Columbus Museum

photo: Jim Cawthorne

Columbus, GA



Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum


A rare and unique opportunity to explore American history through the eyes of its early artists is available in the Southeast as the Columbus Museum hosts Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, through November 5, 2000.

The exhibit presents 54 major paintings and sculptures that trace the transformation of the colonies into nationhood. These artworks from the 1760s through the 1870s reveal the growing self-awareness and optimism of the new nation. The works reflect life in New England and the mid-Atlantic regions, where British influence was strong in the early decades, then rivaled in art by Italian Neoclassic styles. (left: Alvan Fisher, The Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagara, 1820, oil, 34 3/8 x 48 1/8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Several portraits open the exhibition, since portraiture was the surest path to commercial success for early artists. John Singleton Copley 's "Mrs. George Watson" (1765) shows a merchant' s wife in colonial Boston, with a lavish dress, imported vase and exotic parrot tulip. Copley portrays Mrs. Watson as a fine British gentlewoman living in a colonial outpost.

Although mostly self-taught, Lilly Martin Spencer of Cincinnati, Ohio, supported a large family through her painting and was one of the first American women to achieve widespread recognition and success in the arts. Her full-length picture of Mrs. Fithian in a brand-new satin dress and holding a drooping rose is called "We Both Must Fade" (1869), reflecting a Victorian sentiment about the inevitable waning of beauty.

Still-life paintings show a similar variety of means and intentions. Raphaelle Peale's "Melons and Morning Glories" (1813) -- a luscious ripe fruit dripping juices and seeds on a table top -- has a monumentality and simple directness that was in sympathy with the neoclassic taste of the period. By contrast, the exuberance of Severin Roesen's showy "Still Life with Fruit" (1852) appealed to a rising middle class eager for decorative display.

Landscapes emerged in the early nineteenth century as a favorite subject, capable of expressing many meanings. Some 20 landscapes appear in the exhibition, including "The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge" (1829) by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School.

The exhibition also includes one bronze and seven marble sculptures, including "Will o' the Wisp" (1858) by Harriet Hosmer. (left: Harriet Hosmer, Will o' the Wisp, modeled 1858, marble, 32 1/2 x 16 3/4 X 17 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of eight exhibitions in Treasures to Go touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in bringing these treasures to the American people. Local presentation of Young America is made possible by the generous support of the Synovus Foundation and the Hardaway Endowment Fund. This unprecedented tour allows the Smithsonian American Art Museum to share the best of its collections while its facilities in Washington, D.C., undergo extensive renovation.

"We are pleased that Young America is coming to the Columbus Museum this fall," says Museum Director Tom Butler. "This extraordinary exhibition of artworks continues a long and rich relationship between our two museums and provides a strong context with which to study our own growing collection of American art. The artists of this period under review, the very beginnings of our nation, are especially noteworthy -- Washington Allston, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Lilly Martin Spencer, Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West - -among many others."

"These portraits, still lifes, landscapes and scenes of daily life show the artists' ambition to equal the best in European art, but they also reveal developments within this country," according to Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "They help us understand how a British colony became an independent nation, how wilderness lands were both cherished and developed, and how a rural democracy responded to the industrial revolution."

To accompany the exhibition, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has published a lavishly illustrated gift book, Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with Watson-Guptill Publications. The book features 54 color illustrations and brief discussions of each art treasure in the exhibition.

Read more about the Columbus Museum in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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. 4/4/11

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