New Frontiers IV « Fastes et fragments. Aux origines de la nature morte américaine » is the fourth and final episode of the partnership between the Louvre, the High Museum of Art, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Terra Foundation for American Art. This exhibition turns to the rising of still life painting in 19th century America. The three previous exhibitions of this series in 2013 and 2014 were consecrated to landscapes, genre and portrait painting.
Despite the popularity of still lifes in Europe it was not until the 19th century that the style began to interest Americans. This latest exhibition brings together 10 works which illustrate how still lifes became part of American painting from such artists as Raphaelle Peale, Martin Johnson Heade or William Michael Harnett. These artists adapted European style painting and subjects to their own time period and county, thus allowing to the emergence of a true American style and interest from American collectors.
American painters had plenty of success with landscapes and portraits, but the market for still lifes was yet budding. Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825), set himself apart with austere representations of local products such as corn, cantelope and sweet potato thus evoking the abundance of the great plantations. The following generation of artists took a more elaborate approach to still lifes making them more subtile and using symbolism; choosing subjects that were more frivolous and romantic such as flowers and shells with rich drapery. These artists, represented here by Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) benefitted from well-off collectors encouraging their work as the genre became more appreciated and as economic prosperity evolved.
The Civil War brought painters back to their American roots. And with William Harnett (1848-1892) trompe-l’oeil was mixed with symbolic and subversive ideas pointing fingers at cerain moral behaviors or materialism. The trompe-l’oeil style came to distinguish American paintings and the subjects became eclectic and exotic collections of objects. John Haberle was such a master of trompe-l’oeil and so often painted banknotes to the point that the American government asked him to stop “reproducing money” and a journalist accused him of conterfeiting! The painting’s title Small Change has a double meaning playing off the small amounts of currency depicted as well as the painter’s opinion of how government had evolved very little between the time periods shown on the bills 1785/1876. A painting just as pertinent today.
The exhibition runs until 27 April at The Musée du Louvre, Aile Denon, salle 32, Gainsborough. Access is included in the Museum entrance price of 12€