In the autumn of 2002 the exhibition American Beauty will be on view in the Van Gogh Museum. The paintings and sculptures are from the Detroit Institute of Arts, which boasts one of the most representative collections of American art in the world. With 90 masterpieces, including famous works such as Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley and Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket by James McNeill Whistler, the exhibition follows the evolution of American art from 1770 to 1920.
Although the artists were familiar with and reacted to European art, they simultaneously developed their own individual style. To shed light on the various artistic currents the exhibition is organized around themes such as American Icons, Impressionism and Realism, and American Modernism. Portraits, still lifes, landscapes and realistic genre scenes visualize the quest for an independent identity.
One of the movements to arise in American art was the Hudson River School (the National School), founded by Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty, which made its appearance in the second half of the 19th century. American landscape painters believed that Americas nature could not be depicted by means of traditional artistic conventions. Emulating English artists such as William Turner and John Constable they succeeded in recording the literally awe-inspiring power of nature on canvas. They were skilled in creating spacious landscapes in pictures that were also often large in size: expansive mountain ranges, reflecting lakes, waterfalls and infinite forests. Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade and other members of the second generation of the Hudson River School placed greater emphasis on the dramatic effect of light in nature and their landscapes generally exude a shimmering atmosphere.
The first American Impressionists tended to avoid the more distasteful sides of urban life. At the beginning of the 20th century a group of New York Realists changed the motto art for arts sake into art for lifes sake. Under Robert Henri, this pioneering group introduced new themes into American art, such as deserted streets and seedy city bars. The artists turned away from the overwhelming nature and devoted greater attention to the daily life of American city dwellers. Their palette was darker and they preferred sharp contrasts.
The exhibition American Beauty, organised by the Detroit Institute of Arts, was first shown at The National Gallery of Ireland. Upon closing at the Van Gogh Museum the works will travel to the American Museum in Giverny where they will be on view from 2 March to 2 June 2003.
Fire & Ice
In a separate presentation entitled Fire & Ice on view concurrently with American Beauty, 70 photographs from the collection of the American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) will be shown. The exhibition is organized by the Dahesh Museum of Art, New York City, using objects from the collection of the Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, New York with support from The Olana Partnership’s Strabo Council. Olana is administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The exhibition American Beauty is accompanied by an English language catalogue written by Graham W. J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, entitled American Beauty, Paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts 1770-1920, 128 pages, ISBN 1-85759-285-9, Scala Publishers Ltd, 2002, price € 17.50. The catalogue is also available in a Dutch edition (American Beauty, Schilderijen uit het Detroit Institute of Arts 1770-1920, ISBN 1-85759-295-6).
Watson and the Shark
John Singleton Copley