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American Impressions: Selections from the Permanent Collection

July 5, 2007 - January 6, 2008

 

Featuring 32 masterworks of American Impressionism from collection of the National Academy Museum complemented by 3 loans from the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts, this presentation offers a fresh perspective on this celebrated moment in American art. Exploring the landscape from coast to coast under varying effects of light and atmosphere, the works on view include paintings by such celebrated figures as George Bellows (1882-1925), William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), Lilian Westcott Hale (1881-1963), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), John La Farge (1835-1910), John Singer Sargent (1836-1925), and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937).

The rise of American Impressionism signaled a new cosmopolitanism in the nation's art following the end of the Civil War in 1865. Fleeting effects of light and atmosphere compelled new admiration among artists and patrons, and major figures such as William Merritt Chase taught the style to new generations of artists in American academies, even as their expatriate colleagues such as John Singer Sargent enhanced the standing of American art abroad and worked directly with their French peers. Collectively, they established a climate for art in America that would flourish into the new century.

Begun in 1825, the National Academy of Design in New York (known today as the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts) was a venerated institution by the later nineteenth century.

Younger artists working in an Impressionist style were initially met with reluctance from more established artists, but within two decades they too were elected to the Academy's leadership. Virtually every major American Impressionist was elected to membership in the Academy and their presentation of key examples of their work to the collection, documents their admiration for the institution and its mission to promote American art.

Just as newcomers to the Academy will find accomplished works on display by well-known masters, more seasoned visitors will discover an array of distinguished examples by figures such as John Folinsbee (1892-1972), Birge Harrison (1854-1929), Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972), Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932), Chauncey Ryder (1868-1949), and Robert Spencer (1879-1931) that will deepen their appreciation for the period. American Impressions provides a fresh, new look at an enduring popular style.

 

(above: John La Farge (1835-1910), Magnolia,1860, Oil on panel, 16 x 11 ? inches. Collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield Massachusetts, Gift of Mrs. Ruth I. Derby, William B. Long, and Mrs. Higginson Nash)

 

(above: Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), Miraculous Haul of Fishes, ca. 1913-14, Oil on canvas, 38 x 47 ? inches. National Academy Museum,NA Diploma Presentation)

 

(above: Lilian Westcott Hale (1881-1963), An Old Cherry Tree, ca. 1920, Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. National Academy Museum, NA Diploma Presentation)

 

Label texts from the exhibition

Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932)
ANA 1887, NA 1897
 
End of the Shower
 
1894
Oil on canvas
 
When first exhibited at the Society of American Artists exhibition in 1894, End of the Shower attracted critical praise as "a brilliant and telling realization of blinding light, and breathing air in which a clump autumn trees stands in a haze of sunlight shot through with glinting shafts of rain." Despite its success, the work marked a transition in Palmer's art, as he focused thereafter almost entirely on winter scenes.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Robert Blum (1857-1903)
ANA 1888, NA 1893
 
Two Idlers
 
1888-89
Oil on canvas
 
Leisure was among both French and American Impressionism's most popular themes. The outward serenity of Blum's Two Idlers is deceptive, however. The work's intricate composition and dynamic brushwork render it an exceptional illustration of the artist's technical powers.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
John White Alexander (1856-1915)
ANA 1901, NA 1902, PNAD 1909-15
 
Young Girl
 
ca. 1902
Oil on canvas
 
During his later career, portraitist John White Alexander increasingly explored the formal, decorative qualities of his art under the influence of Impressionism and later symbolism. In this work, which the artist called a "symphony of color," Alexander turned his figure in profile, raised her arm, and used a high-backed chair to accentuate her fluid form and contours, rather than document her likeness.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Birge Harrison (1854-1929)
ANA 1902, NA 1910
 
The Hidden Moon
 
ca. 1907
Oil on canvas
 
Landscapist Birge Harrison was drawn to the more evocative, poetic tonalities of the night sky rather than to the radiant daylight often associated with Impressionism. Nevertheless, he also deeply admired Claude Monet (1840-1926), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), and the other "leaders" of the movement that he preferred to dub "Luminarism" for its practitioners' dedicated study of light. For Harrison, the sky supplied nature's moods and "a vast sky always lends nobility to a picture." His Hidden Moon bears only the slightest suggestion of earth below, as the artist believed "a mere line of land is often sufficient."
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
John La Farge (1835-1910)
ANA 1863, NA 1869
 
Magnolia
 
1860
Oil on panel
 
La Farge's early still lifes, such as these two related depictions of a cut magnolia flower in a glass bowl, offer perspective on his enduring interests in the qualities of light, color, and translucency that characterize much of his art, particularly his later work in stained glass.
 
Collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield Massachusetts, Gift of Mrs. Ruth I. Derby, William B. Long, and Mrs. Higginson Nash
 
 
John La Farge (1835-1910)
ANA 1863, NA 1869
 
Magnolia Blossom
 
ca. 1860
Oil on composition board
 
This work is believed to be a study for the Magnolia in the collection of the Berkshire Museum, on view beside it.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Dorothy Ochtman (1892-1971)
ANA 1929, NA 1957
 
A Corner of the Studio
 
1928
Oil on canvas
 
Dorothy Ochtman's portrait of her father, the Impressionist landscapist Leonard Ochtman, NA (1854­1934), in his Greenwich, Connecticut studio offers an intimate glimpse of the artist at work. The steep, climbing perspective of the floor, open space, and decorative interior portray the sitter in terms sympathetic to his own aesthetic.
 
Bequest of Dorothy Ochtman Del Mar
 
 
Robert Spencer (1879-1931)
ANA 1914, NA 1920
 
Across the River
 
ca. 1916
Oil on canvas
 
Robert Spencer began his artistic career as a student in the National Academy of Design's school before switching to the New York School of Art to work with leading American Impressionist William Merritt Chase, NA (1849-1916). Spencer lived for much of his career in New Hope, Pennsylvania and exhibited with the New Hope Group of artists working in an Impressionist style. Spencer shared his particular interest in working-class life and industrial architecture, including the mills along the Delaware River, with his New Hope colleagues including John Folinsbee, NA (1892­1972).
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Gifford Beal (1879-1956)
ANA 1908, NA 1914
 
The Mall-Central Park
 
1913
Oil on canvas
 
Beal's view of Central Park follows the example of his mentor William Merritt Chase, NA (1849-1916). In this idyllic vision of urban life, sunlight filtered through the stately trees casts patterns on the ground while well-dressed children play along the edge of the fountain in the foreground. Beal owed the immediacy of his aesthetic to Chase, who had instructed him that "it takes two to paint a picture, one to do the painting and the other to stand by with an axe to stop it at the right moment," lest it become overworked.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Douglas Volk (1856-1925)
ANA 1898, NA 1899
 
Little Marion
 
ca. 1895
Oil on canvas
 
Volk became a well-known teacher of art in New York after his own training in Paris during the mid-1870s and helped expand awareness of Impressionism in America. This intimate depiction of the artist's daughter Marion absorbed in play illustrates the nuance of his Impressionist palette in the array of tones that compose her dress.
 
NA Diploma Presentation



John Singer Sargent (1836-1925)
ANA 1891, NA 1897
 
Claude Monet
 
ca. 1887
Oil on canvas
 
Universally recognized as the leading exponent of French Impressionism, Claude Monet (1840­1926) owed his early recognition in England to his friend, the American expatriate John Singer Sargent. This modest portrait is believed to date from Sargent's first visit to Monet's home in the Paris suburb of Giverny, the moment at which Monet's influence on Sargent was at its peak.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
John Folinsbee (1892-1972)
ANA 1919, NA 1928
 
The Canal at Trenton
 
ca. 1924
Oil on canvas
 
As one of the Pennsylvania Impressionists of the New Hope art colony, John Folinsbee was directly influenced by the industrial landscapes of neighboring towns and cities, including Trenton, New Jersey. Despite its Impressionistic handling and attention to atmosphere, the subdued, contemplative tenor of The Canal at Trenton also suggests the more expressionist aspect of his later work in the 1930s.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Chauncey Ryder (1868-1949)
ANA 1913, NA 1920
 
Phantom Lake
 
undated
Oil on canvas
 
Phantom Lake is aptly titled for a representative work by Chauncey Ryder, as it suggests the distinctive balance that he struck between reality and imagination. The stand of pines in the foreground of Phantom Lake creates a pattern on the surface of the canvas reminiscent of Claude Monet's late series of cypresses, a subject that Ryder treated as well.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
ANA 1888, NA 1890
 
Still Life
 
undated
Oil on canvas
 
A legendary teacher, Chase influenced generations of young American artists with his Impressionist style. Although less recognized today than his landscapes, Chase's still lifes share this dexterity of paint handling and eloquent suggestion of light playing across different shapes and materials, in this case metal, ceramic, and polished wood.
 
Bequest of Nicholas Markatos
 
 
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
ANA 1904, NA 1927
 
Miraculous Haul of Fishes
 
ca. 1913-14
Oil on canvas
 
The son of a minister, Henry Ossawa Tanner often depicted biblical subjects during his mature career, including this one showing the bountiful rewards offered to Christ's disciples. In this work, the Impressionist light reflecting off both the water and the fish adopts religious overtones in its association with divine benevolence.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Frank Benson (1862-1951)
ANA 1897, NA 1905
 
Portrait of a Child Sewing
 
1897
Oil on canvas
 
Frank Benson did not become an Impressionist until well after his return to the United States from his studies in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1883­85. Portrait of a Child Sewing documents his late maturity with its active brushwork, light palette, dissolution of the figure, and leisure subject. Along with fellow modernists including William Merritt Chase, NA (1849-1916) and Childe Hassam, NA (1859-1935), Benson founded the Ten American Painters in 1897, the same year in which he created this work, in order to ensure a venue for the exhibition of their progressive aesthetics.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)
ANA 1887, NA 1888
 
The White Dress
 
1921
Oil on canvas
 
Dewing's interior for The White Dress is a remarkable example of his abstract sensibility. His use of flattened space inspired by Japanese aesthetics is of interest not only for its broad, open color planes of wall and floor, but also for its inclusion of what is likely one of Dewing's own outdoor scenes on the wall behind the figures. Dewing's reputation was largely based on his renderings of women in hazy, tonal landscapes, and this work offers a rare self-reflective meditation.
 
Collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Gift of Louise Crane
 
 
Childe Hassam (1859­1935)
ANA 1902, NA 1906
 
The Jewel Box, Old Lyme
 
1906
Oil on canvas
 
Later in life, Childe Hassam focused particular attention on rural New England areas such as Old Lyme, Connecticut, which provided tranquil, rustic scenes well-suited to his luminous aesthetic. The autumn foliage of The Jewel Box offers a kaleidoscopic array of color and light that the artist captured with individual brushstrokes. Hassam is believed to have been unsatisfied with the original title of this work, The Pines, renaming it ten years later more poetically, The Jewel Box, Old Lyme.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
George Bellows (1882-1925)
ANA 1909, NA 1913
 
Three Rollers
 
1911
Oil on canvas
 
Although George Bellows' reputation was based primarily on his urban genre scenes, particularly his boxing subjects, he also created a distinguished series of landscape compositions based on his trip to Maine's Monhegan Island in the summer of 1911 that includes his powerful Three Rollers. Bellows devoted himself to rendering the vitality and energy that he found in nature with an immediacy and feeling for his medium that his colleague Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958) traced to the influence of French modernism pioneer Edouard Manet (1832-1883).
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
ANA 1888, NA 1889
 
Thomas Wilmer Dewing
 
1887
Oil on canvas
 
This portrait of Chase's colleague and fellow instructor at the Art Students' League is one of ten Chase portraits in the National Academy's collection that highlight both his accomplishments in the genre and his almost universal presence in the New York art world. Chase's artist portraits range widely in their technique to reflect both the personalities and aesthetics of their sitters. In this portrait, the nuanced tones in Dewing's face and his loosely rendered coat are evocative of the sitter's own tonal aesthetic.
 
ANA Diploma Presentation
 
 
James Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917)
ANA 1888, NA 1894
 
William Merritt Chase
 
1889
Oil on canvas
 
For some artists, the practice of modernism extended to their self-presentation as well as to their art. William Merritt Chase made himself the talk of New York society with the overwhelming décor of his large studio, his elaborate costume parties, and the fez-wearing Arab servant who walked the artist's Russian wolfhounds, among other eccentricities. Beckwith's portrait, however, focuses on Chase's personal charisma and dash, rather than his more theatrical behavior.
 
ANA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Edward Potthast (1857­1927)
ANA 1899, NA 1906
 
The Boat Builders
 
ca. 1904
Oil on canvas
 
Potthast's Boat Builders is an unusual and ambitious interior for a painter whose primary subjects were sun-drenched beach scenes. Labor was a relatively infrequent subject for the American Impressionists, which renders Potthast's work all the more exceptional for its rarity. The contrast of the sunlit exterior with the workshop's interior space, sharp recession of the masts at the left and the hull at the right, and the workers' elongated limbs bending to their tasks collectively offer an informal, romantic glimpse of their experience.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933)
ANA 1899, NA 1906
 
A Sunlit Hillside
 
1890
Oil on canvas
 
This view depicts the French village of Grez-sur-Loing, a destination popular mostly with foreign artists during the 1870s and 1880s, located south of Paris. As scholar May Brawley Hill has observed, Vonnoh manipulated the scene in this painting to exaggerate its geometries parallel to the picture plane, an approach that has led to comparisons of his work with that of French painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Edward Dufner (1872-1957)
ANA 1910, NA 1929
 
Margaret by the Window
 
ca. 1914
Oil on canvas
 
Trained in Paris at the Académie Julian and with the expatriate James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) at the turn of the century, Dufner initially earned a reputation for dark, monochromatic scenes inspired by Whistler's tonal aesthetic. By 1911, influenced by the Impressionist landscapes of Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), Dufner began painting bright outdoor scenes that earned him the moniker, "painter of sunshine." Margaret by the Window brings some of that light inside, creating a lyrical interior scene of a young girl absorbed in her reading.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
Lilian Westcott Hale (1881-1963)
ANA 1927, NA 1931
 
An Old Cherry Tree
 
ca. 1920
Oil on canvas
 
The balance of ordered and organic forms in An Old Cherry Tree attests to the artist's simultaneous concerns with suggestion and close observation of nature. Likely a depiction of the artist's own garden in Dedham, Massachusetts, the scene is contrived with clear inspiration from Japanese print aesthetics in its emphasis on the sinuous contour of the tree's trunk and in its planes of color to suggest space, rather than a more gradual recession into the distance.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
Lilian Westcott Hale (1881-1963)
ANA 1927, NA 1931
 
Self-Portrait
 
ca. 1928
Oil on canvas
 
Best known as a portraitist, Hale organized her own Self-Portrait to minimize the prominence of her chin, about which she reportedly felt self-conscious. The effect of her contrivance was one of the most dynamic and innovative self-portraits now in the Academy's extensive collection. Hale posed herself seated at work with her nearly full profile brightly illuminated by her subject, probably the garden outside her window that she often painted.
 
ANA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Abbott Thayer (1849-1921)
ANA 1898, NA 1901
 
Winter Landscape
 
1902
Oil on canvas
 
Thayer reportedly painted landscapes when he felt confounded by the human figure, his primary subject. Winter Landscape depicts the scenery near his home in southern New Hampshire near Mt. Monadnock during the first year he spent the winter season there. The planes of deep, fresh snow and richly colored sky offer an engaging counterpoint in Thayer's composition that is balanced by his calligraphic brushwork in the intermediate trees.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Karl Anderson (1874-1956)
ANA 1913, NA 1923
 
Wisteria
 
1915
Oil on canvas
 
Anderson achieved his belated artistic maturity in 1910 at the Mecca of American Impressionism, Giverny, France, under the instruction of his American colleague Frederick Carl Frieseke, NA (1874-1939). The vibrant palette, active brushwork, and bright light in Wisteria pay homage from afar to Monet's depictions of his Japanese-inspired garden.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
William Thorne (1863-1956)
ANA 1902, NA 1913
 
Tête à Tête
 
1891
Oil on canvas
 
This interior scene of romantic flirtation is an unusual subject for Thorne, who was known mostly as a society portraitist. The composition's narrow, compressed space suffused with gentle light reinforces the painting's sense of intimacy. The demands of his active portrait practice may explain why Thorne reached over two decades back into his career for a representative example of his work to present to the Academy as his diploma presentation 1913.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
Carl Rungius (1869-1959)
ANA 1913, NA 1920
 
On the Range
 
1920
Oil on canvas
 
The German-born Rungius did not even visit the United States until 1894, though he eventually became an American citizen in 1905. An avid hunter, Rungius occasionally accompanied Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) on hunting trips early in the century. When he finally committed to painting over illustration in 1914, Rungius specialized in depictions of large game animals in their natural habitats, subjects that he soon realized prevented serious consideration of his work by fellow artists. On the Range is one of a handful of landscapes in an Impressionist aesthetic that he created to appease his peers, and on the basis of which he quickly gained admission to the National Academy.
 
NA Diploma Presentation
 
 
Thomas Allen (1849-1924)
ANA 1884
 
Mississippi River Scene
 
1875
Oil on canvas
 
Trained in Düsseldorf and Paris, Thomas Allen gained recognition upon his return to the United States for his outdoor scenes of the Massachusetts landscape. Mississippi River Scene is an early work by the artist, made during a brief return visit to the United States from his extended studies abroad. It demonstrates his growing interest in abstract composition, bright color, and the effects of light.
 
Collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield Massachusetts, Bequest of Mrs. Richard Lathers, Jr.
 
 
Walter Shirlaw (1838­1909)
ANA 1887, NA 1888
 
Lawn with Peacocks, Sunlight
 
undated
Pastel on paper mounted on board
 
The peacock's brilliant color rendered it an excellent subject for Impressionist palettes and Shirlaw's two pastels shown here document their popularity as a motif during the later nineteenth century. Their most famous appearance was in the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) for his Peacock Room (1877-78), now in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
 
Gift of the Estate of Katherine S. Dreier
 
 
Walter Shirlaw (1838­1909)
ANA 1887, NA 1888
 
Woman with Peacocks in a Garden
 
undated
Pastel on board
 
As a close colleague and fellow teacher with William Merritt Chase, NA (1849-1916), Walter Shirlaw excelled as an advocate of modernist aesthetics in America. Trained in Germany, Shirlaw painted in the dark, realist style he learned there until the 1880s, when his palette lightened and his brushwork became more active. Much of his later work focused on public mural commissions, and these pastels likely relate to one of those decorative projects.
 
In one of the more unusual twists of American art's history, the donor of these works to the National Academy was the modernist master Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) acting as executor of the estate of his collaborator at the Société Anonyme, Katherine Dreier (1877-1952). Dreier studied with Shirlaw early in her career and later collected his work.
 
Gift of the Estate of Katherine S. Dreier
 
 
Charles Rosen (1878­1950)
ANA 1912, NA 1917
 
Beck's Point
 
ca. 1918
Oil on canvas
 
Charles Rosen studied landscape painting with Frank Vincent DuMond, NA (1865-1951) at the Impressionist art colony in Old Lyme, Connecticut before moving to New Hope, Pennsylvania. His works' sense of direct observation and broad paint handling resemble the works of fellow Pennsylvania Impressionist Edward Redfield, NA (1869-1965). In the years following Beck's Point, however, Rosen turned increasingly toward modernist aesthetics influenced by Cubism.
 
NA Diploma Presentation



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