I had a conflicted relationship with mirrors.
Being taken to look in a mirror as a child entailed a reprimand for the unruliness of my matted hair.
Would follow painful tugging and plaiting while I squirmed and cried. Then held up to a mirror to be told that now I looked so pretty when I would have been content to remain ugly.
Some traditional hairstyles of the Oromo of Ethiopia, the largest ethnic group by the numbers. My father’s people. Yet to reach political plurality.
Photo from the web of unknown provenance.
It has been a whole politically matted history with African hair in many countries for decades.
afro.died, t, 2011, acrylic, pen, ink, marker and graphite on birch plywood panel. Iona Rozeal Brown, American born 1966.
Corcoran Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
I put away childish things as my chief hair torturer receded from my little life.
Came, of course, then the years of amo, amas and the Latin word for mirror: speculum whose modern derivatives point to the interaction between the speculating Sapiens mind with the mystery of mirrors
My hair has reverted to its natural mysteries.
And the houses of my maturity are full of mirrors.
Mysterious they always.
Male Nude Holding a Mirror, and detail, c. 1500, pen and ink lightly indented with a stylus. Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528, German. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Pierced mirror frame carved of nephrite, India or Central Asia, 18th century.
Had I not seen this craftsmanship with my own eyes, I would not have believed that it could exist: so marvelous it is.
Masters of the Mirrored Rooms
17th and 8th century French artisanal work
The salon of the Chateau de Draveil built in 1735 for Marin de la Haye, now in the Philadelphia Art Museum, is a pale reflection of the Room of Mirrors at Versailles built for Louis XIV.
But it is a creditable example of French 18th century artisanship.
North Indian artisanal work: cut and pieced mirror, some of them painted
Reception Room of the Samode Haveli, Samode, Rajasthan
Mirrored wooden door with brass and iron fittings in the Samode Haveli, 2010
Modern Indian mirror work in one of the suites of the haveli which houses a heritage hotel now.
The Diwan-i-Khas in the Amer (Amber) Fort, Amer, Rajasthan
The Amer (Amber) Fort overlooking the Maota Lake, almost 7 miles outside Jaipur, built in four levels by Raja Man Singh (1550-1640) over an earlier encampment. (Photo from the web)
On one level of the fort is the Hall of Private Audience (Diwan-i-Khas) built in the mid-18th century.
The upper part of this structure is the Mirror Palace (Sheesh Mahal), so called because of its mirror work.
A heavenly place.
Mirror case, painted by Zain Al ‘Abidin, Iran, mid-19th century; pasteboard, papier mache; opaque watercolour, gilded and lacquered
Lady Lilith, 1866-68 and detail, oil on canvas. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, English, 1828-1882. A portrait of two separate women. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
Lady At A Mirror
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926, German
As in sleeping-drink spices
softly she loosens in the liquid-clear
mirror her fatigued demeanor;
and she puts her smile deep inside.
And she waits while the liquid
rises from it; then she pours her hair
into the mirror, and, lifting one
wondrous shoulder from the evening gown,
she drinks quietly from her image. She drinks
what a lover would drink feeling dazed,
searching it, full of mistrust; and she only
Before The Mirror and detail 1876, oil on canvas. Édouard Manet, 1832-1883, French. Solomon R. Guggenheim, NY
beckons to her maid when at the bottom
of her mirror she finds candles, wardrobes,
and the cloudy dregs of a late hour.
Woman with a Fan and detail, c. 1878/79, oil on canvas. Mary Cassatt, 1884-1926, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
At the Milliner’s, 1882, pastel on pale grey wove paper (industrial wrapping paper) laid down on silk bolting. Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, French. Metropolitan Museum, NY
Vase of Flowers on a Mantelpiece, c. 1900, oil on cardboard. Edouard Vuillard, 1868-1940, French. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
In Much Wisdom, 1902, bronze with black patina, sand cast, inlay of stone and gilded glass. Charles Grafly, 1862-1929, American. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
An allegorical piece about the attributes of a mythical goddess
Mother and Child, c. 1905, oil on canvas. Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The Mirror, c. 1910, oil on canvas. Robert Reid, 1862-1969, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.
I don’t know what the references of this painting are.
Clown Making Up, 1910, oil on canvas. John Sloan, 1851-1921, American. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
After the Bath, 1910, oil on canvas. Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947, French. Metropolitan Museum, NY
Standing Odalisque Reflected in a Mirror, 1923, oil on canvas. Henri Matisse, 1869, 1954, French. Baltimore Museum of Art
La Coiffure, 1906, oil on canvas. Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish, MOMA, NY
In the Boudoir (Before the Mirror), 1915, oil, graphite, metal, wood on panel. Alexander Archipenko, 1887-1967, American born Ukraine. Philadelphia Museum of Art
Still Life with Gramaphone and Iris and detail, 1924, oil on canvas. Max Beckmann, 1884-1950, German. In a private collection, NY and displayed in 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum, NY.
The inscription on the dark red Bohemian glass says ‘In Memory of Frankfurt’.
The Mirror, 1925, oil on canvas. Fernand Leger, 1881-1955, French
Girl with Mirror and detail, 1928, oil on canvas. Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949, American. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Sylvia Plath, 1932-1963, American
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Woman Bathing, 1890-91, drypoint and aquatint. Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
The Coiffure, 1890-91, drypoint and aquatint. Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
Girl Before a Mirror, 1932, oil on canvas. Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Spanish. MOMA, NY
Nude in an Interior and detail, c, 1935, oil on canvas. Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947, French. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
The Ashokan Reservoir, Ulster County, New York. July 2013.
Created in the early years of the 20th century, this is the oldest of the Catskill reservoirs which serve New York City.
We were always contented to be there.
The reservoir, like many such, submerges not a small human sadness: there remain markers to commemorate the towns which were seized by Eminent Domain and flooded along with thousands of acres of farmland. That farmland could not have been easy to work because this is mountainous, scrabbly land.
The lawsuits went on for at least two generations until they were finally settled. Now only the markers remain. And this magnificent body of water.
Old mirrors in the bathroom of a farmhouse, West Shokan, Ashokan Catskills, New York, 2015 where I stayed, courtesy of loving friends, in the spring, summer and autumns of more than two decades. We were content there
Fulang-Chang and I, 1937, assembled after 1939; oil on composition board (1937) with painted mirror frame (added after 1939); and mirror with painted mirror frame (after 1939). Frieda Kahlo, 1907-1954, Mexican. MOMA, NY
Both were a gift from Frida Kahlo to her friend, Mary Sklar so that the latter could be with her whenever she wanted to be.
Young Woman in Dressing Room and detail, c. 1940s, Chennai. Y.G. Srimati, 1926- 2007, Indian. On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, 2016-2017
The Evil Eye, 1947, mixed media. Erico Donati, 1909-2008. American born Italy. Philadelphia Art Museum
Café Interior with Mirror Play, oil on canvas, 1949. Max Beckmann, 1884-1950, German. In a private collection in Germany and displayed in 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum, NY
Mirrors for sale in the Sunday market on the Sabarmati River, Ahmedabad, Gujerat, India, 2010 and every year
Vintage, Philadelphia. Every year
Reflections of the statue of the founder (1682) of Philadelphia, William Penn (1644-1718) atop City Hall (built 1871-1902) have, to some extent, replaced a clear view of the statue and of City Hall from almost all parts.
The statue and more than 250 relief and free-standing sculptures were created by Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923, American born Scotland).
In 1987 a restriction not to build higher than William Penn’s hat was lifted. City Hall is now enclosed on almost all sides by shining towers.
Persimmon, 1964, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas.
Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008. Collection of Jean-Christophe Castelli and displayed in a retrospective at MOMA, spring/summer of 2017
Woman Drinking Tea (the artist’s wife, Maria Pioppi), 1971. Painted tissue paper on polished steel. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Italian, born 1933.
Only the woman drinking tea is painted. Everything else is ‘real’
Woman Who Points, conceived 1962, executed 1982. Silkscreen on polished stainless steel. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Italian, born 1933. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
The only thing painted is the woman pointing. The pillared building in the background is the Canadian Embassy on the other side of the street from the National Gallery.
Nursery Rhyme and detail, 1971, oil on canvas. Honoré Sharrer, 1920-2009, American. On loan by private collectors to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, summer 2017.
Hey! diddle, diddle, The cat and fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon
(Untitled) Mirror Girl, and detail, 2007, PVC on Panel.
Kerry James Marshall, American born 1955, Exhibited in 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum, NY: a first retrospective to have been given this artist in New York.
The artist, an auto-didact in the matter of art, has sought to expand the Western pictorial tradition by using its techniques to depict African-American history, life, views of the country’s mythology and of their own.
The artist uses the same shade of black for all his figures because he is talking about the existential experience of Afro-Americans and not about the politics of skin shade within the Afro-American community or within the larger society.
Double America, neon and paint, 2012. Glenn Ligon, American born 1960. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Hypothetical Marriage of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp and Miss Helen Keller, 1982; floor tile, silicon rubber, mirror, glass, enamel, colored chalk on felt on panel.
Frank Bramblett, 1947-2015, American. Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia
The artist is referring not only to his own long and loving marriage but also to his admiration for Keller and Duchamp and his own history, a native of Alabama and a long-time Philadelphian.
Alabama was Helen Keller’s native state and Duchamp’s seminal work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Art Museum
Truck Paris and detail, 1963, acrylic on canvas with object.
Elizabeth Osborne, American born 1936.
Collection of the artist on loan to the Delaware Art Museum in 2016. This combination of a painting and a found object (in a flea market in Paris) is the ‘combine’ of Robert Rauschenberg fame.
The mirror for faeries, elves, gnomes and hobbits built into one leg of an upside down, sectioned tulip poplar, Winterthur, Delaware
Mirror, 2010, oil on panel. Joshua Marsh, American born 1973. Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia
Hidden behind a door and against a wall in the studio of my friend, the artist Angela Valeria, in Brooklyn, NY
Goodbye and detail, tempera with pencil on hardboard, 2008.
Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American.
Collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth on display in the summer of 2017 at the Brandywine River Museum.
Andew Wyeth, widely held to be the foremost North American figurative and realist painter of the second half of the 20th century, lived in Maine and also in the Brandywine River area on Pennsylvania’s border with Delaware.
This painting of a sail loft, given to the artist by his wife and moved to this little island off the Maine coast, and a sloop moving out of the picture frame on the left was his last painting. He died seven months later.