Greenville County Museum of Art

Greenville, SC



Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

March 1- May 21, 2000


A major exhibition of treasured art that traces the creative tenor of America from her earliest years through Reconstruction will be on display March 1 through May 21, 2000, at the Greenville County Museum of Art.

Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of eight exhibitions traveling to more than seventy museums around the country while the Smithsonian American Art Museum (formerly the National Museum of American Art) is under renovation. The Principal Financial Group is a partner in bringing these treasures to the American People. Young America includes forty-six paintings and five sculptures dating from the 1760s through the 1870s. They reflect life in New England and the mid-Atlantic regions, revealing the growing self-awareness and optimism of the new nation. Readers may view all 57 art works in the exhibit through the Smithsonian American Art Museum's web presentation. (left: Raphaelle Peale, Melons and Morning Glories, 1813)

"The Greenville County Museum of Art is pleased to inaugurate the tour of Young America: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum," said Museum Director Thomas W. Styron. "Enhancing the richness of this artistic and educational experience, the works in Young America complement the Museum's Southern Collection, which features similar subject matter and many of the same artists as Young America. Together, these collections provide a unique opportunity to understand the ways in which art mirrors and expresses our history and the development of our nation."

"The portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and scenes of daily life in Young America show the artists' ambition to equal the best European art, but they also reveal developments within this country," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "They help us understand how a British colony became an independent nation, how wilderness lands were cherished and developed, and how a rural democracy responded to the Industrial Revolution."

Since portraiture was the mainstay of art patronage in the American colonies, several portraits are included in the exhibition. Works by John Singleton Copley , Gilbert Charles Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale are among those that reveal the historic significance of the collection. Copley's Mrs. George Watson (1765) portrays its subject as a fine British gentlewoman, despite her residence in a colonial outpost. Peale's tender double portrait Mrs. James Smith and Grandson was painted in 1776, soon after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The young boy holds a book open to Hamlet's soliloquy, his finger resting on the line "To be or not to be." Gilbert Stuart's incisive John Adams (1826) depicts the formidable former president shortly before his death. (left: John Singleton Copley, Mrs. George Watson, 1765)

"Colonial taste mirrored that of the mother country," says Greenville Museum Curator Martha R. Severens. "But portraits took on added significance in the new world. In addition to serving as examples of conspicuous consumption on drawing room walls, they were a means to establish a familial heritage in the wilderness."

The American wilderness and the development of the vast continent emerged as favorite subjects in the early 19th century, and no fewer than twenty landscapes appear in Young America. Two views of Niagara Falls by Alvan Fisher (1820) include tiny figures awed by the spectacle before them. Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, chose the biblical story of the great flood for The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge (1829), intended as an allegory for the new nation. Asher B. Durand's Dover Plain, Dutchess County, New York suggests the nation's promising future with its pastoral landscape, broad horizon, and gentle light. It was painted in 1848, three years after John L. O'Sullivan coined the term "manifest destiny" to express the belief that someday the young nation would control the continent from Atlantic to Pacific. Frederic Edwin Church pursued that philosophy across the country and to South America, where in 1855 he painted Cotopaxi. His Aurora Borealis (1865) presents an arctic view of a small ship locked in ice--a metaphor for the country engaged in a catastrophic civil war. (left: Alvan Fisher, Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagra, 1820)

Abundance--in both natural and material resources--is a transcendent theme of still life and genre paintings in the collection. In the neoclassic taste of its period, Raphaelle Peale's Melons and Morning Glories (1813) presents with simple directness a luscious ripe fruit dripping juices and seeds. By contrast, the exuberance of Severin Roesen's Still Life with Fruit (1852) appealed to a rising middle class eager for decorative display. Genre paintings such as The Speculator, by Francis William Edmonds, and We Both Must Fade, by Lilly Martin Spencer, carry both social and political undertones in narrative images about everyday life.


Read more about the Greenville County Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

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

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rev. 12/23/10

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