American Watercolors and Pastels 1875-1950
Fogg Museum, Harvard University
32 Quincy Street
Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday 1:00 p.m. - 5 p.m.
April 8 - June 25, 2006
There are several reasons to catch this show. First, the art is immensely accessible. Remember the term “representational art”? You don’t need an audiotape to “get it”. Next, you can contemplate what you’ve seen while sitting at tables scattered under the Fogg’s three-story replica of an Italian Renaissance courtyard based on a 16th century façade from Montepulciano, Italy.
And, oh, it ends Sunday.
The fifty-two works were executed by some of the heavyweights of the past. You’ll nod your head as you recognize the work of John Singer Sargent (4), Winslow Homer (9), Edward Hopper (3), and James McNeil Whistler (8), And you might wonder why museums don’t show more of the work of John LaFarge and William Merritt Chase.
This is a “Goldilocks” show, just right in size. The fifty-two works, spread in three small rooms in the street level Straus Gallery, include landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and even a few abstracts. The image sizes are roughly from letter size to 18 x 24 inches. Within half an hour, the ardent gallerista can wander through all three rooms a couple times then stand in front of favorites. There’s no conga line of visitors snaking through the gallery.
Taken as a whole, the exhibit is a tone poem to a bygone era. They were all painted between 1875 and 1950, considered the “Golden Age” of the medium. Yes there are many bright, frothy images that come to mind when one thinks “watercolor” but the show’s power stems from how the painters expanded the medium. Read the bite sized notes accompanying the artists’ work and you’ll see how their watercolors were often charged with gouache, tempera, and ink. These artists were pushing the envelope of their craft.
Walk into the room with the nine Homers and you’ll be drawn to several he painted with a rich blend of opacity and transparent wash. His robust watercolors capture the deep shade under forest canopies or at river’s edge and don’t rely exclusively on watercolor to achieve their punch.
See the exhibit this rainy weekend. That Italianate courtyard in the Fogg’s foyer has a roof over it.
A few ptatlarge faves:
John LaFarge, “Chinese Pi Thong”, 1870, described at the time as “a rich square of eye delighting color”… still is. (photo below)
Winslow Homer, “Pike, Lake St. John", 1897
James McNeil Whistler, “Sailboat and Fourth of July Fireworks”, 1880
William Merritt Chase, “Self Portrait”, 1884 (photo below)