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In a Romantic Mood: American Impressionists and Their Era

June 14 - August 30, 2003


At the end of the nineteenth century, many American artists retreated from the realities of the early modern era--with its burgeoning industry, crowded cities and extremes in wealth and poverty -- envisioning instead an American Eden. They painted tranquil landscapes, dreamy portraits of women and bountiful still lifes, aiming to fulfill the widely held belief that art should delight the senses and elevate the spirit.

This exhibition of 60 paintings and prints is drawn from the museum's exceptional collection of turn-of-the century American art. It also represents the last opportunity to view these works before they travel to other museums as part of a national exhibition organized by museum staff and circulated by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions. (right: Frederick C. Frieseke, On the Balcony, around 1912-1915, oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 35 inches, Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Bequest of Edwin C. Shaw 1955.28)

Many artists of this period found a sense of peace and serenity in the rural American landscape. One of the most popular styles for painting the landscape was impressionism, in which artists used broken or flickering brushwork to capture the fleeting quality of light. The scratchy brushstrokes and delicate colors of Julian Alden Weir's White Oaks evoke the crisp air of an autumn afternoon in New England. In Bedford Hills, Childe Hassam used small strokes of green, blue and yellow paint to capture the play of sun and wind over a lush meadow in upstate New York. Painter Frederick C. Frieseke studied in Giverny, France, where Claude Monet lived, and specialized in depicting figures bathed in sunlight. Edwin C. Shaw, one of Akron's most renowned philanthropists, donated Frieseke's On the Balcony and many other works featured in this exhibition to the museum. Other area collectors were also drawn to lyrical works produced by turn-of-the century American artists. In a Romantic Mood includes paintings donated by S.G. Carkhuff, Ralph Cortell, Stella B. Hall and others. A luminous autumn landscape by J. Francis Murphy is also on loan from the collection of Beatrice Knapp McDowell.

Some artists modified the eye-popping effects of impressionism in order to evoke a more poetic mood. In his haunting landscape The New Moon, Dwight W. Tryon combined intense colors, blurred forms and a simplified composition to symbolize the quietude of nightfall. The glow of light along the horizon beckons viewers into the scene and suggests humankind's spiritual connection with nature, a theme introduced into American culture during the nineteenth century by authors/naturalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Nature was not the only source of pleasure and inspiration for artists during this period. Many found in the female figure an emblem of enlightenment, beauty and refinement. European paintings that Chase studied while attending the Royal Academy of Art in Munich, Germany. Paintings by Thomas Wilmer Dewing reveal his distinctive and untraditional vision of women. Confined in spare interiors or moving through vaporous landscapes, Dewing's figures evoke feelings of loss and longing. He and other "tonalist" painters of this era used a limited range of colors and blurred forms to enhance the melancholy mood of their works.

Frequently cloistered in studios filled with furniture, costumes and decorative props, many turn-of-the-century artists created still lifes that explore much more than the beauty of individual objects. Severin Roesen's painting of a fruit basket overflowing with succulent grapes, peaches and plums suggests the richness and abundance of life in America. The delicate porcelain vases and drooping chrysanthemums in Emil Carlsen's Rhages Jar, on the other hand, speak to the tenuousness of life in this earthly realm.

Beginning in the 1910s, some American artists found in their country's bustling cities and expanding industrial landscapes compelling subjects for art. The generation of artists represented in this exhibition felt more anxious about radical changes in American society. Their poetic works represent a world that existed primarily in dreams, a locale as enchanting today as it was a century ago.

This exhibition was organized by the Akron Art Museum with generous support from the C. Blake, Jr. and Beatrice K. McDowell Foundation, OMNOVA Solutions, Jeter Systems Corporation, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Graves and Milo and Mary Lou Chelovitz.


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