An American Eden: Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century American Paintings

Butler Institute of America Art

In 2004, the Akron Art Museum closed its downtown location to begin an exciting building expansion project. As construction continued, the Akron Art Museum collaborated with the Butler Institute of American Art to present American Eden, which showcased some of the most important turn-of-the-twentieth-century works from Akron's collection.
At the end of the nineteenth century, many American artists retreated from the realities of the early modern era--with its burgeoning industry, crowded cities and extremes in wealth and poverty--and envisioned instead an American Eden. They painted idyllic landscapes, dreamy portraits of women, and charming still lifes in order to fulfill the widely held belief that art should delight the senses and elevate the spirit.
At the beginning of the last century, many artists found a sense of tranquility in the rural American landscape. One of the most popular styles for painting the landscape was impressionism, in which artists used broken or flickering brushwork to capture the fleeting quality of light. A number of artists studied impressionist painting in France and brought the technique back to America.
Some landscape painters modified the eye-popping effects of impressionism in order to evoke a more contemplative mood. "Tonalist" artists combined soft colors and blurred forms to create serene seascapes, glowing sunsets, and lush forest scenes that signify humankind's spiritual connection with nature.
Another source of pleasure and inspiration for artists of this period was the female figure, considered since antiquity to be an emblem of enlightenment, beauty, and refinement. Artists working in a variety of styles made charming studies of women in the landscape and also haunting images of women confined within their homes or in artists' studios.
American art from this period appealed to collectors nationwide, including many in northeast Ohio. Most of the works in this exhibition came to the Akron Art Museum from Edwin C Shaw, a B.F. Goodrich executive who co-founded the museum in 1922. In Youngstown, steel magnate Joseph Butler, who established the Butler Institute in 1919, collected works by many of the same artists. American Eden highlights both the complementary relationship between Akron's collection and the Butler's and the collaborative spirit that characterizes arts institutions in Ohio.
This exhibition was organized by the Akron Art Museum from works in its collection and made possible by a generous gift from The Jean P. Wade Foundation. It was presented in cooperation with the Butler Institute of American Art.