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Object Lessons: American Drawings and Watercolors from the Princeton University Art Museum

April 29 - July 23, 2006


The High Museum of Art will present an acclaimed and rarely seen collection of American works on paper with "Object Lessons: American Drawings and Watercolors from the Princeton University Art Museum." On view April 29 through July 23, 2006, this major exhibition marks the publication of the Princeton Museum's extensive catalogue of American drawings and watercolors. Featuring over 75 masterworks from the 18th through the 20th centuries, the survey explores the role that drawing has played in the history of American art.

"This exhibition opportunity was brought to our attention by the American art historian and Princeton University professor John Wilmerding, a good friend of the High," said Sylvia Yount, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art. "Its showing in Atlanta underscores the High's commitment and ambition to display and collect a wide range of significant works on paper-particularly in light of our new Works on Paper Study Center on the lower level of the Renzo Piano­designed Wieland Pavilion."



The early attention paid to collecting American art at Princeton is directly linked to its pioneering role teaching art history. Princeton's department of art history and archaeology was established in 1883, the first of its kind in this country. From the outset, the museum was viewed by the university as an educational tool, and its focus on "object teaching" with the permanent collection continues to this day.

Princeton's collection of American drawings and watercolors was established in the 1930s by Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., the museum's first director. The artists featured in the collection and exhibition include the 18th-century masters Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley; leading figures of the Hudson River School; late nineteenth-century favorites Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent; members of the early twentieth-century Ashcan School; modernists of the Stieglitz Circle; mid-twentieth-century realists Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper, Charles White and Ben Shahn; post­World War II figures such as Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenburg, David Smith and Lee Bontecou; as well as a contemporary work by Susan Rothenberg.



A roughly chronological survey, the exhibition is divided into three sequential and thematic groups, beginning with late 18th- to early 19th-century works that examine two artistic mainstays: the human figure and the native landscape. Postbellum images that represent more varied approaches to this subject matter form the largest grouping in the exhibition. Finally, the 20th-century selections explore a greater diversity of subjects and stylistic approaches.

"Selected from nearly 1,500 American watercolors and drawings, the works presented in 'American Drawings and Watercolors' provide a clear sense of the richness, depth, range and quality of a collection that is one of the best in the country," said John Wilmerding, the Christopher B. Sarofim '86 Professor of American Art at Princeton University, who organized the exhibition with Laura M. Giles, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Princeton University Art Museum. "The museum's collection is impressive in both scope and quality, providing a comprehensive overview of the nation's artistic traditions."

The exhibition was first shown at the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, and then, traveled to the Musée d'Art Américain, Giverny, France. Its final stop is the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia.


Exhibition Catalogue

The accompanying 385-page, fully-illustrated catalogue, "American Art in the Princeton University Art Museum, Volume I: Drawings and Watercolors," published by the Princeton University Art Museum, includes an essay by John Wilmerding on the evolution of the collection in relation to the history of the university and American art. Also included is an essay by Kathleen A. Foster, Robert L. McNeil Jr. Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on the historiography of American drawings and watercolors. In addition, the publication features index entries on the exhibited works and a selectively illustrated checklist of the museum's complete collection of American drawings and watercolors.


Exhibition Organization and Support

This exhibition is generously supported by Louise Sams (Princeton '79) with additional support provided by fellow Princeton alumni. "Object Lessons: American Drawings and Watercolors from the Princeton University Art Museum" is organized by the Princeton University Art Museum.


Graphic Expressions: American Works on Paper from the High Museum of Art

"Graphic Expressions: American Works on Paper from the High Museum of Art" complements the Princeton exhibition and focuses on the High's strong and rarely seen American graphic holdings. Featuring late 19th- to mid-20th-century drawings, watercolors, pastels and prints, the exhibition opens at the High on April 29, 2006.


Princeton University Art Museum

Princeton University Art Museum, founded in 1882, is one of the finest art museums in the country. Its collection features more than 68,000 objects, ranging from ancient to contemporary art, and encompassing geographically the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

As a public institution, the museum is committed to presenting innovative and dynamic programming, conducting original research and new scholarship and maintaining an active loan and exhibition program. By collaborating with faculty, students and staff and through direct and sustained access to original works of art, the museum contributes to the development of critical thinking and visual literacy at Princeton University.

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