Published: December 2, 2008
Beginning in the mid-1800s, watercolor blossomed as an artistic medium in America. Artists used the properties of the medium to capture the landscapes and cityscapes of America, as well as beautiful still lifes and intimate figural works.
The exhibition “American Watercolors: 1860‱930 From the Lewis C. Allen Collection” at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts showcases the evolution of watercolor painting in America. On view through January 25, the exhibit is accompanied by a catalog with an introductory essay by Elizabeth Johns, PhD, professor emerita of art history from University of Pennsylvania.
The Lewis C. Allen Collection documents the plein air painting that was prevalent in watercolor work of the mid-Nineteenth to mid-Twentieth Century. The collection also spans artistic styles from closely rendered naturalism in the landscapes of Alfred T. Bricher (1837‱908) and William Trost Richards (1833‱905), to early Modernism, as in the work of Jane Peterson (1876‱965) and Daniel Defenbacher (1906‱972).
As Johns noted in her introductory essay, Bricher and Richards painted in the Northeastern United States and Canada, preferring marine and pastoral subjects. As was common in artistic movements of the Nineteenth Century, a philosophical underpinning often justified the work and enhanced its importance. In addition to Richards, Samuel R. Chaffee (1850⁵nknown) and John William Hill (1812‱879) also subscribed to the views of English critic John Ruskin, who linked spirituality and art.
Many women artists developed as watercolor artists as watercolor training was considered an important element in the education of women. Artist Grace Cochrane Sanger (1881‱966) is represented in the Allen collection by a figure study reminiscent of Mary Cassatt’s color woodblocks in its composition and style. In the Sanger watercolor, a woman dressed all in white sits against a patterned upholstered sofa.
The Allen collection includes a range of images of women, from a late Nineteenth Century anonymous formal bridal portrait to a Victorian painting by William T. Smedley (1858‱920) surrounding the christening of a child to an image of a woman in a garden by William Lippincott (1849‱920), in which her flowered dress in the foreground and the garden flowers in the background merge in an Impressionistic composition.
For more information, 301-739-5727 or www.wcmfa.org .
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