Westmoreland Museum of American Art
An American Tradition: The Pennsylvania Impressionists
In 1915, the artist and critic Guy Péne du Bois characterized Pennsylvania Impressionist painting as America's "first truly national expression." An American Tradition: The Pennsylvania Impressionists, an exhibition organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art (WMAA) in cooperation with Beacon Hill Fine Art, New York, continues through July 13, 1997. Audiences who know and love the French Impressionists, but who are relatively unaware of the movement that was particular to Pennsylvania, will find this important exhibition especially appealing. This core group of impressionist artists, painted the natural beauty in and around Bucks County at the turn of the century, will be presented in Pennsylvania for the first time in over forty years.
Left: Breaking of Winter, c. 1914, Edward Redfield, 1869-1965, oil on canvas, 56 1/4 x 50 1/2
Assembled from public and private collections around the United States, this exhibition spans four decades and includes nearly fifty paintings by fifteen artists. The exhibition and its accompanying catalog provide the opportunity to examine the work of artists such as Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield, John Fulton Folinsbee, Walter Elmer Schofield and William Langson Lathrop, together with their lesser-known contemporaries Fern Isabel Coppedge, Walter Emerson Baum and Clarence Johnson. Abandoning the preferred urban scene and industrial subject of the Ashcan School, these artists chose instead to focus on the landscape which most of them painted en plein air, more in keeping with the manner of the French Impressionists.
Right above: Silver River, c. 1918, John Fulton Folinsbee, 1892-1972, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 1/8
An American Tradition: The Pennsylvania Impressionists originated at Beacon Hill Fine Arts in New York in 1996. Following its premier at the WMAA, it will travel to four venues: Florence Griswold Museum, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gibbes Museum of Art, and Woodmere Art Museum .
Significance of the Pennsylvania Impressionists:
While early exhibitions in Eastern Pennsylvania (1945, 1950, 1959) recognized individual artists such as Garber and Schofield, the Pennsylvania Impressionists have never been given the acclaim they deserve as a group. According to the catalog, "This exhibition provides a forum for viewing the rich tapestry of styles characteristic of New Hope painting and, in turn, demonstrates its impact on turn-of-the-century America and American Impressionism. Buck County, with its proximity to New York and Philadelphia, and the binding educational traditions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design, created an artistic atmosphere conducive to a unique, yet purely American interpretation of Impressionism."
Even while the modernist movements of Fauvism and Cubism were taking hold in Europe, America was coming into its own artistically at the turn of the century. The public's growing awareness of American art as well as the desirability to the subjects portrayed by the Pennsylvania Impressionists gave way to the development of an artistic style that remained popular for four decades. Although a generation younger, they gained exposure to the European impressionists' new methods of painting which resulted in the common stylistic tendencies of bravura brushwork, brilliant color palette, and immediacy of expression.
Above: Winding Road, Daniel Garber, 1880-1958, oil on canvas, 8 1/4 x 30"
However, the Pennsylvania Impressionists were not preoccupied with the scientific investigations of optics, the transitory effects of light and color theory that predominated with the French painters Monet and Seurat. Rather, they expanded on the realism of Manet, Renoir, Degas, and Cassatt. Although like their predecessors, they took their easels out-of-doors to do as much painting on the spot rather than work in their studios from sketches. Popularly called the New Hope School, the artists painted at sites along or near the Delaware River.
Below: River Brook, Fern Isabel Coppedge, 1888-1951, oil on canvas, 26 x 20
Right: At Twilight, 1910, Rae Sloan Bredin, 1881-1933, oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 30 1/4
Drawing inspiration from the American Impressionists, many of the Pennsylvania Impressionist artists studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League with William Merritt Chase, Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Cecilia Beaux and Frank Duveneck and were acquainted with their contemporaries J. Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman. Daniel Garber taught painting to Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) and Clarence Johnson (1894-1981), who in turn carried on instruction to further perpetuate the style. Redfield ranks with John Singer Sargent in awards, prizes, and honors he received throughout his lifetime.
From 1910 into the 1930s Pennsylvania Impressionists exhibitions were held at museums around the country including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago .Their inclusion in such worldwide expositions as the Paris Exposition, Pan American Exposition, and the Buenos Aires Exposition gave these artists international exposure. Following WWII, with the advent of abstraction and European modernism, the Pennsylvania Impressionists found themselves isolated regionally. Within the last 20 years, however, the subject has experienced a resurgence in popularity.
Below left: Meadow Brook, Edward W. Redfield, 1869-1965, oil on canvas, 30 x 36
Below right: Delaware River and Clouds, c. 1918, Charles Frederick Ramsey, 1875-1951, oil on cvanvas, 40 1/2 x 30
Ed. Note: Other artists associated with the New Hope School are George Sotter, S. George Phillips, Kenneth Nunamaker and Arthur Meltzer.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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