The extensive impact of Spanish art and culture on American painters in the 19th and early 20th centuries is the focus of Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820-1920. The new exhibition will be on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, Feb. 12-May 16, 2021, and at the Milwaukee Art Museum, June 11-Oct. 3, 2021.
Americans in Spain will explore a pivotal moment in the 19th and early 20th centuries when American artists and their European counterparts flocked to Spain to capture its scenic charms and customs. The first major exhibition to present this important period of American art to a wide audience, it brings together more than 100 artworks, including paintings from the 17th-20th centuries, photographs, prints and travel guides.
It showcases works by American artists Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, John Singer Sargent and others alongside their Spanish contemporaries and Spain’s old masters. A newly documented painting by Cassatt that has never been shown in the U.S. is one of the highlights.
Visitors will be able to access a 3D Visualization of the Prado Museum and Interactive Artist Travelers Project using their mobile devices to visit the Prado Museum and famous sites in Spain.
The exhibition draws upon the Chrysler Museum’s collection of American and old master works and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s holdings of realist paintings, specifically by the Ashcan Circle and the Eight. Other works come from a wide range of national and international collections, including the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France; Getty Museum in Los Angeles; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
“The story of this often overlooked aspect of art history is one we were in a good position to tell,” said Marcelle Polednik, Ph.D., Donna and Donald Baumgartner director at the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Milwaukee has a long history of presenting the art of Spain, and Marquette University and the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee are rich with related resources and programs. Having the Chrysler Museum join us as a partner has been invaluable in strengthening the project.”
The works in the show will be presented thematically and organized to emphasize migration, tourism and travel in 19th-century Spain. Additional themes include the romance and the reality of old Spain; Spanish architecture, gardens and landscapes; Spain’s Islamic history; and the critical and popular responses to American artists’ work.
“It’s difficult to overstate the importance that Spanish culture had on artists from the United States at the time,” said Brandon Ruud, Abert Family curator of American art, Milwaukee Art Museum, and co-curator of the exhibition.
For many American artists, particularly in the second half of the 19th century, a European tour was an expected part of their training, and Spain was a vital stop. A large number of America’s most prominent artists – many of them at the beginnings of their careers – traveled to the country for training and to study its old masters at the Prado Museum. However, the influence of Spain on American artists’ development has received less attention than that of travel and study in France or Italy.
Beginning in the 19th century, Spain attracted an increasing number of European artists who were drawn to the country largely through Victorian-era stories of romantic and dramatic exploits. American painters also sought to capture the country’s landscape and culture firsthand, and to study its old masters at the Prado Museum, but not until the outbreak of the Civil War did they begin traveling in earnest to Spain.
American and European artists absorbed and translated Spanish subjects and styles into their own work. They borrowed from Spanish prototypes, adapting flamenco dancers, matadors and other colorful characters for their own canvases. Landscape painters introduced the country’s medieval architecture and romantic gardens to American audiences.
Many female artists found success in Spain where they often traveled on group study trips or had studios of their own. For example, Mary Cassatt had a studio for several months in one of Seville’s most historically significant buildings.