Treasures of 19th- and 20th-Century Painting: The Art Institute of Chicago (Tiny Folios Series)

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9780789204028: Treasures of 19th- and 20th-Century Painting: The Art Institute of Chicago (Tiny Folios Series)

This Tiny Folio book highlights some of the most celebrated European and American paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that are part of the permanent collection at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Included in this collection are numerous masterpieces of Realism, Impressionism, Post–Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and other aspects of Modernism. Today a number of these paintings are revered as icons of modern Western culture, emblems of the inspired experimentation that has taken place on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the last century, the Art Institute has supported the achievements of the most distinguished artists from Europe and America, acquiring and exhibiting now–beloved works of Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and others. This folio is presented as both an introduction to this collection and as a survey of the styles, subjects, and themes of Western art of the last two centuries, from the linear classicism of Jean–Auguste–Dominique Ingres through the optical studies of Claude Monet and the Impressionists; from the lyrical, colorful abstractions of Vasily Kandinsky to the fractured picture planes of Pablo Picasso and the Cubists; from the enigmatic compositions of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists to the media–appropriated Pop–art portraits of Andy Warhol. These magnificent paintings eloquently narrate the discussions of the nature of art, quality, innovation, style, and form that have defined the modern era in art history.

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About the Author:

James N. Wood was the Director of The Art Institute of Chicago for 25 years. He also served as president and chief executive of the Getty Trust in 2006 and before taking over the Art Institute, he was the director of the St. Louis Art Museum for six years. He also held positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

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Excerpt from: Treasures of 19th and 20th Century Painting


Perhaps no other collection in The Art Institute of Chicago is more renowned and beloved than the American and European paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some of our more notable works have become modern icons: both Grant Wood’s American Gothic (page 280) and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (page 293) are now emblems of American culture. Georges Seurat’s Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884 (page 99) and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (page 69) have come to stand for the bold experimentation and achievements of the avant garde in late nineteenth century France. But what is so easily forgotten today is that the viewing public initially rejected this art, labeling it unrefined, banal, and unartistic. The astonishing story of these paintings is also that of the dedicated artists who weathered the heated diatribes delivered against their works and pursued a range of issues that were as varied and radical as the styles in which they painted. For the most part, however, they explored what it meant to create a record of their immediate world; what it meant to be, as the French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire so eloquently articulated for them, not merely part of a great historical tradition, but rather active, sentient beings living in the present, and searching for meaning in their own time. Now, at the close of the twentieth century, these paintings are lauded as the revered relics of an earlier era, transformed by history from obscurity into icons of modernity. This folio is presented as both an introduction to this celebrated collection and a thoughtful survey of the styles, subjects, and themes of Western art of the last two centuries, from the crisp, linear classicism of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, through the innovative optical studies of Claude Monet and the Impressionists; from the colorful, lyrical abstractions of Vasily Kandinsky to the fractured monochromatic picture surfaces of Pablo Picasso and the Cubists; from the enigmatic compositions of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists to the media appropriated, Pop art portraits of Andy Warhol.

By the mid nineteenth century, most museums were following the precedents established by the salons in Paris in acquiring contemporary works of art. Only those pieces that fit comfortably into the traditional classical mold those that depicted scenes from literature, mythology, or history were considered worthy of collecting. Jean Léon Gérômes Chariot Race (page 68) is a fine example of what was most admired at the salons. But developing concurrently with nineteenth century "retroclassicism" was a sub culture of artists experimenting with alternative styles and subjects, venturing out of the academic studios into the streets and the countryside, and moving away from established subject matter in their art. The works of these radicals elicited cries of dismay from Parisian critics, and we might recognize the treatment these artists received as a harbinger of the difficulty twentieth century innovators would face. From its birth, the history of modern art has been defined by a debate on the nature of art, quality, innovation, style, and form.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s commitment to establishing a collection of modern paintings dates back to 1894, shortly after the founding of the museum, when Mrs. Henry Field donated in her husband’s memory a substantial group of Barbizon paintings, including such works as Jules Breton’s Song of the Lark (page 92), Jean François Millet’s Peasants Bringing Home a Calf Born in the Fields (page 39), and Théodore Rousseau’s Springtime (page 32). The hazy, atmospheric renditions by these painters of the countryside north of Paris celebrated a rustic setting that was threatened by rapidly encroaching heavy industry. The thick brushstrokes and textured surfaces of these softly toned paintings came out of the same formal tradition that had produced the exuberant Romantic works of Eugène Delacroix (page 24), and proved to be influential on such later artists as Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (page 49) and Vincent van Gogh (page 109).

The 1933 bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson contained a number of exceptional French paintings, including works by Monet (page 57). Annie Swann Coburn (Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn) frequently traveled abroad to visit the French salons and accumulated an impressive collection that contributed considerably to the museums holdings. Among her more noteworthy gifts are a magnificent winter landscape by Camille Pissarro (page 46) and a stirring double portrait by Edgar Degas (page 65). Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester were other collectors who shared the Ryerson’s and Mrs. Coburn’s vision, donating fine mid century paintings such as Frédéric Bazille’s Landscape at Chailly (page 42).

These artists were among those who objected to the rigid structure and strict academic standards of the officially sanctioned salon. In 1874, Degas, Pissarro, Monet, and others organized an independent exhibition of their work. Their paintings, along with those of Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley were exhibited and were, for the most part, dismissed by the reviewers and the public. Dubbed "the Impressionists" by an unsympathetic critic, the group shared an interest in loose brushwork, bright colors, and an emphasis on capturing the fleeting moments of everyday life. Contemporary subjects dominated their canvases, from the dapper flâneurs strutting down the boulevards of Paris (page 69) and the powerful, new steam engines criss-crossing the continent (page 70), to views of the French countryside, painted in natural light (page 81).

The museums wealth of Impressionist art is regarded as one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind. Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, renowned collectors and early turn of the century supporters of French avant garde art, donated, among other key works, pieces by Degas (page 112), Manet (page 40), Monet (page 96), Pissarro (page 86), Renoir (page 64), and Sisley (page 111). Mrs. Palmer, who became an unofficial dealer of Impressionist art, especially of the work of Monet, encouraged her friends nationwide to collect Impressionism, an effort that has contributed to the richness of many American museums in this area.

The last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of Post-Impressionism, as seen in the works of Cézanne, van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. Unlike the Impressionists, these artists remained on the periphery of the art world, for the most part avoiding the salons, middle-class social settings and, whether intentionally or not, the art markets as well. Van Gogh and Gauguin retreated to the countryside (Gauguin eventually fled to the South Pacific), isolating themselves from their peers. Along with Cézanne, these two contributed to innovative formal developments: the harmonic color schemes of Gauguin (page 128), the thickly textured brushstrokes of van Gogh (page 104), and the shifting, geometric planes of Cézanne (page 105) proved to be influential on many of the major avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. Gauguin and van Gogh also expanded the spiritual and emotional vocabulary of painting.

Works from this period came to the Art Institute from various sources, reflecting the expanding collecting tastes in the first quarter of the century. Frederic Clay Bartlett established the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection at the Art Institute in 1926, in memory of his second wife. The gift included what has become the museums most famous image Seurat’s Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884 (page 99). This enormous canvas is acknowledged today as the manifesto painting of Divisionism, the pointillist method Seurat developed for recreating the luminosity of natures tones as they blend and contrast in the viewers eye. Seurat’s masterpiece clearly depicts Impressionist subject matter bourgeois leisure activity but imbues it with a sense of abstraction and mystery that is entirely new. The myriad patterns of tiny dots of paint covering the canvas recall the dappled brushwork of Monet and Pissarro, but seem much more deliberate and formalized.

The museums devotion to American art dates back to the end of the last century, when, in 1888, it began sponsoring an annual American exhibition. These showcases served to promote the growth of American art, providing much needed exposure to artists from around the country. In fact, many paintings now in the collection were selected from these early exhibitions. In 1910, the Friends of American Art began accumulating a compendium of works for the museum, and when this group disbanded in the 1940s, the Society for Contemporary American Art took on the work of their predecessors.

Today the Department of American Arts exhibits American paintings that date between the colonial era and 1900. Strengths in the nineteenth century collection include the grandiose landscapes of Thomas Cole (page 138) and Frederic Edwin Church (page 140), which date from the first half of the century. Notable as well are the paintings and watercolors by Winslow Homer (pages 155, 158), which fully represent this artists development and achievements. Still life arrangements by Raphaelle Peale (page 136) and Martin Johnson Heade (page 156) display the luminist tendencies of American painters working seventy years apart. At the end of the century, a group of expatriate artists adapted a number of styles inspired by their encounters in Europe, including the innovations of the Impressionists and Post Impressionists. Works by James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt exhibit a variety of distinct European influences, particularly in Whistler’s explorations of evocative color patterns (page 147) and Cassatt’s cropped compositions (page 167). This late century phenomenon is testimony to an ever present, century long conflict of interest in America a burning desire to become independent from continental activity, and at the same time, an irrepressible need to be informed about and involved in whatever is happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

The city of Chicago received two strong doses of modern European art at the Worlds Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Armory Show of 1913, which traveled to the Art Institute after its scandalous opening in New York City. A vast exhibition incorporating works by nearly all of the then current European movements Cubism, Expressionism, and Fauvism the Armory Show introduced modern art to many Americans, viewers and artists alike. Although most of the innovative works on display were denounced by the critics and the general public, the show as a whole made an indelible impact on the course of American art.

Chicago attorney Arthur Jerome Eddy, arguably the most fervent supporter of modern European art in the Midwest, had been deeply impressed at the 1893 Fair with the exhibition of contemporary art, which inspired him to build a collection of his own. His enthusiasm led to his purchase of even more experimental works out of the Armory Show, works that rearranged traditional composition and perspective. The early modernists extended some of the pictorial innovations of their predecessors in the previous century, such as the emphasis on the picture surface, and the disjunction of forms in space, but for the most part, they insisted upon being seen as breaking with the past and establishing new modes of artistic investigation. In 1931, the museum received a large number of important modern pieces from Eddy, including examples of work by Kandinsky (pages 204, 212) and Gabriele Münter (page 207).

Robert Harshe’s directorship is recognized as having provided the impetus to collect modern art. In 1921, the same year Harshe assumed the post of director, industrialist Joseph Winterbotham developed a unique fund for the museum, allowing the Art Institute to create a flexible collection of European masterpieces. A substantial endowment was established with the understanding that only thirty five paintings in all were to be purchased. This number was reached in 1946, but Winterbotham had specified that any work could be sold off or exchanged for a piece of equal or superior merit. Although the first purchases for this collection consisted primarily of late nineteenth century pieces, the focus has since changed to include twentieth century works by masters such as Marc Chagall (page 244), whose dreamlike images often refer to his experiences as a Russian Jew; Giorgio de Chirico (page 217), an Italian forerunner of Surrealism; the French Syncretist Robert Delaunay (page 209); and the Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka (page 195).

The 1926 gift of the Bartlett Collection, which, in addition to the Post Impressionist works referred to above, also featured important paintings by Henri Matisse (page 225), Amedeo Modigliani (page 220), and Pablo Picasso (page 186), greatly broadened the museums collection of modern paintings. The trustees accepted the gift with mixed feelings, sharing the publics continuing negative response to modern art. This gift occurred a full three years before the founding of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and displays the keen insight and pioneering spirit of the museums administration in accepting modern paintings when they were bound to provoke such contentious reactions.

In 1933 and 1934, the Art Institute mounted two major loan exhibitions recognizing one hundred years of collecting in America. The "Century of Progress Expositions," as they were named, and the subsequent 46th Annual American Exhibition in 1935 featured new paintings by such innovative artists as George Bellows, Charles Demuth, Edward Hopper, and John Marin. Public preconceptions as to what American painting should look like were suddenly challenged by the haunting visions of urban life and the abstract compositions that were presented. The press lambasted the new styles in their reviews, the museum audience mocked the exhibitions, and several prominent Chicagoans retaliated by forming a reactionary group in 1936 called "Sanity in Art," a conservative backlash aimed at discouraging the new trends.

In 1943, Mr. Harshe’s successor, Daniel Catton Rich, took a bold step forward and hired Katharine Kuh, an innovative Chicago dealer whose gallery had featured many of the most prominent contemporary European artists. With Rich’s support, she directed the Gallery of Art Interpretation, a space she dedicated to addressing the sometimes alienating language of art. Mrs. Kuh’s exhibits proved to be enlightening and educational, and won over large numbers of museum visitors. In 1954, she was named the museums first Curator of Modern Painting and Sculpture; she and Rich were responsible for the acquisition of significant canvases by Willem de Kooning (page 299), Matisse (page 198), and Picasso (page 235), among others.

In 1961, Mrs. Kuh was replaced by A. James Speyer, around the same time that the administration officially inaugurated a separate department for the modern collection. Mr. Speyer was named Curator of Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture and asked to lead the fledgling department. In this period, the museum continued to acquire important mid century European and American paintings, including Francis Bacon’s Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef (page 251), Jean Dubuffet’s Genuflection of the Bishop (page 254), Alberto Giacometti’s Isaku Yanaihara (page 252), and René Magritte’s Time Transfixed (page 246).

In the 1970s, Pop art came to the Art Institute in the form of such works as Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke with Spatter (page 313) and A...

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