DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
FREDERIK EBBESEN GRUE (American, 1951-1995)
Plums and Porcelain, 1983
Oil on masonite
12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: Grue / 83
Signed on artist-made frame lower left: Grue
Purchased from Eckert Fine Art and Antiques, Indianapolis, Indiana (who represented the artist), July 28, 1983.
Indianapolis Monthly, July 1983, full-page color ill. of this painting in advertisement by Eckert Fine Art and Antiques announcing their gallery's representation of Frederik Grue.
Americans' fascination with China, and the Orient in general, deepened during the late nineteenth century. The promotion of Asian culture at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair catalyzed the collecting of Chinese porcelain, silks, and jades by such prominent businessmen-scholars as Edward S. Morse in Boston, Henry O. Havemeyer in New York, Henry Walters in Baltimore, and Charles Lang Freer in Detroit. Concurrent with the collecting of Orientalia was the development of Orientalist painting, which featured either Asian objects or Asian-inspired design elements. The turn-of-the-century Chicago-based artist Emil Carlsen (1848-1932), a native of Denmark, established the standard for Orientalist still-life painting, coupling the moody light-dark contrasts of seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting with Asian subject matter: porcelain bowls and vases, painted fans, and jade snuff bottles. Carlsen passed the Orientalist torch to another still-life specialist, Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966), an Armenian-born artist who trained at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Academie Julian in Paris before settling in New York City in 1919. Pushman's hallmark works from the 1930s and '40's are intensified versions of Carlsen's, with more dramatic coloration and chiaroscuro and a greater variety of Asian objects, including Tang Dynasty horses, Buddha statues, Chinese illuminated manuscripts, and silk wall hangings. It was the Indiana artist Frederik E. Grue (1951-1995) who took up this same torch from Pushman, and mastered during his short life Orientalist still-life painting in a deliberately nineteenth-century style.
Grue's interest in academic art and antiques dated to his childhood. The son of a California businessman who collected Asian art on trips abroad, Grue taught himself to paint at the age of eight by copying works in museums and catalogues. His first job as a framer and restorer in an art gallery exposed him to the paintings of Emil Carlsen and Hovsep Pushman, who became his idols. In fact, Grue was so taken with a Carlsen painting of Ming vases that he began specializing in Orientalist still lifes, employing Chinese painted screens as backdrops for groupings of porcelain vessels borrowed from dealers and museums. Unlike Carlsen and Pushman, whose brushwork was loose and impressionistic, Grue preferred hard-edged realism, and achieved fine linear detail with tiny brushes, usually finishing only six to eight paintings per year. The ability to capture true-to-life color, reflections, and "age marks" - cracks in vases and brown spots on fruit -- was important to Grue, who "like[ed] to paint things that [we]aren't perfect" (Joan Schwartz, "A Celebrated Artist Finds 'Dream Come True' in Muncie," The Muncie Star, October 2, 1983, p. B1). An antiques enthusiast, he was the only living artist represented during the 1980s and '90's by the prestigious Eckert Fine Art Galleries in Indianapolis, as his paintings exemplified what Jane Eckert termed a "style and content not seen in American art in a hundred years" (Marion Garmel, "Eckert Circle Gallery Called Class Act," Indianapolis News, May 6, 1983). He was represented by Eckert Galleries after settling in Muncie, Indiana, in 1983.
Judge Buchanan's attraction to Grue's work no doubt derived from a shared affinity for nineteenth-century still life and Orientalia. In 1983, Buchanan purchased Plums and Porcelain from Eckert and was evidently so moved by the painting that he commissioned Lemons and Porcelain from Grue two years later. Both paintings count among Grue's finest, exhibiting masterful realist technique. In addition, they reveal similar compositions with Chinese artifacts: offset by a background screen with painted landscape, a pairing of vases or pots winds toward foreground fruit. The enduring quality of the antique vessels contrasts with the aging natural forms, ripe fruit and scattered withered leaves. Grue prided himself on his authentic replication of Orientalia, whether an oxblood jar, blanc de Chine vase, and blue-and-white tea bowl, as in Plums and Porcelain, or a blue-and-white porcelain cylinder vase and powder blue-glazed jar with fish, as in Lemons and Porcelain. For the latter, he actually borrowed pieces from Buchanan's own collection of Chinese porcelain, thereby creating a still-life tribute. Especially sophisticated in color, texture, and pattern, Lemons and Porcelain won the "outstanding work" award at the 62nd Annual Fine Arts Exhibition of the Hoosier Salon in 1986.
Frames were very important to Frederik Grue, a former framer himself. Both of Judge Buchanan's still lifes by Grue are framed in custom-made moldings of the artist's own design. Both frames are also signed by the artist.
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