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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
Gifford Beal
American, 1879–1956

The Mary Powell at Newburg, n.d.
Oil on Canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Gifford Beal, a painter and muralist, studied art in the United States during a time when most artists went to Europe for training. Born in the Bronx, New York, he studied with William Merritt Chase who encouraged his students to work directly from nature and the model. Beal’s paintings often reflect this influence depicting scenes from New York and the Hudson River Valley, and his vacation homes in Massachusetts.
The steamboat, Mary Powell, shown in this mural-size painting, carried passengers and freight along the Hudson River. Its stops included Newburgh, a popular destination for the leisure class looking for entertainment in the town’s amusement parks and casinos. With broad brushstrokes Beal captures the passage of light and shadow over a landscape filled with a frieze of transparently rendered figures in the foreground. This painterly approach captures the joy of a summer outing.

George Bellows
American, 1882–1925

The Life Class, 1917

Museum Purchase, 1981.23

Isabel Bishop
American, 1902–1988

Couple on Park Bench #16, c. 1945
Ink and wash

Gift of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.17

Born and raised in Ohio, Bishop moved to New York after high school to pursue a career in art. She enrolled in the Art Students League where she studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Guy Pène Du Bois. Miller, Du Bois and Bishop along with Reginald Marsh would become known as the "Fourteenth Street School" and would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors the "Ash Can School" by creating mostly New York City genre scenes.

In 1930, Bishop left the League to study on her own, renting a studio on Fourteenth Street near Union Square. This neighborhood's daily rhythms would dominate her canvas for the following years and would become some of her best-known work. The ordinary life of New Yorkers fascinated Bishop who depicted figures engaged in mundane activities such as yawning, picking up change, putting on coats, touching up their make-up or simply engrossed in conversation. The drawing shown here is typical of Bishop's work. Perhaps the ironic juxtaposition of the casual, almost masculine position of the woman reading the newspaper with the contemplative, inward-looking man inspired Bishop to draw this couple. Bishop has succeeded in retaining a "snap-shot" quality in this drawing, exemplified by the lines that suggest the sudden movement of the woman's legs.

Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn
British, 1870–1951

A Courtyard in Grenada, Spain, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn’s life and career exemplified the cosmopolitan nature of the turn-of-the-century world. De Glehn was born in London to a father of Estonian background and a French mother and became friends with the American expatriate painter, John Singer Sargent. While helping Sargent with his commission of the murals for the Boston Public Library, de Glehn met his future wife, Jane Emmet who came from an artistic American family that included the novelist Henry James. Bonded by a common love of music, literature and art, the de Glehns and Sargent traveled extensively together and many of Sargent’s paintings feature the de Glehns either as a couple or Jane alone.

Courtyard in Granada, Spain comes from one of the de Glehns’ many trips through continental Europe that included time in Florence, Venice and France. Consistent with the principles of plein air painting, de Glehn seeks to capture the essential qualities of light and color that define a place. The ad hoc assemblage of objects close to the door adds to the sense of spontaneous authenticity.

Guy Pène Du Bois
American, 1884–1958

Dining Out, 1919
Oil on Board

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

A respected writer and critic, the American artist Guy Pène du Bois was also a talented painter, best known for satirical genre scenes that depicted the culture of leisure and consumption. Like many other artists and writers of his time, Pène du Bois shuttled between the US and France, especially because of the connection he felt to his family’s French roots. He shared his fellow modernist John Sloan’s ability to astutely observe and capture the daily lives of urbanites whether in New York or in France. Dining Out combines two of Pène du Bois’s favorite themes: individuals playing out their roles on the social stage and the interaction between men and women.

William James Glackens
American, 1870–1938

Head of a Girl, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Lent by Dr. Robert Leshner, EL. 1983.56

Although it is undated, we can assume that this is one of Glackens later paintings in the same vein as Summer House with its vibrant colors reminiscent of Renoir’s style. In this work Glacken’s has abandoned the somber tones and urban subjects characteristic of the Ashcan School and turned to a heightened palette with rich hues. The urgent brush-strokes which in areas reveal the raw canvas, contrast with the young girl’s carefully contoured face. She shares similar characteristics (fiery red hair, rosy cheeks, and soft features) to that of the artist’s daughter Lenna whom he frequently painted late in his career.

William James Glackens
American, 1870-1938

Summer House, Bayshore, c. 1915
Oil on canvas

Museum Purchase, 1978.28

Another of the infamous “Eight,” Glackens’ career started with a push by Robert Henri (1865-1929), out of the Philadelphia pressroom and into the studio. In 1895 Glackens followed Henri to Paris for his first trip abroad in order to “establish his professional credentials” as a painter. This trip no doubt influenced the artist’s early work whose dark tones and heavy brushstrokes recall Velázquez and whose subject matter drew upon that of Manet and Degas. By 1910 however, Glackens began to reject the dark palette and heavy brush-strokes which enticed his colleagues in favor of the lighter hues and feathery strokes associated with the French impressionists, particularly Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Glackens painted many summer landscape scenes like the one depicted here during his stay on the shore of the Great South Bay of Long Island from 1911-1916. Glackens’ relied on compositional unity through his use of repeated color, the bright green on the roof of the gazebo that mimics the green on the pole of the birdhouse and creates a sense of balance across the canvas in an otherwise chaotic blend of forms and colors. The evident nature of his brush-strokes across the surface of the canvas creates a sense of movement suggesting a summer breeze while the bright colors and warm hues throughout call to mind the intense heat of a mid-summer’s day.

Childe Hassam
American, 1859–1935

End of the Trolly Line, Oak Park, Illinois, 1893
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Originally from near Boston, Childe Hassam was one of the leading and most prolific painters of American impressionism. After spending three years in Paris, he returned to the US where he continued his careful study of urban life as a site of progress and excitement. In particular his views of New York City from the fashionable Fifth Avenue to the Flag Day series celebrate the American city as elegant and dynamic as its European counterparts. As building accelerated and permanently transformed the cityscape, Hassam’s paintings reveal a wistful ambivalence towards the effects of modernization.

End of the Trolley Line, Oak Park, Illinois implies the encroaching presence of the city onto small town America. Oak Park is a western suburb of Chicago where Hassam had gone to do commercial work for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The trolley provided easy mobility between the village and Chicago, thereby allowing the metropolis to penetrate and expand further into the territory. The woman and child advancing on the sidewalk set in a grassy field underlines this sense of the city’s edge being pushed out further into the landscape.

Robert Henri
American, 1865–1929

Johnny Patton, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Robert Henri began his career at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia where he studied under Thomas P. Anshutz (former pupil of Thomas Eakins). Henri broke from his academic training early on in search of an art which he described as being more “relevant to life”. For stylistic inspiration he turned to the European masters Velasquez, Hals, and Manet, adopting the darker tones and more painterly, heavy brushstrokes found in their work. He applied this new style to a less elegant subject matter, primarily New York City’s daily and commonplace street scenes. In doing so, Henri became the driving force behind a group of artist followers dubbed “the Eight” (William Glackens, John Sloan, George Luks, Everett Shinn, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, Arthur Davies) who all shared the common crusade for an independent American art, free from academic restrictions. Henri helped organize both the 1908 exhibition of “The Eight” and the “Exhibition of Independent Artists” in 1910 which displayed work exemplifying these new principles that would become the foundation of American modern realism.

Henri’s role as leader and influential teacher often overshadowed his own painting career which focused primarily on portraiture. His models varied but he preferred to depict everyday people including children like this portrait of young Johnny Patton. Henri’s figures occupied dark, undefined spaces, devoid of props, reminiscent of Velasquez. By isolating the subject, Henri could focus solely on the individual revealing their own unique features. Here the use of vibrant colors acts as a spotlight, creating areas of deep shadow and intense light but ultimately portraying a “true to life” likeness of the boy.

Walt Kuhn
American, 1877–1949

Pan, 1928
Pen and ink

Lent by the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2005.EL.1.143

Kuhn first began producing comic strips and cartoons for Wasp magazine in 1899. By 1905 he was working for Puck and in 1912 he began to regularly sell his work to Life and Judge magazines. As one of the founding members of the American Painters and Sculptors he spent much of 1912 curating the infamous 1913 Armory Show that introduced European modernism to Americans.

1912-27 saw Kuhn devoting more of his time making prints; painting as few as ten canvases a year. By 1928 when this work was produced, he had however abandoned printmaking to take up drawing as a daily practice. The image here of a parade of revelers may be read in association with the mythological figure of Pan, the satyr-like creature known for his lustful appetites. Worshippers of this deity would engage in wild parties consuming large quantities of alcohol and playing music. The gestural linearity of Kuhn’s drawing evokes such heightened debauchery. On the image’s far right, a woman rides on the back of a man. In the center, a man wears a bucket on his head while on the left another beats a pan with a large spoon or paddle. Although it is unclear if this is an interior scene, one might infer from the clock on the floor that this party has continued past the stroke of midnight and the start of the New Year.

Ernest Lawson
Canadian-born American, 1873–1939

The Pond–Winter, 1911
Oil on board

Lent by Dr. Robert Leshner, EL.6.2000.5

River Valley in Winter, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

For early collectors and critics, Ernest Lawson’s impressionist landscapes embodied the American spirit of independence because they transmitted the artist’s subjectivity and not simply the visual record of what he saw. This imprint of the artist’s temperament onto the work was considered superior to French impressionism in which artists such as Claude Monet functioned as an “eye.” Rather than copying Nature, Lawson considered it a source book from which to draw upon and used color to express the emotional aspects of the landscape. Lawson painted numerous river and idyllic scenes including many that focused on the bridges and rivers around New York City like River Valley in Winter and The Pond – Winter. His style and subject matter changed little throughout his career.

George Benjamin Luks
American, 1867–1933

The Race Track, c. 1925
Watercolor on paper

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

George Benjamin Luks
American, 1867–1933

Man Reading, n.d.

Lent by the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2005.El.1.157

Prior to working for the Philadelphia Press as an illustrator George Luks studied in Düsseldorf and traveled to Spain where he became enamored with the works of Goya and Velazquez. He was also influenced by Rembrandt’s use of light and Franz Hals’ loose brushstrokes. Luks saw his preparation in newspapers as essential to his oeuvre. This fact is borne out in his obituary wherein this quote appeared:

“Making commercial drawings, and especially doing newspaper work, gives an artist unlimited experience, teaches him life, brings him out. If it doesn’t, there was nothing to bring him out, that’s all”

Luks moved to New York in 1896 where he, like others who were interested in urban realism painted the city and its inhabitants in earnest. Although primarily known for their gritty depiction of New York’s lower East side, these artists also painted realist images of the urban populace involved in leisure activities such as picnicking in gardens, dining in restaurants, and as in this case attending horse races.

Reginald Marsh
American, 1898–1954

Cabooses in Railroad Yard, 1934
Watercolor and pen on paper

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Reginald Marsh
American, 1898–1954

Chop Suey Dancers, 1930

Museum Purchase, 1977.6

Merry-Go-Round, 1931

Museum Purchase, 1981.66

Reginald Marsh’s fascination with the urban proletariat in his paintings, prints and drawings, belies his cultivated background. Marsh came from a family with means, went to Yale, studying art history and married the daughter of a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon returning from a trip to Europe in 1925, he enrolled in the Arts Student League where he studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller. Marsh was one of the original cartoonists for the New Yorker. Indeed satire permeates his representations of the “continuous performance” that characterized New York during the thirties: its dance halls, burlesque theater, streets and beaches.

Sexuality was another prevalent theme in Marsh’s vast oeuvre. As seen in Chop Suey Dancers and the Merry Go-Round, women are on display and perform for the spectators both within and outside the work of art. Whereas the women are presented as voluptuous, the men are often unable to possess the woman beyond their stares, resulting in social, as well as sexual, alienation. Marsh’s treatment of the body connects him to Old Masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens, particularly in showing the figure from all angles and interweaving numerous figures into one dense composition.

Kenneth Hayes Miller
American, 1876–1952

City Street, 1939
Oil on canvas

Museum Purchase, 1978.4

Kenneth Hayes Miller was a highly respected teacher whose students included Edward Hopper, Isabel Bishop and Reginald Marsh. In New York City, Miller assembled a group of artists around his studio near Union Square, which came to be known as the Fourteenth Street School. In the twenties and thirties, Fourteenth Street was the “poor man’s Fifth Avenue” – a commercial center that drew many ethnic varieties from the Lower East Side – and hence one of the inspirations for the theme of the “Shopper” which Miller explored extensively in his art.

As seen in the three works displayed, Miller gives the figures a Renaissance monumentality, merging modern, urban life with archetypes from an earlier age. For example the woman holding a baby in both the painting and study for City Street reinterprets the Madonna and child, juxtaposed with the matronly figures and questionable male character, and the svelte, unencumbered woman under the arched opening. Borrowing compositional principles from narrative paintings in fifteenth-century Florence, Miller highlights the diversity of the contemporary city and the new woman.

Maurice Prendergast
American, 1858–1924

Park Scene, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Prendergast, originally from Boston, moved to New York City to pursue his art career in 1914. Having been introduced to Robert Henri by good friend William Glackens, he would become the eldest member of “the Eight”. While his work was stylistically the farthest removed from his colleagues (at times reflecting an influence from European modernism, in particular fauvism) his subject matter fell within the group’s doctrines and he was therefore included in both the 1908 exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries and the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists.

The park scene depicted in the painting shown here was a common theme for Prendergast as well as other members of the “Eight”. Prendergast’s brushy application of paint and loosely defined figures create an almost decorative surface. Clearly the focus here is on the merging and interplay of colors as well as the sense of movement achieved through the liberal application of paint.

Everett Shinn
American, 1876–1953

Outdoor Stage – Paris, 1940

Lent by Dr. Robert Leshner, EL.6.2000.8

Everett Shinn began his career as an artist-reporter for the Philadelphia Press alongside William Glackens, John Sloan, and George Luks. Shinn was the youngest of this core group who would later comprise “the Eight”. He was known for his quick hand and photographic memory, no doubt a product of his time spent within the press. Enticed by Henri’s intoxicating enthusiasm for his cause, Shinn exhibited alongside his fellow illustrators in 1908 at the MacBeth Gallery show. Shinn’s fascination with the city’s nightlife set him apart from his contemporaries and while his early work falls within the doctrine of the “Eight”(tough realism of New York), by 1913 his compositions shift towards more theatrical themes becoming almost stylized and decorative. His work is most often compared to that of French artists’ Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas.

Images of women, usually nightclub performers like the one depicted here, predominate Shinn’s later work. Degas’ influence is eminent both in subject matter and the unusual vantage point. The intimate exchange between performer and audience heightens the work’s dramatic tension. While Degas’ images of women retained a voyeuristic distance Shinn’s atmosphere presented the viewer with the opportunity to directly engage with his subjects. Although he produced oil paintings, Shinn’s preferred medium remained pastels, as they were more conducive to capturing the city’s spontaneity.

John Sloan
American, 1871–1951

Boys Selling Newspapers, n.d.
Charcoal on paper

Gift of the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.73

Until 1890, John Sloan was a self-taught artist. In 1888 he learned etching by reading Phillip Gilbert Hamerton’s Etchers Handbook and in 1889, using John Collier’s A Manual of Oil Painting he studied drawing and painting. His first formal education came in 1890 when he participated in a night class at Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia.

In 1892, he began working in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s art department where he met and befriended William Glackens. In the same year he entered the drawing from the antique class taught by Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The greatest influence on his artistic development however was Robert Henri who became the mentor for the majority of the younger Inquirer newspaper artists. In addition to his regular work at the newspaper, Sloan also contributed to magazines earning national recognition in 1894 for his works in the Chicago publications Inland Printer and Chapbook. In 1895 Sloan moved to The Philadelphia Press working there with Glackens and George Luks. Unlike these other artists Sloan was not as well suited for the quick pace of the art room. Consequently he developed what became known as his poster style with a line more akin to that used in linocuts.
John Sloan
American, 1871–1951

Coytesville, New Jersey, 1908
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

John Sloan left Philadelphia and the world of the newspaper artist in 1904 for New York where he established himself as a freelance illustrator. While finding work in the City was difficult, he did receive an extensive commission from the J. Quinby Company to illustrate the works of French novelist Charles Paul de Kock. Although the relationship was over by 1905, it afforded Sloan the opportunity to make his first major set of illustrations. Sloan had started painting in oil in 1895 and his palette, like that of Henri and Glackens tended towards darker tonalities with glimpses of white. He also brought to his canvases his experience as a newspaper artist rendering his images of city dwellers with quick gestural brush strokes.

By 1906 there was however a discernable change in Sloan’s palette moving towards a broader range of colors. In this same year he began to paint landscapes from nature and over the course of the next four years, he produced fifty small sketches. In 1908 the Sloans, accompanied by the family of his friend Joe Laub, spent their summers at the home of a French couple in Coytesville, New Jersey on the Palisades. Between June 16th and July 3rd he painted several 9 x 11 sketches en plein aire of the neighboring landscape. In his diary he indicates that the work produced during this trip was his first foray into nature since he, Glackens, Laub and Worden went out on Sundays in Philadelphia eighteen years earlier.

John Sloan
American, 1871–1951

Hell Hole, 1917
Etching and aquatint

Museum Purchase, 1977.5

John Sloan’s interest in printmaking lasted throughout his life and resulted in over 300 images between 1888 and 1949. Between 1905 and 1925 when he left the city to permanently live in Santa Fe, he recorded in his graphic work the seamier side of New York, concentrating largely on the everyday activities of the urban working class. His particular interest in this stratum of New York’s populace was due in part to his socialist leanings; he served from 1912-1914 as the editor of The Masses. He was also greatly influenced by the graphic realism of the French and Spanish masters Honoré Daumier and Francisco de Goya.

According to the artist, line was the only purely invented device that an artist had in his creative arsenal. Sloan’s ability as a draughtsman and printmaker is no better exemplified than in his print Hell Hole, which won a Gold Medal at the Philadelphia Sesqui-Centennial Exhibition in 1926. This scene takes place in the Golden Swan, a bar commonly known as “Hell Hole” once located on 6th avenue and 4th street in New York’s Tenderloin district. In the image’s back right hand corner Sloan has depicted the playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) a bar regular. The vaguely comprehendible image of a reclining nude on the rear wall hints at the sexually charged atmosphere that pervades the bar. Men interact freely with women throughout the room and one woman in the far right extends her leg onto the lap of her partner as she smokes her cigarette.

Anthony Thieme
Dutch-born American, 1888–1954

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Born in Holland, Antonius Johannes Thieme studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rotterdam, the Royal Academy at The Hague, and under both George Hacker in Germany and Guiseppe Mancini in Italy. After completing his studies, Thieme traveled extensively throughout Europe, England and South America until finally settling in Rockport, Massachusetts where he established the Thieme School of Art. Branded the “master of sunlight and shadow”, Thieme’s best known works depict boats and harbor scenes in which he demonstrates a careful study of reflection upon still water. His affinity for depicting boats with incredible detail and accuracy was no doubt a result of his time spent at a naval academy as a young boy in Holland.

The scene depicted here was produced during Theime’s time in New York City, where he received a job painting Broadway backdrops. The Brooklyn Bridge was a favorite subject among early 20th century painters and Thieme certainly does not forgo the chance to incorporate it into one of his signature boat scenes. The sky, almost completely white and lacking in both tone and definition, allows the viewer’s eye to travel downward to focus on the artists’ favorite theme; the interplay of light and reflection on water. His thick yet abbreviated application of paint aligns Thieme with other American Impressionists.

Guy C. Wiggins
American, 1883–1962

Winter Scene, New York, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Lent by Dr. Robert Leshner, EL.1983.54

By his twentieth birthday Guy Wiggins had established a national reputation. He was the youngest artist to have his work included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; he received the Hartford prize in 1916; the Norman Wait Bronze medal from the Art Institute of Chicago and an honorable Mention from the Philadelphia Academy in 1917; and he was elected a full member of the National Academy of art in 1919.

In the 1920s Wiggins divided his time between New York City and the artist’s colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut. There he came under the influence of Childe Hassam, adopting a painting style akin to that of French Impressionism. Wiggin’s own impressionistic views of New York corresponded to a 19th century tradition of the picturesque with the metropolis presented as a romantic landscape covered in billowy snow, consumed in teeming rain showers, or engulfed in waning light. Along with Hassam, Sloan, and Bellows, Wiggins was one of the first artists to portray the city in this manner. His interest in New York could be also traced to Robert Henri. While not swayed by the older artist’s dark palette, he nonetheless showed an equal interest in depicting the City’s diversity although in a quieter mode.

Irving Ramsey Wiles
American, 1861–1948

Interior of William Merritt Chase’s Tenth Street Studio, n.d.
Oil on canvas

Collection of Cynthia and Heywood Fralin

Irving Wiles depicts here the studio interior of both a teacher and lifelong friend, William Merritt Chase. Wiles came from an artistic family and at the behest of his father enrolled at the Art Students League in New York, where he met Chase. Like many of the artists featured here, he also studied painting in Paris and returned to the States where his commissions for portraits of wealthy clients provided a steady livelihood.
Chase’s studio on Tenth Street represented the inner sanctum of the American art world at the turn of the century – a space that served as a gallery, place for study, painting, teaching, meditation and theatrical performance. Chase would host an open house every Saturday, a marketing practice that enhanced his own and the general status of the artist as a purveyor of taste and Old World culture. The conception of the studio as an extension of the artistic personality reverberated in paintings that depicted the studio interior. Thus, Wiles’ painting participates in this self-consciousness about the increasing role of the American artist in the cultural milieu.

Exhibition Objects (9)

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