Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Minneapolis, MN




American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

August 20 ­ October 29, 2000


Luminous works by Mary Cassatt, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Henry Twachtman and Thomas Wilmer Dewing are among the 52 paintings featured in "American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum " The exhibition of late 19th-and early 20th-century works opens August 20 at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The American Impressionists rendered dreamy landscapes and garden scenes. and lush portraits of women as both objects of beauty and symbols of their changing roles in society. (left: Childe Hassam, The South Ledges, Appledore, 1913, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly) Please click on image for magnification.

"American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" is presented at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts under the guidance of Patrick Noon, Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings and Modern Sculpture. "This ravishing exhibition charts the response of 31 American artists to one of the most beloved moments in the history of 19th-century painting" Noon said. "It is a celebration of both the Impressionist style and America's unique contribution to this crucial event in the evolution of modern taste."

"Impressionism is loved everywhere for its beautiful light and color and for its modern view of life." said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Generous collectors have contributed wonderful Impressionist works over several decades, making it a strength of our museum. We are delighted to share this collection more broadly."


The Impressionism Movement in America

A revolutionary style that began in France in the 1860s, Impressionism was eagerly embraced by young artists tired of conservative realism based on academic rules. By the time Americans discovered the Impressionists' new approaches to light and color in the 1870s and 1880s, the new style was more widely accepted, but it was never strictly defined. As critic Robert Hughes has said, "Impressionism. as understood in America by the century's end, could mean almost anything." A light and colorful palette was usually enough to label a painting as Impressionist. (left: Birge Harrison, Winter Sunset, c. 1890, Smithsonian American Art Museum) Please click on image for magnification.

A highlight of "American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" is James McNeill Whistler's Valparaiso Harbor (1866), a startlingly abstract South American seascape. Whistler. an expatriate and bohemian, moved in a circle of advanced artists in France. Quixotic and mysterious, he traveled to Chile in 1866 to observe a war of independence. His veiled, indistinct views of the harbor at dawn and dusk anticipated a new kind of landscape, which he later named "nocturnes." Whistler's idea of undefined landscape was further developed by John Twachtman. Three of the five Twachtman paintings in the show explore nature's various seasons and moods.

Mary Cassatt was another pioneer artist who left the United States to make a career abroad. Spanish Dancer Wearing a Lace Mantilla (1873) shows her interest in the people of Seville. Four years later in France she met Edgar Degas, who introduced her to the circle of French Impressionists. In The Caress (1902), Cassatt combines Impressionism's palette with the mother-and-child theme that became her hallmark.

Six major canvases by Childe Hassam, considered America.s foremost Impressionist, are included in the exhibition: Celia Thaxter in Her Garden (1892), The South Ledges, Appledore (1913), Tanagra (The Builders, New York) (1918), Maréchal Niel Roses (1919), Pomona (1900) and Ponte Santa Trinità (1897).

Four paintings each by Abbott Thayer and Thomas Dewing introduce other Impressionist styles. Thayer's A Bride (about 1895) and Girl Arranging Her Hair (1918-19) are sensual and romantic; his two landscapes display luminous, opalescent color. Dewing portrayed his modern women as unsentimental, intellectual and slightly aloof. His wife, Maria Oakey Dewing, however, created the flower-filled but down-to-earth Garden In May (1895).

In 1877, Theodore Robinson and Willard Metcalf helped establish an artists' colony at Giverny, Claude Monet's home in France. Their landscapes reflect their interest in the French master. Henry Ossawa Tanner even borrowed one of Monet's signature subjects for his Haystacks (about 1930.)

The exhibition also includes key examples by John White Alexander, Frank W. Benson, Robert F. Blum, William Merritt Chase, Daniel Garber, Birge Harrison, George Hitchcock, Richard Miller, Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Dwight William Tryon, among others. Each invented a style that captured the freshness of the Impressionism movement. (left: Maurice Prendergast, Summer, New England, 1912, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast) Please click on image for magnification.

In preparation for the tour, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired fine, gilded period frames for Frederick Carl Frieseke's Nude Seated at Her Dressing Table (1909) and Childe Hassam's Ponte Santa Trinità.. Canvases by Arthur Wesley Dow , Robert Reid, Henry Ossawa Tanner and John Twachtman were also reframed in period surrounds.

An illustrated gift book, "American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" featuring 51 color illustrations, has been published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Watson-Guptill Publications, a division of BPI Communications. The book is available in the Museum Shop.

American Impressionism is one of eight exhibitions in "Treasures to Go" from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people.

More information and full itineraries for Treasures to Go can be found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's web site. Please see our related article: Over 500 NMAA "Treasures to Go" to 70 Museums Nationwide (8/6/99). "Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is sponsored by Dayton's Project Imagine.

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