Visual tales to be told

“Bargaining for a Horse”, 1835. Oil on canvas by William Sidney Mount (1807–1868). The New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

“Bargaining for a Horse”, 1835. Oil on canvas by William Sidney Mount (1807–1868). The New-York Historical Society, Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

At the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, “Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-Century American Art” opens on Friday, February 27 and runs through June 7, 2015.

 

     The exhibition features paintings and sculptures that recount stories relating to American cultural aspirations and everyday life throughout the 19th century. Narrative landscapes by Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand of the Hudson River School, genre scenes by William Sidney Mount and Francis W. Edmonds and sculptures by John Rogers are among the highlights of the exhibition.

     Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala says, The works in Telling Tales show a culture in the process of defining its ideals and values. They offer an overview of the complex tastes, aspirations, and internal contradictions that marked the first full century of this new democracy.”

     With styles ranging from Neoclassicism to Realism, the exhibition is organized into six sections. The show begins with the section American History Painting with Rembrandt Peale’s George Washington (1853), the artist aimed to capture a perfect likeness of the person who most exemplified American ideals. The exhibition continues with works that imaginatively reconstruct stories relating to America’s settlement, expansion and conflicts. During this period in Europe, historical events and figures were considered the most important subjects in art. This tradition influenced American artists who sought to shape the nation’s sense of shared knowledge, pride and identity by painting leading historical figures and momentous events.

“George Washington” 1853. Oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860). The New-York Historical Society, Bequest of Caroline Phelps Stokes.

“George Washington” 1853. Oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860). The New-York Historical Society, Bequest of Caroline Phelps Stokes.

   America’s language and culture were deeply rooted in English tradition, which is reflected in the second section of the exhibition. English Literature and History showcases works inspired by British aristocracy and popular writers, including Shakespeare, who was particularly admired in America. A related section, Importing the Grand Manner includes works created in the high styles of European art: the Baroque, the Neoclassical, and the Romantic. Believing that American taste was in need of elevation, many artists went to Europe to study the Old Masters and attend art academies where they could learn how to best convey themes of history, mythology and religion.

     Works in the section Genre Paintings focus on the lives of ordinary people, often living in rural settings. With a straightforward realism, the paintings convey the importance of farm work, family, faith and commerce. Artists often employed the use of stock characters, such as devout parents, politically engaged yeomen, roaming peddlers and slick Yankee traders. For example, William Sidney Mount’s Bargaining for a Horse (1835), in which two men are shown as they shrewdly negotiate the sale of a horse, was described by a contemporary reviewer as “an image of pure Yankeeism.” These genre paintings were more than simply slices of everyday life. As Mr. Scala explains, “While they appear to be charmingly uncomplicated, genre paintings often contained symbolic messages about topical matters of politics, religion and economics. These meanings would have been readily understood by the 19th century viewer but may be difficult for us to perceive if we do not know the political and historical backdrop.”

     Throughout the 19th century, large numbers of people seeking work moved from rural areas and other countries into large manufacturing centers like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Art included in the section Economic, Social, and Religious Division reveals a growing awareness of the difficulties encountered by this expanding population of working-class and poor people.

"Negro Life at the South" , oil on canvas by Eastman Johnson, 1859, 36 × 45.25 in. New York Historical Society.

“Negro Life at the South” , oil on canvas by Eastman Johnson, 1859, 36 × 45.25 in. New York Historical Society.

     Paintings and sculptures in the final section of the exhibition, Picturing the Outsider hint at the even harsher realities faced by the most marginalized minorities, Native Americans and African Americans. John Rogers’ bronze sculpture The Fugitive’s Story (1869) reverently memorializes three prominent abolitionists with respect to their struggle to help slaves gain their freedom. Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South (1859) shows slaves living in decrepit conditions but enjoying their leisure time, perhaps reinforcing the belief among slaveholders and other racist audiences that the treatment of slaves was fairly benign. “Such works tell how a culture’s perceptions and misperceptions are reinforced by art,” says Mr. Scala, “reminding us that as we explore our artistic heritage, it is important to take our ancestors’ biases and cultural blinders into account. It will likely be the same for us when our descendants look back on the 21st century.”

     For complete details of related public programs on this remarkable exhibition, see www.fristcenter.org.

 

 




Published by on February 2015. Filed under Art-to-Art Palette NewsWire/AAPNW, At the Centers dept, News (Time related), PaletteBoards Section, Tennessee. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed







VOICES

AAMG CLASSIFIEDS