End of Day: American Oil Painting Around 1900
June 15 – September 29, 2019
Drawn from the Frye Art Museum’s permanent collection, End of Day presents a selection of portrait and landscape paintings by American artists based primarily in the northeastern United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The works in the exhibition span the fifty-year period between the Civil War and First World War, a time of profound social, economic, and political change marked by rapid industrialization, urbanization, and America’s rise as an international superpower. Against this backdrop, the images offer sentiments that oscillate between an embrace of progress and a sense of nostalgia for what was perceived to be a simpler, bygone American era rooted in rural traditions, with many expressing ambivalence toward the complexities of modern life.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, American artists by and large looked toward their immediate surroundings and the everyday people within them for inspiration. Supported by improved transatlantic travel and communication, as well as a new class of collectors and patrons, many artists sojourned overseas. There they traveled widely, studying and living together in loose networks and artist colonies in countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, to experience firsthand the paintings of the Old Masters and take in the new artistic styles being developed by their European counterparts. While these travels provided ample creative stimulation, familiar stateside locales from Coney Island to Cape Cod proved equally viable as sources of inspiration and subjects worthy of serious artistic representation.
End of Day highlights an eclectic array of styles and influences, from the steady, refined brushwork of the Hudson River School’s serene landscapes, to the bold, loose strokes of Impressionism and Realism that sought to depict the world as it appeared before the artist’s eyes. The Frye Art Museum’s holdings in this area were primarily collected under the tenure of the Museum’s first director, Walser Sly Greathouse, who sought to complement Charles and Emma Frye’s Founding Collection of predominantly European oil paintings of the same period. All in all, the featured artists are indicative of an increasing desire to paint according to one’s own beliefs and inclinations rather than strictly adhering to long-held academic principles and traditions, heralding the individualist spirit that would come to characterize American art in the century ahead.