In a Romantic Mood: American Impressionists and Their Era

Akron Art Museum

The Akron Art Museum is pleased to showcase its extraordinary collection of American impressionist paintings and other exquisite late-nineteenth-century American artworks during In a Romantic Mood: American Impressionists and Their Era, on view June 14-August 30, 2003. This compilation of 60 paintings and prints demonstrates how many artists expressed their romantic impulses by creating dreamlike works that emphasized their experiences in the world. It also represents the last opportunity to view these works before they travel to other museums across the nation as part of an exhibition organized by Akron Art Museum staff and circulated by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions.
At the end of the nineteenth century, one of the most popular painting styles was impressionism, in which artists used broken or flickering brushwork to capture the fleeting quality of light. In this exhibition, works by preeminent painters such as Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, and Frederick Frieseke reveal American artists’ uniquely tidy version of French Impressionism. The scratchy brushstrokes and delicate colors of Julian Alden Weir’s White Oaks evoke the crisp air of a New England autumn afternoon. In Bedford Hills, Childe Hassam used small strokes of green, blue, and yellow to capture the play of sun and wind over a lush meadow in upstate New York while Frederick Frieseke, who studied in Giverny, France, where Claude Monet lived, specialized in depicting figures bathed in sunlight.
Edwin C. Shaw, a B.F. Goodrich executive and one of Akron’s most renowned philanthropists, donated Frieseke’s dazzling On the Balcony to the Museum, as well as a number of other works included in the exhibition. In a Romanic Mood also features paintings donated by S.G. Carkhuff, Ralph Cortell, Stella B. Hall, and others. A luminous autumn landscape by J. Francis Murphy is also on loan from the collection of Beatrice Knapp McDowell.
Other works in the exhibition such as Dwight W. Tryon’s haunting landscape, The New Moon, evoke a more poetic mood. Tryon combined intense colors, blurred forms, and a simplified composition to symbolize the quietude of nightfall. The glow of light along the horizon beckons viewers into the scene and suggests humankind’s spiritual connection with nature, a theme introduced into American culture in the nineteenth century by authors/naturalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Nature was not the only source of pleasure and inspiration for American artists during this period. Many found in the female figure an emblem of enlightenment, beauty, and refinement. William Merritt Chase’s courtly Girl in White (a portrait of Florence Irene Dimock, the daughter of a Connecticut-based silk merchant) is reminiscent of baroque-era European paintings that Chase studied while attending the Royal Academy of Art in Munich, Germany. Paintings by Thomas Wilmer Dewing reveal his distinctive and untraditional vision of women. Confined in spare interiors or moving through vaporous landscapes, Dewing’s figures evoke feelings of loss and longing, enhancing the melancholy mood inherent in such works.
Regardless of which works viewers may find most compelling, the poetic art of these American impressionists represents a world that existed primarily in dreams, a locale as enchanting today as it was a century ago.
This exhibition was organized by the Akron Art Museum with generous support from the C. Blake, Jr. and Beatrice K. McDowell Foundation, OMNOVA Solutions, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Graves, and Milo and Mary Lou Chelovitz.