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American Impressions: An Arcadian Vision, Paintings from the Akron Art Museum

December 16, 2005 - March 12, 2006


(above: Frederick C. Friseke, Through the Vines, ca. 1908, oil on canvas, Akron Museum of Art, gift of Mr. S.G. Carkhuff)


Luminous works by such seminal artists as William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, Frederick Childe Hassam, George Inness, and John Twachtman are among the 35 paintings that will be on view at the Taft Museum of Art this winter in the exhibition, American Impressions: An Arcadian Vision, Paintings from the Akron Art Museum.

The exhibition, which runs from December 16, 2005 to March 12, 2006 examines American art at the end of the nineteenth century when many American artists retreated from the realities of the early modern era -- with its burgeoning industry and crowded cities -- and instead envisioned an American Eden. They often employed European impressionistic techniques to convey pastoral beauty, avoiding the grit and pollution of their industrialized and increasingly urban nation.

Paintings of dreamy landscapes, lush garden scenes, and portraits of women as objects of beauty aimed to fulfill the widely held belief that art should delight the senses and elevate the spirit.

Despite the nation's growing political and industrial power, American artists and collectors at the turn of the century believed Europe to represent the standard of cultural achievement. Nearly every artist featured in this exhibition traveled to Europe for instruction and inspiration, although they occasionally had difficulty finding the latter. (right: Fredrick Childe Hassam, Bedford Hills, 1908. Oil on canvas, bequest of Edwin C. Shaw)

In 1877, artist Julian Alden Weir described an exhibition of French impressionists as "worse than a Chamber of Horrors." Many American artists found the high-keyed colors and forceful brushstrokes of artists such as Monet and Renoir unsettling. Instead, Weir adopted small brushstrokes, subtle hues and crisp forms in delicate landscapes such as White Oaks.

After initial resistance, many American artists did employ impressionistic techniques. Childe Hassam, in Bedford Hills, used diagonal strokes of green, blue and yellow paint to capture the play of sun and wind over a lush field in upstate New York.

Frederick Frieseke's dazzling Through the Vines depicts dappled sunlight with brilliant flecks of primary color falling across an indolent woman and her parasol.

Six artists represented in this exhibition -- Julian Alden Weir, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, John Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Thomas Wilmer Dewing -- exhibited together as part of a group called the Ten American Painters, which was dedicated to promoting newer styles such as Impressionism. American impressionist works appealed greatly to urban-based collectors who saw in them evidence of the restorative power of nature.

Other American landscapists sought instead emphasize the expression of mood and feelings through their images. Rather than drawing upon Impressionism, they sought artistic models in Barbizon painting, an earlier form of French art in which brushstroke and color are more subdued, and rustic figures inhabit an idealized countryside (Barbizon landscape paintings can be viewed in the Taft Museum of Art's own collection).

The Americans who went in this direction developed a style known as tonalism: they used broad areas of tone, simplified compositions, blurred forms, and a limited range of colors in order to suggest a harmony between figures and landscape. Their goal was often to express a belief in humankind's essential spiritual connection with nature, an idea introduced into 19th-century American culture by the writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Tonalist artists did not organize as a formal group, but many who painted in this style knew one another and shared similar points of view. Among them were Charles Eaton, George Inness, and Dwight Tryon.

American Impressions: An Arcadian Vision. Paintings from the Akron Art Museum, an exhibition organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C.

This exhibition is funded through the Institute for Museum and Library Services, by and Act of Congress, in accordance with the FY 2004 Consolidated Appropriations Bill. Sponsored by the Cinergy Foundation.

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