HOW TO GO
What: “American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists’ Colony,” an exhibit from the Reading Public Museum.
Where: Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton
When: March 7-May 31. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Extended hours on Thursdays until 8 p.m.
Admission: $14 for aduults, $11 for seniors, students, active military and groups of 10 or more, and $6 for children ages 7-17. Prices include admission to the exhibition and the museum’s permanent collection and a $2 fee for building presevation and art conservation.
April 11: Super Saturday Family Day: Impressionist Landscapes. Families will learn about color mixing and make their own paintings.
April 16: Scott Schweigert, curator of art and civilization at the Reading Public Museum, will lecture at 6:30 p.m.
May 21: Susan Martis, associate curator of education will present “Transatlantic Impressions: Where Americans Met the French Impressionists.”
For more information and prices for these special events, see daytonartinstitute.orh
If you’ve had just about enough of this unrelenting winter weather but a trip to the Caribbean isn’t in the cards, here’s another option: head for the Dayton Art Institute’s newest exhibit.
Many of the 100 works of art that go on display next weekend will transport you to a summer paradise with titles like “Summer Breezes,” “Beach at East Hampton” and “After an April Shower.” The collection is filled with lovely seascapes, blooming gardens and scenic harbors as well as beautiful portraits and still life paintings.
This new show, “American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists’ Colony,” opens Saturday, March 7, and will run through May 31. It comes from the Reading Public Museum in Pennsylvania. Impressionist paintings — filled with soft colors, beautiful light and idyllic scenes — are always a hit with museum visitors.
“Impressionism is really pleasing to the eye,” says the DAI’s curator of collections and exhibitions Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, who was intrigued a year ago when information about the traveling exhibit first showed up on her desk. “The thing that impressed me about this show is that it is organized geographically around the artists’ colonies.”
The exhibit includes names you may recognize — John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Chide Hassam, John Twachtman — as well as as many names you may not know.
DeGalen says the talented artists who aren’t so well known are part of the exhibit’s appeal.
“They demonstrate how widespread this style was at the time,” she notes. “It’s so interesting to read the biographies of these artists and to realize how many of them were becoming professionals in America.”
THE EXHIBIT’S ORIGINS
Like many museums in America faced with economic challenges in recent years, the Reading Public Museum began focusing on its own treasures. Among them was a rich collection of American Impressionist paintings.
“As I delved into our collection, I saw there was this common thread, the thread of the art colonies,” says Scott Schweigert, Reading’s curator of art and civilization. “Geographically we’re situated 55 miles to the northwest of the city of Philadelphia so many of our early purchases came from annual exhibits at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.”
Founded in 1805, the Philadelphia Academy is the oldest art museum and school in the United States and became a hub for artistic training of American Impressionists.
Schweigert said the art colonies — which got their start in the 1890s and continued into the 1940s — offered an opportunity for artists to escape from their studios in big cities like New York, Boston or Philadelphia, and paint out-of-doors in picturesque surroundings.
“These were individuals who were already earning a living as artists and often had commissions,” he explains. “News about these colonies spread quickly — that there were beautiful vistas and good subject matter to paint.”
The attraction, he says, was the camaraderie: a chance to paint outside with other artists, discuss various materials and approaches. Many artists taught to earn extra money; some started their own schools of art. They rented or bought a home for the summer season or year-round, some brought their families. And some worked in multiple colonies.
The exhibition, arranged by artistic community, transports visitors to Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut; Cape Cod, Cape Anne and Rockport in Massachusetts; New Hope/Bucks County and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; and Ogunquit, Maine as well as Taos, New Mexico and California. There’s also a section devoted to the Americans in Paris, Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent.
When the exhibit received great feedback after opening in Reading in 2011, others began urging the museum to consider sharing it with other communities.
“We didn’t have a long history of sending shows on the road, but it’s been a great way to get word out about our institution and it’s rewarding to have the project continue,” says Schweigert, who says he’s been thrilled with a reception that’s exceeded all expectations. “So many times you pack the paintings up after an exhibit and they go back into storage.” The show began traveling in 2013 and will be on the road until May of 2018 when it stops in Stockton, California.
Schweigert, who will come to town on April 16 to share anecdotes about the artists and life in the artist colonies, says museum visitors are drawn in by Impressionism because of the brushwork, the colors, and subject matter that is easily absorbed.
“These paintings aren’t complicated or esoteric,” he says. “They are familiar scenes from everyday life.”
His personal favorite is a painting by Charles Webster Hawthorne titled “Study in White.” It was painted in 1900.
“It’s a woman sitting under a tree with a white dress on, and you see her face in profile, sunlight dappled on her dress,” he says.
That iconic painting is dedicated to Hawthorne’s teacher, William Merritt Chase.
“It displays the hallmark characteristic of the style including bold, visible brushstrokes, the fleeting impression of changeable sunlight, and a light color palette,” says Schweigert.
His other favorites include a hillside scene by Daniel Garber, a winder landscape by Edward Redfield, and an elegant society portrait by Richard Blosson Farley.
THE BEGINNINGS OF IMPRESSIONISM
DeGalan says the impressionist style, which can be traced back to the Barbizon School in France in the 1830s, wasn’t always so popular. Like most new things, it took a while to catch on.
“Initially, people didn’t like it and there was a lot of criticism and controversy around the artists who were rejecting the tightly painted academic paintings that were done in the studio,” she explains. “These new artists turned that whole thing on its head when they started painting outside in the open air. “ Until that time, color palettes were darker, and there was fine control of the brushwork.
Two key inventions made Impressionism possible.
“First was the invention of the paint tube in 1841 by an American, John Rand,” DeGalan says. “Before that, artists put their paint in pig bladders and you had to prick it to get the paint out. Inevitably the paint would dry. The tin tube had a screw top so you could take out as much paint as you needed.”
The other development involved a different kind of paint brush. Until the late 19th century, artists’ brushes had round tips and consisted of bunches of bristles or hairs. In contrast, the flat or chisel-shaped brushes with a straight edge facilitated shaping precise color edges.
DeGalan says an underlying theme of the show reflects the way the American countryside began changing after the Civil War.
“These artists were showing these pastoral spaces of leisure and former ways of living as an idealized sense of what America was losing,” says DeGalan.
The new exhibit marks the beginning of the DAI’s Year of American Art. A complementary exhibit, “In the Garden,” will focus on works from the museum’s permanent collection and will be on display beginning March 21 in the Lower Level Galleries.