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.

Previous American Encounters Installations

Launching the collaboration between the Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art was the installation American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Narrative Landscape, which explored the emergence of American landscape painting through the works of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. American Encounters: Genre Painting and Everyday Life followed with an in-depth examination of five major genre paintings, each of which offered a unique perspective on 19th-century America and exemplified the European influence on American genre painting. The third installation, entitled American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution, brought together paintings from all four institutions, as well as Versailles, to examine the evolution of late 18th- and early 19th-century portraiture in a time of strained political relations—but strong artistic influence—between Great Britain and the U.S.

History of Collaborations among the Partners

In 2003, the Terra Foundation supported a major conference on American art at the Louvre, entitled “The Independence of American Art.” The Louvre and the Terra Foundation collaborated again in 2006 on two important projects: the first American art exhibition at the Louvre, in which Samuel F. B. Morse’s monumental Gallery of the Louvre (1831–33), from the foundation’s collection, hung in the Louvre’s Salon Carré, the same room featured in the painting; and the Lafayette database, created with the Henry Luce Foundation, which is a comprehensive inventory of works of American art in French collections.

From 2006 to 2009, the Louvre and the High participated in a collection-sharing initiative called “Louvre Atlanta” that included a series of thematic exhibitions and the development of joint publications and other collaborative scholarship. The Terra Foundation also lent its Gallery of the Louvre as part of the Louvre-High collaboration; the painting was on view at the High as part of the Kings as Collectors exhibition in 2006.

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The catalogue is distributed by the University of Washington Press:

Stephanie Mayer Heydt, American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 2015), 68 pages, ISBN: 978-0692291382, $25.

9780692291382_p0_v1_s600Still life celebrates the commonplace. But in these simple objects we invest meaning-meaning that can be culturally specific but also universal. From the seventeenth century onward in Europe, a shared visual language developed around the practice of still life painting. In early nineteenth century America, artists adapted established formats to suit new circumstances. Drawing examples from three American and one French museum, this catalogue traces the development of American still life painting and its European precedents. American Enounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life is the final installment of the series, a collaborative project between Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art investigating four key genres in nineteenth century American art: landscape, genre, portraiture, and still life.

Stephanie Mayer Heydt is Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art.

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