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Nautical narrative of American history on view this winter at the Tyler Museum of Art
Aiden Lassell Ripley (American, 1896­1969). Beach Scene, ca. 1935. Oil on artist¹s board, 12 x 16 inches. The Arthur J. Phelan Collection.
TYLER, TX.- This winter, linger for a moment on the water’s edge at the Tyler Museum of Art, where you will escape into a nautical narrative of American history and maritime adventure. Reflections on Water in American Painting–The Arthur J. Phelan Collection combines 50 paintings that together tell a unique history of the country’s maritime growth from the grand sailing ships of the U.S. Navy and the river boats of Mark Twain’s Mississippi River to the more contemporary pleasure of leisure time spent by the sea.

Ranging in date from 1828 to 1945, the exhibition opens with the earliest form of American maritime painting with a selection of grand, academic-style portraits of graceful sailing ships. The exhibition progresses forward in time with waterscapes from the sea to the lakes and rivers of the American heartland, light-flooded impressionist visions of quaint New England seaside towns, and modernist renderings of industrial waterfronts and everyday life on the water.

“Many artists of every genre have been fascinated by stories and images of water. This exhibition captures the spirit of American maritime adventure from the ocean to inland waterways and lakes,” said TMA Curator, Ken Tomio. “Visitors will see images of majestic ships, intrepid racing yachts, and even modernist depictions of commercialism and industry as they appear across our nation’s shorelines.”

The underlying theme of the exhibition reflects changes in American attitudes towards our most important resource from the endless supply of water and land the first settlers found and the dominant role ships played in fostering growth and trade, to the popularity of second homes and beaches and the change in port facilities from picturesque to industrial in the 20th century.

Reflections on Water in American Painting is drawn from the collections of Arthur J. Phelan, well-known for his paintings depicting life in the American West. Phelan began collecting nautical paintings in the 1960s. Highlights of his collection and the exhibition include James Bard’s meticulously drawn Hudson River steamboat, Frank Benson’s marshland with more than 30 rising ducks, William Trost Richards’ breaking waves, William Merritt Chase’s intense study of the Arno River, and Reginald Marsh’s cathedral-like rendering of a New Jersey railway bridge.


“I have built a number of collections that started with a chance acquisition of an artwork that reminded me of something in my past,” says Phelan. “This group of maritime and coastal scenes arises from time spent at my family’s summer home in Connecticut. Our house, between New London and the Connecticut River, was on the water. During World War II, I sailed small sloops at the point where Long Island Sound empties into the Atlantic and where large commercial sailing ships occasionally still passed by. Later, while at Yale [B.A. and M.A. in American history], I was never far from the Sound.”



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