The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Art
- To boldy go - On September 11, 2014, the studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, which has been on public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum since 1976, was removed for conservation in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July 2016. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- As part of its exhibition, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, the National Museum of the American Indian will have on display the Haudenosaunee–U.S. Treaty of 1794. [via NMAI blog]
- Now online - 5 million First World War Prisoner Files from the Red Cross, The Barnard and Gardner Civil War Photographic Albums at Duke University, and 35,000 artworks from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. [via InfoDocket]
- Additional guidance came out this week from the National Archives on managing email. [via AOTUS blog, NARA]
- A 500 year old map that helpd guide Columbus reveals hidden text using multispectral imaging. [via MapLab, Wired]
- A now you know - Images from the 1970s of tree-planters who were hired by logging companies to replant trees on the large portions of land left bare by clear cutting forestry operations. [via Cool Hunting]
- Get to know the Civil War by taking the MOOC "The Civil War and Reconstruction" taught by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Eric Foner. [via Open Culture]
- True history with a little dramatization thrown in: Abraham Lincoln, Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, and the Union Army's balloon corps in comic book form. [via AirSpace blog, National Air and Space Museum]
- In honor of Chinese New Year, which for 2014 is the year of the Horse, the Archives of American Art highlights some equine materials from their collections. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Getting an intimate look - British World War I diaries are being digitized and made available online. [via Parallels blog, NPR]
- Where were you when I was a undergraduate studying art history? The Getty has made available over 250 artbooks for free download from their virtual library. [via The Getty Iris]
- Coming soon, in March the National Air and Space Museum will be displaying its latest restored aircraft, a "Battling Beast," the Curstiss SB2C-5 Helldiver. [via AirSpace blog, National Air and Space Museum]
- A new tool to promote reading is available from the Library of Congress, "Readers to the Rescue" is an interactive game where readers are asked to help save book characters. [via InfoDocket]
- Currently in production is the first feature-length animated film made only through hand-painted canvases, Loving Vincent, explores the life of Vincent Van Gogh. [via Colossal]
This post originally appeared on the National Museum of Natural History's blog, Unearthed.
Who would think that behind the west wall of NMNH's paleontology hall is a painting of a goddess that created a sensation when installed in 1910? Some of you who visited the museum fifty years ago may remember the captivating Diana of the Tides as she surveyed the hall.
Diana was painted by American artist John Elliott (whose mother-in-law was Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") as a gift to the Smithsonian from Washington residents Mr. and Mrs. Larz Anderson. Diana was painted in Rome between 1906 and 1908, and she was finally unveiled at a special exhibition there in 1909 which was attended by King Victor Emmanuel II. Her charms were not lost on His Majesty as he told Elliott that he found "much in the picture genuinely of interest." The Chinese Minister also visited Diana, "to signify his profound Celestial veneration for the Fine Arts."
The Andersons purchased Diana for the Smithsonian’s new “National Gallery of Art,” housed in what was then called the U.S. National Museum's grand north hall (now the Sant Ocean Hall of the National Musem of Natural History). Not to be confused with the National Gallery of Art as we know it today, the name “National Gallery of Art” was given to the Andrew Mellon collection that became the National Gallery of Art in 1937 – just to the east of Natural History. The Smithsonian’s collection was renamed the National Collection of Fine Arts and now is the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Prior to Diana’s arrival at Natural History she was stored in the Smithsonian Castle’s Regents Room for safekeeping while construction of the building was underway. Richard Rathbun, who oversaw the erection of the building, wrote to Mrs. Elliott “I am certain from all that has been said that Mr. Elliott’s painting will become such a feature of the new building that people will journey there for its sake alone.”
The 25 foot wide by 11 foot high canvas of Diana was placed in north hall for the opening of the new gallery on 17 March 1910. As they are today, Smithsonian staff back then were given “other duties as assigned,” and Dr. William Henry Holmes, the Smithsonian’s eminent Curator of Anthropology who also happened to be an artist, became Curator of this new gallery. Holmes reported that “Diana received much attention and much praise.” At the end of the year, Diana was moved to the paleontology hall (a tenuous connection was made with skeletons of sea mammals) where she remains to this day. Diana was (and still is) part of the SAAM collection.
The original exhibit label described Diana standing “erect in her chariot, a rainbow-tinted sea-shell drawn by four white horses. The horses typify the flow of the tides, their action repeating and amplifying the rhythm of the breaking waves. The moon behind the goddess in the east rises through the purple shadows that follow the setting of the sun in the west.” In other words, Diana was ablaze in living Technicolor long before Technicolor was invented. She was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.
Diana was admired by many and by all accounts met with critical acclaim. Charles D. Walcott, the Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time, told the artist’s wife, “I never pass through the hall without stopping to look at it.” Even President Theodore Roosevelt was taken with the goddess. In a letter to Mrs. Elliott he wrote “by the way, tell your husband I like his mural painting in the Natural History Museum in Washington.”
Diana was on view until the early 1960s when she was obscured by a wall. In 1979, the hall was undergoing renovation and Diana was rediscovered. Richard Fiske, the director of the museum, thought about uncovering Diana and talked to Joshua Taylor, the director of the National Collection of Fine Arts, about doing so and having her preside over the hall as before. Sadly for Diana, it was not to be, and she remains hidden from view.
Plans are in the works for the hall to undergo another renovation – this time to return it to its original Beaux-Arts architecture much like – the Behring Hall of Mammals and the Sant Ocean Hall. To paraphrase Rogers and Hammerstein’s song from The Sound of Music, “How do you solve a problem like Diana?” What will happen to Diana? Prior to the design of the new hall, Diana will be uncovered and examined by a conservator to see how she has withstood time, hidden from the world for so long. There is no doubt that she is an important part of the history of the institution…will she be relevant today? We’ll keep you posted!