Centered around the famous painting on special loan from the Terra Foundation of American Art, A New Look: Samuel F. B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre tells a dynamic tale about art education, mentorship and practice, and learning from historical art. On view through April 14, 2013 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
, the Morse installation sets the artist's work into an environment echoing what is shown in the picture. The exhibition is a collaboration between PAFA's Senior Curator and Curator of Modern Art, Robert Cozzolino, and PAFA's Curator of Historical American Art, Anna Marley.
Known today primarily for his role in the development of the telegraph and the Morse code, Samuel F. B. Morse began his career as a painter. One of his most important works, Gallery of the Louvre (1831-1833), depicts masterpieces from the Louvre's collection. On a visit to Paris in 1830, Morse first conceived of his monumental Gallery of the Louvre's an art lesson for Americans. He reasoned that most Americans could not travel to Europe to see original paintings by Renaissance and Baroque artists so he would bring their masterpieces to them.In this painting, Morse imagines an exhibition of his favorite paintings from the famed museum installed in the grand Salon Carré at the Louvre. Morse meticulously copied 38 paintings spanning five national schools and three centuries, including works by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci,Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens and Poussin. The artist himself is shown in front, leaning over his daughter in a space where visitors study, sketch and copy from the masters.
In PAFA's installation, the Morse painting is on one side of the gallery with objects that help provide a broader context for the themes of artistic practice and identity, while the other half of the gallery is hung salon-style with paintings from PAFA's collection that highlight the academic genres taught and exhibited at PAFA in the first half of the nineteenth century. The effect is that of walking into a room mirroring the one depicted in Morse's painting.
The exhibition coincides with the demanding copy class taught at PAFA where students are encouraged to select works installed in the Morse room. "Not only will visitors encounter a gallery resembling the one depicted by Morse, " says Marley, "but they will witness artists copying historical pictures in the gallery as is represented by Morse."
By making copies next to Morse's painting, PAFA's students will show audiences how American artists - whether professional and famous, or emerging, or still in school - operate on a continuum of history that traces lessons and knowledge back to the Renaissance and ages beyond.
The painting recently underwent extensive conservation and has been on a three-venue national tour. This is the second time the Morse painting has been shown at PAFA; it was exhibited in the summer of 1985 shortly after Daniel J. Terra acquired the painting in 1982. Terra, who amassed an important collection of American art, was born and grew up in Philadelphia before attending Penn State University. He eventually moved to Chicago which is where the foundation that bears his name is based,