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Nude in American Painting

DATES October 06, 1961 through December 10, 1961
  • October 10, 1961 What is possibly the first exhibition relating to the historic development of the nude figure in American art will open at The Brooklyn Museum on October 10. Forty-nine paintings from the 18th to the 20th centuries have been assembled from 29 museums and private collections, in addition to the Brooklyn Museum’s own collection.

    Arranged chronologically, the pictures reflect contemporary European styles as well as the growth of specifically American characteristics. Classic and Rococo themes dominate in the early pictures while more typically American versions of Academic Romanticism and Victorian sentimentality are included in the 19th century group. Impressionism, Art Nouveau and the Ash Can School mark the turn of the century with Regionalism and the illustrative style following. Commenting on the exhibition, Mr. Thomas Buechner, Director of The Brooklyn Museum, said, “Collectively, the paintings comprise a miniature survey of two centuries of American art history, representing the varied approaches of many of our finest painters to the most demanding of all themes, the Nude.”

    Capturing the essence of the classical idiom are William Page’s coy VENUS ANADYOMENE, James Peale’s VENUS AND PSYCHE, Samuel Morse’s THE DYING HERCULES, and William Rimmer’s surrealistic EVENING, FALL OF DAY. Historically, the nude figure in painting has been subjected to disapproval and controversy, and the outcry which arose when Page’s VENUS ANADYOMENE was to be shown in Boston resulted in its removal from public exhibition.

    The charm of the Rococo idyll is illustrated by the paintings of Washington Allston, Ralph Blakelock, William Baer and John LaFarge. Benjamin West’s CUPID AND PSYCHE is a classical prophecy of the sentimentality to follow, while LaFarge’s WOMAN CENTAUR is a fe-mare with as many good points for connoisseurs of horseflesh as for connoisseurs of art.

    The artist’s interpretation of the nude figure in the mid-19th century reflected the range from academic romanticism to Victorian sentimentality. Examples of this period are THE BATHERS by William Morris Hunt, WILLIAM RUSH CARVING HIS ALLEGORICAL FIGURE OF THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER by Thomas Eakins, and MALE NUDE DONE WITH GEROME by Abbott H. Thayer.

    The style of Impressionism is represented by Maurice Prendergast, Childe Hassam and William Baer, while Degas’ great theme is recalled In THE BATH by Alfred Maurer and in Isabel Bishop’s UNDRESSING.

    The city studio became the setting for the model when the School of the Eight interpreted the nude, well exemplified by Glackens’ NUDE WITH APPLE and Sloan’s ARACHNE. Unlike the subjects in the academic paintings, the personality of the sitter dominates during this period of realism - witness Sloan’s ARACHNE and George Bellows’ NUDE WITH HEXAGONAL QUILT. Departing from his usual idylls, Arthur Davies in his painting, THE DAWNING, displays an interest and insight in the Art Nouveau movement.

    In KING PHILIP, Thomas Benton contributes his own vigorous Regionalism, while DOWN AT JIMMY KELLY’S by Reginald Marsh is interpreted in the lighter vein of illustration.

    Mrs. Hertha Wegener, Assistant Curator of Paintings and Sculpture, who has prepared the exhibition, states: “Although abstract non-objective painting has become a major style, the nude as a theme has not lost ground among those painters who prefer to avail themselves of recognizable subject matter. Small wonder, for the image of the nude figure is a testimony of the artist’s delight in the living human form and man’s reflection of universal vitality.”

    Mary Cassatt, Kenyon Cox, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Bernard Karfiol and Yasuo Kuniyoshi are but a few of the other famous American artists represented in this exhibition which may be seen in the Special Exhibition Gallery at The Brooklyn Museum from October 10 through December 10.

    There will be an invitational preview of this major Exhibition for members of the Museum and their guests on Monday evening, October 9.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1953 - 1970. 1961, 037-39.
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