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The Frick Art & Historical Center presents The Warner Collection of American Paintings
Thomas Cole (1801–1848), Catskill Mountain House, c. 1845–47. Oil on canvas, 22 ¼x 30 ¾ x 5 ¼ inches. Courtesy of The Warner Foundation and Warner Collection of American Art.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- An American Odyssey: The Warner Collection of American Painting opened at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze on Saturday, March 1, 2014. This exhibition features 50 paintings by American artists from the nation’s early years of independence through the dawn of the 20th century, and includes major artists and movements from the Peale family and Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) to American Impressionists like Childe Hassam (1859–1935) and Theodore Robinson (1852–1896), with beautiful Hudson River School works falling in between. The exhibition will remain on view through May 25, 2014. Admission is free.

The Warner Collection is one of the most significant collections of American art formed in recent decades, and the breadth and variety of works represented are both artistically and historically illuminating. The paintings included in the exhibition have been selected from the collection of American businessman and philanthropist Jonathan “Jack” Warner. Former CEO of Gulf States Paper Corporation and the founder of the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art, Mr. Warner has been a passionate collector of American art for more than 40 years. Through his personal philanthropy and that of The Warner Foundation, Mr. Warner and his wife, Susan, actively support the exhibition of American art at institutions throughout the country.

“It is a privilege for the Frick to present this selection of 50 extraordinary works from the celebrated Warner Collection, which includes paintings by several of America's most well-respected artists,” says Frick Art & Historical Center Director Bill Bodine. “Together, the works on view illustrate the energy and dynamism of American art and reflect the character of America and Americans over a century of growth.”

At The Frick Art Museum, the works are installed in a chronology that encompasses major themes explored by artists. Portraiture, still life, landscape, and genre painting are represented with major groups of works by Hudson River School artists and American Impressionists as well as with significant groups of work by individual artists such as Winslow Homer (1836–1910) and Mary Cassatt (1844–1926).

Perhaps the artist most identified with America as a young nation is Gilbert Stuart, represented in this exhibition by a watercolor on ivory miniature of his most famous subject, George Washington, created around 1820. Active at the same time as Stuart were the varied and multitalented artists of the Peale family—led by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), accomplished artist, naturalist and founder of the first American museum. Peale’s insatiable intellect founded a dynasty of American renaissance thinkers. Peale and his younger brother, James (1749–1831), both worked as professional artists and specialized in order to serve different markets. James focused on portrait miniatures, leaving the larger oil portraits to his brother. Facing failing eyesight later in life, James turned to larger-format still-life painting. Arrangement of Grapes (1829), painted when the artist was 80 years old, is typical of his approach to still life—focusing on a single basket of a single type of fruit arranged on a table top parallel to the picture plane. It is the abundance of grapes and their variety—green, purple and red—spilling from the wicker basket onto the wooden table, and his use of chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow over the composition—that create drama. The textures of grape leaves, wood grain and fruits demonstrate the artist’s skill with light, color and texture, and they illustrate why he is credited with helping to create a new market for still-life paintings in early 19th-century America. The exhibition also includes examples of work by his nephews, Charles Peale Polk (1767–1822) and Titian Peale (1799–1885).

As the 19th century progressed, American artists found inspiration in the vast and diverse American landscape. Thomas Cole (1801–1848), known as the founder of the Hudson River School of painters, depicted the American landscape with reverence for its wildness and abundance, and a cautious eye cast upon man’s infringement into this unspoiled Eden. The possibility and power of the land was a potent metaphor for the possibilities inherent in the young nation, and Hudson River School artists depicted America with an emerging sense of national pride. The exhibition features 18 canvases by artists associated with the Hudson River School, including three by Thomas Cole and groups of works by major artists like Thomas Worthington Whittredge (1820–1910), Jasper Cropsey (1823–1900) and Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902).

Thomas Cole’s Catskill Mountain House (c. 1845–47) portrays a mountainside with distinctly American fiery autumn foliage and the iconic Catskill Mountain House hotel perched on its summit. In the foreground, a dirt road winds toward the inn, and the figure of an artist is depicted sketching by the side of the road. The Catskill Mountain House was the informal headquarters for many of the artists and writers who sought inspiration in the Catskills. This view of the hotel, which was built in 1823, dates to around 1845, after the Corinthian columns on its façade were added in 1844–45. This depiction of the Mountain House, like much of Cole’s work, shows the hand of man on the landscape, sometimes as master—as the temple-like hotel seems to indicate—and other times as an indication of encroaching industrialization and the smallness of man’s creations in comparison to those of nature.

The middle of the 19th century and the wrenching years of the Civil War saw an increased interest in genre subjects—perhaps as a way of preserving a sense of daily life in the midst of war and division. The optimism and pride characteristic of the Hudson River School were largely replaced by a sense of introspection and nostalgia. The Sewing Party is a large work by Louis Lang (1814–1893), who is known for his highly detailed narrative paintings recording the flavor of the times, especially subjects related to women. This canvas celebrates a sense of community and harmony embodied by a romanticized sewing party, where women gather on a shaded, idyllic porch to sew and socialize with each other in warm, golden light.

Some of the artists to emerge from the Civil War years sharpened their experience as draftsmen working for the illustrated weekly newspapers that became popular as the country grew and as the ability to communicate news and events with relative speed became possible. Perhaps the most famous of these artists is Winslow Homer (1836–1910), whose work provides a unique window onto the development of American identity as the 19th century progressed into the 20th. During his long career, Homer chronicled the war years and the increasing independence of women while working as a freelance artist for a number of the illustrated papers, most particularly Harper’s Weekly. Homer’s later work reflects an appreciation for the power of nature and the independence of the American spirit. Five works by Homer from the 1880s in a variety of media including charcoal, watercolor and oil are featured in the exhibition, illustrating his powerful range as an artist.

The next generation of American painters came of age after the Civil War, and their work reflects a sophisticated cosmopolitanism. These well-traveled Americans embraced Impressionism, with its bright, sun-drenched colors and broken brushstrokes, as the avant-garde style in America. In the work of artists included in this exhibition, such as Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson and Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858–1924), we see the value placed on the physicality of painting, with the painter’s hand clearly evident in the paint application, abstraction of form and distinct, choppy brushstrokes. Their expressive, individualistic approach helped to pave the way for artists of the 20th century.

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