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Americans in Paris, 1860–1900

October 24, 2006–January 28, 2007

Back in the United States

When they returned to the United States, artists worked to reconcile the lessons they had learned in Paris with American subjects and taste. Examples by Thomas Eakins, James Carroll Beckwith, and Cecilia Beaux on view earlier in the exhibition suggest some of their strategies. This gallery focuses on American Impressionism, the style that enabled many repatriated artists to announce their cosmopolitanism while also responding to the growing sense of national identity that emerged in the 1890s.

Like their French mentors, the American Impressionists maintained that personal experience was the only appropriate source for subjects, which should be transcribed freshly and directly. Thus, they recorded burgeoning American cities and familiar rural locales, especially in New England, a region that evoked reassuring historical associations in a time of bewildering change. The Americans created a distinctive version of Impressionism, often combining the solid, substantial forms they had learned to paint in Parisian academies with a new interest in natural light, luminous color, and flickering brushwork. This stylistic duality is conspicuous in American Impressionist figure paintings, many of which also announce the national preference for a genteel, wholesome feminine ideal.