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Italia! Muse to American Artists, 1830 2005
July 5 - December 31, 2006
Italia! Muse to American Artists is an extraordinary visual journey by 51 American artists who have worked in Italy from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries.
In the early nineteenth century, various sites were mandatory stops on the Grand Tour, a necessary part of an artist's education. While sculptors tended to gravitate toward the art communities in Rome and Florence, painters and printmakers explored nearly every aspect of the Italian landscape, from the intimate canals of Venice in the north, to the dramatically rugged, remote island of Sicily in the south.
Italy continued to serve as an artistic muse for many American artists, even when Paris became the center of the art world and a mecca for art students at the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1895 the American Academy in Rome was formed and American artists and scholars who were awarded the Rome Prize enjoyed a residency, supportive fellowship, and more importantly, a classically-based curriculum as an alternative to the dominant progressive French mode. One National Academician and American Academy alumni wrote in 1929 that, "...it was necessary to brush aside the French influences of the time, to undo the blunders of four centuries of mistaken teaching of the arts, and go back to Rome."
The richness of Italy's physical and cultural landscape has captivated American artists for nearly 200 years, and while not an examination of Italian landmarks, many familiar sights are represented including Roy H. Brown's impressionistic color relief print, Cliffs of Capri, 1847, George Henry Yewell's Interior of St. Mark's, Venice, 1875, and William Gedney Bunce's moody rendering of the Grand Canal, Venice, 1907.
Ernest D. Roth's 1926-27 exquisitely detailed etching, Stones of Venice Italy, offers a formal approach to a uniquely Italian urban scene. A more modern aesthetic is employed in John Ross's color relief print, Duomo, 1959, and Richard Haas's architectural rendering of the Roman Forum, 1991. Louis Bosa's Monastery in Venezia, 1957, Umberto Romano's playful, Mardi Gras in Italy, 1957, Stephen Antonakos's collage, Sicily, 2001, and Gregory Amenoff's Chianti I, 2004, create a powerful impression of the experiential effect Italy has on artists. The diversity of work and their chronological range in the exhibition testify to the enduring influence that Italy provides.
Wall text from the exhibition:
This exhibition illustrates precisely how Italy has continued to provide artistic motivation for Academicians over the last one hundred and seventy-five years. Various aspects of Italian life and many familiar sights are represented here including St. Mark's Basin, Venice, the Duomo of Florence, and the Chianti countryside, among many others. The diversity of works in this exhibition and their chronological range testify to the enduring inspiration that Italy continues to provide artists today.
In the nineteenth century, sculptors formed communities in Rome and Florence, while painters and printmakers explored nearly every aspect of the Italian landscape from the intimate canals of Venice in the north, to the rugged and remote island of Sicily in the south.
In the early twentieth century, Italy continued to serve as an artistic muse. American artists came seeking an education based on the classical ideals of the Renaissance. By the sixties, many representational artists continued to draw on the historic past for stimulation while abstract artists forged new stylistic directions. For contemporary artists, the culture and landscape of Italy remain a catalyst for artistic creativity.
American Artists & Italy: 1830 1930
Painters began visiting Italy in the late 18th century as part of the Grand Tour, a journey through Europe that was a necessary part of one's cultural education. Sculptors were the earliest American artists to go to Italy en masse, beginning in the 1820s. America lacked proper training facilities and Italy became a mecca for those seeking instruction. Artists such as Daniel Huntington captured their journeys in sketchbooks that would later serve as both souvenirs of their travels and preliminary studies for larger compositions.
As the century progressed, the allure of study in a modern capital drew artists away from Italy to Paris. Italy, however, still proved a destination for many and some even became expatriates, such as William Stanley Haseltine. Haseltine was inspired by the rugged cliffs of Capri in the early 1850s and returned to that subject for decades to come.
The founding of the American Academy in Rome in 1894 allowed American artists to study in-residency. Paul Manship, Carlo Ciampaglia, and many others supplemented their education with a stay at the American Academy. The Parisian influence remained dominant, but also prompted one American artist to write in 1929 that, "...it was necessary to brush aside the French influences of the time, to undo the blunders of four centuries of mistaken teaching of the arts, and go back to Rome."
Continuity and Change: 1930 1980
In the 1930s, many Italian-born American artists were drawn back to their birth country to study. Additionally, the American Academy in Rome continues to provide residencies for Americans to study through its "Prix de Rome" award. By the 1950s many artists were forging new ground, such as Wolf Kahn who captured the ethereal haze of the Sienese countryside with the gestural vocabulary of abstract expressionism.
Italian-born artists Louis Bosa and Umberto Romano depicted Italy in a humorous and playful way. Bosa's Monastery in Venezia is a caricature of Italian clergy, while Romano found color and joy in his depiction of a Mardi Gras celebrant. Printmaker John Ross first visited Italy as a young soldier during World War II and began his life-long love affair with that country that is shared by his artist wife, Clare Romano. Ross's Duomo is a monumental relief print of the Florence cathedral and reflects the strong geometric aesthetic of the 1950s.
Between 1960 and 1980 American artists were attracted to the physical and cultural landscape of Italy and the art of the Renaissance. For painter Jane Wilson, interaction with the Italian towns and countryside in the 1960s signaled a fundamental change in her work by revealing the inherent geometric irregularities in the landscape. For others such as Robert Baxter the influence of quattrocento painting resulted in masterful works such as Piazza San Trovaso, a study in geometry and form.
Enduring Inspiration: 1980 2005
Italy has continued to provide inspiration for American artists for the last twenty-five years. Since the early 1980s, Richard Upton has made an annual pilgrimage to the rural town of Cortona. His painting has become increasingly abstract, ultimately abandoning representation of the landscape while distilling the essence of the terrain. The travel collages of Stephen Antonakos combine found materials from his journeys to create an abstract sense of place.
Italy's historic past continues to play an important role in the creative process for American artists. Richard Haas's Roman Forum depicts one of Rome's great monuments in a vulnerable state of restoration, shrouded by scaffolding. For Clare Romano, however, history merely provides a framework for the depiction of an annual celebration in Venice. Her small paintings capture the vibrant fireworks of the Redentore Festival commemorating the end of the plague in Venice in 1567.
Sculptors Pat Lasch and Charles Perry each draw a very different inspiration from Italy. Lasch addresses themes of birth and death in her work. Roman Resurrection II combines abstraction and representation with the notion of resurrection, a reference to Catholicism. Perry's Helmet Mace is a study for a larger work and incorporates a more reductive vocabulary that reflects the artist's interest in the formal qualities of geometric shapes.
(above: Paul Manship, Dryad, 1913, bronze, 12 5/8 x 7 x 4inches, NA diploma presentation, 1917)
(above: Carlo Ciampaglia, Village Scene, 1924, oil on masonite, 29 1/2 x 25 inches)
(above: Robert Baxter, Piazza San Trovaso, c. 1979, line etching and engraving, gift of the artist, 2006)
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