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Elizabeth Johns Awarded the 17th Annual Eldredge Prize for Her Biography of Winslow Homer

Media only: Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has awarded the 2005 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art to Elizabeth Johns, professor emerita of the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania. Her recent book, "Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation" (University of California Press, 2002), is recognized for its complex and sympathetic portrait of the artist.

"Johns attends to Homer's status within American cultural life and notes the ever-changing functions assigned to him by several generations of critics and mythologizers," the Eldredge Prize jurors wrote in their decision. "But more fundamentally, she unveils Homer's rich emotional life, charts the many uncertainties and difficult choices that confronted him, and pinpoints the personal and professional crises that constituted crucial turning points. In a series of sensitive readings, Johns meshes art and life at each stage of Homer's career and discloses new shades of meaning in his art, from the earliest Civil War paintings to the late sea epics. Arguing forcefully that we must reckon with Homer's belief in the presence of God in the world, Johns imbues those late paintings in particular with spiritual grandeur and transcendence."

"The product of deep thought, wide knowledge and scrupulous research, this highly accessible modern biography of a famously inscrutable painter brings us closer to Homer's humanity than anyone has before," the jurors conclude.

The three jurors who awarded the $2,000 prize were Sarah Burns, Ruth N. Halls Professor of the history of art at Indiana University; Neil Harris, Preston and Sterling Morton Professor of American history at the University of Chicago; and Barbara Haskell, curator of early 20th-century art at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

"Elizabeth Johns has taken on the challenge of looking at Winslow Homer, an iconic American artist, with fresh eyes and has succeeded in creating a nuanced portrait that also contains many penetrating readings of his most well-known paintings," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "Her recent book is an invaluable resource to anyone interested in understanding the impact of personal events on this artist's work."

Elizabeth Johns received a doctorate in art history from Emory University in 1974. Throughout her distinguished career, Johns has interpreted works of art through their relationship to the political, social and economic history of the period, as well as to literary and intellectual history. In 2001, she was a Lilly Vocation Fellow at the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Johns received a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 1985 and was awarded a fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation that same year. Johns was a Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow from 1981–1982. She is the author of "American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life" (Yale University Press, 1991) and "Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life" (Princeton University Press, 1983), which was awarded the 1984 Mitchell Prize for the History of Art. She was a guest curator for the exhibition "Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings" (2003) and was a co-curator for the exhibition "New Worlds from Old: 19th Century Australian & American Landscapes" (1998).

The Charles C. Eldredge Prize, named in honor of the former director of the museum (1982–1988), is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons' support organization. This annual award, initiated in 1989, seeks to recognize originality and thoroughness of research, excellence of writing and clarity of method. Single-author, book-length publications in the field of American art history appearing within the three previous calendar years are eligible. It is especially meant to honor those authors who deepen or focus debates in the field or who broaden the discipline by reaching beyond traditional boundaries. Dec. 1 is the deadline for 2006 nominations.

Recent Eldredge Prize recipients include:
• 2004: David Lubin, "Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images" (University of California Press, 2003)
• 2003: Richard Meyer, "Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art" (Oxford University Press, 2002)
• 2002: Anthony W. Lee, "Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco" (University of California Press, 2001)

Further information about the Eldredge Prize and a complete list of past winners is available on the museum's Web site at

The museum's research programs include fellowships for pre- and postdoctoral scholars, extensive photographic collections documenting American art and artists, and unparalleled art research databases. An active publications program of books, catalogs and the journal "American Art" complements the museum's exhibitions and educational programs.

Eldredge Prize Lecture
On Thursday, Dec. 8 at 3:30 p.m., Elizabeth Johns will present the annual Eldredge Prize lecture, titled "Writing about Winslow Homer," in the Grand Salon at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A reception follows the event. The lecture is free and open to the public.

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 museum's main building, a National Historic Landmark located at 8th and F Streets N.W., is currently under renovation. The museum will reopen in July 2006.

While the renovation continues, American Art offers a full program of exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. 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