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American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection

May 9 - October 10, 2004


American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection will showcase one of the most important private collections of 19th-century American art. The exhibition of 51 paintings by 26 American artists will be on view at the National Gallery of Art's East Building, May 9 through October 10, 2004. Works by such masters as George Caleb Bingham, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Eakins, William Stanley Haseltine, Martin Johnson Heade, Fitz Hugh Lane, John Marin, John F. Peto, and William Trost Richards represent four decades of collecting in an area of particular scholarly interest to Wilmerding. (right: Frederic Edwin Church, Newport Mountain, Mount Desert, 1851, oil on canvas, 54 x 79.4 cm (21 1/4 x 31 1/4 inches), John Wilmerding Collection)

"Over the course of his career John Wilmerding has become one of the most respected and widely known authorities on American art. His many books and articles have helped define the scholarly nature of the field as a whole and have also documented the works of key figures. John has organized many exhibitions on American art and through his teaching and lectures he has introduced literally thousands to the wonders and complexities of our national art," said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art. "Our warmest thanks go to John for lending his extraordinary collection."

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.


The Exhibition

The works in the exhibition reveal a variety of American art such as landscapes, marine painting, portraits, genre scenes, still lifes, and figure paintings, including a group of drawings and watercolors of the scenery of Mount Desert Island, Maine, by artists -- among them Haseltine, Lane, Marin, and Richards -- who worked there from the 1840s until the early 20th century. (right: Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Dr. William Thomson, 1906, oil on canvas, 172.7 x 122.6 cm (68 x 48 1/4 inches), John Wilmerding Collection)

Highlights from the collection include Fitz Hugh Lane's Western Shore of Gloucester, Outer Harbor (c. 1857), a radiant view of sailing vessels on calm water that is particularly notable for its superb state of preservation. Another notable work is one of George Caleb Bingham's rare genre pictures, Mississippi Boatman (1850), which depicts a rugged-looking man guarding cargo on the riverside.

In addition to the paintings by Lane and Bingham, there are superb examples by Martin Johnson Heade, Frederic Edwin Church, John F. Peto, and Thomas Eakins, such as Heade's Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875) and Still Life with Roses, Lilies, and Forget-Me-Nots in a Glass Vase (1869), Church's Newport Mountain, Mount Desert (1851), Peto's Take Your Choice, (1885), and Eakins' Portrait of Dr. William Thomson (c. 1907) and watercolor Drifting (1875).


Biography of John Wilmerding

Over the course of his career John Wilmerding has become one of the most respected and widely known authorities on American art. His many books and articles, which began appearing in the early 1960s and continue unabated today, have helped define the scholarly nature of the field as a whole and have also documented the work of key figures such as Fitz Hugh Lane, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins. Wilmerding has organized many exhibitions on American art, perhaps most memorably the majestic American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875, held at the National Gallery of Art in 1980. Through his teaching and his lectures he has introduced literally thousands to the wonders and complexities of our national art. (left: John Wilmerding, Collector, Photo by D. Applewhite)

It is less well known that Wilmerding is also an important collector of American art and has assembled over the years a superb group of paintings and drawings from the mid-to-late 19th century. Other than friends and family members, relatively few have had the pleasure of seeing these works, because he has been characteristically modest about his activities as a collector. That he has now generously agreed to let the collection be seen and enjoyed by a wider public through this exhibition is indeed a cause for celebration. (left: Martin Johnson Heade, Roses and Heliotrope in a Vase on a Marble Tabletop, 1862, oil on board, 35.2 x 27 cm (13 7/8 x 10 5/8 inches, John Wilmerding Collection)

Wilmerding comes from a family with a rich history of collecting art. His great-grandparents, Henry Osborne Havemeyer and his second wife, Louisine Waldron Havemeyer, amassed an extraordinary group of European and oriental works of art that was eventually bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Renowned in its own day, as it still is today, for its old master and impressionist paintings and for its Chinese and Japanese precious objects, prints, and textiles, the Havemeyer Collection is among the most magnificent gifts the Metropolitan has ever received. One of the Havemeyers' daughters, Electra Havemeyer Webb (Wilmerding's grandmother), was an eclectic acquirer of American fine and folk paintings and sculptures, decorative arts, quilts, tools, vernacular objects, toys, buildings, and transportation vehicles. Her remarkable and vast collection was the genesis of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

While at the National Gallery of Art, Wilmerding served as curator of American art and senior curator from 1977 to 1983 and as deputy director from 1983 to 1988. He has also served as a member of the advisory board of the Gallery's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and, more recently, as a member of the Trustees' Council. He donated Eakins' oil sketch The Chaperone, which is included in this exhibition, in honor of the Gallery's fiftieth anniversary in 1991.

John Wilmerding is currently the Christopher Binyon Sarofim Professor of American Art at Princeton University and visiting curator in the department of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is trustee emeritus of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont and a member of the boards of trustees of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the College of the Atlantic in Maine. Wilmerding is currently on advisory boards or committees for Smithsonian Studies in American Art, the Archives of American Art, Harvard University Art Museums, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. He also holds a presidential appointment to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. (right: Andrew Wyeth, A Crow Flew By Study, 1950, watercolor on paper, 42.1 x 29.5 cm (16 9/16 x 11 5/8 inches), John Wilmerding Collection)

Wilmerding is the author of many books and catalogues on American art, including American Marine Painting (Harry N. Abrams, 1987); American Views (Princeton University Press, 1991); monographic studies of Robert Salmon, Fitz Hugh Lane, John F. Peto, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins; The Artist's Mount Desert: American Painters on the Maine Coast (Princeton University Press, 1994); and Compass and Clock (Harry N. Abrams, 1999). His most recent book, Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-Expression in American Painting (Yale University Press, 2003) is a study of autobiographical embodiments of artists in their works expressed through their signatures.


Exhibition Curator, Catalogue and Programs

The exhibition curator is Franklin Kelly, senior curator of American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art.

Franklin Kelly is senior curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and a professor in the department of art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received training in art history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (B.A., 1974), the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art (M.A., 1979), and the University of Delaware (Ph.D., 1985). (right: Franklin Kelly, Sr. Curator, American and British Painting, National Gallery of Art, Photo by Philip Charles)

Kelly's concentration is on 19th- and early 20th-century American painting. His publications include Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape (1988), Frederic Edwin Church (1989), Thomas Cole's Paintings of Eden (1995), and Nineteenth-Century American Paintings in the National Gallery of Art (1996), as well as articles and essays on a wide range of artists, including William Sidney Mount, Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Charles Sheeler. In 1995 he was the co-curator of the Winslow Homer exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art, and co-author of the accompanying catalogue. More recently he was the curator for Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection seen at the National Gallery of Art and at the Seattle Art Museum during 2000. He co-organized the exhibition Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2003 and will subsequently be seen at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the National Gallery June 27 through September 26, 2004.

Kelly has given numerous lectures at museums and universities in America and abroad. He is currently working on exhibitions devoted to the works of the great British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner and the early 20th-century American realist, George Bellows.

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with Lund Humphries, and available in April 2004, the exhibition catalogue American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection includes an essay based on an interview between Kelly and Wilmerding, as well as entries by Nancy K. Anderson, Charles M. Brock, Deborah Chotner, and Abbie N. Sprague. The catalogue will be available from the National Gallery of Art Web site at www.nga.gov or by phone at (202) 842-6002 or (800) 697-9350.

Noted American art experts William H. Gerdts, Jules David Prown, and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. will join Wilmerding and Kelly in a discussion about the development of American art scholarship and collections on the closing date of the exhibition, October 10, at 2:00 p.m. in the East Building auditorium. The scholars will sign catalogues following the program. This event is free of charge; seating is available on a first-come, first-seated basis.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the National Gallery of Art in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

George Caleb Bingham: 24 minutes1976. "This program provides a portrait of one of America's foremost 19th-century painters, whose vivid work provides us with an unrivaled view of life along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Bingham's role as the creator of political genre painting is emphasized

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