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Acquisition of Paintings by William Merritt Chase and Charles Willson Peale Enriches American Holdings of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Peter C. Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, announced on August 7, 1998 the addition of important landscape paintings by Charles Willson Peale and William Merritt Chase to the museum's American paintings collection. The partial gift of Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills, c.1895, by Chase, and the gift of Landscape Looking Toward Sellers Hall from Mill Bank, c. 1818, by Peale, were made by Nancy Hart Glanville, a trustee of the MFAH. Both paintings are currently on view in the Caroline Wiess Law Building of the MFAH. Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills will have a permanent home in the Audrey Jones Beck Building, which will open in March 2000 and will contain, for the first time in MFAH history, galleries dedicated to American art. Landscape Looking Toward Sellers Hall from Mill Bank will ultimately be on view at the Bayou Bend Collection of the MFAH.

Marzio said, "The generous gift of these two paintings broadens and strengthens the scope of the American painting collection and, in particular, the nineteenth-century landscape paintings of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Both Charles Willson Peale and William Merritt Chase played key roles in the development of American painting. These paintings enhance the museum's representation of the important milestones in nineteenth-century landscape painting and will have a prominent place in the new American galleries in the Beck Building."

Nancy Glanville commented, "This is an auspicious time in the history of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and at this time of the major capital campaign, I am honored to make a meaningful contribution to the museum's collection of American landscape paintings."

Emily Ballew Neff, curator of American painting and sculpture, added, "The Peale, notable for its charming, picturesque scenery, represents a rare landscape by one of America's greatest cultural figures. Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills is the first in the museum's collection from the important Shinnecock phase of William Merritt Chase's career; the quality, presence, and boldness of the painting makes it the highlight of the museum's American Impressionist landscapes."

The museum's holdings of American art are especially strong in painting from 1700 to the early twentieth century. Landscape painting is well represented from 1790 (with James Peale's Pleasure Party by a Mill) through the nineteenth century. The early part of the century includes the spectacular paintings of Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and John Frederick Kensett. Later works include the dramatic canvases of Frederic Remington, who mythologized America's western expansion. Painters associated with the Barbizon School such as George Inness and Homer Dodge Martin, and American Impressionism, round out the century. The major works of the American collection of the MFAH will be displayed as a collection for the first time in the American galleries of the Beck Building.

 

Charles Willson Peale
Landscape Looking Toward Sellers Hall from Mill Bank, c. 1818
Oil on canvas, 15 x 21 in.
Gift of Mrs. James 'W. Glanville

 

Landscape Looking Toward Sellers Hall from Mill Bank dates from approximately 1818, after Charles Willson Peale had moved from Philadelphia to nearby Belfield, where he conducted landscape experiments in both painting and horticulture. Peale's landscapes reveal his interest and participation in the nascent genre of American landscape painting that would lead to the Hudson River School of painting in the early 1820s. Peale stated his interest in landscape as "views that will look well in painting" and put that philosophy to use in this delightful composition of the gently rolling Pennsylvania countryside accented by trees, a pond, split-rail fences and a cluster of buildings in the distance.

The painting is one of two that Peale painted for a son-in-law, Coleman Sellers, and has been seen in this century in the major Peale exhibitions, including The World of Charles Willson Peale at the National Portrait Gallery in 1983 and the more recent The Peale Family: Creation of an American Legacy, 1 770-1870, originating at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1996-97. It was also included in the ground-breaking exhibition Views and Visions: American Landscape before 1830 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Paired with James Peale's Pleasure Party by a Mill, the addition of Landscape Looking Toward Sellers Hall from Mill Bank at Bayou Bend makes the MFAH one of a few institutions with landscapes by the Peale brothers. Other MFAH holdings of works by the remarkable Peale family include Charles Willson Peale's Boy with a Toy Horse and Self-Portrait with Angelica and Portrait of Rachel, Rembrandt Peale's Portrait of Henry Robinson, and James Peale's Still Life with Vegetables.

 

William Merritt Chase
Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills, c.1895
Oil on canvas, 35 x 40 in.
Partial Gift of Mrs. James W. Glanville

 

William Merritt Chase , influential painter, teacher, and taste maker, took up the cause of Impressionism as early as the 1880s, coming into maturity in the 1890s when he moved his summer studio to Shinnecock on eastern Long Island. The brilliant Shinnecock landscapes he painted in the summers of 1891-1902 are regarded as his highest artistic achievement in a career that encompassed portraiture, executed in a dark and dramatic style, plein-air painting as represented by the Shinnecock landscapes, and his late, eloquent still lifes.

Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills captures the artist's fascination with the unremarkable landscape of Long Island; in his hands, the ordinariness of flat grassland and sandy seashore is transformed into a luminous landscape. A stunning sliver of blue sea dotted with minuscule white boats and pink dunes highlighted with a streak of red invigorates a canvas almost entirely given to low clumps of wild vegetation and puffs of clouds in a pale blue sky.

Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills complements the museum's holdings by the artist, including The Apprentice, 1876, the Whistler-inspired Seashore, ca. 1886-1889, Mother and Child (The First Portrait), ca. 1888, Still Life, ca. 1915, and two small portraits of his children.

 

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10


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