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Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Presents Exhibition of American Impressionist Paintings
Childe Hassam, Old House, East Hampton, 1917, oil on canvas, 2' x 30 in. Bank of America Collection.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL.- Transcending Vision: American Impressionism 1870-1940 from the Bank of America Collection features more than 100 paintings, drawings, and prints by more than 70 artists, including some of America’s most important. This spectacular exhibition, on view from August 28, 2010-January 9, 2011, is mainly comprised of oil paintings and encompasses the Hudson River School, American Impressionism, and a few works on the cusp of Modernism. It focuses on one of the most fertile periods in American art and history. Our young country was trying to find its identity and direction, especially in the artistic realm.

This exhibition is part of the bank’s Art in our Communities™ program, which shares significant works from the Bank of America Collection with museums and nonprofit galleries across the country and around the world. In 2009, the bank lent its Andy Warhol Portfolios: Life and Legends to the Museum with impressive results, attracting 33,586 people during off-season.

“Once again, we are deeply grateful to Bank of America for sharing these works with the public and enabling the MFA to tap into one of the world’s oldest and most respected corporate art collections,” said Museum Director Dr. John E. Schloder. “The artworks are striking and provide telling insights into the development of American art.”

Among the leading artists represented are George Inness, Thomas Moran, Arthur Wesley Dow (an early influence on Georgia O’Keeffe), Childe Hassam, John Sloan, George Bellows, Ernest Lawson, Gifford Beal, Sanford Gifford, Edward Potthast, Daniel Garber, and Guy Carleton Wiggins. Visitors can compare works in Transcending Vision with examples from the Museum’s own stellar collection of both American and European art. Among them are four choice French Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet and works by the Americans Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, and Childe Hassam. The MFA also has three early, classic paintings by O’Keeffe. The number of works by Monet and O’Keeffe are a rarity for a Florida museum.

During the exciting period explored in Transcending Vision, American artists responded to currents in European art as they tried to forge a more distinctly American tradition. Many studied and traveled abroad, especially in France. Several paintings in the exhibition reflect those sojourns. European art also began to arrive on American shores. Though some artists were strongly influenced by French Impressionism, they generally avoided the label “American Impressionists.” They were eager to establish their independence.

Landscapes and seascapes dominate the bank’s collection. American artists looked to nature to both capture and envision their young country. The paintings encompass Thomas Moran’s majestic View of Fairmont Waterworks, Philadelphia (about 1860-1870); genre scenes; and more impressionistic experiments like Childe Hassam’s Old House, East Hampton (1917). There is even Florida Palms (about 1888-1912) by Herman Herzog, a German immigrant.

Lilla Cabot Perry was one of the few women artists of her generation who received recognition. She lived for a time in Paris with her husband, a physician, and exhibited at the Paris Salon. Perry was one of Alfred Stevens’s few students. She met Monet and spent several summers in Giverny. Her large-scale painting, The Poacher (1907), has both realistic and highly impressionistic qualities and brilliantly conveys the experimentation in American art of the time.

This exhibition includes more rural, than urban scenes. Dr. Gerhard Gruitrooy has written that “American Impressionists sought out characteristically American subject matter—scenic mountains, villages, and cities, and sites along the New England coast. In doing so, they appeared to be longing for historic permanence and continuity in idyllic settings that contrasted with the harsh realities of a rapidly changing nation.”

In Transcending Vision, Bellows’s The Old Farmyard, Toodleums (1922) and Sloan’s Reddy at the Pool (1917) are gentle depictions of a tranquil countryside. Both artists are perhaps better known for their presentation of the grittiness of New York City. Guy Carleton Wiggins’s Trinity Church, Wall Street (about 1938) emphasizes the impressionistic beauty of a snowfall amid imposing architecture. The comforting church remains a focal point.

A number of the works in the exhibition were painted at influential artists’ colonies like Cos Cob and Old Lyme, both in Connecticut. Such colonies across the country allowed artists to escape the cities, find new inspiration, and meet their peers. While many of the works in the exhibition were created on the East Coast, others reveal the growing impact of the landscape and architecture of New Mexico and the West Coast.

Oscar Berninghaus’s Church at Ranchos de Taos (1920) and Ernest Blumenschein’s Autumn Landscape, New Mexico (about 1925) make it immediately clear why O’Keeffe and other artists were attracted to the stark beauty of this state. A number initially gathered in or near Taos. Again, visitors can compare these works with the Museum’s recent acquisition by O’Keeffe, Grey Hills Painted Red, New Mexico (1930), on view in the Poynter Gallery and made possible by a generous donor. These works offer a fascinating contrast to the setting and light in the New England paintings.

The Armory Show of 1913 and the pioneering exhibitions of Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband, were instrumental in introducing more Americans to Modernist experimentation. Transcending Vision includes Post-Impressionist works and a few influenced by Modernism, such as the admirable painting by Berninghaus. Like the country itself, the works are diverse and magnificent. This is truly a transcendent exhibition.

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