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Seeing People: Paintings from the National Academy of Design

 

Faces and fashions from a defining period in American art are frozen in time at a new exhibition of portraits and figurative paintings from the collection of one of the oldest and most prestigious art organizations in the country. On view from January 15 ­ March 26, 2004 at The UBS Art Gallery, located at 1285 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, Seeing People: Paintings from the National Academy of Design features more than 40 works by American artists from the Academy's collection, dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Founded in New York in 1825 to promote American art through exhibitions and education, the National Academy of Design continues its mission to serve as a link between the art of the 19th century and that of the 21st century. (right: William James Whittemore (1860-1955), Charles C. Curran, 1888-89, oil on canvas, 17 x 21 inches, National Academy of Design)

Organized by the Academy's Chief Curator David Dearinger, Seeing People presents formal portraits of wealthy patrons, intimate studies of anonymous models in everyday settings, and renowned artists' introspective and revealing self-portraits. Featured artists in the exhibition include John Singer Sargent, Reginald Marsh, Cecilia Beaux, Louis Comfort Tiffany and four members of the talented Wyeth family, as well as celebrated 19th century portraitists Thomas Hicks and Charles Loring Elliott. The exhibition is organized thematically, exploring subjects from everyday life, such as labor, leisure, patriotism and the family. These paintings include scenes of human existence and interaction, in which people observe, communicate with and react to one another in the soundless languages of gesture and glance.

Seeing People: Paintings from the National Academy of Design is made possible by UBS.

 

Exhibition Highlights

Seeing People is populated with both anonymous and notable characters, casually interacting in everyday life or stiffly posed for posterity. Reginald Marsh's 1943 Barrel of Fun, one of the artist's signature gritty urban vignettes, captures a raucous scene within an amusement park ride. A statuesque blonde confidently strides forward, keeping her balance even as the spinning ride causes everyone around her to tumble. Well known for his imaginative and inventive work in decorative glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany was also an accomplished painter. His undated oil painting The Reaper depicts a farmer beginning his work in the fields, sharpening his scythe to harvest the hay stretching out behind him into the distance. One of the most striking works in the exhibition is Isabel Bishop's 1934 Nude Study, in which a woman sits upon a bed and dries her feet with a towel. The natural pose captures a casual moment in a daily routine, a realistic slice of everyday life. (left: Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942), Self-Portrait, 1894, oil on canvas, 25 x 20 inches, National Academy of Design)

The exhibition also features commissioned paintings of American leaders, such as Thomas Hicks' 1855 portrait of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, painted soon after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and Emanuel Gottleib Leutze's George Washington (c. 1850), a study for the masterwork Washington Crossing the Delaware. In addition to these historical figures, the exhibition also includes portraits of wealthy and powerful individuals that are less familiar to us today. Charles Loring Elliott's realistically rendered 1858 portrait of Mary Ann Goulding captures the sitter's characteristics with little idealism or decoration. A black-clad figure with a weathered face and pursed lips surrounded by a lacy, beribboned bonnet, Mrs. Goulding is immortalized as an imposing, no-nonsense woman. (right: Charles Loring Elliott (1812-1868), Mary Ann Goulding (Mrs. Thomas Goulding), 1858, oil on canvas, 34 ? x 27 inches, National Academy of Design)

Self-portraits in Seeing People reveal artists' powers of self-awareness and observation-some artists seem to face the viewer with confidence, while others are more elusive and unable to meet their own gaze. John Singer Sargent's 1892 self-portrait, created at the height of his popularity as the leading portraitist in the United States and England, evokes self-assurance and poise as he challenges viewers to look him in the eye. In contrast, Cecilia Beaux's self-portrait from 1894 is more restrained. Considered one of the finest female artists of her time, Beaux's portrait evokes a quieter confidence and she appears lost in her own thoughts. Most elusive of the personal works in the show is Andrew Newell Wyeth's 1945 self-portrait, which pictures the artist walking through a cornfield, his collar raised against the wind and a sketchbook beneath his arm. Wyeth's scowling face epitomizes the often brooding or melancholy tone of his work, and the vaguely disquieting scene is left open-ended and without clear answers.

 

National Academy of Design

The National Academy of Design is a three-part organization consisting of an honorary association of professional artists, a dynamic museum and a distinguished art school. Located on New York's famed Museum Mile (1083 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street), the National Academy of Design offers the public both traveling exhibitions and shows drawn from the museum's rich permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Public programs and tours are held in conjunction with each exhibition and the School of Fine Arts offers weekly Lunchtime Lectures. The Museum is open Wednesday and Thursday from 12 noon ­ 5 p.m., and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. ­ 6 p.m. Admission is $8.00 for adults and $4.50 for students and seniors. For more information, please call (212) 369-4880 or visit www.nationalacademy.org.

 

The UBS Art Gallery

As part of its ongoing commitment to the arts, UBS sponsors five exhibitions each year in The UBS Art Gallery, located in the lobby of its building at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City. Through its exhibition program, the Gallery offers non-profit New York-area arts and cultural organizations a midtown Manhattan exhibition space and the opportunity to introduce their programs to a new audience. The UBS Art Gallery enables many institutions to organize and mount exhibitions that might not otherwise be seen. These exhibitions encourage interest in the arts among the hundreds of employees, clients and members of the general public who pass through the UBS building each day.

 

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