This winter, the Chrysler Museum of Art will transport art lovers to the 19th and early 20th centuries and highlight the impact of Spanish art and culture on American painters with Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820-1920. Co-organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art and Milwaukee Art Museum, the show will be on view at the Chrysler in Norfolk, Virginia, Feb. 12-May 16, 2021. Visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum can enjoy the exhibition 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 aspect 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 in Madrid and an Interactive Artist Travelers Project using their mobile devices to visit the Prado Museum and other famous sites in Spain.
“At a moment when global movement has been severely curtailed, this exhibition highlights the critical role that international travel and exchange played in shaping American art,” said Corey Piper, Ph.D., Brock curator of American art at the Chrysler Museum of Art and co-curator of the exhibition. “Like most tourists, American painters arrived in Spain with preconceived ideas about the sights and people they would encounter. The works they created in Spain and after journeying onward reveal the many exciting and sometimes unexpected ways in which their experience of the art, culture and people of Spain transformed their own perspectives and the larger course of American painting.”
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. Old master paintings by Diego Velázquez and Claudio Coello, given to the Chrysler by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., as well as an early Spanish themed canvas by Édouard Manet feature prominently in the exhibition. The Chrysler’s extensive photographic holdings, including Spanish subjects by Jean Laurent, Charles Clifford and Francis Frith, will also be on view. In addition to major works by Robert Henri, Milwaukee’s collection of old master prints by Francisco de Goya and Manet contribute to the exhibition’s narrative.
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.
“Americans in Spain is a wonderful reminder of our nation’s ongoing engagement with the world. The exhibition tells compelling stories about the American artists who drew inspiration from the great Spanish artists, landscapes and monuments,” said Erik Neil, director of the Chrysler Museum of Art. “It is an honor to partner with the Milwaukee Art Museum to bring these stories to our visitors.”
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.
“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. “We’re delighted to share this important moment and its art with a wider public.”
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. In addition to American artists’ creations, the exhibition features work by British artists like David Wilkie and David Roberts, who produced lavish depictions of Spain’s landscape and monuments that circulated to American audiences through prints and illustrations to travel guides. Examples of these works will be on view in the exhibition.
American painters also sought to capture the country’s landscape and culture firsthand and study its old masters at the Prado Museum. They did not begin traveling in earnest to Spain until the onset of the Civil War. The Prado was the first stop for many artists. Americans in Spain charts the experience of studying and copying the masterpieces on its walls, including examples from the Prado’s collection by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Jusepe de Ribera. The exhibition includes copies after old masters by William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent and Robert Henri’s magnificent full-size copy after Velázquez’s Queen Mariana of Austria.
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. John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase’s dueling portraits of the Spanish dancer Carmen Dauset Moreno, known by her stage name Carmencita, demonstrate the intense fascination Spanish culture held for many American audiences as well as the degree to which painters incorporated stylistic aspects of Spanish old master painting into startlingly modern canvases.
Mary Cassatt, who traveled to Spain to study its old masters, maintained a studio for several months in one of Seville’s most historically significant buildings. There, she created a group of paintings of matadors and flirtatious young women that marked a turning point in her young career, including Spanish Girl Leaning on a Window Sill, which will be introduced to American audiences for the first time via this exhibition.
Landscape painters introduced the country’s architecture and romantic courtyards to American audiences. Spain’s Islamic architecture, with its medieval courtyards and hidden gardens, held great appeal for American and Spanish artists alike. Ever popular as a tourist destination, the Alhambra attracted the attention of numerous artists including John Ferguson Weir, Mary Bradish Titcomb and Joaquín Sorolla. Artists ventured beyond the well-worn tourist path as well. Visitors to the exhibition can trace a tour through the country in canvases like Childe Hassam’s brilliant, Impressionist depiction of the market square of Ronda and Ernest Lawson’s vibrant cityscape of the blend of Roman, Islamic and Christian architectural forms that make up the town of Segovia.