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19th-Century American Paintings: The Henry Melville Fuller Collection


Along with $43 million, Henry Melville Fuller recently left the Currier Gallery of Art a treasured bequest of carefully collected artwork -- much in the form of 19th-century American paintings. This bequest of 60 paintings is the single most important gift of art to the Currier in its 73-year history. Along with a small selection from the nationally-known collection of glass paperweights he gave the museum in 1998, these paintings are the focus of a special exhibition that honors Fuller's gift. 19th-Century American Paintings: The Henry Melville Fuller Collection opened February 2 and runs through March 11, 2002. (left:   Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) Mount Rainier, about 1863, oil on paper, Collection of the Currier Gallery of Art. Beginning in 1859 Bierstadt made several Western journeys.  Mount Rainier was most likely painted in 1863 when he traveled overland from Missouri to California and then north to Oregon and Washington.  During the trip he produced many oil sketches of the mountains in California and the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington.)

One of New Hampshire's most distinguished art appreciators, Henry Fuller was a pioneering collector of American paintings. He assembled the majority of this collection in the 1960s, before the field of American painting garnered widespread appeal, and he was particularly interested in the artists of the Hudson River School and their contemporaries. He became a connoisseur of their work, and his collection is rich in the sublime mountain vistas, pastoral landscapes and dramatic views of the New England seacoast that appealed to a wide audience in 19th-century America. Before the Civil War and increasing urbanization altered public taste, these breathtaking landscapes dominated the American art world with their sense of optimism and reverence for nature. The Fuller Collection also includes several fine examples of still-life subjects and genre scenes, or views from daily life.

When the Fuller Collection was first exhibited at the Currier Gallery of Art in 1971, the art community quickly recognized its importance, and these works were frequently included in museum exhibitions around the nation. In the two decades since, Mr. Fuller gave the Currier major paintings -- all regularly on view -- by the American artists William Holbrook Beard, Asher Brown Durand, Frederic E. Church, Lily Martin Spencer and Charles Caleb Ward. Fuller's most recent bequest, which makes up the majority of his collection, adds greatly to the Currier's current holdings, which already includes important works by Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt and Martin Johnson Heade. (left: Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Mill Dam on the Catskill Creek, 1841, oil on canvas, Collection of the Currier Gallery of Art.  Thomas Cole was the first American artist to apply an academic technique to the depiction of landscape.  His paintings paired elements of carefully observed natural details with panoramic scenes and were intended to inspire in the viewer the visual, physical and emotional experience of being in the American wilderness.  A native of England, Cole came to the United States in his teens.  His great talent was evident as early as 1825, when his paintings of the Catskills electrified the New York artistic community.  Cole was primarily a studio painter and his landscapes and allegorical compositions, while accurate in their individual details, often combined sketches from multiple locations.  Thomas Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School, a group of artists that celebrated the American landscape.  The images they created became instrumental in defining Americansí vision of their country, from its beginning in rural New England to its expansion across North America.  Their work frequently reflected the optimism of the growing nation and its reverence for the natural beauty of the continent.)

The exhibition features 30 highlights from the Fuller Collection, including works by the recognized masters of nineteenth-century American painting including Bierstadt, Alfred Bricher, Thomas Cole, Cropsey, Sanford Gifford, Heade, Eastman Johnson, John Kensett, and Fitz Hugh Lane. Additionally, several well-known New Hampshire painters such as Benjamin Champney, George Henry Hall, Frank Shapleigh and Aaron Draper Shattuck are also featured.

This presentation also includes 40-50 paperweights, from the extensive collection of over 300 antique and modern glass paperweights that Mr. Fuller gave to the Currier in 1998. This extraordinary acquisition gave the museum one of the top five paperweight collections in the nation, and includes works from the French glass houses of Baccarat, Clichy and Saint-Louis, along with examples by prominent contemporary artists.

19th-Century American Paintings: The Henry Melville Fuller Collection is drawn from the permanent collection of the Currier Gallery of Art.

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