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Highlights from the Permanent Collection of The Art Students League of New York

October 8 - December 3, 2006 


The Art Students League of New York, one of the most prestigious art schools in the world,  was founded in 1875 by art students dissatisfied with the traditional learning opportunities at the time. In the works of its faculty of practicing artists and their students, the school's permanent collection reflects the American art movements of the last 125 years.

Many Cape Cod artists taught or studied at The Art Students League. Hans Hofmann taught there before founding his own school. The works on view reflect shifting interests and styles of teachers and students from French Impressionism to satirical etching to the modern art movements of cubism and surrealism to abstract styles and non-traditional materials.

Among the renowned artists who will be represented in this exhibition are William Merritt Chase, Georgia O'Keeffe who studied with Chase; George Grosz, Leo Manso, Jan Matulka, Will Barnet and Cape Artist Edwin Dickinson.

As one of America's oldest art schools, The Art Students League of New York has attracted outstanding talents as teachers and helped prepare others who left their mark on twentieth-century American art. In the League's historic building on New York's West 57thStreet, Georgia O'Keeffe studied with William Merritt Chase, Fairfield Porter worked under the guidance of Thomas Hart Benton, and Louise Nevelson enrolled in the classes of George Grosz and Hans Hofmann. The school's permanent collection documents its distinguished history and reflects art movements of the last 125 years, from late 19th-century figure drawings to 1930s social realist prints to pop and abstract paintings, and works by contemporary students and instructors. Inevitably, the works also capture events and trends in the nation's history.

The League was founded by art students who were dissatisfied with the educational opportunities at the National Academy of Design in New York. As it evolved, the school reflected practices at the prestigious French art academies, such as the independence of each instructor within his studio or atelier. By 1920, the League was the country's most prominent art school, inspiring similar institutions in other American cities and attracting students from every state.

The school's permanent collection began as a learning resource. A friendly patron donated a set of etchings by James McNeill Whistler. League students fortunate enough to travel and study abroad were asked to share some of their figure drawings done there -- called "exile donations." These drawings were often displayed on the classroom walls as educational aides and entered the collection.

Other works were acquired through scholarships awarded to outstanding students. Norman Rockwell's 1911 charcoal illustration of Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, for example, was most likely a class assignment that earned him a year's tuition at the League; in exchange, the drawing became the League's property. Over time, additional strong student works were acquired for the collection as a "record of what had been accomplished." Will Barnet's early lithograph Fulton Street Fish Market falls in to this category.

 The collection also benefited from the generosity of League instructors such as Chase, whose flamboyant personality and bravura style attracted large classes. Chase's Fish Still Life, reflecting his Munich-based mode of direct painting in dark tones, was a class demonstration piece done in the same year that Georgia O'Keeffe was enrolled in his still-life course. Allen Tucker, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Frank Vincent Dumond also donated works to the League.

Over the decades, the collection registered the shifting interests and styles of teachers and students. Charles Courtney Curran's Woman Reading and Allen Tucker's October Cornfield reflected Americans' turn-of-the-century interest in the subjects and style of French Impressionism. Later, John Sloan's satirical etching, Connoisseurs of Art, drew fire from those who found such subjects crude; the same critics would later use the term "Ashcan School" to describe the candid images of city life done by Sloan and his compatriots.

By the late 1920s, growing student interest in European avant-garde movements prompted the League to hire artists from abroad, including Hans Hofmann, George Grosz and Jan Matulka. Years of study in Paris had exposed Matulka to Cubism and Surrealism, both reflected in his Still Life with Horse Head and Phonograph. Students David Smith, Burgoyne Diller and Dorothy Dehner found his advocacy of modernism compelling. At the same time, the League faculty included artists who focused on explicitly native subjects and worked in realist styles. Kenneth Hayes Miller's images of women shopping documented both the emerging middle class and the urban vein of regionalism.

The Depression-era focus on both the dignity and the de-humanizing aspects of labor emerge in Harry Sternberg's print Steel. Well into the 1940s, the interest in native subjects endured in the work of such League instructors as printmaker Martin Lewis and Reginald Marsh, who found inspiration in the crowds at Coney Island.

Artists/teachers working in abstract styles and with non-traditional materials are also represented in the collection. Collagist and painter Leo Manso, who exhibited with Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb in the 1940s, focused on the "distillation of the landscape experience," embodied in After the Storm. Charles Alston and Norman Lewis, African-American artists who taught at the League, gave the collection examples of their abstract work as well.

Sculpture has been an integral part of the League's program since its inception and is represented in this exhibition by the humanism of William Zorach's mother and child and by contemporary sculptor Rhoda Sherbell's portrait of Aaron Copland. Among the present generation of artists in the exhibit are printmaker/instructors William Behnken and Michael Pellettieri and students Sam Goodsell and Roberto Franzone.

The showing of at Cape Cod Museum of Art is part of a nine city national tour over a two and a half year period containing approximately seventy -five paintings, works on paper and sculptures. The tour was developed and managed by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, an exhibition tour development company in Kansas City, Missouri.

"CCMA is proud to present this special exhibition which links the Cape to the history of American Art movements and offers the viewer a veritable survey in styles and movements through the decades." said Elizabeth Ives Hunter, CCMA Executive Director

Images Courtesy of The Art Students League of New York


(above: Undated Photo of Willliam Zorach with model and students)



(above: William Merritt Chase Oil Painting:  Fish Still Life)



(above: Georgia O'Keeffe, Dead Rabbit)


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