The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts

New York, NY



American Spectrum: Paintings and Culture from the Smith College Museum of Art

June 20 - September 10, 2000


From John Smibert's Mrs. John Erving (c. 1733), to Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's The Red Mean: Self-Portrait (1992), "American Spectrum: Paintings and Sculpture from the Smith College Museum" spans over 250 years of American art. The seventy-five works selected for the exhibition represent many of America's most revered artists including painters Joseph Albers; Thomas Cole, NA; Winslow Homer, NA; Edward Hopper; George Inness, NA; Franz Kline; Robert Motherwell; Georgia O'Keeffe; John Singer Sargent, NA, and Gilbert Charles Stuart. Sculptors include Alexander Caider; Daniel Chester French, NA; Elie Nadelman; Louise Nevelson; and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, NA, among others.

In 1879, Smith College President, L. Clark Seelye began his mission to build one of the pre-eminent institutional collections of American Art. His modest goal for the college was to establish "a gallery of art, where the student may be made directly familiar with the famous masterpieces." In addition to acquiring European prints, and the traditional roster of established artists such as Samuel Colman, George Inness, and Winslow Homer, Seelye also often visited young artists' studios in Boston and New York in order to add original contemporary American art to the collection. Good timing coupled with the sage advice of the painter Dwight William Tryon (who also taught at Smith) resulted in some very prescient purchases.

Among them was Rockwell Kent's early work Dublin Pond (1903), a painting which the artist had recently submitted for the National Academy's Annual, purchased by the museum when the artist was only twenty-one, and the first works by the artist to be part of an institutional collection.

After Seelye firmly established the museum's American holdings, the collection continued to evolve into the 20th-century through equally astute acquisitions. Purchased in 1931, Edith Mahon (1904) was widely considered one of Thomas Eakins' finest portraits, and also constituted the first work by Eakins in any public art collection. During the 1940's and 1950's, two of the most iconic works in the collection were purchased: Mourning Picture (1890), Edwin Romanzo Elmer's haunting a memorial to the artist's lost daughter, and Rolling Power (1939), Charles Sheeler's homage to American industry. Though quite distinct in treatment, both artists used photographs in their paintings. According to Sheeler, photography and painting complemented each other; though varied "in the manner of their arrival--the painting being the result of a composite image and the photograph being the result of a single image." In Rolling Power the two media converge more than any other time in his work.

Notable bequests were also crucial in building the collection. They include John Singleton Copley 's portrait of the Boston merchant, The Honorable John Erving, (c. 1772), presented to the college by the judge's descendant and Smith Alumnus Alice Erving. Gifts of modern and contemporary art include superb works by Arthur G. Dove, William Glackens, NA, Childe Hassam, NA, Willem de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, Joan Snyder, and Donald Sultan, and many others.

The accompanying exhibition catalogue edited and written in part by Linda Muehlig, associate curator of Painting and Sculpture at Smith College Museum of Art, explores both the range and quality of the museum's holdings.

Read more about the National Academy Museum in Resource Library Magazine

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/28/11

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