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Rachel Cohen

The Frederick Project


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Introduction from toward the beginning of the pandemic, Spring 2020

During this period, when we are all in our rooms, and our ways of seeing and learning are virtual, I have been looking through several thousand photos of paintings, drawings, and installations that I have taken, mostly in museums, over the last nine years. Nearly all of these museums are closed to the public right now, and the photos, visual notes, are worlds of color, sometimes like memories, at other times, like steady markers for study and imagination.

Our children have a book, called Frederick, by Leo Lionni. It’s about a mouse, who, in the summer, studies colors. When winter comes, he tries to tell the other mice what he remembers. Looking at my photos, I thought I might try to follow his example.

Thanks to the Guggenheim Foundation for fellowship support, to Slabmedia and Elina Mer for work on the Frederick Project. And to Fatema Ahmed of Apollo Magazine for sending me to see many paintings.

Summer of Cezanne

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The summer of Cezanne is over. It was a beautiful season, marked by voyage, worry, discovery, growth, and, near to us and to those we know, by illness, flood, fire. The children had bikes, lakes and ponds were blue, we ate corn that had grown well and corn that hadn’t. I went, ten times, to the Art Institute here in Chicago and studied the Cezannes, more than a hundred of them, assembled probably for the last time in my lifetime, in a show at once magnificent and calm. I’ve written a [...] read more

Vija Celmins Blackboard Tableau #12

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

This is Blackboard Tableau #12 by Vija Celmins. Made between 2007 and 2015, in a process suggested in the wall text: “One found tablet, one made tablet, wood, leather, acrylic, alkyd oil, and pastel. ” Celmins, born 1938, Riga, Latvia, in another period of trouble. [...] read more

Glass Trees

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Glass tree. Half empty. Can’t see its forest for. [...] read more

On green on my birthday

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

On green on my birthday. for Elina Mer, for Latham Boyle, and for Peter Helm, on our shared birthday Yesterday, I traded green poems. . . [...] read more

Pissarro in March, in memory of Richard Brettell

Sunday, March 21, 2021

In 1897, Shrove Tuesday fell in March, and, in Paris, the annual Mardi Gras parade came down the Boulevard Montmartre on a blustery day. At a window overlooking the Boulevard, Camille Pissarro waited, brushes at the ready. The previous month, in February, he had begun an ambitious project, which would result in sixteen paintings of the Boulevard Montmartre, showing winter giving way to spring. Pissarro painted in the mornings, the afternoons, and the evenings; he painted in snow, rain, and the rare sunshine; he painted grey, and, when it came at last, he painted [...] read more

Rogues' Gallery, Daumier

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I've always liked this set of busts by Honoré Daumier. [...] read more

Joan Mitchell, Snow

Monday, February 15, 2021

Four years ago, a little more than four years ago. I saw this Joan Mitchell at the Art Institute. Snow on top of snow, on all the angled branches, over the places where the birds try to find food. [...] read more

Winter Gardening Pissarro

Friday, January 22, 2021

Yesterday it went up to 39 degrees in Chicago, which is warm right now in January, and it was a lovely day, sunny and quiet. Looking ahead to many cold days, I had seen this one on the horizon and planned to use it for a pleasant task in the garden, cutting the dry Northern sea oats. These are beautiful grasses with very lovely seeds in a pattern like a short bit of wheat. They are already in profusion in our garden, and the dry stalks need to be cut in January or the [...] read more

library of exile

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

I saw Edmund de Waal’s library of exile installation in the summer of 2019, in Venice. I went in the morning. My mother had the children, and while I was gone T dropped his gondola souvenir on the stone floor and the little glittering aqueous globe with the tiny buildings of Venice in it smashed on the stone floor and water went everywhere. They went to the little souvenir shop and bought another one for a few dollars. But I did not know of this. I [...] read more

Malangatana, Missing Voices

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Malangatana: Mozambique Modern closed on November 16th, around the same time that the Art Institute shut its doors. It was the first retrospective of Malangatana Ngwenya’s work since the artist’s death in 2011, the first solo show of the artist’s work in the United States, and the first show of work by a modern African painter in the Art Institute’s history. The artist often went by his first name, Malangatana. [...] read more

Emerging Buddhas 56th Street

Sunday, November 22, 2020

This time I was quicker to turn to public art. Knowing that the museums were closed again, I right away started walking to look at the sculptures and murals in our neighborhood. On Thursday, I spent a little while with a circle of sculptures that I’ve never really stayed with, though I always point them out to the children as we walk by, or ride on our bicycles. [...] read more

I just had time

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Art Institute of Chicago is closed again, but I was able to go, almost every week, for nearly two months. And, I fell in love with a painting. [...] read more

Delaney and Lang, Over and Under

Monday, November 16, 2020

Monday, November 16th More than twenty years ago, I heard a piece of music by David Lang called orpheus over and under . It’s a mourning piece, for a friend of the composer’s. I heard it live, in a small space in New York, performed, to the best of my recollection, by the piano duo that had commissioned the work, Double Edge, the two pianists Nurit Tilles and Edmund Niemann. This was in the late ‘90s. I do not believe I ever heard it again, but I have [...] read more

Jazmine Harris Washington Park Court

Monday, November 9, 2020

I am honored to have the work of Jazmine Harris, and her collaboration with Terrence Thompson, in this entry of the Frederick Project. I've admired Harris's work since I first encountered it two years ago, at the University of Chicago, where she did her MFA at the Department of Visual Arts. Harris's work continues to inform my thinking about the different relationships that art and writing can have, and has been in my mind as I have been making entries at the Frederick Project about ways of seeing in our shared neighborhood. I [...] read more

Monet on Election Day

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

At Giverny, during World War I, Monet could hear the gunshots from the front, which was fifty kilometers away. His eldest son died of illness in 1914, and his second son and his stepson were both in the army. Monet did not think especially well of himself for continuing to paint, but he did think it was what he could do. He wrote in a letter in December of 1914: Yesterday I resumed work… it’s the best way to avoid thinking in [...] read more

Kerry James Marshall, Another Chance

Monday, November 2, 2020

How I have missed this painting, Slow Dance . When I saw it again a week ago the feeling was of relief, yearning, pleasure, a gift. It was up, it was out, for as long as we are not in total emergency shutdown, I can come visit. [...] read more

Toledo Company

Saturday, October 24, 2020

El Greco lived a life of some difficulty. He left Greece for Venice, Venice for Rome, Rome for Spain. These travels were arduous. The ways he wanted to paint were unlike any other painter. A manner that people loved and people hated and people who had commissioned his works sometimes refused to pay for. Quite often refused to pay for. He came to rest in Toledo, but it was an uneasy rest. [...] read more

A Room

Sunday, October 11, 2020

At the Art Institute two weeks ago, I wandered into a room of Abstract Expressionism. Either the arrangement of the space or my mood had changed and it was as if I had never seen any of it before. Choucair, Trajectory of a Line with DeFeo, The Annunciation . [...] read more

Looking Forward Monet

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Tomorrow, Monday, I’m going to virtually ‘walk’ with people through the last gallery of the beautiful Monet in Chicago show at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have some dozens of close pictures to show of the eight late water lily paintings in that wonderful room. It’s a free public program and quite a lot of people have registered and, in the odd way we live now, I’ll meet each of them in the ether between my screen and theirs. [...] read more

Amélie Rorty In Memoriam

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In Cambridge, we had a lovely friend, the philosopher Amélie Rorty. About five years ago, not too long before we left Cambridge, I went with Amélie to see this very beautiful show of the work of Carlo Crivelli (the 15th century Italian artist) at the Gardner Museum. We walked through the show gently, looking at each painting carefully and talking them over as she and I both loved to do. Amélie died last week, at the age of eighty-eight and, in my sorrow, I would like to write a small remembrance. [...] read more

Louise Moillon Serendipity

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last week, on my first visit to the museum in six months, I saw a painting by an artist I don’t remember ever having heard of. This kind of serendipity is a special grace of museums. [...] read more

Paint, paint, paint

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

On Monday, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time in six months. It was quiet; everyone had a mask. There were people with devices to check you in electronically and you were informed by text when there was enough space in the one exhibition that is drawing any kind of crowd. The atmosphere was reserved, cautious. But the paintings. El Greco, View of Toledo, ca. 1599-1600, Metropolitan Museum of Art, detail photo Rachel Cohen. [...] read more

Tiepolo Opening

Sunday, September 6, 2020

I’ve long had it in mind to write a bit about Tiepolo – Venetian artist of the 18th century – an artist I’m trying to catch up to, one I suspect is in my future. It’s the turn of the year. We are back from driving to see friends and family. As we drove the highways, we looked for horses. On and near lucent rivers, we looked for swans. It’s raining. Most of the garden did well in our absence, a few things are withered and brown. [...] read more

Constant Structure, Jennie C. Jones

Sunday, August 16, 2020

I have seen art. Detail, Unit Structures #2-3 [...] read more

Turner Summer Somber

Monday, August 10, 2020

It is a bright hot day in August, but, when I settle to think, the mood this morning is somber like the brown below the sky's red line. [...] read more

Memory that lives in the landscape -- John Constable

Friday, August 7, 2020

A painting I have been thinking about this week is John Constable’s The White Horse , which is a painting I used to love at the Frick Museum and to visit regularly for many years. At that time, the Frick did not allow pictures, and I never took them anyway, and so I have no detail photographs of the kind I now use to go back and look, and can only reproduce here this distant internet picture. [...] read more

Gwendolyn Brooks in Our Neighborhood

Friday, July 24, 2020

I originally wrote this entry on May 6, 2020, and have reposted it in conjunction with a new piece up at Literary Hub that continues the walking around this sculpture that goes on being so important to me. That piece is at: Jane Austen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Walking on the South Side May 6, 2020 In our neighborhood, at 46th and Greenwood, is Gwendolyn Brooks Park. And in Gwendolyn Brooks Park there is a statue of the poet, which is believed to be only [...] read more

Jane Austen and John Constable, Trees in 1811

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Here is a tree. A tree in Stoke-by-Nayland with the church of St. Mary the Virgin behind it. Constable’s aunt lived nearby, and he painted several versions of this scene. But this is an oil sketch, made in 1810 or 1811. In his oil sketches, Constable moved with great freedom. A book I have written, about living with the novels of Jane Austen for many years, is published today. Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels . [...] read more

Suellen Rocca's Cha-Cha Couple Dance, Dance

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Last week, I discovered that Suellen Rocca had died in March of this year. Her paintings have been on my mind since, and I want to share this wonderful, exuberant one, called Cha-Cha Couple , which I saw many times at the Smart Museum of Art during their Time is Now show about art on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s. [...] read more

Suellen Rocca, I won't get to tell you this, but I love your work

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Because she was long based in Chicago and was a central figure in the Hairy Who, Suellen Rocca's work has been on display in different shows at the Smart Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago over the last several years, and I've had a chance to sit with several pieces. [...] read more

Ruth Asawa Sculpture in Air

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Today I was drawn to Ruth Asawa's wire sculptures, which I learned about (long after many else had) from the show at the Art Institute of Chicago, In a Cloud, In a Wall, In a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Mid-Century . I went to the show several times, but only took a few photographs, and do not have the proper credit line for the group of sculptures, but the central form in the top picture is the one described in the credit line above, made in 1951. [...] read more

Beckmann After War

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Not long after we moved to Chicago, I wrote a piece for the Virginia Quarterly Review 's nonfiction instagram project #VQR True Stories. The piece was about Beckmann's great triptych Actors, which is at the Harvard Art Museums, and I was having trouble finishing it, and I went to the Art Institute and happened upon this Beckmann drawing, Birdplay . [...] read more

Tang Chang Calligraphic Blue

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Something about the blue in the Mary Cassatt I was looking at yesterday and the calligraphy in the Persian miniature I looked at before that made me think of an extraordinary calligraphic blue that I witnessed in a show at the Smart Museum of Art a couple of years ago. for Issa Lampe [...] read more

Cassatt The Child's Bath

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Today, I am thinking about loving a child, and worrying about them. [...] read more

Iskandar and the Seven Sages, from a Khamsa of Nizami

Saturday, June 27, 2020

I just have four pictures, each poor in its own way. But I can't even find the work in the Art Institute's files, or 'pinned' on the internet, so this is the only way to show it to you. I know nothing about it beyond my impression of its incredible fineness, the perfection of the relationship of the calligraphy to the image, the beauty of the colors, and the grace of the situation of the figures in the landscape-page. [...] read more

Cleveland Hike Cézanne

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

This morning we walked with the children in a preserve south of Cleveland. There were stone steps that allowed you to climb up and down along the river which fell over slate ledges in striated curves. [...] read more

Jongkind: A River in Summer

Monday, June 22, 2020

We are visiting family in Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum of Art will be one of the first to reopen, on June 30th. Ordinarily, we would go there. [...] read more

Charles White Collage

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Charles White exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018 had this collage called Headlines . I took only these two photos of it, the whole shown above and this closer detail: It was made in 1944, at the height of the war, when racism in the United States was taking many ugly forms. Looking now, I am struck by the extremity of elegance and profundity with which this renders learning about what people are doing to people through the news. [...] read more

Van Gogh's Room In Detail

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

It is nearly midnight. Dark out. Someone is setting off fireworks. In the house very quiet. I think of Van Gogh, to whom it was important to have these few rooms, with enough room for him to paint, and for Gauguin to come and be sheltered, these rooms in the yellow house in Arles. [...] read more

Van Gogh's Room

Monday, June 15, 2020

Today there is a small glitch in the program that allows me to upload images as part of these notebook entries, and this changes how I can take you through Van Gogh's room — the square table with the blue pitcher in its bowl and the stoppered glass bottles, the open green casement window, the floor with its rough texture of green and brown, the two bright yellow straw chairs, the red cover on the bed, the row of pegs on the wall on which hang the blue work clothes and the soft-brimmed hat — [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse, A single room, Van Gogh

Saturday, June 13, 2020

We are in our rooms in a different way. I think I am having the experience of realizing that this is not a matter of a few weeks or months that will soon be definitively over, but a matter of a year, or years. The room I want to think about is Van Gogh's. The Bedroom , 1889, belonging to the Art Institute of Chicago. On Monday, I will set to work with this room. Wishing you [...] read more


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Yesterday and today, in our extended family, as for many families, our children graduated. Our children and their cousins left behind nursery school, second grade, kindergarten, sixth grade, a year of daycare, and the fourth grade in a planned home school. Their teachers and families made a moving effort to mark these changes which this year do not seem as visible, as tangible, as usual. Thinking about graduation, and gradual movement, my mind went to Claude Monet, who was one of the first painters I loved, and whose paintings our [...] read more

Kano School: Kyoto at Peace

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Continuing to think about the rare quality of light at Promontory Point on Sunday. Mellow clear June light of a temperate day. And also light imbued by the people who sat together, sheltered on the rock ledges of a public park, returned to our lake after months of sequestration, with an early tenuous sense that a less violent future might be possible. At first sight, you might think, as I did, that this screen has too much gold on it to take it seriously. [...] read more

Jeff Donaldson and Miles Davis: Report on a South Side Mood

Monday, June 8, 2020

Today I just want to report on a mood that the children and I happened into around 5:30 yesterday afternoon. A beautiful mood, such as I have never encountered before, fine and distinct. ** The children and I found the mood at Lake Michigan on Promontory Point, which was open yesterday for the first time in nearly three months. We got word from a friend that it was possible to go. We rode our bikes down around 5 in the afternoon. It was a [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Norman Lewis

Saturday, June 6, 2020

This work in pastel and ink by Norman Lewis caught my attention one day at the Smart Museum of Art. The story wears us down. Lewis grew up in Harlem, his parents were Bermudian, he studied with Augusta Savage. He worked alongside Pollock in the WPA and showed with Mark Rothko and went to the meetings of the Abstract Expressionists, he founded the gallery Cinque with Romare Bearden and Ernest Crichlow, he had shows in his lifetime at MoMA and the Whitney, but [...] read more

Beauford Delaney Eyes

Friday, June 5, 2020

Drawing together the two paintings I’ve been considering this week – Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) , 1948, and his Self-Portrait , 1944. Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Village Street), 1948, Terra Foundation of Art. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. Beauford Delaney, Self-Portrait, 1944, Art Institute of Chicago. All detail photos Rachel Cohen. When I was with Untitled (Village Street) , I noticed the repeating [...] read more

Delaney, Self-Portrait with a Red Hat

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Today, I just want to look at this self-portrait by Beauford Delaney, carefully, and from different distances. It was painted in 1944. Yesterday, I was writing about 1943 – the year when the Harlem insurrection broke out on the night after James Baldwin’s father’s funeral, which was also the day of Baldwin’s 19th birthday. When Beauford Delaney found the money to pay for the father’s burial, and Baldwin drove through the streets of shattered glass to the burial. And then left Harlem [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin, Notes of Native Sons

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Between the thirties and the end of World War II, there was perhaps as radical a change in the psychological perspective of the Negro American toward America as there was between the Emancipation and 1930. —Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America When I looked at this painting, painted in 1948, Beauford Delaney’s Untitled (Village Street) at length this winter, I was very struck by the way one side of the painting is very clearly in color, and the other [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and Protest

Monday, June 1, 2020

In these hard days, the sounds of our neighborhood are of the unusual silence of the pandemic, the birds singing, of sirens, both ambulance sirens and police sirens, of the 7 pm neighborhood pot-banging in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protestors, the muffled greetings between neighbors, masked and at a distance, the imagined sounds of videos of police violence that I have not played, but have read about, the imagined sounds of protests that I have not attended, but feel I can hear from a few miles away, and the imagined sounds of shattering [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse: Balthasar van der Ast

Sunday, May 31, 2020

At the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, this still life happened to catch my eye. The wall label read: Balthasar van der Ast Dutch, 1593 or 1594-1657 Still Life with Fruit and Shells Oil on panel Private Collection The sky is very blue today. We are waiting to [...] read more

Guest Post Lori Waxman

Fischli and Weiss and the Way Things Go  

Friday, May 29, 2020

I was delighted that the wonderful art critic Lori Waxman accepted my invitation to write the first guest post for the Frederick Project. Here is her reflection on Fischli and Weiss and the Way Things Go. — RC After the shelter-in-place order was issued here, one of the very first artworks I turned to was “The Way Things Go,” a 1987 film by the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss. I watched it with my son, who is six years old and likes to make inventions out [...] read more

Centrale Montemartini, Bodies in Structured Space

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Yesterday, I thought about Michelangelo's designs for the Laurentian Library in Florence. I was interested that I came upon a thought of the strain that an idea of architectural space may put on a body. I hadn't quite thought to myself before that part of what interests me in certain Florentine ideas of space and design is that they demand something of my body as I move through them. When I let my mind rove about for what to look at next, I came to the [...] read more

Michelangelo, Stairs for a Library

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

While I was working on the biography I wrote of Bernard Berenson, which was published in 2013, I was able to go to Florence twice. This was before I had a phone with a camera, and I did not take pictures on these trips. Berenson’s lists of Italian paintings and painters are still foundational for all the work of identifying who painted what in the complicated annals of late Medieval and Renaissance art in Italy. He was extremely gifted at discerning the artistic personality that had been at work in [...] read more

Katayama Yokoku, Marking an Occasion

Monday, May 25, 2020

When I began going to museums with our daughter S, she always liked paintings of animals, and, from an early age, tigers. Sometimes, when I went without her, I would take a few pictures to bring home of things I thought she might especially like. It is for this reason that I have one photo of this magnificent tiger in a rainstorm, painted by Katayama Yokoku, who was a Kano school painter in the 18th century in Japan. S was two and a half when I took the picture, I was very [...] read more

Michelangelo on Sunday

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Two important exhibitions of Michelangelo drawings in recent years. The drawing below was in the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer (Nov. 2017 - Feb 2018). It's a composition sketch for a planned sculptural relief at the church of San Lorenzo, the subject is St. Lawrence Coming Before the Emperor. The Emperor is enthroned on the viewer's left. Michelangelo began [...] read more

Stockholder Rose's Inclination

Friday, May 22, 2020

Red was also painted on to the sidewalk. The red stretched up in a big painted arc on the back wall that curved up on to the ceiling and stretched toward the windows of the second floor, windows that you cannot really see from the lobby space below but which shone on the red. And red ran in the carpet under the tables where students sat and drank coffee, across the floor of the lobby, out the museum doors, and on to the sidewalk, where it was met by triangles of yellow, blue, green, and [...] read more

Vostell Concrete

Thursday, May 21, 2020

In the fall of 2016, when we had just arrived in Chicago, I began to get emails about a concrete car, a 1957 Cadillac encased in concrete, that would be traveling the streets of Chicago before being permanently parked in a University parking garage. This seemed promising and suggestive, and though I was unable to attend the parade, a small trail of reflection began. Concrete Traffic, Created 1970, Originally Installed 1970, Reinstalled 2016. Conceived by Wolf Vostell and created by Chicago artisans. Located at Campus [...] read more

Mondrian Trees Reflected

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

This entry was written for, and is up today at, zoeryanprojects, more information below. ** I walked by this Mondrian one day at the Art Institute, just wandering with a friend. I am tall, and she is taller, carries herself like a long line and speaks in lineated prose, and, although she was in another room when I happened on this painting, the elongation of space was a part of my impression. I first became aware [...] read more

Vuillard and Vegetation

Monday, May 18, 2020

This week I want to think about vegetation and growth. I have been reading a long poem by Francis Ponge from Le Parti Pris de Choses , which my friend Massimo sent on to me – happily, since I cannot find my copy of it. In the poem “Faune et Flore” I find the line: “Il n’y a pas d’autre mouvement en eux que l’extension. ” Extension is their only movement. It has rained enormously over the last few days. The last five springs [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Vuillard

Saturday, May 16, 2020

This painting by Édouard Vuillard is called Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods . It was painted in 1899. It used to hang in a different room on the second floor of the Art Institute of Chicago, in a side room against a dark red wall. This was a quite wonderful color that brought out the richness and browns that are an important part of it. [...] read more

Morisot, Occasionally

Friday, May 15, 2020

I went to Québec City in the summer of 2018 to cover Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist. I had never been to Québec City before, and I had not been away from the children for two nights in a row. Our daughter was then six, and our son three and a half. Both Québec City and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (MNBAQ) were built with French models in mind, and then also built to be of a different place. So the buildings and collection [...] read more

If you think of each act, Pissarro

Thursday, May 14, 2020

If you think of each act. I mean, every time a person comes into contact with someone else or a living being, or the life of the world. Every time she talks to the cashier as she pays for groceries at the store, or calls the pharmacy about a prescription, every time she does or doesn’t nod to a person she passes as she’s out walking, every time she puts out bird seed or chases away a rat who has come to eat the bird seed, or decides to bring in the bird [...] read more

Rembrandt – Somber

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Today three different messages of death reached me. A colleague’s father has died, from a long illness, not the coronavirus. It is very complicated for the son to go; he will have to quarantine away from his family on his return. At noon, I gave a virtual reading with another colleague, who lives on a block one block away from me. Both of us read about memorialization. After the reading, my colleague said that five households on his block - I can see the backs [...] read more

Vidura Jang Bahadur Two Photographs Outside

Monday, May 11, 2020

On Friday I wrote about a show of works by photographer Vidura Jang Bahadur that has stayed with me. It was up in the spring of 2017 at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield in a University of Chicago-owned space here on the South Side. When I looked at the show, I began with the works that had been displayed in the interior space first, and my Friday entry concentrated mostly on those. Two works mounted outside were especially interesting, and I wanted to return to them today. [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse: Cézanne Bouquet for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Here is a Cézanne, The Vase of Tulips , from about 1890. It is at the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the photos. Happy Mother's Day [...] read more

Vidura Jang Bahadur On Photography

Friday, May 8, 2020

In the spring of 2017, Vidura Jang Bahadur installed a series of photographs he had taken at the Muffler Shop at 359 E. Garfield Blvd near Washington Park on the South Side. The building is owned by the University of Chicago and is a part of its art initiatives. Bahadur’s photographs were street photographs – of people at the lake shore and in the parks on the south side, of storefronts and prairie grasses, some portraits of an individual or a small group, some larger crowd gatherings. [...] read more

Faith Ringgold Story Quilts

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

“On the Beach at St. Tropez” was the first Faith Ringgold story quilt I’d seen, and I was completely unprepared for the encounter. I was floored. And know what that expression means as I find it is the right one: it means my soul rushed down to the floor so that I could look up and take the measure of this. I had already read the wall text, so I [...] read more

Three Pissarros Over Time

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Pissarro landscape has a special quality. As in a Monet, the vegetation has a lift, but this is even a bit more pronounced, so that there is a strong space around the leaves, which have a kind of brio. Detail from Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. As in a Sisley, there are glints, and the overall effect is quite bright, but the strokes are not quite as thin as Sisley’s. [...] read more

Weekend Countryside Pissarro

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunshine today put me in mind of three Pisssarros at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Camille Pissarro, A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1874. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. And, second: Camille Pissarro, Jallais Hill, 1867. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photos Rachel Cohen. [...] read more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Montage, Part 2

Friday, May 1, 2020

Continuing the thought of yesterday. Two artists consider the topography of Mexico and Mexico City. Lola Álvarez Bravo in a photo-montage called Landscapes of Mexico from around 1954; Valeria Luiselli in an essay from around 2012 called “Flying Home. ” [I’m using the translation by Christina MacSweeney; I don’t know what the essay was originally called in Spanish. ] Both artists consider shifts in point of view that are hard to come by right now – you can’t get up into an airplane, or into the dusty reaches of a [...] read more

Valeria Luiselli and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Changes in Scale, Part 1

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Low this morning, daunted by similar days and already anticipating the evening feeling that the day has slipped by without any of the things I meant to do getting done. I am aware that today was to have been a special day. We had been able to invite Valeria Luiselli to come to the University of Chicago, and she was to have arrived yesterday. Tonight would have been the large public event. I would have met her yesterday, be going over my introductory remarks now. These last few [...] read more

Anni Albers Scripts

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

This week I seem to be thinking about art that thinks about writing. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to write about art. A reversal is interesting: how art considers writing. Earlier this week, I looked at Tara Geer, and at Alberto Giacometti, both of whom use line in ways that think about writing. Today when I woke up what was in my mind was Anni Albers Study for Six Prayers, IV , which I saw a few times at the Art Institute [...] read more

Giacometti Difficult Hand-Writing

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Writing of Tara Geer’s work yesterday put me in mind of Giacometti, whose line in drawings and in paintings also has a quality of being written. This is from the Geer of yesterday: Giacometti's hand: He, too, is calligraphic: These details are from a Giacometti that I spent a fair amount of time with at the Harvard Art Museums, a portrait of the art critic David Sylvester. [...] read more

Tara Geer At Home, Drawn

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tara Geer draws from life. There were some months, maybe years, where she spent hours up on the roof of her studio building on 133rd Street sketching the tar stains. She drew backpacks and socks, the buses in the city lot across the street, and the cobwebs in the freight elevator shaft. Right now she is sheltering with her family, and like many artists cannot get to her studio. The things she looks for are oblique, at odds. [...] read more

Weekend Space Tara Geer

Saturday, April 25, 2020

I met the artist Tara Geer at the MacDowell Colony in 2002. For the next nine years or so, we were both living in New York, and I spent quite a bit of time at her studio, looking. Eventually, I came to have three of her works, which are drawings. This is one that does not have a title, done before May of 2013, probably in early 2013 or late 2012. It is work that takes attention very seriously, and I hope, even through these photos, will offer contemplation, [...] read more

Delaney and Morisot Ochre: This Week in Self-Portraits

Friday, April 24, 2020

Yesterday, looking at pictures of Beauford Delaney’s Untitled , 1965, I noticed a kind of ochre in the corner that I hadn’t remembered being part of the palette. It's down in the lower right corner, near the rosy orange, under the diagonal of green. Beauford Delaney, Untitled, 1965. Art Institute of Chicago. Photo Rachel Cohen. I have also been going through Morisot paintings this week, and her self-portrait, with its ochre, came into view. [...] read more

Beauford Delaney Close Looking

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I had about a half an hour with it. The kind people who work at the Art Institute of Chicago had arranged an appointment. It was in the director’s suite, behind an administrator, who typed away at her computer while I was looking and photographing. Which is by way of saying that the impression of calm is hard-won, mostly due to the painting, and to efforts of concentration. What a painting. It’s [...] read more

Poussin on Earth Day

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It is Earth Day, and I want to think about the earth’s time. My colleague Kathleen Blackburn, who writes about the environment and works with the Fresh Water Lab at the University of Illinois, has drawn my attention to a book I have been thinking about without yet having read, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. The thought is that we can understand and respond to crises with an immediate time horizon, but that we have a very hard time acting as if, even perceiving that, [...] read more

William Walker Public Art

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Today I want to think about public art. Art that I can still go visit, that anyone can still go visit, even though all the museums are closed. Often vulnerable and often unprotected, and also, beautifully, always there. Even in the dark of night, in snow, in a pandemic. In our neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, there is a masterwork at the 56th Street Metra Underpass. It is called Childhood is Without Prejudice , and it is one of the few surviving murals by William Walker, who was a [...] read more

Morisot – A Daughter at the Window

Monday, April 20, 2020

A daughter at the window is poignant. She is here with you, in the interior, but she is thinking of what lies beyond. Berthe Morisot, Cottage Interior, 1886. Musée d'Ixelles. Photos Rachel Cohen. Berthe Morisot painted and drew her daughter Julie probably several hundred times. There are masterpieces of Julie as a baby with her wet nurse, as a toddler swinging her foot in a chair, as a little girl with her father in the garden. [...] read more

Glimpse Morisot

Saturday, April 18, 2020

For the weekend, you might like to look at Berthe Morisot's Cottage Interior , 1886. It belongs to the Musée d'Ixelles and was shown in the great Morisot retrospective of a couple of years ago. I photographed it in the exhibition at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de Québec (MNBAC). Morisot's daughter Julie is looking out the window. [...] read more

Noemi Pérez Emphasis

Friday, April 17, 2020

Today I just want to show three more detail photos taken from Noemi Pérez's large scale murals Catatumbo Panorama . The works were made in 2012-2016, and in 2018, and were shown together at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as part of their Routes and Territories exhibition, which is set to close in two days, on April 19, 2020, although it is already closed. In this one, you can see how a cloud of charcoal seems to hover, and interfere, to be the closest thing to you, but the vegetation [...] read more

Noemi Pérez at the MCA Chicago

Routes and Territories

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Time is short today, but what I want to begin thinking about are some mural-sized works of charcoal on canvas that I saw in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of their exhibition Routes and Territories . The artist is Noemi Pérez, who is from Colombia. Together, the set of pieces are called Panorama Catatumbo. She made them in two groups, one group from 2012 to 2016, the other in 2018. One of [...] read more

Pissarro in Snow

Out of Season

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Snow this morning. This painting – Rabbit Warren at Pontoise, Snow by Camille Pissarro, 1879 – is a regular point of reference for me, one I visit fairly often at the Art Institute. I had thought that writing of it would wait until next year. (Will we be inside again? There are questions and predictions about future waves of the disease. Hard to grasp what the year will be. ) Most winters I write a [...] read more

Gray Bird and Buddhist Monk

Frederick Project: Guidance

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

This morning I woke early, went to the kitchen. Out the window, in the still-brown bittersweet vine, a small gray bird, its feathers puffed out against the cold. It was 31 degrees, cold for spring. At this time of year, we have many migratory birds that pass through our garden for a few days. I know these gray ones come around this time. Yesterday I was saying to the children that this unseasonably cold weather would be unexpected for them. But then, I added, where it is coming from [...] read more

Cézanne and Ponge: Wooden Table

Frederick Project: Tableau

Monday, April 13, 2020

The painting is called Still Life with Commode . It’s from 1887-88, a strong period of Cézanne’s work. He was fighting hard with his canvases, and able to do some of what mattered to him. He made two very similar versions of this painting, which was unusual for him; there is only one other still life pair where he worked through the same arrangement twice. So, the elements and their arrangement here were of unusual interest to him. The back of the picture is the commode. [...] read more

Weekend Glimpse Cézanne

Frederick Project: Glimpse

Saturday, April 11, 2020

It is the weekend again, and I am leaving a few images from a Cézanne still life at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts for anyone who might pass by and be in need of a fine green, a modulating brown, yellow apples, and a sense of achieved stability. [...] read more

Kemang Wa Lehulere: Sensibility

Frederick Project: Reconstruction

Friday, April 10, 2020

Late in 2016, when we had been living in Chicago for about six months, I went to the Art Institute, and wandered into a show of works by Kemang Wa Lehulere, who is from Capetown. The show was called In All My Wildest Dreams and was curated by Kate Nesin. [All photos are from the exhibition, I don't have titles for all the pieces. ] In the first room there was a large installation. Old, small brown suitcases, some open, some closed. Cut pieces of green artificial grass. Porcelain [...] read more

Sargent Stone Water Stone Paper

Frederick Project: Materials

Thursday, April 9, 2020

In 2013, a show of John Singer Sargent watercolors. I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; it was co-organized with, and also shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These two institutions have the two finest collections of Sargent watercolors. These first details are from I Gesuati , ca. 1909. [Works shown in this post belong to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; except for two, belonging to the Brooklyn Museum, noted below. ] It [...] read more

Hiroshige's Views of Kyoto

Frederick Project: Reconstruction

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In December of 2019, I went to New York for a few days and various reasons, and I went twice to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was covering their show Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination , for which they had reinstalled their Japanese galleries with works from their permanent collection that partake in the long Kyoto tradition. Kyoto was for many centuries the capital of Japan – this capital was eventually shifted to Edo, which is now called Tokyo. The two cities were connected by a famously beautiful road, the Tokaido [...] read more

Lorenzetti and Neighborhood

Frederick Project: Elegy

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This week, the week of Passover and Easter, is a strange one. I think of it as a place in the year where time folds over itself. In our family, we observe Passover, the commemoration of the exodus. The story of enslavement and liberation told over and over down the generations. That story, the ritual of its retelling at a meal, is then the setting for the last supper, the prelude to an execution, and the foundation of the new testament, also [...] read more

Xu Longsen and the sense of touch

Frederick Project: Felt

Monday, April 6, 2020

Over the weekend, I set out some pictures from Xu Longsen’s Light of Heaven exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. The exhibition was installed throughout the museum’s rooms devoted to art from China and was in complex relationships with the other works. Xu Longsen  works in series and groups, and from my photographs and the museum's documentation, I can’t tell which pieces had which names. All the works are from 2016-2017 and are in the collection of the artist, Beijing. [...] read more

Xu Longsen at the Art Institute

Frederick Project: Glimpse

Saturday, April 4, 2020

On weekends, I'm going to post some glimpsed works that I can take up in more detail come Monday. These are from an installation of works by Xu Longsen at the Art Institute of Chicago called Light of Heaven , which ran from Feb 1 - June 24, 2018. At the end, I am also including a photo of the wall text that gives the names of the installations that were in this space, a series of painted columns made of felt, all several feet taller than a person. [...] read more

Jan Brueghel the Elder Dance

Frederick Project: Crowded

Friday, April 3, 2020

Yesterday I spent some five hours talking to people through screens – a zoom faculty meeting with twenty-five writers at their desks, facetime with my oldest friend, also a writer at a desk, zoom family meet-up for nine with breakout room for cousins. The day closed with a zoom nightcap for my husband and I and a dear friend in Cambridge. Grateful for friends, colleagues, family, health, nevertheless, by the end I was reeling with insubstantiality. This morning I followed my subconscious through the folders of my art photographs, choosing a trip [...] read more

Delaney Self-Portrait Sketches

Frederick Project: Hasty

Thursday, April 2, 2020

This morning I went for groceries, had a zoom faculty meeting, the man came to help cement the cracks in our back foundation through which the mice are coming; my husband did the kids’ school and meals, wiped down the groceries… It’s a sunny and beautiful day, New York is running out of ventilators, Chicago is on the edge of serious trouble, I am probably already too anxious to write clearly. For the last few weeks, I have had an hour or two, even three, to write, [...] read more

Sophie Calle and Rembrandt at the Gardner

Frederick Project: Missing

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Yesterday I wrote about a Rembrandt self-portrait that is still to be seen at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Today, thinking of recent news of a painting stolen from a coronavirus closed museum, I want to write about a Rembrandt self-portrait that isn't still to be seen at the Gardner. Seven years ago, there was a Sophie Calle installation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was a reconfiguration of an earlier project, done in 1990, immediately after the theft of thirteen important works from the Gardner’s collection. In [...] read more

Rembrandt in Gray at the Gardner

Frederick Project: Stolen

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I wish I could say that I knew this painting well, but the truth is that I walked by it a few times when we lived in Boston. I went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum fairly often, because I was writing a book about Bernard Berenson, who was one of her most important advisors in building the collection. But Berenson was focused on Italian paintings, and when I went to the museum I spent a lot of my time in the Italian rooms. On most visits, I never even went around [...] read more

A little more late Manet

Frederick Project: Fortitude

Monday, March 30, 2020

Yesterday, I began from Manet’s morning glories and nasturtiums to arrive at a letter he sent to Marthe Hoschedé, with a water color of a horse chestnut on it. Letter to Marthe Hoschedé, Decorated with a Chestnut , October 10, 1880, private collection. Detail photo Rachel Cohen. In the exhibition, at the museum, next to the letter with the horse chestnut, there hung a watercolor of plums. Today I’m going to begin there. [...] read more

Late Manet

Frederick Project: Unfinished

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Last summer, the summer of 2019, the Art Institute of Chicago had a Manet show, Manet and Modern Beauty which I reviewed for Apollo Magazine . The paintings in the show were mostly from the late 1870s and early 1880s, a period when Manet’s touch and palette were lightening, he was interested in flowers and fashion, and he was also dying of complications of syphilis. Thus the tone was an odd combination of lightness, fluidity, melancholy, and decay. It was a very sad show. [...] read more

Pissarro and Public Spaces

Frederick Project: Commons

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Yesterday in Chicago the lake front and many of the public parks closed. A day or two earlier, there had been a beautiful warm day, and too many people went out to the places we always go to. Jackson Park was closed, too, where the children and I have been going to keep track of spring, and to run around the perimeter of what they call ‘the circle garden. ’ This morning, I am thinking about the relationship between museums and public parks, places whose colors we see, year in and year out, [...] read more

Frankenthaler Woodcut Color

Frederick Project: Colors and Collaboration

Friday, March 27, 2020

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) worked with many kinds of material. Two springs ago, the Art Institute of Chicago held a show of her prints: Helen Frankenthaler Prints: The Romance of a New Medium . I went a couple of times, and once took our daughter, for whom colors are living presences. Frankenthaler started working seriously as a high school student, with artist Rufino Tamayo as her teacher. Tamayo, born in Oaxaca, painted in an abstract style, and was influenced by surrealism. [...] read more

iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman Further Looking

Frederick Project: Before and After

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Yesterday I turned up a subject – a pavilion at the Venice Biennale with works by iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman, curated by Benno Tempel. I decided to follow it through in the order of my experience: seeing the pavilion in June of 2019, having the sense of interest quickened, documenting something of what I saw, being offered materials which I glanced at, but kept, and then, some nine months later, paying another kind of attention, internet attention, which let me put together other layers of meaning. The installation was set [...] read more

iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman at the Venice Biennale

Frederick Project: Before and After

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Last summer, in 2019, we went to Venice with my mother. My father had close colleagues at the University there, and my mother still goes regularly to see them and the city. I had not been back since we scattered my father’s ashes there, six years earlier. Now our daughter was seven, our son four. They loved Venice. They loved that there was a boat for everything – for garbage, for fires, a UPS boat, one with a crane for construction, gondolas and pleasure boats and water taxis. The [...] read more

Turner Looking

Frederick Project: Abstraction and Retrospect

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

I am interested in the time layers of paintings. I always go back to J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), painter of hundreds of oils (radical landscapes, history paintings, the abolitionist Slave Ship , scenes from his teeming imagination), of thousands of watercolors (a lingering soft touch, delicate effects of light, hundreds of studies of Venice, an inspiration to the Impressionists), and artist of some 30,000 works on paper (wonderful sketchbooks, studies in history, architecture, travel. ) Turner died, impoverished and strange, in London in [...] read more

Beauford Delaney and Ella Fitzgerald: In Yellow

Frederick Project: Abstract

Monday, March 23, 2020

In February, I went to a conference at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, organized by Amy J. Elias, called In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney. Some of the speakers were to give the first talks of their careers and others were people of great renown; all, feeling the significance of honoring the friendship between Baldwin and Delaney, and wanting to have the chance to give real attention to Delaney’s less studied work, had carefully prepared. We arrived at overlapping considerations, the conversation was [...] read more

Morisot Following Black

Frederick Project: Closed and Open

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The first Morisot I ever really paid attention to was a small watercolor from the Clark Institute of Art (currently closed) that I happened upon in an exhibition of works on paper at the Frick (closed) in New York. Berthe Morisot, Before a Yacht, 1875, Clark Art Institute, 8 1/8 x 10 9/16 inches. I was taken by it. And then, that afternoon, saw five of her paintings in a show on Impressionism and fashion at [...] read more

Hokusai Turned Sideways

Frederick Project: Colors and History

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Because it was behind glass, I could only photograph it sidelong. It came as a great relief. In the Art Institute of Chicago’s show of 2018, Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection . Room after room of courtesans – the highly-paid ones in their graceful rooms which they still could not leave unless a patron could be persuaded to purchase their contracts; and the ones who worked the docks at night, with stalls for quick transactions – all posed for a [...] read more

Faith Ringgold at St. Tropez

Frederick Project: Colors and History

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thinking of intense experiences of color in the last few months. Immediately Faith Ringgold. Her painted canvas and quilt On the Beach at St. Tropez , from the series of twelve story-quilts The French Collection , which came as a revelation in the Smart Museum of Art’s show called Down Time: On the Art of Retreat this past fall. You walked into the gallery and were literally flooded with color. Ringgold paints on canvas [...] read more

Cézanne Still and Blue

Frederick Project: To Resolve

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Today I’m going to work on how Cézanne’s blue resolves. One sense of resolve is to determine to go forward. Cézanne’s perennial project. Famous for destroying his canvases, for painting them out and scraping them off and beginning again, for going out on the road every day to set up his easel and work again at the view of the bay, the view of the mountain. Speaking to few, often frustrated, lonely. The resolve [...] read more

Blue of Paul Cézanne

Frederick Project: To Resolve

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Yesterday, I wrote about Beauford Delaney’s blue, green, and yellow – the way the blue filters down through the trees; the radiant effect of combined green and yellow. Today, I want to pursue blue. I’ve taught Rebecca Solnit’s essay on blue from her Field Guide to Getting Lost , and I’ve taught Maggie Nelson on blue in her book Bluets. Blue runs through many fields of study – those two writers and many others have traced its threads in landscape, in vision, in philosophy, memory, sorrow, tranquility. Today [...] read more

Beauford Delaney in Knoxville

Frederick Project: Trees

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I just saw it for a minute. It was low down on the storage rack, and I had to crouch down to get to it. My one attempt to photograph the whole of it is clearly angled from above. Watercolor on paper. Even in this poor photograph, the sense of the colors is not far from the actual. 12 ½ inches high and 9 ½ inches wide. A little larger than an ordinary piece of paper. The [...] read more

Arriving at Beauford Delaney

Frederick Project: In Storage

Monday, March 16, 2020

In the last few months, I've twice gone into the storage facilities of a large museum – once at the Art Institute of Chicago, once at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In storage, you can see what curators and conservators and art handlers know: all the contingencies and arrangements that get cloaked with inevitability once a painting is on a wall. It's my idea that the collection I'm making here could be a kind of storage facility. It is a special moment, when the door opens to a museum’s [...] read more


Essay in Lit Hub on Jane Austen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Walking on the South Side

Friday, July 24, 2020

An essay of mine on lines from Jane Austen and Gwendolyn Brooks that keep me company on walking days in quarantine and during Black Lives Matter is up at Lit Hub today. https://lithub. com/on-jane-austens-politics-of-walking/ In the piece I've continued to think about the wonderful sculpture of Gwendolyn Brooks by Margot McMahon, with the collaboration of Nora Brooks Blakely that is here in our neighborhood. A entry of mine about the sculpture is in my art notebook at: https://rachelecohen. com/blog/The_Frederick_Project/c/851 [...] read more

What We Miss Without Museums

Thursday, April 23, 2020

An essay I wrote for the New Yorker online, about missing museums, and making my own remembered museum in the time of quarantine. With paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Berthe Morisot, and William Walker. From the essay: "Museums know the desires of our hands. That is why they have so many “Do Not Touch” signs, so many guards to caution us back. The special presence of paintings comes from their being at once untouchable and viscerally evocative of touch. . . " [...] read more

The Paintings of Beauford Delaney

Monday, April 20, 2020

This is an essay I wrote on the paintings of Beauford Delaney, reflecting on a recent exhibition at the Knoxville Museum of Art. The exhibition was titled, Through the Unusual Door: Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin. The essay is in Apollo Magazine, April, 2020 under the title "Here is a man who could do whatever interested him in paint -- on the paintings of Beauford Delaney. " [...] read more

Berthe Morisot Comes Into Her Own

Saturday, October 6, 2018

This is an essay on the painter Berthe Morisot and an important retrospective of her work in 2018 that originated in  Québec at the MNBAQ, and traveled to the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.  The essay appeared in Apollo Magazine in October, 2018. [...] read more

Gold, Golden, Gilded, Glittering

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This essay, on a long complex history of overlap in financial and artistic inventions, appeared in The Believer in the Nov / Dec 2012 art issue. [...] read more

Looking at Poussin

Sunday, June 1, 2008

This essay, on the occasion of the Metropolitan Museum's Poussin Exhibition, "Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions," February 12-May 11, 2008, appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of The Threepenny Review . [...] read more

Life Studies: Artist's Model

Monday, November 7, 2005

This essay on the ruptured friendship of Émil Zola and Paul Cézanne appeared in The New Yorker in 2005 and is available to subscribers. [...] read more


Chicago Humanities Festival, April 29th 4 pm

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Delighted to be appearing in the Chicago Humanities Festival Saturday, April 29th at 4 at First United Methodist Church. I’ll be talking about SURPRISE, and how both joy and sorrow find places there, about Sense and Sensibility , and life with Jane Austen. If you’re in Chicago, please come. https://www. chicagohumanities. org/events/attend/rachel-cohen/ [...] read more

Public Art in Chicago in Travel & Leisure Magazine

Friday, February 18, 2022

I was delighted to have the chance to write about art behind, on, and beyond walls in Chicago for Travel & Leisure magazine. Link to the piece is: https://www. travelandleisure. com/trip-ideas/city-vacations/where-to-see-chicago-public-art With thanks to photographer Lucy Hewett for wonderful images, and to artists Sam Kirk and Faheed Majeem for their wonderful contributions. Image: Andrea Carlson, You are on Potawotomi Land, Banner, Chicago Riverwalk, photo Rachel Cohen, July 2021. [...] read more

Come and read Mansfield Park with me this September at the 92nd Street Y

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Please come and read Mansfield Park with me at the 92nd Street Y on three Mondays this September (September 13th, 20th, 27th). The events support the 92nd Street Y, which graciously offers my former students a $15 discount off the regular ticket price (message me for code). Ticket purchase here . Course Description: Mansfield Park in September Neither comedy nor tragedy, Jane Austen’s most difficult novel, Mansfield Park , is a history, the study of a place and an inquiry into art and artifice. [...] read more

Austen Years one of LA Times's 10 Great Books That Got Lost in the Noise of 2020

Thursday, December 10, 2020

I was delighted to receive this lovely notice in the L. A. Times alongside books by Mieko Kawakami, Charlotte McConaghy, Kate Zambreno, Shirley Hazzard and others: "In this memoir-essay hybrid, Cohen reads and rereads Jane Austen’s work and tells us not just what it all means but also what it does for us — how the author’s pin-sharp assessments and characters instruct us about the world. There isn’t an ounce of kitsch or flowery claptrap. Instead, Cohen overlays a personal account of grieving her father with the help [...] read more

Nov. 19th, Living as Readers, Harvard Conversation with Katharine Smyth, Deidre Lynch

Thursday, November 12, 2020

I'll be having a conversation with Katharine Smyth (All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf) and Deidre Lynch (Loving Literature: A Cultural History) at virtual Harvard on Thursday, November 19th, 6 pm Eastern / 5 pm Central You can register for the event at https://harvard. zoom. us/webinar/register/WN_AI5B5XAsQLuV91dyuk3m3Q [...] read more

Distinguished (Virtual) Public Lecture Oct 19th UT Humanities Center

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Please join me as I give the Ninth Annual Distinguished Lecture at the UT Humanities Center on Monday, October 19th at 2:30 PM Central / 3:30 PM Eastern. I'll be talking about personal literary criticism, close reading, and Jane Austen in times of trouble. The event is free, to register: https://tennessee. zoom. us/webinar/register/WN_wDyDMLCbQLKCifJ5AGQ00w [...] read more

Austen Years, movingly reviewed in Christian Science Monitor and National Book Review

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Austen Years has been reviewed by Steven Donoghue in the Christian Science Monitor: "Cohen has taken her fascination with – and personal dependence on – one great author and transmutes it into something any reader in the world will find downright marvelous. " ** Read the whole review here: Jane Austen Rescued Her **** [...] read more

Austen Years, a glowing review in the New York Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

My book Austen Years, published today, received a beautiful review in the New York Times written by Sophie Gee. You can read the review here: Review of Austen Years in the New York Times [...] read more

Austen Years Chosen by Christian Science Monitor as one of 10 Best Books of July

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels , to be published July 21, 2020 by FSG, has been chosen as one of the 10 best books of July by the Christian Science Monitor --- " a luminous gift to Janeites everywhere. " The 10 Best Books of July [...] read more

Austen Years receives a starred review in Booklist

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels , to be published July 21, 2020 by FSG, received a starred review in Booklist 's June 1st issue. From the review: "A wondrous mix of memoir and biography . . . [Austen Years] is a book not to be hurried through but consumed in small portions and pondered over as it sparks introspection. [Cohen's] deep knowledge of and respect for Austen’s novels will equally impress Austenites and readers less versed in her works. " [...] read more

Austen Years Chosen by Vulture as one of Summer 2020's Best Books

Friday, May 22, 2020

Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels , my book forthcoming in July, has been chosen by Vulture as one of the books to read this summer: "This tender, rigorous criticism / memoir hybrid. . . intimately matches Jane's literary interrogations — especially those about how women process the infinite varieties of grief — with tender personal sketches. . . invigorating. " (Vulture, 29 Books We Can't Wait to Read This Summer. ) [...] read more

Essay in New Yorker Online, Thinking about art while sheltering

Thursday, April 23, 2020

An essay I wrote for the New Yorker online, about missing museums, and making my own remembered museum in the time of quarantine, is up this week. "Museums know the desires of our hands. That is why they have so many “Do Not Touch” signs, so many guards to caution us back. The special presence of paintings comes from their being at once untouchable and viscerally evocative of touch. . . " You can read the complete essay in the New Yorker [...] read more

Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels now forthcoming from FSG, July 2020

Saturday, March 28, 2020

My third book, Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels will now be published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, July 21, 2020. Publication has been pushed back two months because of the changing situation of bookstores and book distribution. The book is a reflection on a period of life, when our children were born and began to grow, and my father died, and during which I seemed only to read five novels by Jane Austen. The cover was designed by Na Kim. [...] read more

Review of Manet and Modern Beauty in Apollo

Friday, September 6, 2019

I reviewed Manet and Modern Beauty , which was at the Art Institute of Chicago this summer, for Apollo Magazine. The review is here: https://www. apollo-magazine. com/manet-modern-beauty-exhibition-review/ [...] read more

Bomb Magazine Interview with Joshua Rivkin

Thursday, December 13, 2018

We recently hosted Joshua Rivkin here in the creative writing program's New Voices in Nonfiction Series . I had the chance to spend the afternoon with Rivkin in the Twombly sculpture room at the Art Institute of Chicago and published the interview we did in Bomb Magazine . Our conversation is about having long relationships with artists and museums, about traveling and tracking down, about biographical patterns and gaps, and about bringing back the people who were a part of the life and the work. It is featured here: [...] read more

Berthe Morisot in Apollo Magazine

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A piece I wrote about the revelatory Berthe Morisot exhibition, currently in Philadelphia, then traveling to Dallas and Paris, was the cover of the September 2018 issue of Apollo Magazine. The piece is about Morisot's artistic project, and the ways taking it seriously redefines Impressionism. It can be read online here. https://www. apollo-magazine. com/berthe-morisot-comes-into-her-own/ [...] read more

Beckmann on Instagram at the VQR

Monday, November 20, 2017

A piece I've been writing for a long time about Max Beckmann's Actors is running in fragments at the Virginia Quarterly Review. Read the whole essay at: https://www. vqronline. org/essays-articles/2018/03/cohen [...] read more

Review Essay on the Women of Surrealism in the Literary Review

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My review of Whitney Chadwick's very interesting book The Militant Muse: Love, War, and the Women of Surrealism is in this week's issue of Britain's Literary Review.  The opening can be read here: https://literaryreview. co. uk/current-issue/459 [...] read more

Pessoa & Cavafy on the Radio

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Radio Producer Will Duchon presents a program called "Words & Music" on Friday Evening Classics on WMNR Fine Arts Radio. A few weeks ago the segment grew out of my essay "Lost Cities," and includes excerpts of that essay, together with poems by Fernando Pessoa and Constantine Cavafy and Duchon's selection of music. https://beta. prx. org/stories/206072 [...] read more

Conversation with Robert Birnbaum

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A couple of years ago, when my biography of Bernard Berenson came out, I had a long chat with Robert Birnbaum of Our Man in Boston and Identity Theory.  The conversation was recently transcribed and posted here: https://ourmaninboston. wordpress. com/2016/01/25/not-a-chance-meeting-me-and-rachel-cohen/ [...] read more

Instagram at the VQR

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Virginia Quarterly Review invited a group of writers to post fragments of things seen and iphotoed on their instagram feed #VQRTrueStory.  I posted recently on photographs of hands, details from a painting by Edgar Degas and from a photograph of Sojourner Truth. To read the posts: https://www. instagram. com/vqreview/ To read the complete piece on vqronline: http://www. vqronline. org/articles/2016/01/details-fogg-museum I'm on instagram at: rachelcohennotebook [...] read more

New Piece on J.P. Morgan in Apollo Magazine

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I have a piece in the September 2015 issue of Apollo Magazine on the collections of J. P. Morgan, called "The Man Who Bought the World. " https://www. apollo-magazine. com/j-p-morgan-the-man-who-bought-the-world/ The essay is also featured among an interesting group of pieces in the weekly art newsletter, The Easel: http://the-easel. com/ I wrote about Morgan on the occasion of the reopening of the Morgan Memorial Building at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.   The new building and the reinstallation will have their unveiling on September 19th [...] read more

Berenson a Staff Pick at the Paris Review

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review, chose Bernard Berenson as a staff pick, calling it "an engrossing capsule biography. . . a sympathetic portrait of a self-seeking but passionate lover of art. " Here is the full citation: Like many gifted people, connoisseurs are often bad at explaining what they do. At the turn of the last century, Bernard Berenson was the most influential and successful connoisseur of Italian Renaissance art. With a superhuman visual memory, an old-fashioned belief in beauty for its own sake, and rapacious personal charm, this son of working-class Jewish immigrants climbed [...] read more

Berenson Longlisted for JQ Wingate Prize in UK

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade has been longlisted for Britain's JQ Wingate Prize, hosted by the Jewish Quarterly . Others on the long list this year include Simon Schama, Gary Shteyngart, Maxim Leo and Hanna Krall.  The prize is awarded to "the best book to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader. "   The judges were Devorah Baum, Eva Hoffman, Gabriel Josipovici and George Szirtes. More information about the prize can be found here: http://jewishquarterly. org/2014/11/simon-schama-gary-shteyngart-maxim-leo-2015-wingate-longlist/ [...] read more

Lecture at Harvard

Monday, October 6, 2014

I'm giving a public lecture at the History & Literature program at Harvard on Thursday, October 9th at 6 pm.  The lecture is called "Bernard Berenson and the Picture Trade: Some Problems in Biography," and will take place in the Thompson Room at the Barker Center 110, address 12 Quincy Street in Cambridge. [...] read more

New Piece in Threepenny Review

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Fall 2014 issue of the Threepenny Review has a lovely symposium on libraries, with contributions from Oliver Sacks, Francine Prose, Alberto Manguel and many others. My own short piece begins: O ne way to organize my thoughts about libraries would be to begin with childhood. The public library in Ann Arbor. Metal bins outside into which one could slide books, like letters. Then the dim interior, and mazes of shelves. Dry smell, display cases— [...] read more

Guggenheim Fellowship

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm delighted to be one of the 2014 Guggenheim fellows in General Nonfiction alongside Deborah Baker, Emily Fox Gordon, Joy Harjo, Yunte Huang, Jamie James, D. T. Max, Meghan O'Rourke, Susan Orlean and Victoria Sweet. The entire list of new fellows is here: http://www. gf. org/fellows/current/ [...] read more

Upcoming Talks in New York and Lenox, Mass

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I'll be speaking as part of a panel on James Baldwin and painter Beauford Delaney in a wonderful festival celebrating James Baldwin in New York City on April 24th.  And I'll be giving a talk on July 21st on Bernard Berenson, the Gilded Age art market, and Berenson's long friendship with Edith Wharton at The Mount, Wharton's home in Lenox, Mass. (Look under events for all details. )   [...] read more

Talk for Gardner Museum Members 1/25/14

Friday, January 17, 2014

I'll be giving a talk called "Questions of Collecting: Berenson, Gardner and the Market for Italian Pictures in America," at the Gardner Museum on January 25th at 3:30 pm.  The talk is free, but for Gardner members only.  Further details are at: http://www. gardnermuseum. org/calendar/events/5625 [...] read more

Berenson reviewed in Spectator, Sunday Telegraph

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sam Leith writes in the Spectator that: "Rachel Cohen’s unobtrusively and thoroughly well written short volume skilfully negotiates the contradictory sides of Berenson’s character — the aesthete and the huckster; the man who lived only for art and the man who very much liked to surround himself with the appurtenances of wealth. " Read the full review here: http://www. spectator. co. uk/books/books-feature/9097392/bernard-berenson-by-rachel-cohen-review/ In the Sunday Telegraph: "Martin Gayford enjoys an elegant biography of a chameleon-like art historian. " Read the full review here: http://www. telegraph. co. uk/culture/books/bookreviews/10494326/Bernard-Berenson-by-Rachel-Cohen-review. [...] read more

Berenson reviewed in Bookforum, New York Review of Books

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Bookforum , Thomas Micchelli writes that Bernard Berenson is "luminous" and concludes: "In her remarkable biography, Cohen approaches Berenson's life as a panorama full of artifice and profundity, whose brilliant flashes of color are inextricable from its substrates of shadow. The book leaves an indelible impression, not merely in the way it catalogues Berenson's accomplishments and failings, but also in its dissection of the struggle between desire and alienation that characterizes American art—and life—to this day. " The full review is here: http://www. bookforum. com/review/12507 In the current issue of [...] read more

BB starred in Booklist, reviewed in Wall Street Journal, Gallerist

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Recent press for Bernard Berenson: a Life in the Picture Trade , includes this starred review by Donna Seaman in Booklist: 
Cohen (A Chance Meeting, 2004) presents the most dynamic biography yet of the groundbreaking art historian Bernard Berenson. Strung between the Old World and the New, scholarly pursuits and the marketplace, Berenson was influential, controversial, and conflicted. Born Bernhard Valvrojenski in Lithuania, in 1865, he immigrated with his poor Jewish family to Boston and by dint of his ardent reading, passion for beauty, acute intelligence, and incessant ambition turned himself into a Harvard-educated Episcopalian, then a [...] read more

Bernard Berenson reviewed in the New York Review of Books

Friday, November 1, 2013

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books , Walter Kaiser writes that Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade is: "Written with intelligence and understanding and often with impressive psychological insight…A thoughtful, short biography. ” If you are a subscriber to the New York Review you can read the full review here: http://www. nybooks. com/articles/archives/2013/nov/21/passions-bernard-berenson/ [...] read more

Bernard Berenson published October 22nd.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My second book, Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade , has just been published in the Yale University Press Jewish Lives Series.  The press describes the book: "This brilliant new biography of the leading art connoisseur of the Gilded Age explores his accomplishments, his painful disappointments, the historical forces that affected his life, and the women who were central to his achievements. " “A highly sympathetic and graceful portrait of Bernard Berenson, the art connoisseur and dealer who remade himself into work of art, priced and priceless, which he protected, cultivated, and even at time [...] read more

New Piece in Art in America

Saturday, October 5, 2013

An article I wrote on the way American art critics helped to shape a new taste for Italian Renaissance pictures is featured in this month's Art in America .  The piece is part of Art in America's celebration of a century of publication.  One of its important early contributors was Bernard Berenson, and this piece grew out of research I did for Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade .   [...] read more

Interview with Five Books

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I had the pleasure of recommending five books about writing about visual experience for the website Five Books, a place where I've discovered many interesting things to read. The books I chose are ones I've recently been engaged with that have been helping me to think about how language comes into contact with art, and with images in the mind -- it was a pleasure to talk that over with interviewer / editor Sophie Roell. The interview is here: http://fivebooks. com/interviews/rachel-cohen-on-writing-about-art [...] read more

Reading with Vijay Seshadri October 1

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I'll be reading with Vijay Seshadri in the DoubleTake Series curated by Albert Mobilio at Apex Art Gallery October 1, at 7 pm. The gallery is at 291 Church St and details about the reading are to be found here: apexart. org/double-take-reading-series. php . Vijay's wonderful book 3 Sections is out this month from Graywolf.  For the reading, he and I [...] read more

Lawrence Weschler Symposium in McSweeney's No.44

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I've edited a symposium in tribute to the wonderful work of Lawrence Weschler, author of Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder , and Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing That One Sees , and Everything That Rises .  The symposium appears as part of McSweeney's issue 44, and is to be published September 20, 2013.   Here is McSweeney's description of the issue: With a stunning set of stories from some of the finest writers toiling away today—including breathtaking new work from Rebecca Curtis, Stuart Dybek, and Jim Shepard, and the Southeast Asian prison novella the world [...] read more

Collaboration with Tara Geer

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A new collaboration with artist Tara Geer has taken the shape of a book called Carrying Silence , published by Glenn Horowitz in conjunction with Geer's show at the Glenn Horowitz Gallery in August, 2013.  One section of my essay for the book can be read on the blog here.  The link to an essay I wrote some years ago about Tara and the drawing classes she teaches to André Gregory is below.   [...] read more

Essay in The Believer

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I've heard from a wonderful variety of artists, curators, poets, rhetoricians and accountants about this piece, "Gold, Golden, Gilded, Glittering," that appeared in November 2012 in The Believer .   Excerpt: "In fact, we have long entrusted the task of representing our ideas of value to members of two professions that might seem to have little in common: banking and art. And, in the last seven hundred years or so, it has happened more than once that visual and financial inventors have come up with strikingly similar representations. There is more than a shadow of resemblance [...] read more