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Collaborative exhibition on view at Crystal Bridges showcases Revolutionary portraits
Henry Raeburn, Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, ca. 1790-1794. Oil on canvas. Photo: Musee du Louvre.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- This week, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art unveils American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution, the third in a four-part series of exhibitions created in partnership with the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Crystal Bridges, and the Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago. This exhibition provides a close look at five portraits that demonstrate how American and European portraitists influenced one another’s styles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The works will be on view through Sept. 15, 2014. There is no fee to view the exhibition. General admission to Crystal Bridges is sponsored by Walmart.

American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution appeared first at the Louvre (Feb. 1–April 28, 2014), and will travel next to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA (Sept.28, 2014–Jan.18, 2015).

The five works included in the exhibition are:

• George Washington after the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, Attributed to Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1779. National Museum of the Palace of Versailles and the Trianons.

• Portrait of Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland, Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1788. The High Museum of Art.

• Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, Sir Henry Raeburn, ca. 1790-94. Musée du Louvre.

• George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), Gilbert Stuart, 1797. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

• George Washington, Porthole Portrait, Rembrandt Peale, after 1824. Terra Foundation for American Art.

Three of the portraits in the exhibition depict George Washington, while the others feature Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland; and Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, both of whom were soldiers who may have fought against Washington in the Revolutionary War. The relationship between these works indicates that, despite being at war, Britain and the U.S. were as connected through art during the period of the American Revolution as they were through commerce and politics. The American artists represented had studied under British portrait artists, and had traveled and visited art exhibitions in England, all of which led to the visible British influences in the portraits they painted.

“The history of Anglo-American diplomatic and commercial relations in the 18th and 19th centuries is a well-known one, but what these portraits show—side-by-side—is that those relationships extended into creative disciplines as well,” said exhibition curator Kevin Murphy, the former Curator of American Art at Crystal Bridges and current Eugénie Prendergast Curator of American Art, Williams College Museum of Art. “This exhibition will give scholars, curators, and students an unprecedented opportunity to look closely at—and make comparisons between—these masterful portraits.”

The three portraits of Washington vary greatly and demonstrate how depictions of the revered general and president were affected by his shifting role and the ways in which he wanted to be perceived. Two of these three portraits are attributed to father and son, Charles Willson and Rembrandt Peale. Their paintings highlight how portraiture style was both passed down from generation to generation and updated in the process of that passing. The elder Peale’s portrait of Washington—the oldest work in the exhibition—comes from the collection of the Palace of Versailles, where its provenance and attribution have been unclear. It is a copy of Peale’s portrait of Washington in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection, but whether or not Peale himself had executed the work was not certain. Research into the history of the portrait conducted by the Louvre in preparation for this exhibition has led to new confidence in attributing it to Charles Willson Peale and in clarifying its early provenance from Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon-Malesherbes (1721-1794), former Minister of Louis XVI.

“The potential for new scholarship and education that comes from bringing these five portraits together is exactly the spirit of our international collaboration and shows how much all of our institutions have to gain from it," said Guillaume Faroult, Curator, Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre. “For this exhibition, the Louvre is contributing Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, a masterful work of 18th-century portraiture that we do not frequently give our audiences an opportunity to see.”

The first installation of the collaboration between the Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art was titled American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Birth of Landscape Painting in America and explored the emergence of American landscape painting through the works of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand.

The second installation—American Encounters: Genre Painting and Everyday Life—provided a close look at five major genre paintings, each of which offered a unique perspective on 19th-century America. Two additional works from the collections at the Louvre exemplified the European influence on American genre painting.

The partners have collaborated to produce a small catalogue for each installation. The illustrated book for American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution features an essay by Murphy that traces the multifaceted connections between the portraits and the men who painted them. The book is published by Marquand Books and distributed by the University of Washington Press.

At Crystal Bridges, the exhibition will be accompanied by four works from the museum’s permanent collection that offer "insight into the role of portraiture during that time period, and how the sitters, and sometimes even artists, were affected by or involved in the historic events of the Revolutionary War,” said Crystal Bridges Assistant Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man.

Daniel Rogers by John Singleton Copley, Washington, October, 1851 by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Marquis de Lafayette by Samuel Finely Breese Morse, and The Passage of the Delaware by Thomas Sully will be on view adjacent to the American Encounters exhibition. While Copley’s Daniel Rogers is a private portrait of a prominent merchant who sought to establish his identity in the colonies through this portrait, and who was affected by British tax and trade laws, the artist’s father-in-law, on the other hand, was a loyalist and merchant whose tea was thrown in the Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party. Copley associated with the Sons of Liberty, but then decided to move to London. “History comes alive through artworks like this, and the paintings illustrate the complex realities of the Revolutionary War era,” said Well-Off-Man. “The other works are preliminary portrait studies for major works of American art that capture key moments in American history, such as Sully’s and Leutze’s drawings commenting on Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, as well as Morse’s expressive study of Washington’s friend and ally Marquis de Lafayette, which commemorates the 50-year anniversary of the American Revolution.”

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