The Three Graces

Ever since I first saw a reproduction of a statue of the Three Graces, I’ve been drawn to the idea and manifestation of Three Graces. In mythology the three graces are Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance). Who doesn’t need more of those qualities? Who would foolishly turn away from them?

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I walk though the Greek and Roman Galleries on my way to see another exhibit, and I’m stopped short by the vision of my old friends, the Three Graces. Full size, the hover above me but are not out of reach. The galleries are crowded with visitors but the familiar form burns into my retina, cancelling out everything else.

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The three women connect with each other, joined in a relaxed stance that belies the importance of their work: bringing joy and beauty to the world. Facing, not facing, facing, they include everyone in grace. Fellowship and power – the power of grace – are embodied in the feminine.

(Also called the Kharities (Charities), they attended Aphrodite and Hera. Dance, song, joy, goodwill and adornment can be added to their virtues. Cults worshiped them in southern Greece and Asia Minor, and many artistic renditions of them sprang up in pottery, on coins, in sculpture, etc. At first they were clothed, later they were shown naked. From Botticelli to Niki de Saint Phalle, artists continue to work the theme.)

The 2nd century AD statue was purchased in 2010 with the help of, among others, Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer. Mr. de la Renta, famous for clothing women elegantly, helped the museum keep these unclothed beauties in the public eye.

 

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Upstairs I noticed another rendition:

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The painting (titled “Meeting (The Three Graces)” is by Manierre Dawson, whom I hadn’t heard of. An American born in 1887 to an art-loving family, he studied civil engineering and worked in an architectural firm. In 1910 he traveled to Europe, where he looked at lots of art and attended a soiree at Gertrude Stein’s. What an education it must have been!  After returning to America he was producing innovative abstract paintings, one of which Stein purchased. He supported himself and his family by working a fruit farm at his family’s summer property in rural Michigan. The contradictions artists often live within:  Dawson purchased a Marcel Duchamp painting at the Armory show in 1913; on the farm he mastered orchard skills: what trees need to bear fruit.

In a 1913 journal entry he writes, “Why not stay here on the farm, add a few acres of level land … and earn a living from the soil, with every spare hour devoted, at times to the pleasures of married life, or at times to the pleasures of painting, sketching or carving.”  “The pleasures of” – the Three Graces’ whispered message is heard, and heeded. The farm became successful and Dawson devoted more time to making art, finally achieving recognition late in life with shows in Florida, and later New York.  He is considered an American pioneer of abstract art.

The day after visiting the Met, I was in Chelsea and again I was stopped short by a vision of Three Graces.

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A water offering sits at the base. Traffic streams down Ninth Avenue. The women are a counterpart to all that rushes and flows around them and I’m drawn in to the warm, sensual feeling emanating from gray stone.

One more image from New York seems to fit the theme:

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A tree mars the composition but you take what you can get when you’re taking pictures on the street. The women are part of a wedding party gathering for pictures on a Friday afternoon in Battery Park, in lower Manhattan. There are more than three people and they’re not all women, but Beauty, Mirth and Abundance are embodied here, on this October afternoon.

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***

Besides seeing various versions of the Three Graces, I made other connections on this trip, connections that are inevitable if you think about what you see, and unfetter your mind. There was the work of two Japanese American artists who were interned during WWII, Isamu Noguchi and Ruth Asawa. I don’t know if they ever met, but I saw connections in their experiences as Japanese Americans with complicated identities, in their mastery of materials and in the simplicity of form in their work.

Trees were a running theme, whether at an old African Burial ground in Queens or a busy downtown park. Monarch butterflies too, because they were flying at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Battery Park. Bamboo, featured in a Metropolitan Museum exhibit, also drew my eye at the Noguchi Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Architecture and ordinary buildings held my attention everywhere. The sensory overload was intense, but my eyes were hungry.

It felt good to return to the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


42 comments

  1. What a writer and all-around observer you are, Lynn. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in New York. I like how you processed your discovered three graces in Battery Park. Isn’t it interesting how we can hold a thought and then see its expression where we might not otherwise have seen a photo opportunity at all. I’m not even sure that tree mars the composition. Might the three tree trunks be three more graces insisting on their inclusion?

  2. I am fond of your ability to find patterns in everything, Lynn. Dawson is also new to me and I’ll have to seek the piece out the next time I’m at the Met. I love sharing a discovery!

    • Patterns keep the world comprehensible sometimes! 😉 Dawson’s story is interesting – take a look. I’m just sorry we didn’t connect…and I’m sorry I didn’t get to more great restaurants and coffee shops…oh well, there’ll be a next time!

  3. Love the theme you worked with here. It took quite the unexpected twist at the end. Reminding us to look for the three graces. They’re all around us!

    • That’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, which is huge, and makes for an exhausting day. I tried to discipline myself ahead of time so that wouldn’t happen, telling myself not to see too much, but it’s impossible! 😉 l

  4. Obviously you enjoyed a very (almost, over-) stimulating trip. I liked your theme and the way you presented it. It encouraged me to look up Dawson. I liked his version. It also linked me to Pinterest: its interesting to see how many others have pursued a similar theme.

    • I think we can say it WAS overstimulating, but that’s OK. I know you’re a keen student of art and art history so I’m glad you enjoyed finding out a bit more about Dawson – I did as well. Pinterest is fun sometimes, isn’t it? I like to look at botanical watercolors & drawings there, and art in general.

  5. Woweee!!!! this is a departure for you and I’m stunned by it!!! I love the pictures, and how you’ve developed the theme through the post – and I (VERY!) deeply envy you your time at the Metropolitian Musem – is that where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is??? – and then you’re talking about Gertrude Stein and Marcell Duchamp – bring it on! Wonderful post, and a complete and extremely pleasant surprise! 🙂

    • Such enthusiasm – I love it! Departures are good, right? Yes. Demoiselles is at MOMA – the Museum of Modern Art. We didn’t get there this time. The city has a very rich tapestry of museums….you wouldn’t know where to start! It was good to immerse myself for a few days, no more than good – it’s life-sustaining. Glad you enjoyed this – I think up next will be something less theme-driven, but also with a differently-eyed view of the city.

  6. Beautiful. I love how you saw the Three Graces in the wedding party – so evident there, but it could have been so easily missed. I have a similar feeling of over-stimulation in New York. It’s like a rich and indulgent dinner and the return to the Northwest is like sitting back afterwards to digest and ruminate on the exquisite flavors. Both experiences are wonderful and, for me, a necessary part of the whole.

    • Wow, you nailed it, Sheri. Yes, so rich, and then you need to digest – the photographs come in so handy for that, otherwise, I would forget lots of it. Eagerness and regret coming home….
      We went up to Anacortes again this week & stopped in La Conner, where there’s a really nice show at the Northwest Museum of Art. It was nice to be able to continue the trend!

  7. Please excuse me being so short, there’s simply too much fuss around me. Ich read your brilliant essay with delight and enjoyed your photos a lot. From now on I’ll be looking out for the Three Graces in every day life around me.

    • More time! More time! 😉 As I was saying to Adrian above, I think next up will be a smorgasbord of different images from around the city, things not associated with a typical view. We’ll see how that works!

  8. Thanks for making the cross-cultural and cross-epoch connections. As others have said, I may never look again at a bridal party the same way. Unfortunately this insight has come long after my wedding photography days 🙂

  9. OH my goodness! I loaded this to read offline but the images did not load.. now online again – again briefly – I cannot wait to get home and really appreciate all of these images.. stunning! What a great theme to stay with you during your trip!

    • Ah, Lisa, I hope you can spend more time in a good internet cafe very soon! It occurred to me after I returned home that I could have looked for street photos to take that fit the theme, but no regrets – I can be looking any time, any place.

    • I’m glad – especially if you weren’t familiar with them. Thanks for your thoughts – you know I don’t usually shoot that type of thing, but I tried to do a little more of it while I was in New York, and actually got a few decent photos. I need to think more about the movement though, and shutter speed – I forget that people are likely to move fast! 😉

      • Easy to forget in the spur of the moment. The times I’ve seen a landscape shot with the prefect light only to lose it as I’ve forgotten to reset my camera. Happens to us all. 🙂


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