Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Madonna Of Jamaica Plain

Here we have an appropriate subject for a Christmas season posting. My online investigation suggests that the painting was owned by Quincy Shaw, who lived on Perkins street along Jamaica pond on the Brookline side. I have not been able to find an image of the painting online, which makes me wonder whether its claim to be a Raphael held up over time. Where's an art history major when you need one?

Boston Daily Globe September 29, 1912

A Raphael That Was Discovered In Jamaica Plain

The picture in Boston which is attracting most attention among art lovers these days is the painting by Raphael - a Madonna and Child - which was discovered among the attic possessions of an old family in Jamaica Plain and which has been until recently locked up in the vaults of the Old Colony Trust Company. In fact, it is locked up in these vaults most of the time now with the exception of a portion of one day each week when it is privately exhibited in the little gallery of Duffle & Ryan on Boylston st.

On the days the gallery is crowded with distinguished people who have heard of the picture and who are anxious to see it. Somehow the fame of the picture ran through the North Shore this Summer, and from there it spread through all the Summer resorts along the coast, with the result that many of these people - art collectors themselves - have been clamoring to see this painting by Raphael. The Austrian Ambassador, a great admirer of Raphael, after having seen this Madonna and Child, was so enthusiastic about the picture that his enthusiasm has much to do with this popularity.

And curiously enough those who were most incredulous about the painting before they saw it have been among its most enthusiastic admirers after having seen it. It was not strange that they should be skeptical, for paintings of Raphael are pretty scarce in America. In fact there are very few in the United States and some of these are of doubtful authenticity.

The wonder about this painting is that it should be so well preserved and that it should be found in Boston. But this is no more strange than that one of the finest collection of drawings by old masters in the world should be found up in Brunswick, Me, in the Walker Memorial in Bowdoin College. That collection was purchased by one of the Bowdoin family in Europe in the early years of the last century for less than $100 and Harvard University has recently offered $30,000 for it. It came in a folio as a gift to Bowdoin and was not thought very much of until recent years, when its value dawned on somebody.

The painting by Raphael came to this country in much the same way that the collection in Bowdoin College came. It was purchased in Europe after the Napoleonic invasions, when the young conqueror brought the art treasures of Italy and other countries to Paris, and it was one of those treasures which was not returned after the Allies entered Paris and demanded the return of the Napoleonic "loot" to its rightful owners. A rather poor mezzotint of the painting was made at that time in Paris.

The chances are that the American purchaser of this painting did not realize either its artistic or intrinsic value and when it arrived on these shores it was not treated with any too much hospitality, for the prejudice against Madonnas was stronger than any artistic appreciation that existed in the community, and both the name and fame of Raphael were little known in the country. So it was treated in much the same way that the pottery and carvings and other bric-a-brac from the Orient were treated when the shipmasters brought them to this country in the early part of the last century.

Such things were regarded as curiosities and eventually found their way into the attics or cellars of the old houses.

It was fortunate that this painting went into an attic, and a dry attic, for that was the only thing that saved it from destruction. As it is, the painting is beautifully fresh, time simply having given the colors an added depth and richness.

Seen in proper light in a gallery the picture looks very much more impressive than when seen in the vaults of the Old Colony Trust Company some months ago. It is one of the few Madonna paintings by Raphael in which the Christ Child is draped, a fact which, for obvious reasons, probably made it all the more acceptable to the American purchaser.

But the expression on the Christ Child's face is an artistic achievement of which only a Raphael is capable, and the same is true of the expression on the face of the Mother Mary. The painting of these faces challenges attention even today when the [?] think they have made new discoveries in the relations and juxtapositions of pigments. There is a refinement and delicacy in the drawing and in the flesh coloring which gives the painting That distinctiveness of charm that characterizes the works of all masters. And the color harmony of the whole picture is exquisitely rich.

The three colors which Raphael most loved in his draperies - blue, olive, green and orange red - are seen in this picture in fine contrast with the flesh tints and the background. The light is from above and the highest light falls on the upper part of the face of the Madonna when the [nt] of transparent veil cloth shimmers against the dark hair. It is said that several wealthy American collectors have offered fabulous sums for this painting.

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