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American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life

May 16 – September 14, 2015

American Encounters: The Simple Pleasures of Still Life examines the roots of still-life painting in the works of French and Dutch still-life masters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and explores how late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American artists adapted European still-life tradition to American taste, character, and experience.  The works included range from the plain compositions of the nation’s earliest still lifes to the widely popular trompe l’oeil works of the Gilded Age. This is the culminating presentation of the American Encounters series—which has aimed to broaden appreciation for and dialogue about American art both within the US. and abroad. The series has been an ongoing collaboration between Crystal Bridges; the High Museum in Atlanta, GA; The Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, IL; and the musée du Louvre in Paris, France. The ten masterpieces in the exhibition speak to the diversity of the still-life genre in the US and range from works by artists De Scott Evans, Martin Johnson Heade, Joseph Biays Ord, William Sydney Mount and Raphaelle Peale to trompe l’oeilmasterworks by John Haberle, William Michael Harnett and George Cope. Two paintings by John-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Abraham Mignon demonstrate the European examples frequently emulated by American artists first experimenting with still life in the early 1800s. Works in the exhibition from Crystal Bridges include Raphaelle Peale’s Corn and Cantaloupe (ca. 1813), John Haberle’s Small Change (1887),  and De Scott Evans’ Daisies (ca. 1885). Peale is considered one of America’s first painters of still lifes. He appropriated the traditional European format small tabletop still life and adapted it to highlight characteristically American products such as corn, yams, and canteloupe. Haberle’s illusionistic money painting addresses controversial monetary politics and historic events of the time. Evans’s Daisies continues the tradition of Dutch vanitas still lifes such as Abraham Mignon’s late 17th century Flowers in a Crystal Vase on a Stone Pedestal, with a Dragonfly, also included in the exhibition. However, instead of exotic flowers, Evans’s humble American bouquet comprises common, uncultivated flowers and celebrates the beauty of the native plants. Together, these works provide a focused examination of the development of a distinctly American voice within the still-life tradition.

Sponsored By

Crystal Bridges Global Initiative Fund: Chuck and Terri Erwin, Reed and Mary Ann Greenwood, Warren and Harriet Stephens, Stella Boyle Smith Trust and Marvelyn Stout