Samuel Joseph Brown (American, 1907-1994); Boy in the White Suit, ca. 1940-41; watercolor on paper. Gift of the artist through the Pennsylvania W.P.A. Art Project. (PA.10) x1200
WCMA Blog

Art of the Month Club: Marisa Repka

The Art of the Month Club is a regular feature of the WCMA blog. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection. Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome Marisa Repka, Williams College senior, art history major, and WCMA intern.

Louis Kahn, Towers, San Gimignano, 1929, watercolor and red pencil on paper, Museum purchase, with funds provided by an Anonymous donor and with the J. W. Field Fund, John B. Turner ’24 Memorial Fund, Joseph O. Eaton Fund, Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund, Bentley W. Warren Fund. © Sue Ann Kahn, all rights reserved_x500

Louis Kahn, Towers, San Gimignano, 1929, watercolor and red pencil on paper, Museum purchase, with funds provided by an Anonymous donor and with the J. W. Field Fund, John B. Turner ’24 Memorial Fund, Joseph O. Eaton Fund, Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund, Bentley W. Warren Fund. © Sue Ann Kahn, all rights reserved.

On the first day of the fall semester, the ten students in Professor E.J. Johnson’s tutorial, Architecture of Louis I. Kahn, visited the Rose Gallery at WCMA. The moment I stepped inside and saw Kahn’s 1929 Towers, San Gimignano, I experienced the happy warmth of encountering a familiar face. Despite their abstraction, these were unmistakably the “Torri Gemelle” of San Gimignano, the “twin towers” I admired from the town cathedral’s steps as I munched on a panino exactly one year ago.

During my study abroad in neighboring Siena, I came to find sun-bathed stone and honey-colored brick synonymous with Tuscan architecture. Yet these ubiquitous colors are nowhere to be found in Kahn’s watercolor. Instead, Kahn used a whimsical palette ranging from turquoise to rust to give a dream-like quality to the scene. Yet, in spite of the fantastic coloration, the aura remains quintessentially Italian. The open spaces of sky and foreground capture the sleepy feel of a Tuscan hill town, where, in the absence of cars, an old world charm and sense of community pervade.

While my experiences in Tuscany engendered a nostalgic love for this location, my study of Kahn this semester has given me a different lens for experiencing the drawing. Instead of seeing the place, I see forms. Instead of reading the coloration as playful, I note Kahn’s use of color as a means of differentiating the towers, exploring the complex effects of light while highlighting individual architectural elements.

Louis Kahn was a man captivated by great monuments. Throughout the architect’s career, he drew inspiration from the ruins of Europe, seeking to emulate their powerful solidity in his own architecture. As in the pyramids of Egypt or the temples of Greece, the towers’ simple yet commanding geometry would have appealed to him, evoking a permanence he found lacking in the curtain walls of modernism.

Without a doubt, this little watercolor reflects a big moment for Kahn. I can imagine him standing with me in the square, perhaps savoring a gelato or, more likely, sketching. What exactly would he be thinking? In 1957, Kahn received the Richards Medical Research Laboratories commission, a project that would ultimately jump-start his career.  While much could be said about that momentous design, one thing stands out in particular: a series of repeated vertical elements, rectangular and austere, not unlike the enduring towers of sleepy San Gimignano.

Richards Medical Research Laboratories_x500

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