CATCHING THE LIGHt | American impressionist paintings from the cincinnati art galleries
february 14 through march 30, 2019

American Impressionism

The Zanesville Museum of Art, in partnership with the Cincinnati Art Galleries, is pleased to present an exciting exhibition featuring a selection of twenty-nine original oil paintings created during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by twenty of America’s most notable Impressionist landscape artists including Abel G. Warshawsky, Lewis Henry Meakin, and Charles Meurer, and several lesser-known regional artists such as Oliver Conley Beacham. Featuring works from this museum, private collections, and the gallery’s own holdings, this exhibition explores the unique nature of the American movement, and demonstrates its critical influence on the development of twentieth-century modernism.

Oliver Conley Beacham,  Playing by the Stream , 1907, oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, 14048

Oliver Conley Beacham, Playing by the Stream, 1907, oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, 14048

Catching the Light | Impressionist Paintings from the Cincinnati Art Galleries surveys a stylistically diverse selection of paintings that vividly capture America’s iconic landscapes, by a cross section of artists who embraced the characteristic loose brushwork, lush colors, and dynamic compositions made famous by their European Impressionist counterparts.

Specialists in American Impressionism, The Cincinnati Art Galleries also exhibits and markets those regional artists affiliated with Cincinnati’s Golden Age, a period of dynamic change from 1830 to 1900 when the city evolved from an isolated frontier outpost to one of the nation's leading art and commercial centers. Artists such as Charles Salis Kaelin, Edward Henry Potthast, Louis Charles Vogt, and Dixie Seldon thrived in the Queen city’s robust cultural climate, and trained regionally at the McMicken School of Drawing and Design, now the Art Academy of Cincinnati, before studying nationally in New York or internationally in Munich and Paris. Uniquely cosmopolitan, many American Impressionists trained abroad and traveled to artist colonies throughout the United States and Europe. In these fertile environments, they adopted and then adapted the latest artistic trends for painting outdoors, en plein air. The strikingly original paintings in this exhibition capture a uniquely American Impressionism and depict this nation’s beautiful windswept shorelines, its great plains, and rugged hill country.

The American Landscape

Edward Henry Potthast,  Landscape , n.d., oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, DH545..

Edward Henry Potthast, Landscape, n.d., oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, DH545..

The American landscape fascinated the Impressionists. They were influenced by the previous generation of classically trained painters who created idealistic and awe-inspiring scenes of the nation’s soaring mountains, placid lakes, and powerful geysers. Albert Bierdstadt and Thomas Hill, for example, whose work is on view in the museum’s first-floor Shirley Gorsuch Gallery, celebrated America’s majestic beauty and illustrated our nation’s extraordinary territorial expansion during the nineteenth century. By century’s end, however, these large-scale panoramic scenes were eclipsed by American Impressionist painters’ small-scale, intimate depictions of the nation’s sunny beaches, rugged coastline, and peaceful harbors. The invention of the paint tube and synthetic pigments allowed Impressionist artists to paint outdoors with relative ease. Edward Henry Potthast, born in Cincinnati in 1857 and settling in New York in 1895, regularly traveled to Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Far Rockaway to create his shimmering beach and maritime scenes. Playing in the Surf, a small, sketch-like work, painted en plein air, captures a modern generation of pleasure seekers who escaped the city each summer and retreated to the beaches along the eastern seaboard. Low Tide—Provincetown, painted by Ohio artist John Rettig, was also painted outdoors and demonstrates another uniquely Impressionist interest—the fleeting nature of time. During low tide, moored boats rest on their keel in this serene harbor scene. Like their European counterparts, American Impressionists embraced the modern landscape, making it both their subject and their studio.

A Uniquely Modern Style

Impressionism originated during the 1870s, when a group of French artists exhibited together for the first time in Paris. Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro rejected the previous generation’s academic style, and the grand, highly refined, history paintings favored by the public and art academy.

Instead, the Impressionists embraced their radical reputation as artists of modern life whose innovative techniques and conventional subject matter reflected, rather than concealed, urban realities. The artists, who depicted couples drinking in an outdoor café and enjoying picnics on the grass, used a vibrant color palette, which shocked those who were more accustomed to the sober tones employed by academic painters. In 1874, an art critic writing for Le Figaro, chastised Pissarro’s bold and unconventional choice of pigments, "…trees are not violet, [and] the sky is not the color of fresh butter.” The artists’ loose, staccato brushwork and thick application of paint also called attention to the painted surface, which seemed hastily executed and unfinished.

Around the late 1880s and 1890s, French Impressionism was widely embraced by American expatriate artists studying abroad. Author Barbara Weinberg states that, “while some American artists adopted only the surface effects of Impressionism,...many of them shared the French Impressionists’ conviction that modern life should be recorded in a vibrant modern style.” The works of Gustave Cimiotti and Louis Charles Vogt, like those of their French counterparts, are bathed in natural light and vibrant colors and yet, the Americans were unique in their nostalgic desire to depict the natural world untouched by rapid industrialization.

John Rettig,  Low Tide—Provincetown , 1924, oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, 14115.

John Rettig, Low Tide—Provincetown, 1924, oil on board. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Galleries, 14115.

Artist Colonies

Artist colonies were instrumental in the evolution and proliferation of Impressionism abroad and in the United States. In America, they flourished during the late 19th and early 20th centuries along the eastern seaboard in particular. During the summer months, artists escaped their urban studios and flocked to these sanctuaries in search of inspiration, to teach, to collaborate with their peers, and to paint outdoors, en plein air.

By the mid-19th century, significant innovations to artist materials and tools made it easier and more affordable for painters to create on-site and outdoors. Alternatives to traditionally prepared canvases, such as lightweight boards and oil sketching paper were readily available. Metal paint tubes, bright synthetic colors, and durable new brushes with metal ferrules freed artists from time consuming preparation. And lightweight, retractable field easels and Pochade Boxes, with space for their supplies, palette, and canvas boards could be transported easily and assembled quickly.

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More and more artists painted en plein air as a result of these innovations. Cincinnati artist Charles Salis Kaelin, for example, a valued member of the Rockport artist colony in Massachusetts, virtually eliminated labor-intensive preliminary drawings, preferring to work alla prima. In his small painting Aglow with Light, Rockport Harbor, the artist applies layer upon layer of wet oil paint to the support, creating a thick buildup of rich, saturated color. His characteristically rapid and loose brushwork, clearly visible on the painting’s surface, reaffirms the Impressionist’s fascination with modern techniques that best captured the modern American landscape.

Enjoy education programs for children and adults related to this wonderful exhibition.

Children’s Programs

Adult Programs

Supporting the Museum

The Cincinnati Art Galleries will generously donate 5% of the proceeds generated from the sale of artworks from this exhibition to the Zanesville Museum of Art.

A fine art gallery offering several exhibitions each year, the Cincinnati Art Galleries, has raised over $700,000 over the decades that benefit a different arts organization each year.

For more information about works available for purchase in this exhibition, or for price inquires, please ask one of our helpful visitor service specialists at the museum’s lobby service desk. Thank You.