Kathleen Foster, Philadelphia Museum of Art
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) “Villa di Marlia Lucca: A Fountain” 1910 Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Join us for an evening of illuminating scholarship and stunning images that will forever change the way you see watercolors and illustration art. Shaped by the genius of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, the watercolor movement tells a story about innovation, experimentation, and the creation of bold new ways of seeing the world. Come experience one of America’s artistic legacies through stunning landscapes and illustrations, and designs for ceramics and stained glass. Although widely practiced in the United States before the Civil War, the professional art world considered watercolor painting the domain of amateurs, women, and commercial artists. Formed in 1866, the American Watercolor Society’s annual exhibitions soon became the most liberal forum in New York, uniting artists of all ages, styles, and backgrounds. Drawing talent from the ranks of illustrators, who used watercolor on the job, and gaining strength from the Impressionists and landscape artists, who sketched in watercolor outdoors, the movement also welcomed new arts and crafts designers. The buzz attracted collectors, who sparked the interest of yet more artists. By the early 1880s, the Society’s galleries represented every corner of the American art world: avant-garde painters returning from Europe, the old guard learning new tricks, illustrators looking for “fine art” status, and women artists seeking an entrée.
The American watercolor movement created stars like Homer, John La Farge, Thomas Moran, and William Trost Richards. Thomas Eakins, George Inness, and others rode the wave through its peak in the 1880s. Together, their work produced a taste for watercolor among younger artists and eager collectors that endured through the turn of the century. It inspired a new crop of illustrators such as Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Willcox Smith; decorators from the circle of Louis C. Tiffany; and plein air masters Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, and Sargent. Thanks to the legacy of Homer, Sargent, and their contemporaries, the next generation—Charles Demuth and Edward Hopper among them—would choose watercolor as a principal medium. Within fifty years, the Modernists would show the reputation of watercolor had been rebuilt as a powerful and versatile “American” medium.
Kathleen A. Foster is The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art and Director of the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With degrees from Wellesley and Yale, she has held curatorial posts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Indiana University Art Museum, and taught at Williams College, Temple, Indiana University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently an adjunct professor in the History of Art. She has published work on topics in American art from the late-eighteenth-century to the present, with a particular emphasis on the work of Thomas Eakins, including the prize-winning Thomas Eakins Rediscovered (1997), two essays in the catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Thomas Eakins (2001), the reconstruction of Eakins’s own drawing manual (2005), and the recent An Eakins Masterpiece Restored: Seeing The Gross Clinic Anew (2012). Other publication and exhibition projects include Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals; Thomas Chambers (1808–1869), American Marine and Landscape Artist; Shipwreck! Winslow Homer and “The Life Line,” and studies of Edwin Austin Abbey, Daniel Garber, John LaFarge, Alfred Jacob Miller, and Andrew Wyeth. Her most recent project at the PMA was the exhibition and book, American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent (2017).