Knoxville Museum of Art receives major gift of Catherine Wiley paintings from Edwin Packard Wiley family

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Knoxville Museum of Art receives major gift of Catherine Wiley paintings from Edwin Packard Wiley family
Catherine Wiley (Coal Creek [now Rocky Top], Tennessee 1879-1958 Norristown, Pennsylvania) Young Woman with Parasol Reading, circa 1915, Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 25 5/8 inches, Knoxville Museum of Art, 2020 gift of Edwin Packard Wiley family.

KNOXVILLE, TENN.- The Knoxville Museum of Art announced the gift of three paintings by famed Knoxville Impressionist Catherine Wiley from the family of the artist’s grand-nephew, the late Edwin P. Wiley of Milwaukee. “This extraordinary gift immensely enriches the KMA’s holdings of this indispensable East Tennessee artist,” according to KMA Executive Director David Butler. “We are grateful to the Wiley family for entrusting these treasures to the artist’s hometown art museum.”

After training in New York and New England, Anna Catherine Wiley (1879-1958) returned to Knoxville and soon began to energize the artistic community in a variety of capacities. She taught art at the University of Tennessee, helped organize large-scale national art exhibitions and was a driving force in the Nicholson Art League, an important local art association. She won the gold medal for regional painting at the 1910 Appalachian Exposition and her work is represented in museum collections around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum. She left behind a remarkable and diverse body of work that includes early Art Nouveau-influenced ink drawings and illustrations, sun-drenched Impressionist canvases, and a small number of late works whose darker tones and coarse surfaces approach Expressionism. Wiley’s career was cut short in 1926 when mental illness forced her to be placed in an assisted living facility, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Executed at the height of Wiley’s career, the three canvases donated by the artist’s descendants embody the artist’s characteristically American adaptation of French Impressionism. Wiley adjusts the gauge of her brush and the application of color to describe atmospheric effects, but without sacrificing narrative details. Beyond her interest in painting light, Wiley sought to capture the inner life of her sitters, a goal she discussed in an essay she composed for The Woman’s Athenaeum in 1912: “Only when paintings make us realize more acutely the poetry that lies within us all, the romance that we ourselves feel, the power of our own spirit, the ‘externalisation’ of our own soul, as it were—only then it has a meaning.”

The Wiley family gifts are on display as part of Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee, the KMA’s flagship permanent exhibition.

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