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From Paris to North America: American Impressionism Masterworks

March 6 - May 22, 2011


The El Paso Museum of Art is celebrating its outstanding American Impressionist paintings with the exhibition From Paris to North America: American Impressionism Masterworks. On displayare over thirty paintings by artists such as Theodore Earl Butler, William Merritt Chase, Frederick Childe-Hassam, Henry Ossawa-Tanner and John Twachtman who were influenced by and adopted the style of French Impressionism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the first half of the twentieth century. Centered primarily on the East coast, the American Impressionist movement grew as young American artists returned from study in Europe where they learned to focus on the transitory effects of light and contemporary subject matter. The demand in the United States for Impressionist paintings also increased as more and more exhibitions brought the French avant-garde to the American public. (right: Theodore Earl Butler (1876-1937), Fireworks, Vernon Bridge/Fuegos artificiales, Puente de Vernon, 1908, oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 29 inches. Gift of EPAMA Members' Guild. 1974.53.1)

The El Paso Museum of Art holds a collection of American Impressionism that is among the most comprehensive in the Southwest. This collection was assembled in the 1970s and 1980s through hundreds of donations and careful purchases made under the guidance of museum director Leonard Sipiora. A native of Massachusetts with a background in English and American Literature, Sipiora made his selections as the American art market emerged from the shadow of its European counterpart.

With the support of the Member's Guild and the Collector's Council of the El Paso Art Museum Association the El Paso Museum of Art collected the work of both American expatriates as well as the artists of Boston and New England.

Including among other artists; Frank Boggs, Theodore Earl Butler, John Costigan, Frederick Childe Hassam, Ernest Lawson, William Merritt Chase, and John Henry Twachtman, the El Paso Museum of Art's American Impressionist collection is an important component of its overall mission mandated commitment to the acquisition, interpretation and exhibition of American art from the Colonial period to the contemporary.


Paris to North America

In the middle of the 19th century, many Americans from Walt Whitman to Mark Twain proudly extolled the greatness of their new nation over what they considered an exhausted European culture. In visual art this attitude was represented by the Romantic naturalism of the Hudson River School of landscape painting. Paradoxically, after the Civil War more and more Americans were venturing overseas to study and to collect art. Paris, a city many considered the art capital of the world, soon became a magnet to artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sergeant and William Merritt Chase. These artists, as well as collectors with new fortunes, learned of recent developments in art and brought them back to the United States.

In the 1870s and 1880s a group of French artists, including Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-August Renoir, whose work emphasized light and color over form, contrary to the official Salon's taste for academic realism, organized a series of eight exhibitions of their own. At first these exhibitions were ridiculed, but eventually received much acclaim. Meanwhile, critics labeled these artists as "Impressionists" because of the spontaneous, unfinished character of their paintings of modern life.

By 1883 the first major exhibitions of French Impressionist art were held in Boston and New York. Many viewers, artists and collectors included, were at first viewing repelled by Impressionism, but with information and repeated viewings some acknowledged its worth and sought to adopt its avant-garde style. Soon, American artists from John Twachtman to Edmund Tarbell and Frederick Childe Hassam to John Enneking were exploring the expressive potential of lighter colors and lose brushwork. Within a decade, an American brand of Impressionism, while not consistently defined, was celebrated at the World's Fair in Chicago, by the organization of the artist's group The Ten in 1897.

The twenty-five paintings in this exhibition are by twenty-five of the best known American Impressionists, most of who studied in Paris, and reveal the American interpretation of Impressionism.


Americans and Impressionism

Every American artist who studied in Europe, or Paris in particular, in the last quarter of the 19th century or the early 20th century had unique experiences that undoubtedly enhanced the artist's reputation; they were exposed to a wide range of art, artists and cultural richness centuries in depth. Each artist's work retained something uniquely American, but integrated new, learned European aspects of technique, subject matter and composition. Those artists who studied in Paris, including the majority of the artists in this exhibition, encountered the French Impressionists' loose brushwork, lightened palette and interest in the effects of light, although no two Americans responded the same. (left: Frederick Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935), Still Life with Peaches and Old Glass, 1922, oil on canvas, 20 x 43 3/4 inches, F 29 x 52 inches. Gift of EPAMA. 1978.11.1)

Most of the artists now known as American Impressionists lived and worked in the Northeast upon their return, either in New York or Boston. As the impressionistic style of painting found favor among American critics and collectors, artists such as Chase, Tarbell and Twachtman found positions where they could teach their individual versions of Impressionism. At the same time, artists' colonies that espoused an Impressionist aesthetic of painting en plein air developed throughout the country in Connecticut, Indiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Missouri and, later in California.

In many cases, the general public did not take the American Impressionists seriously and considered them merely French imitators. The reasons for this may be found in their early training and subject matter which emphasized academic naturalism of American subjects painted using a darker palette. Even so, the continued popularity of Impressionism in the United States testifies to the artists' and the public's recognition of the French avant-garde.


Artists in the exhibition

Edward Mitchell Bannister
Frank M. Boggs
Theodore Earl Butler
William Merritt Chase
John Edward Costigan
(Robert) Bruce Crane
John Joseph Enneking
William H. Glackens
Arthur Clifton Goodwin
John R. Grabach
Frederick Childe Hassam
Robert Henri
Ernest Lawson
Willard Leroy Metcalf
Edward Henry Potthast
Robert Louis Reid
Julius Rolshoven
Henry Ossawa Tanner
Edmund C. Tarbell
John H. Twachtman
Robert William Vonnoh
Guy Carleton Wiggins
Irving Ramsey Wiles
Charles Woodbury
Mabel Woodward

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