Use the interactive map 
to explore the museum

Search for art, find what you are looking for in the museum and much more.

Use the interactive museum map
Museum Tours

Welcome to Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France. Though the artists James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt are prominently featured, this exhibition looks at the experience of a range of American artists who traveled to France in the late 19th century. This audio guide is intended to supplement the information available on the text panels and gallery labels. It draws from 19th-century letters, journals, critical reviews, and newspaper accounts to add the era’s voice to the exhibition experience.

01 Introduction

(Narrator) Welcome to Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France. Though the artists James McNeill Whistler and Mary Cassatt are prominently featured, this exhibition looks at the experience of a range of American artists who traveled to France in the late 19th century. While there, they hoped to acquire the necessary skills to achieve commercial success after returning home to the United States.

At the entrance to the exhibition, pause to consider the image of the Eiffel Tower under construction. Its partial completion is a reminder that we have arrived on the threshold of a new and modern age. It is within this context that we will tour the exhibition. Along the way, we will be introduced to the different artists, styles, subjects, and techniques that shaped this transitional moment in art history. We will also learn about the dramatic social, economic, and political changes shaping the evolution of the United States. As one artist Elizabeth Gardner described it:

(Gardner)“America! Pushing to the head of the universe, in activity, in wealth, in bold innovations and scientific inventions, perfecting … territory, exploring proudly the seas, civilizing the islands, impassioned by the exhilaration of movement, do not undervalue the influence of the serenity of lives devoted to aesthetic culture.”

(Narrator) This audio guide is intended to supplement the information available on the text panels and gallery labels. It draws from 19th-century letters, journals, critical reviews, and newspaper accounts to add the era’s voice to the exhibition experience. Each gallery will feature one or more stops as indicated by an audio symbol. If you are using an audio wand, input the stop number located on the label next to the audio symbol. If you are using your mobile device, select the audio file associated with the stops for each room. If you have any questions, please ask a gallery associate for assistance.

We hope you enjoy the show.

01 Introduction
02 Henry Ossawa Tanner

(Narrator) By the early 20th century, a social and legal principle of racial classification known as the “one drop rule” had come to identify any person of acknowledged African ancestry as “black” in a system designed to preserve the stability and authority of “whiteness.” Yet Henry Ossawa Tanner, who was of mixed race, considered himself both a man of both Anglo-Saxon and African heritage and, throughout his life, struggled against racialized identifications of himself and his work.

In a letter dated 1914, the artist takes to task “the dictum in the States” by which he is identified solely by his African heritage:

(Tanner)“Now, am I a Negro? Does not the ¾ of English blood in my veins, which when it flowed in ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon men & which has done in the past, effective & distinguished work in the U.S. – does this not count for anything? Does the 1/4 or 1/8 of ‘pure’ Negro blood in my veins count for all? I believe it (the Negro blood) counts & counts to my advantage – though it has caused me at times a life of great humiliations and sorrow . . . but that it is the source of all my talents (if I have any) I do not believe, any more than I believe it all comes from my English ancestors. I suppose according to the distorted way things are seen in the States my blond curly-headed little boy would be a ‘negro.”

(Narrator) In making his point, Tanner refers to the American reception of this painting, The Resurrection of Lazarus:

(Tanner)“It might be like what happened when my Lazarus was bought by the French Government,” he wrote. “It was telegraphed to the States ‘A Negro sells picture to French Government’. Now a paper in Baltimore wanted a photo of this ‘Negro’ – of course they had none, so out they go & photograph the first dock hand they came across & it looked like maybe some of my distant ancestors when they were from Africa.”

(Narrator)The subversion of human identity to codifications of race, and its blindness to individual character and talents, constituted Tanner’s “criticism of American ways.” Determined to be regarded as an artist and person on his own merits, he settled in France for most of his life, writing:

(Tanner)“There is a breadth, a generosity, an obsolete cosmopolitanism about her recognition of the fine art, which bars no nationality, no race, no school, or variation of artistic method. All she asks is that the art shall be true, in other words that it shall set forth life.”

02 Henry Ossawa Tanner
03 John Singer Sargent

(Narrator) Sargent’s virtuosity with pencil and brush was the result of intense practice. He advised his rare students:

(Sargent)“Paint a hundred studies. You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”

(Narrator) As one student recalled:

(Student)“He then took up the charcoal [and], with arm extended to its full length, and head thrown well back . . . he slowly and deliberately mapped the proportions of the [figure with] . . . spots locating the exact position of the features, at the same time noting their tone values and special character, finally adding any further accent or dark shadow . . . On one occasion in the evening life school, I well remember Sargent complaining that no one seemed concerned about anything more than an approximate articulation of the head upon the neck and shoulders . . . Sargent could not reconcile himself to this. The method he tried to inculcate was to lay in the drawing afresh at every sitting . . . an accomplishment requiring enormous practice and experience. . .”

(Narrator) Sargent’s natural ability for drawing catapulted him to the top of his profession, earning the esteem of his friend the novelist Henry James who characterized him as:

(James) “the slightly ‘uncanny’ spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn….no American painter has hitherto won himself such recognition…”

03 John Singer Sargent
04 Cecilia Beaux

(Narrator) In addition to her work as an artist, Cecilia Beaux became the first female instructor of painting and drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Declining offers of marriage to protect her independence, she noted

(Beaux) “Any woman who works must … shut out domestic matters absolutely.”

(Narrator) Yet she was not an advocate of women’s suffrage, nor did she dispute traditional gender roles.

(Beaux) “Not that I believe for a moment that doing a man’s work unsexes a woman. It does not. It is a question of whether she can satisfy the demands which her art makes upon her . . .”

(Narrator) In 1910, Beaux was asked to comment on an aspiring woman artist’s chance for success. She responded:

(Beaux)“Every chance that there is. If She has real talent, nothing stands in her way. The few obstacles that confronted her in this country have now been removed . . . It isn’t as it used to be. You know the pioneer students who went to Paris suffered all sorts of embarrassment in the mixed classes . . . There is no reason why a woman cannot become as great an artist as a man. That is, as far as her ability goes. . .”

“With all the opportunities that we give women, in one respect we stand tremendously in their way. We encourage them to get started, then we demand too much of them. I refer to the little personal obligations . . . never demanded of a man. If he has no time for the writing of a note, he leaves it unwritten. It never occurs to him that he’s got to do it . . . and nobody ever dreams of thinking the less of him. With a woman . . . it is different. If she neglects . . . these so-called courtesies of life, her retribution is swift . . . Perhaps you can put it this way. A man who does a man’s work is a normal human being. A woman who does a man’s work is a kind of super-woman. She must be two selves, one who supplies energy for her part of the world’s work, the other the woman who fulfills the obligations custom has laid upon her.”

04 Cecilia Beaux
05 Elizabeth Jane Gardner

(Narrator) In 1868, for the first time in the Salon’s long history, paintings by three American women artists were accepted for display. In addition to Mary Cassatt, whose Mandolin Player hangs nearby, Elizabeth Gardner was among the women represented. Penning a letter to her sister, she recalled the experience:

(Gardner) “Dear Ria,

I’m afraid that you all thought my last letter a crazy epistle. I was very anxious when I wrote it. I had sent two original pictures to the annual Paris exhibition. Twelve of the first artists are chosen as judges. They look over the pictures and decide whether or no they shall be hung in the Salon. It is very difficult for young aspirants to be accepted especially in their first trial and I had never sent before. We were kept waiting six weeks. One after another of my friends were written to that their pictures were refused. There were 800 unfortunates in all but when the exhibition opened both of mine were hung in full view among the accepted. I did want to get one admitted but had not dared to hope for both. I know you will all be glad for me. It gives me at once a position among foreign artists and raises the value of what I paint. I have just received $400 in gold for one of the pictures and have spent it nearly all for various things to paint.”

(Narrator) Gardner’s success was due, in part, to her adoption of the academic style, a practice that can be attributed to her relationship with the famous teacher, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, whom she married later in life. It can also be attributed to the circumstances of a woman artist struggling to find opportunity and acceptance in the masculine art world. As she recalled:

(Gardner) “I never dreamed, on quitting America, that all Paris had not a studio nor a master who would receive me. Unknown to its art life was the woman art student of today. I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that the few French or foreign women then familiar to the Salon or the Latin Quarter, like the women painters who had preceded them, were the wives, sisters or daughters of painters, and it was in the ateliers of their kinfolk they lived and worked . . . When I found every Paris atelier door closed to me, I resolved to follow Rosa Bonheur’s example in a similar emergency”.

(Narrator) Gardner is referring to Bonheur’s petition for permission to wear boy’s clothing. Gardner followed suit so as to disguise her entrance into the drawing school of the Gobelin Tapestry Factory.

Gardner’s success merited her the title of “Hors Concours,” an honor granted to artists whose achievements were so elevated as to disqualify them from receiving awards at future Salons. Years later, she recalled:

(Gardner) “I am the only American woman whose work ever received a medal at the Paris Salon. …it cost me thirty years of study to arrive at this dignity.”

(Narrator) For more information about the works in this gallery, please pick up a Salon livret, or pamphlet, near the gallery entrance.

05 Elizabeth Jane Gardner
06 James McNeill Whistler

(Narrator) Unlike traditional academic artists, who favored historical and biblical subjects that inspired heroic and moral virtue among the viewing public, Whistler dispensed with art’s social purpose, seeking instead to distill the essence of beauty in his painting.

In 1885, he articulated this philosophy in a “Ten O’Clock” lecture whose witty title was expressive of his preference for a leisurely dinner hour. Whistler’s talk urged artistic freedom from the moral dictates of academic tradition, the link between painting and music, and a return to the essence of beauty in Nature.

(Whistler) “Ladies and Gentlemen! –
It is with great hesitation and much misgiving that I appear before you, in the character of – The Preacher . . . Art is upon the Town! – to be . . . coaxed into company, as a proof of culture and refinement! . . . Beauty [now] is confounded with Virtue, and . . . a work of Art . . . is asked: ‘What good shall it do?’ – Hence it is that nobility of action . . . is hopelessly linked with the merit of the work that portrays it … from a social point of view . . . So we have come to hear of the painting that elevates . . . considered absolutely from . . . some detail of . . . courage, modesty, or virtue . . . Meanwhile, the painter’s poetry, is quite lost . . . The amazing invention of . . . form and color . . . in perfect harmony is without understanding . . . Nature contains the elements of color and form of all pictures – as the keyboard contains the notes of all music – but the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful – as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he brings forth from chaos, glorious harmony. . .”

(Narrator) It is the artist’s gift to see in nature those elements that, when united, constitute true harmony, true beauty, as Whistler described it

(Whistler)“when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a veil – and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky – and the warehouses are palaces in the night – . . . and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and a fairey land is before us – then . . . Nature . . . for once, has sung in tune, [and] sings her exquisite song to the Artist alone . . . Through his brain . . . is distilled the refined essence of that thought which . . . surpasses in perfection, all that . . . is called Nature . . .”

Playing in this gallery is Ravel’s, Miroirs: Une barque sur l’océan or A Ship on the Ocean, which dates to the period of Whistler’s paintings.

06 James McNeill Whistler
07 Take a Moment

(Narrator) At the end of the academic year and the closing of the annual Salon, artists escaped the strict rules and close confines of the academic studio for the freedoms of the countryside. There they basked in fresh air and open spaces in rural art colonies and retreats, taking their easels and canvases, pencils and brushes into the landscape to capture the scenes and atmospheric effects of nature.

07 Take a Moment
08 Elizabeth Nourse & Cecilia Beaux

(Narrator) Unlike Elizabeth Gardner, who remained committed to an academic style, Elizabeth Nourse and Cecilia Beaux pushed beyond traditional boundaries to develop individual styles and techniques. Nourse was particularly independent, traveling to different countries to record the experiences of diverse people. In a letter home, her sister Louise recorded one moment in France:

(Nourse) “We are in a little tavern, or auberge, which bears the sign of a bush…. There are six of these auberges here, ranging in price from five to ten francs per day, according to the season . . . It is not quite yet ‘the season’, as most of the artists are still in Paris for the salon. So we not only have the house but the village to ourselves – and it is so delightful to be in a place where you can pose as a model if you wish, right in the middle of the road . . . for every man, woman, child and cow in the village is accustomed to posing.

The village itself is composed of but one rue, little low cottages with red-tiled or thatched roofs. Most of them are built in a square, the hollow square, or court, being the barn-yard. In fact the stable for the cows seems to occupy the greater and more important part of the house. The houses are generally covered with a trellis over which the grape-vines and rose-bushes are trained . . . to brighten the lives of the hard working peasants. The people live almost altogether in their courts, and here you see, after the day’s work in the fields is over (the women work in the fields as well as the men), the whole family assembled, from la grande-mére down to the chickens and cows and rabbits and the little tot, who is just learning to walk in his ‘go-cart’, which goes and comes with every movement of the child . . . Sister Elizabeth always thought that chickens and goats were the hardest things in nature to paint, but then she had never tried a baby in a go-cart. If this and its little tyrant are not present you find ‘le petit bebé’ in his maillot or swaddling clothes. This is also fascinating, and more than one artist has discovered its charms.”

08 Elizabeth Nourse & Cecilia Beaux
09 Robinson, Metcalf, & Sargent in Giverny

(Narrator) Willard Metcalf and John Singer Sargent were among the first American painters to arrive in Giverny. Around 1885, Metcalf happened upon the small village where, two years later, he painted Ten Cent Breakfast. The painting captures members of the burgeoning American art colony that prompted Monsieur and Madame Baudy, depicted here by Theodore Robinson, to add six rooms and a studio to their home to convert it into a bed and breakfast.

Though Sargent was acquainted with Monet as early as 1876, he arrived in Giverny in 1885 and befriended Claude Monet. Letters to Monet from the American highlight their friendship and the joy among artists in painting and dining together.

(Sargent) “My dear Monet
I am hoping to meet your train this evening or to be at your hotel around 6 o’clock. Unfortunately, I have a dinner party engagement in town. I shall go to the American Bar at the Criterion at 11 o’clock or a quarter past 11 on the off chance that you might be there.

I would recommend the London Pavilion to you if you do not know what to do with your evening and if you do not wish to go to a serious play.

Do not forget that you are to lunch with me tomorrow at 1 o’clock at my place. I have invited Whistler to meet you. If you have any trouble in finding my house, it is because they are changing the numbers at the moment and there is no number on my door while there is a 13 on another house. Mine is a large red house with studio windows near the Embankment. All this in case I miss seeing you this evening.

Best wishes,

John S. Sargent

(Narrator) And another, from 1894:

(Sargent)“My dear Monet

Believe it or not, but my thoughts often turn to you and to Giverny and I reproach myself for not having asked after you for such a long time, on account of my sheer hatred of spelling. I would be so pleased if you would bring me up to date on your life and your work. I hope that you and your family are happy and that painting is finally taking precedence over gardening. What have you done since the Rouen cathedral pictures, which I would very much have like to have seen?…

Every day in London there is beautiful, absinthe-coloured weather. Is not that enough to lure you here? If you wanted to work in London you could stay at my studio, unless you come and pay me a little visit in the country. If you feel so inclined, be assured that I would be thrilled.

Your affectionate

John S. Sargent

09 Robinson, Metcalf, & Sargent in Giverny
10 Lilla Cabot Perry

(Narrator) In 1927, a year after Monet’s death, his friend and fellow artist Lilla Cabot Perry wrote “Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909”.

(Perry) “Monet is dead! How well I remember meeting him when we first went to Giverny in the summer of 1889! A talented young American sculptor told my husband and me that he had a letter of introduction to the painter, Claude Monet. He felt shy at going alone and implored us to go with him, which we were enchanted to do, having seen that very spring the great Monet-Rodin exhibition which had been a revelation to others besides myself. I had been greatly impressed by this (to me) new painter whose work had a clearness of vision and a fidelity to nature such as I had never seen before. The man himself, with his rugged honesty, his disarming frankness, his warm and sensitive nature, was fully as impressive as his pictures, and from this first visit dates a friendship which led us to spend ten summers at Giverny.

For some seasons, indeed, we had the house and garden next to his, and he would sometimes stroll in and smoke his after-luncheon cigarette in our garden before beginning his afternoon work. He was not then appreciated as he deserved to be, in fact that first summer I wrote to several friends and relatives in America to tell them that there was a very great artist only just beginning to be known, whose pictures could be bought from his studio in Giverny for the sum of $500. I was a student in the Paris studios at that time and had shown at the Salon for the first time that spring, so it was natural that my judgment should have been distrusted. Only one person responded, and for him I bought a picture of Etretat. Monet said he had to do something to the sky before delivering it as the clouds did not quite suit him, and, characteristically, to do this he must needs go down to Etretat and wait for a day with as near as possible the same sky and atmosphere, so it was some little time before I could take possession of the picture. When I brought it home that autumn of 1889 (I think it was the first Monet ever seen in Boston), to my great astonishment hardly anyone liked it, the one exception being John La Farge.”

10 Lilla Cabot Perry
11 Mary Cassatt

(Narrator) Though well-known among art circles in France, Cassatt’s work was slower to find an American following – until a debacle with the New York Customs Office brought her talents to light. As one headline in June of 1905 recorded:

(Critic) “MARY CASSATT ADJUDGED THE MOST IMPORTANT FEMININE ARTIST IN THE WORLD. Long Recognized and Praised Abroad, This American Woman’s Ability is Discovered in Her Own Country Only When Custom House Officials Make a Mistake.”

(Narrator) The article starts off with the blunder by the New York Customs Office, which thought Cassatt’s paintings were just commercial goods.

(Critic)“Adjudged the most important feminine painter in the world, Miss Mary Cassatt may add to her laurels a new gratification. She has been discovered by New York. . . To be sure, New York learned of it by accident, through the blundering of the Board of United States Appraisers, who, having assessed Miss Cassatt’s work as ‘commercial matter’ were obliged to learn of their mistake by witnesses to the artist’s standing at Paris.”

(Narrator) The article goes on to describe Cassatt’s skill and inventiveness in the depiction of particularly her mother-and-child subjects:

(Critic) Fortunately for art and for the glory of Pennsylvania . . . Miss Cassatt early found her way [to France, where she] . . . has developed into one of the greatest woman painters the world has seen, and become, with Whistler, the artist of most distinction that America has produced in our day…

Under pretext of painting mammas and babies interlaced, she has arrived at representing maternal love. The gestures . . . are exactly rendered – the tender solicitude of the mother, the confidence of the child. The care of so large an expression might have carried this painter to excesses of sentimentality or to mannerisms of execution. But Miss Cassatt, in love with truth, has rendered only instinctive attitudes, observed around her, in their thoughtless spontaneity, expressing a normal tenderness. Miss Cassatt never compromises sincerity by conventional grace, nor gives to her babes the effect of kittens playing among wools, with which so many painters flatter infancy. Her art no more abdicates distinction than truth. When she represents children and mothers, her compositions have the high character of a Holy Family, but of a modern Holy Family . . .

It is also to Miss Cassatt’s credit to have seen that maternity is a subject especially feminine, where women have an advantage all their own. Great artists among the men have treated children, but, for the most part, as decorative adjuncts, or as pegs to hang a symbol upon. Christian or mythologic. They have shown small understanding of the soul of the little being newly arrived in the world. . . [T]he humble occupations to which the mothers lend themselves take on a dignity from the sentiment of duty, which makes them appear necessary, nearly sacred.”

11 Mary Cassatt
12 Louisine Havemeyer

(Narrator) Mary Cassatt was instrumental in shaping the development of American museums today through her work with dealers and advice to collectors and patrons. Cassatt’s influence is recorded in the memoirs of Mrs. Louisine Havemeyer who, together with her husband Henry O. Havemeyer, pioneered the collection of French Impressionist painting now held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(Havemeyer)“I recall that when I was a very young girl I went to see Miss Cassatt at Marly-le-Roi. Her villa joined Manet’s home . . . and We began very modestly, buying some of Manet’s smaller pictures. . . One wintry morning… Miss Cassatt and I … passed the Durand-Ruel gallery and she suggested we should drop in and see if they had received any new pictures. After greeting us, Monsieur Joseph made a remark to Miss Cassatt … and I heard her exclaim: ‘What!’ … and turning to me she added, ‘Horace W. has returned his Manet ‘Marine’. Do let us go see it, for you will surely want it’.”
“Manet, as well as Degas, knew the value of a pastel as a medium for portrait painting. He knew what light and life it gave to flesh, and his works in pastel are among his best. . . I was about sixteen years old when I first heard of Degas, of course through Miss Cassatt. She took me to see one of his pastels and advised me to buy it. How well I remember going with her to the color shop where it was for sale. . . It was so new and strange to me! I scarce knew how to appreciate it. . . [but] she left me in no doubt as to the desirability of the purchase and I bought it upon her advice. . .
“Mr. Havemeyer and I went several times to see Degas, usually in company with Miss Cassatt. . . I recall one visit . . . when after we had looked at several pastels … Degas opened a portfolio to show us some of his drawings…. I, for the first time, understood what he meant when he said: ‘Art is not spontaneous but the result of constant effort’. . . Miss Cassatt took up one drawing and called my husband’s attention to it. . . It was done upon pink paper and the penciled squares could still be seen across the figure of the young ballet girl . . . It was a superb drawing and Degas watched us as we admired it. Suddenly, he selected two others, signed them all, and handed them to Mr. Havemeyer. We realized we were the fortunate possessors, not only of his best drawings, but of those he wished us to have. No word of price was spoken. It was a solemn moment and all details had to be arranged by our kind intermediary, Miss Cassatt . . . This faithful friend, so true to me, so interested in the collection, was as good as her word.”

12 Louisine Havemeyer
13 Take a Moment

(Narrator) The decades between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I marked an unprecedented era of social, economic, and political change in America. This room pauses from the works of art produced during the period to consider the conditions that shaped the experience of American artists on their return to the United States.

Explore this time frame through archival footage, photographs, and stories of people, places, politics and culture. Enjoy the accompanying music in the gallery, Maple Leaf Rag, a ragtime written in 1899 by American composer Scott Joplin.

13 Take a Moment
14 Frank Weston Benson

(Narrator) In addition to being a painter, Frank Weston Benson was a teacher. Among his students was his daughter Eleanor, who compiled her notes into Benson’s “Advice on Painting.”

(Benson) Painting “is not easy. . . It has to be studied and worked at. . . I am still working at it and learning… and have only just begun to know anything about it. . .”

(Narrator)As with this portrait of his daughter Eleanor, Benson blurred the lines between the real subject – his daughter – and his efforts to compose a scene. As he explained:

(Benson)“You can’t paint reality by just describing things. . . A picture is merely an experiment in design. . . [It is like] composing a symphony or an opera…[;] it is the composition, the design, the creation of the artist’s mind, which is important, not the representation of objects … A picture is always a synthesis… Choice is what matters…”

(Narrator) And so Benson has chosen to capture Eleanor on the cusp of a dune, elevated above the viewer’s sightline, with a vast sky above and an ocean before her – all features that he selectively modified so that the final result would be greater than its parts.

(Benson)“A picture or drawing is like a poem, when the poet starts, he has no more and no different words to work with than you have. A work of art is made by his … selection and combination of ordinary material. . . Literal description in painting will never make a picture. In order to be good it must have some touch of that magic . . . leaving undescribed the places that are dim and cloudy, and painting sharply the silhouetted values…”

(Narrator) The cerulean sky, the light, the whiteness of the dress: each contributes to the overall effect of Sunlight. As Benson explained:

(Benson) “When we speak of color, we do not mean colors, such as the green of leaves or the pink of cheeks. We mean the effect of light on an object, and the effect which one color has on another nearby… You must pay attention to light and shade and values. Look continuously at the whole picture, not at parts, and roam from place to place making adjustments. That’s what painting is – making adjustments…”

14 Frank Weston Benson
15 Robert Henri

(Narrator) Robert Henri was perhaps the most important American art teacher of his generation, nurturing the independent expression of his various students in Philadelphia and New York. Consequently, he influenced what American art would become. He once observed:

(Henri)“To have art in America will not be to sit like a packrat on a pile of collected art of the past. It will be rather to build our own projection on the art of the past . . . and for this constructiveness, the artist, the man of means and the man in the street should go hand in hand. And to have art in America like this will mean a great living, a greater humanity, a finer sense of relation through all things.”

(Narrator) In 1923, his philosophy on art was compiled into a collection of notes called The Art Spirit. These excerpts highlight his views on art and their implications for public perceptions of American art and artists. As you wander this gallery, feel free to take in works of art by Henri’s contemporaries and students as you listen to his words.

(Henri)“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible . . .

When the motives of artists are profound . . . their work creates a stir in the world. The stir may not be one of thanks or compliment to the artist. It may be that it will rouse two kinds of men to bitter antagonism, and the artist may be more showered with abuse than praise . . . because he introduced a new idea into the world … [But] We are not here to do what has already been done.

In these times there is a powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development. Events and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface. But there is another and deeper change in progress. . . On the surface there is the battle of institutions, the illustration of events, the strife between peoples. On the surface there is propaganda and there is the effort to force opinions. The deeper current carries no propaganda. The shock of the surface upheaval does not deflect it from its course… There is a song going on within us, a song . . . which motivates the masters of all art… I am not interested in any one school or movement, nor do I care for art as art. I am interested in life.”

15 Robert Henri
16 William Glackens

(Narrator) The struggle to realize the American in American art did not cease at the turn of the century; as Glackens lamented,

(Glackens)”Everything worthwhile in our [American] art is due to the influence of French art . . . We have not arrived at a national art.”

(Narrator) For Glackens, a true national art would not be achieved until a new artistic formula was created. To that end, despite the influence of Renoir’s palette and Degas’ subject matter, Glackens experimented with abstracted forms, flattened perspectives, and loud colors, arriving at the Expressionist manner resonant in L’Aperitif. The painting’s edgy realism moves beyond American Impressionism to arrive at the threshold of modernism.

This painting is from the McGlothlin Collection, part of VMFA’s American Art Galleries. We invite you to enjoy the full spectrum of American art production on the second floor of the museum, where works from the Hudson River School of the early 19th century to the Social Realist Movement of the early 20th century expand upon the arc of American art and culture you heard from today. You can also extend your exploration into the evolution of American painting by continuing into the Modern and Contemporary and 21st Century galleries.

Thank you for joining us today at VMFA. We hope to see you again soon.

16 William Glackens