Published: October 22, 2002
NEW YORK CITY – Spanierman Gallery, LLC, 45 East 58th Street, has announced the opening on November 1 of “: American Art from 1829 to 1970.” The exhibition and sale, comprising 90 works, captures a dynamic period in American art. Among the prominent artists included are George Bellows, Frank W. Benson, Albert Bierstadt, Emil Carlsen, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, Arthur B. Davies, Willem de Kooning, Thomas W. Dewing, Arthur Wesley Dow, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Philip Leslie Hale, Childe Hassam, Martin Johnson Heade, George Inness, John F. Kensett, Rockwell Kent, John LaFarge, Willard L. Metcalf, Thomas Moran, James Peale, William T. Ranney, Theodore Robinson, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Dwight William Tryon and John Henry Twachtman.
The exhibition captures the vitality of a time when American art was the standard bearer for the spirit of the nation. Challenged by the dramatic changes in their homeland, artists led the country’s cultural tide and expressed its changing ideals and intellectual currents. Using a multitude of styles and formats, they responded to the artistic movements of the day, while cultivating their individualistic modes of expression. Their work reveals the fascinating variety of the nation’s artistic tradition from the Jacksonian years through the last century’s modern era.
The earliest work is James Peale’s “Still Life with Fruit,” 1829, a picturesque arrangement of slightly overripe fruit expressing this member of the famous Philadelphia family of artists’ fascination with the bounty and splendors of nature in all stages of life and growth. As midcentury arrived, artists turned their attention to capturing the optimistic and celebratory mood of America during its early nationhood. Among them, William Tylee Ranney created images chronicling the drama of the frontier as well as “historical genre scenes.” After 1849, he devoted attention to sporting themes such as “The Wounded Hound,” 1850. Here depicting two hunters caring for a wounded dog in the wilderness, Ranney illuminated the character of American outdoor life while creating a visualization of the period’s emphasis on sports etiquette.
It was the artists of the Hudson River School who were the most dedicated to conveying the unique character of the country, as expressed in its seemingly boundless wilderness. In “Moses Viewing the Promised Land,” 1846, Frederic Edwin Church created an allegory that expressed the grandeur and drama of the America land. Depicting a scene at sunset in which a tiny figure stands at the top of rocky precipice overlooking a lush and fertile valley, Church captured a moment of joy and promise, as the peaceful countryside is revealed to the Biblical and New World traveler alike.
A similar romanticism is expressed in Thomas Moran’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” 1859. Depicting a scene from Robert Browning’s poem of 1852, Moran departed from his usual close observation of nature to portray a man’s resolute, obsessive journey over a tortuous terrain to find a legendary tower that will mean ultimate destruction.
The expansive and unsullied character of the American landscape is expressed in Martin Johnson Heade’s lyrical “Marsh Sunset,” circa 1860-61. One of the artist’s renowned marsh scenes, the work exemplifies Heade’s Luminist approach. A harmonious relationship between man and nature is also conveyed in George Inness’s “Midsummer,” 1862, a bucolic, pastoral image in which Inness used painterly handling and rich verdant tones to convey a feeling of serenity.
The exaltation of the American landscape’s distinctive beauty was expressed by artists associated with the Hudson River School as late as the 1870s and 1880s. In “Rocky Mountain Sheep,” circa 1882-83, Albert Bierstadt featured mountain sheep in the mystical glow of a jagged high mountain perch, conveying his regard for those proud animals who were at home in this dramatic countryside. In the late 1870s, Sanford Robinson Gifford created a glowing image of his predominant motif in “View near Kauterskill Clove,” 1878, and Jasper Cropsey painted “Fisherman’s House, Greenwood Lake,” 1877, a scene featuring a small log cabin in a panoramic wilderness illuminated by a sunset’s afterglow.
After the Civil War, artists sought new sources of inspiration and traveled abroad in droves, where they absorbed the methods of European contemporary and Old Master artists. The rural landscapes of the French Barbizon painters set an example for George Inness, who turned from his descriptive mode at midcentury to a more suggestive style as demonstrated in his evocative “Hudson Valley,” 1875, and “An Old Roadway” or “Montclair Landscape,” circa 1880, both of which are painted with rich golds and greens and soft, painterly strokes.
Childe Hassam gradually formulated an Impressionist style during a three-year sojourn in Paris from 1886 to 1889. Responding to the vitality of the Montmartre neighborhood where he lived, he painted with a new vibrancy and spontaneity as is exemplified in “Rue Montmartre,” circa 1888, in which he created an informal glimpse of a Parisian street.
On a sojourn in Holland, William Merritt Chase similarly explored Impressionist methods in “Reflections, Holland,” 1883, a spontaneously rendered pastel that captures flickering effects of light on a canal and a charming arched bridge. Theodore Robinson created “Saint Martin’s Summer,” 1888, during his second summer in Giverny, France, where he helped establish an Anglo American art colony. In his image of roof tops and flowering apple trees, Robinson used a bird’s-eye perspective, abrupt cropping, and little flecks of lavender and green, which reflect Monet’s influence, while the composition’s underlying geometric structure, created by the angles of roofs, reveals the pervasive effect on Robinson of his academic background.
On their return to the United States, American artists applied Impressionist strategies of light and color to the depiction of native scenery, capturing the “spirit of place,” especially in relation to their favorite summer haunts. Chase frequented Shinnecock, Long Island, where, in addition to conducting open air painting classes, he applied his deft brush to depictions of his immediate environment, as revealed in “Sunset at Shinnecock Hills,” circa 1895, in which his daughter Dorothy stands in the shadow of the roof of his house with the expansive brush-covered dunes that he loved to paint spreading beyond under a blue sky in which wispy cumuli float freely.
Other painters of Chase’s milieu were drawn to rural Connecticut, notably John Henry Twachtman, who spent the last 13 years of his life focusing on the scenery in the vicinity of his home in Greenwich. Both “November Haze,” circa 1890s, and “Tulip Tree, Greenwich,” circa 1890s, reveal his sensitive response to his surroundings and attest to his reputation as the most poetic of the American Impressionists.
During time that he spent in the artists colony in Old Lyme, Conn., Childe Hassam was responsible for the shift in the colony’s emphasis from Tonalism to Impressionism. His “Bridge in a Landscape, Mill Dam – Old Lyme, Connecticut,” 1903, captures the play of sunlight and shadow on landscape and architecture.
Many American artists used Impressionist techniques only when they suited a particular expressive concern. This was especially true of Boston School painters such as Frank W. Benson, who spent summers in Maine painting Impressionist images in the outdoors and winters painting elegant women in subtly lit interiors that reflected the influence of Dutch Seventeenth Century paintings as in “Portrait of Mary Sullivan,”1902, which in its large scale is also reminiscent of English Eighteenth Century portraiture.
American painting took on new directions during the early Twentieth Century, especially in the wake of the Armory Show of 1913, which introduced native audiences to vanguard European art. The influence of modernism is apparent in Joseph Raphael’s “By the Stream (Papekasteel Uccle),” circa 1915, in which the artist used a light palette and broad, divisionist strokes to create an abstract scheme, portraying a bountiful garden in Laren, Holland, where he settled in 1912.
By the 1930s, many American artists had retreated from abstract modes and reclaimed their heritage in realist images that captured the character of different regions of the country. Yet they continued to draw on modernist means to imbue their works with vitality and freshness. Such was the case for Robert E. Weaver, an Indiana “Hoosier” artist, who focused on portraying the circus, seeking to preserve this form of amusement and pleasure that has almost entirely disappeared from American life. Fletcher Martin similarly sought out the more vital and lusty aspects of American life. A boxer himself, Martin was especially drawn to painting boxers, and his ability to evoke the excrdf_Descriptionent and drama of a boxing match to perfection is revealed in “Lullaby,” circa 1942.
The realist tradition in American art was paralleled in the Twentieth Century by a gradual and continuing abstract current, which exploded on the international scene in the 1950s in the art of the Abstract Expressionists. One of the most important and influential members of this movement, Willem de Kooning focused on two themes — the human figure, especially women, and landscape — producing powerful, inventive and sometimes controversial images. His distinctive gestural manner resulted in dazzling, vigorously painted images such as “Xmas to Frances,” circa late 1960s/early 1970s.
The exhibition runs through February 15, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Monday to Saturday. For additional information, 212-832-0208.
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