David Rimanelli posted this beautiful Manet to instagram today, Bouquet of Violets, an 1872 painting that if I’m reading the note in the painting itself, first belonged to Berthe Morisot. Of course, my first reaction to these sorts of things now is, “Manet Facsimile Object?”
And the answer is, alas, no.
The size is perfect–22 x 27 cm–and it’s both very desirable and inaccessible. But without a lot of digging, the only image that shows the full canvas is a stock photo. And so the dimensions of the widely circulating–and cropped–Wikipedia image are slightly off. Also the color is different enough to take a quick whip-up off the table.
But the main dealbreaker for me is the sheer numbers of commercialized print options for this public domain image. Even if none is a Facsimile Object, there are tons of objects which are facsimiles. Like art, Facsimile Objects aren’t supposed to be functional, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do something IRL. In a case like this, the facsimilating is being done, and at scale. I’m going to need to think this through.
Director Barry Jenkins said one of the inspirations for The Gaze was a painting by Kerry James Marshall. In The Gaze, shot on the set of The Underground Railroad, actors embody ancestors, people who lived and died without much or any visual record of their existence. Marshall created a similar series of paintings depicting Black people of history for whom no visual record survives, and Jenkins called outScipio Moorhead portrait of himself, 1776, a 2007 painting (above) which he saw at the Met Breuer in 2016. I think Jenkins is quoting a text from the Met:
“In this painting Marshall created an imagined self-portrait of a real African American artist, Scipio Moorhead, who was active in the 1770s. Few if any images of Moorhead exist in the historical record. Everything we know of his legacy is based on Phillis Wheatley’s first book of poetry, published in 1773 while she was a slave [sic] in Boston. The book’s title page illustration is an engraving of the writer, reportedly modeled on a painting by Moorhead. The engraving remains the only visual proof, however tenuous, of Moorhead’s existence.”
From what I can find, no images of or by Moorhead survive, only some mentions of him in correspondence; marginalia identifying him as the subject of one of Wheatley’s poems; and the etching that is supposed to be based on his portrait of Wheatley.
Somehow the Met has a print that was not bound into one of the 300 copies the book Wheatley first got published in England. It was soon published in Boston after her return as a free woman, in 1773.
The preface to Wheatley’s book includes a statement signed by 18 prominent Bostonians who examined her and her manuscript and pronounced them genuine, despite her background as “an uncultivated Barbarian” who labors “under the Disadavantage” of being enslaved by the Wheatleys. Which, one must imagine, is an extraordinary thing to have experienced.
Wheatley married, wrote poems criticizing slavery and praising the American revolution, then died young, at 31. A new book by poet and professor Honoré Fanonne Jeffers includes previously unpublished letters showing her husband’s attempts to publish a second book of poetry after her death. Except for Wheatley’s book and a couple of other mentions, Scipio Moorhead’s fuller story remains unknown.
Marshall’s depiction of Moorhead is notable for the size of the historical void it occupies. The greatest sculptors of ancient Greece are only recognized as such because of later Roman copies of their work. Having no known work survive certainly hasn’t hurt the legacies of Phidias, or Polykleitos, who are foundational for European art’s history of itself. What would our culture be like if Moorhead’s Phyllis Wheatley were as influential as Myron’s Discobolus?
Samuel F. B. Morse expected his 1822 epic, 9×12 foot painting of the chamber of The House of Representatives in the just-repaired US Capitol would tour the country to paying crowds, and then be triumphantly acquired by the politicians he made famous. That did not happen. The tour was a flop; the painting he’d spent months creating in a makeshift studio next to the House chamber was sold in Europe, and eventually ended up at the Corcoran. It was only with the dissolution of that museum in 2014, almost 200 years later, that Morse’s painting came into the collection of the nation, at the National Gallery.
Morse chose not paint the chaos and occasional violence that typified the House’s deliberations over such controversies as the Missouri Compromise or the displacement of Indian populations. Instead, perhaps aspirationally, he depicts a calm moment where hardworking servants of the people were preparing for a night session.
Eighty recognizable politicians, journalists, and others are depicted–Morse sold a pamphlet diagram for viewers to identify them all-but the dramatic focus of the painting is an unidentified lamplighter. The figure stands on a ladder, against the giant chandelier, which has been lowered for his reach. [My first favorite thing about this painting was the thin, black line extending from the top of the painting to the chandelier, His back to the picture plane, but his profile reveals him to be a Black man. Was he enslaved? It’s not clear; the US government did not as a practice own slaves at the time, but slavers regularly leased the enslaved for government work–like rebuilding the Capitol after the British burned it in 1812. Morse was a supporter of slavery (also an opponent of immigration), which may explain why the central figure of his painting goes unnamed.
The only other non-white person in the painting, however, was well-known in Washington. Petalesharo was a Pawnee chief who traveled to DC as part of a Great Plains delegation to negotiate the fate of his and other tribes. He is shown seated in the House spectator’s gallery, with an impassive expression that resembles the portrait Charles Bird King made at the same time for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Petalesharo had become famous through the promotion of missionaries, who’d reported that the chief had stopped his tribe from killing a young Comanche girl, either as part of human sacrifice or in revenge for a theft. This show of civilized mercy was probably appealing to the man to Petalesharo’s right, Jedidiah Morse, the Calvinist minister and geographer, who was also the artist’s father. Jedidiah had come to Congress to share a massive report he’d written on the US relationship with the Indian tribes. After traveling for several years and meeting with Indian leaders and communities, Morse argued for white coexistence with the Indians, along with a heavy dose of assimilation and missionary-led Christianization. His recommendations were ignored in favor of abrogating treaties and exterminating Indian populations who would not remove themselves from newly claimed lands. Next to Papa Morse is Benjamin Silliman, Samuel Morse’s chemistry professor at Yale. Years later, after Morse would develop the telegraph and Morse Code, Silliman became the first person to distill petroleum.
While viewing Morse’s painting the other day at the freshly reopened National Gallery, I got up close to study these standout figures; their unusual compositions, one obscured at the center and the other pushed and fenced off at the margins; one with a glowing chandelier and the other amidst brushy abstractions of the grand chamber’s marble columns; and to contemplate their significance, long unsung, to the history of this scene and this nation. Which prompted my gallerygoing companion to say, “Uh-oh, here come the Facsimile Objects.” [Reader, I married her.]
As another experiment on cropping my way to Facsimile Objects, I envision this as a diptych extracted from the painting, each realized at full scale, and installed where Morse put them in the original painting. Seeing these definitely reminded me of Titus Kaphar’s 2016 painting Enough About You, in which he isolates and frames the face of an unidentified enslaved boy in a portrait of Elihu Yale. But I’m still figuring out how these compositions read apart from the larger painting, and in relation to each other. Unlike Kaphar’s work, an awful lot is missing here.
The first proofs just arrived, and while they’re great images, they’re a little low-res; even a big jpg of a 12-foot painting is not really big enough to work with, so I’m going to shoot the details myself. Which feels a little extra, but also necessary here. brb.
It’s awesome to hear about the experiences of people other than me who are now living with Facsimile Objects. I’m glad to know it’s not just me who finds them interesting.
Lately I’ve been thinking about them as objects, trying to explore the implications of the term and format I adopted semi-ironically from Gerhard Richter, who used it to explain the unsigned stacks of giclée on aluminum reproductions of paintings he began authorizing for museums as fundraising editions. [As their numbers and critical acceptance have grown, Richter has since classified them under the less obscure and/or more market-friendly term “prints.”]
Warhol was not on my mind, then, but like learning a new word and suddenly hearing it everywhere, I am now hypersensitized to any mention of objects or objecthood. And to asking, “But what does it MEAN [about MEEE]?”
News from the Facsimile Objects front: barring any exceptional developments, the National Gallery in London will reopen on Monday (5/17), and so the Dürer there, the heavenly phenomenon on the back of the St. Jerome, will be visitable again. At that point, of course, the corresponding Facsimile Object (D1), will no longer be needed, and so will become unavailable. Get one while you can, I guess. The Karlsruhe agate-like painting on the back of Dürer’s Sad Jesus will, sadly, still be available, while Germany’s COVID numbers remain so high.
Recently I made a couple of Facsimile Objects related to works in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, which has been closed for several months. They will not be issued in any numbers, partly because the NGA just reopened. In fact, we were there yesterday, the first day back, when the shipment of test FOs arrived in the mail.
As you can see from the installation photo above, though, they look nice. Other than their uselessness, I’m pleased with how they turned out.
What O’Brien probably said was that it was a study for the giant four-letter enamel on panel paintings Wool made in 1990. Because he’d been making stencil-style text paintings since around 1987, when he’d famously said he was inspired by seeing SEX LUV freshly stenciled on a white panel truck by a graffiti artist in the East Village.
If you are in the market for that piece–and you’d be a FOOL not to be; it is at once important, fantastic, and adorable–then you need read no further. You are set. You are good to go, and godspeed you. Despite his recent NFT hijinks, Kenny still loves that fiat money, and has surely earned this deal the hard way, on those mean Miami streets. Go cash him out. From here the discussion turns away from mad money and toward Facsimile Objects.
Do paintings, like people, have a fabricated online persona, and a different, “real” character offline? Or do paintings, like people, have one real existence, different aspects of which are manifested online and in the real world?
These Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Objects have been propped, taped, and laid out in front of me for a little more than a week now, and while I expected them to live different than their 500-yo painted counterparts, I am struck by how they also differ from their digital images.
There is no more than two paintings by Albrecht Dürer in a public collection in the United Kingdom. One is this swirling, brushy depiction of an explosive, cosmic phenomenon on a small pearwood panel. The other, a meticulous devotional picture of St. Jerome in the wilderness, is on the other side of the same panel. The panel was only attributed to Dürer in 1957, and was acquired by the National Gallery in London in 1996.
Like all England’s museums, the National Gallery has been closed to visitors since December 2020, when a Tier 3 lockdown went into effect to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. According to current government indicators, museums will remain closed until at least May 17. So assuming it’s really by him, England’s only Dürers will remain inaccessible for at least several more weeks.
While considering whether an Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Object could offer even a partial experiential hedge during this challenging, Dürerless time, another, similar Dürer suddenly became similarly inaccessible.
Another small oil, c. 1492, depicts a swirling abstraction of sliced agate or other hardstone, painted with a transparency that permits the grain of the fir panel to show through. On the other side of this panel is another small devotional painting, a gold ground picture of Christ, Man of Sorrows, which was attributed to Dürer a few years before 1941, when the Nazis’ favorite art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt sold it to the Musée des Beaux Arts in occupied Strasbourg. It subsequently crossed the Rhine, and is now at the State Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, which was closed on March 22 when German health officials abruptly declared lockdowns to thwart a “third wave” of the pandemic. The government then changed some restrictions after a backlash, but I think the Kunsthalle is closed until at least April 18.
“If a work is on Google Street View, does it even need a Facsimile Object?” is a question that came to mind. But then I wondered what would happen if these two works were decoupled from the paintings they are physically twinned with, the works they were fated to be “behind,” always understudied and overshadowed by? Facsimile Objects might hit different with this not-quite-a-pair. So let’s see.
Earlier this week a restored original animated gif of nyan cat sold for 300 Ethereum. And today the order book was closed for Édouard Manet Facsimile Objects when Manet’s painting, le chien Minnay, sold for EUR520,800 in Paris.
Both of these transactions take place in a world where the experience of art is decoupled from a physical artwork. In one case, a digital object is rendered auratic through a purchase premised on an imaginary scarcity. In the other, frank facsimiles of a unique and long unseen object mitigate the inability to travel and experience the object in person.
It was literally not until after the auction of the Manet, despite spending weeks thinking about it, and weeks of seeing people talk about NFTs as Niftys, that I saw that Facsimile Object, abbreviated, could be pronounced faux, as in FO Dog. So you’ll excuse me if I can’t elucidate on the concept of a unique copy of a restored original animated gif.
The day is here, and I am not. Édouard Manet’s Minnay went on public view today at the Drouot galleries in Paris, the first time in its history. It will be on view again tomorrow, and for a brief hour on Friday, before it is sold.
If you are there, or will be there, look at it, study it, and send a pic. But do not get a Manet Facsimile Object (M1), because it will do you no good. It is not intended as a souvenir of your visit, but a cover for the gaping void in the lives of the rest of us who cannot see the painting itself.
Now that I got the size right–or closer to the original, at least–I moved to the question of whether the Manet Facsimile Object (M1) should be cropped or not.
As soon as I put this triptych up on the wall, I saw that the tidier, cropped version on the right not only misses a couple of brush strokes that you’d kind of want to keep; Minnay is slightly larger, too. So I ordered a slightly smaller version, the equivalent of slicing off the unfinished 1/4″ edges of the uncropped object in the center. That should be a definitive pair from which to make a decision.
And then I found a brief video about Minnay on Drouot Estimation’s Instagram. There is the painting, fierce and frameless, on a tiny chevalet de table, and I cannot believe there’s even a question. It’s a facsimile object, after all, not a facsimile picture.
And if you want to display your Manet Facsimile Object on a Sennelier RS N.24 support de table en bois, I heartily approve. [I’m still going to look at the cropped and uncropped versions side by side, though; because it’s on the way.]
Orders are coming in, facsimile objects are being needed, and so certificates of authenticity must also be realized. So I’ve been thinking about them.
The 1:1:1 scale of the certificate to the facsimile object to the work felt right immediately for many logical, conceptual, historical, and aesthetic reasons.
The coexistence of the certificate and the object remind me of Walter de Maria’s High Energy Bar, an infinite series he insisted was not a multiple, but which he also considered to unite with its certificate of authenticity to become a distinct work, a High Energy Unit. De Maria bought his fancy certificates from the old-timey stock certificate printer, and kept the registry of owners’ names secure, he promised, in a Swiss vault.
Obviously, when it comes to embodying Manets, Stephen Prina’s Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet (1988– ) comes to mind. I do not envision making a career of making 556 Manet facsimile objects. The circumstances that compel this one are highly specific and, if civilization (sic) can get its socio-political act together and end this pandemic, very limited. Please do not let the world of Manets exist beyond our experiential reach for much longer.
Anyway, though I have a deep spot in my heart for the monochrome, I feel like making a monochrome ink wash Minnay would end up more a Prina Facsimile Object than a certificate of authenticity for this Manet Facsimile Object. So I’m still thinking, staring, and experimenting, but soon I will also be getting paper of the appropriate size.
Also, I guess I wrote this in 2009:
Interestingly, though there are hundreds of mentions of High Energy Bar, there were only two mentions of the “complete” piece, High Energy Unit. [It makes me start to wonder about the underappreciated existence our poor certificates must lead, even as they’ve become so important to the authenticity and integrity of the work. Is anyone else making sexy artist certificates–or art about certificates, even–that remain ignored or unknown by everyone but the work’s purchaser? Will an artist make a work whose aesthetic or artistic payoff is actually the [secret] certificate itself? If you have or know of any awesome certificates languishing in any file cabinets out there, by all means, let me know.]
I want to go to Paris. I want to see this little Édouard Manet painting of a dog that has never been shown publicly, not once in 142 years. I want to go to Paris to see this Manet painting of a dog which, in just a couple of weeks, will be on view at Drouot for two days and an hour. I want to own this Manet painting. I want to stand in front of it whenever I want, and to watch the features of this dog, and the dashed off brushstrokes that conjure them, dissolve into the vibrations of the atmosphere.
As the world stands right now, the probability of my achieving any of this is low. But it will be at least theoretically possible until Friday the 26th of February, when the two-day exhibition closes, and the painting, Minnay, is sold in an auction starting at 2pm.
It is in this window of possibility that I propose the Édouard Manet Facsimile Object (M1) “Minnay” as a contingency, an experiential hedge. It is a full-scale image of Minnay, printed on a sheet of aluminum. It is high-resolution and high-gloss. I taped the proof to the wall, and it looks extremely authentic. How does it compare to seeing or owning the painting? LITERALLY ALMOST NO ONE CAN SAY, CERTAINLY NOT ME, NOT YET.
In the event I do not get to Paris, and/or do not buy Minnay, but you do, I will offer this facsimile object to you in exchange for the painting. Then let us discourse on the differences, if indeed there are any.
In the mean time, everyone with a not-yet-zero-but-diminishing-daily probability of seeing or buying Minnay is invited to acquire their own facsimile object, to hedge their potential experiential loss. They will available from today until the moment the painting sells in Paris [tbc, but some point after 1400 CET on Feb. 26].
Each facsimile object will be accompanied by a hand-made certificate of authenticity, executed in watercolor on Arches at a scale identical to the facsimile object itself.
The COA will also bear the number of each facsimile object, based on the order orders are received. Without knowing the scale of our exposure, it feels important that the facsimile object be available to as many people who need it during These Trying Times, whether that number is 5 or 500 or 6,000 or zero. When the hammer drops in Paris, the facsimile object will become unavailable, and the number ordered, representing the full extent of our collective deprivations, will be known and executed.
The facsimile object is made using a dye sublimation process. Unless it is destroyed, it will last forever. But it will not look the same forever. Some dyes change when exposed to sunlight over a prolonged period of time. Let’s all just strive, though, to live lives and create a world where the status, condition, or ownership of this facsimile object is not a source of stress or inter-generational conflict. It is meant to mitigate loss, not foment it.
Anyway, the facsimile object is available for order below. The price is set at 0.1% of the painting’s probable reserve price. If you need a method other than paypal, let me know. If, after ordering one, you end up either seeing the painting IRL or buying it, also let me know. If you act in a timely manner, you can unwind your hedge, or keep the facsimile object as an historical document. Or, of course, we can exchange it for the painting and some discourse.
[2/26 update: the Manet was sold for EUR420,000, or EUR520,800 with premium, or USD$632,058, and so this offer is ended. For everyone except whoever bought it, of course. HMU]