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Object of the Month: September 2016

King James Bible, Third Folio Edition, 1613

Fore-edge Painting of “Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land” and “Christ at the Well of Sychar”

John T. Beer, fore-edge artist

ca. 1826–1903

On loan from the Collection of Jason and Ruth Speer

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The Collection on display at M&G has a wide array of objects—not exclusively Old Master paintings, but furniture, wood carvings, architectural elements, stained glass, and more.  The value of visiting a well-rounded display presents a broad view of the lives and cultures of people in the past.  As you visit, you begin to see how little a difference there is between us today and those hundreds of years ago.  Back then, the people had their innovative technologies, shortcuts, and battles with “old and new” just as we have today.

One such debate between the past and future has to do with books: bibliophiles who love the smell of a book and feel of its pages and others who prefer an e-reader or watching the movie instead.

Successful Victorian clothier from Merseyside, England, John T. Beer was most definitely a book lover in its purest meaning.  He demonstrated his affection for books, not only by collecting hundreds for his library but by decorating them too.

Unlike the spine and covers of books, the page edges are not usually decorated; however this 1613 Bible (on loan from a private collection to M&G) illustrates an obscure art form, called fore-edge painting revealing an image on the fourth edge of the book. Most often, this art is only seen when the edges of the book are fanned open at the appropriate angle; then, when the book is closed shut, the image is obscured.

These two Biblical narratives, Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land and Christ at the Well of Sychar are hand-painted by Beer. He is considered one of the most highly skilled artists of fore-edge painting and one of the most original thinkers in developing scenes to paint. He produced nearly 200 fore-edge paintings in his retirement years using books from his own collection, like this one.

According to Jeff Weber, who has collected data on more than 20,000 fore-edge examples and authored the Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists & Binders, John T. Beer is “the only fore-edge painting artist from the nineteenth century that is known by name.”

Bookbinders were primarily the artists applying fore-edge painting and commissioned by book owners; although some anonymous, yet professional artists embellished too.  So, “it is rare for a collector to apply fore-edge paintings to books in his own collection… [but] he decorated his own books simply for the joy of doing so,” blogs Erin Black from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Interestingly in viewing this large book, Beer beautified a Bible in his collection, which reveals some insights into the era. The religious complexion of Victorian society was varied; however, one uniting factor was the centrality and presence of Scripture. The stories, references, and allusions to the Bible were instantly familiar across the range of Victorian society.  This 1613 King James Third Folio Edition of the Bible provides an example not only of the era’s traditional values, but also the Victorians’ appreciation for literary and artistic skill.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: May 2016

Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated: E. Long, 1879 (middle right on servant’s bracelet)

Queen Esther

Oil on canvas

Edwin Long, R.A.

English, 1829–1891

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Esther is one of only two women who merit an entire book in Scripture, but that is not the only characteristic that makes Esther unique. The elegant style and tightly woven plot used in the telling of her story has also made this book one of the most admired literary works in western as well as eastern culture.

Nineteenth-century British artist Edwin Long “translates” this storytelling power into a visual format. A member of the London Royal Academy, Long was known for his meticulous attention to historical detail and for his ability to use visual texture to enrich his scenes. His painting of Vashti (left, M&G’s Collection) captures the dramatic opening of the biblical narrative—Vashti’s refusal of the King’s summons.
The servant girl in the foreground of this work then becomes Queen Esther in his second painting (right). The demure pose and restrained, melancholy expression of both Queens not only illuminates each character but also anticipates the tension that will soon unfold in each of their lives.

Both works were first exhibited at Burlington House in 1879 (though not side-by-side). Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons is now part of the collection at M&G; an original variant copy by Edwin Long of Queen Esther currently hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Click on the video to hear art collector Andries van Dam’s response to M&G’s Vashti painting.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: August 2015



Louis Comfort Tiffany (workshop of)

American, 1848–1933

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Though M&G is widely known for its European Old Master paintings, the reach of the collection extends into other genres as well—icons, antiquities, sculptures, furniture, tapestries and mosaics. These various art forms beckon visitors for multiple reasons—the fame of the maker, the artistic medium, the historical time period, or the sheer size. Inspiration by Louis Comfort Tiffany is no exception. It piques the curiosity of our guests for all of these aspects and more.

For most of us the name Tiffany is associated with exquisite jewelry or radiant stained glass. Our limited understanding may have come from hearing about a beautiful brooch once owned by Aunt Isabelle or Grandma’s “be careful when you dust it” lamp. But the cognomen Tiffany has a diversity of artistic expressions connected to it. Born in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was thoroughly exposed to the voluminous jewelry inventory of his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany. Choosing first to explore painting, in his early 20’s Louis settled into what would be his métier—the decorative arts. The range of objects he and his studio produced was extensive—furniture, metalwork, textiles, pottery, enamels, and almost anything else that had to do with furnishing and beautifying interiors.

Mr. Tiffany was ahead of his time in his employment of women.  Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls” both designed and executed many of the renowned lamps and mosaics; and, as is the case, with many large firms of the era received little to no public recognition for their contributions during their lifetime (neither did the men working for Tiffany’s well-known brand).

M&G’s Inspiration was fashioned in 1887 for the First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY. Though originally installed in the sanctuary above the choir loft, during a 1948 renovation it was decided that it no longer fit the décor. As with the acquisitions of many of M&G’s objects, the story is a stunning example of the providence of God. Dr. Bob Jones Jr. “just happened to be preaching at the New York church and was asked if the University might like to have the piece.” Not only did the church gift the beautiful mosaic, but they also transported it to Greenville. Housed originally in an outside setting near the BJU Fine Arts building, it was moved to its present location in Gallery 19 around 1965. Installing a work of art 8 feet across and weighing 1500 pounds took nothing less than a crane!

Mosaics of any size are intriguing, but Inspiration features Tiffany Studios’ artistry, craftsmanship and beauty on a monumental scale. Meticulously positioned mother-of-pearl and myriads of tesserae, ranging from gold to deep purple, join to create an image of a magnificent angel poring over a book. Combined with the tongue of fire atop the angel’s head, the artist symbolically portrays the biblical doctrine of inspiration—God “breathing out” His words—as explained in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s love of design, color, mediums, and techniques poised him as one of the aesthetes of his time, and he has left mankind with a trail of exquisite works of art communicating his passion. Allow yourself the pleasure of visiting M&G and marveling at this handsome example of Art Nouveau.

Bonnie Merkle, Collection Database Manager and Docent


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: September 2014


Oil on canvas

Frederic James Shields, A.R.W.S.

English, 1833-1911

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Frederic James Shields, the creator of this work, was one of many provincial artists to embrace the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Like many artistic movements, the Brotherhood began with a small group of youthful idealists decrying the conventions of their day. The founding members, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt were a diverse set of friends with one thing in common—a genuine admiration for  “the immaculate purity of Pre-Renaissance art” (K. E. Sullivan). This passion, coupled with their growing disdain for London’s Royal Academy, motivated these young painters to set down four principles to govern their work.  These principles (or “declarations” as the young men labeled them) were:

  • To have genuine ideas to express;
  • To study Nature attentively;
  • To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and
  • Most indispensible of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

Time would mellow some of the Brotherhood’s youthful disdain (Millais later became President of the Royal Academy). More importantly, it would refine and extend the Pre-Raphaelite vision.

The famed Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition (1857) “awakened” the Victorian public to a wide range of artistic venues including Pre-Raphaelite art. It was at this exhibition that Frederic James Shields first encountered the meticulously executed, vibrantly colored canvases of Rossetti, Millais, and Hunt. Shields later studied with Rossetti, and the two became life-long friends. However, the rich detail and typological symbolism in works like Patience reveals that Shields’ artistic technique and iconography are more in tune with William Holman Hunt’s oeuvre. A comparison of the topological symbolism in Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd with Shields’ commentary on Patience illustrates some of the fascinating similarities between these two artists’ approach to subject and technique:

Set upon a sundial, her ankle chained thereto, her motions circumscribed with its time-measuring limit, stands Patience. Wings has she like a dove’s, but not till God shall loose her chain shall she fly away and be at rest.  Meanwhile she waits, crowned with thorns, with eyelids dropped as seeing things invisible, and lips, firm closed, like unto the Lamb of God, who brought to the slaughter, opened not His mouth.  Her once green garment is faded, stained and tattered with storm and wrack, and she is environed by sharp thorns and thistles, the thorns bearing still some lingering withered leaves of the past winter, and putting forth fresh green shoots (new woes fast on the heels of the old ones, and the thistle seeding to multiply yet more). She keeps pressed to her bosom the word of Christ’s patience, and bears His yoke, its noose around her neck.  Moreover, she carries a basketful of seed corn, and from her girded loins hangs a sickle (Frederic James Shields).

Donnalynn Hess. Director of Education


Published in 2014

Object of the Month: October 2013


Wittenberg, October 31, 1517

Oil on canvas

Eyre Crowe, A.R.A.

English, 1824-1910

Wittenberg, October 31, 1517

Click on the image to learn more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation!

Created by Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2013

Object of the Month: August 2013

Sir Henry Irving as Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Oil on canvas

Edwin Long, R.A.

English, c. 1829-d. 1891

Henry Irving, the foremost actor in England from 1866 to 1902, was the first actor to be knighted for his artistry, which helped raise the social standing of the acting profession. As the premier actor and director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Irving produced plays known for their lavish spectacle and melodrama. The expensive productions included the musical talents of composers Mackenzie, German, Sullivan, and Stanford and the literary contributions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Irving’s major achievement was in presenting a play as a unified whole rather than as an excuse to showcase one great talent. In Irving’s productions, the music, lighting, costume, sets, and interpretation of his character all supported the text and the author’s intent. This revolutionary approach to drama gave Irving a permanent place in theater history.

Irving and his leading lady Ellen Terry were especially famous for their Shakespearean roles, and this painting captures Irving in one of his most successful characters. Richard III is the story of an evil younger son who plots and murders his way to the throne of England. Here, the detailed medieval costume of dark, rich fabrics, along with Irving’s nervous gesture and shifting, sideways glance are meant to reflect the evil cunning of Richard’s character and his guilty conscience. Irving’s slight stoop reflects Richard’s physical deformity, described as a “crooked back” with “his left shoulder much higher than his right.”

Portraits of actors in costume were fairly common during the 1800s, and Irving was painted many times—most notably by Edwin Long and Sir John Everett Millais. This painting was one of three from Long commissioned by Baroness Burdett Coutts. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy of London in 1878, it was considered to be “the best portrait yet painted of the popular tragedian” and a good example of “the skill with which [Irving] made up for Richard after the best authorities for look and action.” Since Irving’s 19th-century audience knew his power as an actor and his association with this character, they would have easily understood the portrait’s significance; understanding the context increases our own appreciation today.


Published in 2013

Object of the Month: May 2013

Meissen Urn

German, 19th century

While the Museum & Gallery’s collection of over 450 Old Master paintings garners most of the attention (and rightly so), there are other components to the collection, including furniture, tapestries, sculpture, antiquities, and objects of art. For example, this Meissen Urn arrests the attention of many guests with its intricate and delicate flowers and embellishments.

Europeans began collecting Chinese porcelain in the 16th century, even creating whole rooms to display the “china.” However, the formula for creating the beautiful substance eluded them.  The path to the discovery of that formula resembles the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold. In the early 18th century, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony,  imprisoned Johann Böttger, an alchemist who claimed to know how to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. As preposterous as that sounds, alchemy was the precursor to chemistry, as the name suggest.  Not surprisingly, Böttger had little success with his project. However, when he applied his knowledge to the making of porcelain, he discovered something even more valuable—“white gold.”

The factories at Meissen and nearby Dresden began producing porcelain in the early 18th century and are still known for their quality products today. In addition to innumerable types of tableware, the factories also produced decorative objects such as statues and vases. In spite of its delicate appearance, porcelain is actually very strong and resists chips and cracks more easily than its sturdier-looking “cousins,” stoneware and earthenware.

At the center of the Meissen Urn in gallery 19 is a beautifully painted scene of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. Sarah stands in the background while the young Isaac, clinging to his father, seems upset that his half-brother is being sent away. The crown in the center is the crown of the Elector of Saxony. The crests below also refer to the Elector of Saxony. The crossed swords, one of his symbols, became the trademark symbol for Meissen porcelain.

Anne Short, Former Research Supervisor


Published in 2013