What started out for me as an e-mail exchange with that most generous and genial Museum Director, John Streetman, at the helm of the Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History, Evansville, Indiana, has evolved into a delicious lesson in another technique for creating art.
I had read a small paragraph in a Spanish paper about the Evansville Museum finding an unrecognised Picasso work that that been mis-catalogued and kept in their holdings for some 50 years, a piece that was now going to be offered at auction. I know that the Evansville Museum has been in the throes of building an addition and generally struggling to hold its own, as is every museum, in the current economic difficulties. So I dropped a line to Executive Director Streetman, who has been generosity itself to me and countless other artists, to congratulate and celebrate.
As part of his gracious reply, John Streetman sent me the full text of the press release, and therein began my learning curve. It turns out that the Picasso in the Evansville Museum holdings was not a painting, but a work done in gemmail. I quote the definition of this medium from the website, Gemmail:
"The word “Gemmail” is the contraction of two words « gemmme » or precious stone and » email » or enamel, the medium used to assemble pieces of glass. The sound of this word in French describes the essential characteristic of this art form and its unlimited potential."
Using layers of coloured stained glass which are fused by heat with clear liquid enamel, the artist can produce a radiant work which is then set in a deep shadow box and back lit to achieve a jewel-like work of art. Picasso was introduced to this technique by his friend, Jean Cocteau, in 1954. The Atelier Malherbe, an art studio in France, had perfected the medium, and Picasso immediately seized on its possibilities. He shared his excitement with his friend, Georges Braque, and together, and separately, they created an important body of work. Later, Picasso gave half of his fifty-odd pieces to the Malherbe family in recognition of the debt he owed them, and sold many of the other pieces to notable collectors. He had reproduced in gemmaux (plural of gemmail) many of his most successful paintings.
The amazing work discovered at the Evansville Museum, "Seated Woman with a Red Hat" had been donated in 1963 by Raymond Loewry, but it had been mis-labelled. When the auction house, Guernsey's, was researching Picasso's gemmaux works, they contacted Evansville about this donated work of art, and the research began. Slowly, slowly, the excitement has been building and will continue until there is a proud new collector enjoying this "Seated Woman", an image of Picasso's mistress and model, Marie-Therese Walter. Not only the auction world is watching – and many more people have, like me, learnt about another fascinating aspect of art-making.