All roads may lead to Paris, but for 19th century American painters, many at least traveled through St. Louis.
In January, the Gallery of Art at Washington University in St. Louis will present Painting America in the 19th Century: Selections from the Permanent Collection. The exhibition includes works by 13 major American painters — many of whom lived or worked in Missouri — ranging from portraits and frontier scenes to Hudson River School and American Impressionist landscapes. Moreover, the exhibition provides historic counterpoint to the concurrent American Art of the 1980s: Selections from the Broad Collections.
Painting America opens with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23 in the Gallery of Art and remain on view through April 18. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and noon to 4:30 p.m. weekends. (The Gallery of Art is closed Mondays.) The exhibit is free and open to the public. The Gallery of Art is located in Steinberg Hall, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. For more information, call (314) 935-4523.
Painting America includes such iconic images of the American west as Indians Approaching Fort Union (c. 1859) by Carl Wimar (1828-1862) who emigrated from Germany to St. Louis in 1843; and Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through Cumberland Gap (1851-1852) by George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), perhaps Missouri’s most celebrated artist.
A powerful image of nationalistic, westward expansion, Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers is filled with subtle references to classical and religious art. The painting actually conflates two separate events — an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate Indian Territories in 1773, and a larger expedition in 1775. Still, more than any other single work of art, the painting established Boone’s semi-mythic status as the Moses-like first settler of Kentucky. (Ironically, in 1788, Boone himself settled near present-day St. Charles, Mo., where he passed away in 1820.)
American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) — whose family moved to Missouri in 1869 and whose early career was subsidized by a group of philanthropic St. Louis businessmen — is represented by Courtyard of a Dutch Orphan System (1884). The canvas marks a major shift for Chase, away from early works patterned on old master European painting to the lighter, more pastel palette that characterized much of his later art.
Landscapist Joseph Rusling Meeker (1827-1887), here represented by Landscape (Bayou) (1879), was born in Newark, N.J. but spent much of his career in St. Louis, where he enjoyed great commercial success. Portrait of Professor W.D. Marks (1886) by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) portrays the distinguished St. Louis native and Washington University alumnus, who later served as supervisor of the Edison Electric Light Company in Philadelphia.
The university’s strong collection of Hudson River School painting is represented by landscapes from Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) and Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). Durand, coincidentally, had been a mentor to Meeker at the National Academy of Design in New York, while Church’s patrons included prominent St. Louis banker Charles Parsons, who bequeathed his collection to Washington University in 1905. Other artists include George Fuller (1822-84), Chester Harding (1792-1866), John F. Kensett (1816-72) and John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902).
The Gallery of Art at Washington University in St. Louis
The Gallery of Art at Washington University in St. Louis is the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River, founded in 1881 as part of the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts. The collection today includes some 3,000 objects — including some 1,400 prints, drawings and photographs — with the strongest holdings in 19th- and 20th- century European and American art. Other notable holdings include two Egyptian mummies, several Greek vases and the Wulfing Collection of approximately 14,000 Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins.