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The American Evolution: A History through Art

March 1 - July 27, 2008


The American Evolution: A History through Art is a fresh look at the Corcoran's extensive American holdings. The exhibition showcases nearly 200 objects in a wide range of media, dating from the colonial era to present day. The American Evolution remains on view until July 27, 2008. (right: Hiram Powers (Woodstock, Vt. 1805-Florence, Italy 1873), America, modeled 1850-1854, carved after 1854, Marble. Gift of Mr. Henry de C. May 48.18)

The American Evolution focuses on five overarching themes that have shaped American culture: Money, Land, Politics, Cultural Exchange and The Modern World. These themes are fundamental to the way the United States has developed and to the stories we tell about ourselves.

"This exhibition is one of the largest and most diverse displays of American art ever to be mounted at the Corcoran. It is not size and scope alone that distinguish the installation from earlier presentations of our collection, however. The display also purposefully rejects the chronological structure of traditional art historical surveys in favor of a thematic model that highlights continuities in American artistic production and culture from the colonial era to the present day," said Emily Shapiro, Assistant Curator of American Art.

The term "evolution" suggests change over time, and The American Evolution embraces the idea that the United States is a dynamic nation in a constant state of re-definition. From Gilbert Stuart's stately c. 1803 portrait of George Washington to Andy Warhol's irreverent 1973 likeness of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and from Frederic Edwin Church's dramatic 1857 view from the brink of Niagara Falls to Richard Diebenkorn's abstract 1975 rendering of the suburban expanses of Ocean Park, California, The American Evolution explores some of the ways that American life and art have developed over the past 250 years.

"This exhibition has work that will appeal to everyone, from people interested in traditional American painting and history to those more drawn to contemporary art and culture," said Sarah Newman, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art. "It provides a tour of the most of the great developments in American art over the past two centuries, but it also puts them into a context which throws new light on old favorites." (left: Samuel F. B. Morse (Charlestown, Mass. 1791-1872 New York, N.Y.), The House of Representatives, 1822/1823, Oil on canvas. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund 11.14)

This highly anticipated display of highlights from the Corcoran's American collection will include a remarkable number of iconic works in a variety of genres. The display will feature stately colonial-era portraits by John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart; elegant neoclassical marble sculptures by Hiram Powers and Augustus Saint-Gaudens; outstanding Hudson River School paintings by Thomas Cole and Sanford Gifford; grand Western subjects by Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Remington; light-filled landscapes and figure paintings by American Impressionists Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, and Childe Hassam; stunning examples of early American modernism by Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis; important post-war abstractions by Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko; minimalist and post-minimalist treasures by Ellsworth Kelly, Gene Davis, and Martin Puryear; and contemporary works by Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker.

This exhibition and its related programming will explore Americans' use of visual images as a means to describe and understand the world around them. This extensive presentation of the Corcoran's collection will encourage a closer examination of the relationship between art and history. The works stand on their own as outstanding examples of the major styles, subjects, and movements of American art history, yet they are also cultural artifacts that have much to teach visitors about themselves, their national identity and their evolving nation.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is providing its first cell-phone tour in conjunction with The American Evolution. A variety of speakers on selected topics will be available to visitors throughout the exhibition. Using their own cell-phone, visitors choose interpretations or discussions of interest. The cell-phone tour is provided free of charge and a Spanish translation of all discussions will be available. (right: Thomas Eakins (Philadelphia, Pa. 1844-1916 Philadelphia, Pa.), Singing a Pathetic Song, 1881, Oil on canvas. Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund 19.26)

The American Evolution: A History through Art is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Corcoran curators of the exhibition are Emily Shapiro, Assistant Curator of American Art and Sarah Newman, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art.


About the curators

Emily D. Shapiro, Assistant Curator of American Art
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Emily D. Shapiro is the Corcoran's Assistant Curator of American Art. A scholar of pre-1945 American art and visual culture, her research to date has focused on such prominent Gilded Age artists as Thomas Eakins, George de Forest Brush, Eastman Johnson, and J. G. Brown. Dr. Shapiro received her Ph.D. and M.A. from Stanford University. She also holds a B.A. from Kenyon College. She has worked on exhibition and research projects in the curatorial departments of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art, among other museums.
Dr. Shapiro curated the recent Corcoran exhibition Impressionism, Realism, Modernism: Works on Paper from the American Collection (2007); co-curated the exhibitions Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art (2005-2006), Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art (2004-2005), and The Body Politic: Portraits of American Presidents (2004); and collaborated on the 2004 exhibition Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms: Paintings That Inspired a Nation and the 2003 The Impressionist Tradition in America. She is currently working on a major scholarly catalogue of the Corcoran's permanent collection of pre-1945 American paintings and sculpture. She has presented papers on American art topics at numerous professional conferences and published her research in major scholarly journals and exhibition catalogues.
Sarah Newman, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Sarah Newman is the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Corcoran, where she has worked on several exhibitions, including Modernism: Designing a New World, 1914-1939, Wild Choir: Cinematic Portraits by Jeremy Blake and Looking for the "There There": California Art from the Collection, 1950-2000. Before coming to the Corcoran, Dr. Newman worked at the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other museums, and taught Contemporary Art History at the Corcoran and at George Mason University. She has published on the relationship between painting and film and is a co-author of the book Essential Modernism. Currently, she is working on an exhibition of contemporary British painting as well as a major exhibition on Postmodernism, scheduled for 2011. She holds a B.A. from Williams College and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.


To view:


(above: Raymond Saunders (Pittsburgh, Pa. 1934-), Red Star, 1970, Oil and metallic paint, with collage (paper, synthetic fabric, and gummed tape) on canvas. The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr. 1996.8.18)


(above: Andy Warhol (Pittsburgh, Pa. 1928-1987 New York, N.Y.), Mao, 1973, Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas. Gift of the FRIENDS of the Corcoran Gallery of Art 1976.44)


Editor's note: Resource Library readers may also enjoy:


TFAO also suggests these books:

Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Prepared by Wm. Macleod, Published 1876 [Gibson brothers, printers]. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Nov 23, 2005. To read the book choose a Google Book Search, enter the words "Corcoran Gallery." When the search results are retrieved click on the title of the book to read it

Catalogue of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, By Corcoran Gallery of Art, Published 1901 [Gibson bros., printers], 172 pages. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jun 19, 2007. To read the book choose a Google Book Search, enter the words "Corcoran Gallery." When the search results are retrieved click on the title of the book to read it.

The Art Treasures of Washington: An Account of the Corcoran Gallery of Art , by Helen Weston Henderson, Published 1912 by L. C. Page & Company, 398 pages. Original from the University of Wisconsin - Madison .Digitized Sep 13, 2007. To read the book choose a Google Book Search, enter the words "Corcoran Gallery." When the search results are retrieved click on the title of the book to read it.

Catalogue of the Paintings in The Corcoran Gallery of Art, By Corcoran Gallery of Art, published 1917 [The Gallery], 114 pages. Original from the University of California. Digitized Oct 25, 2007. To read the book choose a Google Book Search, enter the words "Corcoran Gallery." When the search results are retrieved click on the title of the book to read it.

American Treasures of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, By David C. Levy, Sarah Cash, and Terrie Sultan , Size: 4 x 4 3/8", Hardcover, 288 pages, 240 full-color illustrations, Published 2000 by Abbeville Press. ISBN: 978-0-7892-0625-1 Abbeville Press describes the book as "A tiny tour through one of the country's first and best collections of American art." To read the book's Introduction from the Abbeville Press web site please click here and then click on Excerpt. (right: front cover of American Treasures of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, image courtesy Abbeville Press.)


and these DVD or VHS videos:

American Art at the Huntington: 15 minutes 1994. "This short video provides an introduction to the Virginia Steele Scott collection of American art at the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The presentation is designed for children ages 9 through 14 and is intended to be shown prior to a school group's visit to the Huntington. The video's whimsical host takes us on a whiz-bang tour, skipping through the Huntington's gardens and galleries. The host's magical picture frame allows us to go from the Colonial period through the early 20th century. We learn about the works of Copley, Stuart, Sargent, Cassatt, Church, and Harnett as well as review the general concepts of portraiture, still life, landscape, and genre painting. The host's dialogue takes a lighthearted yet educationally sound approach, which makes the background information on the paintings particularly accessible to today's young audiences."

American Art, 1785-1926: Seven Artist Profiles is a DVD containing seven video presentations on American artists of the 19th century. A 32-page viewer's guide accompanying the DVD includes a biography of each artist and reproductions of featured works. This DVD is lent free of charge through the National Gallery of Art's Division of Education (go to NGA Loan Materials Finder) Image courtesy NGA. Titles include:

American Heritage is a two-part 30 minute Wilton program that showcases American history through vivid images of past and present. An engaging overview for American art history and social studies students, particularly at the middle school level.

American Impressionim is a lecture by Dr. William Gerdts, available through Currier Museum of Art.

American Impressionists, American Realists: In Search of the New Contrasts two movements in American painting styles that flourished from the late 19th century into the beginning of the 20th century. 22-minute video Description source: Amon Carter Museum Teacher Resource Center.

American Vision, The is a 36 minute 1986 National gallery of Art video which is "A broad view of American painting from pre-Revolutionary days to the beginning of the twentieth century."

American Vision: The History of American Art and Architecture produced by Planet 24 in association with BBC Television; a Time Inc.-BBC co-production; produced in association with Thirteen/WNET. eight videocassettes. 60 minutes each. PBS Video, 1996. "In this eight-part series, Robert Hughes, the renowned art critic for Time magazine, takes viewers on an exuberant guided tour through 200 years of our visual culture, vividly illustrating how art conveys deep messages about who America is as a nation. Available through the Sullivan Video Library at The Speed Art Museum which holds a sizable collection of art-related videos available to educators at no charge.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History. Individual pages in this catalogue will be amended as TFAO adds content, corrects errors and reorganizes sections for improved readability. Refreshing or reloading pages enables readers to view the latest updates.

rev. 3/24/08

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