Friday, January 10, 2014

American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution

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 third installation in their four-year collaboration focusing on the history of American art. Opening at the Louvre on February 1, 2014, American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution provides a close look at five portraits that demonstrate how portraiture style evolved in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as American and European painters were influenced by each other. The installation’s five works have never been displayed together previously.

Following its presentation at the Louvre (Feb. 1–April 28, 2014), the installation will travel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR (May 17–Sept. 15, 2014), and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA (Sept. 28, 2014–Jan. 18, 2015).

The five works included in the exhibition are:

George Washington after the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, Attributed to Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1779. National Museum of the Palace of Versailles and the Trianons.

Portrait of Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland, Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1788. High Museum of Art.

Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, Sir Henry Raeburn, ca. 1790-94. Musée du Louvre.

George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), Gilbert Stuart, 1797. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

George Washington, Porthole Portrait, Rembrandt Peale, after 1824. Terra Foundation for American Art.

Three of the portraits in the exhibition depict George Washington, and the others show Hugh Percy, Second Duke of Northumberland, and Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, both of whom were soldiers who may have fought against Washington in the Revolutionary War. The relationship between these works indicates that Britain and the U.S. were as connected through art during the period of the Revolutionary War as they were through commerce and politics. The painters represented had studied under British portrait artists, traveled in England, and visited art exhibitions in England, all of which led to the visible British influences in the portraits they painted.

Putting these works side-by-side for the first time invites a number of new comparisons. The three portraits of Washington vary greatly and demonstrate how depictions of the revered general and president were affected by his shifting role and the ways in which he wanted to be perceived. Two of these three portraits are attributed to father and son, Charles Willson and Rembrandt Peale. Their paintings highlight how portraiture style was both passed down from generation to generation and updated in the process of that passing. The elder Peale’s portrait of Washington—the oldest work in the exhibition—comes from the collection of the Palace of Versailles, where its provenance and attribution have been unclear. Research into the history of the work conducted by the Louvre in preparation for this exhibition has led to new confidence in attributing it to Charles Willson Peale and in clarifying its early provenance from Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon-Malesherbes (1721-1794), former Minister of Louis XVI.

“The history of Anglo-American diplomatic and commercial relations in the 18th and 19th centuries is a well-known one, but what these portraits show—side-by-side—is that those relationships extended into creative disciplines as well,” said exhibition curator Kevin Murphy, the former Curator of American Art at Crystal Bridges and current Eugénie Prendergast Curator of American art, Williams College Museum of Art. “This exhibition will give scholars, curators, and students an unprecedented opportunity to look closely at—and make comparisons between—these masterful portraits.”

“The potential for new scholarship and education that comes from bringing these five portraits together is exactly the spirit of our international collaboration and shows how much all of our institutions have to gain from it, as now our visitors are familiarizing themselves with American painting and are greatly anticipating this third installation,” said Guillaume Faroult, Curator, Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre. “For this exhibition, the Louvre is contributing Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of Lieutenant Robert Hay of Spott, a masterful work of 18th-century portraiture that we do not frequently give our audiences an opportunity to see.”

The first installation of the collaboration between the Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art was titled American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Birth of Landscape Painting in America and explored the emergence of American landscape painting through the works of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand.

The second installation—American Encounters: Genre Painting and Everyday Life—provided a close look at five major genre paintings, each of which offered a unique perspective on 19th-century America. Two of the works, from the Louvre’s collection, exemplified the European influence on American genre painting.

Catalogue and Programs

The partners have collaborated to produce a small catalogue for each installation. The illustrated book for American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution will feature an essay by Murphy that traces the multifaceted connections between the portraits featured in the exhibition and the men who painted them. The book will be published by Marquand Books and distributed by the University of Washington Press.