There’s magic in seeing art up close and in person.
Few forms evoke this feeling as remarkably, perhaps, as Impressionist paintings. Such chameleons of color, shadow, form and texture move before our eyes in the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture’s fall 2022 flagship exhibition, “American Impressionism: Treasures from the Daywood Collection.”
Take John Edward Costigan’s “Woman, Boy and Goats,” a pastoral winter scene softly lit by the declining afternoon sun. Gaze at the 36-by-40-inch painting from a distance, and the ice-clad trees and snow-covered creek bank seem to somehow shimmer. Light and shadows dance on the canvas.
Come closer. As each brushstroke begins to sharpen, you begin to notice an unexpected roughness in the leafless branches. Lean a little further (but don’t get too close). Those shadows in the branches of the trees don’t look like shadows at all now. These are stains and even hardened chips of 100 year old oil paint. Zooming in, these feathery strokes and streaks of yellow, vermilion, indigo, soft pink, and purest white lose all previous representation as twigs, snow, and sun.
“Woman, Boy and Goats” is one of 41 Impressionist paintings featured in the exhibit, on loan from the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia.
The shutdown of the collection in Spokane was another delay caused by COVID, says Kayla Tackett, director of exhibitions and collections at the museum. Originally planned for 2020, it is finally on display alongside five other exhibitions this fall and takes center stage in the museum’s large central gallery.
“Part of the appeal of bringing this exhibit here is that the MAC has a small collection of Impressionism, but not a lot,” Tackett says. “So it’s a really great opportunity to bring this movement to Spokane so people can experience it. And it’s important to see the accomplishments of the American Impressionists.”
While many of us remember some of the best known European actors of the Impressionist movement – Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Matisse and others – their American contemporaries are less well known to the general public.
“The Americans were equally talented painters and also did some interesting things,” says Tackett.
The Impressionist movement was harshly criticized when it first appeared in France in the 1870s (the style takes its name from Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise”). But artists and collectors quickly embraced Impressionism, which centrally rejected the academic, structured rules of painting prescribed by the Old Masters.
Impressionism is characterized largely by loose, visible brushstrokes, the occasional use of bright, unblended colors, and an emphasis on depicting the interplay of light and movement. Its early adherents also focused on more ordinary subjects and landscapes such as natural landscapes and domestic life. Many paintings were made entirely outdoors, or outside.
More than a century later, Impressionism remains very popular among modern artists, art lovers and collectors.
“Part of it has to do with the skill of the painter,” Tackett says. “I think there’s something interesting for our brain to capture the way a landscape feelseven if your brain says, ‘Well, that’s not what it really looks like.’ It’s about being able to capture light, movement, and brushstrokes that aren’t photorealistic, but a sense of space and feeling.”
Among the artists presented in the Daywood collection are works by John Twachtman, John Sloan, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, J. Alden Weir and Robert Henri. All of the artist’s subjects included range from landscapes to still lifes to portraits.
“Many of the artists in this exhibition studied in Europe and were therefore inspired by European Impressionism,” says Tackett. “What you will notice in many pieces in the series is that they apply this technique to the American landscape, from the east coast to the southwest.”
The Daywood Collection was acquired from the 1920s through the 1940s by West Virginia arts patrons Arthur Spencer Dayton and Ruth Woods Dayton. Her name comes from the combination of her surname with her maiden name. The Daytons’ interest in Impressionism began after they were presented with a painting for their wedding in 1916. This piece, “Munich Landscape” by Ross Sterling Turner, is displayed in the exhibit near one of the main entrances to the gallery.
“This painting was the start of a collection that eventually grew to over 200 works,” Tackett said.
The 41 paintings in “American Impressionism” date from 1861 through the late 1930s, a time of change and upheaval in American and world history, including the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and the Great Depression. Impressionism was at its peak in the United States for about two decades, between the 1890s and 1910s, before the modern art movement emerged.
The Daytons were both raised in prominent upper-class families, Tackett says, and acquired art from a variety of sources: dealers, auctions, exhibitions and, sometimes, directly from artists they admired. .
Ruth Dayton donated her entire collection to the Huntington Art Museum in 1967. The selections currently hanging at the MAC have been touring the United States since 2019, and Spokane is the penultimate stop on that tour before returning. home art.
AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM: TREASURES FROM THE DAYWOOD COLLECTION
On view until January 8, 2023
While most of the paintings are landscapes, the settings are as diverse as each artist’s individual technique within the realm of the Impressionist style. Smaller, snow-covered countryside in muted hues of brown contrasts with massive seascapes of white-capped waves under cerulean skies, crashing into a rocky coastline. Other scenes center on quaint seaside dwellings under clouds of popcorn, with unexpected shades of pink or red, but seamlessly blended in the imagery.
It has been a few years since the MAC hosted an exhibition consisting solely of non-contemporary fine art paintings. “Norman Rockwell’s America” opened in late 2019 with 22 oil paintings. Other fine art exhibitions have since focused on other media, including original prints and drawings by John James Audubon and glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
“I always think of it like we want to send things out on loan from the MAC, and that brings them back to the world,” Tackett said. “And then when we bring things, it brings the world to the MAC.” ♦