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American Impressionism: Paintings from the Phillips Collection

June 16 - September 16, 2007


In America, the radical new style of impressionism blended European approaches to painting with American sensibilities and preferences. Celebrated American artists including Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir transformed the heroic American landscape into a modern idiom. Join the Phillips in celebrating 85 years of presenting art with a new exhibition entitled American Impressionism: Paintings from the Phillips Collection, which showcases more than 65 treasured works from the golden age of American impressionism (ca.1880-1920), assembled together for the first time in more than a generation. The exhibition begins its national tour at The Phillips Collection on June 16 and remains on view there through September 16, 2007.

"Over the course of a decade, from 1912 to 1922, Duncan Phillips assembled an impressive collection of American impressionist paintings," says Jay Gates, director of The Phillips Collection. "They formed the very bedrock of the museum and have shaped the development of the collection ever since."

When Duncan Phillips opened his museum in the fall of 1921, the collection included 237 paintings, of which 87 works by 25 different artists were examples of American impressionism. By far, the greatest number of these were by the acknowledged "mature" masters of the style such as Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twatchman, J. Alden Weir, and William Lathrop. The collection also included paintings by Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, Gifford Beal, and Helen Turner. These artists applied the brighter palette and broken brushwork of French impressionism to the American landscape, focusing on intimate and atmospheric views of parks and beaches as well as urban views and charming interiors. While all of these paintings were crafted with particular interest in the seasons, changing light, and optical effects, American impressionist painters differed from their French counterparts by continuing to imbue their work with larger ideas related to the emotional and spiritual character of the landscape.

Highlights of the exhibition include a range of work by many of the key players of the movement. Focusing largely on landscape painting, American Impressionism features some of the museum's most treasured paintings. Many were painted in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

For Phillips, impressionism was always a question of personal temperament or subjectivity combined with natural phenomena. In the work of both Twatchman and Weir, for instance, Phillips found depictions of the intimate moods of the artists' Connecticut properties as celebrations of the American countryside and pastoral respite from the modern world. Both artists used the language of French impressionism to explore nature's emotional effects. Twatchman, whom Phillips considered one of America's greatest artists, is still thought of as the pre-eminent American impressionist landscape painter. His painting, Summer, is a classic example of his work and Phillips regarded it as one of his best purchases for 1919, outranking all others, including those by Weir, Hassam, and Lawson. (right: Gifford Beal (1879-1956), On the Hudson at Newburgh, 1918, Oil on canvas, 36 x 58 1/2 inches.The Phillips Collection, acquired 1924)

The exhibition also showcases the work of a less well known but equally extraordinary artist, Allen Tucker. Phillips acquired Tucker's paintings, Red Barns and The Rise, in 1926-1927. Considered by his colleagues to be the "American van Gogh" because of his vigorous and animated brushwork, Tucker captured the attention of Phillips who sought to add an original van Gogh to his growing collection of modern art during this period. Please click here to view wall text from the exhibition.


Duncan Phillips and American Impressionism

Duncan Phillips was a man of his time in his enthusiasm for American impressionist painting. When he arrived in New York in 1910, with dreams of becoming an art critic, impressionism was America's popular mainstream aesthetic style. By the end of the decade he could count himself as one of its first collectors. American impressionist works were the foundation of the museum and significantly shaped its development, playing a vital role in Phillips's maturing appreciation of abstraction.

In the early 1920s, the writings of contemporary critics, such as Roger Fry and Clive Bell, opened Phillips's eyes to the intent of abstract art, and his collecting in that decade reflected his new understanding. He added very few American impressionist paintings to his collection after 1923. As Phillips became more knowledgeable in his understanding of abstraction, he turned his attention towards other artists. He was drawn not only to the new American realism, but also to the American moderns around Stieglitz and the artists of the School of Paris, including Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse and Braque.

Phillips's collecting practices were ultimately driven by his desire to create a cohesive collection. Only artists whom Phillips saw as "modern in mind," or whose work could be seen as links between the past and present, found a permanent place in the collection.



A 192-page book with 120 color illustrations accompanies the exhibition. American Impressionists: Painters of Light and the Modern Landscape, co-published by The Phillips Collection and Rizzoli International Publications, features essays by William H. Gerdts, the leading authority on American impressionism, and Phillips exhibition curator Susan Behrends Frank. The softcover book will be available in the Museum Shop and the hardcover will be available in bookstores nationwide. Support for the publication was provided by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.


Exhibition tour itinerary

The Dixon Gallery & Gardens (Memphis, Tenn.)
Oct. 28, 2007 - Jan. 6, 2008
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.)
April 12 - June 15, 2008
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, (Montgomery, Ala.)
July 4 - October 19, 2008
Oklahoma City Museum of Art (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
Nov. 6, 2008 - Jan. 18, 2009
Society of the Fours Arts (Palm Beach, Fla.)
March 13 - April 26, 2009
Museum of Fine Arts (Santa Fe, N.M.)
June - early Sept. 2009 (tentative dates)

The exhibition and national tour of American Impressionism are made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), as part of the American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius program. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Phillips Contemporaries and Lockheed Martin, the 2006-2007 season sponsor of The Phillips Collection.


Phillips Collection's Interactive website program

The Phillips Collection has developed an interactive website program which reviews 650 works of American art, spanning 150 years, held by the museum. The website includes art created by artists featured in American Impressionism. For instance, six works are featured for John Henry Twatchman. The museum says concerning this interactive program:

... An interactive timeline highlights particular works, presented in context with other historical events. At a glance, users can trace modern art chronologically across the years, seeing works by artists ranging from Winslow Homer to Wayne Thiebaud, and Albert Pinkham Ryder to Mark Rothko.
The program also provides an opportunity to see many examples of the work of a single artist. Explore the museum's noted "collection units," or in-depth holdings of works by Arthur Dove, Jacob Lawrence, and Richard Diebenkorn, among others.
Users can also access information through a dynamic index sortable by artist, medium, or date. Every work is viewable full screen, with 20 images now available with a "zoomify" feature, allowing an inch-by-inch close-up look at the work.
Learning activities are associated with many works of art across a variety of disciplines, from visual arts to math, science, language, and music. By clicking on the "learning" button, teachers can find ideas and suggestions to suit their needs and lesson plans.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and this online video:

The Phillips Collection exhibited American Impressionism: Paintings from the Phillips Collection in 2007. Four YouTube clips feature exhibition curator Susan Behrends Frank giving a brief overview of the exhibit in the exhibition galleries.


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