R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Corcoran Gallery

While in Washington D.C. I paid a visit to the Corcoran Gallery. Here was my chance to see their collection of American paintings up close and personal. The first work of interest was Charles Bird King’s Poor Artist's Cupboard. King is known for his vast number of American-Indian paintings, but during his career he also produced a few still lifes. This particular still life is extremely well executed if not also merciless toward its subject, depicting the tawdry possessions of a struggling, ambitious artist, whom we are to assume is deceased. To get the complete picture you really have to stick around to absorb all the little details. Again, great still life but its message is pretty harsh. It actually reminds me of some of the more cynical chapters in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.

Also of note is Samuel Finley Breese Morse’s large scale work House of Representatives, a typically somber rendering of marshfields by Martin Johnson Heade, and a very detailed urban topographic view by Edward Lamson Henry, The Old Westover House. The Morse work has a nice architectural composition and was intended to portray the likeness of all the representatives. It’s highly ambitious though probably not as gripping as the artist envisioned it to be.

I’m purposely overlooking the popular Stuart portrait of George Washington. Just sayin’.

Pass through the first gallery and you’ll find yourself surrounded by six awesome Hudson River School works: Thomas Cole’s The Departure and The Return to your left, Frederic Edwin Church’s Tamaca Palms and the very famous Niagara to your right, and two large canvases by Albert Bierstadt—Mount Corcoran dead center and The Last of the Buffalo behind you on the opposite wall. Yeah, it’s pretty overwhelming, all these beautiful paintings in this small intimate space. I’d already seen and read about each of them oodles of times in my art books, so I’m hard pressed as to what else I could say. The Last of the Buffalo piece especially caught my interest, and none of the reproductions I’ve seen do justice to seeing it in person; there are so many subtle details that the impact is otherwise completely lost.

The next gallery contains a wider variety of paintings—portraits, still lifes and landscapes—but there are also a few ambitious works with more complex narratives, particularly John George Brown’s The Longshoremen’s Noon, Richard Norris Brooke A Pastoral Visit, and Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s Evening Party at Milton’s, Consisting of Oliver Cromwell and Family …. I was very impressed with grittiness of the Brooke piece, and later that afternoon at the Smithsonian I saw his Dog Swap, with which is shares a very similar composition and vantage point, though the setting itself is completely different. Odd.

There were a number of works from their permanent collection of American art which unfortunately were not out on display, notably William McGregor Paxton’s The House Maid, Thomas Worthington Whittredge’s Trout Brook in the Catskills, Edwin Austin Abbey’s “Who Is Sylvia? What Is She, That All the Swains Commend Her?” , Ralph Albert Blakelock’s Moonlight, and Sanford Robinson Gifford’s Ruins of the Parthenon.

Also not on view but worth looking up:

Bierstadt Buffalo Trail and the Impending Storm
De Witt Clinton Boutelle Trenton Falls near Utica, NY
Carl Christian Breener Afternoon in Earl June, a Kentucky Beach Grove
Thomas Doughty Winter Abbey
Louis Maurer Still Life, “Tilby”
Frederick Judd Waugh Wild Weather
William Trost Richards On the Coast of New Jersey and Scottish Coast

The Corcoran was has a nice collection of European art as well. At first I was drawn to the works by more familiar artists, such as those by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot as well as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s A Difficult Line from Horace and Theodore Rousseau’s After the Rain, but after awhile I found myself enamored with the more obscure pieces. They had a number of paintings by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli, and I was especially drawn to his somewhat tonalist Nymphs et Amours-Fete aux Fleurs. The landscapes by Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Pena were impressive as well. Others include Jean Charles Cazin’s The Great Windmill and the Rainbow, Giovanni Boldini’s After the Bath, and Jean-Jacques Henner’s Standing Woman. A simple Google on Henner shows a variety of beautiful nude studies. My favorite work from this gallery though was Jules Adolphe Aime Louis Breton’s The Colza (Harvest Rapeseed), an excellent pastoral piece with a strong narrative and tonal palette. I’ve always admired Breton’s mournful Song of the Lark at the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m glad I was able to see this one in person.

So yeah, the Corcoran has an awesome collection. Check it out if you ever find yourself in town.

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