The American painting galleries have a new look, with two new installations in the Lauritzen Gallery (gallery 9), “The Romantic Horizon” and “Impressionism and Realism.” The first of these explores the landscape of the American West as seen by artists including Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. Bierstadt first crossed the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, and Moran traveled with the earliest surveys of the Yellowstone region and the Grand Canyon the following decade. Although both artists saw settlement and development spread throughout the West and relied on wealthy urban patronage, their paintings were steadfast in presenting a sublime natural world seemingly unaffected by man. Their work helped to shape an idealized image of the western landscape as an untouched wilderness that has persisted to the present day.
In the opening decades of the twentieth century, artists created another image of the West as a rough-hewn paradise, filled with rugged landscapes and daring action. Their theatrical narratives were often fraught with danger, and lives were governed by common sense and muscle. Artists including Charles M. Russell and N.C. Wyeth pictured hard working cowhands and stalwart Indians, subjects whose traditional lives had already been forever altered. Equal parts fact, myth, and nostalgia, these heroic characters continue to stalk us in movies, advertisements, and our own imaginations, even as we acknowledge the complexity and contradictions of the West.
“Impressionism and Realism” explores two of the
most important movements that flanked the turn of the twentieth century. In the mid-1880s, American artists and collectors were drawn to the French Impressionists, whose work was characterized by a bright palette and lively brushwork. Many American artists made extended sojourns to Europe to study, and several of the works in the gallery were painted in Paris and its environs. Childe Hassam, one of the best known American Impressionists, gained wide acclaim for his urban views of Paris, New York, and Boston. Most American painters, however, chose to depict pastoral landscapes beyond the city’s edge. Artists such as John Henry Twachtman and Charles Harold Davis lived and worked in Connecticut, finding their inspiration in picturesque rural vistas.
Impressionism remained popular in America into the twentieth century, but by 1900, a group of artists emerged in Philadelphia and New York who treated the urban landscape in a manner that was neither sentimental nor picturesque. Employing bold, loose brushwork and a dark palette, they portrayed everyday people and situations in a realistic and dignified manner, drawing attention to daily routines and experiences. Nicknamed “The Ashcan School” for their commitment to celebrating the vitality of the metropolis as well as its grittier side, the installation includes important works by John Sloan and Robert Henri, whose Consuelo in Black
(1924) is a recent gift to the Museum’s collection.
(above left) Thomas Moran (American, 1837–1926), The Grand Canyon of the Colorado,
1913, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. C. N. Dietz, 1934.10; (above right) John Sloan (American, 1871–1951), Sunset, West Twenty-third Street (23rd Street, Roofs, Sunset),
1906, oil on canvas, 25th Anniversary Purchase, 1957.15