Editor's note: The Tweed Museum of Art provided source material in April 2003 to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Tweed Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction

July 26 - October 12, 2003


In the 1880s Gilbert Davis Munger (1837-1903) was decorated by European nobility for his paintings, which skillfully interpreted landscapes all across America and throughout Europe. Munger was a self-taught painter, a self-made success, and a willing traveler and explorer. He positioned himself at the highest levels of late 19th century artistic, cultural, and scientific society. He sold paintings directly to the likes of William Ralston, early developer of San Francisco. He painted alongside of the famous geologist Clarence King on his Survey of the 40th Parallel. In published reviews his art was favorably compared to that of artists like Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt, Camille Corot and Theodore Rousseau.

Despite such acclaim in his own time, Munger is all but forgotten today. A traveling exhibition organized by the Tweed Museum of Art, together with a book published by Afton (MN) Historical Society Press, bring the art of this undeniably talented American artist to the attention of art lovers everywhere. (right: Gilbert Davis Munger (1837-1903), Berkeley Springs, August 1894, 25 x 30 inches, oil on canvas, Collection of the Tweed Museum of Art © Tweed Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Melville Silvy)

Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction takes place exactly 100 years after the artist's death. Home to the largest group of Munger paintings known, the Tweed Museum of Art is proud to present the first modern survey exhibition of this talented but underrecognized American artist. With artworks lent by private collectors and public museums nationwide, the exhibition offers the first opportunity ever to view and compare paintings from all phases of Munger's career. From scenes of rivers, waterfalls and Eastern U.S. locales, to bold depictions of mountains in the newly opened American West, to contemplative, Barbizon-influenced forest interiors, Gilbert Munger's paintings offer all viewers a lookat nature carefully observed and sensitively recorded.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated 168-page book of the same name, published by Afton Historical Society Press, of Afton, Minnesota. With an introduction by Allan Wallach, the book's main essay, co-authored by American art historian J. Gray Sweeney and collector/researcher Michael D. Schroeder, is the first to exploreMunger's life and art in great detail. A large and easily navigable website designed by Michael D. Schroeder, offers a virtual on-line catalogue raisonné of the artist.

Born in North Madison, Connecticut in 1837, Munger apprenticed at age 13 with William Dougal, an engraver at the Smithsonian Institution. Following the Civil War, during which he was a Union Army engineer and mapmaker, Munger developed his skills as a landscape painter by studying the work of Hudson River School artists like Frederic Church, adhering to the "truth to nature" doctrine of John Ruskin. By 1860 his brothers Roger and Russell had moved from Connecticut to St. Paul, MN, and Gilbert set up a studio there, as a midwest stopping over point between New York and San Francisco. Roger Munger then moved north to Duluth, MN in 1869, which eventually created the opportunity for many works by his brother Gilbert to enter the collection of the Tweed Museum of Art. After painting in the American West and establishing solid reputations and steady sales in New York, San Francisco, and St. Paul, Gilbert Munger followed the advice of British patrons, and relocated to Europe.

Returning to the U.S. after painting and enjoying fame and commercial success in Europe for sixteen years (1877-93), Munger found it difficult to reestablish his artistic reputation in America, where his Barbizon-styled paintings were considered conservative. Munger died to little fanfare in 1903 after finishing a massive version of Niagara Falls -- a painting that appears in the final section of the exhibition. Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction finally documents the life and work of this talented painter, who has gone virtually unrecognized for the past one-hundred years.

Following its appearance at the Tweed Museum of Art, Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction will travel two other venues. (Travel to additional venues is pending.)

Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction is the subject of feature articles appearing in: The Magazine Antiques, July, 2003 and American Art Review, Sept/Oct, 2003

Lenders to the Exhibition:

Major financial support of the Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction project has been provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, New York, NY, and from the Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA. Additional support has been provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and University of Minnesota Duluth Student Services Fees. The project has also benefitted from generous contributions from the following individuals: Michael D. Schroeder, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., Patricia N. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Pomphrey, David Henry and Matt Taylor, and Alice Jamar Kapla. In support of the book Gilbert Munger: Quest for Distinction, Afton Historical Society Press acknowledges generous support from Lucy MacMillan Stitzer, Katherine MacMillan Tanner, Alexandra MacMillan Daitch and Sarah Stevens MacMillan in memory of their mother Sarah Stevens MacMillan; and from Mary A. Anderson in memory of William R. Anderson.

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rev. 9/19/06, 3/5/10, 11/30/15

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