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  Arts & Living
American Watercolor in Age of Homer, Sargent
How Watercolor Became an American Phenomenon
“Diamond Shoal, 1905” by Winslow Homer, American, 1836–1910, Watercolor on paper, Private Collection

Tracing the development of the watercolor movement from the 1860s to the flowering of Modernism, "American Watercolor" will be the most comprehensive loan exhibition in over forty years devoted to this important chapter in the history of painting in America.

The "American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent" will be held at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia in the USA between March 1, 2017 and May 14, 2017.

Centered on the achievements of two of watercolor’s most influential practitioners, Winslow Homer (1836-1910) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), this sweeping survey will examine the remarkable transformation of the medium that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The exhibition will bring together more than 170 works—many of them acknowledged masterpieces—drawn from public and private collections throughout the United States.

This extraordinary gathering of rarely seen masterpieces traces the rise of a uniquely American medium. Shaped by the genius of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, the watercolor movement tells a story about innovation, experimentation, and the creation of bold new ways of seeing the world.

Experience one of the country’s great artistic legacies through stunning landscapes and illustrations, and designs for ceramics and stained glass.

The Rise of Watercolor in the United States

Although widely practiced in the US before the Civil War, watercolor painting existed at the margins of the professional art world. Considered the domain of amateurs, women, and commercial artists, it drew little interest from the mainstream painters of the mid-1800s.

Watercolor’s reputation changed with the creation of the American Watercolor Society in 1866. Its annual exhibitions soon became the most liberal forum in New York, uniting artists of all ages, styles, and backgrounds.

Drawing talent from the ranks of illustrators, who used watercolor on the job, and gaining strength from the Impressionists and landscape artists, who sketched in watercolor outdoors, the movement also welcomed new arts and crafts designers.

The buzz attracted collectors, who sparked the interest of yet more artists. By the early 1880s, every corner of the American art world was represented in the Society’s galleries: avant-garde painters returning from Europe, the old guard learning new tricks, illustrators looking for “fine art” status, and women artists seeking an entrée.

The American watercolor movement created stars like Homer, John La Farge, Thomas Moran, and William Trost Richards, artists who would remain dedicated to the medium for decades. Thomas Eakins, George Inness, and others rode the wave through its peak in the 1880s.

Together, their work produced a taste for watercolor among younger artists and eager collectors that would endure through the turn of the century, inspiring a new crop of illustrators such as Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Willcox Smith, decorators from the circle of Louis C. Tiffany, and plein air masters Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, and Sargent.

Thanks to the legacy of Homer, Sargent, and their contemporaries, the next generation—Charles Demuth and Edward Hopper among them—would choose watercolor as a principal medium. Within fifty years, the Modernists would demonstrate that the reputation of watercolor had been rebuilt as a powerful and versatile “American” medium.

"American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent" will be accompanied from March 1, 2017 to May 14, 2017 by a fully illustrated catalogue, produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.




 

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