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February 7 - May 10, 2009
For its major spring exhibition offering, Joslyn Art Museum presents a captivating visual adventure in paintings and drawings by Alfred Jacob Miller (18101874), the first American artist to journey into the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller, on view February 7 through May 10, 2009, features more than 95 works that offer firsthand depictions of the Lakota, Shoshone, Nez Perce, and other American Indian societies, as well as the last of the fur trappers and traders of the 19th-century American West.
"Miller took the people and scenery he encountered on his 1837 trip to the Rocky Mountains and created paintings with many layers of meaning out of seemingly simple western genre scenes, giving them intangible qualities such as mood and emotion," said Lisa Strong, exhibition curator and author of a companion publication. "In doing this, he produced images that were more innovative and compelling than those of many of his peers working in the West or the East." (right: Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), Buffalo Hunt, ca. 1858, oil on canvas, Collection of Amon Carter Museum)
Sentimental Journey will offer visitors a multilayered experience: a compelling opportunity to follow Miller's escapades in the American West with his patron, Scottish aristocrat and adventurer Sir William Drummond Stewart (1795-1871); a view into the ironic parallels between America's emerging national identity during the 19th century and that of the Scottish Highlander identity; an insight into the life and career of an artist of the American West whose name is less well known and whose career is less understood than some of his contemporaries; and the story of a great visual artist as a commercially successful businessman, who painted a limited repertoire of western subjects again and again in an artistic style that remained relevant and appealing to successive audiences during his lifetime.
"It is especially exciting to host this beautiful and well-conceived exhibition of the art of Alfred Jacob Miller here at Joslyn," said Sarah Burt, Richard and Mary Holland Curator of American Western Art and curator of American art, "because the Museum holds one of the largest collections of Miller's work in the United States. The show is also important for the early history of Nebraska. First, Miller and Stewart traveled west along the portion of the Oregon Trail that follows the North Platte River through the heart of the Nebraska prairie. Secondly, a prime focus of the show is the American fur trade in the early 19th-century, an industry that played a significant role in the founding of Omaha and surrounding communities like Bellevue."
Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller is organized by the Amon Carter Museum.
Alfred Jacob Miller and Sir William Drummond Stewart
Alfred Jacob Miller was born and raised in Baltimore. He studied portraiture with the painter Thomas Sully from 1831 to 1832. He then traveled to Paris in 1833 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and later at the English Life School in Rome. When he returned to America, he opened a portrait studio in Baltimore but had limited success. In 1837 he moved to New Orleans, where he encountered Sir William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish nobleman who had served with distinction at the battle of Waterloo 20 years earlier. Stewart had come to America to experience the allure of the Transmississippi West, with its abundance of game for hunting, the rugged fur trappers and traders who carved out a living there, and the nomadic American Indians who roamed its vast spaces. When the two men met, Stewart was preparing for his fifth trek west to attend the annual rendezvous of trappers at Horse Creek in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. Stewart immediately admired Miller's work and invited him to join his expedition to record its exploits.
From the Rockies to Scotland to Baltimore
Although Miller spent more than six months in the West, the number of works he actually produced while on this trip is relatively small -- probably less than 100. Shortly after his return to Baltimore in the autumn of 1837, Miller reworked his field sketches into an album of 87 watercolors for Stewart. This important sketchbook, which formed the basis for Miller's subsequent paintings for Stewart, was broken apart in the 1960s, its pages scattered into different collections. The exhibition will reunite many of these sketchbook pages for the first time and show how they relate to the artist's later oil paintings. After Miller finished the sketchbook, he journeyed to Scotland to paint at least ten large oils for Stewart at his ancestral home, Murthly Castle. The work that he created for his patron featured Stewart at the center of the action: leading the expedition, hunting on the prairies, or engaging in acts of diplomacy with the Indians. The exhibition will show how this imagery tied in with Stewart's interests and the rise of Scottish nationalism in the same period. (left: Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874), Bartering for a Bride (The Trapper's Bride), 1845, oil on canvas, Collection of Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art)
Returning to America, Miller spent the rest of his life painting and repainting nearly 1,000 works of the western genre for Baltimore's patrons and citizens until he retired in 1872. He developed patronage among Baltimore merchants whose business interests included the American West, men who sought the frontiers of opportunity that the West presented and who were willing to invest their resources there. For these patrons, Miller painted his subjects in a stylized, romantic, and sentimental manner, capitalizing on the prevalent tastes and trends of his time by drawing from the story lines and characterizations that could be found in the popular literature of the day. Miller connected to his patrons by constructing visual metaphors for the changes that were taking place at that time within the subject matter of the West: Indians, mountain men, and the untamed landscape.
Miller and the Art of the American West
Miller is regarded as one of the preeminent antebellum painters of the American West. Because his images of American Indians and the waning fur trade are so engaging and early examples of such subjects are relatively rare in Western American art, historians have typically focused on the content of his works rather than his artistry. With this exhibition, the much more rich and complex nature of Miller's contribution to American art can be understood. In the face of keen competition from other painters of the West, such as George Catlin, Seth Eastman, and John Mix Stanley, Miller succeeded in painting his western subjects in a way that was compelling, relevant, and appealing, creating metaphors for social change taking place both in the United States and Scotland which were immediately recognizable and therefore attractive and engaging to audiences at home and abroad for more than three decades. (right: Alfred Jacob Miller. Image courtesy of Joslyn Art Museum)
Joslyn Art Museum's Miller Collection and the Exhibition
Joslyn Art Museum holds the third largest collection of works by Miller in the country, behind only The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, founded by William T. Walters, a patron of Miller's in Baltimore, and his son, Henry, and the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the former museum of Joslyn director J. Brooks Joyner.
Eleven works from Joslyn's permanent collection have been loaned to the exhibition, which will not travel after its presentation in Omaha. These works include Henry Inman's Portrait of Sir William Drummond Stewart (1844) and ten works by Miller: Fontenelle Chased by a Grizzly Bear (1837); Interior of an Indian Lodge; Mule Throwing Off his Pack; A Rocky Mountain Trapper-Bill Burrows; Struggling Through the Quicksand; Portrait of Captain Joseph Reddeford Walker; Setting Traps for Beaver; Jim Bridger in a Suit of English Armor; The Trapper's Bride (1850); and Trapper Disturbed in his Rest by a Herd of Buffalo.
In addition to these works that will be moved into the exhibition galleries, other significant works by Miller, such as the monumental painting The Surround, will draw visitors to the permanent collection galleries.
Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller is accompanied by a 240-page publication of the same name featuring more than 100 four-color reproductions. The volume, written by exhibition curator Lisa Strong, Ph.D., is available for purchase in Joslyn Art Museum's Hitchcock Museum Shop. (right: front cover of the catalog Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller. Image courtesy of Amazon.com)
About Lisa Strong, Ph.D.
Dr. Strong is an independent art historian and a leading expert on Miller's art. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1998 and was a Research Fellow at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 2005. Other honors include a Lord Baltimore Fellowship at the Maryland Historical Society (2004), a National Endowment for the Arts Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Winterthur Library (2001), and a Davidson Family Fellowship at the Amon Carter Museum (2001).
On Saturday, February 7, Joslyn Art Museum will host a members opening event for the exhibition beginning at 6 pm (doors open at 5:30 pm) with a lecture in the Museum's concert hall by exhibition curator Lisa Strong, Ph.D. Following the lecture, members will be treated to a viewing of the exhibition and a light hors d'oeuvres reception with cash bar. Reservations are required as seating for this members-only lecture is limited. Invitations with complete details were mailed to all Museum members. (On Friday, February 6, Dr. Strong will also present a private exhibition gallery talk to members of the Museum's Bodmer Society.)
On Sunday, February 22, at 2 pm, Joslyn Art Museum will present "Nebraska: Crossroads of the Western Fur Trade" with living history re-enactor Darrel W. Draper. The program is in celebration of the exhibition Sentimental Journey: The Art of Alfred Jacob Miller and is free with regular Museum admission.
"Nebraska: Crossroads of the Western Fur Trade" is an entertaining look at the history of the fur trade, including trading companies, personalities, and the achievements of fur traders and mountain men who lived in or passed through Nebraska. This tabloid-style review of the oddities and ironies of the industry has been carefully researched but is humorously presented in a sensationalized style. It recounts some of the bizarre happenings that resulted in the most important discoveries of land and routes enabling the U.S. to claim and populate the West.
Draper, a fifth-generation Nebraskan, retired Navy officer, and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate, uses his talents as storyteller and actor to educate and entertain. He has performed for national and state government agencies, museums, schools, youth groups, and festivals and is the most requested performer of the 200 scholars, authors, and historians of the Nebraska Humanities Council's Speakers Bureau, the largest of its type in the nation. Draper specializes in costumed portrayals of historical figures that played major roles in the events that shaped our state and nation. He is considered an expert on the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and has personally retraced thousands of miles of their trail by canoe and on foot.
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