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The Golden Age of Fine and Decorative Arts from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. Department of State

July 5 until August 31, 2003


Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, an exhibition of selected treasures from one of the most remarkable collections of Americana in the world, will be on view from July 5 through August 31, 2003, at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of State, the exhibition features more than 160 works of decorative arts and fine art from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Six galleries in the Georgia Museum of Art will present a visual history of the United States, documented through maps, portraits, paintings and furniture from the Colonial and Federal periods, 1750-1825. Works by such noted American artists as Paul Revere, Nathaniel Austin, John Singleton Copley, and Charles Wilson Peale chart the early history of a new country. Rugs, sconces and other decorative touches that once graced America's grandest rooms will also be on display. (left: John LeTellier (working ca. 1770-1800), Seven-piece coffee and tea service, Probably Philadeiphia, Pennsylvania, ca. 1794, Silver, 15 X 11 5/8 X 5 1/8 (dia. base) inches (coffee pot), Funds donated by Mrs. Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr, in memory of the Honorable Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr. (1982.0038.001 -.007) This is among the earliest of the large matched coffee and tea service and tea sets made in the United States. The locked tea caddy, in particular, is a most unusual addition to the set. Before the Revolution, American coffee and tea services usually were assembled over a period of several years and could consist of stylistically diverse pieces, possibly even produced by different smiths in different cities. For another 20 years after this set was made, few Americans possessed the affluence or advanced taste to purchase a silver coffee and tea service all at one time. This splendid set glorifies the Neo-classical style of the 1790s. It is thought to be similar to one made by LeTellier for President James Madison but lost when the British burned the White House in 1814. - Jennifer F. Goldsborough)

The collection was assembled to show the elegance of the young democratic republic and reveals America's alignment with the Age of Enlightenment. "It also provides a history through objects. Each painting, chair, tankard, and plate was shaped by the events surrounding its creation, and each work reveals a part of its maker, its owner, and America's history," says Ashley Callahan, in-house curator at the Georgia Museum of Art.

The Americans who owned these works and the artisans who made them clearly had a sophisticated sense of aesthetics and possessed high technical skills. During this period Americans moved toward Neo-classical design as influenced by British and European style leaders. The Federal mahogany sideboard created in 1785 by John Bankson and Richard Lawson in Baltimore is evidence that America shared in the elegance and grandeur of the Age of Enlightenment. The sideboard is an excellent example of Baltimore's Federal furniture, considered the most English of all American regional schools.

Other outstanding examples of American achievement in the arts between the mid-18th and early 19th centuries are a Philadelphia high chest attributed to Joseph Deleveau, an exquisite settee by Duncan Phyfe, and porcelain belonging to George Washington.

A wealth of silver items, mostly from the 18th century, will be on display, including coffee pots, candlesticks, a wine cooler, a salver, sauce boats, a sugar basket, a tankard and a silver service.

The iconographic works in this exhibition tell a story of the early days of the Department of State and the origins of American foreign policy and trade. Thomas Jefferson's portrait, attributed to Charles Wilson Peale, and a portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted while he served as America's Minister to Great Britain from 1815 until 1817, are reminders of America's diplomatic legacy. The presence of Chinese porcelain celebrates this nation's initial international trade with Asian countries.

Paintings such as View of Boston Harbor by Fitz Hugh Lane, and a view of Niagra Falls, allow the viewer to gain an understanding of American art of the period. The exhibition includes many paintings, in addition to the decorative arts.

Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State is generously sponsored by a challenge grant from Mrs. Deen Day Sanders. Matching grants and contributions were made by the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation; Alfred Heber Holbrook Society members, Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Gilham, Jr., Mrs. Ann Creekmore Jones, and Mrs. Patsy Dudley Pate; and by Mrs. W. Tapley Bennett, Jr., a Patron of the Friends of the Museum. The W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation has provided additional support for the educational programming, as have the Friends of the Museum. In-kind support provided by BOS Security, Yellow Book USA and the Athens Banner Herald.


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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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