by Dr. Sara Hollis
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., has acquired Leah Red Coat Stirring (Sketch), an original oil painting by artist Gustave Blache III. It is the second painting from the Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III series to be acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex.
This is very exciting news for the arts community here. Blache has had two major exhibitions here in recent years, one at Le Musée de f.p.c. and the other at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Half the works from the Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III series were first exhibited at Le Musée in a private preview show in the fall of 2010 before exhibiting at NOMA a year and a half later.
In 2011, the National Portrait Gallery acquired Cutting Squash, an iconic oil painting depicting legendary Leah Chase working in her kitchen. Cutting Squash is currently installed and part of the permanent collection exhibition “American Origins” on view at the National Portrait Gallery from November 7, 2014, through November 11, 2015. In 2013, the NMAAHC acquired for their permanent collection Self Portrait with Checkered Scarf, an original oil painting by Blache. The NMAAHC is presently scheduled to open on the Mall in 2015 and will become the repository of one of the most comprehensive collections of the African American experience anywhere.
Raised in New Orleans, Blache graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. He received his B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Savannah, Ga., and his M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Blache has been included in fine art exhibitions with artists as diverse as Edgar Degas, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Blache is featured in “Colored Frames”, a documentary that PBS broadcasted nationally. In 2012, the New Orleans Museum of Art presented the one-man exhibition, Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III which depicted the behind the scenes of Chef Leah Chase in the kitchen of world renowned restaurant Dooky Chase.
Regarding the latest Smithsonian acquisition, Blache says “I was initially contacted by internist Alexandria Van Haute from the Smithsonian on behalf of research specialist Nicole Green and museum curator Dr. Joanne Hyppolite with interest in acquiring a painting from the series for their permanent collection. The Smithsonian specifically wanted a painting of Mrs. Chase in a red coat. The painting would accompany a permanent installation of artifacts from Dooky Chase Restaurant that centered on community. What will be on display is Chase’s signature red coat along with other objects from the restaurant. I originally kept the painting Leah Stirring Red Coat for myself as a memento from the series but when the museum came calling I had to make it available to them. All the other paintings from the series had previously sold but this one because I never made it available to the public even though it exhibited with the others in 2012 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Dr. Hyppolite and (Nicole) Green visited Brooklyn to see the Leah sketch in person at the end of the summer and seemed eager to have it as a part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. I got the wonderful news in November that the painting passed committee; and I was very excited and thrilled. It was great news for Mrs. Chase, the Chase Family and the city of New Orleans—her second image in the Smithsonian Institution, Cutting Squash and now this one.”
Blache says he has had no recent exhibitions since the show at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2012 but is currently working on a new series that he is really excited about.
“I’m not allowed to share what it is just yet but I can say it is a New York inspired subject,” he says.
The place to see Gustave Blache III’s paintings in New Orleans is the McKenna Museum on Carondelet. They have some of his paintings on view during the Prospect 3 Biennial to go along with the Carrie Mae Weems show and installation they are hosting now.
Asked about plans for the future he says that in addition to the series he is working on The Artist Book Foundation (TABF) is currently working on my monograph entitled, Gustave Blache III: A Work in Process. It’s scheduled for release in the fall of 2016.
“The monograph will chronicle my career to this point, particularly highlighting my early career and studies in Savannah and in New York, but ultimately it will focus on my past series that document important and overlooked processes of individuals whose labors go unrecognized. Series like the Curtain Cleaners, Mop Makers, and Leah Chase will now be reviewed along with the new series I’m working on now. The Self Portraits that I’ve painted from 2000-2008 will also be detailed in the monograph. We have a great group of scholars from various museums contributing to the catalogue, and I’m interested to see what the final product will look like when it’s all completed.”
Dr. Sara Hollis is a Professor in the M.A. Museum Studies at SUNO. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.