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Rivers, Sea and Shore:
Reflections on Water
January 21 - April 8, 2007
The Dixon Gallery
and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, will open a national tour of paintings
about the role of water in America on January 21, 2007. "Waterscapes"
might best describe the 50 paintings in the exhibition, Rivers, Sea and
Shore: Reflections on Water, which are traveling under the auspices
of the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington, D.C.
It has been said that America -- a continent between two
oceans -- has had a love affair with the sea since its earliest beginnings.
This exhibition clearly shows the changing emphasis of this love affair
as the represented artists explore more than a century of American life
on the water, a history reflected in ships and boats, seascapes and river
scenes, as well as images of life along the shore. It also offers rare examples
of water scenes west of the Appalachians.
The exhibition begins chronologically with the earliest
form of American maritime painting -- ship portraits -- as represented by
John S. Blunt's 1828 homage to the U.S.S. Constitution. It concludes with
paintings of depression-era industrial waterfronts (as in Reginald Marsh's
cathedral-like Lift Bridge, Jersey Marshes) and an update
of the ancient genre of naval warfare art (Anton O. Fisher's World War
Within this continuum, the exhibition explores the
post Civil War era, when ships became more a part of the artist's story
than the whole story itself. As steamboats came to dominate water transportation,
we see a steamboat making a night landing on the Mississippi, by Charles
M. McIlhenny, from an era best described by Mark Twain. In other romantic
19th century art, we see the challenges for realistic painters in depicting
the power and motion of waves, as in William Trost Richards' Reflection
in the Surf (c. 1895).
A large group of works in the exhibition focuses on the
stunning paintings that came out of the artist colonies established on the
Northeast Coast once Impressionism crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th
century. Many notable artists working near Old Lyme, Connecticut, are represented,
including Robert Vonnoh, Guy Wiggins and Gregory Smith. Other New England
artists painted seaside towns long associated with whaling or commerce,
reflecting nostalgia for a pre-industrial time. As Impressionism spread
the idea that art should show the common man's lifestyle, people were increasingly
depicted enjoying the beach, such as in paintings by Edmund Graecen and
E. Percy Moran; engaging in sport, suggested in Frank Benson's Afternoon
Ducks; and yacht racing (Summer Seas by Anton O. Fischer).
By the 1930s, artistic subjects began to turn to industrialization.
Concerns about joblessness created greater interest in industry as depicted
in Fayerweather Babcock's Industrial Waterfront - Great Lakes, and
in transportation, such as iron ships (Anton O. Fisher), bridges (Reginald
Marsh), and even trains (Preston Dickinson's Locomotive).
Collected over 40 years by Arthur J. Phelan of Chevy Chase,
Maryland, these paintings express his own passion for paintings about water
that can be traced to summers spent in Connecticut where he raced sailboats
and watched large commercial sailing ships pass through Long Island Sound.
Following its preview at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens,
where it will be on view from January 21 through April 8, 2007, the exhibition
will travel to the R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana (August
14 - October 28, 2007) and to the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau,
Wisconsin (November 17, 2007 - January 20, 2008).
The Trust for Museum Exhibitions provided to Resource
Library a .pdf file of the gallery
guide for the exhibition, courtesy of Diane C. Salisbury, Director of
Exhibitions for the Trust.
About the curator
- Arthur J. Phelan has built a number of collections that
started with the chance acquisition of an artwork that reminded him of
something in his past. The group of maritime and coastal scenes in Mr.
Phelan's collection can be traced originally to summers spent on the water
in Connecticut where he raced sailboats and watched large commercial sailing
ships pass through Long Island Sound.
- In the mid-1950s Phelan received a BA and MA from Yale
University when American culture was finally being given recognition equal
to that of European culture. As a student of American history, Phelan found
American art to be a useful tool to understanding American history, a philosophy
that later brought him to collecting.
- Phelan's collection of maritime and coastal scenes began
in 1963 when he bought his first painting of a sailing ship. By the end
of the 1970s he had discovered the Connecticut Impressionists, and his
pastime as a collector was greatly enhanced. Phelan, then the Board Chairman
of a Maryland savings and loan association, established a series of art
exhibitions, most featuring young and important Washington, D.C. artists.
His philosophy concerning public use of art collections was summarized
in a 1978 Washington Post interview title, To Banker, Art Betters Urban
Life. "I got interested in art through an interest in the historical
process," he said, "because paintings offer a clear record of
the changes that people have made in the environment." In the 1990s,
while Board Chairman of a company which owned ocean-going tankers, Phelan
added to his collection industrial-oriented pictures of life near the water.
- From 1965 to 2000 Phelan acquired more than 400 American
oil paintings and watercolors. Since 1975 more than 100 works from his
collection have been published or shown in monographs and survey shows.
About the Trust for Museum Exhibitions
- The Trust for Museum Exhibitions is a non-profit museum
service organization founded in 1984 by Ann Van Devanter Townsend. Respected
internationally for the unique quality of its large, richly textured traveling
exhibitions, and for distinctive and sharply focused scholarly exhibitions,
the Trust's hallmark on any fine or decorative arts project ensures intellectual
integrity and outstanding aesthetic quality in both content and execution.
- The Trust's Mission
- Without cultural diplomacy, the nations of the world
would lack a common language. With cultural exchange within and between
nations, understanding is fostered. With these founding principles as its
guide the Trust seeks to complement and expand the cultural and educational
institutions of the communities it serves by offering a rich and varied
spectrum of fine and decorative arts exhibitions for national and international
audiences. Through its comprehensive traveling exhibition services the
Trust acts as a resource for art institutions throughout the United States
and around the world.
- Trust Resources
- All of the Trust's services are managed by highly trained
and experienced exhibition professionals, supported by teams of internationally
renowned specialists. The Trust provides complete traveling exhibition
services to lending and host institutions, including conceptual planning
and development, engagement of guest curators, scheduling and logistical
planning, publications, didactic and educational materials, publicity and
marketing, conservation, security, wall-to-wall insurance, packing and
crating, domestic and international transportation and customs, registration
and installation assistance.
- Trust Partnerships
- For two decades the Trust for Museum Exhibitions has
served as a coordinator for consortium projects between museums, and has
assisted institutions in circulating their own collections. The Trust has
formed partnerships with more than 200 museums, cultural institutions,
and private collections world-wide to ensure that important objects, powerful
ideas, distinctive presentation and cost effective planning result in highly
successful and affordable exhibitions. Currently the Trust is involved
collaboratively in more than two-dozen exhibitions, either on tour or in
development in the United States and abroad.
Selected text panels for the exhibition
- Ship Portraits
- Ship portraits were the earliest form of American maritime
painting. Beginning in the nineteenth century, American captains commissioned
paintings of their ships. Ship portraits in this collection include a close
rendering of the U.S.S. Constitution by John S. Blunt, painted in
1828 after the Constitution returned from an extended tour in the Mediterranean
and Middle East.
- The foremost painter of steamboats on the Hudson River
was James Bard. The painting of the James A. Stevens represents
the only known case in which Bard painted the ship for three separate owners,
once in pencil, once in oil, and the one presented here in gouache.
- After the Civil War, as the era of sailing ships declined,
ships in paintings became more a part of the story than the whole story.
For example, the steamboat making a night landing on the Mississippi, by
Charles M. McIlhenny, reflects the era best described by Mark Twain.
- By the twentieth century most sailing ship subjects were
yachts, as in Anton Otto Fischer's Summer Seas.
- Painting the Sea Itself
- In nineteenth-century painting, before the influence
of Impressionism, the highest test of an artist's proficiency was the realistic
depiction of a scene. The power and motion of waves was a challenge to
realists. The artists in this exhibition were considered exceptionally
able. They include Alfred T. Bricher and William Trost Richards.
- Other artists, following the romantic tradition, combined
water views with the adjoining landscape, as in Sunset by Louis
Rémy Mignot, who in 1857 had gone to Ecuador accompanied by Frederic
Church, with whom he shared a fascination for flaming sunsets. Almost all
artists of this era were influenced by the tenets of the Hudson River School,
which included Ruskinian attention to realism and tight brushwork.
- Beyond the Sea
- As the center of population moved westward, local artists
seeking water views turned to the rivers along which settlement had developed.
As early as the 1860s George Harvey was painting Iowa views such as Bluffs
on the Mississippi River near Burlington. In the Far West, where lakes
are fed by mountain snows, the majesty of the mountains, as seen in Paul
Lauritz's California Mountains and Lake, overwhelms their role in
providing sustenance for the arid land.
- Seaside Towns
- After Impressionism made its way across the Atlantic,
promoted by such teachers as William Merritt Chase, artist colonies grew
up on the Northeast Coast. Particularly fine work was done in and around
Old Lyme, Connecticut, from which area there are a number of works in the
exhibition. These include paintings by Charles H. Davis, Will Howe Foote,
Edmund W. Greacen, E. Gregory Smith, Guy C. Wiggins, and Robert Vonnoh.
A number of Connecticut artists painted towns that had long been associated
with whaling or commerce, reflecting nostalgia for a pre-industrial time.
They include View of Noank Harbor by Eliot C. Clark, views of Mystic
by Walter Clark and George A. Thompson, a view of the Mianus River near
Greenwich by Elmer L. MacRae, and Stonington, Connecticut by Oliver
Hazard Perry III.
- Life by the Water
- As Impressionism spread the idea that art should show
the common man's lifestyle, genre painting was affected. People were increasingly
shown enjoying the beach, such as in paintings by Edmund W. Greacen and
E. Percy Moran, and engaging in sport, such as in Duck Shooting,
Chesapeake Bay by James Brade Sword, an early example, and Afternoon
Ducks by Frank W. Benson, who was an avid duck hunter and major Boston
- Shifting Emphasis in the Early Twentieth Century
- After the First World War, modernist artists used new
techniques and styles to move art away from idyllic scenes of the life
of the affluent classes toward industrial scenes and landmarks. Accordingly,
images began to appear of bridges, trains, factories, and industrial buildings.
- This new view of the waterfront emerges in the 1922 portrait,
Locomotive, by Preston Dickinson, one of the foremost modernists
of the period. By the 1930s, as a result of the Great Depression, as well
as the economic boom of the 1920s, there was widespread appreciation of
America's industrial might and its contribution to better lives for all.
- Following the Depression, many paintings involving rivers
and the sea included iron ships and industrial waterfronts. Chappaquiddick
Ferry, Martha's Vineyard by Julius M. Delbos includes automobiles in
its subject matter. The Lift Bridge of Reginald Marsh resembles
the soaring profile of a medieval cathedral. The waterfront view of The
Hudson at Newburgh, New York by Bruce H. Mitchell focuses on water
towers, aging warehouses, and a lonely railroad spur.
- ARTHUR J. PHELAN, JR.
- I have built a number of collections that started with
the chance acquisition of an artwork that reminded me of something in my
- This group of maritime and coastal scenes arises from
the time I spent at my family's summer home in eastern Connecticut. Our
house, half way between New London and the Connecticut River, was on the
water. During World War II, I sailed small sloops at the point where Long
Island Sound empties into the Atlantic and where large commercial sailing
ships occasionally still passed by. Later, while at Yale, I was never far
from the Sound.
- In the early 1960s I bought my first sailing ship painting,
the Great Lakes Marine Disaster. My collection started with
ship portraits, the earliest form of American maritime painting. In 1980
a major exhibition of Connecticut Impressionists expanded my interest in
the sea to the towns that were once centers for whaling and shipbuilding.
My collection had always focused on the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, but the emergence of the industrial waterfront as a subject
for painting, and the contrast between Impressionism and the Precisionism
found in industrial subjects, eventually brought my collection of waterscapes
up to the Second World War.
- Arthur J. Phelan
(above: George Albert Thompson, Mystic River, Connecticut,
1915, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches)
(above: Paul Lauritz, California Mountains and Lake,
1920, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches)
(above: A. Lassell Ripley, Beach Scene, 1935, oil
on artist board, 25 x 30 inches)
(above: Reginald Marsh, Lift Bridge, Jersey Marshes,
1936, watercolor, 29 x 14 inches)
Please click here to
view more images from the exhibition.
- The Trust for Museum Exhibitions provided to Resource
Library a .pdf file of the gallery
guide for the exhibition, courtesy of Diane C. Salisbury, Director
of Exhibitions for the Trust.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional
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