Worcester Art Museum

Worcester, MA


The Museum's Main Entrance


Worcester Art Museum Celebrates Centennial with Major American Impressionism Show


Frank Benson, Portrait of My Daughters, 1907

Oil on canvas, 26 x 36 1/8 in


The Worcester Art Museum celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of its founding with the presentation of its major fall exhibition, American Impressionism: Paintings of Promise. Scheduled to be on view from October 5, 1997 through January 4, 1998, the exhibition will feature approximately 50 paintings, watercolors and pastels. The works include many favorites from the Worcester Art Museum's permanent collection, including signature paintings by Frank W. Benson, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam John Singer Sargent, and Edmund C. Tarbell, as well as important loans from distinguished public and private collections. Worcester's collection of American Impressionist paintings is tied in a meaningful way to the museum's early history. Many of these works were purchased directly from the artists out of annual exhibitions organized by the Worcester Art Museum. A fully illustrated catalogue written by the Worcester Art Museum's Curator of American Art and the curator of this exhibition, David Brigham, will place the history of American Impressionism in a social, economic and cultural context.

Childe Hassam, The Breakfast Room, Winter Morning, 1911

Oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.


American Impressionists offered an appealing and refined view of the world. Their bright palettes and loosely painted canvases presented an exuberant and lighthearted antidote to the economic and social transformations occurring at the turn of the century. These celebrated American painters developed a vibrant style that emphasized the fleeting effects of light, color, and atmosphere. Paradoxically, their emphasis on capturing a single moment in time resulted in images that were at once timeless and universal. This approach to painting enabled the artists to rise above what one critic described in 1908 as "the petty disturbances of the world." (Harper' s Monthly, June 1908)

This exhibition will be organized according to major themes including landscape, the female figure, Japonisme, and artists' working methods. Landscape paintings will be explored in relation to the rapid growth of American cities, fostered by the Industrial Revolution. Portraits and genre paintings featuring the feminine figure will be presented in the context of the changing social status of women and their access to educational opportunities and to the vote. American and European painters of this period were fascinated and greatly influenced by Japanese design. They borrowed compositional ideas from Japanese prints and they included Japanese screens, ceramics and costume in their paintings. These aesthetic choices reflected a desire for order and refinement, two values which they associated with Japan and which they perceived to be lacking in American society circa 1900.

Edmund C. Tarbell, Rehearsal in the Studio, c. 1904

Oil on canvas


In a complex and sometimes threatening age - an age of rapid urbanization and industrialization - American Impressionists could be counted upon to distract and assure the public. Their canvases offered a sense of beauty and calm, a respite from an increasingly complex and modern world. In short, American Impressionists were called upon by the public to "deliver their annual message of hope, of life, of promise," (American Art News, March 21, 1908).

Associated Exhibition

In coordination with this exhibition, the Museum will feature the show, American Impressionist Works on Paper ,which will include works on paper by such important Impressionists as Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast, including perhaps the finest complete set of Cassatt's color prints in the permanent collection of the Worcester Art Museum. This show runs from November 8, 1997 through January 4, 1998.

Willard LeRoy Metcalf, The White Mantle, 1906

Oil on canvas


Text and images courtesy of the Worcester Art Museum.

Read more about the Worcester Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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