Corcoran Gallery of Art

Washington, DC




The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature


Between 1830 and 1880, the oil sketches painted cut-of-doors and in the studio by prominent American landscape artists emerged as independent works of art worthy of exhibition and sale. No longer considered to be simple memory aids for larger oil paintings, these jewel-like works captivated audiences with their lively brushstrokes and intimate scale. The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature, 1830-1880 is the first major exhibition to focus exclusively on these beautifirl sketches and to document this significant shift in American landscape painting. The Painted Sketch is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from October 10, 1998 through January 10, 1999.

Concentrating on the leading landscape painters of the day, the exhibition features 90 extraordinary oil sketches by Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and Sanford Gifford among others. Also included are rare historical objects, such as Thomas Cole's sketching equipment and paint box.

Organized by Dr. Eleanor Jones Harvey, consulting curator of American Art for the Dallas Museum of Art, The Painted Sketch offers a fresh interpretation of the smaller, more spontaneous oil sketch. Though the artists featured in this exhibition have long been celebrated for their monumental landscape paintings, they also painted an astonishing number of powerful and beautiful works on a much smaller scale. These sketches represent the artists' first calculated decisions and provide an intimate view into their creative process. "The practice of outdoor oil sketching was an important part of landscape painting in 19th-century America," says Harvey. "Armed with their sketch boxes, artists took to the open air in search of inspiration and to teach themselves to paint."

From the snowcapped Rockies, to smoldering South American volcanoes, to the ancient Parthenon in Athens, Greece, the sketches highlighted in this exhibition range from rapidly painted effects of light and weather to carefully drawn studies of the landscape. "It's the personal aspect of these oil sketches that I find so enchanting," says Harvey. "You really do get the feeling that the artists are standing out in the world trying desperately to get those colors down before the sun sets. They have a breathtaking exhilaration."

Preliminary studies for some of the major icons of American landscape painting are a special focus of the exhibition. Horseshoe Falls, Frederic Church's sketch for his powerful painting Niagara (1857), which is in the Corcoran's permanent collection, and Albert Bierstadt's study for his celebrated canvas, Looking Down Yosemite Valley capture the artists' initial impressions of these natural wonders. Also featured in the exhibition are Sanford Gifford's two sketches for his 1856-7 painting, Lake Nemi, which is on display as well.

From top to bottom: Asher B. Durand, Study from Nature, Peekskill, NY, 1854, oil on canvas, 16 3/4 x 24 inches, The New-York Historical Society, gift of Nora Durand Woodman; Thomas Cole's sketching equipment and paint box, c. 1840, mahogany with brass fittings, Bronck Museum, Greene County Historical Society, Coxsackie, NY, Gift of Edith Cole Silberstien; Thomas Cole, Campagna di Roma (study for Aqueduct near Rome), 1832, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches, Alexander Gallery, New York.

Read more about the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Resource Library Magazine

rev. 11/22/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.