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Smithsonian American Art Museum Opens Installation of Treasured Paintings at Its Renwick Gallery

Contact Laura Baptiste (202)275-1595

The Smithsonian American Art Museum today (Feb. 27) opens "Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum," an installation of some of its greatest paintings in the Grand Salon of its Renwick Gallery. This striking new selection of more than 185 works are hung salon-style, one-atop-another and side-by-side to re-create the elegant setting of a 19th-century collector's picture gallery. This is the first time in four years that visitors to Washington, D.C. can see many of these works. This installation will remain on view through 2005.

"It is wonderful to see so many of the paintings that are favorites of visitors on view again in Washington D.C. while the museum's historic building undergoes renovations," said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The works in this installation were selected from four strengths in the museum's permanent collection: Colonial and Federal artworks, American impressionism, Gilded Age treasures and art of the Western frontier including the Taos School.

The earliest paintings in this installation are from the time when the Colonies were transformed into a nation. These rare artworks by John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull and Charles Willson Peale display the growing self-awareness and optimism of the new nation. Other works include still lifes by Raphaelle Peale and Severin Roesen, and landscapes by Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand. This section of the installation also includes Robert Scott Duncanson's view of a peaceful rural paradise, "Landscape with Rainbow" (1859), and Frederic Edwin Church's dramatic landscape "Aurora Borealis" (1865).

Impressionist artists included in this installation, such as Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Thomas Wilmer and Maria Oakey Dewing, often worked outdoors to capture brilliant effects of light and color to create luminous paintings. Other artists whose works are included in the Grand Salon and display the freedom and sparkling qualities of the new impressionist style are Theodore Robinson, Mary Cassatt, Willard Metcalf and Henry Ossawa Tanner, who borrowed the French painter Claude Monet's signature subject for his own "Haystacks" (about 1930).

Artists who painted during the last quarter of the 19th century, dubbed the Gilded Age by Mark Twain in 1873, captured the brilliance of turn-of-the-century society and a new current of sophistication in America. Artworks by some of the most important artists of the day such as Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Albert Pinkham Ryder are in this installation. Artists at this time were fascinated with exotic cultures, as seen in Louis Comfort Tiffany's "Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco" (1873) and H. Siddons Mowbray's "Idle Hours" (1895). Also on view is Abbott Handerson Thayer's ever-popular "Angel" (1887).

The three monumental landscapes by Thomas Moran—"The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" (1872), "The Chasm of the Colorado" (1873-1874) and another view also titled "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" (1893-1901)—remain on view in the Grand Salon. The two earlier paintings are on long-term loan from the U. S. Department of the Interior. Moran's western landscapes inspired Congress to establish the National Park Service and set aside Yellowstone as the country's first national park in 1872.

Other Western works on view are 29 portraits of Native Americans and scenes of Plains Indian life by George Catlin, who followed the path of explorers Lewis and Clark, traveling up the Missouri River into the Dakota Territories in the 1830s. There are also two paintings by John Mix Stanley that were among the few paintings that were not burned in a terrible fire at the Smithsonian's "Castle" in 1865.

Victor Higgins, Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest L. Blumenschein and several other artists in the installation were part of the Taos School, begun informally in the 1890s when artists visited the Southwest as an antidote to urban industry and the sophistication of Eastern cities during the Gilded Age. Their bold compositions, as seen in E. Martin Hennings's "Riders at Sunset" (1935-1945), used strong color and bright light to depict this region.

The nearby Octagon Room showcases works from the late 19th and early 20th century by artists such as Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Albert Pinkham Ryder, William Glackens, Maurice Prendergast and John Ferguson Weir that are also hung salon-style.

In the adjoining hallway, John Singer Sargent's "Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman)" (1893), Cecilia Beaux's "Man with the Cat (Henry Sturgis Drinker)" (1898) and Robert Henri's "Portrait of Dorothy Wagstaff" (1911) are among the portraits on view.

Many of these paintings were included in the museum's highly successful "Treasures to Go" exhibition series that concluded a three-year national tour to 70 cities last spring. More than 1.7 million visitors saw one of the eight exhibitions that comprised "Treasures to Go." These paintings will return to the museum's historic home, currently undergoing an extensive renovation, when it reopens on July 4, 2006.

For a schedule of public programs related to the installation "Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum," including performances by young artists from the Washington National Opera and special Mother's Day Art in Bloom events, visit the online calendar at

Renwick History

The Renwick Gallery, named in honor of its architect James Renwick Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian "Castle" in Washington, D.C., was begun in 1859 to house William Wilson Corcoran's art collection. The Second Empire-style building was the first in Washington dedicated to the display of art. The 4,300-square-foot, second-floor Grand Salon with a soaring 40-foot ceiling served not only as the "hall of paintings" as it was often called, but also as a site for special events.

Corcoran moved his collection to a larger building in 1897, and the U.S. Court of Claims took over the building in 1899. By the 1950s, the Court of Claims needed more space and proposed that the historic building be torn down. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy led the effort to save this architectural and historical gem, and in 1965, S. Dillon Ripley, then secretary of the Smithsonian, met with President Johnson to request that the gallery be turned over to the Smithsonian. The building opened to the public in 1972 as the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's contemporary craft program. Today, the Grand Salon is flanked by galleries displaying the Renwick's renowned permanent collection of American craft, while special exhibitions are presented in the first floor galleries.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 40,000 artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries.

The Renwick Gallery is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 357-1729 (TTY). Recorded information: (202) 275-1500. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at