Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Left photo: David Graham, Right photo: Nathan Benn

Philadelphia, PA



About Face


"About Face" will be on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from October 21 through January 14, 2001. This installation of paintings and graphics from the Pennsylvania Academy's permanent collection has been organized to coincide with Van Gogh: Face to Face at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Examining artistic subjects-from peasant scenes to portraiture-that resonate with the contemporaneous production of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), the exhibition features the work of such leading American artists as Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, and Ehilu Vedder. (left Cecilia Beaux, Study of Two Breton Women, Concameau, France, 1888, oil on canvas, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Gift of Henry Sandwith Drinker)

Van Gogh is credited with bringing a "modern" form and feeling to the time-honored portrait genre. From early images of the poor in his native Netherlands to the series of vivid self-portraits he produced in France in the late 1880s, the artist conveyed an "impassioned" expressiveness motivated by his commitment to what he called a "sincere human feeling." That van Gogh found this sense of "life" most often in the underprivileged raises questions about his particular brand of realism. In effect, such portraits represent a kind of cultural typecasting, proving to be more a depiction of a specific class than an individual.

Many American artists at this time were similarly drawn to peasant imagery and strong character types. Supplementing their French academic study with visits to summer resorts in Brittany and Normandy, they explored a kind of old-fashioned rural life, rooted in a particular locale with long-established customs, which was fast disappearing in France and America. As a result, the French peasant came to appeal to urban artists and their patrons as a picturesque subject, at once nostalgic and "exotic." About Face both examines this cross-cultural phenomenon and highlights van Gogh's little-known interest in the art of his American contemporaries.


Read more about the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 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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