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Masters of the American Watercolor and South Carolina Watercolor Society 25th Annual Exhibition

June 15 - August 18, 2002


The Columbia Museum of Art has organized an exhibition of 11 works from the large and prestigious collection of American watercolors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Highlights of the intimate exhibition are rarely seen works that include four paintings by John Singer Sargent. Also included are works by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Reginald Marsh, Frank Benson, William Stanley Haseltine, William Trost Richards and John Whorf. The exhibition looks at the rise of watercolor painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A celebrated portraitist in the medium of oil, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) adopted watercolor as his preferred painting medium while traveling throughout Europe and America in the first years of the twentieth century. Two of the works featured in the exhibition, Venice: I Gesuati and Carrara: Lizzatori II were produced during Sargent's trips to Italy. His aggressive approach with brushmarks and color, which became typical of a more modern American watercolor style, contrasts with the conservative and reserved English and European methods practiced by earlier artists such as Richards, Haseltine and other adherents of realism.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910) broke from his early career as an illustrator to produce some of the most striking watercolor images of the late nineteenth century. In March of 1881, Homer sailed for England and settled in Cullercoats, a small fishing and artists' community on the Northumberland coast near Tynemouth. Over the next year Homer began working on a series of watercolors that included Tynemouth Sands, shown in the exhibition -- an image that captures a scene from the everyday lives of members of the fishing community. (left: Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Tynemouth Sands, 1882-83, watercolor over graphite, Gardner Brewer Collection. Bequest of Mrs. Arthur Croft, On loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Harry Hansen, professor of art at the University of South Carolina, serves as guest curator. This exhibition is organized by the Columbia Museum of Art and sponsored by Blanchard Machinery Company.

The Rise of the American Watercolor (wall text from the exhibition)

Public recognition of watercolor painting in America surged in the years following the Civil War. Considered the true American revolution in many ways, this war disrupted connections with Europe, dismantled the Southern aristocracy, freed the slaves, and destroyed the challenge to national unity. It also triggered a sweeping westward migration. Many people, disenfranchised by the war, saw the west as an opportunity to start over again -- among these were artists such as Fredric Remington and Charles M. Russell.

Mark Twain gave an American voice to literature following the civil war. If there is a Mark Twain of American art -- it is Winslow Homer! Homer began his career as an illustrator, traveling with the Union Army and producing drawings of conflicts that were published as engravings for the popular news journal, Harper's Weekly. After 1865, retreating from the horrors of the war, he moved to New England to paint the beauty of nature and happy people, especially children. During this period he began his investigation into the possibilities of watercolor.

In 1867, Homer traveled to Paris where he was exposed to the style of work which would become known as Impressionism. In 1881 and 1882, he made two trips to England where he studied contemporary English and European watercolors. During this time, he lived in Tynemouth, a modest fishing village on the west coast of England. The period in Tynemouth reflects a turning point for his subject matter, for he began to make watercolors about the hardworking fishing families who appear attuned to the forces and dangers of nature. He also portrayed the great power of the ocean, another reoccurring theme in his work. When he returned to America he began a series of painting trips to New England, Eastern Canada, Florida and the Caribbean, where he investigated the American relationship to the grandeur of nature. By contrast to most of his European counterparts, Homer's watercolors were vigorous and colorful, often painted quickly on the spot -- in the Impressionist plein air manner - concurrent with the growing American passion for the exploration of nature.

Around 1900, another great American watercolorist, John Singer Sargent, seriously took up watercolor as his traveling medium. As one of the premiere portrait painters of the 19th century, he finally tired of portrait painting and wanted to avoid commissions by traveling. Watercolor suited him because he said that he could make quick paintings on the spot that were, in effect, mental photographs. He frequently traveled in Europe and made one very significant trip to the American west where he produced many powerful watercolors. Like Homer, Sargent worked with a brush as a drawing tool all of his life, and he brought those skills to watercolor where speed, gesture, and the brush mark were essential and desirable. He brought to his watercolors a spontaneity and passion that became the hallmark of American watercolor.

The South Carolina Watercolor Society

The South Carolina Watercolor Society (SCWS), the largest statewide visual artists guild, celebrates its 25th Anniversary by presenting the 25th Annual Juried Art Exhibition of the South Carolina Watercolor Society. Dean Mitchell, internationally recognized artist, selected paintings for the exhibition from over 300 statewide entries. There will be $10,000 in cash awards presented to the top 30 artists.

Dean Mitchell

Currently residing in Overland Park, Kansas, Dean Mitchell is a native of Quincy, Florida. He received his BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and subsequently worked as a leading designer for Hallmark Cards, Inc. In 1983 Mitchell left the commercial field to pursue the muse of realistic painting in both rural and urban America. His efforts were recognized with membership in the American Watercolor Society, Miniature Artists of America, Allied Artists of America, The National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, Knickerbockers Artists, and the Sante Fe Watercolor Society, of which he was President in 1993. In 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Masters Degree.

In 1992 Mitchell was one of five finalists in the $250,000 Hubbard Award for Excellence, Ruidoso, New Mexico and received the prestigious Parks $50,000 Grand Prize for the Arts in Parks competition in 1999. In 1995 the U.S. Postal Service commissioned Mitchell to do a series of Jazz stamps. Today, Mitchell's paintings may be found in not only private and corporate collections but also the permanent collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Hubbard Museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Mississippi Art Museum, Arkansas Art Centers and others. He was featured in The Artist's Magazine, October 2000, and Mitchell said, "Ultimately it's the ability to communicate with passion -- not mere technique or subject matter -- that counts. Artists have to constantly realize that art is a language unto itself. You'll find that artists who really went with their hearts and went with what they believed in, those are the artists people truly embrace and remember."


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