Before the era of digital printing, Jules Cherèt was crafting fanciful poster advertisements by hand with paint and ink using a lithograph process. Cherèt, often referred to as the father of the modern poster, is just one of many artists whose work will be on display at the Clark Humanities Museum’s exhibition on fin de siècle European art from January 17 until February 24, 2017.
Desire and Decadence will feature French prints, rare books, and ceramic and glass objects representative of the Art Nouveau style, reflecting the unrestrained aesthetics of late-19th-century European art. Mary MacNaughton ’70, director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery and curator of Desire and Decadence, is co-teaching a Core II course with Professor of French and Humanities and Director of the Clark Humanities Museum Eric T. Haskell that incorporates an examination of the works on view.
Alumna Lydia Ringwald ’70 played a vital role in making the exhibition possible, lending works by leading French print designers of the Belle Époque, including Cherèt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Charles Lucien Léandre, from her personal collection.
Ringwald owes her interest in art to her time at Scripps. “Scripps launched me on a lifetime of exploration and learning,” she says. “It seemed I was destined to continue this intriguing study for the rest of my life. My exposure to art history and literature at Scripps would influence and inform me as I visited museum collections, historical, architectural, and archaeological heritage sites throughout the world.”
After graduating from Scripps with a degree in comparative literature, Ringwald began to develop her talent as an artist, exhibiting her works in galleries and museums in Southern California and Europe. Over the years, she worked as a cultural arts journalist and college instructor, while purchasing artworks at auction and from galleries, eventually amassing a serious private art collection. As her personal holdings grew, Ringwald turned her attention to the school that had cultivated her passion for art, working with MacNaughton to select objects to donate to the Scripps College permanent collection, which is managed by the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. Recent gifts include a Billy Al Bengston lithograph and two José Luis Cuevas works, which were gifted to Scripps in 2016. This past summer at Camp Scripps, MacNaughton shared her plans for Desire and Decadence, and Ringwald offered to lend her French prints to the exhibition.
Ringwald was especially intrigued by the exhibit’s connection to the Core II course, “Desire and Decadence: Art and Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Europe.” MacNaughton worked closely with the student curator and Peggy Phelps intern, Gillian Holzer ’19, who organized the exhibition and wrote wall texts for the works on display.
“Donating art to Scripps is an especially enriching experience for me, giving me the opportunity to share the educational insight through artworks linked to the Core curriculum,” Ringwald says.
MacNaughton is equally excited to share Ringwald’s collection with her students. “The French prints lent by Lydia will enhance students’ understanding of how a culture of entertainment emerged at the end of the 19th century in France,” she says. “This Belle-Époque fascination with spectacle and personality was a precursor to the celebrity culture of today. Among the prints on view is a colored lithograph poster of the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Lorenzaccio. Bernhardt fashioned herself into a superstar long before Madonna or Lady Gaga exploited the cult of personality.”
“Alumnae contributions have played an important part in building the Scripps collection,” says MacNaughton. For example, Sharon Walther Blasgen ’64 and her husband, Michael Blasgen (HMC ’64), donated two Marion Post Walcott photographs this year. Their classmates, Jane Hurley Wilson ’64 and Michael G. Wilson (HMC ’64), have also donated photographs as well as supported the Williamson Art Gallery’s Wilson Internship for the past 23 years.
Looking beyond the realm of undergraduate education, Ringwald hopes her gifts of artworks will “encourage students interested in becoming museum or gallery curators to explore themes and formulate an exhibition concept. The original artworks may inform research or inspire artists who are exploring and cultivating their own creativity.”
Desire and Decadence also features gifts to the Williamson Art Gallery’s permanent collection from Jane Hurley Wilson ’64 and Sharon Walther Blasgen ’64. Those interested in donating artwork to Scripps should consult with the Scripps Department of Art History or the Ella Strong Denison Library to select gifts that best correspond with the College’s curriculum and educational goals.