Everson Museum of Art

Syracuse, NY




Two Hundred Years of American Art: 1746-1946


A curatorial team, composed of the Everson's Senior Curator Thomas Piché Jr., Curator of Education Marion Wilson, and Syracuse University art historian Dr. Judith Meighan, recently unveiled a new display of the Everson's permanent collection. Featuring about 40 artworks from the period spanning 1746 to 1946, the artworks illustrate leading themes of American art history. The installation is broken down into three broad categories: portraiture, landscape, and the culture of industry and entertainment. Within each grouping, paintings may range from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, allowing unexpected comparisons to be made, and drawing out thematic strands common to works from disparate times. A fourth component of the reinstallation is a section devoted to the work of Syracuse artist Beatrice Wose-Smith, whose paintings of central New York scenes of the 1930s and 1940s have long been audience favorites.

Works on view include landscapes such as Sanford Robinson Gifford's Sunset New York Bay (1878), Albert Bierstadt 's Nevada Falls (ca. 1865), Roswell Hill's Sunny Day (1903), and Robert Henri's West Coast of Ireland (l913); portrayals of the industrial and entertainment culture such as Glenn O. Coleman's Ferry (1930), Gifford Beal's Freight Yards (1915), and Reginald Marsh's Jack Curley's Dance Marathon (1932); portraits such as Gilbert Charles Stuart's George Washington (I810), Charles Webster Hawthorne's Mother and Child (ca. 1908), and John Sloan's Helen Taylor Sketching (1916); and Beatrice Wose-Smith's Open for Business, Cobblestone Inn, Liverpool (1938) and Little Falls (1940). (left: Gilbert Stuart, 1810, George Washington, oil on canvas, Everson Museum of Art)

In order to provide the maximum potential for educational programming, Dr. Meighan, a former museum educator at the Museum of Modern Art, has completed extensive research and written interpretive wall labels for each work (excerpts below) along with overviews of the different groupings.

"Beatrice Wose-Smith was born in Syracuse in 1908. She studied painting at Syracuse University, where, upon graduating, she was awarded the prestigious Hiram Gee Award to support post-graduate study. She subsequently spent two years with the painter George Luks in New York City. Luks was a member of The Eight, a group of American artists also referred to as the Ashcan School because of their interest in the vitality of the ordinary aspects of the urban scene, from portraits of street urchins, to depictions of tenement life and sporting events. The lessons of Luks stayed with Wose-Smith throughout her life -- her best work was inspired by the world around her, often central New York settings and its citizenry. By 1932, the artist had returned to Syracuse becoming a familiar presence on the local exhibition circuit. She developed a painting style that combined direct observation of her subject with the simplification, even stylization, of form; the use of warm, saturated colors; linear outlines, and a highly developed facility for the depiction of complicated compositional space. (upper left: Beatrice Wose-Smith (1908-1971), Open for Business, Cobblestone Inn, Liverpool, 1938, oil on canvas, 40 x 31 inches, Everson Museum of Art, Wose-Smith Collection; upper right: Beatrice Wose-Smith (1908-1971), Little Falls, 1940, oil on canvas, 46 x 39 inches, Everson Museum of Art, Wose-Smith Collection)

"Sanford Gifford, known for working at "fever heat," channeled his energy into a neatly organized image of the New York bay. Gifford filled two-thirds of the canvas with sky. His clouds fan out in tidy tiers to frame the sunset that radiates from the center. The rosy glow warms both the sky and the smooth, mirror-like surface of the water. In the midst of this theater of nature, ships and boats, dwarfed by the sky and the sea, proceed in an orderly arrangement that suggests a serene, carefully measured world. (left: Sanford Gifford, Sunset New York Bay, 1878, oil on canvas, Everson Museum of Art, P.C. 72.26)

"Though railroad lines started in the late 1820s and crossed continental America in 1869, the locomotive and the workings of the railroad do not take center stage in American art until the twentieth century. Fascinated by the working waterfront, [Gifford] Beal chose as a subject the active Sixtieth Street Yards of the New York Central Railroad that followed along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. Trains, tracks, and machines fill two-thirds of the canvas with a web of activity. Painted as cool lavender silhouettes, the cliffs of the New Jersey palisades rise in the background. (left: Gifford Beal (1879-1956), American Freight Yards, 1915, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, Everson Museum of Art, P. C.19.80)

"Gifford Beal was born the year after Sanford Gifford painted the work... Sunset New York Bay in 1878. In the thirty-seven years that separate these two paintings of the active New York harbor, the view of industry had changed dramatically. Notice, for example, the way each artist portrayed clouds of smoke and steam generated by machines. With his broad, choppy strokes of paint, Beal makes his clouds exuberant and nearly as forceful as the machines that produce them.

"Landscape, particularly in winter, always inspired [Ernest]Lawson . In Early Spring, he took on the difficult painting problem of creating a nearly all-white scene. To depict this snow fall just at the start of spring, he translated the muting effects of the weather into very subtle, almost fragile tints of color. Along the edge of the hill, the trees, depicted by the thinnest of lines, nearly vanish. These lines and the faded hues contrast with the hearty texture he produced by thickly applying paint to the canvas surface... (left: Ernest Lawson (1873-1949), Early Spring, c. 1936, oil on canvas, 20 14 x 24 1/4 inches, Everson Museum of Art, P. C.58.1)

"From the start, Lawson pursued his interest in landscape choosing to study with American Impressionist John H. Twachtman. American Impressionist artists favored landscape, worked outdoors, and painted in light, bright colors. Lawson, however, distinguished his work by the use of robustly applied thick paint and stronger contrasts of light and dark.

"Lawson also had a talent for interesting associates. While studying in Paris (1893), Lawson shared a studio with the writer Somerset Maugham who based his character Frederick Lawson in Of Human Bondage (1915) on the artist.

"[Jan] Matulka drew and painted this (left) tree and its accompanying cows many times; it is a symbol of the dairy cow farm in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) where he lived as child before coming to America in 1907. When he was seventeen, his parents sold this farm property in Vlachovo Brezi and brought Matulka and five younger sisters to the Bronx, New York. Visiting his hometown as a grown man in his early thirties, Matulka took away a lasting impression of this tree rooted in his family's former farmland. (left: Jan Matulka, Pastoral, 1927, oil on canvas, Everson Museum of Art, P. C.60.5)

"The tree, filling more than half the space, dominates the painting. Using strong, sharp colors and a piebald pattern, Matulka gave it a vigor that contrasts with its dead, barren branches. Docile cows rest and graze serenely under the branches. This bucolic passage underscores the title, Pastoral, which refers to a work of art that celebrates the simplicity and peace of rural life.

"The use of vigorous patches of color throughout the painting owes to Matulka's knowledge of European modern art, especially the fragmented forms of Cubism. Making annual trips to Europe from 1920 to 1933, the artist brought back first hand of his knowledge of Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism to his students at the Art Students League in New York City.

"A man of few words and an introspective temperament, Matulka always maintained a strong attachment to his European heritage. His close ties to the Czech community in New York City included marrying the librarian for Czechoslovakian literature at the New York Public Library, Ludmila Jirouskova, who had emigrated from the same region as he did.

"The dance marathon started out as a popular, cheap entertainment in the 1920s. Anyone could enter to test their stamina in the twenty-four hour, seven day a week amusement. By 1932, when [Reginald] Marsh recorded Jack Curley's Marathon, the event had become a professional performance with emcees and variety acts. Veteran contenders would walk the floor for forty-five minutes with a fifteen minute break each hour. Success depended on endurance and coordinated teamwork. As depicted here, one partner would sleep while standing; the other would provide the physical support to keep the team upright to stay in the contest. (left: Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), Jack Curley 's Dance Marathon, 1932, tempera on canvas mounted on board, Everson Museum of Art, Wose-Smith Collection, P.C. 64.25)

"Through the postures and gestures of his three main figures, Marsh captures the exhaustion and exploitation of the Depression era marathon. This painting features two views of his favorite urban character, the voluptuous blonde, a familiar figure in movies of the period. Here Marsh contrasts the bold and flaunting style of one who has made it to Easy Street with the exhausted but gritty determination of the other.

The reinstallation of the Falcone Gallery has been made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.


Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Everson Museum of Art.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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