“Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France”
Denver Art Museum
Through March 13, 2022
The Denver Art Museum is the first of two U.S. institutions that will present “Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France,” a touring exhibition that explores the powerful impact of French art on American painting between 1855 and 1913.
Curator Timothy J. Standring has selected more than 100 works created by a broad range of Americans who include not only the artists mentioned in the title (James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt), but also such fascinating figures as Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Elizabeth Nourse, Lilla Cabot Perry, John Singer Sargent, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Standring has organized the show into seven sections, opening with a dramatically installed gallery that evokes the spectacular density of the influential Salon exhibitions once mounted in Paris.
The following sections explore such themes as classicism, realism, tonalism, impressionism, and hybrids of these approaches. There are particularly deep dives into how American students were trained at the École des Beaux-Arts and the ateliers nearby, and also how they looked at landscape anew during their summertime stays at artist colonies throughout Normandy and Brittany.
Among the many careers highlighted are those of H.O. Tanner, a gifted Black artist who fled racism in the U.S. to train at the Académie Julian, and also the first three Americans whose works were acquired by the French government — Walter Gay, Henry Mosler and Frank Biggs.
Not surprisingly, both Whistler and Cassatt get their own galleries. Cassatt is represented by nearly 20 works. At age 21, she arrived in Paris from her native Philadelphia and was quickly admitted to the atelier of the academician Jean-Léon Gérôme. She supplemented her studies by making copies of masterworks at the Louvre, as women then were not allowed at the École des Beaux-Arts or to socialize in the cafes where their male peers gathered.
This show will be on view at its second and final venue, Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, from April 16 through July 31, 2022. It is accompanied by a handsome catalogue distributed by Yale University Press. On November 30, Standring will give an illustrated talk about the exhibition’s preparation, and on January 22 University of Denver professor Annette Stott will discuss the summer art colonies. On March 2, Auburn University’s Emily C. Burns will examine the careers of H.O. Tanner and other Black artists who worked in Paris around 1900.
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