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Path to Paradise: panel XI

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Beached Whale

27 x 40 in. (68.6 x 101.6 cm)

Judith Schaechter

Object Type: Glass
Medium and Support: Stained-glass panel
Credit Line: Courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery, Harlem, and the artist
Accession Number: EX2020.DG1.42
Location: Currently on view
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Beached Whale—one of what Schaechter has called her “environmental collapse screeds”—features a whale, dead and belly-up, with an incriminating man-made net wrapped around its body. In the seventeenth century during a period of political instability for the Dutch Republic, /images documenting the beaching of whales were widely disseminated and interpreted as bad omens. Here, Schaechter’s own political, cultural, and environmental anxieties take shape in her beached whale picture: a sperm whale straight out of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is stranded in a landscape appropriated from the 1859 painting by the American artist Martin Johnson Heade, Approaching Storm.

The curtain motif, one Schaechter has used over the years, is here similar to Charles Wilson Peale’s 1822 self-portrait, as he lifts a curtain to show off his collection. In Beached Whale, Schaechter lifts the curtain to expose what she fears are the results of exploitation of the planet. In an otherwise distressing scene, Schaechter masterfully manipulates the inherent qualities of glass in her composition—an opalescent glass for the atmospheric sky and her engraved layers for the decomposing whale’s mottled skin—to maximize its beauty across time and place.

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