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Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art

August 27, 2005 - January 3, 2006


(above: John Singer Sargent, Marie Buloz Pailleron (Madame Édouard Pailleron), 1879, oil on canvas, 82 x 39 1/2 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase and gifts of Katherine McCook Knox, John A. Nevius and Mr. and Mrs. Lansdell K. Christie. 64.2)

Exceptional quality and breadth characterize the Corcoran Gallery of Art's internationally recognized collection of pre-1945 American paintings. Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art features more than 85 canvases selected from the museum's rich holdings. (left: Albert Bierstadt, Mount Corcoran, c. 1876-1877, oil on canvas, 61 x 96 1/4 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund. 78.1)

For the first time in over 10 years, these paintings, which comprise the historical core collection of Washington's oldest art museum, will be shown together in the Corcoran's landmark galleries. Iconic works collected by Gallery founder William Wilson Corcoran, including landscapes by such renowned artists as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, will be exhibited alongside important canvases by major painters such as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper and Aaron Douglas acquired after Corcoran's death. In addition to these paintings, the exhibition will showcase two sketchbooks containing Albert Bierstadt's initial ideas for his majestic canvas The Last of the Buffalo; the volumes, recently acquired by the Corcoran and never exhibited publicly, will be shown alongside the finished painting. Organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Encouraging American Genius will be on view from August 27, 2005 through January 3, 2006.

One of America's oldest art museums, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was founded in 1869 as the realization of Washington, D.C. financier and philanthropist W. W. Corcoran's longstanding desire to create an American national gallery. Mr. Corcoran collected American art primarily, while most of his peers focused on purchasing European art. The new museum continued to acquire contemporary and historical American paintings well after its founder's death. A major turning point in shaping the collection occurred in 1907 with the advent of the museum's pioneering Annual and Biennial exhibitions of contemporary art, from which the Gallery acquired many of its most important paintings. Today, the Corcoran's American paintings dating from 1740 to 1945 number more than 650. (right: George Wesley Bellows, Forty-two Kids, 1907, oil on canvas, 42 3/8 x 60 1/4 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund. 31.12)

Encouraging American Genius is organized into roughly chronological thematic groupings to demonstrate the museum's strengths in colonial and federal American portraiture, nineteenth-century landscape and genre painting, early twentieth-century realism, and abstraction between the wars. A major grouping of paintings in the exhibition features well-known examples of Hudson River School landscape painting. These celebrations of New World promise include Thomas Cole's well-known cycle The Departure and The Return (1837), Frederic Church's majestic Niagara (1857) and Albert Bierstadt's operatic Mount Corcoran (c.1876­77).

Several galleries in the exhibition present the Corcoran's prized American Impressionist holdings, which include Mary Cassatt's Young Girl at a Window (c. 1883) and Childe Hassam's A North East Headland (1901). Complementing this section of the exhibition is a stylistically diverse grouping of paintings depicting women in Gilded Age settings, such as John Singer Sargent's Madame Pailleron (1879) and Thomas Eakins' Singing a Pathetic Song (1881). (left: Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, 42 1/2 x 90 1/2 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund. 76.15)

A third category of paintings in the exhibition portrays the pulsating energy and change of early twentieth-century American culture. This section features vibrant scenes such as George Bellows' Forty-two Kids (1907), John Sloan's Yeats at Petitpas (1910) and Edward Hopper's Ground Swell (1939).

In addition to these three major groupings, the exhibition highlights a number of outstanding individual works by American masters. From famed early portraitists John Singleton Copley and Joshua Johnson, to American Barbizon painter George Inness and trompe-l'oeil master William Michael Harnett, to modernist greats Maurice Prendergast, Thomas Hart Benton and Marsden Hartley, Encouraging American Genius presents a remarkable selection of American paintings from the Corcoran's collection.

Originally organized to travel nationally during the Corcoran's expansion and renovation, this exhibition will launch a four-venue tour of the Corcoran's best American paintings. The exhibition will travel to Houston, Texas; Southampton, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Sarasota, Florida.

"This treasure trove of American art will inspire and engage art and culture audiences both in the nation's capital and across the country," said Jeanne Ruesch, chairman of the Corcoran Gallery of Art Board of Trustees. "We are honored to share our famous collection with art lovers nationwide and look forward to featuring them in our permanent collection galleries upon completion of the tour." (right: Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939, oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 50 1/4 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund. 43.6)

"The Corcoran Gallery of Art has a long and distinguished record of collecting American paintings. In fact, the institution was founded with the purpose of 'encouraging American genius,'" said Sarah Cash, Bechhoefer Curator of American Art. "This exhibition emphasizes the richness of the Corcoran's holdings-a collection of works that brings to life most of the major movements in the history of American art."



The exhibition will be accompanied by an informative, fully illustrated, soft cover book entitled A Capital Collection: Masterworks from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, published by Third Millennium. This companion catalogue takes a thematic approach to the Corcoran's diverse holdings in all media, both American and European. It is organized into five sections: Identity, Narrative, Nature, History, and Imagination, with engrossing text and in-depth studies of more than 125 selected works. Nineteen works from Encouraging American Genius are featured in the catalogue. Corcoran curators and guest authors have contributed essays to this celebration of the collection.


Following its presentation at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from August 27, 2005 through January 2, 2006, Encouraging American Genius begins a national tour. The exhibition will be on view at
Museum of Fine Arts, (Houston Feb. 12 - May 7, 2006)
Parrish Art Museum (Southampton, NY; June 3 - Sept. 12, 2006)
Mint Museum of Art (Charlotte, NC; Oct. 7 - Dec. 31, 2006)
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, FL; Feb. 3 - April 29, 2007)


A Family Festival is planned for October 8. Other programs scheduled for the fall include an Educator Workshop with curricular materials, an academic symposium, a series of perspective talks, and Book Club gatherings. The exhibition will include a reference area, with self-guided materials available. For more details, check the Corcoran's website.

(above: Thomas Eakins, Singing a Pathetic Song, 1881, oil on canvas, 45 x 32-1/2 inches. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund. 19.26)


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