My Favorite Piece at the Brooks: A Before I Worked Here Perspective

Abbott H. Thayer, American, 1849 - 1921, Gladys, ca. 1915, Oil on Canvas, Gift of Mr. Francis M Weld 44.1, detail

When I was in my last year of school, I contemplated where I wanted to obtain an internship and where I might want to work. After visiting several local museums, I returned to the Brooks because of the way I felt emotionally and physically when I viewed the works there. I liked the openness of the rotunda and the grandness of the museum. At the time, I was so fascinated with working in a museum or gallery. I interned at The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange which taught me how to accession works of art, or in their case, works of historical significance such as documents, cotton seeds and letters. I met great friends there, and still think of the museum fondly. I simultaneously interned at a local gallery and I am so thankful that I was able to experience those surroundings. I thought initially that I wanted to work in an art gallery, but soon realized it was not the setting for me. I applied for a position at the Brooks I believe three times before I received a call for an interview. Every time I visited, I would check-in about any openings and view the permanent collection. I’m not sure why I never took much interest in traveling shows, I just simply enjoyed the paintings in the American and French galleries the most. I immediately walked briskly toward my love in the museum, my all-time favorite painting at the Brooks.

Abbott H. Thayer, American, 1849 - 1921, Gladys, ca. 1915, Oil on Canvas, Gift of Mr. Francis M Weld 44.1

Time after time, Abbott H. Thayer’s, Gladys, ca. 1915 asks me what she is thinking and where she is. This portrait of a woman and her gaze (go art term!) and expression are what draw me in. The brushstrokes solidify my attraction. They are thick, heavy and quick. I love them-I cannot even really tell you in words how much I love these brushstrokes. The looseness in which they are distributed over the medium-sized canvas makes the viewer uneasy and curious. She is not a ‘pretty’ painting, she is not meant to attract the ever-present male gaze throughout art history (see Odalisque).

Abbott H. Thayer, American, 1849 - 1921, Gladys, ca. 1915, Oil on Canvas, Gift of Mr. Francis M Weld 44.1, detail

She is there, in my opinion, as a warning. She is not only warning her viewer, but anyone who dares to mess with her. She carries a sad expression that is laiden with fatigue. She’s lost her battle and is simply living out her many days in her physical body, but her mind is diligently fighting back nevermind her exhaustion. I like to think that she is about to marry a man for whom she doesn’t love. Gladys has another suitor. A handsome commoner man who loves her endlessly but-alas-she must marry this heathen of a fellow. She looks angry, like she’s going to pull a Judith moment as soon as the ceremony is over. Although, maybe she’ll end up with her true love and live happily ever after; I know I will.

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2 thoughts on “My Favorite Piece at the Brooks: A Before I Worked Here Perspective

  1. Thanks for the posting. Question: Is Thayer’s, Gladys, ca. 1915 or ca. 1921 (both given in article)? Since it was unfinished I assume the later date is correct.

    • Hi there! Thank you so much for your interest in the article. I have verified with our Associate Registrar that the accurate date is ca.1915. I will correct this in the article right away, and thank you for bringing it to our attention. Thank you so much for helping support the arts!

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