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These Two New York City Art Exhibitions Will Help Chase Away the Winter Doldrums

Winter can make anyone’s day dull and drab, but art can lift it. Particularly when it’s as adorable or vibrant as Beatrix Potter and Sonia Delaunay’s works.

New York City has many smaller boutique-like museums, and two of these cultural institutions have visitor-worthy exhibits, both of which opened on the same day this month: The Morgan Library & Museum and Bard Graduate Center.

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Rabbit pouring tea. Image ©Victoria & Albert Museum.

A crowd pleaser for all ages is “Beatrix Potter: Dream to Nature”, on view through June 9, 2024, at The Morgan Library & Museum, which we visited the day before it opened to the public. Nothing will prepare the visitor for the endearing charm, and Ms. Potter’s (1866-1943) remarkable talent for painting, than standing face to face with her original watercolors of Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Jeremiah Fisher, and her cast of dozens of friendly animals. Words can’t describe the delight of seeing these much-loved creatures, impersonating human beings, which graced the pages of her small books in various studies of their personalities in her original sketches.

Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Rabbit going for shopping
Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Rabbit going for shopping. Image ©Victoria & Albert Museum.

The exhibit ties together Ms. Potter’s artworks, Christmas cards, board games, toys, books, manuscripts and some artifacts from her life, and highlights of her extraordinary talent of capturing scientific observation—botany–and imaginative storytelling. She advocated strongly about getting children interested in reading and her initial manuscript for Peter Rabbit was rejected by several publishing houses.

Beatrix Potter's paint box.
Beatrix Potter’s paint box.

In the exhibit, visitors can discover her childhood, then her interest in the natural sciences leading to her accidental journey into becoming a best-selling author, and finally, her later life in the Lake District of England and her extraordinary legacy, the four thousand acres she bequeathed to UK’s National Trust, and her foray into sheep breeding. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a partner in this exhibition and it’s a must see for anyone who grew up reading Beatrix Potter’s books and has started to read them to their children and grandchildren. There’s also a companion hardcover book of the exhibition that brings together all of her talents and her legacy.

A Sonia Delaunay artwork.
A Sonia Delaunay artwork.

On the other spectrum is Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979), one of the most influential female artists of the 20th century, who was married to painter Robert Delaunay. They co-founded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes—abstract art. Her kaleidoscopic body of work focused on the primacy of color and a synthesis of the arts.

Painter, artisan, and designer, she embraced modernity and harnessed the creative power of collaboration in the realms of fashion, textiles, interiors, books, mosaics, and tapestries. Living Art – on view at Bard Graduate Center until July 7, 2024 – comprises almost 200 objects and reflects Ms. Delaunay’s colorful output through all periods of her career, from the early Parisian avant-garde of the 1910s to the spirited 1970s.

Sonia Delaunay's Solor Prism 1914 - at National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Sonia Delaunay’s Solor Prism 1914 – at National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Many of the works have never been seen before by the public in the US, and include rare couture garments from the 1920s, furniture and a tapestry from the 1970s commissioned by the French Government. Her works showcase the masterful use of color across many mediums – from playing cards to furniture to fashion. She was a valiant self-promoter and there’s even a film she produced that offers a glimpse into her world of living art. She referred to herself as pursuing “Simultanism”, creative expression through color and breaking down barriers as a female artist in the fine and decorative arts.

A Sonia Delaunay dress & capelet made for Annette Coutrot in 1929.
A Sonia Delaunay dress & capelet made for Annette Coutrot in 1929.

Both these exhibits bring much joy as we approach the new season of spring!

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