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The Eight and American Modernisms

March 6 - May 24, 2009


The New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA) is featuring in its McKernan Gallery for special exhibitions approximately eighty-five works of art by the group of independent American artists dubbed The Eight -- Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice B. Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. The Eight and American Modernisms explores their successful professional lives and distinct aesthetic agendas from 1908 until the end of their careers. (right: Arthur B. Davies, Hylas and the Nymphs, c. 1910, oil on panel, 17 x 19 inches, New Britain Museum of American Art)

After its two-week debut in New York's Macbeth Galleries in 1908, the first and only exhibition of paintings by The Eight toured nine major art institutions on the East Coast and in the Midwest, ending in May 1909. A group of artists in their prime and on the verge of success, they caught the attention of the American art world with one astoundingly successful exhibition and influenced artists across the country. Their eight stylistically different approaches were seen as challenging the academic preference for the genteel tradition of "art for art's sake," which had dominated the American art establishment for many decades. Ever since, the conventional assessment of The Eight's artistic relevance has focused on their early careers' themes of urban "realism" and has been dismissive of their later stylistic individuality gained through explorations of theory. Rarely has past scholarship considered the legacy of the entire group's creative diversity, which Henri praised as an imaginative freedom that follows "no unity in any cult of painting."

Because of the NBMAA's exclusive focus on American art and its longstanding history collecting works by The Eight, it is only fitting that this exhibition will be on view in New Britain. Industrialist John Butler Talcott endowed a fund in 1903 to purchase art for the New Britain Museum, and the committee visited Macbeth Galleries in 1908 just as The Eight were showing their rebellious art. The New Britain committee's choices were selective, and it took them sixteen years to acquire twenty pictures. Among them Remembrance, acquired in 1909, by Arthur B. Davies, represented The Eight until the late 1940s. Through the Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, created by Alix Welch Stanley in 1942, retired director of The Stanley Works, in memory of his wife, the NBMAA purchased 284 works of art, including sixteen works by The Eight. At present, the NBMAA has over 60 works by this group of artists. (left: William Glackens, Breezy Day, Tugboats, NY Harbor, c. 1910, oil on canvas, 26 x 31.75 inches, Milwaukee Art Museum)

Built from three outstanding collections of art by these American originals -- joined together on the centennial of The Eight's original tour -- The Eight and American Modernisms reveals the under-appreciated stylistic complexities of The Eight, artists who are now emerging as more than painters of urban realism but as the first generation of early American modernists.

Also on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art in the Davis Gallery is a works on paper show entitled The Eight and Their Circle: Watercolors, Lithographs, Engravings and Drawings comprised of artworks from the New Britain Museum's permanent collection. This ancillary exhibition, which will close May 3, 2009, features select artists from The Eight, their contemporaries and students. This gallery offers visitors a rare glimpse into the vault of seldom seen works on paper that the New Britain Museum has been collecting since the early 1940s and focuses on the diverse processes utilized by these artists and the extensive impact they have made on the American Art world.

The Eight and American Modernisms is organized by the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Terra Foundation for American Art, based in Chicago. The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Kennedy, Curator of Collection at the Terra Foundation for American Art. The exhibition will be on view at the Milwaukee Museum of Art from June 6 - Aug. 23, 2009.

A full-color catalogue comprised of essays by leading scholars of The Eight will be available in the Museum Shop.

Terra Foundation for American Art is the lead sponsor. In New Britain, additional funding is provided by the Robert C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation.


(above: Robert Henri, Betalo Nude, 1916, oil on canvas, 41 x 33 inches, Milwaukee Art Museum)


Related Programming (free with general admission)

Book Discussion
1-4 p.m., Wednesday, Mar. 18, 2009, Art & Literature: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
4 p.m., Thursday, Mar. 26, 2009, "Robert Henri: The Art Spirit."
Psychobiographies of The Eight and American Modernisms
1 p.m., Wednesdays for 9 weeks, by docent and educator Fred Biamonte
Mar. 25: The Eight, an overview
Apr. 1: Robert Henri
Apr. 8: Maurice Prendergast
Apr. 15: Arthur B. Davies
Apr. 22: George Luks
Apr. 29: William Glackens
May 6: John Sloan
May 13: Ernest Lawson
May 20: Everett Shinn

Go to:

Introductory wall panel for the exhibition

Object labels for the exhibition

Acknowledgments for the exhibition

The Eight's Chronology: 1907-57

Additional images from the exhibition


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and biographical information on artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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