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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Hawthorne’

This post comes to us from artist and NBMAA docent Ronald Abbe.

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912 by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was among the most radical works exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show. Oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

One hundred years ago New Yorkers reacted with shock and awe to the Armory Show of 1913. This was their first encounter with European modernism as represented most notably by Picasso and Matisse.  When the show moved on to Boston and Chicago the reception slipped to actual dismay.  Students at the Art Institute of Chicago burned paintings by Matisse (in effigy).

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October Landscape, 1923. Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930). Oil on canvas board, 30 1/8 x 24 7/8 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Gift of Olga H. Knoepke, 1992.37

The understanding of sensation, perception, and what it meant to portray reality changed dramatically throughout the late 19th century, beginning with the Impressionist movement in France. Impressionism prioritized the individual eye over the disembodied subject of the anonymous viewing body. The theory behind the movement was all about offering a unique experience, a temporary moment, and an individual artist’s perspective. Canvases were meant to be direct translations of perceptions experienced in nature. Despite heavy initial resistance from the art establishment, Impressionist art has come to be praised for removing the burdening, dry weight of bourgeois politics in order to experience nature more directly and immediately. One was not to play into hierarchy, but rather to experience unaltered, reaction between artist and environment. Through the direct representation of the artist’s reaction, the Impressionists captured one moment of temporal, specific perception including those of the middle and lower classes of modern France.

What is often forgotten is the fact that French Impressionism, often mistaken for Impressionism at large, incorporated the beliefs, theories, and politics of one group of mostly Parisian men. Impressionism as theory and practice traveled across the Atlantic quite successfully. In the United States, it flourished among budding art colonies including Provincetown, Massachusetts, Old Lyme, Connecticut, and Shinnecock, Long Island. These art-driven townships were popular destinations and subject-settings for American Impressionists, as they boasted brilliant sunshine, luscious landscape, and sea-soaked shores.

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