’s simple beauty.
Other highlights of the exhibit include one of Henri Matisse’s earliest sketches, “Bust of a Woman with Her Hand under Her Chin.” Matisse’s ability to capture his subject’s expression with only a few simple pencil strokes is quite impressive. The folk art of Grandma Moses and Helen Bradley is quite charming as well.
The Vedders’ impressive collection is both rare and personal. The opportunity to experience the couple’s distinctive taste, while viewing these exceptional works of art, is a chance worth taking.