American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

June 19, 2015 - September 19, 2015
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American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Drawings and watercolors are sometimes considered minor works of art, simply preparatory studies for more significant paintings and sculptures. Their fragile nature prevents them from being shown for extended periods, and their smaller size makes them less prominent in a museum or gallery. On the other hand, the immediacy and spontaneity of these media encourage artists to experiment, offering the viewer a glimpse into the mind and hand of the artist at work. The works in American Moderns on Paper, on view in the Figge’s third and fourth floor galleries from June 20 to September 20, provide a front row seat to the development of American art during one of the most exciting periods in our history. The exhibition features signature works by American masters such as Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper, as well as works by lesser-known, but influential artists such as Peggy Bacon and William Baziotes.

The Wadsworth Atheneum was founded in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, whose bequest of Hudson River School paintings gave the museum an early focus on American art. Wadsworth’s collection included pastel portraits of George and Martha Washington and several rare early American watercolors. Subsequent acquisitions of works on paper by Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt laid the foundation for the museum’s collection of works on paper. In the 20th century, the Wadsworth’s curators, directors and donors had close ties with pioneering artists and dealers in New York—including Alfred Stieglitz, Edith Halpert and the many artists who lived or vacationed in the environs of Hartford—and the collection grew to include works on paper by the key artists of the time.  Recent acquisitions of works by O’Keeffe and Ellsworth Kelly round out the roster of artists represented.

American Moderns on Paper features 87 works by 44 artists, created between 1902 and 1962, and ranging in style from the urban realism of John Sloan to the pioneering abstractions of Arthur Dove. During this period, the United States and New York City in particular, became the world center of innovation in the visual arts. Many artists in the show emigrated from Europe, while others were Americans who made frequent trips to travel and study in Paris and other European capitals, absorbing the influences of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and other modernists. The New York Armory Show of 1913, though ridiculed in the press, brought avant-garde works by European masters to the American public for the first time, and many American artists exhibited alongside them.

The artists in American Moderns on Paper responded in different ways to the influence of the Europeans and to the dynamic changes of the 20th century. John Marin, for instance, incorporated Cubist elements into his cityscapes to express the energy of New York’s bridges and skyscrapers. Works by Charles Burchfield, Ellsworth Kelly and others continue the great tradition of landscape in American art, giving it a modern vocabulary. Lesser known artists such as Pavel Tchelitchew brought Surrealist influences into their drawings, reflecting the influence of Salvador Dalí (also included in the show). Others, such as Edward Hopper, who is represented by six watercolors, created a new kind of American realism influenced by their studies in Paris. American Moderns on Paper represents an opportunity to see the evolution of American art during perhaps its most dynamic period through a priceless collection of personal and spontaneous works—those done on paper.

The Figge has planned a number of public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. On June 25, Exhibition Co-curator Erin Monroe will speak about the works on view. On Thursday, July 2, The Show that Shook the World about the New York Armory Show of 1913, will be shown in the John Deere Auditorium.

This exhibition will be on view June 20-September 20, 2015.

American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is presented with the generous support of the Riverboat Development Authority in celebration of the Figge’s 10th anniversary, with additional support from Per Mar Security Services and Genesis Health System


This exhibition was organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. Made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius and the Henry Luce Foundation.


Saturday, June 20
Free Family Day
10 a.m.-1 p.m. Scheduled activities
Free admission all day
Engage in hands-on activities in celebration of American Moderns on Paper.

June 25
5:30 p.m. Opening Reception: American Moderns on Paper
7 p.m. Curator Talk
Erin Monroe will speak about curating the exhibition American Moderns on Paper. Monroe is the Robert H. Schutz, Jr. Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

July 2
7 p.m. Art Film: The Show That Shook The World
In addition to recreating the history of the original Armory Show through archival footage, the film features a previously unknown and unpublished lecture by Marcel Duchamp delivered at the 50th anniversary exhibition in 1963. Until the premiere of the documentary in 2013, the previously unknown recording of Duchamp's lecture had been preserved in a private archive for more than 50 years.

Edward Hopper, Captain Strout's House, Portland Head, 1927, opaque and transparent watercolor over graphite on wove paper, The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1928.3

Georgia O'Keeffe, Slightly Open Clam Shell, 1926, pastel on white ground on pressed artist's board, The Douglas Tracy Smith and Dorothy Potter Smith Fund, © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2009.1.1

Past Exhibitions

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