Abraham Mignon, Flowers in a Crystal Vase on a Stone Pedestal, with a Dragonfly, n.d (Musée du Louvre)
ATLANTA, GA.- 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 on Feb. 5, 2015, 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.
Following the installation at the Louvre (Feb. 5 – April 27, 2015), The Simple Pleasures of Still Life will travel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. (May 16 – Sept. 14, 2015), and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga. (Sept. 26, 2015 – Jan. 31, 2016).
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 Jean-Siméon Chardin (Musée du Louvre), the most popular French still-life painter of the 18th century, depicts an unusual subject for the artist that subtly conjures sensory pleasures.
Corn and Cantaloupe (c. 1813) by Raphaelle Peale (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art) 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.
Civil War-era Apples on a Tin Cup (1864) by William Sidney Mount (Terra Foundation for American Art) 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.
Still Life with Bust of Dante (1883) by William Michael Harnett (High Museum of Art) 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.
Joseph Biays Ord, Still Life with Shells, 1840, purchase with funds from Margaret and Terry Stent Endowment for the Acquisition of American Art