A New Look at American Painting
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.

What's Pictured: (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

The Maximilian Journals

Between 1832-34, the explorer and naturalist Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, Germany, embarked on a voyage into the furthest reaches of the American Interior. Accompanied by the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, Maximilian set forth from St. Louis in April 1833 on a 2,500 mile journey by steamship and keelboat up the Missouri River, traveling as far as Fort McKenzie, Montana. Wintering at the Mandan village near Fort Clark, they returned downriver the following spring, having spent over a year amongst the tribes of the Upper Missouri. The watercolors that Bodmer produced on this journey remain one of the most perceptive and compelling visual accounts of the West ever created. Meanwhile, his patron Maximilian was equally hard at work on a journal documenting his scientific and anthropologic observations. Few historical chronicles are as informative and eloquent, describing the topography, Native peoples, natural history, and the burgeoning fur trade of the High Plains. Today, Maximilian’s journals are a centerpiece of the Joslyn collection, accompanied by his collection of over 350 watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer. 

Joslyn Art Museum recently announced the milestone publication of the third and final volume of the English translation of The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, one of the most important documents of the nineteenth-century American West. Volumes 1 and 2 were published in 2008 and 2010 respectively. In 2008, Volume 1 was named the "Outstanding Nonfiction Book" of the year by National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In the fall of 2011, Volume 1 received the Western History Association’s Dwight L. Smith Award, a biennial award recognizing outstanding bibliographic or research work. Earlier in 2011, Volumes 1 and 2 were reviewed by Stuart Ferguson of The Wall Street Journal, who called the works a "magnificent chronicle."

The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied — Volume 1: May 1832–April 1833;
Volume 2: April–September 1833; and Volume 3: September 1833–August 1834 are available in Joslyn Art Museum’s Hitchcock Museum Shop for $85 per volume. The Journals are edited by Stephen S. Witte and Marsha V. Gallagher. Volumes 1 and 2 are translated by William J. Orr, Paul Schach, and Dieter Karch with forewords by John Wilson. Volume 3 is translated by Dieter Karch with a foreword by Joslyn’s Executive Director and CEO Jack Becker.

Support for the Maximilian Journals Project has come from many sources. Robert Daugherty funded the completion of the translation in 2003. The Bodmer Society, Charles W. Durham, and Marlene and J. Joe Ricketts made timely contributions to support initial editing and production costs. Dorothy and Stanley M. Truhlsen, Arader Galleries, Ann and Steve Berzin, Judy and Terry Haney, Susan and Michael Lebens, Pinnacle Bank, and Phyllis and Del Toebben provided additional support. Joslyn was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the University of Oklahoma Press received funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Ultimately, however, it has been the extremely generous gifts of Howard L. and Rhonda A. Hawks and The Hawks Foundation that have made this important publication possible.

The Scope of Joslyn's Collections

Eugene Kingman (far right), the second director of Joslyn Art Museum (1947–1969), oversees the delivery of art at the north door of the Memorial building. Photo ca. 1962.

For a brief synopsis of the Museum's collections,
click here.