Over the years, the Museum has acquired many works of art created by European artists that demonstrate key time periods of art historical production. A significant number of the MOA’s European works feature important subjects of Christian religious art.
Since the early 2000s, the museum has focused on building a collection of religious art that inspires discussion and consideration of scared themes. Many of these highlights are on display in the current exhibition Rend the Heavens: Intersections of the Human and Divine.
The Museum also owns significant examples of Asian Art within its collection that includes jade carvings, Japanese ivory carvings, and Japanese bronzes from the 19th and 20th centuries. This collection came to the Museum from Dr. J. Herbert Millburn, a Utah physician, who generously donated his collection to the museum after many years of studying and acquiring Asian art. These outstanding objects from his collection reflect Dr. Millburn’s abiding appreciation for the cultures of Asia.
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Danaïde, 20th century, bronze. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Rodney L. Lee, 1975.
Inspired by Greek mythology, Rodin’s Danaïde captures the despair of a woman who was eternally punished, along with 48 of her sisters, for killing their husbands. Because of their treacherous act, each was condemned to fill an ever-draining tub with water in the hope of washing away their sin.
Rodin emphasizes the Danaïde’s torment as she realizes the futility of this never-ending task. Rather than depicting her carrying water alongside her sisters, as in more common portrayals, he shows the solitary woman collapsed over her broken water pot, her hair flowing around her head like water, alluding to her inescapable punishment. The dynamic, undulating surface of her wracked form, characteristic of Rodin’s Expressionist style, emphasizes the psychological intensity of her anguish.
Bartholomaeus Maton (c.1641-1684), Portrait of a Lady, 1667, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Brimhall, 1977.
This venerable woman has just removed her glasses and turned to face the painter, giving the impression of a pause in her study. Such seemingly candid portrayals were common in 17th century Dutch painting. The woman is shown in the guise of a scholar seated at her reading desk, highlighting her intellectual interests and the social and academic privileges uniquely afforded women in the Dutch Republic. her gaze is direct and informed, yet perhaps wary.
Such portrayals of elderly individuals, particularly women, were also common symbols of vanitas—or moral messages about the fleeting nature of life and material goods. To Dutch viewers, the woman’s glasses likely represented a blindness to things beyond mortality and the impermanence of worldly pursuits. The ornate Turkish rug atop her desk, evidence of the Dutch Republic’s prosperous maritime trade, may also serve to remind viewers of the impermanence of wealth.
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), Portrait of Mrs. Ellen Michelsen, 1887, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift from the collection of Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, 2015.
As an artist, Bloch derived his greatest satisfaction from his religious works and, during the final years of his life, his etchings. He occasionally completed portrait commissions to earn money also, which offer rare examples of his sophistication as a painter.
Blcoh renders Frau Michelsen’s face, hair, and clothing with masterful precision. He details the elaborate lace of her high-necked blouse using a subtle range of whites and creams. The think paint of her central ruffle captures the effect of gathered lace, which tapers towards her waist. Her demeanor exudes the sense of a well-to-do socialite, heightened by her prominent jewelry. True to Bloch’s method, this portrait likely required multiple sittings and many drawings from life for Bloch to accurately capture this distinguished woman’s likeness.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), Interior Tavern Scene, 17th century, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Paul K. Clark, 1974.
This tavern scene by David Teniers the Younger—considered the leading genre painter of his time—typifies popular scenes of peasant life beloved in 17th century Netherlandish countries. Teniers blends the reality of daily life with subtle humor. In the background, a group drinks and relaxes by a fire, while a man in the shadows at the left, stands with his back to us, likely relieving himself.
The foreground figure appears more melancholy as he loads tobacco into a pipe. Smokers were one of Teniers’ favorite tropes. He emphasizes the ritual of smoking by including the bowl of tobacco on the table and the tiny lamp on the doorpost, stationed to provide a flame for the pipe. The artist paints another pipe on the ground near the man’s feet, making this depiction both a celebration and perhaps a criticism of the new fashion for “tobacco drinking,”
George Romney (1734-1802), Portrait of Lady Ducie, 1792-1793, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dixon G. Dixon, M.D., Class of ’53 and Cathy S. Bowers, 2004.
This commanding portrait exemplifies the Grand Manner paintings popular among the 18th century British aristocracy. Created by George Romney, one of England’s most celebrated portrait painters, it depicts Sarah Child, who married the Baron of Ducie in 1791 and died two years later, at age 52.
Dressed in shimmering satin and tulle, Lady Ducie emanates a sense of grandeur and authority equal to her unique prominence. As widow of a prominent London banker and politician, she remained a senior partner in the wealthy bank until her death. The scroll in her hand suggests her erudition and status as a businesswoman of her time, and also underscores her rise to aristocratic title, a prestige likewise echoed by the monumental column on which she leans.
Jan Miel (1599-1663), Three Journeymen at Rest, 17th century, oil on panel. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Stanford C. Stoddard in memory of Ann D. Stoddard, 1996.
Jan Miel was one of a group of Netherlandish artists called the bamboccianti who worked in Italy in the early 17th century. This quiet painting exemplifies the group’s interest in depicting scenes of everyday life yet in a classically-inspired landscape. The three sleeping workers, their packs on the ground to the left, are dwarfed amid the shelter of the thick trees and expansive sky. The dark, moody atmosphere of the landscape was common in both Flemish and Italian paintings of the era.
Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699), Still Life, c.1650, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Edward F. MacNichols, 1972.
Monnoyer’s still-life images display a splendor of impossible floral arrangements, rendered with lavish detail borne of his scientific study of botany. Such popular floral paintings represented beauty, wealth, exoticism, and the expanse of maritime trade.
Indeed, Monnoyer’s elaborate floral paintings were highly sought after in 17th century France. His works were collected by many important individuals of his time—including Louis XIV. He helped paint royal residences in both France and England, including at Versailles, Kensington, and Hampton Court Palace.
Andre Lhote (1885-1962), Maritime Alps (Landscape), 1935, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Lynn J. Dowden, 1970s.
French painter Andre Lhote was heavily influenced by the styles of Gauguin, Cezanne, and eventually the Cubists. He renders this landscape painting of the southern Alps between France and Italy with a flattening of space, and strong use of shape and color—characteristic of Lhote’s later modernist work.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), Lesbia Weeping Over a Sparrow, 1866, oil on panel. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Gordon Tohm, 1979.
Alma-Tadema’s Lesbia Weeping Over A Sparrow reflects 19th-century interest in the Greco-Roman world, particularly Pompeii, as contemporary excavations of the site heightened trends for Classical styles. This influence is evident in Alma-Tadema’s use of Pompeian red, seen on the back wall, as well as the decorative horses on the bench and the painted wall patterns.
The subject of Lesbia and her sparrow, taken from the Roman poetry of Catallus, was a popular subject among late Victorian painters. A well-known London art dealer, Ernest Gambert commissioned Alma-Tadema to paint this work in 1866. It was exhibited in the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867 and again in London in 1882. This piece, along with one other by the artist, entered the university collection in 1979.
Knud Sinding (1875-1946), The Shepherd, early 20th century, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift from the collection of Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, 2015
Knud Sinding was one of many Danish artists that incorporated avant-garde color and form into their portrayals of everyday life. Sinding uses bold brushstrokes to immortalize the young boy—who stands in dusty oversizes clothes, squinting in the bright sunlight with his loyal sheep. Strong pinks, blues, yellows, and greens lace the scene, and the hills in the background take on a simple, geometric form. This paintings exemplifies a 19th-century concern for realism, as well as a nostalgia for the European countryside in a rapidly urbanizing world.
Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), Portrait of the Earl of Stafford, 18th century, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of A.J. and Douglas S. DeSure, 1971.
This portrait, attributed to Godfrey Kneller, reflects the popular style of British portraiture during the early 18th century. The gentleman wears a powdered white wig and stylish flaring coat, his estate visible over his shoulder. To the left, a Black servant delivers a message—a compositional device that was frequently used to show a patron’s wealth and power.
Per its title, the painting depicts a robust Earl of Stafford, possibly William Stafford-Howard, who inherited the family title in 1719, just one year after his marriage. Interestingly, the letter in the painting—typically included as a way of identifying the portrait subject—is addressed to Captain Richard Lestock, an officer in the Royal Navy in the early 1700s. With no known connection between Lestock and the Earl, this inclusion presents a compelling mystery. As there is no other naval insignia included in the portrait, the address may have been a later addition.
William Dyce (1806-1864), St. John Leading Home His Adopted Mother, c.1846, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Thomas R. and Diane Stevenson Stone, 2008.
This painting exemplifies Victorian England’s interest in exploring scriptural narratives beyond the text. Dyce depicts John the Apostle and Mary, the mother of Jesus, returning home following the agonizing events of the crucifixion. Mary leans on John, almost faint with grief. The three crosses of Golgotha are visible above Mary’s stopped form, emphasizing the burden of that event on her mother heart. To the right, a cave-like opening in the hillside may reference the burial tomb for Jesus’ tortured body.
As a devout Catholic, Dyce often chose subjects that expressed his religious faith, depicting them with a simplicity and clarity inspired by Italian Renaissance paintings. He shared many artistic ideals with the younger British Pre-Raphaelite painters and was one of their early supporters. The Museum of Art acquired this rare painting in 2003 from the celebrated Forbes Collection of Victorian Art.
Unknown Russian Artist, John the Theologian, c.1820, tempera on panel. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Richard B. Oliver, 1983
Icons such as this have been important elements of Eastern Orthodox devotion for centuries. They are regarded as sacred objects, mystical portals through which worshippers commune with Christ or the saints.
This icon connects devotees to John the Evangelist, regarded as the apostle beloved of Christ. The saint holds his gospel writings. He raises his finger in a gesture of silence, as he listens intently to the angelic messenger. As eagle, a traditional symbol of John, rests on his shoulder. On the left side of the frame, a protecting angel watches over the believer’s worship. Another saint, Agrippina, is painted on the right, likely the patron saint of the person who commissioned this icon.
Unknown Japanese Artist, Japanese Farmhouse, late 19th century, ivory. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. J. Herbert Millburn, 1987.
This delicate farm scene illustrates aspects of traditional Japanese life. With its careful attention to detail, it exemplifies the 19th-century style of okimono, or small decorative objects carved for display. After Japan’s return to imperial government in 1868, these intricate sculptures were largely produced as exports for foreign markets, where they were coveted by collectors. The use of ivory reflected the global demand for the material, sought after in both functional and decorative items because of the luxury it implied.
Dr. J. Millburn, a Utah physician, donated this Meiji-era collectible to the museum along with other objects acquired through his study of Asian cultures. Many of his pieces represent work done by Chinese and Japanese artisans from the 18th to 20th centuries—including Chinese snuff bottles, Japanese netsuke, elegant jade and ivory carvings, and bronze vases.
Li Lihong (b.1974), China—McDonald (Flowers and Birds), 2008, porcelain. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Curtis Atkisson and Douglas and Erica Lai, 2012.
Chinese ceramic artist Li Lihong grew up in the village of Jingdezhen, where royal china porcelain has been produced for nearly 1,000 years. This piece is one of a series of Lihong’s works that take the form of McDonald’s golden arches, a globally famous brand emblem. By combining the iconic fast food logo with carefully crafted, traditionally painted porcelain, Lihong sparks a dialogue on cross-cultural exchanges and opens a conversation between precious object and consumer commodity.
The Museum of Art purchased this piece from a gallery in Shanghai for the Shaping America exhibition in 2013.