Ethan Lasser

Portrait of Ethan Lasser
Ethan Lasser
Photograph by Jim Harrison

When he put the two paintings together, on facing walls of a Harvard Art Museums gallery—Winslow Homer’s Pitching Quoits, showing Zouave-inspired Civil War infantrymen in their red seroual trousers, and Théodore Chassériau’s 1850 depiction of actual Arab horsemen carrying their dead from the battlefield—“It was a revelation,” says curator Ethan Lasser. Homer hadn’t yet been to France, but he admired French painters, who themselves were enamored of the Middle East and North Africa. “The vibrant conversation between these two paintings—you really need to see it in the flesh,” Lasser adds. As Stebbins curator of American art and head of the museums’ European and American art division, he tries to make such conversations visible, grouping artworks by theme and period, not country and medium: “a more contextual story.” Lasser’s parents owned a Boston art gallery, and he spent many boyhood hours roaming the city’s museums. Williams College led to a job at a New York auction house, where he was told, “You ask too many questions—go to grad school.” After a Yale Ph.D. and five years at Milwaukee’s Chipstone Foundation, specializing in furniture and decorative arts, he arrived in 2012 at Harvard, where he also teaches, co-leading classes that offer art historians hands-on experience with art-making. “You hear about ideas like ‘flow,’ or that materials always resist you,” he explains, “and here you can get a sense of what those mean in ways that are hard to express.” The museums’ artworks can be similarly elusive. “I’ll never know them fully,” he says. “I’ll be walking up the stairs one day and see something in a work that I’ve never seen before, just because it’s five o’clock in the evening in the summer.” A revelation.

Read more articles by: Lydialyle Gibson

You might also like

John Manning Appointed Interim Provost

Harvard Law School dean moves to central administration

Facebook’s Failures

Author and tech journalist Jeff Horwitz speaks at Harvard.

Kevin Young Named 2024 Harvard Arts Medalist

Museum director and poet to be honored April 24

Most popular

Convocation 2017: What Should an Education Be at Such a Moment?

Speakers reflect on the goals of a liberal arts university. 

Nicco Mele

The director of the Shorenstein Center on how the Internet came to mean so much to him. 

Found in Translation

Maureen Freely ’74, longtime translator of Orhan Pamuk, shares the nuances of bringing a text from one language to another.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults