The Met produces around thirty publications a year, including special exhibition and permanent collection catalogues, guides, the quarterly Bulletin, the annual Journal, and many other special projects. As an assistant in the Editorial Department, I get a glimpse of all stages of production, from the initial proposal until the time the bound book arrives on my desk. Each project can take more than a year and requires close collaboration among the contributors—curators, photographers, designers, outside authors, and, occasionally, collectors—and the editorial staff. I have the opportunity to observe this creative process, to get to know the individuals involved, and to discover their perspectives on and passion for a particular subject. I'll be posting a series of interviews and articles about our current and upcoming books to keep you up to date about Met Publications, and to share what I learn about new projects.
I recently visited Sabine Rewald, curator of Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century, to ask about her inspiration for the subject and the process of creating such a beautiful exhibition and catalogue. Her office includes a large window that frames a view of Central Park and, on the adjacent wall, a sizeable reproduction of one of the works in the catalogue, Georg Friedrich Kersting's 1814 painting Man Reading by Lamplight (Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, Winterthur).
Nadja Hansen: What was the initial inspiration for this exhibition and catalogue?
Sabine Rewald: Initially I had been interested in romantic rooms, but that could be a limitless theme, and how do you really classify a room that way? It was a dead end. But I knew Lorenz Eitner's 1955 essay [see reference] about the open window motif in the Romantic period; and ever since the 1991 Met exhibition of Caspar David Friedrich's paintings from the U.S.S.R [The Romantic Vision of Caspar David Friedrich: Paintings and Drawings from the U.S.S.R., January 23–March 31, 1991], which included Friedrich's sepia watercolor of a closed window with a view of a park, I have been interested in the theme. Focusing the exhibition only on the romantic motif of the open window worked better because it proposed limits. There were only so many works; artists rarely did the theme more than once. The open window is an echo of the canvas, and a threshold literally and symbolically—you are inside and yet long for something outside; it combines the painterly and the romantic, and that is rare.
Nadja Hansen: The book is not laid out in a linear way, by chronology or geography, but rather by theme. Why did you make that decision?
Sabine Rewald: I never go by chronology or nationality, I always arrange works by theme. It allows you to compare and contrast the approach different artists took to a similar subject matter. The book explores several different moods artists sought to create with the open window: it moves from Romanticism that focuses on the stark contrast between inside and outside, the familiar and the unknown, to a gentler Biedermeier coziness, that ineffable quality that light from a window lends to a scene, and ends with the luminous empty rooms by the great realist painter Adolf Menzel.
Nadja Hansen: Many of the works in the exhibition are loans from European museums. How did you go about finding all these works and getting them here for the exhibition?
Sabine Rewald: Most artists painted so few open window scenes that I had to go all over to find the ones that existed. These were scenes artists really painted for themselves: a study in light, a study in contrasts, a memory of a time in their lives they lived abroad. I would often go to Europe on courier trips, bringing a work of art somewhere, and I would take trains or planes to the different museums from which I wanted to borrow pictures for the exhibition. I would meet with colleagues and they would get excited about the project, one never done before, and start recommending other works, either from their collection or from another. The hard part is we have so many loans from countries where we are just getting one or two works, so instead of, say, twenty from France and twenty from Germany and that’s it, we have four from Austria, one from Hungary, two from Italy, one from Sweden, five from Denmark, etc. It was a major production to coordinate.
Nadja Hansen: Initially flipping through the pages of the book, my colleagues and I thought it would be such a lovely Mother's Day gift. What do you think?
Sabine Rewald: It's the perfect book for Mother’s Day, there is nothing to offend anybody! My last several books were anything but. A couple years ago, I met a diplomat in Paris, we started talking about art and when I returned home I wanted to send him one of my books. Well, I thought of my last book, Glitter and Doom, and all the prostitutes and war cripples and sadists and I didn't feel it was appropriate. I am so glad I have a book to send him now; I have been waiting for two years!
Nadja Hansen is an editorial assistant in the Editorial Department.
Exhibition: Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century
Catalogue: The Met Store
"The Open Window and the Storm-Tossed Boat: An Essay in the Iconography of Romanticism," The Art Bulletin (JSTOR subscription required), Vol. 37, No. 4 (Dec., 1955), pp. 281–290