Student Perspectives on the Art Collection

Articles

Permanent link for Mathias Alten's Portraits of Women on September 17, 2020

Student Perspective Provided By:

Che Robinson
Major: Art History
Class of 2021

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Che Robinson, GVSU class of 2021, was particularly interested in these paintings...

'Nude with Amaryllis'
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas
1935 – 1936
1999.509.1

"This was one of my favorite labels to research. I saw this piece in the Gordon Gallery and had wondered what the Grand Rapids community thought about a married man painting nude women in the 1930s. I found the answer to my question unexpectedly while reading through old newspapers that had been digitized by the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Years before he painted this piece, in 1906, the Grand Rapids Herald printed an in-depth story detailing salacious rumors that Alten had employed a local woman to pose nude for him and his class. I expected to find antiquated views of the female body, but Alten surprised me. In the paper he is quoted as defending the modeling profession as an important part of the artistic process:

 'Grand Rapids is the hardest city I ever saw in which to get a suitable model... there is a decided aversion to posing in the nude… [Women] will not take up the work for fear the finger of scorn will be pointed at them for once having been a model for some great painter. Such a view is not only narrow, it is sinful...it is for the sake of art and art alone, and as such, is sacred to anyone who has any artistic instinct. I respect my models as truly as I do any good woman and so do my students.'" - Che Robinson

Portrait of Camelia Alten Demmon
Mathias Alten
Oil on canvas
1924
2000.305.1

In preparation for the exhibition MATHIAS J. ALTEN: AN AMERICAN ARTIST AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY that traveled to The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, September 20, 2020 through January 31, 2021, the #GVSU Art Gallery team, including staff and students, gathered stories and information about Alten's life and work that create a vivid portrait of the artist. Che Robinson, GVSU class of 2021, was particularly interested in this painting...

"Camelia Alten is Alten’s second daughter. Born in 1899 she lived in Grand Rapids until her death in 1999. This portrait was painted by Alten in 1924 just after her wedding. Here she is depicted as the very idea of the “Modern Woman”. She stands tall and confident, wearing the fashionable flapper style of clothing that was still considered quite risque at the time. She had also just attended college at Michigan State Normal College (Now Eastern University), representing the growing trend of women pursuing a higher education. 

While researching Camelia I was able to read a copy of her diary from 1917 that has been preserved by the Grand Valley State University Special Collections. In the diary she is just about to finish up high school. I felt an affinity for her while reading about her everyday life studying for finals, going to the movies with friends and learning how to drive the new family car. All of the things she wrote about felt familiar to my own teenage experience, even though mine had happened almost 100 years later." -Che Robinson

Learn more about Mathias Alten's work and life online at mathiasalten.com.

 

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Page last modified September 17, 2020