Photos, story by Lou Perri
Timothy Rub, the Philadelphia Art Museum executive director, and his able staff, have done it again, offering the region an exciting still life art exhibit, and bringing in the Peale family at the preview event on Thursday, Oct. 22, to share in the wonderful works of art including many Peale paintings.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art brings a major exhibition surveying nearly two centuries of the most intimate, intricate, and varied genre of painting practiced in the United States. Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life will explore the nature and development of still-life painting in this country from the days of the early American republic to the emergence of Pop Art in the early 1960s, providing a fresh perspective on the evolution of this genre over time and the various ways in which it has reflected our history and culture. Nearly one hundred artists will be represented, ranging from Philadelphia’s Peale family of painters and masters of trompe l’oeil such as William Michael Harnett to modern masters like Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Roy Lichtenstein.
Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, told Explore Philly, “Still life is an important subject that continues to fascinate us today. It can be a meditative study of a single, small object and yet also serve as a metaphor for the world. The story of American still life begins in Philadelphia, and we are delighted to have an opportunity to share this exhibition with our audiences. This is the first major show of its kind in more than thirty years and brings together works of great beauty and historical significance from collections around the country.”
The exhibition surveys the history of American still life. The earliest section addresses the interest of late 18th and early 19th-century painters, a period interested in precise visual description. In their efforts to understand and categorize nature, art and science were linked in the minds of such leading figures of this period as John James Audubon, whose Carolina Parrot (about 1828) depicts a species now extinct and provides a signal example of the combined artistic and scientific ambition that motivated his celebrated Birds of America. The exhibition also explores the pleasures of the senses and sensuality that became the primary focus of American still-life painters at the beginning of the Victorian era. The works of this period exemplify a spirit of newfound prosperity and abundance, as can been seen in Severin Roesen’s vivid floral still lifes and in tables overflowing with nature’s bounty, such as Andrew J. H. Way’s Oysters in Half Shell (1863). Discerning appetites and distinctions of the affluent after the Civil War, as recorded in images such as The Blue Cup (1909) by Joseph DeCamp will be highlighted along with works that address the technological and psychological preoccupations of early 20th-century American artists.