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Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 10 - June 6, 2004


Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the extraordinary variety and accomplishment of American artists' works on paper. These seventy-five exceptional watercolors, pastels, and drawings from the 1860s through the 1990s reveal the central importance of works on paper for American artists, both as studies for creations in other media and as finished works of art. This exhibition will be on view at the Hunter Museum of American Art April 10 - June 6, 2004.

Artists included in this exhibition range from 19th century masters such as Winslow Homer, John La Farge and Thomas Moran to modern virtuosos of color such as William H. Johnson and Stuart Davis to contemporary artists Wayne Thiebaud, Jennifer Bartlett and April Gornik.

A variety of materials and techniques are featured in the exhibition. Graphic Masters includes bold designs for stage settings, book illustrations, studies for paintings and spontaneous creations that reveal the artist's thought processes and working methods. The medium of drawing often reveals greater experimentation than an artist's more formal work, since it is considered a freer and more intimate form of expression. Pastels allowed artists to draw directly in color, blurring traditional distinctions between drawing and painting. Watercolor has been a favorite medium capturing the light and color of nature. Even as works on paper became larger and more finished, competing in scale with easel paintings, they retain a sense of the artist's hand, the immediacy of thought made visible.

In the watercolor Bear Hunting, Prospect Rock (1892) Winslow Homer presents man as an essential part of nature, neither overwhelmed by its grandeur, nor fully in control of the wilderness. Homer began painting Adirondack subjects in 1870 and returned to them intermittently over four decades. The figures in this work are modeled on guides from the North Woods Club where Homer spent much of his time. Prospect Rock, located less than a quarter of a mile away from the clubhouse and reached by a graded trail, was one of Homer's favorite spots to paint.

Despite its modest size, John La Farge's Water Lily in Sunlight (about 1883) takes advantage of the fluidity of the watercolor medium to suggest, rather than describe, the subtleties of nature. The artful asymmetry of the composition recalls Japanese design, as does the bird's-eye perspective on the subject.

Stuart Davis's gouache Impression of the New York World's Fair (1938) records an important mural that no longer exists. The mural was created for the Communications Building of the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing, N.Y. The Fair provided a much-needed vision of hope and prosperity to counteract the dislocation and confusion of the Depression. Davis's bold, bright colors and highly abstracted forms conveyed that exuberance and confidence in the future.

Wayne Thiebaud is attracted to specific foods by their formal beauty and by the care with which the chef has prepared and presented the item. In Neapolitan Meringue (1986-99), a pastel over lithograph, Thiebaud relishes how the meringue topping simultaneously glows and reflects light, suggesting the softness of a snow bank and the rich sensuality of white paint.

Hunter Museum of American Art will host a reception Friday, April 9, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. and a lecture by Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum 6:00 -7:00 p.m.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the first federal art collection, begun in 1829 with gifts from private collections and art organizations established in the nation's capital before the founding of the Smithsonian in 1846. The museum has grown steadily to become a center for the study, enjoyment and preservation of America's cultural heritage.

Graphic Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of five exhibitions featuring the Museum's collections, touring the nation through 2005. The tour is supported in part by the Smithsonian Special Exhibitions Fund. This project is funded with the support of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the American Association of Museums.


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