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American Impressionism & Urban Realism

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3/20/2009 - 6/8/2009
Organizing institution: The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
With the first decades of the 20th century impressionism had gained an "American" flavor. The French style of impressionism emphasized pure, unmixed colors laid directly on the canvas with loose brush strokes that fused when seen at a distance, no firm outlines or black and gray shadows, and the use of cropped forms and empty spaces. American artists, on the other hand, adopted a more eclectic approach that fused impressionist technique with a realist treatment of form. Subject matter focused on American life, particularly in and around cities. Regional schools developed across the country and by 1915, American impressionism was the dominate art style at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

But another group of artists also drew critical attention at the exposition. They were the practitioners of an urban style of realism described by critics as the "Ashcan School." Their mentor was Robert Henri, a charismatic teacher and advocate of painting "life in the raw." This core group of William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and George Luks began their careers as artist-reporters for Philadelphia newspapers, but with the instruction and encouragement of Henri, turned to painting. Following Henri's lead they moved to New York City where they helped organize the independent exhibition of "The Eight" in 1908 at the Macbeth Galleries. Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, and Arthur B. Davies joined the group to protest the conservative tendencies of the art establishment. Although the eight artists never showed together again, their break with the academy opened the way for other independent exhibitions.

Urban realism, with its focus on contemporary life at all levels of society, became part of the Art Students League curriculum as taught by Sloan and later, Kenneth Hayes Miller. Generations of artists, Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop among them, learned to observe and selectively record the world around them. With well-developed drawing skills, many of these artists also became prolific printmakers. Through their eyes we can revisit an earlier era in city life.

Organized by the U.Va. Art Museum

Exhibition Objects (9)

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