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CORCUS_100904_003.JPG: Birth of a Nation: American Art of the Colonial and Federal Periods:
In early America, painters sought to translate European artistic sources into a vision distinctly their own. Through portraiture, history painting, and the occasional foray into the landscape and still-life genres, they expressed the transformation of their country from an assortment of provincial colonies to a unified nation. Until the end of the Revolutionary War era, painting was limited almost exclusively to portraiture, and the artist's task was to capture both the likeness and the social position of the sitter.
Many American-born artists were trained in England or spent time painting there, where they were influenced by British portraiture. Others either lacked formal training or chose to work outside the mainstream of American art, in styles often characterized by simplified and flattened forms. In the early 1800s, painters also began to express their views of social and political environments in which they lived, sometimes providing biting social commentary or their own interpretations of American democratic ideals and processes.
CORCUS_100904_009.JPG: Gilbert Stuart
George Washington, c. 1803
After returning to the United States from London -- where he spent the Revolutionary War years -- Stuart was inundated with requests for copies of his paintings of Washington. This canvas is one of many versions he made of the so-called Athenaeum portrait. Of all the likenesses painted in Washington's lifetime, the Athenaeum portrait. Of all the likenesses painted in Washington's lifetime, the Athenaeum type best captures the president's modest yet resolute character. Avoiding the theatrical poses and rhetorical gestures common to period portraits, this austere likeness projects a solemn dignity appropriate to its subject.
CORCUS_100904_018.JPG: Charles Bird King
Poor Artist's Cupboard, c. 1815
A biting social critique of the lack of support for the arts in America, this unusual painting by King depicts an artist's meager possessions -- a crust of bread, glass of water, palette, and journal of unpaid bills -- crowded into a small alcove. Tattered books suggest the poverty of contemporary culture. In particular, the large volume Choice Criticism of the Exhibitions at Philadelphia likely refers to the inhospitality toward artists; many of King's artist contemporaries departed Philadelphia because of a lack of commissions.
CORCUS_100904_024.JPG: Rembrandt Peale
Joseph Outen Bogart, c. 1922
In 1808, Joseph Outen Bogart (1767-1838) organized the Third Artillery Regiment of the New York Volunteer Militia, the nation's first company of mounted or "flying" artillery. He commanded this company of mobilized cannoneers during the War of 1812, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Although painted several years after the war -- possibly to commemorate Bogart's marriage -- Peale's canvas presents the sitter in a dashing variant of his officer's uniform.
CORCUS_100904_032.JPG: Benjamin West
Cupid, Stung by a Bee, is Cherished by his Mother, c. 1774
This painting was inspired by an ancient Greek poem in which Cupid, complaining of the pain of a bee's sting, is reminded by his mother that his darts cause much greater pain. The American-born West -- who settled in London in 1763 -- was a successful painter of historical and mythological scenes, and was influenced by classical art. This painting recalls the work of such Renaissance artists as Raphael and Michelangelo in its circular format, richly rendered draperies, and strongly modeled, weighty figures. The first American artist to garner international acclaim, West co-founded and became President of the Royal Academy of Arts and served as royal painter to King George III.
CORCUS_100904_045.JPG: Samuel F. B. Morse
The House of Representatives, 1822-1823
Morse worked for four months in a studio in the Capitol building to prepare individual oil studies of each man represented here. He then returned home to New Haven, Connecticut, to complete his monumental canvas representing America's daring experiment with democracy. Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, press, and House staff are shown as the 17th Congress prepared for an 1822 evening session to consider the nation's Indian policy -- indicated by the presence of the Pawnee Indian chief Petalasharo in the upper right gallery.
Hoping to achieve financial success by exhibiting his painting for paid admission, Morse toured it in northeastern cities. Unfortunately, he overestimated the sophistication of his audience, who were more accustomed to detailed, dramatic history paintings than his focus on the abstract nature of democracy in action. Too subtle for public taste, the painting was a financial failure. Discouraged, Morse turned away from painting to pursue his scientific interests, including the electromagnetic telegraph.
CORCUS_100904_075.JPG: Joshua Johnson
Grace Allison McCurdy (Mrs. Hugh McCurdy) and her Daughters, Mary Jane and Letitia Grace, c. 1804
One of the earliest known African American artists, Johnson -- a free black living and working in Baltimore -- painted portraits of many middle- and upper-middle class residents of the city. Grace Allison, who married the successful merchant Huge McCurdy in 1794, is shown here with her children Mary Jane and Letitia Grace. The self-taught artist's distinctive composition links his crisply drawn figures through tender gesture, repeated passages of vibrant red, and the gentle curve of the dark settee behind them.
CORCUS_100904_083.JPG: Charles Peale Polk
Thomas Corcoran, 1802-810
Mrs. Thomas Corcoran (Hannah Lemmon), 1802-1810
Thomas Corcoran and Hannah Lemmon were the parents of William Wilson Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Having emigrated from Ireland in 1783, Thomas worked as a tanner and lived in Georgetown with his second wife, Hannah. By his death in 1830, he had served four terms as mayor of Georgetown and helped found St. John's Episcopal Church as well as Columbian College, now The George Washington University. Polk's portraits show careful attention to detail; the Corcorans turn slightly toward one another and are framed by the fringed green curtain in the background.
CORCUS_100904_098.JPG: John Singleton Copley
Thomas Amory II, c. 1770-1772
The pre-eminent portraitist of colonial America, Copley was at the height of his success in this country when he completed this elegant portrait of Boston distillery owner Thomas Amory II. Amory stands next to a heavy stone column in a pose that suggests comfortable self-possession. His brown coat and waistcoat over a simple white shirt are fashionable yet modest. The dramatic lighting of his face and ungloved left hand imbue the sitter with a sense of dignity and humanity.
CORCUS_100904_108.JPG: Benjamin West
Cupid, Stung by a Bee, is Cherished by his Mother, c. 1774 (detail)
CORCUS_100904_123.JPG: Thomas Sully
William B. Wood as 'Charles de Moor', 1811
Sully portrays actor William Burke Wood (1779-1861) in character as Charles de Moor in the popular Die Rauber (The Robbers) by the 18th-century German playwright Friedrich Schiller. Just before the turning point of the drama about a noble outlaw (Moor) who has rejected the values of his father, the protagonist rests with his men on a hill overlooking the Danube, musing on the fertility of the past and hopelessness of the future.
CORCUS_100904_135.JPG: Alvan Fisher
Mishap at the Ford, 1818
Fisher was one of the earliest native-born landscape painters in the United States, though many of his pictures were hybrid works in which figures activate the native landscape. His choice of a subject -- a coach accident in which the driver has lost control of his horses -- was likely inspired by early 19th-century English popular prints, which often featured light-hearted incidents from everyday life within picturesque settings.
CORCUS_100904_155.JPG: Thomas Cole
The Departure, 1837
The Return, 1837
Thomas Cole established landscape painting as the most important art form in 19th-century America, often using his scenes to celebrate nature's moral and religious aspects. In this pair [of paintings], he contrasts the brevity of human life with the eternal cycles of nature. The Departure, set in early summer, shows a troop of knights embarking on a heroic crusade led by their lord on a white charger. The lofty castle and cloud-capped mountains beyond glow in the light of the new day. The Return depicts the few survivors of the defeated company returning weary and downhearted in the autumn dusk. The dying lord is carried to a Gothic cathedral, his riderless horse trailing behind.
CORCUS_100904_184.JPG: Thomas Cole
The Return, 1837
CORCUS_100904_215.JPG: Art for the Common Man: American Landscape Painting:
The Jacksonian Era -- broadly defined as 1820 to 1860 -- was an age characterized by the settlement of new western territories, the rapid expansion of commerce and industry, and the spread of political democracy. Developments in the visual arts reflected Americans' intense national pride, desire for self-expression, and awareness of the common man. Painters realized that portraiture alone could not establish a heroic tradition reflective of the new nation's promise, and sought to master other subjects.
Many followed the lead of Thomas Cole, founder of the first native school of landscape painting (known as the Hudson River School), glorifying the uniqueness of the country's terrain. Eager to convey the common belief in Manifest Destiny -- that Americans had been chosen by God to explore and settle the entire continent -- painters strove to capture every blade of grass and awe-inspiring sunset. Ultimately, the extolled not only the natural wonders of the northeastern United States, but also those of the American West, South America, Europe, and the Near East, providing armchair travelers with views of exotic scenery most had never seen.
CORCUS_100904_216.JPG: Frederic Edwin Church
Many American artists have been inspired to portrait Niagara Falls, widely considered the nation's greatest natural wonder. Critics and the public marveled at Church's majestic canvas, with its grand scale, fine detail, and illusion of reality; unlike is predecessors, the artist eliminated any suggestion of a foreground, allowing the viewer to experience the scene as if precariously positioned on the brink of the falls. As one writer enthusiastically noted, "this is Niagara, with the roar left out!" Niagara's tremendous success secured Church's reputation as the most famous painter in American and brought him international recognition.
CORCUS_100904_225.JPG: Martin Johnson Heade
View of Marshfield, c 1865-1879
Heade painted more than one hundred canvases depicting the salt marshes of the northeastern United States. This repetition was motivated in part by the popularity of the unusual subject with his patrons, but also by his nearly obsessive desire to examine the varied effects of time and day, light, and weather on the landscape. While the gathering of salt halt required a community of workers, the artist purposefully omitted any sign of labor in order to focus on the flat expanses and curving streams of the serene landscape.
CORCUS_100904_236.JPG: Frederic Edwin Church
Tamaca alms, 1854; re-worked 1877
Church's interest in South American scenery was inspired by the writings of prominent German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Von Humboldt saw the diversity of climate and terrain there -- icy mountaintops, arid deserts, and steamy rainforests -- as evidence of a divine harmony in nature. In 1853, the artist retraced the naturalist's route through the Andes, sketching as he went. Tamaca Palms, probably Church's first view painted after returning from this journey, shows the influence of his teacher Thomas Cole in the meticulously recorded details of the Magdalena River's lush, tropical vegetation.
CORCUS_100904_252.JPG: Albert Bierstadt
The Last of the Buffalo, 1888
In the 1870s, when American entrepreneurs found a market in the fashion industry for buffalo hide, hunters responded eagerly. By the time Bierstadt completed this canvas, the animal was on the verge of extinction, as were the Plains Indian people who relied on it for their survival. The seemingly infinite number of buffalo seen here suggests that the painting is a statement of memory and myth rather than an accurate depiction of life on the frontier. Placing two of the most potent symbols of the West -- the buffalo and the Native American -- at the center of his composition, Bierstadt offered a carefully composed fiction celebrating what encroaching settlement of the landscape had helped to destroy.
CORCUS_100904_279.JPG: Albert Bierstadt
Mount Corcoran, c. 1876-1877
After the Gold Rush, the West became a source of satisfaction for Americans. Bierstadt satisfied that curiosity with paintings like Mount Corcoran, a composite of Sierra Nevada mountain views. Inspired in part by the Corcoran's purchase of his rival Frederic Church's Niagara, in 1878 Bierstadt offered to sell his painting to the museum, presenting its founder, William Wilson Corcoran, with a War Department map showing the mountain's location. It was soon discovered, however, that a government official had manually added Corcoran's name to the document. Undeterred, Bierstadt stated, "I am happy to have named one of our highest mountains after him, the first to catch the morning sunlight and the last to say goodnight."
CORCUS_100904_303.JPG: Post-Civil War Pluralism: Realism and Impressionism:
The later 19th century saw the emergence of multiple styles and subjects in American painting. IN a significant departure from the anecdotal genre scenes and romantic landscapes of the antebellum era, realist painting influenced by the burgeoning medium of photography was characterized by highly individualized representations of people and dynamic compositions that actively engaged the viewer. Artists often featured the increasingly urban, ethnically diverse populace that resulted from dramatic changes in the social fabric of American life, notably accelerated industrialization and immigration.
Also during this period, an increasing number of American painters adopted Europe as their home, whether temporarily or permanently. Some trained in the conservative art academies while others embraced Impressionism, becoming important conduits of the new style to their stateside contemporaries. Unlike their academically trained counterparts who rendered meticulous genre scenes in an often dark palette, American Impressionist focused on airy landscapes and views of leisure-class women engaged in genteel activities. Gilded Age magnates of industry, commerce, and banking often commissioned and collected these tranquil, nostalgic antidotes to the stresses and strains of the era's fast-faced and often turbulent modern life.
CORCUS_100904_306.JPG: Winslow Homer
A Light on the Sea, 1897
Frame, c. 1890
A Light on the Sea is one of a number of epic seascapes Homer painted in the 1890s near his home in the isolated fishing community of Prout's Neck, Maine. The S-curve of the fisherwoman's ample form, her left arm akimbo and her skirt billowing in the breeze, evokes the form of a watery spume, suggesting an elemental relationship between humanity and nature.
CORCUS_100904_312.JPG: John Singer Sargent
Marie Buloz Pailleron (Madame Edouard Pailleron), 1879
The noted playwright and poet Edouard Pailleron commissioned Sargent to paint his wife's portrait at the family's estate in the south of France. Marie Buloz Pailleron, seen here at age 39, was the daughter of a prominent Parisian publisher.
Despite Sargent's virtuoso brushwork and masterful ability to capture character, the portrait presents formal paradoxes. Seen in a dark, high-style dress, the young socialite seems somewhat out of place against the loosely painted lawn speckled with autumn leaves and crocus. Also in contrast to her elegant appearance is Madame Pailleron's active, yet rather awkward pose: with torso bent forward, her left hand is thrust into the folds of her dress and pulled forward by her right hand.
CORCUS_100904_321.JPG: Theodore Robinson
Valley of the Seine, from the Hills of Giverny, 1892
Robinson's work was strongly influenced by his friendship with the French Impressionist Claude Monet. From 1887 to 1892, the two often painted together in Giverny, the small village northwest of Paris where Monet had settled in 1883. Like his French mentor, Robinson was intensely interested in capturing the effects of changing light and color on the landscape. The sunny Valley of the Seine is one of three canvases he painted of the same expansive view from the hills above Giverny.
CORCUS_100904_329.JPG: Abbott Handerson Thayer
Mount Monadnock, c. 1911
Thayer spent much of his life near New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock, of his favorite subjects. Shortly after creating this scene of violet-blue and snowy peaks against the bright morning sky, the artist organized a conservation movement to prevent a group of developers from purchasing a portion of the mountain, a great source of inspiration and comfort to him. Upon his death, Thayer's ashes were scattered on the peak's summit.
CORCUS_100904_337.JPG: Mary Cassatt
Young Girl at a Window, c 1883-1885
Frame, c 1750
Cassatt, an expatriate who settled in Paris in 1874, was the first American to associate with the French Impressionists and the only one to exhibit with them; she showed this painting in the Eight Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. In this painting, an unidentified subject sits pensively on the balcony of the artist's Paris studio, her blue- and lavender-tinged white dress and hat masterfully conveying the coloristic effects of changing natural light.
CORCUS_100904_351.JPG: John Singer Sargent
Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White (Mrs. Henry White), 1883
Margaret ("Daisy") Stuyvesant Rutherford White lived in Paris with her husband, a prominent American diplomat. Sargent's famous mastery of white on white is evident in this commissioned portrait, as is his celebrated skill at capturing complex hand gestures such as twisting wrists and folded fingers.
Careful inspection of the canvas reveals subtle changes he made to the composition -- the angle of Mrs. White's head, the position of the fan, and the direction of the gown's train -- resulting in a more static and formal portrayal. Ultimately, the socialite's regal pose is one more commonly associated with male portrait subjects. Standing erect, she gazes directly at the viewer, commanding attention and respect.
CORCUS_100904_356.JPG: Willard Leroy Metcalf
May Night, 1906
Metcalf spent several summers painting in Old Lyme, Connecticut, a quiet country retreat that was home to America's best-known Impressionist colony. In May Night, he pays tribute to the town's doyenne, Florence Griswold, who opened her late Georgian home to many visiting landscape painters. One of the two ethereal women depicted in front of the stately mansion no doubt represents "Miss Florence," as she was known.
CORCUS_100904_364.JPG: James McNeill Whistler
Battersea Reach, c. 1863
At age 21, Massachusetts-born Whistler sailed for Europe, never to return. Although not usually grouped with the Impressionists, he shared that group's characteristically loose brushwork and interest in contemporary subjects. The artist's choice of a mundane industrial scene -- here the slag heaps and factories of the Battersea area of London -- and his nearly abstract treatment of color, design, and brushwork set him apart from his contemporaries, however, pointing the way toward the art of the 20th century.
CORCUS_100904_372.JPG: Eastman Johnson
The Toilet, 1873
In this painting, Johnson depicts his wife Elizabeth in the interior of their New York residence. Shown adjusting her earring, she is clothed in an informal velvet morning dress. The room, with its beautiful still-life arrangement of toilet waters, is equally personal. A covered Ojibwe Indian basket, dating from the artist's time in Wisconsin, is seen on the Federal-style sideboard. What resembles a child's sketch tacked up next to the mirror may be the work of the couple's old child, Ethel, three years old when the painting was executed.
CORCUS_100904_381.JPG: Charles Ulrich
In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden, 1884
Perhaps at the behest of his German emigre parents, Ulrich studied at the Royal Academy in Munich. There he became a master of the precisely delineated realism that characterized much contemporary German art. This work is one of the first 19th-century American paintings to depict the experience of immigrants arriving in the United States. The artist portrays his subjects with a dignity that defies their humble surroundings and trying circumstances. In particular, the young mother, whose head is illuminated from above as if haloed, suggests a secular Madonna. Ironically, Ulrich sought his artistic land of promise abroad, settling permanent in Europe in 1885.
CORCUS_100904_418.JPG: Richard Norris Brooke
A Pastoral Visit, Virginia, 1881
Brooke enjoyed a successful artistic career in Washington, DC, and served as vice principal of the Corcoran School of Art in the early 1900s. A Pastoral Visit, which depicts an elderly minister seated at a table with a family of parishioners, is the most celebrated of his paintings representing African American life in rural northern Virginia. He portrayed the highly individualized figures with a degree of humanity and dignity rare in 19th-century images of African Americans, depicting them engaged in a cultural activity important to white and black families alike.
CORCUS_100904_444.JPG: John George Brown
The Longshoremen's Noon, 1879
Poised before plump bales of cotton, these laborers are depicted on their noontime break in various states of repose. The prominent position of The New York Sun suggests that their conversation likely concerned current events, perhaps even their own working conditions. In the late 1870s, a period of significant unrest, an image of dockworkers discussing pressing issues of the day have intimidated American audiences. Yet Brown's artful treatment of his figures -- whom one critic deemed "preternaturally and decorously fresh" -- likely diffused any such threat.
CORCUS_100904_458.JPG: Edmund Tarbell
Josephine and Mercie, 1908
The painter's New Castle, New Hampshire home is the setting for this refined interior showing his two eldest children. Josephine, seen at the left at age 20 -- Mercie was six years her junior -- was named after her father's friend and fellow painter Joseph Rodefer DeCamp. Unlike his contemporaries, Tarbell did not usually idealize his subjects; the girls assume natural postures, Josephine bending over writing paper and Mercie slouching in an armchair, engrossed in a book.
CORCUS_100904_464.JPG: Childe Hassam
The New York Window, 1912
An unidentified critic praised The New York Window in 1913: "Twilight has fallen , or it is afternoon of a gray day; through the window shadowy forms of great buildings loom as ghosts against the sky. It is the hour of rest, of meditation, and every line of the figure seated by the window conveys this suggestion." The painting proved to be a commercial as well as a critical success, earning two distinguished awards at the Corcoran's Fourth Annual Exhibition, from which it was purchased.
CORCUS_100904_467.JPG: Childe Hassam
A North East Headland, 1901
Hassam was among the first American artists to champion the Impressionist style, the fundamentals of which he had learned while studying in France in the 1880s. This canvas depicts Appledore Island, one of a group of small, rocky islands known as the Isles of Shoals that lie in the Atlantic just off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This jewel-toned rendering of Appledore's rugged coastline showcases Hassam's masterful rendering of light and atmosphere and his love of richly textured pigment.
CORCUS_100904_472.JPG: Thomas Wilmer Dewing
Lady with a Mask, c. 1907
In much of Dewing's work, women assume elegant and graceful postures, highlighted by their placement in sparsely furnished interior spaces. The figure here represents the artist's conception of ideal beauty. Showing no emotion, she fits seamlessly into her environment -- a scene dominated by a narrow color scheme of green and tan hues that helps engender a dreamlike and contemplative mood.
CORCUS_100904_476.JPG: Emil Carlsen
The Picture from Thibet, c. 1920
CORCUS_100904_480.JPG: Cecelia Beaux
Sita and Sarita, c. 1921
Beaux was one of several Gilded Age painters to challenge conventions of traditional portraiture by choosing daring poses and gestures as well as unusual vantage points from which to depict sitters. Here, the gaze of the cat is an alluring substitute for the sitter's averted eyes. The bent forefinger of Sarah's left hand tickling the cat coyly signals the viewer to draw near.
CORCUS_100904_484.JPG: John La Farge
Flowers on a Window Ledge, c. 1861
Painted shortly after La Farge's marriage to Margaret Mason Perry, this still life was more than an experiment in light and color. There is a discernible sense of romance in the artist's loosely brushed flowers and the thick folds of the white curtains, reminiscent of a bridal gown. 19th-century art critic James Jackson Jarves wrote that a La Farge flower "has no botanic talk or display of dry learning, but is burning with love, beauty, and sympathy."
CORCUS_100904_514.JPG: Art for a New Century: The Eight and the Fourteenth Street School:
The first two decades of the 20th century were dominated by a group of New York painters working in a daring, realist style. Responding to the dramatic changes wrought by increasing industrialization and immigration, these artists favored bold and brash scenes depicting modern life,often set in the city's poorer neighborhoods. The leading group called themselves The Eight; some were later known as the Ash Can School, a reference to their gritty subject matter. Although they presented themselves as a unified group for exhibition purposes, these artists had widely varying styles and sometimes ventured beyond New York City in search of subject matter.
A loose cadre of younger artists followed in the footsteps of the Ash Can painters by adopting urban realism as their primary subject. Eschewing the growing influence of European modernism, this group continued to portray the conditions and experiences of the city in a representational style. Known as the Fourteenth Street School, these artists established their studios and found their artistic inspiration in the working-class neighborhood around 14th Street and Union Square in New York City.
CORCUS_100904_517.JPG: William Glackens
Luxembourg Gardens, 1906
Glackens, like the French Impressionists before him, painted scenes of cafes, boulevards, and parks on his honeymoon trip to Paris in 1906. This scene of the city's expansive and popular Luxembourg Gardens depicts the park on weekdays, when middle- and upper-middle class families came out to visit and play. The genteel mood stands in direct contrast to that in scenes of working-class life for which the other members of The Eight would soon become famous.
CORCUS_100904_523.JPG: George Bellows
Forty-two Kids, 1907
Forty-two Kids depicts a band of lanky boys frolicking on the sunny docks of New York City's East River in August 1907. In turn-of-the-century slang, "kids" referred to street-wise tenements dwellers, frequently the offspring of working-class immigrants, who lived in Lower East Side neighborhoods.
When it was exhibited in New York in 1908, the painting was derided due to its adventurous subject and exuberant style; one critic called it a "tour de force of absurdity." However, Forty-two Kids was purchased less than a year after its completion, marking the second sale of Bellows' career and his first to a private collector.
CORCUS_100904_540.JPG: John Sloan
Yeats at Petitpas, 1910
This painting of a gathering at Petitpas Restaurant in lower Manhattan recalls French Impressionist group portraits and may well have been inspired by them. Using fluid brushwork and bright colors, Sloan captures the bohemian atmosphere of the French Petitpas sisters' establishment, which was frequented by artist and authors. Irish artist and philosopher John Butler Yeats, the father of poet William Butler Years, presided nightly at a table in the courtyard. Sloan pictures the elder Yeats sketching under the French flag, and portrays himself at far right, listening intently to the conversation.
CORCUS_100904_549.JPG: Robert Henri
John Sloan, 1904
CORCUS_100904_554.JPG: Guy Pene du Bois
Pierrot Tired, c. 1929
Despite this painting's simple composition, Pene du Bois created a scene laden with psychological and sociological undertones. While the two protagonists are physically close, their disconnected gaze suggests emotional isolation. It is unclear whether the standing figures in the background are viewed through a window or reflected in a mirror, heightening the ambiguous mood. The title reference to Pierrot, the sad clown in Commedia dell'Arte, an improvisational theater form in Renaissance Italy, furthers the painting's melancholy ambiance.
CORCUS_100904_561.JPG: Between the Wars: The Emergence of American Modernism:
By the 1920s, the modern art movements burgeoning in Europe -- such as Cubism, Dadaism, Fauvism, and Surrealism -- began to challenge the prevailing taste for realism in the United States. The American public, including most artists, was first exposed to these avant-garde styles at the historic Armory Show, held in New York City in 1913. In the years that followed, many American painters began to absorb the lessons offered by the work of Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, among others.
Despite experiments with styles such as Cubism and a new emphasis on color, line, and form that anticipated the total abstraction of post-World War II art, most American artists retained some recognizable elements of their chosen subjects. Some painters even eschewed contemporary European influences altogether, choosing instead to continue in the well-established tradition of American realism.
CORCUS_100904_564.JPG: Patrick Henry Bruce
Peinture/Nature Morte, c. 1925-1926
Peinture/Nature Morte is one of 25 still lifes inspired by objects in Bruce's Paris apartment. Emerging from the collage-like combinations of broad, flat areas of color is a horizontal plane abstracted from one of the artist's four antique tables. On the table appear drinking glasses, mortars and pestles from the artist's collection of African artifacts, draftsman's tool including an engineer's scale, and wooden moldings and magnets used to secure drawings to a table or wall.
CORCUS_100904_571.JPG: Stuart Davis
Study for Swing Landscape, 1938
While working as an artist in the Works Progress Administration Art Project in the 1930s, Davis painted this study for a large mural to be installed in the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn. Although far from representational, the painting, with its recognizable motifs -- construction machinery, stairs, ladders, cranes, and signs -- and bright, rhythmic colors, reveals Davis' inspirations from jazz and modern urban life.
CORCUS_100904_580.JPG: Aaron Douglas
Into Bondage, 1936
Into Bondage is a poignant depiction of the forced removal of Africans to America, rendered in a stylized manner that incorporates elements of cubism and African motifs. Shackled figures with their heads hung low process solemnly toward slave ships on the horizon. At left, a lone woman raises her manacled hands in a gesture of despair. Yet even in this solemn image of enslavement there is hope. The male figure in the center of the composition stands nobly on the slave block, buoyed by a beam of light emanating from a rose-colored celestial body that suggests the North Star. This painting is one of two that survive from a series of four murals Douglas executed for the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936, which opened on Juneteenth (June 19th), a holiday celebrating the end of slavery.
CORCUS_100904_587.JPG: Oscar Bluemner
Bluemner's Imagination is a dreamlike amalgam of cultivated and rural landscapes, featuring an intensely red house and green foliage against a dark background. In works such as this, the artist associated color with meaning and identified in particular with red, which to him represented masculinity, vitality, imagination, and the self. Bluemner also likened viewing his paintings to listening to music, and instructed his audience to "look at the space filled with colors and try to feel; do not insist on understanding what seems strange."
CORCUS_100904_596.JPG: Marsden Hartley
Berlin Abstraction, 1914-1915
Berlin Abstraction is among more than a dozen deeply symbolic and personal paintings that pay tribute to Hartley's companion Karl von Freyburg, a young German lieutenant killed in action during World War I. The mosaic-like arrangement of symbols and signs evokes the military pageantry that so impressed Hartley in Berlin. Sleeve cuffs and epaulets are joined by more specific motifs, such as the red "4," which refers to Freyburg's regiment; the checkerboard pattern, symbolizing his love of chess; and the blue and white diamond pattern of the Bavarian flag.
CORCUS_100904_603.JPG: Arthur Garfield Dove
Space Divided by Line Motive, 1943
Although his images were nearly always tied to the land and the sea he loved, Dove's works were often non-representational. Space Divided by Line Motive, composed of large, interlocking planes of unmodulated color, is typical of the artist's most abstract works, created in the years just before his death. It recalls the artist's 1913 statement that he "remember[ed] certain sensations purely through their form and color... by certain shapes, planes of light, or character lines determined by the meeting of such planes."
CORCUS_100904_610.JPG: George L. K. Morris
Indian Composition, 1942-1945
Trips to Santa Fe in the early 1930s sparked Morris' interest in American Indian art and culture. At about the same time, he travelled to Paris where he was exposed to European modern art. He combined these two interests in this painting, which melds stylistic elements of Cubism with uniquely American subject matter. The artist wrote to the Corcoran describing Indian Composition as the "climax of a long and obstinate series" of works by the same title.
CORCUS_100904_620.JPG: Alfred Henry Maurer
Two Heads, c. 1929
CORCUS_100904_627.JPG: Edward Hopper
Ground Swell, 1939
Hopper's lifelong enthusiasm for the sea developed as a boy in Nyack, New York, then a prosperous Hudson River port with an active shipyard. Years later, in 1934, he and his wife built a house and studio on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he produced a number of paintings manifesting his avid interest in nautical subjects. In this quiet view, the several figures aboard the boat are disengaged from each other. Their gazes seem fixed on the bell buoy, their resulting trancelike state reinforced by the rolling waves beneath them.
CORCUS_100904_641.JPG: Reginald Marsh
Smoke Hounds, 1934
Smoke Hounds depicts a squalid evening scene in the Bowery, a lower Manhattan neighborhood that was home to much of the city's indigent population. The painting's title refers to the Bowery dwellers' intoxication from cheap alcohol, popularly called "smoke." The richly textured surfaces of Marsh's nearly monochromatic canvas both invigorate the composition and imbue the painting with the worn quality of old newspaper that litters gritty urban streets.
CORCUS_100904_648.JPG: American Bronzes: From the Corcoran Gallery of Art:
This installation of more than thirty bronze sculptures from the Corcoran's collection of American art highlights an important aspect of the museum's holdings, one not often seen in such depth. Displayed as a group for the first time in many years, these casts offer a rare opportunity to examine the history of American bronze sculpture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Before the middle of the 19th century, Americans did not possess the technology for the process of bronze casting. Sculptors instead relied on European foundries, or had their works carved in marble (six excellent examples of American neoclassical marble sculpture are installed on the Corcoran's grand staircase.) With the development of specialized foundries and trained labor between 1850 and 1900, bronze casting developed rapidly, reflecting American's growing independence from European artistic prototypes and materials. Soon after, bronze eclipsed marble as the medium of choice.
By about 1900, these changes led to the immense popularity of bronze statuettes as affordable parlor and fountain decor. Naturalistic figures of people and animals, well suited to mass replication in the expressive and tactile medium of bronze, proliferated. Sculptures by artists like Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Frederic Remington, such as those on view here, were produced in large editions and sold by retailers such as Tiffany & Company as well as through the foundries and sculptors. In order to customize each cast, artists often experimented with patina, or surface coloration, altering the traditional black and brown to achieve innovative hues of red, yellow, gold, blue, and green.
Despite its rapid growth and remarkable success, the American fine art bronze casting industry was largely brought to an end during World War I.
CORCUS_100904_655.JPG: John Rogers
Taking the Oath -- Drawing Rations, 1866
From the 1860s through about 1890, John Rogers's popular statuary groups decorated the parlors of many middle-class Victorian homes. The Rogers Groups, as they were known, portrayed realistic scenes with convincing character types. The great appeal of the sculptures to the average citizen led Rogers to mass produce them in plaster and to sell them t very modest prices. Taking the Oath -- Drawing Rations, depicting a Reconstruction scene, was one of Rogers' most admired works, and he considered it his best sculpture. In it, a Southern woman is forced to take the oath of allegiance from a Federal soldier in order to obtain food for her family.
CORCUS_100904_691.JPG: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Amor Caritas, modeled 1880-1898; cast by 1905
After modeling the first version of Amor Caritas, an 1870 commission for the tomb of New York Governor Edwin Morgan, Augustus Saint-Gaudens reworked the funerary figure numerous times before casting it in bronze. He considered various titles based on themes of virtue before settling on Amor Caritas, which translates from Latin as "Love Charity." Modeled after the artist's mistress, Davida Johnson Clark, the angel represents the ideal female, a recurring image in art of the American Renaissance period.
The Morgan tomb was one of Saint-Gaudens' several commissions for public monuments in New York, Boston, and Chicago that were cast widely on a smaller scale to meet public demand. Through such works, the artist was instrumental in promoting the idea of a distinctly American school of sculpture, one that would eschew the timeworn neoclassical style for a more lively and naturalistic one.
CORCUS_100904_724.JPG: Alexander Phimister Proctor
Indian Pursuing Buffalo, 1916
Aside from his fine small-scale bronzes such as this one, depicting a popular western theme, Proctor is celebrated for his monumental public work in zoos, parks, and plazas. His four eight-foot-tall bronze buffaloes on Washington's Dumbarton Bridge were the largest bronzes ever cast in the United States in one piece.
One of Proctor's four buffalo sculptures on the Dumbarton Bridge, also known as the Q Street Bridge and the Buffalo Bridge, which was built in 1914-1915 to convey Q Street across Rock Creek Park between Washington's Dupont Circle and Georgetown neighborhoods.
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