Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden

University of Nebraska

Lincoln, NE



American Impressionism from the Permanent Collection

July 21 - September 24, 2000


The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden is pleased to present "American Impressionism from the Permanent Collection," which opened at the Sheldon Gallery on July 21, 2000. This exhibition follows the culmination of the nationally touring American Impressionism from the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, an exhibition of fifty works drawn from the Sheldon Gallery's exceptional permanent collection of American Art, which traveled to six cities across the United States from August 1998 to June 2000. (left: William James Glackens (1870-1938), Mahone Bay, 1910, oil on canvas, UNL-F M. Hall Collection, 1938.H-193)

Originally a French phenomenon, Impressionism arose from a confluence of social, scientific, and art histories. During the brief period from approximately 1870 to 1890, academic painting, with its reliance upon classical references and historic themes conveyed through a Renaissance sense of space and composition, was supplanted by a growing interest in an art of immediacy. Led by French Impressionists Monet, Renoir, and Degas , Impressionist painters applied pigment in small touches of pure color, which seemed dazzlingly bright when compared to works by contemporary academic artists. As photography captured the present tense, and the Industrial Revolution propelled Europe into the future, the Impressionists sought to establish the visual reality of everyday life as legitimate subject matter. Their study of light and its effect on familiar objects was a radical departure from the narrative, romantic, and historical concerns of the previous generation.

As theories of Impressionism developed, and transcontinental travel became a customary experience for young artists, French theories of art began to appear in the work of Eastern seaboard artists. The decisive event for the introduction in the country of the then radical Impressionist aesthetic was an exhibition sent to New York City by the Parisian dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1886. The exhibition met with surprising acclaim among critics and patrons who were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Hudson River School, which was seen as provincial and outmoded.

What is referred to as American Impressionism is really a hybrid of influences converging in the United States sometimes as much as sixty years after the height of Impressionism in France. Mary Cassatt, an American expatriate living in Paris, was among the few Americans introduced to Impressionism at its inception. Cassatt became a close friend and associate of Edgar Degas, adopting his style and using his preferred medium of pastel. Her portrait of Mary Say Lawrence, which is included in the exhibition, is an example of Cassatt's work under Degas' influence. However, this dialogue between Paris and America was extended and somewhat obtuse, as it transpired over the course of many decades between about 1890 and 1930 and was not an isolated movement. (left: Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Portrait of Mary Say Lawrence, 1898, pastel on paper, UNL-Gift of Mary Riepma Ross, ex-32, 1979,U-3087)

Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, and Willard Metcalf became members of The Ten Painters, a group formed in 1897 after a feud with the Society of American Artists. Though individual styles vary within the group, The Ten are regarded as the first official American derivative of Impressionism. At the turn of the century, a group of artists, known as The Eight, followed Robert Henri's lead in rejecting the pleasant manner of Impressionism, but retaining its stylistic tendencies of loose brush strokes and generous applications of paint. A number of artists from The Eight, including Ernest Lawson, Maurice Brazil Prendergast, and Henri himself, continued to paint occasional landscapes in an Impressionist style. Examples of these artists' works in the exhibition that were completed after their immersion in the Ashcan School, include Henri's Light in the Woods, 1918 pastel on paper, Lawson's1915 painting entitled Seacoast, Cape Cod, and Prendergast's Neponset Bay, oil on canvas, completed around 1914. (left: John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Bark and Schooner (Italian Salt bark: An Italian Barque), 1900, oil on canvas, UNL-F M. Hall Collection, 1931.H-88)

Regionalism played an important role in the development of the paintings associated with American Impressionism. Robert Gilder of Nebraska and Birger Sandzén of Kansas both lived and painted in the Midwest, yet their interpretations of the Impressionist aesthetic are quite different. Gilder's untitled oil on canvas depicting the Missouri River in winter, is typical of his work, which is characterized by plein air landscapes and loosely applied paint, but of a more muted palette. By comparison, Sandzen's paintings are radically different both in the application of paint to the canvas and the bright colors of his palette, exemplified by Lake and Sunset in the exhibition.

The innovations of Impressionism identified issues that precipitated the Modern era. Light, space and colloquial subject matter are issues that were sustained, reacted to, and reinterpreted throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, these issues continue to be extrapolated by contemporary artists interested in problems of light, atmosphere and the environment. Joseph Stella, Alfred Henry Maurer and Morton Schamberg, whose names are immediately associated with American Modernism, began their artistic careers steeped in the Impressionist aesthetic. Examples of early works by these artists included in the exhibition that have a distinct Impressionist vocabulary are Maurer's Still Life With Bowl, c. 1908, Schamberg's 1907 oil on board entitled The Regatta, and Stella's Mediterranean Landscape, c. 1910.

"American Impressionism from the Permanent Collection" is accompanied by a\ fully illustrated catalogue. The catalogue includes color reproductions of each of the exhibition's paintings, and interpretive essays by acclaimed American art historian William Gerdts and former Sheldon Gallery Curator, Daphne Deeds.

On Wednesday, September 13, at 5:30 p.m., Karen Janovy, Curator of Education for Sheldon Art Gallery, will present a slide-illustrated lecture that will highlight works in the exhibition. Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and Maurice Prendergast are among the artists whose works will be discussed. In addition, Daniel A. Siedell, Curator/Interim Director of the Sheldon Gallery, will present a gallery talk on the work included in "American Impressionism from the Permanent Collection" on September 20 as part of Sheldon's "Wednesday Walks" series, which takes place on the third Wednesday of each month, September through May from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend both events.

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Read more about the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden 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. 3/18/11

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