“Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape”
Opens May 19, 2006 at Cooper-Hewitt
Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present “Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape,” an exhibition exploring the promotion of tourism in 19th century America through the museum’s extraordinary collections of oil paintings, drawings and watercolors by these artists. On view May 19 through Oct. 22, 2006, the exhibition presents Cooper-Hewitt’s Americana collection for the first time in more than 15 years and is the premiere showing of many of its Homer oil paintings.
“The exhibition will demonstrate the role of these 19th century landscape works in the broader context of design, particularly the decorative arts and graphic design, and offer a new perspective on the study of these major American artists,” said Gail Davidson, curator and head of the museum’s drawings, prints and graphic design department. Davidson organized the exhibition with associate curator Floramae McCarron-Cates.
More than 100 landscape paintings, oil sketches and drawings will be featured in the exhibition, alongside more than 150 examples of ephemera----such as hotel and railroad brochures, broadsides, maps and tourist guidebooks----and a selection of related objects from the museum’s product design and decorative arts department and the National Design Library.
Oil studies, drawings and watercolors by Church (1826-1900), Homer (1836-1910) and Moran (1837-1926) capture romanticized views of Niagara Falls, the Hudson River valley, the Adirondacks, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, among others. The artists’ works, which were disseminated through exhibitions, reproductions, popular journals, illustrated publications and guidebooks, piqued national interest in these regions and contributed to a burgeoning tourist industry. By the second half of the 19th century, as incomes grew and working people enjoyed more leisure hours, scenic touring became accessible to middle-class as well as wealthy Americans, increasing the market for prints, photographs and other tourist souvenirs.
The exhibition will explore such themes as: the pastoral ideal, particularly Homer’s glorification of rural life through depictions of bucolic fantasy; the role of Moran and other artists in the promotion of Western tourism through the creation of iconic images of natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone; and the contradictory nature of scenic tourism, whereby overdevelopment of rural mountain and seashore retreats challenged the pristine landscape that Americans purportedly prized.
Visitors will have the opportunity to follow in the artists’ footsteps through exhibition galleries arranged by region: Niagara Falls; the Catskills; the Adirondacks, the Hudson Valley; the White Mountains of New Hampshire; Maine; Yellowstone, Green River, Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Notable works on view in these galleries include Homer’s 1873 painting “Man with a Knapsack” and the 1870 painting “Girl Picking Apple Blossoms”; Moran’s 1881 drawing “Toltec Gorge, Colorado”; and Church’s oil sketch “Schoodic Peninsula from Mount Desert at Sunrise.”
A highlight of the exhibition will be a 19th century-inspired parlor room, with scenic wallcoverings, art pottery and American scenery books, set up in the Carnegie Mansion’s “teak room.” Designed by Lockwood de Forest, a contemporary of Homer and Moran, the “teak room” features intricately carved woodwork and stenciled designs, inspired by Native American motifs, on the walls and ceiling.
The exhibition also will recreate the sense of “being there” for armchair travelers through a room-sized stereoscope—based on an optical instrument equipped with dual eyepieces used to impart a 3-D effect to two photographs, or stereographs, of the same scene taken at slightly different angles—and copies of early black-and-white films by Thomas Edison. For the at-home traveler and scenic tourist of the 19th century, these objects brought the actuality or memory of the travel experience into the home.
Also on view will be a rare decorative painted tile fireplace surround created by Homer in 1878, most likely for his brother Charles Savage Homer Jr. The "Shepherd and Shepherdess" fireplace surround is one of only a few painted and glazed tile compositions Homer created during his brief foray into the decorative arts as a member of the Tile Club (1877-1887). Conceived during a time of rapid economic and cultural change, the shepherd and shepherdess theme in this surround and other Homer oil paintings, watercolors and prints of the period exemplifies contemporary society’s rejection of modernity in favor of a fantasized, idyllic world.
In building the collection as an educational resource for artists and designers, Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt were particularly interested in works that reveal the creative process. Cooper-Hewitt’s remarkable collection of Homer paintings, watercolors and drawings—donated by Homer’s brother----is one of the most complete chronicles of a 19th century American artist in any museum and allows for the intimate observation of the artist at work. The museum also has the largest number of Church works in the world, donated to the Hewitt sisters by Church’s son, Lewis P. Church.
“‘Tourism and the American Landscape’ provides an opportunity for the museum to display some of its rarely shown treasures, many of which derive from the original acquisitions of the founding Hewitt sisters,” said director Paul Warwick Thompson. “This exhibition presents insight into these artists’ work in relation to the tourism industry and the built leisure environment, but also reminds us of the founding tastes and principles of our 19th century museum forebears. At that time, design museums functioned specifically as a teaching resource of the decorative and ‘useful’ arts, so artisans and designers could derive inspiration from the fine as well as the applied arts.”
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