For the first time since 1923, works from the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art’s American collection is being shown outside its walls with works from the collection of the adjoining Sackler Gallery. “Seascapes: Tryon & Sugimoto,” on view through January 25 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, presents a series of 22 pastels by American landscape painter Dwight William Tryon (1849‱925) juxtaposed with six black and white photographs by contemporary photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b 1948).
Although the works are separated by history and medium, they are linked by a common subject †the sea †and by formal resonances that encourage leisurely contemplation and quiet comparison.
Produced between 1915 and 1916, Tryon’s pastels, known collectively as “Sea Moods,” represent the coast at Ogunquit, Maine, at varying times and weather conditions. Capturing the essence of natural motifs, Tryon used an expansive palette of layered colors to create a jewel-like surface in his pastels. Even though Tryon’s contemporaries considered “Sea Moods” a crowning achievement, this series has never been shown collectively or individually since 1924.
This exhibition also includes one oil painting, “The Sea: Evening,” which Charles Lang Freer (1854‱919), Tyron’s close friend and patron, considered to be Tryon’s masterpiece. Painted from memory after a winter trip to Ogunquit in 1907, the lucid and fluid palette pleased Freer very much, and he even compared it to works by the great masters from the Japanese Kano school, established by Kano Motonobu, circa 1513, as well as to Song dynasty (960‱279) ink landscape paintings.
Tryon first began working with pastels in the mid 1890s, after receiving a gift of textured brown paper from Freer. Impressed by the delicate opacity of pastels, Tryon compared it to the shimmering surface qualities of the Japanese ceramics and Roman glass displayed on his mantelpiece. He believed pastels achieved a personal form of expression that communicated both the beauties of nature as well as his own aesthetic perceptions.
Tryon noted the following about this series: “They came direct from the fountainhead of nature, there can be no doubt †but they went through the alembic of my mind before they were writ on canvas.”
Also on view for the first time at the Sackler is Sugimoto’s series of contemporary photographs, titled “Seascapes.” Part of an ongoing series begun in 1980, these photographs document particular sites around the world. Throughout, Sugimoto employs an aerial viewpoint that bisects the sea and sky into lateral bands of gray. With their subtle tonal variations, these photographs render a meditative tranquility and emphasize the perceptual activity of the artist and viewer unfolding through time.
Sugimoto graduated from St Paul’s University in Tokyo in 1970. He later left Japan for the United States to continue his studies at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1972. Absorbing the tenets of conceptionalism and minimalism, he then moved to New York City in 1974 to continue his work and later became a dealer and collector of Japanese and East Asian art. Sugimoto was a frequent visitor to the Freer and Sackler galleries, where he studied several works of art from the Japanese collections.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is at 1050 Independence Avenue, SW. For information, www.asia.si.edu or 202-633-1000.