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The Death of Impressionism? Disruption & Innovation in Art

Curated by Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator; Louise Feder, Assistant Curator; and Kelsey Halliday Johnson, Curatorial Fellow in Photography & New Media

November 12, 2016 – February 26, 2017
Paton | Smith | Della Penna-Fernberger Galleries

Charles Frederic Ramsey (1875-1951), Autumn Afternoon, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.
Charles Frederic Ramsey (1875-1951), Modern Woman, 1934, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum, Gift of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.
Illia Barger (b. 1961), The Dead Impressionist: Fern Coppedge, 2012-16, oil on gesso board, 36 x 18 inches. Courtesy of Illia Barger.
Peter Paone (b. 1936), Ingres' Mistress #5, 2014-16, mixed media, 36 x 24 inches. Collection of the artist.

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Bucks County and the surrounding Delaware Valley Region have long been associated with Impressionism, primarily through the work of the artists connected by the art colony in nearby New Hope, many of whom disseminated the style as teachers at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Impressionism came late to the region and grew to its peak in about 1915, but quickly lost its broad critical appeal as other trends in American and European art rose in popularity on the national scene. Many of the artists who dismissed Impressionism as old-fashioned were students at PAFA, who organized their own modernist exhibition there in 1921. Others began to come to the region in the 1930s, as urban areas like New York City became too expensive. During the Depression, the influx of new artists embracing modernist tendencies caused a rift in the artistic community which, in many respects, persists to this day. Like artists in New York and other arts centers, these new artists declared Impressionism and its practitioners dead. And yet, nearly 100 years later, lines still form outside museums for Impressionist exhibitions, and, particularly in Bucks County, the Pennsylvania Impressionists still hold sway.

The Death of Impressionism? Disruption & Innovation in Art explores the significance of Impressionism in the Delaware Valley Region through juxtapositions of Impressionist paintings with more modernist works, or through examinations of transitional moments in specific artists’ careers—moments that transformed their practice as well as that of others around them. At its core is a close review of the rift between the old guard and the new guard in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the broader ramifications of discord that have filtered through art production during the past eight decades. More broadly, The Death of Impressionism? Disruption & Innovation in Art provides visitors and scholars alike with a focused lens through which to view the stylistic transformations, changing patterns of taste, and cultural shifts as they pertain to the past century in American art.

THE DEATH OF IMPRESSIONISM? Disruption & Innovation in Art is generously supported by Visit Bucks County, SEI Private Wealth Management, and Worth & Company, Inc.

Additional support is provided by Syd and Sharon Martin, Bonnie J. O’Boyle, Dr. Willys Silvers, and Eleanor and Malcolm Polis.

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