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Helen M. Turner: The Woman's Point of View

October 9, 2010 - January 16, 2011


Helen M. Turner: The Woman's Point of View opened at the Morris Museum of Art on October 9, 2010 and remains on display through January 16, 2011. The exhibition, organized by the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, features forty works of art by the leading female American Impressionist painter of her day, Helen Maria Turner. (right: Helen Turner (1858-1958), The Sisters, 1924. Oil on canvas, 34 x 44 inches. Property of Mr. Clifton Anderson, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Photography by Bill Roughen.)

"Helen M. Turner: The Woman's Point of View achieves two things," according to Kevin Grogan, director of the Morris Museum of Art. "The exhibition and the publication that accompanies it showcase beautifully rendered paintings in a classic Impressionist style, while also revealing the struggles experienced by a talented female artist during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Stylistically speaking, she was a wonder. And her life story tells us so much about artistic acceptance and the very nature of success during the Gilded Age and later."

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, and raised in post-Civil War New Orleans, Helen Turner (1858-1958) overcame daunting personal circumstances to become one of the most successful artists ever to emerge from the American South. From an early age, Turner was eager to pursue her interest in art, but lacked the financial resources for professional study. She spent her early career as an untrained painter of ivory miniatures, and it was not until she was forty-seven years old that she saved enough money to study at New York's Art Students League. Eventually adopting the Impressionist technique, under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase, Turner experienced great success as an artist when she was in her fifties. She lived and worked in New Orleans, New York City, and Cragsmoor, an artist colony in upstate New York.

The current exhibition features four distinct themes that dominate Turner's body of work: Interiors, Women in Nature, Portraits of Women and Landscapes. Turner's many images of beautiful women in lush landscapes were often compared to those of fellow Americans J. Alden Weir and Frederick Frieseke. Her evocative interiors, on the other hand, are indebted to the French Post-Impressionist painters Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. The majority of her paintings were executed while she lived at Cragsmoor, but most of her portrait commissions were fulfilled in New Orleans, where she returned to live near the end of her life.

Organized by Jane Faquin, former curator of education at Dixon Gallery & Gardens, The Woman's Point of View will travel to the Huntsville Museum of Art in Huntsville, Alabama following its appearance at the Morris.

Helen M. Turner: The Woman's Point of View is accompanied by an 80-page catalogue featuring full-color reproductions of more than forty works in the exhibition. The catalogue includes a foreword by Dixon Gallery and Gardens' director Kevin Sharp as well as an essay and catalogue entries by guest curator Jane Faquin and Maia Jalenak. The catalog is available in the Morris Museum of Art store.


Wall text panel from the exhibtion

HELEN MARIA TURNER (1858-1958) was orphaned at an early age and raised in straitened economic circumstances in post-Civil War New Orleans. She exhibited artistic talent as a youngster, but lack of money, training, and opportunity forestalled her dream of a career in the arts. With the encouragement of some of her teachers, she saved enough money to go to New York to pursue serious study, and, in 1895, she enrolled at the Art Students League, one of the leading art schools in the country. She also took advantage of free classes at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women, which stressed vocational arts. Eventually, she also pursued a teaching certificate at Columbia University's Teachers College, which enabled her to accept a position as an instructor in the art department of the New York Y.W.C.A. She remained there for seventeen years, and the financial stability that resulted allowed her to pursue a career as a serious artist.
Her earliest success came as a painter of portrait miniatures on ivory, a mode of expression that enjoyed a revival of interest at the end of the nineteenth century. By 1910, however, Turner, enamored with impressionism, by far the most popular style of the day, had turned to painting in oils, the preferred medium of America's most successful artists. Though she traveled widely, Turner's greatest source of inspiration was the wooded, rustic ambience of Cragsmoor, in Ulster County, New York, the artists' colony where she maintained a summer home until the 1940s.
Turner was more than fifty years old before she achieved both critical and commercial success. She was elected to the National Academy of Design, and a number of her works entered important public collections including The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1923, at the height of her career, she suffered a great personal loss, when her sister, Laurette, her constant companion since childhood, died. By then Turner, sixty-five years old, found the New York art scene too avant-garde for her taste. She returned to New Orleans, where she still had family and friends, and continued to paint, particularly portraits, until her death in 1958, just a few months before her one hundredth birthday.
Helen Turner: The Woman's Point of View was organized by Jane Faquin and Maia Jalenak for the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee. Its appearance at the Morris Museum of Art is made possible by the generous support of Dr. Charles and Nola Falcone, MCGHealth, The Augusta Chronicle, WAGT/NBC-26 and WJBF/News Channel 6.

(above: Helen Turner (1858-1958), Lilies, Lanterns and Sunshine, 1923. Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 44 inches. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia: Gift of W.B.S. Grandy.)


(above: Helen Turner (1858-1958), Morning, 1919. Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 44 1/2 inches. Zigler Art Museum, Jennings, Louisiana.)


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