Pennsylvania Impressionists

This fall has been a busy one when it comes to exhibition installations. Last month, we opened the multi-gallery extravaganza, RAiR at 50. Next week, we open our final RAiR show for 2017, Rachel Grobstein. Today, I'd like to tell you about the exhibit we just opened this weekend: Pennsylvania Impressionists, on view in Founders Gallery.

Hold on, wait a minute, Pennsylvania? I thought the Roswell Museum was in New Mexico. And Founders Gallery? That's the space dedicated to Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth. What's going on?

Allow me to give you the backstory on this special exhibition. As I've mentioned in some previous posts, RMAC has been collaborating with the James A. Michener Art Museum on a major retrospective for Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth. After years of research, loan negotiation, and travel budgeting, this show is opening in 2018. It will open first in Doylestown in January, then come to Roswell in June. Since a substantial number of our works will be in the show, they'll need to travel to Pennsylvania for a few months. This meant we needed to clear out Founders Gallery, where a lot of them were hanging. They're in the vaults now waiting for the shippers, though Hurd's monumental painting The Gate and Beyond is still on view just outside the gallery since it's not traveling.

After four years at RMAC, this was the first time I ever saw Founders Gallery empty, but not for long.

During the interim, the Michener generously lent us this special exhibition to showcase in our historic gallery. And boy, don't they look great against those deep red walls?

There, that's better. Founders is a beautiful space in its own right, but it was designed for art.

But what is Pennsylvania Impressionism? Well, it's a loose association of artists working in the New Hope area during the first half of the twentieth century. While artists had been active in the area before, 1898 is considered the starting point for the Impressionism movement, when two of its most prominent artists settled there, Edward Redfield and William Lathrop (Incidentally, 1898 was the same year that two artists, Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein, arrived in Taos, New Mexico). Located within reasonable travel distance to Philadelphia and New York, the New Hope area had the advantage of being close to metropolitan art centers while being a rural area immersed in its own bucolic charm. Having been settled by Quakers, it was historically tolerant as well, and didn't mind the presence of all those quirky artist-types.

Edward Redfield insisted on painting all his pictures outdoors in a single day, regardless of the weather conditions.

Lathrop's paintings have a more introspective, meditative character.

In the broader national scheme, New Hope was one of several artists' colonies active in the early twentieth century. This particular generation of artists had studied in Europe to complete their education, and had formed groups there for camaraderie. After returning to the United States, they formed new groups in rural America to continue that sense of artistic solidarity. Other colonies established around this time include the Taos Art Colony, and the Provincetown Printers in Massachusetts, the latter being one of the more avante-garde groups.

Fern Coppedge's bright palette and planar style makes her a standout of the group.

The New Hope was united more in their love of the regional landscape than in any particular style. While several of its artists, most notably Edward Redfield, actively practiced Impressionist techniques such as en plein air painting and taking particular interest in capturing accurate light effects, others such as Lathrop preferred working in the studio, using sketches and memories of landscapes to create more introspective works. Others such as Fern Coppedge infused their plein air painting with bright colors and other highly personal styles, creating unique interpretations of the area. Historians love putting labels on things, but Impressionism should be interpreted pretty loosely when it comes to this group.

Many artists evolved stylistically over their careers. John Folinsbee transitioned from a bright, Impressionist palette as seen here to a darker, more expressionist mode.

Another connection many of these artists shared was the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Many studied there, and others went on to teach there, including Daniel Garber, who taught there for over forty years. An artist of many interests, Garber excelled in portraiture, genre, and landscape.

Daniel Garber's paintings are often recognized for their bright, warm palette and consummate sense of composition. Don't you just want to go visit this place?

The apex of Pennsylvania Impressionism is often considered to be about 1915, when it featured prominently at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Redfield had a gallery filled with works there, and Garber and Lathrop both received gold medals there. Impressionism became less fashionable after World War I, with Cubism and other more modern, abstract styles becoming more predominant, but it's been getting more scholarly attention since the late twentieth century, and has its loyal following among collectors and academics today. I for one thought this exhibition was particularly easy to arrange because the paintings, despite their different styles, all look so well together as a group.

George Sotter specialized in night scenes that exude a sense of wonder at the winter landscape.

This Kenneth Nunamaker landscape has a great painterly quality that distinguishes many of the New Hope painters.

Elizabeth F. Washington maintained a rigorous painting practice well into old age.

Pennsylvania Impressionists will be up through May, so be sure to stop in the next time you're at the Museum. These artists don't come to the West very often, so this is a special opportunity here in Roswell. And in June, get ready for the triumphant return of Hurd and Wyeth.