Special Installation of Nineteen American Masterworks

April 17, 2015 — August 16, 2015

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
A painting of a woman sitting down and reading 'Le Figaro'

Mary Cassatt, Reading ‘Le Figaro’, about 1877-78, oil on canvas, Lent by Thelma and Melvin Lenkin

Nineteen major paintings lent from the private collection of Thelma and Melvin Lenkin of Chevy Chase, MD, will be on view on the second floor galleries of the museum as part of a special installation from April 17 through August 16, 2015. Many of these works will be on public display for the first time.


Integrated within the chronological flow of the museum’s permanent collection, these masterworks from Gilded Age, Impressionist, and Ashcan School painters will help to tell the story of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries in America, a coming-of-age” period in American art. Mary Cassatt’s renowned Reading Le Figaro’ is joined by major paintings by George Bellows, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, William Glackens, John La Farge, Everett Shinn and others.

In the late 1800s painters such as Heade and La Farge captured the refined elegance to which Americans aspired during the Gilded Age, while expatriate artists such as Sargent and Cassatt pioneered impressionist styles abroad, challenging long-standing practice and rivaling their French counterparts. After 1900, artists such as Bellows, Glackens, Sloan and Shinn also abandoned traditional studio techniques to portray New York City’s bustling streets and slice-of-life views of parks, shops, bridges and entertainment halls. These painters embraced a changing world and depicted Americans plunging headlong into the future. Together these artists revolutionized American art, liberating it from academic strictures to become a dynamic mirror of life as The American Century” was beginning.

The Lenkins began collecting more than thirty years ago, inspired to begin by the late Walter Hopps, then a curator at the museum; they have focused primarily on the Gilded Age, Impressionist and Ashcan generations before and after the turn of the twentieth century. Chief Curator Virginia Mecklenburg and Curator Emeritus William Truettner selected the artworks borrowed from the Lenkin Collection.


The installation is made possible through the museum’s Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz Endowment.