Edward Steichen Murals and Hudson River School Collection Spotlight Opening at HRM
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YONKERS, NY, February 15, 2023—Nature takes a lead role this season at the Hudson River Museum. The HRM is proud to present two new exhibitions that celebrate the timeless beauty and reverence for botanicals and landscapes with exemplary works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers, opening on Friday, March 10, features the dazzling work of this iconic photographer and painter. The exhibition highlights Steichen’s most ambitious project as a painter—three large-scale paintings, on loan from Art Bridges, which he created on the cusp of World War I as part of a series of seven murals that were commissioned to decorate a New York City townhouse. Steichen depicts many varieties of flora with great flourish throughout the mural, meant to emphasize aspects of the sitters’ character and personality traits.
Collection Spotlight: The Hudson River School, opening on Friday, February 17, explores the aesthetic of the Hudson River School, a movement in American art embraced by landscape painters who explored Romantic themes of the wild beauty of nature from the 1830s to the 1880s. In addition to works from HRM’s collection by Thomas Cole, Jasper F. Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, and Frances Flora Bond Palmer, the exhibition features special loans of paintings by Robert Seldon Duncanson, Francis Augustus Silva, and May Wheelock.
Laura Vookles, Chair, HRM’s Curatorial Department, states. “This is a fantastic opportunity to see a significant aspect of the HRM collection, the Hudson River School, highlighted and recontextualized alongside recent gifts and impressive loans. I love the juxtaposition of these paintings and prints with the lush murals by Edward Steichen, which seem to anticipate the Art Deco sensibility. These artists from two different centuries, in their own ways, bring the wonder of nature indoors.”
HRM Director and CEO Masha Turchinsky added, “These exhibitions are wonderful examples of the ways we surprise and delight our audiences. Steichen’s stunning paintings shed light on a lesser-known aspect of the career of one of America’s greatest photographers while celebrating the deeper symbolic meanings hidden in flowers. Our Hudson River School spotlight reminds us of the beauty of our region, and brings much-deserved attention to remarkable artists such as Asher B. Durand, Robert Seldon Duncanson, and May Wheelock. In all, these exhibitions are a feast for the eyes and mind.”
Edward Jean Steichen (1879–1973), one of the leading photographers of the twentieth century, began his career as a painter. This exhibition highlights his most ambitious project in that medium—three large-scale paintings he created on the cusp of World War I as part of a series of seven murals. Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Meyer, Jr., a prominent couple who were actively engaged in the arts, commissioned the paintings to decorate the foyer of their New York City townhouse. Due to financial difficulties, the Meyers had to sell their townhouse before the murals could be installed. The magnificent works, composed of tempera and gold leaf on canvas, feature women from the Meyer family and close associates who formed a close-knit intellectual and artistic circle. Steichen himself was a member of this group of friends, who used floral names to address one another in correspondence and at social activities in creative and humorous ways.
In each ten-foot panel, Steichen placed the botanical specimens that aligned with the sitters’ dominant personality traits alongside their human counterpart. In the painting titled Rose—Geranium, Steichen portrayed Katharine Rhoades, the New York–born painter, photographer, and one-time love interest of photography pioneer Alfred Stieglitz. Petunia—Caladium—Budleya depicts the painter Marion Beckett, a still life and portrait artist known as “Petunia Beckett.” The identification of the woman in Golden-Banded Lily—Violets is less certain and may be either Agnes Ernst Meyer, the patron, or Clara Steichen, the artist’s wife. He drew inspiration for these floral personifications from the book The Intelligence of the Flowers (1907) by Symbolist poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck.
The shimmering paintings are complemented by a selection of photographs from the HRM’s rich collection of Steichen images, including a self-portrait, works that illustrate his continued fascination with flowers, as well as photographs from his Condé Nast years of celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich, Lillian Gish, and Charlie Chaplin. In addition, the exhibition showcases related work by Steichen’s contemporary, Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr., also known for evocative portraits of women with flowers. Eickemeyer went on to become one of the founders of the Museum. These photographs, together with the outstanding murals, shine a light on an under-appreciated aspect of the career of one of America’s most accomplished artists while exploring the legacy of this elaborate group portrait of Steichen’s and the Meyers’ friends who formed a close-knit intellectual and artistic circle while living in France.
Support provided by Art Bridges.
Exhibitions are made possible by assistance provided by the County of Westchester.
The Hudson River School was a movement in American art embraced by landscape painters who explored Romantic themes of the wild beauty of nature from the 1830s to the 1880s. Although they focused primarily on Hudson River Valley vistas, they also depicted landscapes from throughout the United States. English émigré Thomas Cole was the founder and influential leader of this loosely affiliated group of painters, which included Asher B. Durand, Jasper F. Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt, and Cole’s only student, Frederic E. Church, among others. Through their paintings and published prints, the Hudson River School artists forged an aesthetic that promoted the bucolic American landscape and its inevitable settlement reaching to the Western frontier and even the Andes of South America.
This exhibition features works from the Museum’s collection, including paintings by Cropsey, Durand, Hermann Fuechsel, and prints by Cole, Church, and Frances Flora Bond Palmer. The exhibition also includes several special loans featuring works by Robert Seldon Duncanson, Francis Augustus Silva, and May Wheelock. Duncanson was the only known African American painter among the Hudson River School artists and was widely celebrated in the US and abroad. Wheelock, like other women of the Hudson River School who were frequently underrecognized, receives long overdue attention at the Museum.
The Hudson River School had lasting impact not only on American art, but also on the American landscape. As a case in point, the artists’ paintings inspired the United States government to create the first national parks in 1872. In the twentieth century, many preservationists were inspired by the earlier artists’ scenes of nature, and interest in the Hudson River School escalated. More and more, scholars are examining the paintings with a more nuanced reading of how art, culture, and political history are intertwined, as we contend with environmental crises and reckon with our nation’s complex history of land ownership.
This exhibition is supported in part by Greg and Fay Wyatt.
Exhibitions are made possible by assistance provided by the County of Westchester.
The exhibitions will be accompanied by curator and docent tours, hands-on studio workshops for families, live figure drawing and portraiture sessions, nature-focused programs, and more.
Curator’s Tour of Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers
Sunday, April 16, 1pm
Laura Vookles, Chair, Curatorial Department, will conduct an in-depth tour of In Exaltation of Flowers with special attention to its floral references during the run-up to Earth Day, as well as the arc, breadth, and influence of Steichen’s career as a painter and photographer.
Yonkers Arts Weekend
Saturday, May 20, 12–5pm
The Museum and exhibitions will be free to the public as part of Yonkers Arts Weekend, with activities for all ages throughout the day.
Image: Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973). (Left to right) In Exaltation of Flowers: Rose, Geranium; Petunia, Caladium, Budleya; Golden-Banded Lily, Violets, ca. 1910–13. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas. Art Bridges. © 2023 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
(914) 963-4550 x240
Hudson River Museum is a preeminent cultural institution in Westchester County and the New York metropolitan area. Situated on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, the HRM’s mission is to engage, inspire, and connect diverse communities through the power of the arts, sciences, and history.
The Museum offers engaging experiences for every age and interest, with an ever-growing collection of American art; dynamic exhibitions that range from notable nineteenth-century paintings to contemporary art installations; Glenview, an 1877 house on the National Register of Historic Places; a state-of-the-art Planetarium; an environmental teaching gallery; and an outdoor Amphitheater. Accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), the Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and interpreting these multidisciplinary offerings, which are complemented by an array of public programs that encourage creative expression, collaboration, and artistic and scientific discovery.
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