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Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880-1910

July 16 - December 11, 2005


(above left: Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858-1924), Venetian Palaces on the Grand Canal, 1899, watercolor and pencil on paper, 14 x 20 3/4 inches, Collection of Karen A. and Kevin W. Kennedy; above right: Cinématographe Lumière, Panorama of Grand Canal as Seen from a Boat, 1896, 50 feet, Producer: Alexandre Promio; camera: Alexandre Promio, Archives du Film du Centre National de la Cinématographe, neg. no. 295/1251)


Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) presents "Moving Pictures" a traveling exhibition that explores the relationship between American art and the new medium of film at the beginning of the 20th century. Showcasing approximately 100 paintings and 50 films, "Moving Pictures" installs art and film side by side, examining the complex relationship between these two media at the turn of the last century. The dynamic relationship between American art and early film not only resulted in new subjects but also new poses, facial expressions, and constructions of space, challenging old assumptions about what was real. This change brought about a new wave of creativity to start the 20th century. (right: George Luks (1866-1933), The Spielers, 1905, oil on canvas. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA Gift of anonymous donor, 1931.9)

The exhibition will open at the Williams College Museum of Art on July 16 and continue through December 11, 2005. It will then travel to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC (March 24 - July 16, 2006), the Grey Art Gallery of New York University (September 13 - December 9, 2006), and the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (February 17 - May 20, 2007).

"Both paintings and films emphasize movement," says Curator Nancy Mowll Mathews, "which was crucial to the illusion of lifelikeness in both media. In recreating the modern experience of fragmentation and spectacle both art and film explore issues of human perception and understanding of reality that were part of the intellectual climate of their day."

The films are drawn primarily from the Edison, Lumière, and American Mutoscope and Biograph companies; the paintings are by American masters such as George Bellows, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, William Merritt Chase, George Luks, and John Sloan.

The experiments of motion photographers of the 1880s, such as Eadward Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey, were eagerly studied by American artists and were inspired in turn by them. When technology was perfected to show the photographs in motion in the 1890s, these early films quite naturally echoed established currents in American art. By 1900, the influence was going both ways, with American painting echoing the new view of the world offered by moving pictures.


(above left: Frederic Remington (1861-1909), Cowboy, ca. 1890, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 incches, Private Collection; above right: Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), "Annie G." galloping, Animal Locomotion, pl. 627, 1884-86, collotype mounted and toned, image: 8 1/4 x 13 inches; sheet: 19 1/8 x 24 1/4 inches, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA Gift of the Commercial Museum, Department of Commerce, Philadelphia 62.41.42)

Exhibition Overview:

The exhibition will be designed in four sections: The introductory ection will present parallels between the first American films and the popular American artistic traditions of rural genre, landscape, and marine painting. The second section examines the rise of motion photography by Muybridge, Marey, and Eakins and its influence on the concept of the body in art and film in the 1890s. The third section addresses urban motion as it grows out of a cosmopolitan, Impressionist vision and evolves into realist imagery after 1900. The exhibition concludes with the mutual fascination between film and the visual arts in the early days of the new medium.


(above left: George Bellows (1882-1925), New York, 1911, oil on canvas, 42 x 60 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1986.72.1; above right: American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, Scene of Lower Broadway, May 1902, 89 feet, Producer: Wallace McCutcheon; camera: Robert K. Bonine, The Library of Congress, Paper Print Collection, neg. no. 2848)


A catalogue, published by Hudson Hills Press, with accompanying compact disk featuring the films, will include contributions by thirteen art and film historians and include essays focusing on the interrelationship of still and moving pictures. 


(above left: John Sloan (1871-1951), Sun and Wind on the Roof, 1915, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, (Collection of the) Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, VA, Fine Arts Fund, 1947; above right: American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, A Windy Day on the Roof, 1904, 25 feet, Producer: n/a; camera: A.E. Weed, The Library of Congress, Paper Print Collection, neg. no. 1299)


"Moving Pictures" is curated by Nancy Mowll Mathews, Eugénie Prendergast Senior Curator of 19th and 20th Century Art, and is part of "American Traditions," an array of programming countywide at cultural, arts, and historical venues based on America's rich and varied heritage. Coordinated with the help of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the spring and summer 2005 festival features performances, dance, artwork and exhibitions highlighting a vast range of historical and contemporary aspects of America. For information on "American Traditions" in the Berkshires, visit www.berkshiresarts.org.

This exhibition was funded in part by The Henry Luce Foundation, the Eugénie Prendergast Trust, and the Williams College Center for Technology in the Arts & Humanities (CTAH).


(above left: Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), The Barefooted Child, ca. 1896-97, Drypoint and aquatint in colors, 9 5/8 x 12 5/8 inches, platemark Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY, Bequest of Mary T. Cockcroft, 46.103; above right: Cinématographe Lumière, Feeding the Baby, 1895, 50 feet, Producer: n/a; camera: Louis Lumière, Archives du Film du Centre National de la Cinématographie, neg. no. 88/ 655)


Related Events

"Moving Pictures" Opening Festival -- July 16, 2005, 4:00-8:00 pm

The Williams College Museum of Art invites the public to a free, turn of the 20th-century-style, all American festival to be held outdoors in the museum courtyard on July 16, 2005 from 4:00-8:00 pm. Celebrating the opening day of "Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880-1910," the Festival will feature American fare, street performers, period music and dancing, and projected moving pictures by some of the earliest filmmakers who documented urban life at the turn of the last century.
The museum will be open throughout the Festival so that revelers may enjoy "Moving Pictures," an exhibition that installs important examples of late 19th and early 20th- century American painting with short films, side by side on the gallery walls. This unique juxtaposition of artwork and film gives new insight to the creativity of this period and promises to be an exciting experience for visitors of all ages.

"Moving Pictures" Symposium -- October 21 - 22

A public symposium in which the essayists will discuss their contributions to the exhibition catalogue will be held at Williams College.


(above left: Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Barges on the East River, 1898, charcoal and wash on paper, 20 x 27 inches, Private collection; above right: Edison Manufacturing Company, Panorama Waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge from East River, 1903, 140 feet, Producer: Edwin S. Porter; camera: Edwin S. Porter, The Library of Congress, Paper Print Collection, neg. no. 1799)

rev. 4/29/05

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