Tennessee State Museum

Nashville, TN

615-741-2692 or toll-free at 800-407-4324



Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum


The Tennessee State Museum will host Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum this summer, June 20 - August 13, 2000. One of eight of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Treasures to Go exhibitions. Scenes of American Life will provide Tennesseans a unique opportunity to view nationally significant works which are normally on display in Washington, D.C. (left: Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950)

The exhibit features 62 paintings and sculptures depicting American life in the first half of the 20th century. Included in the show are works by Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Wyeth, William H. Johnson, and John Sloan, among others.

"The idea of painting the common man and daily life was new at the turn of the twentieth century," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Artists moved away from the elegance and formality of the Gilded Age and began presenting everyday people at work and play. These energetic and often witty artworks seemed to symbolize the true strength of the nation."

A variety of artistic styles are highlighted in the show. precisionist, a style that celebrates the linear and geometrical shapes of machines and industrial structures, is represented in Ralston Crawford's "Buffalo Grain Elevators." Social Realism, a style that often renders commentaries on American life, is represented in Millard Sheets' "Tenement Flats" and Lily Furedi's "Subway." A third style, Regionalism, glorifies America's rural beauty, as seen in Benton's "Wheat" and Ross Dickinson's "Valley Farms." (left: Millard Sheets, Tenement Flats, c. 1934)

Other themes are prevalent throughout the exhibition as well. Hopper explores isolation in both "Cape Cod Morning" and "People in the Sun." Economic distress is reflected in the depiction of New Deal projects, as seen in William Gropper's "Construction of the Dam" and Moses Soyer's "Artists on WPA." During the Depression and the war years, government-sponsored murals, such as Gertrude Goodrich's candy-colored "Scenes of American Life (Beach)" and Joseph Rugolo's busy "Mural of Sports," appeared in post offices, schools, and libraries. Approximately one-third of the artworks featured in Scenes of American Life were created by artists working for government-supported projects, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), during the 1930s. (right: William H. Johnson, Café, c. 1939-40)

Another significant aspect of Scenes of American Life is the depiction of African-American culture in several of the show's works. In "Cafe," Johnson brings humor to the sophistication of the Harlem Renaissance. Additionally, modernist Jacob Lawrence, who once worked for the WPA, celebrates African-American culture in "The Library." Works by Allan Rohan Crite, Earle Richardson, and Horace Pippin also feature African-American subjects. (left: Earle Richardson, Employment of Negroes in Agriculture, 1934)

Please see our related article: Over 500 NMAA "Treasures to Go" to 70 Museums Nationwide (8/6/99). For further reading, Artcyclopedia covers American Regionalism, 25 Social Realists of the 1930s. If you are interested in "American Scene" art of the 1930s and 40s you will enjoy the WPA Period Print Collection Directory from the University of Montana. Also see our index sections (listed below).

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Read more about the Tennessee State Museum in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/1/11

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