JULES KIRSCHENBAUM (1930–2000)
Cape Cod (The Silent Time), 1954
Watercolor and ink on paper, 12 x 30 in.
Signed and dated (at lower left): Jules Kirschenbaum / 1954
RECORDED: Thomas Worthen, Jules Kirschenbaum: The Need to Dream of Some Transcendent Meaning (Iowa: University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2006), p. 13 illus. as “The Silent Time (II or III)”
EXHIBITED: Harry Salpeter Gallery, New York, 1955, as “The Silent Time” // The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngtown, Ohio, 1956, Annual Mid-Year Show // Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1956, Recent Drawings U.S.A. on View at Museum // Sigrid Freundorfer Fine Art, New York, n.d.
In the summers of 1954 and 1955, Kirschenbaum returned to Gonzalez’s summer school in Cape Cod where he created Cape Cod (The Silent Time). He spent a significant amount of his summers carefully studying and drawing Cape Cod’s gently undulating landscape. Kirschenbaum wrote that he worked from nature “to develop [his] eye and put down [what he saw].... So it was a type of landscape that [he] did as a relief from the works that he did from of the imagination." Cape Cod (The Silent Time) derives from another drawing of the same year and the same size, Landscape (Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust), and relates to Cape Cod Dunes (The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio), an equally beautiful example of this precise and objective drawing style. These drawings were not a means to an end, however. Kirschenbaum took the landscape and, once again, let his imagination transform the composition into a quasi-historical scene.
In Cape Cod (The Silent Time), Kirschenbaum explicitly parodies Piero della Francesca’s famous Portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and His Wife Battista Sforza (1465–66), which Kirschenbaum would have seen at the Uffizi during his time in Italy. Both rectangular, strongly horizontal compositions feature figures in profile, pressed up against the picture plane and framing a central, calm, lake in the distance that gently winds around a series of rolling hills. The boy in Cape Cod (The Silent Time) even wears the 1954 equivalent of Federico da Montefeltro’s fifteenth-century costume. Kirschenbaum exchanged the typical condottiere garb, a red jacket and cylindrical hat, with a red sweatshirt, striped turtleneck shirt, and a whimsical, brown paper bag hat.
By making such an explicit comparison, Kirschenbaum skillfully highlights the meaning of this work through the few changes he chose to make to della Francesca’s original composition. In the prototype Renaissance diptych, the husband and wife, both in profile, face towards each other, symbolizing their union. Their solid forms, filling most of the composition, dwarf the landscape in the distance and offer visual cues to their power as rulers over Urbino. But the meditative figure in Cape Cod looks out in the distance with no one to meet his gaze. He appears small and powerless in comparison to the expansive coastal landscape that surrounds him, and his makeshift paper crown symbolizes his juvenile contention that he can gain control of the world around him. Even the choice of watercolor, with which Kirschenbaum briefly experimented from 1950 to 1954, imbues the scene with a fragility that underscores the ephemerality of this moment in time and place. The figure’s blank expression does not reveal whether he suffers or finds solace in his isolation and lack of agency, but in this period Kirschenbaum begins probing this human, perhaps modern, condition that would interest him throughout his career.