Museums join in eclectic offering of American art

Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003

CHADDS FORD, Pa. From Fredric Remington cowboys to Charlie Chaplin films, Brandywine Valley museums are offering a melting pot of American art this fall.

The Brandywine River Museum, Delaware Art Museum and Winterthur have joined in a red-white-and-blue collaboration dubbed ''America Paints.''

While sharing a common theme, each of the exhibitions offers something different.

''Art of the American West,'' which opened Sept. 6 at the Brandywine River Museum and runs through Nov. 23, offers a rare glimpse at a private collection of more than 50 rustic paintings and sculptures from artists such as Remington, Charles Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and N.C. Wyeth.

Meanwhile, in a more urbane, Rockefeller-meets-DuPont setting, the Winterthur in Delaware hosts 86 splendid paintings from San Francisco's de Young Museum, half of them donated by John D. Rockefeller III. ''American Accents, 1670-1945: Masterworks From the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,'' runs through Feb. 1 and features artists such as John Singer Sargent, John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt.

Finally, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington takes a more modern approach in ''American Tableaux: Selections From the Collection of Walker Art Center.'' The show, on loan from the Minneapolis museum from through Jan. 4, features 20th-century artists including Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and Mark Tansey, not to mention classic and experimental films by Chaplin, George Kuchar and others.

The three exhibitions, within a few minutes travel distance of each other, offer visitors a broad and diverse look at American fine art. To lure visitors, the museums have joined with area hotels to offer package deals and discount coupons.

''To do a cooperative program was big, and it was important,'' said Halsey Spruance, spokesperson for the Brandywine museum. ''I think it's going to draw a lot of people.''

The private collection on exhibit at the Brandywine is well-suited to a venue known for its collection of illustrations by Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

Indeed, the painting that greets visitors is Wyeth's ''Indian Lance'' (1909), showing a hard-charging, bulging-eyed horse and its rider. This study of drama and motion graced the cover of ''American Boy'' magazine in 1912; many of the Wyeth paintings in the collection became magazine illustrations.

''A great many of these artists were illustrators,'' exhibit curator Gene Harris noted. ''Remington was certainly a great illustrator.''

He also was a gifted sculptor, as evidenced in bronzes such as ''Bronco Buster'' (1895), ''Rattlesnake'' (1905) and ''Mountain Man'' (1903), which are among the show's highlights.

''I think it really gives you a short history of the art of the American West,'' Harris said.

The Winterthur exhibit has a far softer, perhaps more elegant appeal, with such works as John Singer Sargent's ''A Dinner Table at Night'' (1884) and George Caleb Bingham's ''Boatmen on the Missouri'' (1846). Another Winter-thur highlight is ''The Mason Children'' (circa 1670), attributed to Boston's Freake-Biggs painter and one of only 35 surviving 17th-century American paintings.

''It really is the cream of the crop, and the crop itself is pretty rich,'' said Daniell Cornell, associate curator of American art for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which sent the exhibit on the road while the earthquake-damaged de Young Museum is renovated.

The ''American Accents'' exhibit debuted in Mobile, Ala., before traveling to Winterthur. It will go to Charleston, W.Va., and possibly Athens, Ga., before returning home.

''There's not a painting in the exhibition that any museum in the country wouldn't be thrilled to have,'' Cornell said.

The artistic link between the Brandywine and Winterthur exhibits is provided by the Hudson River School, courtesy of Bierstadt and Moran.

German-born Bierstadt and English-born Moran are the only artists common to both exhibits, providing an East-West connection through their Romantic images of both the Hudson River Valley and the magnificently visual West, which enticed many East Coast artists to join government survey expeditions or seek private commissions.

Indeed, Bierstadt tops all artists with four pieces in the Winterthur exhibit, and his undated ''Yos-emite Valley'' is one of the more sublime works at Brandywine.

''I think it shows how the three exhibitions really complement one another,'' said Anne Verplanck, curator of prints and paintings at Winterthur.

Inspired by the San Francisco collection, officials at Winterthur, which is known more for its collection of decorative art, added about a dozen of their best paintings, including works by Copley and Charles Willson Peale.

Lise Monty of the Delaware Art Museum said the Walker collection of more than 70 works, which include multimedia and installation pieces as well as paintings and sculptures, is one of the largest the museum has hosted. It probably would not have fit in the DAM's permanent facility on Kentmere Parkway, which is being renovated, she said. Fortunately, the museum's temporary home in downtown Wilmington has plenty of exhibit space.

''Some of the works are huge,'' Monty said.

They include Edward Ruscha's 23-foot-long photo book, ''Every Building on the Sunset Strip'' (1966), which almost renders miniature status to George Segal's 8-foot-by-12-foot study in melancholy, ''The Diner'' (1964-1966).

The Walker exhibit is arranged around eight general themes encompassing everything from architecture and the environment to personal relationships, self-discovery and sexual identity.

''Because it's a little bit edgier, we are hoping to get a younger audience,'' Monty said. ''We have made a particular effort to attract university students.''

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