Culture

Exhibitions in New York: Rare “Gilded Age Drawings” unveiled at The Metropolitan Museum

Centred on America’s booming art scene in the late 1800s, the exhibition will feature many artworks that have not been displayed to the public in over 30 years.

Aug 10, 2017 | By Pameyla Cambe

‘Louise Tiffany, Reading,’ 1888, Louis Comfort Tiffany. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The word “renaissance” is inextricably tied to the bygone era of prosperity in Italy, when the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were revered as gods for their masterful artistry. To some, however, the word conjures a different landscape altogether, centuries ahead: America in the late 1800s, in all the glory of its flourishing economy and, consequently, arts.

This was the picture that The Metropolitan Museum of Art had in mind when they put together their upcoming exhibition, “Gilded Age Drawings at The Met”. From August 21 to December 10, 2017, The Met Fifth Avenue will offer the public a rare glimpse into the American Renaissance, as well as the artists that made it happen. At the exhibition, visitors will discover a treasure trove of artworks specially picked from the institution’s late 19th-century American collection.

‘Winter Scene in Moonlight,’ 1869, Henry Farrer. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What’s special about the exhibition is that many of these artworks — in a variety of mediums such as watercolour, pastel and charcoal — have not been exposed to the public eye for over three decades. Due to their delicate nature and extreme sensitivity to light, The Met has chosen to preserve them, presenting them only on a rotating basis.

It’s a good thing that The Met has decided to unveil them now. The “Gilded Age Drawings at The Met” exhibition features some of the most prominent American artists at the time, including Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Henry Farrer, Winslow Homer, Ellen Robbins, John Singer Sargent, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. It also provides a wealth of historical context to the period following America’s Civil War, with the artworks being grouped together by their subjects: figure studies, landscapes and still lifes.

This arrangement, however, reveals the aesthetic variation that is rife among the artworks of the time. For example, the relaxed, idle mood evoked in John Singer Sargent’s “In the Generalife” (1912) is a stark contrast to the sobering effect of Thoman Eakins’s “The Dancing Lesson” (1878) with its sombre watercolour palette.

The Met, founded shortly before the full swing of the Gilded Age arrived, has always had a special relationship with that particular American era. This is underlined by three works featured at the exhibition from society portraitist Cecilia Beaux, John La Farge and Sargent — all gifts to the museum. The museum will also showcase some of the materials used by the 19th-century artists, such as watercolour boxes. Contemporaneous artworks by artists featured in the exhibition are also on view in another installation of The Met’s, called “The Aesthetic Movement in America”.

 
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