LONDON, ENGLAND.-The National Gallery will present Americans in Paris
22 February - 21 May 2006. Paris was the centre of the art world in the 19th century and a magnet for American art students and artists, particularly after the 1860s. For the first time in Britain the National Gallery exhibition 'Americans in Paris' will look at why these artists were drawn to the city, what they found there, how they responded to it and what they retained of their experience.
American artists studied both privately and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and longed to show their work at the annual Paris Salon. They watched the unfolding of Impressionism with fascination, and sometimes with horror. Even American artists who chose not to study in Paris, or visited the city only briefly, sought affirmation for their work there, finally making Impressionism an American style.
'Americans in Paris' includes works by high-profile artists such as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent alongside artists who will be less familiar to British audiences. Whistler's paintings will be among the highlights of the exhibition. His celebrated portrait of his mistress, 'White Girl' (1862, National Gallery of Art, Washington), hugely controversial when first shown at the notorious Salon des Refusés of 1863, will be shown in the same room as his portrait of his mother, 'Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1' (1871, Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
The selection of works by John Singer Sargent includes the painting that helped make him a sensation in Paris, 'Portrait of Madame X' (1883-84, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). A star wherever she appears, the portrait of Louisiana-born Virginie Gautreau will be shown with another remarkable portrait by Sargent, 'The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit' (1882, Museum of Fine Art, Boston). Rarely lent, this huge painting of the four daughters of fellow American painter Edward Darley Boit in the sumptuous entrance hall of their Paris apartment is one of the finest evocations of childhood in art.
Perhaps a third of American art students in Paris at this time were women, and 'Americans in Paris' includes work by several of them. Among them are the Bostonian Ellen Day Hale; Elizabeth Jane Gardner, the first American woman to win a medal at the Paris Salon; the Philadelphian Cecilia Beaux; and Mary Cassatt, the only American to show with the French Impressionists. Cassatt is very well represented, with paintings of her family and her favourite mother and child theme, as well as wonderful views of women at the theatre. This is the first time a group of her paintings has been assembled in Britain, allowing audiences to see why she was held in such high esteem by her fellow Impressionists. The exhibition also includes the African-American Henry Ossawa Tanner, who fell in love with Paris and remained in France until his death, and his former teacher, Thomas Eakins, who had studied in Paris before returning to Philadelphia.
The exhibition travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (25 June - 24 September 2006) and to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (16 October 2006 - 28 January 2007). It is accompanied by a handsomely illustrated book, (£25 paperback, £40 hardback), and a DVD (£15). A free exhibition, 'Mary Cassatt: Prints', will be shown in Room 1 from 22 February to 7 May 2006.