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Specific picture descriptions: Photos above with "i" icons next to the bracketed sequence numbers (e.g. " ") are described as follows:
VMFAUS_100530_0011.JPG: Leslie Garland Bolling
Saver of Soles, 1941
VMFAUS_100530_0016.JPG: Edwin Lord Weeks
The Hour of Prayer at Moti Mushid (The Pearl Mosque), Agra, ca. 1888-89
A leading "Orientalist" painter, illustrator, photographer, writer, explorer, and collector, Edwin Lord Weeks was the first known American artist to visit India. Born in Boston and trained in Paris, the inveterate traveler was particularly drawn in Ahmadabad, the principal city of the western state of Gujarat, famed for its 15th or 16th-century mosques and tombs with their intricate teak and sandstone architectural decorations.
On his first trip to India, Weeks encountered the American painter-cum-designer Lockwood de Forest, an avid admirer and promoter of South Asian art and craft. An early business colleague of Louis Comfort Tiffany, de Forest had recently re-established the Ahmedabad [sic] Wood Carving Company in partnership with prominent local merchant banker Dalparbhai Maggunbhai Hutheesign. The House of Prayer at Moti Mushid (The Pearl Mosque), Agra, housed in its original frame designed by de Forest, dates from Weeks's second India excursion. It was awarded a Gold Medal at the 1889 Paris Salon, where the artist's work created a public sensation.
VMFAUS_100530_0030.JPG: Elihu Vedder
The Cup of Death, 1885
So when the Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff -- you shall not shrink.
The above passage from the forty-ninth quatrain of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam inspired this haunting image by Elihu Vedder of ultimate acceptance. A permanent expatriate best known for his allegorical and literary subjects, the artist had opened a studio in Rome during the late 1860s and quickly established a reputation as a distinctive painter, sculptor, muralist, illustrator, and author.
The painting derives from Vedder's 1884 masterwork -- fifty-six illustrations for a deluxe edition of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the 12th-century Persian text. The painter found his ideal subject in this work, which combines meditative poetry and monumental design, and considered it his major artist achievement. Vedder's illustrations to the translated text, which speculates on the mysteries of existence and death, struck a chord with a broad American public traumatized by the Civil War, shaken by the scientific theories of Darwin, and further challenged by foreign immigration, massive industrialization, and growing social discord. Vedder painted two oil versions of The Cup of Death; the original (with its more somber color scheme) is now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
VMFAUS_100530_0041.JPG: William S. Haseltine
The Coast of Sicily, 1880
William Haseltine came to prominence in the mid-19th century as an accomplished landscapist following his training in Dusseldorf and settled in Rome's Anglo-American art colony in 1869. In addition to an abiding interest in crisply detailed vistas, he strove to capture the intense Italian sunlight in his art. Attempting to define Haseltine's approach, one critic wrote, "we find three elements in the character of Haseltine's paintings: Anglo-Saxon precision, French love of atmosphere and light, and German romanticism."
After the artist's death, his daughter, Helen Haseltine Plowden, donated this radiant Sicilian view to VMFA. His son Herbert Haseltine, who became a significant artist in his own right, produced appealing animal sculptures -- several of which are featured in the museum's Paul Mellon Galleries.
VMFAUS_100530_0048.JPG: Claude Raguet Hirst
Books and Pottery Vase, early 1900s
At the turn of the 20th century, Hirst's meticulous still lifes held such public appeal that, as one critic wrote, "they are apt to be hanging crooked... as people take them down so many times to hold them and look at them." While touching art in galleries was discouraged then, as it is now, close examination was precisely the response that Hirst sought. The painter was one of a handful of Gilded Age artists -- and the only female (her first name was shortened from Claudine) -- to gain critical acclaim for illusionary imagery.
In this painting, Hirst presents an arrangement of old books and a ceramic pot with Asian motifs. She draws the eye to a brightly lit, opened book rendered with such precision that words can be read from its pages. The worn volume was one of the artist's favorite: a 1795 English translation of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's romantic novel, Paul and Virginia. The painting's frame -- contemporary with the canvas but not original -- offers its own visual surprise. The beautiful curling grain is actually painted. One trompe-l'oeil triumph supports the other.
VMFAUS_100530_0060.JPG: De Scott Evans
Free Sample, Take One, ca 1890
The history of illusionary, highly naturalistic painting in Western art is centuries old, spanning from ancient times through the Renaissance in the 17th century Golden Age of Dutch painting. In the United States, a few artists tried their hand at "deception pieces" in the 19th century, but it was not until the century's end that so-called trompe-l'oeil (fool-the-eye) imagery emerged as a popular art form.
In this painting, De Scott Evans (also known as S.S. David) pictures a distinctly American subject. Beneath a hand-scrawled card reading "Free Sample, Take One" sits a cache of peanuts -- a popular food and one of the nation's most profitable crops. The tempting pile is so precariously balanced that it seems as if it might tumble down at the least disturbance. An observant taken might also be dissuaded by the jagged edges of the glass barrier.
Evans's original chip-carved frame, to which the painted canvas is so beautifully matched, is the only known surviving example by the artist.
VMFAUS_100530_0073.JPG: Edward M. Bannister
Moonlight Marine, 1885
Painting and the sea were dual passions of Edward Mitchell Bannister, the first African American artist to receive wide-spread acclaim. After a youth spent working on ships along the Atlantic seaboard, the Canadian-born artist eventually settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where he became one of the earliest faculty members of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Best known for pastoral landscapes inspired by Jean-Francois Millet and French Barbizon school, Bannister invested his later marine subjects -- views of the Atlantic and Rhode Island coastline -- with a more experimental vision and dramatic touch. Moonlight Marine is an exceptional example of the painter's bolder mature style.
VMFAUS_100530_0081.JPG: Henry Ossawa Tanner
Christ and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee, ca 1910
To capture the mystery and drama of the story of Christ calming the waters, tanner created this small but powerful image. As a fishing boat plows through a rolling sea, its straining mast tilts sharply, signaling the power of wind and wave. Frightened passengers brace themselves in the bottom of the boat. Before them, a nearly transparent figure of Jesus stands with outstretched arms. The clouds begin to break in the distance, allowing a glimmer of sunlight to touch the bow of the beleaguered vessel.
The Pittsburgh-born Tanner had exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon for almost a decade by the time he produced this scene. His internationally acclaimed paintings prompted one French art critic to place him "among the envied ranks of the arrived." As an African American artist, his professional acceptance in the United States was hampered by racial restrictions. "I cannot fight prejudice and paint," he announced before departing for Europe in 1891. Although he returned to America for extended visits, his primary residence remained in France. Today, Tanner is celebrated as one of the nation's most significant artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
VMFAUS_100530_0093.JPG: Louis Comfort Tiffany
The Pottery Market at Nuremberg, ca 1892
Son of Charles Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Company, Louis Comfort Tiffany launched his career in 1866 as a painter, studying first with American George Inness before training abroad in Paris. Following sojourns to Spain, North Africa, and the Near East, Tiffany returned to the United States in the early 1870s, but his attention soon shifted to decorative arts. By century's end, the talented entrepreneur operated his own firms and enjoyed international fame as a top designer of leaded-glass windows and lamps as well as pottery, mosaics, jewelry, and furniture. Other outstanding examples of his work are on view nearby and in the museum's Sydney and Frances Lewis Decorative Arts Galleries.
Less known today are Tiffany's endeavors in painting. They, too, reveal the artist's fascination with various materials and surfaces. This canvas, for example, pictures a German street in which a vendor and her customers are nearly enveloped by gleaming crockery and metalwork. Tiffany exhibited it at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The painting also carried the alternative title The Pottery Market at Wurzberg.
VMFAUS_100530_0102.JPG: Henry Prellwitz
Lotus and Laurel, 1904
With its layered allusions to ancient Greece and Rome, as well as to Renaissance Italy, Prellwitz's Lotus and Laurel debuted at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the 1904 world's fair held in Saint Louis, Missouri. According to the painter, the scene represents a young man on the "road to Fortune" as he encounters "maidens of pleasure, whose symbol is the enticing lotus bloom. As he seems about to turn to the life of music, wine and love, Ambition, holding aloft the laurel wreath, recalls him."
Prellwitz came to artistic maturity during a resurgence of interest in ancient myth, literature, and history. As increasing numbers of American artists and architects studied abroad in European academies, they were encouraged to look to antiquity and the High Renaissance for examples of timeless beauty and unity. In the full flush of the so-called American Renaissance, classical figures became widely popular in painting, sculpture, illustration, architectural ornamentation, and decorative arts.
VMFAUS_100530_0111.JPG: Thomas Eakins
Miss Eleanor S.F. Pue, 1907
The celebrated Philadelphia realist Thomas Eakins was also an influential teacher. He served as the director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and professor of painting from 1882 until his controversial resignation four years later. During his tenure, the academy was known for offering the most exhaustive and "radical" art education in the country, defined by Eakins's insistence on an early introduction to painting from the nude and a "scientific" study of the human figure that required dissection classes for advanced students and anatomy lectures for all.
Miss Eleanor SD Pue, dating from later in Eakins's career, is representative of his general portrait practice and particular approach to female subjects. Uncommissioned, the painting came about through a personal invitation from the artist, who had met the 18-year-old Philadelphia at a musical soiree. Typical of so many of his portraits, it did not please the sitter; Miss Pue found it disagreeable, lacking a notable resemblance and youthful vivacity that had attracted Eakins in the first place. (One of the sitter's artist friends dubbed the portrait "goddess of murder.") Instead, the artist produced a work that expressed his fascination with Pue's "beautiful bones" and strength of character. By the time VMFA acquired this portrait, in 1945, Eakins's reputation as a "noble" and uncompromising American master was secure.
VMFAUS_100530_0119.JPG: Robert Henri
Spanish Girl of Madrid (Una Chula), 1908
A dynamic painter, teacher, and art theorist, Henri was one of the pivotal figures in American art at the beginning of the 20th century. Leader of the so-called Ashcan school, he pushed against the prevailing trends of academicism and impressionism in favor of the slice-of-life realism associated with earlier French painters such as Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet. With direct, quick strokes and a dark palette, he strove to make paintings that "express the undercurrent, the real life" of modern existence, which included gritty urban scenes and images of common, everyday people.
Bold, free brushstrokes energize this striking life-size portrait, painted by Henri during an extended visit to Spain. He positioned his attractive subject in a confrontational stance, hands on hips, and meeting the viewer's eyes with a direct, playful gaze. An entry in Henri's journal reveals that this model was a local dressmaker, which may account for a perceptible aura of pride from one whose beautiful traditional costume is likely of her own making.
VMFAUS_100530_0135.JPG: Frank Vincent Dumond
Iris, ca 1895-1902
DuMond's vibrant bearded iris appears so fresh and perfect that one could almost reach out and pluck it. A popular teacher of painting at New York's Art Students League, DuMond instructed some of the most prominent artists of the next generation -- among them Georgia O'Keeffe. His precise little iris is a harbinger of O'Keeffe's flower paintings of the early 20th century (her White Iris hangs nearby). The academically trained teacher's keen observation and comprehension of form is echoed in his famous student's more expressive work.
VMFAUS_100530_0142.JPG: Georgia O'Keeffe
White Iris, 1930
Georgia O'Keeffe's personally expressive imagery was fundamentally rooted in nature, and flowers remained a favorite subject throughout her career. White Iris may be considered a transitional work -- echoing the voluptuous florals of the 1920s that first established her reputation while anticipating her more muscular southwestern imagery that flourished after she began spending increased time in New Mexico a decade later.
The flower's elegantly sensuous curves and subtle pastel hues distinguish it from O'Keeffe's series of black irises painted in the late 1920s, works that flirted with a greater degree of abstraction. Such images were championed and promoted by O'Keeffe's dealer and husband, Alfred Stieglitz, as revealing a new "natural feminine essence" -- an interpretation that defined O'Keeffe's art throughout her life, but one that she never fully embraced.
VMFAUS_100530_0158.JPG: Arthur Dove
Mars Orange and Green, 1935
Like his colleague and friend Georgia O'Keeffe, whose White Iris hangs nearby, Arthur Dove found his subject in the natural world. His biomorphic landscapes of the Finger Lakes region of Geneva, New York, where this work was painted, was suffused with an organic abundance not unlike O'Keeffe's floral imagery. Mars Orange and Green reveals a specificity of place that resonated for many of Dove's contemporaries. O'Keeffe once explained that Dove was among her favorite painters because "he would get the feel of a particular place so completely that you'd know you'd been there."
During Dove's Geneva residency, from 1933 to 1938, he devoted himself to a systematic focus on medium and technique. The title of this picture refers to two specific paint colors the artist favored in the mid-1930s and underlies his emphasis on artistic process over basic landscape elements of trees, hills, a bird, and a cottage -- reduced here to vivid, if schematic, motifs.
VMFAUS_100530_0166.JPG: Max Weber
Black Chair, 1922
Hailed at his death as the "Dean of American Moderns," Weber is widely regarded today as an influential figure in America's first-generation avant-garde. Yet throughout most of his highly productive career, he struggled to find a distinctive voice. Black Chair, which fuses a bold painting style with a graphic exuberance, dates from a more settled and mature period in Weber's life, when he was beginning to attract greater critical acclaim and popular attention.
Having experimented from his early years with different modernist styles, Weber returned to the artist who remained his touchstone -- Paul Cezanne. The French painter's "plasticity," as Weber described it, and his theories of form and color inspired a generation of American modernists in the 1920s, a decade that witnessed a resurgence of interest in the French painter's work.
VMFAUS_100530_0175.JPG: Thomas Hart Benton
Brideship (Colonial Brides), ca 1927-28
Long after the establishment of the United States, many Americans -- including Benton -- remained fascinated with the nation's colonial beginnings. Brideship is part of the American Historical Epic -- the artist's first mural cycle, conceived in 1922 to "present a people's history."
The painting depicts an episode from the early 1620s when the Virginia Company shipped 147 "younge, handsome, and honestly educated Maides" from England to Jamestown to serve as bridges for the lonely settlers. Newly arrived, a red-haired maiden steps out on the bustling wharf and looks at a small coin in her hand. The game of chance that brought her to the New World -- a metaphorical flip of the coin -- appears to have cast her lot with the man at bottom left, who beckons to her with talon-like fingers. The model for the "bride" was the Benton's own wife, Rita, who contributed to the family income by making hats. Adding a humorous touch, the colonial maiden wears a fashionable chapeau of the 1920s.
VMFAUS_100530_0189.JPG: Thomas Hart Benton
Study for Bootleggers, ca 1927
Determined not to idealize the past, Benton sometimes explored the more unseemly aspects of the American story. In this study for Bootleggers (Reynolda House Museum of American Art), the final canvas in his American Historical Epic, the artist turned to issues of her own era. Politically astute -- he was the son of Missouri congressman and the grandnephew of the state's first senator -- Benton offers commentary about the failed polices and corrupting influences of Prohibition, the 1920 federal law restricting the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Overlapping vignettes picture an active black market in which a bootlegger sells directly to a moneyed client while a man carries a crate of whiskey to a waiting airplane. Beneath a distant overpass and under the nose of a complicit policeman, gunmen hijack a truck conveying the illicit cargo. By filling the scene with speeding trains, a sleek airplane, cars, trucks, and telephone lines, Benton suggests that modern technology aids both progress and crime alike.
VMFAUS_100530_0205.JPG: Konrad Cramer
Glass Bowl of Fruit, 1928
This modern work is inspired by a 19th-century form of folk painting known as a "theorem" -- a still life made using stencils to paint on velvet. Countless early modernists, like Konrad Cramer, were fascinated with the potent form and emotional content of American folk art, particularly its dialogue between abstraction and representation.
Emigrating from Germany at age twenty-three. Cramer spent his career experimenting with modernist painting and photography in the progressive artist colony of Woodstock, New York. According to his wife, Florence, he "took up photography to clarify aesthetic issues in painting," such as representation, space, and symbol -- all evident in this dynamic still life.
VMFAUS_100530_0212.JPG: Florine Stettheimer
Russian Bank, 1921
Florine Stettheimer -- painter, poet, and designer of theatrical sets and costumes -- spent much of her youth abroad, studying art in Germany and France. At the outbreak of World War I, her family returned to New York and quickly came to dominate the city's progressive art circles. Moving away from conventional academic practice, Stettheimer developer her own self-consciously "naive" modernism of simple forms and vivid colors, derived from both European and Asian sources. She is best known for a series of "conversation-piece" portraits depicting her illustrious friends and family with a wry intimacy and warmth.
In Russian Bank, Stettheimer captures the bright sanctuary of a walled garden within the bustle of Manhattan. The title refers to the card game played by her sisters, Carrie and Ettie, at left. The artist pictures herself exiting the garden in the distance, watering can in hand.
VMFAUS_100530_0220.JPG: Bumpei Usui
14th Street, 1924
Bumpei Usui belonged to a large Japanese American circle active in the progressive art world of New York between the two world wars. Born in Nagano, Japan, he was raised on a silkworm farm before moving to London in 1917. Usui settled in New York in 1921, establishing a trade in designing furniture and frames for a wide range of clients. Through his frame work, he became interested in art and began painting.
The glowing palette, matte finish, and expressive line of 14th Street are representative of Usui's most admired work. The picture's subject and style suggest a precisionist approach -- a term first applied in the 1920s to a diverse group of artists who favored precisely delineated form, composition, and subject matter to express the new industrial aesthetic of modernism. The precisionists took as their primary subject the simple geometric forms of machines and urban life -- particularly skyscrapers.
VMFAUS_100530_0232.JPG: Richmond Barthe
Booker T. Washington, 1928
Born to Creole parents in Mississippi, Richmond Barthe studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, emerging as a leading figure of the so-called New Negro Movement, or the Harlem Renaissance, of the 1920s. An important early encounter with Alain Locke -- author of the 1925 anthology The New Negro: An Interpretation, which inspired the flourishing cultural movement -- coupled with a grant from the Chicago-based Rosenwald Foundation, allowed Barthe to relocate to Manhattan in 1929.
This striking bust of Virginia-born Booker T. Washington, famed political leader, educator, and proponent of black self-help, belongs to Barthe's 1928 portrait series of eminent African Americans, as does the nearby image of Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first black poets to achieve national acclaim. (Other works in the series depict artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and historical political leader Toussaint L'Ouverture.) The Washington and Dunbar busts man have been featured in an exhibition of "American Negro Artists," sponsored by the Harmon Foundation. Established in 1922, the foundation was the first to support and promote the work of African American artists through juried exhibitions.
VMFAUS_100530_0240.JPG: Richmond Barthe
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1928
VMFAUS_100530_0249.JPG: Paul Manship
Flight of Europa, 1925
Beautifully balanced, both technically and aesthetically, Flight of Europa exemplifies Manship's mature Art Deco style. With sleek modeling, he depicts a scene from Greek mythology. According to legend, Princess Europa became so intrigued with the docility of a magnificent bull that she climbed onto its back. Taking advantage of her trust, the bull -- actually a disguised Zeus, king of the gods -- kidnapped her and carried her across the sea. On the island of Crete, Zeus revealed himself in human form and took her as a lover.
Manship's muscular bull stretches his legs to soar above a school of swimming dolphins. His undulating bulk contrasts dramatically with his delicate, upright passenger. A prim Europa, looking backward, seems unconcerned about her journey. As a winged Eros whispers in her ear, a tiny smile plays across her lips -- suggestive of archaic Greek sculpture that the artist deeply admired.
VMFAUS_100530_0264.JPG: Manierre Dawson
The Struggle, 1912
This dynamic, nearly nonobjective painting by the Chicagoan Manierre Dawson aptly crystalizes the struggle of many young American artists to reconcile the traditional and revolutionary ways of seeing in the early 20th century. Despite his status as one of the country's first pioneers of abstraction, Dawson is less known than his New York-based modernist contemporaries -- particular those associated with photographer, gallery owner, and tastemaker Alfred Stieglitz (for example, Marsden Hartley, Max Weber, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O'Keeffe, whose works hang nearby).
Dawson worked in an architectural firm until 1914, when he turned exclusively to painting. Like many young artists, he was inspired by the 1913 Armory Show, recording in his journal. "These are without question the most exciting days of my life." Dawson's introduction to the work of European and American modernists encouraged him to develop an abstract pictorial language. This striking figural abstraction belongs to a series the artist termed "museum" paintings. Inspired by his European discoveries and echoing Cezanne's famous wish to make pictures "like those found in the museums," Dawson sought to update traditional Old Master subjects (drawn from antiquity and the Renaissance) with avant-garde compositional strategies.
VMFAUS_100530_0275.JPG: Charles Warren Eaton
Glacier Park (Montana), ca 1921
With technological advances in transportation, early-20th-century artists gained easier access to wilderness areas. Glacier Park is one of several paintings Eaton made during a visit to the new national park in the summer of 1921. Shortly after his return to New York, his canvases traveled as part of the Great Northern Railway's "See America First" campaign tour. Reviewing the exhibition, a critic praised Eaton's sensitivity to "the solitude and grandeur of high mountains" and summed up the artist's style as the embodiment of "quietness."
A pervasive, hushed mood is characteristic of Eaton's work. Early in his career, he became an adherent of tonalism -- an approach that softens contours and limits the palette to slight gradations of similar hues. Influenced by the earlier poetic landscapes of the French Barbizon painters and the muted harmonies of James McNeill Whistler, American tonalists were also indebted to George Inness. In the early 1890s, the well-known artist (whose work hangs in a nearby gallery) befriended Eaton, sharing painting methods as well as his Swedenborgian belief that art can convey a subject's spiritual essence through color and form.
VMFAUS_100530_0289.JPG: Richard La Barre Goodwin
Hunter's Cabin Door, ca 1895
Along with William Harnett and John Peto, Goodwin was a leading practitioner of trompe-l'oeil still-life painting at the end of the 19th century. Known for his illusionary compositions of wild game hanging upon rustic doors, Goodwin was an active sportsman who -- as he wrote to this painting's first owner -- enjoyed the "shooting and fishing grounds."
In 1905, the actual door from Theodore Roosevelt's hunting cabin was exhibited in Oregon during the centennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Paying homage to that popular president, Goodwin produced and exhibited Theodore Roosevelt's Cabin Door, a painting strikingly similar to this earlier canvas. Both works evoke the abundance of the nation's wilderness regions, the preservation of which became one of Roosevelt's most cherished causes.
VMFAUS_100530_0297.JPG: Thomas Moran
Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley, 1904
At the turn of the 20th century, Moran was America's preeminent painter of western landscape. For over three decades, the artist traveled into the wilds of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and California to capture the compelling natural elements and vistas still inaccessible to all but the most intrepid explorers. Returning to his studio in the East, he transformed his plein-air drawings into some of the most celebrated and influential landscape paintings, prints, and illustrations of his era.
This scene, based on field sketches made during his 1904 visit to Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, depicts majestic Bridalveil Fall as it thunders down to the face of a sheer granite cliff. Radiant in late-afternoon sunlight, the cascade strikes the valley floor behind a screen of iridescent mist.
VMFAUS_100530_0307.JPG: Thomas Moran
Yellowstone River, ca 1871-72
Making his first western sojourn in 1871, Moran accompanied the US Geological and Geographical Survey, led by Ferdinand V. Hayden, to Wyoming's Yellowstone region. During the expedition, he produced numerous watercolor sketches of the dramatic terrain, including this river vista. The following year, Moran's detailed and awe-inspiring images, along with the team's scientific reports and documentary photographs, helped convince Congress to pass legislation setting aside Yellowstone as America's first national park.
In subsequent decades, Moran continued his far-ranging journeys, visiting other western wilderness sties; he also made sketching trips to Great Britain, Venice, Cuba, and Mexico. However, the artist's fame and fortune remained forever linked with his early Wyoming travels. Indeed, by the 1880s, he had assumed the popular moniker Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran.
VMFAUS_100530_0316.JPG: S. A. Weller Pottery Company
Decorated by Karl Kappes
Vase, ca 1895-1918
Only five years after the federal government's decades-long Indian Wars closed with a final battle at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the SA Weller Pottery Company produced this vase picturing a somber Native American man. During the efflorescence of American art pottery production -- generally between 1876 and 1918 -- figural decoration was uncommon. Nevertheless, the prolific Weller Company, alongside its Cincinnati-based rival Rookwood Pottery, found a growing marker for ceramics picturing "Indian Chiefs." Upper middle-class patrons, inspired by the broader Arts and Crafts movement's reverence for "natural" themes and American subject matter, developed interest in Native American crafts and motifs.
Romanticized and nostalgic, the various Indian portraits pictured on the ceramics were hand-painted copies of documentary images borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution -- and, as one scholar has determined, from local photographs of a group of Sicangu Sioux that made camp at the Cincinnati Zoo after being abandoned by one of the traveling Buffalo Bill Wild West shows.
VMFAUS_100530_0327.JPG: Childe Hassam
The Flag, Fifth Avenue, 1918
Throughout a length career depicting various subjects, Hassam was drawn to the city as a theme. As a young Bostonian, he produced delicately brushed street scenes in tonal Barbizon-inspired hues. Study in Paris in the late 1880s reinforced his interest in urban views, which he defined in expressive brushstrokes -- a stylistic shift revealing exposure to French Impressionism, though the determinedly nationalistic Hassam denied the influence. At century's end, the painter relocated to New York City, where rising skyscrapers captured his imagination and populated his canvases.
The Flag, Fifth Avenue is part of a larger series of paintings that were inspired by patriotic displays held during World War I. Whereas most of the related canvases present lively, colorful views of flags billowing above the city's grant avenues, this scene is muted and still. An oversize American flag hangs prominently before a sweeping vista of the city, but the high-rise view also takes in the upper floors of unremarkable buildings and untidy clusters of rooftop sheds. Although refined y Hassam's characteristic shimmer of broken brushwork, it is a prosaic glimpse more aligned with the realist sensibilities of the Ashcan artists -- a group the painter nonetheless dismissed as his "contemporaries."
VMFAUS_100530_0338.JPG: Frederick Carl Frieseke:
Blue Interior: Giverny (The Red Ribbon), ca 1912-13
"I try as much as possible to make a mirror of the canvas," Frieseke commented in 1914, two years after his impressionist interiors, garden scenes, and figure studies first captured the attention of American collectors. Living in the little French village of Giverny, made famous by Monet and his gardens, the Michigan-born Frieseke was admired by Europeans before he became one of America's best-known artists. By the end of his life, however, the prevailing winds of abstractions had swept him aside.
Yet Blue Interior contains the seeds of that very abstraction. By dragging a dry brush over the canvas, Frieseke created a vibrant surface of pattern, color and form, tempered by a cool luminosity. He controlled the difficult square format, a hallmark for modernist thinking in the early 20th century, by placing his subject just off center and animating her with a slight twist.
VMFAUS_100530_0349.JPG: Childe Hassam
Isles of Shoals (Girl and the Sea, Isles of Shoals), 1912
Fluid and vibrant, Hassam's Isles of Shoals explores the elemental boundaries of water, air, and earth. Painted by one of America's foremost impressionists at the turn of the 20th century, it positions a seated nude at the ocean's edge. In the sharply tilted setting, she is visually enveloped by the sea, laid down in countless horizontal strokes of azure, gray, and turquoise. The oil is among the numerous coastal views that Hassam completed during regular summer visits to the Isles of Shoals, a cluster of islands off the New Hampshire coast. There he found inspiration, rejuvenation, and the friendship of poet and island resident Celia Laighton Thaxter, whose lyrical gardening book his illustrated.
Like James McNeill Whistler and Charles Caryl Coleman before him, Hassam took an interest in designing his frames. This one, not original to the work, uses the letter H as a decorative motif.
VMFAUS_100530_0358.JPG: Mary Cassatt
Child Picking a Fruit, 1893
A talented painter, pastelist, and printmaking, Mary Cassatt occupies a unique place in the history of American art. Her early alliance with the French impressionists -- she was the only American to exhibit with the avant-garde group in Paris -- established her reputation as one of this country's most important artists.
Child Picking a Fruit merges the subject that made Cassatt famous -- a young woman (possibly a mother) and child -- with her more ambitious examination of "modern woman," a topical theme at the turn of the century as the women's suffrage movement gained momentum. The image derives from the artist's now-lost Modern Woman mural commission, produced for the Woman's Building of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. For this prestigious world's fair, Cassatt presented her allegorical subject in a three-panel lunette. The large central panel, Young Women Plucking the Fruits of Knowledge, featured women of different ages, clad in contemporary dress and communally harvesting fruit from an orchard. The deep-rooted association of women and children with the natural world appeared with greater frequency in turn-of-the-century imagery.
VMFAUS_100530_0368.JPG: Mary Cassatt
The Banjo Lesson, 1894
The theme of shared female experience shapes the form and content of Cassatt's The Banjo Lesson. Likening "plucking the fruits of knowledge" to plucking the strings of a musical instrument, Cassatt explored the subject in a series of experimental pastels and color prints soon after completing her allegorical Modern Woman mural for the 1893 Chicago world's fair, in which the motif also appears. The popularity of the banjo, a distinctively American instrument (with African roots), spread across racial, gender, and class lines in the 1880s. In addition to pastel, Cassatt rendered this image in drypoint and aquatint; VMFA also owns one of these rare etchings.
VMFAUS_100530_0377.JPG: John Leslie Breck
Grey Day on the Charles, 1894
Born in France, Impressionism quickly captured the American imagination in Boston, where artists and collectors pursued paintings by Claude Monet and his contemporaries. Having visited Monet's home in Giverny in 1877, Breck was one of the earliest Americans to produce a modified version of the new style. He incorporated a light, bright impressionist palette; but, like most of his American colleagues who adopted the approach, he retained a somewhat conservative dedication to drawing and structure. Journalists quickly dubbed Breck the "Head of the American Impressionists" -- a title he held until his premature death in 1899.
Avoiding the sweeping, panoramic landscapes popular earlier in the 19th century, American impressionists favored intimate glimpses of nature. Like their French counterparts, they often depicted idyllic rural retreats on the outskirts of industrialized urban centers. In Breck's Grey Day, Boston lies just a few miles down the Charles River, out of sight and out of mind.
VMFAUS_100530_0386.JPG: John Singer Sargent
Mrs. Albert Vickers (Edith Foster Vickers), 1884
Edith Foster Vickers, wife of a newly rich British manufacturer who would number among Sargent's most important early patrons, is dressed for an evening in the country. An up-to-the-minute bustle and boned bodice ornament her custom-made Aesthetic gown. A stylistic amalgam of the popular late-19th century conception of earlier English styles, the dress reveals the sitter's progressive taste and willing collaboration with Sargent on the portrait's conceptualization. This artful historicism was praised y critics in Paris and London. One went so far as to link Mrs. Vickers's eerily distinctive appearance to the haunted heroines of Edgar Allan Poe.
Mrs. Albert Vickers is one of four early full-length portraits by Sargent showcasing his updated Old Master style. Its novelty attracted enormous international attention and led sculptor Auguste Rodin to name him "the Van Dyck of our times."
VMFAUS_100530_0395.JPG: Robert Henri
Her Sunday Shawl, 1924
Throughout his long career, Henri traveled extensively and, ever the humanist, enjoyed depicting individuals of diverse ages, races, and nationalities. Visits to Achill Island, Ireland, in the 1910s and 1920s brought him the opportunity to paint some of his favorite subjects -- small children. "Feel the dignity of a child. Do not feel superior to him, for you are not," Henri advised students in his influential book The Art Spirit, published in 1923. The following year, he captured the quick intelligence of Sarah Burke as she peeked out of her voluminous Sunday shawl with bright, impish eyes.
VMFAUS_100530_0403.JPG: William Glackens
Boys with Sled, Washington Square, ca 1912
An original member of the so-called Ashcan group of urban realists as well as the rebellious "Eight," William Glackens began his career as an artist-reporter working for newspapers and magazines. When he turned to painting, under the guidance of Robert Henri, he retained his sketchlike aesthetic, capturing vivid crowd scenes in New York's streets and parks, such as this work.
VMFAUS_100530_0410.JPG: John Sloan
Stein at Window, Sixth Avenue, 1918
As rapid social change increasingly characterized urban America, Sloan and his Ashcan colleagues reassured themselves and their patrons by tempering the new with the old. Here, the painter has chosen a traditional subject: an artist's model in the studio, wearing a colorful silk tunic and surrounded by artworks. But his sitter, Efzenka Stein -- a working-class emigre from Bohemia -- is not the type of idealized beauty that graced the paintings of the previous generation. With a subtle swipe at earlier convention, Sloan pictures her on a well-worn "Morris" chair, seemingly oblivious to the artistic assemblage at her feet: a framed painting, ceramic pot, and bit of blue-and-white china, the cliched icon of late-19th-century Aestheticism, Stein fixes her gaze out the window to take in one of New York City's bustling neighborhoods. Amid the jumble of buildings, an American flag waves and a commuter train clatters by on the elevated railway.
VMFAUS_100530_0424.JPG: Samuel Woolf
The Under World, ca 1909-10
This spirited depiction of turn-of-the-century urban commuters suggests the picturesque aesthetic of the Ashcan group. Similar to the popular imagery of those better-known artists, The Under World reveals a fascination with public and private life in the modern metropolis. Also like the Ashcan painters, Samuel Woolf began his career as an artist-journalist -- "with a strong sense of drama, of realism"; he later specialized in portraits of presidents and celebrities.
Woolf's vivid portrayal or urban characters -- the "showgirl" and her "protector," messenger boy, immigrant family -- examines the mixing of class, gender, and ethnicity that occurs on the New York subway (the Interborough Rapid Transit, or IRT), which opened its first line, between city hall and West 145th Street, in 1904.
VMFAUS_100530_0429.JPG: Guy Pene Du Bois
Dining Out, 1918
Guy Pene du Bois, a multitalented modernist painter and critic, studied with turn-of-the-century America's two leading art teachers, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, whose work is displayed nearby. Descended from a venerable Louisiana Creole family, Pene du Bois is best known for his often biting depictions of upper-class urban society, both at home and abroad. This work, with its milder social commentary, reveals the artist's fascination with stylized "faces and forms."
VMFAUS_100530_0440.JPG: Jerome Myers
East Side Entertainment, ca 1920
Born in Petersburg, Virginia, Jerome Myers moved frequently throughout his childhood, settling permanently in New York at the age of nineteen. While working as a commercial artist, he attended classes at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League. He later came under the influence of Robert Henri, whose realist aesthetic inspired a number of young artists and illustrators. While Myers was not formally a member of Henri's so-called Ashcan group, he gravitated to similar subject matter -- namely, the urban spectacle.
East Side Entertainment, with its colorful players and "picturesque fringe" of an audience, is representative of Myer's strongest work. One of the first New York realists to paint the Eastern European and Italian immigrant neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, he quickly made the subject his own, observing that whereas "others saw ugliness and degradation there... I saw poetry and beauty."
VMFAUS_100530_0448.JPG: Maxfield Parrish
Little Sugar River at Noon, ca 1922-24
This vibrant scene is among a handful of paintings produced by Maxfield Parrish for his own pleasure. Although the beauty of nature inspired him throughout his long life, the artist's noncommissioned landscapes were few, especially during the 1920s when his commercial imagery was garnering extraordinary success.
The specificity of the painting's title, Little Sugar River, as well as the naturalistic treatment of an identifiable New England setting at an essential moment, differentiates it from Parrish's other landscapes, particularly those he later produced for calendar and greeting card company Brown and Bigelow. Having famously sworn off figurative work for landscapes in 1932, Parrish spent the next quarter of a century painting nearly one hundred idyllic representations of sunny New England days and wintry nights on commission. Imbued with cheerful sentiment, these images were eagerly consumed by the World War II generation in their longing for domestic stability and serenity.
While Little Sugar River also resonates with themes of "American-ness" in its sense of place (New Hampshire as Yankee heart-land), it conveys a greater sense of realism in its plein-air exactness. One contemporary wrote of this remarkable verisimilitude, which Parrish achieved through a painstaking technique of drawing and glazing. "The overall impression when you view a Parrish picture is that you're looking into and through the painting, not just at it."
VMFAUS_100530_0459.JPG: George Bellows
Shipyard Society, 1916
A realist painter celebrated for his forceful depictions of urban life -- from street and park scenes to the gritty world of boxing -- Bellows, like many of his New York colleagues, spent summers in cooler climes, usually by the sea. In 1916 he traveled to Camden, Maine, where he encountered a new subject; Shipyard Society is one of five works Bellows painted on the theme of shipbuilding.
The 1914 outbreak of World War I in Europe had been a boon to Maine shipbuilding and the industry's physical and social dimensions were an irresistible draw for the artist. Explaining this appeal in the rhetoric or wartime patriotism, Bellow spoke of the shipbuilder's noble craft and its impact of his imagination. Yet this engaging painting is as concerned with the spectacle of the construction effort as with the physical work itself. The cast of multigenerational characters -- conversing, flirting, scratching -- introduces a sense of warmth and humor to the scene.
VMFAUS_100530_0473.JPG: Daniel Garber
Old Church, Carversville, 1916
Daniel Garber, who trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, became an important proponent for the continuation of impressionism in early-20th-century American painting. A leading member of the so-called Pennsylvania impressionists, Garber and his colleagues Edward Redfield and Walter Schofield helped to establish the Bucks County town of New Hope as an important art colony and regional center for landscape. Equally accomplished as a figure painter (given his academic training), Garber excelled in lush vistas exploring the decorative qualities of light and pattern in villages along the Delaware River. This painting, with its custom-designed Arts and Crafts frame, showcases Garber's regional aesthetic while revealing broader cultural impulses such as the Colonial Revival.
VMFAUS_100530_0479.JPG: Ernest Lawson
Cape Anne, ca 1915
VMFAUS_100530_0486.JPG: John Sloan
Swenson's Truck Patch, 1918
Like other urban realists, John Sloan gravitated to artist colonies for the summer months. During World War I, he lived in the cape Anne fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts, a long-popular haunt for artists -- including his "Eight" colleague Ernest Lawson, whose harbor scene hangs nearby. It was there that Sloan first began to work outdoors, systematically lightening his palette and embracing a more fluid approach to painting. This brightly colored image of local farmers suggests the influence of European "moderns" such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne, whose work Sloan had admired and studied at New York's influential Armory Show a few years earlier.
VMFAUS_100530_0492.JPG: Arthur B. Davies
Line of Mountains, ca 1913
A complex artist, Davies was associated with realist and modernists trends at different points in his career. However, his relationship to both was more administrative than aesthetic. A friend of dealer William Macbeth, Davies was partly responsible for "The Eight" exhibition, which laid the groundwork for modernism in America and featured, in addition to his paintings, the work of Robert Henri, William Glackens, Ernest Lawson, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. As president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, Davies also played a key role in the planning of the 1913 Armory Show, America's first in-depth introduction to both European and American modern art.
Despite these progressive stances, Davies largely resisted both realism and modernism in his own imagery. In mythical and allegorical fantasies like Like of Mountains, lithe figures cavort in pastoral settings. The poetic "innocence" of these personal, almost symbolist idylls resonates more with the work of the 19th-century artists Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Albert Pinkham Ryder than with that of his colleagues from "The Eight" exhibition.
VMFAUS_100530_0501.JPG: Maurice Prendergast
Salem, ca 1918
Boston-based Maurice Prendergast participated in the famous "Eight" exhibition of 1908, the first of many challenges that led to the greater visibility of modern art in America. While he shared his colleagues' interest in modern amusements and vibrant crowd scenes -- evidenced by this image of strollers in Salem, Massachusetts -- stylistically, Prendergast stood apart from the other independent artists' predominantly realist approach.
By the late 1890s, Prendergast had developed a distinctive (even radical, by conventional American standards) approach to painting. His early studies in Paris had introduced him to the broken brushwork and vivid colors of the Post-Impressionists, particularly the Nabis and the so-called pointillists. This painting, produced in Prendergast's mature style, demonstrates his increasingly tactile and tapestry-like imagery, with its emphasis on abstract qualities of color and form.
VMFAUS_100530_0530.JPG: Severin Roesen
The Abundance of Nature, ca 1855
A celebration of nature's bounty, this grand painting illustrates fourteen different types of flowers of fifteen varieties of fruit. Careful inspection also reveals ladybugs, a tiny bird's nest filled with eggs, and studio windows reflected in a wine glass. The artist cleverly formed his signature in vine tendrils at the lower right corner of the canvas.
Roesen, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1848, is considered the leading practitioner of still-llife paintings of mid-19th century America. This work is his largest known canvas. The seemingly objective representation of an abundant display is actually an idealized studio fabrication of fruit and flowers that ripen or bloom in different seasons.
For decades, The Abundance of Nature hung in the dining room at Estourteville in Albemarle County, Virginia. A fitting location for this masterful work, the estate was long renowned for its profuse flower gardens and fruit orchards.
VMFAUS_100530_0539.JPG: Thomas Cole
View of Mount Edna, ca 1842
Thomas Cole, considered the founder of the Hudson River school, is most celebrated for his naturalistic landscapes of New York's Catskills region. Yet, he also had a deep reverence for Italian painting and Old World scenery, as this work suggests. A southern view of the iconic volcano looming over a fertile Sicilian valley, the oil is one of approximately six versions of Cole's favorite Italian subject: he called Mount Etna "one of the grandest scenes in the world." In such imagery, the artist celebrated Italy's many natural and historic wonders, rendering them with an aesthetic grandeur and rich symbolism in his pursuit of a more elevated form of landscape painting.
VMFAUS_100530_0548.JPG: Samuel F. B. Morse
Contadina at the Shrine of the Madonna, ca 1830
Best known for his 1838 invention of the electromagnetic telegraph and its signaling code, Samuel Morse began is wide-ranging career as an important figure in the New York art world. A successful portrait painter and administrator, he served from 1826 to 1845 as the founding president of the National Academy of Design, New York's leading artist-run organization.
Morse, who had studied in England under Benjamin West, did not visit Italy until 1830 during a European trip financed by patrons. In the company of Virginia artist John Gadsby Chapman, he traveled first to Tivoli and the Sabine Hills, outside of Rome. Morse and Chapman were among the earliest Americans to paint the picturesque hill towns, long popular with European artists. In addition, Morse may have been the first to focus on a scene from daily life -- a Catholic villager worshipping at a roadside shrine -- which became a popular subject with American artists (who were largely Protestant) in subsequent decades.
VMFAUS_100530_0562.JPG: Joshua Shaw
An Italianate Landscape, ca 1820-50
After emigrating from England to Philadelphia in 1817, Joshua Shaw quickly established himself as one of America's first landscape painters. His topographical sketches and watercolors were widely disseminated as prints -- notably in the publication Picturesque Views of American Scenery (1820-21). Some of his scenes were also reproduced as decorative motifs on fine ceramics.
Not all of Shaw's images were based on actual views; many, like An Italianate Landscape, were imagined vistas that reveal the artist's understanding of picturesque landscape conventions developed earlier in Europe.
VMFAUS_100530_0578.JPG: Frederic Edwin Church
In the Tropics, 1856
Frederic Church -- one of the key artists associated with the Hudson River school movement -- was fascinated with the theories of German naturalist-explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Seeking a more scientific approach to landscape painting, he followed von Humboldt's earlier expedition route through South America. In the Tropics, a composition based on Church's field sketches in Ecuador, visually echoes von Humboldt's celebration of a land where "different climates ranged the one above the other." The painting offers a study in contrasts, layering dark volcanic formations against sun-filled valleys, verdant undergrowth against the arid savanna, and the moist humidity of lowland tropics against the white contours of Mount Chimborazo's frozen summit.
VMFAUS_100530_0595.JPG: Rembrandt Peale
George Washington, ca 1840s
This iconic image of America's founding president made Rembrandt Peale's reputation. The second son of renowned portraitist Charles Wilson Peale (who named his children after famous artists of the past), the precocious Rembrandt, at age seventeen, painted Washington during a sitting his father arranged in Philadelphia. He alternated his work there with the celebrated painter Gilbert Stuart. Peale went on to produce more than ten copies of this life portrait. A quarter of a century later, he created a new image of Washington, which he hoped would become the "standard likeness" of the first president.
By blending portraiture with history painting, Peale invented a bust-length composition that drew from other famous renderings of Washington -- by Stuart, John Trumbull, and, especially, Jean-Antoine Houdon. Known as the Patriae Pater (Father of His Country) or "porthole" portrait, Peale's mild and dignified leader set against a cloudy sky was heralded by Thomas Jefferson as an "everlasting remembrance." The countless oil replicas of the image, including this version, fueled the rising hero worship of Washington throughout the 19th century.
VMFAUS_100530_0614.JPG: Rembrandt Peale
John Marshall, 1834
Virginia's own John Marshall was appointed third chief justice of the United States in 1801 by President John Adams. Marshall is credited with establishing the Supreme Court as an equal branch of the federal government and with developing the American legal system. His death on July 6, 1835, was marked with public displays of grieving. In Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell cracked while being rung in tribute.
Like his father, Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale studied with Benjamin West in London. However, he was more influenced by the French neoclassical tradition of Jacques-Louis David, whose work he encountered in Paris. While there, Peale also developed an interest in the pseudoscience of phrenology, which argued that an individual's physical features could disclose character and temperament. This portrait, which reveals both French influences, was likely painted from life in preparation for a larger and more formal depiction of Marshall now in the collection of the U.S. Supreme Court. That work was intended as a pendant to Peale's Patriae Pater image of Washington, a later version of which hangs on the opposite side of this wall.
VMFAUS_100530_0627.JPG: Benjamin West
Three Ladies Making Music, 1798
American-born Benjamin West resided in England, where he gained an international reputation for history paintings, such as his Caesar Reading the History of Alexander's Exploits, on view in the previous gallery. Three Ladies Making Music, painted late in his career, is one of West's rare genre paintings. The elegant composition showcases social graces and neoclassical tastes of the period. One musician wears the latest hate, fashioned after the helmet of an ancient warrior, while her friend at right arranged herself on a modified Greek-style klismos chair.
The simplified linear forms of the three figures suggest West's familiarity with the recently published illustrations of John Flaxman, whose attenuated classical figures were further popularized as motifs on Wedgewood's ceramic jasperware. West's embrace of genre painting in the 1790s may also reveal a broader motive. Such images were seen as distinctly English by tradition. After war broke out with revolutionary France in 1793, the genre's celebration of native English ways took on a decidedly patriotic dimension.
VMFAUS_100530_0642.JPG: Alvan Fisher
A Roadside Meeting: Winter, 1815
New Englander Alvan Fischer made the most of the region's long winters, often painting snowy landscapes. His winter series of 1814-15 is among the first attempts in American art to depict the frigid season. While such imagery has 17th-century Dutch precedents, an 1835 newspaper review praised Fisher for choosing to paint the New England countryside, calling the subject a "truly American" one. The rural simplicity Fisher evokes has since become a touchstone for national nostalgia.
America's first native landscape specialist and an early genre painter, Fisher also produced a number of paintings of the era's famous racehorses. Examples of these can be seen in the museum's Paul Mellon sporting art galleries.
VMFAUS_100530_0656.JPG: Artist Unknown, called the Payne Limner
Alexander Spotswood Payne and His Brother John Robert Dandridge Payne, with Their Nurse, ca 1790-91
Taking residence in the manor house at New Market, a large plantation in Goochland County, Virginia, an unknown artist painted ten portraits of the family of Archer and Martha Payne. This depiction of their son Alexander, his baby brother John, and an enslaved nursemaid is among them.
The obviously self-taught artist, known today as Payne Limner, struggled with anatomy and composition (evidence of his changes are visible on the canvas). Still, he managed to capture something of his subject's appearances. He also conveyed the family's privileged circumstances through setting, clothing, and the addition of the unnamed African American girl, whose legal status as a slave rendered her valuable taxable "property." Despite recent Revolutionary rhetoric about liberty and freedom -- including the famous speech by Archer Payne's relation Patrick Henry -- an economic system based on slave labor would continue in the South for another seventy-five years.
VMFAUS_100530_0663.JPG: Thomas Jefferson Wright
William Major of "Fairview" Plantation, Culpeper County, Virginia, 1831
In his portrayal of a prosperous couple from Culpeper County, Virginia, Wright produced a dynamic record of individual personalities and middle-class mores of the 1830s. While betraying the itinerant artist's lack of training, the portraits nevertheless convey a sense of strength and stability in his sitters. They also reveal the emerging notion of separate gender spheres, which associated men with public and women with private life. Two views occupy the corners of the paintings. William Major, who is given a man's outside perspective, is connected to the wider world of business and politics through his newspaper. Elizabeth Major's accompanying view locates her firmly in the home. Within its white gates, however, this mother of nine exerts moral authority over the domestic realm: her folded glasses and hand lay atop the Bible.
VMFAUS_100530_0668.JPG: Thomas Jefferson Wright
Elizabeth Thatcher Corbin Major of "Fairview" Plantation, Culpeper County, Virginia, 1831
VMFAUS_100530_0676.JPG: William Wetmore Story
Cleopatra, modeled 1858, carved 1865
Cleopatra represents the high point of America's taste for neo-classical sculpture in the mid-19th century. Leader of the second generation of expatriate sculptors residing in Italy, Story produced a monumental image of the brooding Egyptian queen. Seated on a throne, she leans back as if to contemplate past and future deeds.
After American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne saw the clay model for Cleopatra in Story's Roman studio, he described it in his novel The Marble Faun (1860). Immortalizing the artwork before it was carved in stone, he declared it a "miraculous success" and continued:
"Cleopatra -- fierce, voluptuous, passionate, tender, wicked, terrible, and full of poisonous and rapturous enchantment ... she would be one of the images that men keep forever, finding a heat in them which does not cool down, throughout the centuries."
Story went on to produce several full-scale idealized figures -- many of them powerful women from history and mythology. His Cleopatra, however, remained one of the best-known American sculptures of the century.
VMFAUS_100530_0703.JPG: Junius Brutus Stearns
Washington as a Farmer at Mount Vernon, 1851
The years surrounding 1849, the fiftieth anniversary of Washington's death, saw new interest in the first American president. A flurry of public and private tributes included an ambitious series of large oil paintings by Junius Stearns, most of them popularized through lithographic prints. The five canvases -- four of which are now in VMFA's collection -- highlight aspects of Washington's life.
Washington as Farmer pictures the retired president inspecting the wheat harvest at his Virginia plantation. Conversing with his overseer, Washington gestures toward several enslaved field workers, while his two adopted grandchildren play nearby. Behind them, a team of horses, one dark and one light, suggests a harmonious system of cooperation. The idealized vision, however, belied the growing national furor over the question of slavery. The Compromise of 1850, a tenuous congressional agreement between North and South, was already unraveling.
VMFAUS_100530_0725.JPG: George Catlin
Buffalo Chase (Month of the Teton River), 1865-70
Aware that Native Americans were at ever-increasing risk from war, forced relocation, and newly introduced diseases, Catlin traveled to the western frontier in the 1830s to record their appearances and customs. For seven years, the self-taught artist and amateur ethnologist visited numerous tribes and painted nearly five hundred portraits and genre scenes. After returning east, he found widespread success by touring his paintings in the United States and Europe, reproducing images as prints, and publishing his travel accounts in a series of books.
Catlin's Buffalo Chase, based on an earlier, 1832 painting, pictures the kind of high drama he witnessed on the South Dakota plains. Hunting with the Sioux, the artist observed that the naturally timid bison might unexpectedly turn and attack with its sharp horns. "The finest horses are often destroyed," he noted in his journal, "but the Indian, with his superior sagacity and dexterity, generally finds some effective mode of escape."
VMFAUS_100530_0733.JPG: William Ranney
Wounded Hound, 1850
In the 1840s and 1850s, Ranney gained acclaim for his genre scenes of trappers, mountain men, and hunters. He employed Old World artistic traditions to celebrate the pioneering spirit and natural resources of the New World. Here, he pictures a man kneeling to examine an injured hunting dog. She sits trustingly under his care while another hunter looks on. The reassuring stability of their composition, with its monumental figures and steady light source, suggests a positive outcome to the day's mishap. The Bible-literate audience of the era may have also recognized an allusion to the Good Shepherd.
Ranney had firsthand knowledge of frontier life, having served with the army of the Republic of Texas in its war against Mexico. The artist later created his paintings in a New Jersey studio filled, as one eye witness recorded, with "old flint-lock guns, pistols... saddles and riding gear... belonging to the early history of our land."
VMFAUS_100530_0750.JPG: Jasper Francis Cropsey
Mt. Jefferson, Pinkham Notch, White Mountains, 1857
This canvas testifies to Cropsey's well-earned renown as America's painter of autumn. He belonged to the core group of artists that became known as the Hudson River school -- though they were never an organized group. After regular sketching trips to regional forests and mountains, the artist returned to their New York City studios to produce landscapes for an approving urban audience.
Mount Jefferson celebrates the vastness of New Hampshire's White Mountains. By the time painters flocked to the region, it was already being altered by tourism and technology. Cropsey hints at this transition. As the small figure in the foreground sets off with his axe, he passes tidy stacks of new lumber. The nearby sawmill denotes a central American paradox: with the advance of civilization comes destruction of primeval wilderness.
First exhibited to enthusiastic praise in New York, the picture was later shown at the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris. Only recently has it been determined that Cropsey inadvertently misidentified the vista's prominence peak. It is Mount Adams that commands the view, with Mount Jefferson to its left.
VMFAUS_100530_0761.JPG: Robert Scott Duncanson
The Quarry, ca 1855-63
The focal point of The Quarry is a bold cliff that rises above a waterfall's pool. Beyond other rock formations, a field dotted with haystacks and a village at the foot of distant mountains appear indistinct with atmospheric haze. In an otherwise bucolic setting, a plume of factory smoke suggests technology and economic development.
Duncanson was a free African American who established an international reputation during the tumultuous decades surrounding the Civil War. Self-taught, he came to the attention of abolitionist leaders, who sponsored his study in Europe. By 1861, the Cincinnati-based artist was hailed in the American press as "the best landscape painter in the West." At the height of his career, Duncanson successfully toured his paintings in England and Scotland. Self-exiled in Montreal during the war, the artist also helped launch a Canadian landscape movement.
VMFAUS_100530_0771.JPG: Worthington Whittredge
A View from Hawk's Nest, Western Virginia, ca 1845
VMFAUS_100530_0778.JPG: Robert Salmon
Dismal Swamp Canal, 1830
Salmon's depiction of a steam-powered tourist boat navigating the Dismal Swamp Canal captures the Jacksonian era's confidence in technology and commerce. One of the great engineering feats of its day, the twenty-two-mile channel connected the intercoastal waterways of Virginia and North Carolina. In Salmon's scene, spectators watch from the Lake Drummond Hotel as the boat passes by. Straddling the state line, the notorious inn attracted eloping lovers and dueling foes who could sidestep the law by simply walking across the border.
The Boston-based painter did not travel south to capture the scene in person, but relied on an on-site sketch by Norfolk artist Thomas Williamson. The image, soon marketed as a print, became an icon of technological progress. It appeared in miniature form on paper currency of several states, often balanced with depictions of steam locomotives or factories.
VMFAUS_100530_0786.JPG: Fitz Henry Lane
View of Gloucester Harbor, 1848
A native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Lane maintained a studio very near this site in the city's inner harbor. His view includes local landmarks along the low horizon -- Ten Pound Island, at left, and the ruins of Fort Defiance, at right. A square-rigged merchant ship appears in the distance, a customary sight at this bustling international seaport. In the foreground, a schooner rests on the shore; its parallel masts draw the eye to a group of fisherman selling their catch to waiting townsmen. Lane indicates yet another source of regional commerce at left: a small excursion boat nearing a rocky spit provides tourists an opportunity to take in the salty air and picturesque views.
The warm, atmospheric glow that permeates the late-afternoon scene signals the artist's developing interest in depicting the quality of light at specific moments of the day. At midcentury, as Lane sought to capture the changing effects of weather and light, his paintings became increasingly spacious, still, and luminous.
VMFAUS_100530_0794.JPG: John Frederick Kensett
Coast of Massachusetts, near Manchester, 1860
A frequent summer traveler to the Massachusetts shore, Kensett may have sketched this scene while visiting Nahant in 1859. When committing the New England view to oil, however, he incorporated the conventions of earlier European landscape printing learned during his extensive travels in England, France, and Italy the previous decade. Large trees frame the far-off vista, and little passages of white pigment -- from the weathered boulder in the foreground to the white sails in the distance -- draw the eye more deeply into the expanse beyond the rocks.
VMFAUS_100530_0809.JPG: Worthington Whittredge
View from the Hawk's Nest, Western Virginia, Morning, 1846
This picturesque vista is among the earliest landscapes painted by Worthington Whittredge, who became associated with the Hudson River school movement. In 1845, the Ohio-born painter journeyed to western Virginia (now West Virginia) where he sketched the breathtaking view from Hawk's Nest, a promontory overlooking the New River Gorge. From his preliminary on-site study (displayed nearby), he completed this larger, more detailed canvas in his studio. It includes additional narrative elements: a hunter and his dog at center, a decaying tree across the foreground, and a distant column of smoke suggesting habitation at the river's edge.
In the following decade, Whittredge studied in Dusseldorf, Germany, and traveled to Italy alongside American landscapists Sanford Gifford, Albert Bierstadt, and Robert Scott Duncanson. After establishing a New York City studio in 1859, he enjoyed a long, prolific career producing images that range from intimate woodland interiors to vast panoramas of the western frontier.
VMFAUS_100530_0836.JPG: Milton Avery
Greenwich Villagers, 1946
An important transitional postwar painter who struck a balance in his work between representation and abstraction, Milton Avery is celebrated as a "color poet." While he began his career as an urban realist, an encounter with the vibrant art of Henri Matisse transformed Avery's approach to painting and shaped his signature style grounded in colorful forms. This jaunty image of two New York bohemians, likely denizens of the artist's studio crowd that included the young Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, is typical of Avery's favorite subject -- the daily life of friends and family.
VMFAUS_100530_0841.JPG: Charles Sheeler
Charles Sheeler, a leading 20th-century modernist, is associated with a group of artists known as precisionists. Focusing their descriptive method of monuments of the machine age -- factories, skyscrapers, bridges -- these artists were acclaimed by critics for producing work distinctly "American" in character, if stylistically informed by French cubism. In postwar years, Sheeler adopted a more systematically geometric approach to his subjects, exemplified by this semiabstraction. Steel-Croton represents a steel-open bridge -- what the artist called a "beautiful combination of delicacy and strength" -- located near his home in New York's upper Hudson River Valley.
The painting was featured in VMFA's contemporary art exhibition American Painting 1954 and purchased for the collection. In a letter to museum director Leslie Check Jr. -- whom Sheeler had met tin the mid-1930s while working on a Rockefeller commission at Colonial Williamsburg -- the artist expressed his pleasure in the museums' acquisition.
VMFAUS_100530_0851.JPG: Ralston Crawford
Construction #5, 1958
Ralston Crawford, like his senior colleague Charles Sheeler, established a critical reputation in the 1930s New York art world with crisply defined precisionist paintings of the American industrial landscape. However, his most inventive compositions followed the emergence in the late 1940s of abstract expressionism, a movement that all but sidelined the artist's subjective geometric work. This image dates from a pivotal moment in Crawford's career when he was perfecting a bold abstract style characterized by a simplified cubism and restricted color scheme.
Construction #5 is linked to a commission from the Diesel Construction Company (one of the era's largest general contracting firms) for ten New York artists to interpret its current skyscraper project, then rising at 100 Church Street in Lower Manhattan. According to the artist's son Neelon Crawford, he and his father visited the site on various occasions, "climbing to the highest point possible during the erection of the steel structure." The experience inspired a series of abstract paintings (as well as drawings and photographs -- two examples of which are also owned by the museum), Construction #5 being the most dynamic and pictorially complex.
VMFAUS_100530_0862.JPG: Stuart Davis
Little Giant Still Life (The Champion), 1950
Based on an advertisement for spark plugs, this energetic still life underscores the creative link between fine art and commercial art. Davis dismissed "subject matter" as unimportant, using commonplace experiences and objects as points of artistic departure. He filtered this imagery through is own aesthetic sensibilities in order to arrive at the flat spaces he set down in crisp, vivid colors.
VMFA acquired Little Giant Still Life as a significant example of the latest currents in art production -- much like that on display in the adjoining 21st-Century Art galleries. At the time of its controversial purchases from the museum's 1950 biennial of contemporary painting -- analyzed and hotly debated locally as well as in leading art journals -- Cold War rhetoric had cast modern art as subversive and dangerous. Ultimately, abstraction was heralded as fully "America" -- the product of truly democratic society. Today an internationally recognized icon of mid-20th-century modernism. Little Giant Still Life is one of the most frequently lent and reproduced works in the museum's collection.
VMFAUS_100530_0870.JPG: Steve Wheeler
The Halogens, 1942
Against the turbulent backdrop of global war, many American painters and sculptors turned to increasingly abstract forms to express subjective, even subconscious, experiences. Like European modernists of previous decades, some looked for purity and truth in the "primitive" art of African, Oceanic, and Native American cultures. Steve Wheeler and a small cadre of artists known as "Indian Space Painters" found inspiration in the determined flatness, meandering lines, and all-over compositions of Northwest Coast Indian art -- examples of which were on view at New York's Museum of the American Indian at the Indian Art of the United States exhibition mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1941. These formal conventions are in evidence in Wheeler's The Halogens, painted the following year. His fractured space, invented creatures, and biomorphic forms also reveal the significant influences of cubism and surrealism.
In the late 1940s, Wheeler's contemporary and fellow admirer of Native American art, Jackson Pollock, would join other painters of the so-called New York school in forging a new, mostly nonrepresentational approach. Artworks by leading abstract expressionists, as that group is known, are on view in the museum's Sydney and Francis Lewis Modern and Contemporary Galleries.
VMFAUS_100530_0879.JPG: Theodore Stamos
Sounds in Rock, 1947
A key figure in New York's abstract-art circles of the 1940s, Theodore Stamos found his subjects in the everyday world. Nature, in particular, attracted the artist, who throughout his life collected plants, rocks, and shells.
Sounds in Rock dates from the year Stamos traveled across the country, finding particular inspiration in the petroglyphs of New Mexico's Sandia Mountains. As his friend and colleague Barnett Newman commented about a 1947 exhibition of Stamos's animistic imagery, "His ideographs capture the moment of totemic affinity with the rock and the mushroom, the crayfish and the seawood. One might say that instead of going to the rock, he comes out of it."
VMFAUS_100530_0886.JPG: Salvador Dali
The God of the Bay of the Roses, 1944
The enigmatic, "surreal" dreamscapes of Spanish painter Salvador Dali have always held special appeal for Americans. From of 1932 New York display of his iconic The Persistence of Memory (Museum of Modern Art) and his infamous "Dream of Venus" pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair to his notable work in 1940s Hollywood. Dali popularized surrealism as both an artistic style and fashion and design trend in this country. A number of artists, rejecting the dominance of social realism and American-scene painting in these years, embraced Dali's bizarre imagery. Their experiments with surrealism and its subset, magic realism, which were partially derived form the Spanish painter's visual puzzles, are on view nearby.
The God of the Bay of the Roses pays homage to the artist's Russian-born wife and muse, Gala, whose portrait appears on the bifurcated sculptor's pedestal, encircled by a bevy of revelers. Like the most hypnotic of Dali's work, it suggests a portal into another world. The painting dates from the couple's residency on the West coast, one year before the artist worked with films director Alfred Hitchcock on the famous nightmare sequence in Spellbound.
VMFAUS_100530_0919.JPG: Paul Arlt
War's End, 1946
Painter and political cartoonist Paul Arlt was born in New York City and moved to Washington DC in 1934 where he established his career. At the onset of World War II, he helped build boats for the US Navy in Annapolis before joining the Marine Corps as a combat artist and correspondent. Arlt later received a Purple Heart for a foxhole injury. This painting, purchased from VMFA's fifth biennial exhibition, depicts the awful wreckage of fighter planes on a Japanese hillside, a rare subject in American art. The museum also owns a whimsical watercolor of the equestrian statue of JEB Stuart on Richmond's Monument Avenue, painted by Arlt at the age of seventy-nine.
VMFAUS_100530_0934.JPG: Yasuo Kuniyoshi
Japanese American artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi established his reputation as a leading modernist in the 1920s New York art world with images of popular amusements. Nevadaville is an example of his later imagery, marked by a somber and symbolic tone. Painted soon after the start of World War II, it depicts a western ghost town -- the kind of "deserted place" the artist found himself drawn to in those turbulent years. Whereas the painting's imagery may have originated from Kuniyoshi's 1941 travels through California, Nevada, and Colorado, its bleak and desolate quality reverberates with wartime tensions.
In 1947, Kuniyoshi described World War II as "the background for a great number of works. Not necessarily the battlefield, but the war's implications: destruction, lifelessness, hovering between life and death, loneliness." Nevadaville, which VMFA purchased from its 1944 exhibition of contemporary art, manifests these "implications of very sad things" as it evokes the artist's feelings of personal displacement.
VMFAUS_100530_0945.JPG: Thomas Fransioli
St. Andrew's Church, Roanoke, Virginia, 1951
Trained as an architect at the University of Pennsylvania, Seattle-born Fransioli lived in New York and Virginia during the 1930s, later working with John Russell Pope on installation plans for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. This experience sparked a deep interest in painting. Essentially self-taught, Fransioli continued to paint throughout the remainder of his life, spent largely in Boston. This haunting regional scene -- suggestive of a "magic realism" style -- was likely drawn from memories of his time in Virginia.
VMFAUS_100530_0962.JPG: George H. Ben Johnson
Idyll of Virginia Mountains, 1945
Johnson, who earned his living in Richmond, Virginia, as a mail carrier, taught himself to draw and paint. In the 1910s, he penned dozens of editorial cartoons for the city's leading black newspaper, many denouncing the inequities of Jim Crow segregation. As a painter, Johnson focused primarily on biblical and historical subjects, but he also produced still lifes and landscapes -- Idyll of Virginia Mountains being one of the most lyrical. Here he locates the viewer high up on a craggy promontory of the state's famed Blue Ridge range, defined in painterly strokes of turquoise, violet grey, and brown. In places, touches of peach pigment suggest the glancing rays of the setting sun.
During the anxious years of 1944 and 1945, VMFA quietly crossed racial barriers by acquiring its first artworks made by African Americas. Jacob Lawrence's "Subway--Home from Work" and Leslie Bolling's "Cousin-on-Friday" were received as gifts (both are on view nearby), followed by this light-filled canvas, purchased from the museum's annual Virginia artists exhibition.
VMFAUS_100530_0969.JPG: Edmund Minor Archer
Strong and solid, the uniformed maid in Archer's Maggie crosses her arms and gazes directly at the viewer. With brow furrowed, her expression conveys a number of emotions: defiance, concern, fatigue, even vulnerability. Whatever challenges she faces in her work, the wedding band on her finger suggests that, at day's end, comforts of home and family await.
A generation earlier, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (commemorated in a portrait bust on view in an adjoining gallery) wrote, "We wear the mask," to describe the controlled, placid expressions black southerners assumed in public during the precarious Jim Crow era. Segregationist laws remained intact when social realist Edmund Archer, a white portraitist who specialized in powerful studies of black working men and women, strove to capture his sitters' personalities. The Richmond-born artist trained at the Art Students League in New York, served as one of the Whiskey Museum of American Art's founding curators, and worked for many years as a respected teacher at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC.
VMFAUS_100530_0979.JPG: Eliot Clark
Landscape with Trees, 1930s
Son of landscapist Walter Clark, Eliot Clark began painting seriously as a teenager. Following training at the Art Students League and with American impressionist John Twachtman, he adopted a tonalist palette and fluid brushwork. His paintings -- such as Landscape with Trees -- were praised for their "lyricism, romance, and wistfulness." Also a skillful writer, Clark published articles about his international travels and biographies of several late-19th-century American painters.
Beginning in 1932, Clark divided his time between New York City and his summer home in Albemarle County, Virginia, where he painted views of rolling countryside and small towns. After serving on the Board of Governors and as a painting instructor at the University of Virginia, Clark settled permanently near Charlottesville in 1959.
VMFAUS_100530_0990.JPG: Sallie Lee Blount Mahood
Blue Ridge Mountains, ca 1930s
Sallie Lee Blount Mahood was the most successful painter in one of Virginia's acclaimed (female) artistic dynasties. While best known for portraits of Lynchburg gentry, her landscape studies reveal a more fluid painting style and creative energy. As a summer student of Kenneth Hayes Miller, a famed instructor at New York's Art Students League, Mahood explored plein-air (outdoor) painting during the 1930s. This fresh, tonal view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, likely produced near her Lynchburg home, suggests her teacher's distinctive matte surfaces and use of a palette knife. It also reveals Mahood's sense of color as abstract structural form, undoubtedly gained from a close study of Paul Cezanne, the so-called father of modern art.
VMFAUS_100530_1000.JPG: Robert Gwathmey
Family Portrait, 1944
Gwathmey's Family Portrait presents an African American couple and six of their children within the architectural framework of a "shotgun" cabin. The stylized figures all gaze outward in disconcerting unison. At center, punctuating the painting like an exclamation point, is the significant red-and-white rectangle of a military status of the family's eldest sons. Painted during World War II, the image evokes universal home-front sentiments that transcend class and race: pride, concern, and sacrifice.
After training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the mid-1920s, Richmond-born Gwathmey commenced a distinguished career as a painter and teacher, including a long tenure at New York's Cooper Union School of Art. Family Portrait exemplifies his distinctive semiabstract style that renders subjects with flat passages of color edges with strong black lines. It also suggests the artist's enduring interest in the laboring poor. The white painter was particularly concerned with the plight of rural African Americans. In the 1950s, Gwathney's leftist politics and social-realist themes brought government persecution: nevertheless he continued to garner success in subsequent decades with his hard-hitting imagery.
VMFAUS_100530_1030.JPG: Leslie Garland Bolling
Self-taught Virginia sculptor Leslie Bolling gained renown in the 1930s and 1940s for his hard-carved genre figures. Many, like this compelling pair, feature a lively flickering surface that gives evidence of the artist's penknife.
Bolling found his themes in the daily activities of friends and neighbors. Cousin-on-Friday in one of seven sculptures from the artist's Days of the Week series, which pays tribute to the labors of an extended family of women. Most link a domestic chore -- such as laundry, mending, or baking -- to the day it was traditionally performed. Although this tiny worker is portrayed scrubbing a floor on hands on knees, her mouth is open in song. The humorously titled Saver of Soles presents an industrious cobbler, depicted in such detail that one can see the laces on his wingtip shoes.
Working as a store porter by day and carving his figures at nights, Bolling was discovered in the late 1920s by New York tastemaker Carl VanVechten. He soon gained sponsorship of the Harmon Foundation, the first major organization dedicated to the promotion of African American art. in the following decade, his carvings were featured in national art shows and magazines. Although Bolling slipped into obscurity in the final years of his life, he is now included in mots major surveys of African American art.
VMFAUS_100530_1038.JPG: Walt Kuhn
Two years before completing Salute, Kuhn wrote that his paintings were "adventures in design, color, and human psychology." On all counts, this lively image fits his description. The figure's bright red-white-and-blue ensemble instills a traditional note of patriotism, punctuated by a crisp salute. At the same time, Kuhn undermines conventions by featuring such an audacious model -- a heavily made-up, scantily dressed showgirl, who looks out with a bold, disquieting gaze.
After studying art in Paris and Munich at the turn of the century, Kuhn returned to his native New York, where he aligned himself with the realist tenets of the so-called Ashcan painters. However, in 1913 his approach took a modernist turn after he helped organize the landmark Armory Show. By the following decade, he garnered critical acclaim with his monumental images of circus and theater performers -- a theme he continued to explore to the end of his career.
VMFAUS_100530_1045.JPG: Rockwell Kent
Greenland Summer, 1932
Best remembered for his stylized wood engravings, elegant book illustrations, dramatic landscapes, and radical political views, Rockwell Kent remains a complex figure in the history of American art. This distinctive example of his mature Greenland works renders an intimate human exchange against the epic summer background of Igdlorssuit, a small island settlement north of the Arctic Circle. Painted during an extended island residency, the image depicts Kent with his housekeeper and mistress, Salamina, a Greenlander widow who lived with her young children (one of whom is pictured). Striking in its monumental yet reductive formal simplicity and electric-hued palette, the painting reveals how Kent recast his archetypal "fisherfolk" subject in a modern visual language.
VMFAUS_100530_1063.JPG: Ben Shahn
Born in Lithuania to a Russian Jewish family and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Ben Shahn trained as a lithographer before turning to painting. His acute sensitivity to injustice linked him to the social realism movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Yet the artist also considered his work more broadly as abstract in style, allegorical in content, and international in scope.
Africa, purchased from VMFA's 1957 Judge the Jury exhibition, resonates with the artist's biography. Shahn's father, a socialist in czarist Russia, was persecuted for his religious and political beliefs. He fled Lithuania for South Africa, then relocated to the United States with his family. In the 1920s, the artist and his wife also visited North Africa. This sensitive homage to the continent reveals, in form and content, Shahn's admiration for African maternity figures. It dates from the year of the artist's prestigious appointment as Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University and two years after his exhibition in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, an international honor he shared with abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.
VMFAUS_100530_1074.JPG: Philip Guston
The Sculptor, 1943
Today better known for his 1950s experiments with gestural abstraction and his 1970s cartoonish figuration, Philip Guston began his career as a mural painter. The Sculptor belongs to a series of transitional easel pictures he produced while on the faculty at the University of Iowa. Its matte surface, suggestive of the artist's fondness for fresco, is infused with a neo-romantic, moody sentiment echoed in the dusky palette and stoic figure.
The painting depicts Humbert Albrizio, a direct carver of wood and stone who, like Guston, moved to Iowa from New York to join the university's art department. Direct carving -- equated with a greater sense of immediacy and artistic "truth" than earlier traditions of modeling and casting -- was the most popular mode of modern sculptural production. The Sculptor was featured in VMFA's Fifth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, where it won for Guston the John Barton Payne Medal and was purchased for the museum's permanent collection.
VMFAUS_100530_1082.JPG: John B. Flannagan
Jonah and the Whale: Rebirth Motif, 1937
This artwork shares the theme of creation and rebirth (made explicit by its title) with Philip Guston's nearby portrait of a sculptor. Like that sitter, master direct carver John Flannagan was acclaimed for his universal subjects that conveyed, in the artist's words, "something of the record of the human spirit."
Jonah and the Whale, one of Flannagan's more ambitious late works, represents his shift from naturalist to more allegorical concerns. The graceful and whimsical repose of the bearded Old Testament prophet, his body folded womblike in the whale's belly, suggests a positive outcome for this well-known tale of spiritual resurrection -- what the sculptor called "the wishful rebirth fantasy." The original version (Brooklyn Museum) was carved from natural bluestone, a favorite material of the artist, which was plentiful near his home in Woodstock, New York. This later replica, a casting of simulated stone, was donated by Flannagan's longtime dealer, Curt Valentin, four years after the artist's tragic death.
VMFAUS_100530_1090.JPG: Philip Evergood
Street Corner, 1936
A complex figure whose work straddled urban and social realism, Philip Evergood trained in Europe and new York, absorbing the lessons of the Old Masters and the progressive American artists in his cultivation of a highly individualistic style of painting. Street Corner dates from the first year of his employment with the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, a component of President Roosevelt's recently authorized New Deal. Evergood's initial project was a mural for the Richmond Hill Public Library depicting the New York community's founding. Two tool-toting workers who appear in that mural also hold the formal and emotional center of Street Corner.
In addition to the sober labor theme, Evergood celebrates the topicality of tabloid journalism -- in a manner suggestive of his contemporary Reginald Marsh (whose work hangs nearby). Yet Evergood -- who appears at the picture's center in his signature slouchy hat and with bemused, surveying eyes -- is more engaged with his subjects than Marsh or other contemporary realists, such as Edward Hopper. By presenting himself in Street Corner as both spectator and participant, he literally steps into and becomes one with the jostling crowd.
VMFAUS_100530_1101.JPG: Paul Sample
Spring Song, 1938
In the 1930s, Sample and his colleagues of the American-scene movement -- notably Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood -- consciously depicted aspects of daily life during the Great Depression. Their paintings, which evoke the decade's isolationist mindset, also champion the long-suffering "common man." Sample features one such fellow in Spring Song. Pictured in shades of soft brown -- suggestive of the haze of cigar smoke -- the fedora-clad consumer plunks out a tune on the piano in a neighborhood bar. The melody seems to strike a sentimental chord; the barkeeper leans forward, lost in thought.
After its exhibition at New York's 1939 World's Fair, Spring Song remained on view for a half century in Manhattan's famous "21" Club.
VMFAUS_100530_1109.JPG: Edward Hopper
House at Dusk, 1935
Edward Hopper's evocative pictures of modern America's have a haunting appeal, so firmly are they embedded in the cultural imagination. House at Dusk, imbued with the artist's defining themes of temporarily and ambiguity, is one of the strongest and most lyrical oils of his mature career. The scene is set at the "exquisite hour" of dusk, that most transitional time of day. As in many of his works, Hopper introduces a suspenseful narrative element with the figure of a woman silhouetted by artificial light, seemingly unaware of the subtle afterglow taking place behind her apartment house.
House at Dusk was purchased by VMFA for $4,000 in 1953. Acquired sixteen years after the artist served as a juror for the museum's first biennial exhibition, the painting was recommended by not less an authority on contemporary painting that Alfred Barr, then the director of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
VMFAUS_100530_1119.JPG: Charles E. Burchfield
Old House and Elm Tree, 1933-40
Throughout his long career as a painter, Burchfield looked closely at houses and depicted them as a frequent theme. And, to his imaginative eye, the houses stared back. "As we walk down a street," the artist mused in his journal, "we have the feeling that the houses are looking at us; they glance up the street long before we come to them, and follow us brazenly as we go along." In his work, Burchfield pictures an imposing dwelling just after a soaking spring rain. Dominant gray hues convey a dreary, damp cold. Still, a gentle light breaks through thinning clouds, and a soft canopy of new leaves shimmers overhead, suggesting fairer skies to come.
As a youth in rural Ohio, Burchfield developed a flat decorative style to picture the sights, smells, and sounds of the natural world. In the 1930s, he came to prominence as an American-scene watercolorist; this striking painting is representative of his work of that era. By midcentury, Burchfield had returned to painting rhapsodic nature-themed images, a passion he maintained through his final years.
VMFAUS_100530_1127.JPG: Boris Lovet-Lorski
Torso, ca 1930
The lure of classicism, which shaped the work of earlier generations of American artists, endured into the 20th century. Lovet-Lorski's sleek Torso, which features the streamlined contours of the contemporary Art Deco aesthetic, nevertheless recalls the ancient past. During his lengthy residency in Paris, the artist had ample opportunity to admire antiquities on display at the Louvre Museum -- including the armless goddess popularly known as the Venus de Milo. In a statement about his 1939 solo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Lovet-Lorski explained that his work offered "a new note of classicism... in [the] pure Greek sense of the word. Not naturalism, the stylization of the human body carried to such a degree of perfection that it creates real life, more real than the life we actually live."
VMFAUS_100530_1146.JPG: Gaston Lachaise
Elevation (Standing Woman), modeled 1912-15, cast 1930
This striking celebration of the female form -- what one contemporary critic called "a priestess from another planet" -- is considered Gaston Lachaise's first major sculpture and one of his most enduring. Like all of his idealized modern goddesses, Elevation was inspired by the sculptor's wife, model, and muse, Isabel Nagle. It reveals Lachaise's training with French art nouveau master Rene Lalique (whose work can be seen in the museum's Sydney and Frances Lewis Decorative Arts Galleries), as well as his later apprenticeship with Paul Manship, the foremost representative of the Art Deco style in the United States (his sculpture is on view in an adjoining gallery).
Lachaise's "standing woman" is an embodiment of strength and monumentality as well as serenity and grace -- all contained in a beautiful figure gesture that may have derived from fames modern dancer Ruth St. Denis. The sculptor further emphasized these qualities by placing the bronze on a 20-inch high base. Lachaise wanted the figure, already larger than life, to be "exalted, raised up, presented at a respectful distance, given a circle of solitude."
First conceived by the artist in plaster about 1912 and altered over a period of years, VMFA's version was cast under the artist's supervision from the original mold in 1930 (just three years after the first casting by the renowned Roman Bronze Works). It is believed to be the sixth in an edition of twelve.
VMFAUS_100530_1154.JPG: Edward Hicks
Peaceable Kingdom, 1835-40
Edward Hicks's vision of harmonious coexistence between humankind and nature has earned the Quaker minister from Pennsylvania his reputation as America's most beloved folk artist. The universal appeal of his Kingdom canvases, of which sixty-two are known, has been termed archetypal -- evoking deep yearning in those who long for peace in their own lives. This later version of his idealized worldview, interpreted as the aesthetic expression of Quaker beliefs, contains all the hallmarks of Hicks's iconic allegory -- from the quotation of Benjamin West's Penn's Treaty with the Indians (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), which honors the founder of Pennsylvania and the Quaker Society of Friends in America (a personal hero of Hicks), to the diverse menagerie and guiding presence of children that visualize the oft-quoted scriptural passage from Isaiah: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."
VMFAUS_100530_1164.JPG: Edward Hicks
Grave of William Penn at Jordans in England, 1847
Hicks's pastoral series featuring the grave of his Quaker hero William Penn resonates with his late Peaceable Kingdom paintings, a striking example of which hangs nearby. This serene image, of which six versions are known, reveals his skills as both a landscape and sign painter. It also affirms Hicks's belief in the enduring relevance of Penn's teachings as the artist contemplated his own mortality. The stained wood frame is original to the picture and was likely designed by Hicks.
VMFAUS_100530_1180.JPG: John Brewster, Jr.
Portrait of a Lady, 1828
Brewster, born deaf, was one of early-19th-century America's most prolific itinerant portraitists. Raised in an elite Connecticut family of Puritan background, he traveled throughout New England in search of commissions, painting primarily in Maine, his home base. This incisive portrait of a young woman, signed and dated by the artist, reveals the fine brushwork and intense characterization for which he is known. Some scholars have ascribed the near-photographic quality of Brewster's work to his disability -- the lack of audible communication with sitters endowing him with a special sensitivity for capturing personality.
VMFAUS_100530_1188.JPG: Erastus Salisbury Field
Portrait of a Girl, ca 1835-45
Standing in a domestic interior, the adolescent girl in this full-length portrait holds The Juvenile Plutarch in her gloved right hand. Printed in 1827, the book was a popular instruction manual for young ladies. It reads: "nothing can be conceived more amiable than a union of mental and personal charms. Beauty alone may please at first sight, but it will cease to afford admiration, unless it is adorned by ... an improved understanding ... a lively virtue and a rational piety."
Field was born in Leverett, Massachusetts, an agrarian community in the Connecticut River Valley. Beginning with early images rendered on cardboard scraps from a local box factory, he made a career that spanned the decades from the 1820s to the 1880s. Combining the clean, broad strokes of traditional "folk" art with the tonal variations or academic painting, Field's work displays the influence of his teacher, Samuel EB Morse, a student of Benjamin West and first president of the National Academy of Design. Morse is credited with popularizing daguerreotypes in America. This early method of portrait photography influenced Field's work, as evidenced her in the vaporous quality of the figure's background, which gives the illusion of receding smoke.
VMFAUS_100530_1201.JPG: Attributed to Thomas Smith
This plate underscores the informal and communal nature of eating and drinking in early America, particularly among men. Inscribed in the surface beneath the glaze -- a technique called sgraffiato -- a verse reads:
Hears Luck gifs to all those that Wares Raged Clothes
and has no Wife to mend them
may the dogs get those Wags that has plenty of Joes
and has no heart to spend them
Come hand us a glass
And Round Let it pass.
The plate is similar to other works produced at the Smith Pottery, founded by Joseph Smith in 1763. It was subsequently operated by his nephew, Thomas Smith, who is known to have decorated his wares with verse. This witty plate descended in his family.
VMFAUS_100530_1209.JPG: John Trumbull
Portrait of Captain Samuel Blodget in Rifle Drums, ca 1786
Trumbull's portrait celebrates Samuel Blodget at a time when the young American patriot was laying the foundations for his fortune. To present the captain as an intrepid player on history's stage, the artist depicted him in a pose that recalls the antique sculpture Apollo Belvedere and various depictions of Diana the Huntress. The somewhat theatrical portrait may also reflect current trends on the British stage, as the exaggerated dance postures of Italian and French performers were gradually becoming fashionable.
Blodget served in the New Hampshire militia during the Revolutionary War and then earned considerable wealth as a merchant in the East India trade. He next tried his hand at architectural, an interest he shared with Trumbull. Blodget designed the First Bank of the United States, in Philadelphia, which still stands today. He later served as superintendent of building in Washington DC.
VMFAUS_100530_1222.JPG: Charles Willson Peale
Mrs. Benjamin Harrison (Elizabeth Page), 1775
This work suggests the role of colonial portraiture among Virginia's landed gentry. Elizabeth Page, of Roswell plantation in Gloucester County, became the second wife of Benjamin Harrison, owner of the Brandon on the James River. Peale painted the couple during his trip to Virginia in the spring of 1775 (Mr. Harrison's portrait is owned by Colonial Williamsburg). A financial necessity, the excursion provided successful for Peale, who noted, "I have frequently been employed at Gentlemen's Houses in the Virginia Country without any Charge but that of traveling, you known the character of the Virginians for Hospitality, and by these trips I have but just now worked myself out of debt." The painter next settled in Philadelphia, where he established a reputation as one of federal America's most important painters and cultural leaders.
Peale's elegant depiction of Mrs. Harrison employs European conventions, such as a classical column and drapery, to suggest his sitter's aristocratic sophistication. Yet he highlights her regional identify with a characteristic Tidewater setting -- a "Virginia rail" fence and lowland field. The portrait may have marked the coming birth of the Harrison's only child, Lucy, who later married Richard Willing Byrd of Westover.
VMFAUS_100530_1231.JPG: Benjamin West
Caesar Reading the History of Alexander's Exploits, 1769
The first American artist to train in Europe and develop an international reputation, Benjamin West rose to the ranks of president of London's Royal Academy and historical painter to King George III. Drawing countless American students across the Atlantic -- including Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and John Trumbull , whose works are featured nearby -- West earned the title of dean of American painting. The tradition that West and the Royal Academy represented was known as the Grand Manner. It called for painters to create theatrical scenes of noble heroism drawn mostly from the Bible and Greco-Roman antiquity. Intended to be morally instructive, history paintings were considered the most important type of art and the most difficult to produce. They also required a mastery of all elements and genres of painting in addition to knowledge of literature and great works of art of the past.
In this scene, West depicts Julius Caesar reading a history of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered much of the world while in his twenties. Comparing himself unfavorably, Caesar bemoans his lack of accomplishments. The painting foreshadows the ultimate destruction of Caesar's career from insatiable ambition.
VMFAUS_100530_1239.JPG: John Scottow
High Chest, 1720-30
The surface of this beautiful and extremely rare high chest was "japanned" -- a process first popularized in 17th-century Europe in an attempt to imitate the decorative ornament of Asian lacquers. Elements such as stylized pavilions, willow trees, robed figures, and birds were built up with gesso (calcium or chalk mixed with glue). The entire chest was then coated with gesso, followed by black paint. Finally, details were brushed in with gold leaf.
One of the scenes on the chest illustrates "Washing the Elephant," an ancient Buddhist theme representing disengagement (cleansing) from the material world. Paradoxically, in 18th-century colonial America, few furnishing communicated an owner's affluence better. The opulent high chest (a form frequently described today as a "high boy") would have been proudly displayed in the bedchamber, the primary sitting room in colonial American households.
VMFAUS_100530_1247.JPG: John Wollaston
Susannah Marshall, 1749-52
John Wollaston was one of the first English painters to introduce to the colonies a taste for rococo portraiture, with its elegant poses, rich colors, and mericulously rendered materials -- all influenced by British engravings. Born in London, he produced countless portraits while living and working in the Mid-Atlantic and South between 1749 and 1767.
Wollaston first arrived in New York, where he found eager patrons among the city's elite. Susannah Marshall was one such sitter. The eldest unmarried daughter of a mercantile family, she helped manage their import-export business with the West Indies. Along with her sisters (also painted by Wollaston), Marshall lived through the British occupation of New York, later dying at age ninety. She is buried in the historic Trinity Churchyard in Lower Manhattan. The museum acquired this portrait during the bicentennial year of 1976, when interest in early American art was on the rise.
VMFAUS_100530_1263.JPG: Attributed to Nehemiah Partridge
Mary Jaquelin, ca 1722-23
Edward Jaquelin Jr., ca 1722-23
In the early 19th century, affluent British Americans desired portraits of themselves and their loved ones, and a small but growing number of artists -- both native born and emigre, trained and self-trained -- supplied them. Among the portraitists were itinerant limners (traveling painters) who journeyed throughout the colonies in search of work.
Nehemiah Partridge, a self-taught painter who worked primarily in New England, is believed to have produced these lively portraits. Arriving in Virginia about 1722, he resided in the Jamestown households of Edward Jaquelin and William Brodnax, where he captured the images of more than a dozen family members. Like other provincial limners on both sides of the Atlantic, Partridge found inspiration for his costumes, poses, and backgrounds in British prints.
The period frame on the upper portrait has been "japanned" -- painted black, like the striking high chest nearby. While there is no documentation that Partridge made the frame, which is of an age and style appropriate to the painting, he is known to have been a japanner of furniture. In colonial America, the distinction between "art" and "decoration" was fluid.
VMFAUS_100530_1273.JPG: Charles Willson Peale
William Smith and His Grandson, 1788
Peale's double portrait features William Smith, a Baltimore merchant, statesman, and father-in-law of Revolutionary War general Otto Holland Williams. Smith is pictured at his country estate, Eutaw, named for the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the site of Williams's successful campaign against the British. The classical facade at right is imaginary, underscoring the older man's aspirations to serve in the First Congress of the United States. The books, pruning hook, and peach branch evoke leisure activities as well as an abundant legacy for young Robert Smith Williams, who receives his grandfather's loving attention.
The Maryland-born Peale was the first American artist to seek training with Benjamin West in London. His resulting neoclassical style featured simplified compositions, precise drawing, and evening lighting -- in contrast to his contemporary John Singleton Copley, whose vivid images of Boston's elite (for example, Mrs. Isaac Royall, on view nearby) emphasized sensuous textures and dramatic contrasts of light and dark.
VMFAUS_100530_1282.JPG: John Trumbull
Priam Returning to His Family with the Dead Body of Hector, 1765
John Trumbull was the preeminent history painter working in early America. Like his teacher Benjamin West (whose painting hangs nearby), he imported from England a neoclassical style well suited to his country's democratic goals of governance. The subject of this work comes form the final book of Homer's The Iliad. Priam, king of Troy during the Trojan War with Greece, has recovered his son Hector's corpses from his slayer, Achilles.
Three famed women of Troy -- Hector's wife, Andropmache; Priam's wife, Queen Hecuba; and Priam's daughter-in-law, Helen -- step forward to receive the hero's body, whose beauty the gods have maintained in death. The mourners' controlled emotions exemplify the virtue of personal sacrifice in the cause of civic duty.
VMFAUS_100530_1292.JPG: Gilbert Stuart
Reverend William Preston, ca 1788
Arguably Benjamin West's most promising student, Gilbert Stuart emerged from his five-year training in London determined to succeed in the realm or portraiture. Best known for his depictions of George Washington, Stuart became America's leading portraitist of the federal period, setting a new standard for the art form. This painting of a British bishop dates from Stuart's successful residency in Dublin, Ireland. It reveals the artist's celebrated fluid brushwork, radiant palette, and talent for capturing a sitter's personality. Paying a compliment to his former pupil, West once told a fellow artist it would be "no use to steal Stuart's colors: if you want to paint as he does you must steal his eyes."
VMFAUS_100530_1300.JPG: John Singleton Copley
Mrs. Isaac Royall (Elizabeth Mackintosh), ca 1767-69 and ca 1777-78
This portrait of Elizabeth Mackintosh Royall by America's foremost colonial portraitist, John Singleton Copley, highlights the importance of "likeness" to early Americans. First completed as a pair with her husband's portrait (Mr. Isaac Royall, Museum of Fine Arms, Boston), it was repainted after the sitter's death and her widower's move to England. In this second rendering, the white ruffles and jewelry were painted over. At the same time, Mrs. Royall's hairstyle was elevated and her costume changed.
VMFAUS_100530_1314.JPG: Designed by Frederick Wilson
Made by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company
Christ Resurrection Window (for All saints Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia), 1900
At the turn of the 20th century, leaded-glass windows made by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company were in great demand by American churches. This window was created for All Saints Episcopal Church in Richmond by Frederick Wilson, who designed thousands of religious figural windows and mosaics for Tiffany. Wilson's work exemplifies the dramatic effects of color, light, and texture that could be achieved in glass through a variety of innovative techniques.
All Saint's Episcopal Church began in 1883 as Monumental Church, in what then constituted Richmond's West End. This window was installed in its West Franklin location between 1898 and 1901. When the church moved to its new building on River Road in Henrico County in 1957, the window was placed in storage where it has remained until recent years.
The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company created additional windows for All Saints Episcopal Church around 1899. These windows -- which can still be seen at the church's River Road location -- include The Beatitudes in the chapel and the Te Deum in the chancel.
VMFAUS_100530_1326.JPG: Louise Cochrane
Reflections, ca 1990
A much-beloved Richmond artist and philanthropist, Louise Cochrane began painting in 1970 while taking classes at the Tuckahoe Woman's Club. This coincided with her initial involvement with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, volunteering with the Artmobile, an educational offering that traveling original art to different parts of the Commonwealth. By 1977 she had joined the museum's Council and trained to become a museum docent. She is currently serving her thirteenth year on the museum's board of trustees and, at the age of ninety-four, continues to paint.
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