A Shared Passion

Stanislaw J. Czuma Curator Emeritus

 

Maxeen and John Flower were passionate collectors. Maxeen, who graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art, was an accomplished painter and photographer with a great affinity for art; John, a musician, was equally receptive to the visual arts. Together they assembled an outstanding collection that they generously donated to the Cleveland Museum of Art. John Flower died in 2011, Maxeen the previous year.

I met Maxeen Stone (later Flower) in the early 1970s when I came to Cleveland as curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art. To my delight, she showed interest in collecting in the area of my specialization. We agreed to concentrate on works of superior aesthetic quality and importance rather than build a larger but less significant collection. From the beginning, Maxeen’s intention was to donate the collection to the museum. Thus we sought objects that would fill existing gaps in the CMA’s holdings.

 

Hevajra

Hevajra 1177–1230. Cambodia, Bayon style. Bronze; 46 x 23.9 cm. 2011.143

All works illustrated on this page are from the Maxeen and John Flower bequest in honor of Dr. Stanislaw Czuma.

 

Maxeen’s first acquisition, probably the most important object in the Flower collection, was the Hevajra, a Cambodian bronze from the Bayon period (1177–1230) . This Tantric Buddhist deity personifies enlightenment. The image has eight heads, arranged in three tiers, and 16 arms that carry Hevajra’s usual attributes: on the right various animals, including one human figure; on the left all human figures. With four legs, Hevajra performs his dance trampling over a prostrate human. The twist of the torso reinforces the impression of movement, creating an unusually dynamic and rhythmic image.

The deity is surrounded by eight female dancers (dakhinis) on lotus flowers, in similarly energetic dance postures. Cast separately, these figures and other sculptural elements are so skillfully welded that the joints are barely visible. The Dancing Hevajra represents one of the finest Cambodian bronzes of this deity. It was obviously created by a highly inspired artist, as manifested by the dancing figure’s elegance and grace.

 

Vahara

Varaha, Boar Reincarnation of Vishnu c. 700s–800s. Central India, Medieval period. Cream sandstone; 82 x 68.5 x 33.5 cm. 2011.148 

 

Maxeen’s next two major purchases were made in London. The first was a large Central Indian sculpture of Varaha, third of the 10 reincarnations (dasavatara) of god Vishnu, dating from the early medieval period (c. 8th–9th century). The sculpture successfully connotes an immense sense of power and force, very appropriate for this iconography. The depth of carving, with perforations under the arms and halo, creates an impression of a sculpture-in-the-round characteristic of the Indian artist. However, it was probably set in an architectural niche attached to the outer wall of a temple; meant to be seen frontally, its back is not fully finished.

The second of her London purchases was the unique Burmese (Myanmar) gilded lacquer Seated Buddha that represents the mature Pagan style dating from the 12th century. Because lacquer is an easily perishable material, images of this type and size are exceedingly rare. The wooden figure was coated with several layers of lacquer and was originally gilt. A great deal of gilding still remains intact. The Buddha’s face, with downcast eyes and subtle smile, conveys a feeling of contemplation and compassion. An aura of peace and serenity surrounding the image gives testimony that a very accomplished artist created this sculpture. It represents one of the finest examples of Burmese lacquer.

 

Seated Buddha

Seated Buddha 12th century. Burma (Myanmar), Pagan style. Gilded lacquer; 100 x 62 x 30 cm. 2011.149

 

 

Winged Atlas Figure

 Winged Atlas Figure 3rd century. Pakistan, Gandhara period. Gray schist; h. 38.1 cm. 2011.136

 

In 1994 Maxeen married John Flower, president emeritus of Cleveland State University. John shared Maxeen’s dedication to collecting Asian art. One of the first Indian acquisitions they made together was the Female Torso in black chlorite of the Pala period, dating from the 11th century (page 16). This voluptuous headless and armless torso represents Tara, a revered Buddhist deity. Originally a Hindu goddess, Tara became in Buddhism the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. Her diaphanous clothing reveals the body and is adorned with rich jewels. Her body is bent in graceful contrapposto (tribhanga) and her exposed belly is rendered with great sensitivity, creating the impression of soft flesh that contrasts with the crispness of the “metallic” jewels. 

Another significant Indian sculpture is the Winged Atlas Figure in Gandharan style, dating from the third century. Such figures derive from the Hellenistic tradition on which Gandharan art so depends. In Greek mythology Atlas, a giant of prodigious strength, was condemned by Zeus to support the sky. The functions of Atlantes (sing. Atlas) in an architectural context is to provide visual support for various components of a building. Atlantes are depicted as muscular young athletes, occasionally winged, an allusion to the classical representations of “Victory.” The sculpture acquired by the Flowers is an unusually fine example of this type. Atlas is shown seated with one leg raised and the second folded on the base. His right arm rests on his thigh while the left arm, now broken off, was probably in the gesture of support over his head. This is indicated by a closely related sculpture in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. They probably came from the same monument.

Another object of great importance is the Cambodian Colossal Head of Deva, representing the Bayon style, shown here. Monumental figures of this type frequently lined the causeways leading to the monuments, and are quite rare in Western collections. The style of the head relates closely to sculpture of Jayavarman VII’s reign. It tends to be more realistic than the earlier Angkor Wat manner. Monumental figures of this type represent the iconography of “Churning of the Cosmic Ocean,” with the gods (devas) on one side of the causeway and demons (asuras) on the other, competing against each other to extract the elixir of immortality (amrita) from the depth of the Cosmic Ocean. 

While the Flowers had a preference for sculpture, they also bought several Indian paintings. Two examples deserve special attention. The first is a large page depicting Maharana Jogat Singh Attending the Raslila from the Udaipur school, which comes from a now dispersed manuscript dated to 1736. Raslila, the life of Lord Krishna, is enacted in a theater play performed in the royal palace’s courtyard.

The Maharana Jogat Singh is seated on the left with a group of courtiers, including his little son Pratap Singh, watching the actors. Krishna himself is at the top of the painting, in front of the architectural alcove, surrounded by female companions. The action takes place at night, as indicated by the lit torches and dark-blue sky with a full moon and stars, which adds to the painting’s atmospheric mood. Several pages of this manuscript are known. Two are in the National Gallery in Melbourne, and another in the Edwin Binney Collection in San Diego. One of the Melbourne pages is signed by the artist Jai Ram. Since the style of the pages is fairly uniform, the assumption is that they are the works of the same artist.

 

Tiger Hunt of Raja Ram Singh II

Tiger Hunt of Raja Ram Singh IIc. 1830–40. India, Rajasthan, Kotah school. Opaque watercolors, gold and silver on paper; 64.8 x 48.9 cm. 2011.139 

 

The second painting, Tiger Hunt of Raja Ram Singh II, represents the Kotah school and dates from about 1830–40. Equal in size to the Udaipur page, it depicts a hunt, the favorite pastime of Rajput nobility. It is a superb example of Kotah style. The ruler of Kotah, Raja Ram Singh II, is shown in his royal barge shooting from a rifle at tigers on the river bank. Smoke still trails from the rifles before the bullets hit the two tigers on the bank. A third swims in the river, originally painted silver, which tarnished with age. Worth noticing is the landscape in which the scene takes place: the sandy bank with vegetation and behind it the strange formations of the vertical rocks. It looks playfully unreal, until one visits the Kotah state and realizes that such structures really exist in nature. A narrow line of horizon with stylized spiral clouds adds to the painting’s romantic and fantastic atmosphere.

Maxeen and John Flower’s donation of their collection to the Cleveland Museum of Art strengthens immeasurably our holdings, and we are grateful for their magnanimity and support. Their deaths leave a deep void in all who knew them.  

 


Cleveland Art, March/April 2012