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American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

October 2, 2010- January 17, 2011


The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is pleased to present American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. This exhibition includes one hundred exceptional works on paper selected from the museum's renowned American art collection. The Wadsworth Atheneum has great strength in the area of American works on paper, ranging from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twenty-first century. Its greatest strength, however, in quality and in depth, lies in America's leading modern artists, both native-born and émigrés. By focusing on this segment of the collection, an extraordinary group of works has been brought to the public's attention for the first time, providing a ground breaking new look at the diverse directions pursued by modern artists in America, 1910-1960. The exhibition highlights works by Charles Burchfield, Salvador Dalí, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, John Marin, and Pavel Tchelitchew, among many others. (right: Preston Dickinson, Power Station - Night, 1924, Pastel, graphite and watercolor on cream laid paper, 25 1/4 x 18 3/4 inches (64.1 x 47.6 cm). Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1928.323.)

The museum's first professional director, A. Everett Austin, Jr. (1900-1957), appointed in 1927, addressed the importance of works on paper in his vision for collecting in the twentieth-century. In April 1928, Austin defined his intention for acquisitions in the area of American art stating, "It is hoped that a collection of watercolors by modern Americans can be formed, as in this medium the American artist appears to find the ability to express himself more completely and characteristically than in the field of oils." Thanks to a generous endowment for art acquisitions established just as he arrived, Austin purchased in his first year as director works on paper by Charles Demuth, Preston Dickinson, and Edward Hopper, and also presented a solo exhibition of Hopper's watercolors. His naturally adventurous taste soon led him to more provocative art, and objects by artists working in an American idiom were joined by works on paper produced by émigrés who came to the United States (many of them settling in Connecticut) beginning in the mid-1930s, acquiring superb drawings by Tanguy, Matta, and Dalí.

Austin was especially enthusiastic about artists known as the "neo-romantics" (among them Eugene Berman and Tchelitchew), acquiring their work and commissioning them to provide decorations for theatrical productions at the Wadsworth Atheneum (their designs are preserved as watercolor sketches). The works of the neo-romantics and the surrealists who came to the United States in the 1930s, alongside that of the native-born artists, give the Wadsworth Atheneum's works on paper collection its unique character, which is explored in the scholarly catalogue, published by Yale University Press. Also examined in the catalogue is Austin's thesis that the early American modernists expressed themselves more successfully in watercolor than oil. Finally, the catalogue entries delve into the history of the formation of the collection, giving scholarly consideration to each work in the exhibition.

"The collection of American modernist works on paper is a point of pride for the Wadsworth, as we were one of the first museums to collect and exhibit these works, which have since been recognized as seminal reflections of the development of modern art in this country," said Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, who served as curator of the exhibition and until September 2010 was the Chief Curator and Krieble Curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Wadsworth. American Moderns on Paper will be on view at the Wadsworth through January 17, 2011, after touring to the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine, and the Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth, Texas.

The project was overseen and curated by Kornhauser, who is currently Senior Curator of American Paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and co-curated by Carol Troyen, Curator Emerita, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Erin Monroe, Acting Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum. (left: Edward Hopper, Captain Strout's House, Portland Head, 1927, Opaque and transparent watercolor on wove paper, 14 x 20 inches. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1928.3)

A special website, www.americanmoderns.org, will accompany the exhibition and highlight the Atheneum's rich and early collecting history of these artists. The site highlights twelve objects from the exhibition with video commentary from the curators and information regarding the conservation of the works and their frames. In addition, original material from the museum's archives, such as artists' letters and photographs, has been digitized and appears on the site.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Wadsworth Atheneum a grant through its American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius Program, to support a national tour for the exhibition. The Henry Luce Foundation also provided essential support for conservation of the works. The museum also received funding from the Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation and the Robert Lehman Foundation.


Editor's note: Resource Library 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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