Ties That Bind: American Artists in Europe

July 14 – September 23, 2012

Ties That Bind: American Artists in Europe features paintings from the collections of the Frye Art Museum by American artists who lived, studied, and worked in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Europe became more accessible to American artists after the Civil War (1861–65), many young painters desired to experience the art and culture of the Continent. These bold artists made the long journey across the Atlantic in hope of acquiring new techniques and basking in the presence of masterpieces hanging on the walls of great European museums.

Many American artists returned to the United States familiar with the latest art movements in Europe and with a renewed interest in forging a uniquely American style. For example, armed with knowledge of French Impressionism and its loose brushwork and light palette, artists like Childe Hassam, William Metcalf, and John Twachtman were able to champion their vision of American Impressionism. Exposure to German portraiture emboldened American painters like Frank Duveneck, and Robert Henri, who experimented with light, color, and bravura brushwork involving thick, flowing brushstrokes. New approaches to landscape painting were studied in academies in Düsseldorf and Munich by Albert Bierstadt and Henry Raschen, who used German techniques to depict the undaunted spirit of the American West. This exhibition also includes works by John White Alexander, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, George Inness, Charles Sprague Pearce, John Singer Sargent, and James Abbott McNeil Whistler, painters who experimented with the uncompromising Realism and Impressionism they encountered in European art capitals, including Paris, London, and Munich.

Some American artists found inspiration in established academies such as the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian in Paris, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Others were drawn to the collective experiences of small art colonies, like Duveneck’s artist community in Polling, Bavaria, and the famed sketching grounds in Dordrecht, Holland.

Inevitably, many of the painters in this exhibition crossed paths: they visited each other in small villages, or sketched together in classes at the academies. Their works would often be shown together in American exhibitions, where critics compared their diverse interpretations of Continental influences. They also participated in important European exhibitions, like those of the Munich Secession and the Paris Salon, where Americans comprised the largest national group of foreign artists. Together these artists freely exchanged ideas, often returning to the United States with the desire to paint their homeland with a bold reinterpretation of the techniques they learned from their European peers.

Ties That Bind: American Artists in Europe is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors. The exhibition is also supported by a grant from the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Seasonal support of the Frye Art Museum is provided by 4Culture, Canonicus Fund, and ArtsFund.

Image Credits:
Charles Sprague Pearce. Sainte Genevieve (detail), 1887. Oil on canvas. 82 x 66 in. Courtesy of an anonymous lender. Photo: Spike Mafford
Charles Sprague Pearce. Sainte Genevieve, 1887. Oil on canvas. 82 x 66 in. Courtesy of an anonymous lender. Photo: Spike Mafford
Albert Bierstadt. Rainbow in the Sierra Nevada, ca. 1871–73. Oil on panel. 18 x 24 in. Frye Art Museum Purchase, 1997.006.
John Singer Sargent. Mrs. Frederick William Roller, 1895. Oil on canvas. 88 ¼ x 44 5/8 in. Frye Art Museum Purchase, 1981.014.
Willard Leroy Metcalf. Bank of the Seine, Giverny, 1888. Oil on canvas. 26 x 32 in. Frye Art Museum Purchase, 1969.006.