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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit
of Happiness: American Art 1660-1893 from the Yale University Art Gallery
September 9 through January 4,
Following is the gallery
guide text for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American
Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, on exhibit at the Speed Art
Museum September 9 through January 4, 2008.
- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from
the Yale University Art Gallery
- We are delighted that you have joined us to view the grand exhibition,
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale
University Art Gallery. These more than 200 extraordinary objects illustrate
the sweep of the American experience from Plymouth Rock to the Gilded Age.
This exhibition showcases the visual power and rich histories of Yale's
greatest American treasures, many of which have never before left the university.
- A Historic Gift
- In 1832, the American artist John Trumbull gave more than 100 of his
paintings to Yale College, establishing the university's eventual museum.
Built upon Trumbull's legacy, the Yale University Art Gallery possesses
one of the world's finest collections of American art.
- Along with paintings like Trumbull's iconic images of the American
Revolution, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness features
extraordinary furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, and other materials.
Highlights include one of the most important surviving pieces of early
eighteenth-century American silver, a luxuriously embellished monteith
bowl made by the Boston silversmith John Coney around 1705.
- Elsewhere in the exhibition, an elegant New York City-made sofa evokes
the early decades of the nineteenth century. Gilt ornament inspired by
French models glitters against the couch's dark surfaces.
- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness concludes with America's
westward expansion and her Gilded Age. Albert Bierstadt's Yosemite Valley,
Glacier Point Trail presents a mountain guide and his tourist clients
surveying that grand Western vista. The Gilded Age might best be represented
by Thomas Wilmer Dewing's idyllic painting Summer. As the world
and America faced a new century, the canvas harkens to calmer times.
- Join us, as we celebrate all of the creativity and diversity that has
made our country.
- Expressions of Heritage
- The works in this gallery explore the religious and ethnic diversity
of a land of immigrants. These objects reveal the range of artistic and
cultural currents in colonial America. From the delicately crafted silver
to the crudely-constructed though ornate pine and iron chest, Expressions
of Heritage offers up the rich diversity that was and remains America.
- Jewish silversmith Myer Myers worked in New York City. His dish ring
was to hold bowls or plates containing hot foods, this piece is the only
colonial American example of its kind.
- The old Spanish Southwest produced many pieces of everyday furniture.
The chest from New Mexico's Rio Abajo region is decorated with flowers,
lions, and pomegranates (lions and pomegranates are common Hispanic images
and often employed in heraldry).
- Quaker preacher and artist Edward Hicks's The Peaceable Kingdom
and Penn's Treaty envisions the outcome of Quaker William Penn's historic
treaty with the Delaware Indians. Hicks is best known for his series of
Peaceable Kingdom paintings, which number more than 60.
- Ambition and Display
- This gallery documents the lofty goals of early Americans as their
quest for independence began to meet with success. Silverware and fine
furnishings created in this country rival European works in design and
craftsmanship. Portraits of wealthy Americans reveal a refinement in dress
and setting that could only have been imagined by the nation's earliest
- Jeremiah Dummer's pair of candlesticks are the earliest known surviving
examples of American-made silver. Dummer was the first native-born New
- The massive, nine-foot-tall desk and bookcase constructed of mahogany
and decorated with precisely carved shells, was made for the Providence,
Rhode Island merchant and patriot John Brown. In addition, to developing
a global trading business, the Browns helped create what is today Brown
- John Greenwood's Elizabeth Moffatt Sherburne may have been painted
to celebrate her marriage to merchant John Sherburne around 1750. The book
she holds, "Spectator Vol. 7" was a reprint of a London collection
of philosophical reflections and cultural and literary analysis that, though
it had been published a generation earlier, had become popular reading
material in the colonies.
- The Making of a Nation
- In 1831 John Trumbull (1756-1843) presented eight Revolutionary War
paintings to Yale College to form the foundation of their American art
collection. Those eight paintings are on view in this gallery. Trumbull's
original vision was to create a series of paintings "in which should
be preserved as far as possible, faithful portraits of those who had been
conspicuous actors in the various scenes, whether civil or military, as
well as accurate details of the dress, manners arms & costumes of the
- Four of these paintings, The Signing of the Declaration of Independence,
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, The Resignation of Washington and
The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, hang in the Capitol
Rotunda in Washington, D.C. portraying the nation's struggle for independence
in life-size canvases.
- As a man who exuded the intellectual curiosity and industry that defined
early colonial leaders, the completion of this iconic series was one of
many triumphs for Trumbull who was also George Washington's second aide-de-camp,
Major General Horatio Gates's deputy adjutant general, the first American
artist to graduate from college, a member of the Jay Treaty Commission,
and an architectural designer.
- Class, Race, and Conflict
- Class and race are universal issues that societies the world over have
dealt with or ignored through the ages. Settled by Europeans seeking better
lives, what would become America's "melting pot" generated its
own tensions and conflicts often over class and race. From our War of Independence
to the Civil War to the Westward expansion, the young country sometimes
employed conflict to attain its goals just as mankind has for centuries.
- The Veteran (Portrait of George Reynolds) by Thomas Eakins employs
the artist's sophisticated technique of using subtle facial expressions
and poignant bodily gestures to describe the social standing of the subject.
George Reynolds, a student of Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts, was a Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War.
- Pitcher, which recreates Hiram Power's popular sculpture The Greek
Slave in earthenware, depicts a Christian woman about to be sold into
slavery by her Ottoman captors during the Greek War of Independence (1821-32).
Power's work became a popular image as Americans wrestled with the issue
- Winslow Homer's In Front of Yorktown is a marvelous example
of the art that first established the artist as a pre-eminent painter of
the Civil War for Harper's Weekly. Yorktown captures five
soldiers from the New York 61st Infantry Regiment on picket duty in Virginia.
- Photographers, too, captured the Civil War. George N. Barnard's Rebel
Works in Front of Atlanta would be produced with other photos and sold
in albums to an American public hungry for news about the war.
- Education and Discovery
- Intellectual curiosity and personal industry defined early colonial
leaders and became the standard by which Americans measured success. Americans
were quick to build businesses, settle frontiers, and make education a
- University of Pennsylvania Professor of Physics George Frederic Barker's
The Moon provides an interesting glimpse into nineteenth-century
scientific inquiry. Chemist, physician and physicist, Barker took this
photograph in 1864 to explore the use of photography in astronomic research.
Barker later joined the University of Pennsylvania committee that oversaw
the work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge's work in motion studies. Several
of Muybridge's pioneering motion study photographs are on view in this
- Robert Walter Weir's The Microscope reveals the American mid-nineteenth-century
fascination with science. Here the founder of microscopy in America, Jacob
Whitman Bailey (1811-1857), shows the device to his children.
- Changing Landscape and the Rise of Industry
- Industrial activity and invention exploded throughout Europe and the
United States in the nineteenth century. As the inventions of the Industrial
Age gained wider application, a growing middle class would be able to choose
from an ever-greater supply of quality goods while longing for earlier,
- Martin Johnson Heade's Sudden Shower, Newbury Marshes presents
two individuals manually harvesting hay near the Massachusetts coast. The
oncoming mechanization of agriculture would eventually end farming at this
- Old Mill by Winslow Homer depicts the prevalent uneasy mood
that spread across America after the Civil War. America was transforming
from its early agrarian roots to a more urban and industrial nation.
- Hook Mountain, Near Nyack, on the Hudson by Sanford Robinson
Gifford was a popular location for both pleasure and commercial craft.
The Presence of the steamship in the picture may represent the Industrial
Age's encroachment on nature.
- Transportation and Moving West
- As settlers pressed westward, Easterners became eager for images and
reports about the frontier. Artists responded with works that both portrayed
the West and interpreted it.
- Heathen Chinee pitcher from the Union Porcelain Works of Brooklyn,
New York offers a polar bear handle and a walrus pouring spout. Its sides
presents two scenes of how the American Northwest was settled. This pitcher
may have been used to dispense beer or other popular beverages.
- Frederic Remington's What an Unbranded Cow Has Cost depicts
the devastation of a gun battle over a stray cow. Reproduced in an 1895
issue of Harper's Monthly to illustrate an article by Owen Wister
(who would go on to write the Western novel The Virginian), the
painting may depict the Western "cattle wars" of the 1880's and
- Many of the American West's settlers were immigrants. The sewing table
in this gallery was produced by a German furniture craftsman who along
with other furniture makers from Germany immigrated to New Braufels, Texas
in the mid-nineteenth century. Displaced by the mechanization of their
industry in Germany, they hoped to ply their trade in the American West.
- The Gilded Age
- As the nineteenth century drew to an end, America was approaching a
height of prosperity previously unimaginable. The phrase coined to describe
it -- The Gilded Age -- barely hints at the opulence of the decorative
arts produced during the period, roughly 1870-1898.
- Furniture manufacturer Kembel & Cabus Produced furniture in a wide
range of prices and materials. The parlor cabinet features ebonized cherry
with painted panels and printed-paper appliqués, gilding, brass,
velvet, and mirrored and transparent glass. Heavily influenced by Japanese
designs, the piece was intended to reflect the owners status.
- Thomas Jerome Wheatly's vase was created in Cincinnati, Ohio at T.J.
Wheatly & Company between 1880 and 1882. Wheatly's ceramic pieces were
immediate successes in the marketplace. A fire destroyed the building and
much of the inventory in 1882 ending the firm but ensuring that this example
is a rare Gilded Age treasure. Dripping with shells, shellfish, and seaweed,
it symbolizes the opulent tastes and heady ambitions of late nineteenth-century
- Thomas Eakin's John Biglin in a Single Scull suggests America's
growing interest in both health and sport. Painted in Philadelphia on the
Schuylkill River, this work presents this minor sports figure preparing
to compete for the world championship in a pair-oared race with his brother
- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the
Yale University art Gallery was organized by the Yale University Art
Gallery. The exhibition is made possible by generous funding from Happy
and Bob Doran, B.A. 1955; Carolyn and Gerald Grinstein, B.A. 1954; Mrs.
William S. Kilroy, Sr.; Mrs. Frederick R. Mayer; Nancy and Clive Runnells,
B.A. 1948; Ellen and Stephen D. Susman, B.A. 1962; The Eugénie Prendergast
Fund for American Art, given by Jan and Warren Adelson; and the Friends
of American Arts at Yale.
- The audio guide was made possible by Ellen and Stephen D. Susman, B.A.
1962, and Susman Family Foundation.
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