Lambertville Artist Lends Gravitas to Madam Secretary Set

By Linda Arntzenius

Situated on the western flank of New Jersey, the picturesque town of Lambertville draws art lovers from both sides of the Delaware River. The town itself and the bucolic landscapes that surround it feature in the work of numerous artists displayed in the town’s many private galleries.

Kelly Sullivan’s studio is located three floors up above The Peoples Store at 28 North Union Street. The studio has its own entrance round the corner on Church Street and those who make the climb discover a bright airy space filled with scenes of the river valley.

Sullivan’s paintings include landscapes, portraits, and still lifes, from small sketches of the towpath along the Delaware and Raritan canal to Delaware River and Bucks County scenes executed in oil on linen or canvas, as well as large studio pieces on canvas. Until 2006 the artist worked primarily in acrylic. Now favoring oil, she finds the more traditional medium adds considerable complexity to her work. Besides local scenes such as Autumn on the Delaware, and Down by the Canal, are images of the Snake River and the coast of Maine.

If you have seen the CBS show Madam Secretary, you will have seen Sullivan’s work, and perhaps subliminally apprehended the subtle back-story her paintings convey about the show’s lead character.

The political drama stars Tèa Leoni as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord. Princeton’s own Bebe Neuwirth plays her Chief of Staff Nadine Tolliver and Keith Carradine is President Conrad Dalton, the man who hired McCord because of her ability to think outside the box, not to mention her profound knowledge of the Middle East and fluency in multiple languages.

Said to be inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Leoni’s character is a shrewd and determined woman. While driving international diplomacy and battling office politics, she is not averse to circumventing the usual protocols as she handles issues at home and abroad.

Set designer Sheila Bock discovered Sullivan’s work when she was shopping for just the right elements that would speak to Leoni’s character. Her visit to Sullivan’s studio resulted in the purchase of nine pieces that now decorate the dining room and kitchen of the fictitious McCord’s Georgetown flat. The paintings, titled Peach Season, Under the Pines, Bucks Pasture, Bee Box, and Idaho Barn, among others, are clearly chosen to support a privileged lineage for the leading lady.

In a recent interview, Sullivan wondered whether Neuwirth might have had something to do with Bock’s finding her. The famed Princeton-born actress had herself stopped by the artist’s studio just weeks before Sullivan was contacted by the set designer. Was Neuwirth’s visit the magic element that brought the artist to Bock’s attention? Sullivan likes to think so. “I am so flattered that Sheila chose my work to represent the personal taste of such a great character,” says the artist who was born and raised in Clinton, N.J. “It’s exciting to know that Tèa Leoni and her fellow cast members will be seeing my work on the set.”

Largely self-taught, Sullivan began early—literally at her grandmother’s knee when, at the age of five, her grandmother surrounded her with artist’s materials and urged her not to be “shy with the paint.” As a teen, she devoted hours to drawing favorite musicians, several of whom she’s since rendered in full-blown portraits, including Bruce Springsteen, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Pete Seeger, and Jimmy Rogers.

Her first steps as a professional artist were taken at the Jersey Shore, selling pencil and pastel drawings in the 1980s. In 1993, she produced a multi-artist Montage show in Spring Lake Heights and discovered a talent for organization that led to further similar shows on the West Coast. Gradually her organized art events led Sullivan to create art in a collaborative format she calls “FingerSmears,” made by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of painters using no brushes but only their hands on a shared canvas.

Since 1994, over 80,000 people around the world, including celebrities like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Edie Falco, Carol Burnett, Harrison Ford, and Willem Dafoe, have participated in Sullivan’s trademarked FingerSmearsTM initiative, which has raised over $150,000 for charities across the United States.

Currently, Sullivan’s studio includes the results of a recent FingerSmearsTM trip to Barcelona for a project called Mighty Fingers Facing Change (MFFC). Designed to connect and empower adolescent girls, MFFC works through existing organizations and so far Sullivan and her team have visited Guatemala, Wyoming, Canada, San Francisco, Haiti and Barcelona.

Sullivan welcomes visitors to her Lambertville studio between noon and 5pm, Thursdays through Sundays, and at other times by appointment by calling 732.233.5614. She sells giclée prints as well as originals. For more on her FingerSmearsTM project, including a short video, visit: www.mightyfingersfacingchange.com. For more on the artist, visit: kellysullivanfineart.com.

FROM MADAME SECRETARY TO MADAME CEZANNE

The relationship between Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and his wife Hortense Fiquet (1850–1922) is explored in a current show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. On view through March 15, Madame Cézanne features 24 of the 29 known portraits the artist painted of his wife and mother of their son, Paul Cézanne.

They include two from the Metropolitan’s own collection: the unfinished canvas, Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory, painted in the Cézanne family home Jas du Bouffan near Aix-en-Provence in 1891, and Mademe Cézanne in a Red Dress, painted in a rented apartment at 15 quai d’Anjou in Paris between 1888 and 1890. The latter is one of four showing Madame Cézanne in the same shawl-collared red dress.

Apart from the work itself, the exhibition is interesting for revealing aspects of the artist’s method as well as his relationship with Fiquet and the impact she had on her husband’s work, especially his portraiture. Fiquet was Cézanne’s most painted model. She was also the mother of his only son. And yet, as the Metropolitan exhibition points out, she was “often disregarded and frequently diminished in the narrative of Cézanne’s life and work.” Her expression in the painted portraits has been described as remote, inscrutable, dismissive, even surly.

But by bringing portraits from its own collection together with others—most notably from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Berlin’s Nationalgalerie, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan, and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts—and showing them alongside works on paper that include three watercolors, fourteen drawings, and three rare sketchbooks, the Metropolitan exhibition allows for a more nuanced interpretation of Cézanne and Fiquet’s lifelong attachment. The sketchbooks contain affectionate studies of Fiquet and the couple’s young son.

Fiquet was working as a bookbinder in Paris when she met her future husband in 1869. At first, the artist kept his liaison with her under wraps and, even though their son was born in 1872, they did not marry until 1886. Cézanne had concealed his lover and their only child from his family, fearing the disapproval of his authoritative father.

Apart from Cézanne’s work, there is little documentation of the couple’s relationship. Fiquet left few letters. Cézanne, makes frequent mention of her in his notes to their son. Exhibition curator Dita Amory suggests that Cézanne used his favorite model repeatedly to develop his own sensory perception rather than to capture her character. He had used Mont Sainte-Victoire in southern France in a similar way. Both were familiar and comfortable subjects for the artist.

Painted over a period of more than twenty years, the paintings, drawings, and watercolors of Fiquet reveal Cézanne’s affection for his wife. This is especially true of an 1885 rendering in which Fiquet looks directly at the artist and the abovementioned unfinished 1891 conservatory portrait.

Among other highlights of the exhibition are the Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (circa 1877), Madame Cézanne in a Striped Dress (1883–85) and Madame Cézanne in Blue (ca. 1888–90).

While visiting the Met, check out Thomas Hart Benton’s epic mural America Today. Benton (1889–1975) painted ten panels for New York’s New School for Social Research to adorn the school’s boardroom in its International Style modernist building on West 12th Street. A gift to the museum from the AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company in 2012, it’s a sweeping panorama of American life throughout the 1920s and ranks among Benton’s most renowned works. Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered runs through April 19. For more information, hours and admission, visit: www.metmuseum.org.

AREA EXHIBITS

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton: Seward Johnson: The Retrospective, extended by popular demand to July 2015. Also Michael Graves: Past as Prologue celebrates the 50th anniversary of Graves’ design firm and its five decades of visionary work through April 5. For more information, visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa: A Sense of Place: Paintings by Ranulph Bye, more than 40 works by Ranulph de Bayeux Bye (1916-2003), the Princeton-born watercolorist known for masterful renderings of rural American landscapes, through March 1. Also Spirit of the Everyday: Prints by Herbert Pullinger, one of America’s foremost wood engravers, through through March 29. For more information, hours and admission, call 800.595.4849 or visit: www.MichenerArtMuseum.org.

Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick: 2X: Paintings, Pairs, Twins, and Diptychs explores “the double” in art in the second half of the twentieth century. For more information, hours and admission, call 732.932.7237, ext. 610 or visit: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.

Morven Museum & Garden at 55 Stockton Street: Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlework, 1726-1860 continues through March 29. For more information, hours and admission, call 609.924.8144 ext.106 or visit: www.morven.org.

Princeton University Art Museum on the university campus: The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960–1980 from February 21 through June 7. For information and hours, call 609.258.3788, or visit: artmuseum.princeton.edu/exhibitions.