Published: October 12, 2004
From October 16 to January 9, the Princeton University Art Museum will present a major retrospective of works from its acclaimed collection of American drawings and watercolors, which is recognized as one of the richest and most comprehensive of its kind.
“West to Wesselmann: American Drawings and Watercolors in the Princeton University Art Museum” will feature 77 masterpieces on paper by American artists from the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Century.
Princeton’s collection of American drawings and watercolors, established in the 1930s by the museum’s first director, Frank Jewett Mather Jr, charts all of the major stylistic developments. Among the artists and movements featured in the collection and exhibition are Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley; the Hudson River School; Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins; Gilded Age artists Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent; the Ashcan School; the Steiglitz circle, including a Georgia O’Keeffe pastel; realists Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth; post-World War II artists Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenburg, David Smith, and Tom Wesselmann; and contemporary artists Lee Bontecou and Alex Katz.
The exhibition will travel to the Musée d’Art Américain, Giverny from April 1 to July 3, and The High Museum of Art from April 3 to June 25, 2006.
Presenting a roughly chronological survey of American art, the exhibition begins with early works that illustrate two principal subject areas of the time: the human figure and the native landscape. These themes are reflected in representative works from Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, and a group of early landscape drawings from the first generation of the Hudson River School, including a sketchbook by Thomas Cole that places Princeton among the leading institutions for the study of this artist.
Princeton’s drawings from the mature years of the Hudson River School by artists such as John Frederick Kensett, George Inness and Jasper Francis Cropsey offer a rich sampling of representative works. The exhibition also highlights examples by later practitioners, notably William Trost Richards and Charles Herbert Moore, as the school evolved into the Luminist and Pre-Raphaelite movements.
The exhibition features important works from the second half of the Nineteenth Century by some of the great masters of American painting, including Winslow Homer, who is represented by two of his finest watercolors, “The Trysting Place,” 1875, and “Eastern Point Light,” 1880. In addition, the collection includes an equally important watercolor by Thomas Eakins, “Seventy Years Ago,” 1877.
A notable group of American drawings at Princeton consists of works by major artists who were familiar with international stylistic currents at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. Highlighting the period of the Gilded Age is a radiant Tahitian watercolor by John La Farge, and a pastel of a young woman by Mary Cassatt. A late watercolor by John Singer Sargent, “The Tyrol,” 1914, displays both his bravura brush techniques and an unusual sense of abstract form and composition.
A selection of works from the Ashcan School emphasizes a particular strength of the Princeton collection, including a major pastel of a New York snow scene by Everett Shinn. Representative works by many of the Stieglitz circle and by later regionalists or realists, such as Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn and Andrew Wyeth, extend the collection’s chronological scope through the first half of the Twentieth Century. Leading African American graphic artist Charles White is represented by the museum’s portrait of the actor and singer Paul Robeson.
Princeton’s collection of modern works includes important examples of Abstract Expressionism, beginning with drawings by Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. The culminating phase of the New York School is represented in drawings from the 1950s by Stuart Davis, Robert Motherwell and David Smith. Three classic Pop art images featured are Tom Wesselmann’s “Study for Still Life, #22,” 1962, Claes Oldenburg’s “B Tree (for Alfred Barr),” 1969, and Wayne Thiebaud’s “Study for Big Peppermint Painting,” 1969-70.
The exhibition concludes essentially where it begins, with the human figure, as represented in selections by contemporary artists Eric Fischl and Sidney Goodman.
The museum is in the center of the Princeton University campus, next to Prospect House and Gardens. For information, 609-258-3788 or PrincetonArtMuseum.org.
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