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Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism


Two exhibitions of American Impressionist paintings -- one featuring historic works of Pennsylvania Impressionism, the other focusing on contemporary works from the Mid-Atlantic region -- open February 7 at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and remain on view through Saturday, April 10, 2004. (right: Fern Isabel Coppedge, Road to Lumberville, 1938. Courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum, a gift of Ruth Purcell Conn and William R. Conn)

"Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism" includes 47 works by a diverse collection of artists who became known collectively as the Pennsylvania Impressionists. The exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of this important 20th century American art movement that was fueled by a passion to capture on canvas the dynamic effects of light and atmosphere on the environment.

American Impressionism was firmly rooted in the American soil. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artists increasingly spurned cities, preferring instead to live and work in the numerous art colonies that sprang up throughout the country. One of the best known of these colonies began in 1898 on the banks of the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, in the picturesque Bucks County village of New Hope. Here, artists found an ample supply of "painting-ready" bucolic settings featuring streams, pastures, quarries, farmhouse, and colonial villages.

The Pennsylvania Impressionists played a dominant role in the American art world of the teens and twenties. Their work was celebrated for its freedom from European influence and was praised as being the first truly national artistic expression. Many of the artists both studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and their stylistic roots hearkened back to the "Academy Realism" practiced by Thomas Eakins.

Edward Redfield (1969-1965), generally acknowledged as the stylistic leader of the New Hope painters, passionately believed that the vitality of a place could only be captured by an artist whose senses were actively engaged. Painters had to see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste what they put on their canvases. To accomplish this, he often endured great physical hardships while making his famous snow scenes, sometimes standing for hours in knee-deep snow with his canvas strapped to a tree.

Redfield's vigorously realistic, unsentimental brand of Impressionism influenced several generations of artists. However, what most characterized Pennsylvania Impressionism was not a single, unified style, but rather the emergence of many mature distinctive voices: Daniel Garber's luminous, poetic renditions of the Delaware River; Fern Coppedge's colorful village scenes; Robert Spencer's Ashcan School-influenced views of mills and tenements; John Fulton Folinsbee's moody snowscapes; and William L. Lathrop's deeply felt, evocative Bucks County vistas.

"Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism" is organized by the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and is curated by Brian H. Peterson. The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication on Pennsylvania Impressionism, principally authored by Peterson. The presenting sponsor of "Earth, River, and Light" at the Woodson Art Museum is Wausau Benefits.

As a complement to "Earth, River, and Light," Woodson Art Museum curator Andrew McGivern has organized an exhibition of contemporary works by artists who are carrying on the traditions of the Pennsylvania Impressionists. "Sunlight and Shadow" presents 24 works by 11 members of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association. Like their predecessors, they, too, find endless inspiration in subjects bathed in natural light and enjoy the challenge of painting quickly outdoors in the face of changing atmospheric conditions. The group's mission is to promote an appreciation of and participation in the art of outdoor painting. (right: Sharon Littig, Boats in Sunlight, 1996)

The Woodson Art Museum's two winter exhibitions are all about making good impressions -- and so are the 15 education programs scheduled during "Earth, River, and Light: Masterworks of Pennsylvania Impressionism" and "Sunlight and Shadow: Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association." Each program speaks to different aspects of the artworks on view. Some of the programs are outlined below:

Adult Programs

Brian Peterson, senior curator at the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, will be at the Woodson on Sunday, February 8, at 1:30 p.m. to answer the question "Is There an 'Ism' in Pennsylvania Impressionism?" He'll focus on ten of the best-known artists from this group as he explores how they were each influenced by world and national events and their physical surroundings and how they, in turn, influenced others.

Painting snow while standing in it is not a task for the fainthearted, yet some of the Pennsylvania Impressionists made this their specialty. During "Snowscapes: In Light and Shadow" on Sunday, February 22, from 1-4 p.m., Owen, Wisconsin, artist Jan Stommes sets up her easel in the galleries and demonstrates techniques for painting a subject that can reflect both sunny warmth and bitter chill.

In March a member of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association will present two programs supported in part by the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin. John Ebersberger, of Annapolis, Maryland, traces the lineage of American Impressionism at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 7. At 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9, area artists are invited for a gallery walk with Ebersberger followed by time to show and discuss their own work with one another.


Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these articles and essays:

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.in Resource Library Magazine

rev. 12/30/11

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2004 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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