Exhibition | American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 21, 2014


Jean-Siméon Chardin, Pipes and Drinking Pitcher, 1737
(Paris: Musée du Louvre)

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Press release (10 December 2014) from the High Museum:

American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life 
Musée du Louvre, Paris, 5 February — 27 April 2015
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 16 May — 14 September 2015
High Museum of Art in Atlanta, 26 September 2015 — 31 January 2016

The Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art have announced the final installation in their four-year collaboration focusing on the history of American art. Opening at the Louvre, American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life explores how late 18th- and early 19th-century American artists adapted European still-life tradition to American taste, character and experience. The culminating presentation of the American Encounters series—which has aimed to broaden appreciation for and dialogue about American art both within the U.S. and abroad—The Simple Pleasures of Still Life follows previous installations examining important genres in American art, including portraiture, landscape and genre paintings.

Though a centuries-old tradition in Europe, still-life painting was slow to take hold in the U.S., increasing in popularity over the course of the 19th century, an era of remarkable political, economic and social transformation. The subjects depicted in American still lifes evolved throughout these decades, drawing on and expanding the traditions of Dutch-style tabletops laden with fruits and vegetables and ornate French bouquet arrangements in the selection, arrangement and depiction of objects imbued with New World symbolism. As the country became more cosmopolitan, a result of its growing industrial and economic power, art patronage in the Gilded Age increasingly focused on the representation of wealth in pictures of exotic objects popular among the upper classes. The subjects of still-life painting during this period served as evocative emblems—whether of regional identity, moral values or eclectic collecting—and reflect the story of an evolving nation.

“This focused presentation could not be a more fitting conclusion to the American Encounters series,” said Stephanie Mayer Heydt, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art. “Each individual painting, intimately scaled and packed with lush imagery rife with symbolic and historical meaning, invites close observation and tells the story of a young nation finding its voice. We’re thrilled to share this distinctly American experience and educate audiences about the history of American art both at home and abroad.”

Added Guillaume Faroult, curator, Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre: “Our partnership over the past four years has allowed for unprecedented opportunities for scholarship, engagement and creative exchange. Collectively, we have been able to provide a much richer, holistic narrative of the development of American art than any of the institutions could have presented alone. This collaboration has had a significant impact on the understanding and appreciation for American art in Paris and beyond, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue fostered by this installation series.”

The ten masterpieces in the The Simple Pleasures of Still Life speak to the diversity of the still-life genre in the U.S. and range from works by artists De Scott Evans, Martin Johnson Heade, Joseph Biays Ord, William Sydney Mount and Raphaelle Peale to trompe l’oeil masterworks by John Haberle, William Michael Harnett and George Cope. Two paintings by John-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Abraham Mignon demonstrate the European examples frequently emulated by American artists first experimenting with still life in the early 1800s. The presentation at the High will be supplemented with four additional paintings drawn from the museum’s extensive holdings in American art, including works by William Mason Brown, Joseph Decker and John Frederick Peto.


• Pipes and Drinking Pitcher (1737) by Chardin, the most popular French still-life painter of the 18th century, depicts an unusual subject for the artist that subtly conjures sensory pleasures. (Musée du Louvre)

• Corn and Cantaloupe (c. 1813) by Peale demonstrates how American artists adopted the European “tabletop composition” to feature distinctly American horticulture: the ear of corn and a Maryland-specific variety of cantaloupe grown on the plantation of the painting’s original owner. (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Civil War-era Apples on a Tin Cup (1864) by Mount juxtaposes opposing symbols of the apple—the iconic American fruit and a common gift from children to Union soldiers during the Civil War—atop an empty, battled-worn army-issued cup to create a poignant contrast between sustenance and absence in a nation weary from war. (Terra Foundation for American Art)

• Still Life with Bust of Dante (1883) by Harnett is a trompe l’oeil painting illustrating the late 19th-century trend towards collecting eclectic and exotic objects made available through rapidly expanding international commerce. (High Museum of Art)

The partners have collaborated to produce a small catalogue for each installation in the series. The illustrated book for American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life will feature an essay by Heydt that charts the rise of the still-life tradition in the 19th century and infusion of American symbolism into a traditionally European genre. The book will be published by the High Museum of Art, produced by Marquand Books, and distributed by the University of Washington Press. A lecture on the exhibition by Stephanie Heydt will be held at the Louvre auditorium on Wednesday, February 4 at 12:30pm. (more…)

Call for Papers | Crash and Burn: Destruction in American Art

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on December 21, 2014

As posted at H-ArtHist:

Crash and Burn: Destruction in American Art
The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 5–6 June 2015

Proposals due by 15 February 2015

Destruction has long occupied a central position in the construction of an American national image. From Cotton Mather’s description of Boston as ‘the City of Destruction’ to the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, the sheer visual force of destruction has repeatedly left an indelible mark on the collective psyche. As historians such as Richard Slotkin and Kevin Rozario have demonstrated, violent and destructive episodes have been inextricably linked with the apparently opposing forces of creation and regeneration so central to American self-imaging. This symposium will elaborate on such historical accounts to examine how the idea of destruction has shaped and been shaped by American art and visual culture.

Whether through the kind of dramatic cataclysm predicted in Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire, or the ruined aftermath captured by the post-industrial landscapes of photographer Lewis Baltz, images of destruction in American art have often engaged with the most pressing historical questions of their time. Intensifying the paradoxes between artistic creation and destruction, American art has sometimes been directly engaged in the destructive act itself. As the recent ground-breaking exhibition Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 made clear, the efforts of conceptual artists to incorporate destruction as an artistic technique not only threatened to destroy the art object, but offered a powerful comment on contemporary social phenomena including urban renewal and ecological devastation. The capacity of artworks from earlier periods to embody such social and environmental concerns is a subject that merits increased scholarly attention.

The symposium will attempt to establish a genealogy for the destructive impulse as it was specifically activated in American art, charting its evolution from the colonial era to the present. How do American artists reconcile destruction with their own processes of creation? What motivated artists to incorporate destruction into their art, and how have these contextual meanings changed over time? The symposium will interrogate destruction as a theme addressed by artists through their work, but also consider those external forces that have seen the artwork itself subjected to the forces of destruction. Papers can consider works of art of all mediums and periods, as well as a wider range of visual and material culture.

Please submit abstracts of 150–200 words in English, along with a short biography of approximately 100 words to destructionsymposium@gmail.com by 15 February 2015. Speakers and attendees alike will be invited to submit proposals to present further work in a related workshop to be held at Tate later in 2015, as part of their Refiguring American Art initiative.

Organised by Hélène Valance, Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Alex J. Taylor, Terra Foundation Research Fellow in American Art, Tate.


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