The Joslyn Art Museum opened in 1931 in Omaha, Nebraska as a gift to the city by Sarah Joslyn in memory of her late husband George. It is dedicated to excellence and celebrates art in all its variety. The original Memorial Building is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the U.S.
As it was after lunchtime, my first order of business was to find food. I came upon the Café Durham, where I ordered a delicious Summer Grilled Salad (grilled zucchini, portobello, green onion, grape tomatoes, garbanzos, avocado, corn, feta, yellow beets, mixed greens and Cilantro Green Goddess dressing) and creamy asparagus soup. I sat in the airy and pleasant atrium to enjoy it.
Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau was an American academic and salon painter, who was born in New Hampshire and lived in Paris from 1864-1922. Along with Mary Cassatt, she was one of the first American women to exhibit at the Paris Salon. In 1887 she became the only American woman to be awarded a medal for her work. By the Seashore (~1912) plays on the theme of the Virgin and Child.
In the Drew Gallery, I found an exhibit on Impressionism. In 1874, a group of painters including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissaro boldly mounted an exhibition of their work independent of the official, state-sponsored Paris Salon. These artists became known as Impressionists, and they painted the modern world in experimental new ways. Working directly from nature, they painted en plein air, or outdoors, in an attempt to capture the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere.
In the Lauritzen Gallery, I found Art of the American West/19th Century. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark ascended the Missouri River in 1804, reaching the Pacific Ocean in November of the following year. Dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to study the geography, natural history, and resources acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and to find an easily navigable route across the continent, they were followed by bands of fur trappers, traders and explorers, as well as artists.
In 1832, the painter George Catlin was aboard the American Fur Company steamboat Yellow Stone as it made its way up the Missouri River past Council Bluffs, becoming the first artist to create an extensive record of the Upper Missouri. I wrote previously about George Catlin and the american bison at saam.
Catlin was soon followed by Karl Bodmer and Alfred Jacob Miller, and their work remains a vital record of the region at the moment before industrialization changed the West forever.
The landscape was inhabited by Indian nations throughout the Plains and Rocky Mountains. Catlin, Bodmer and Miller were witnesses to a way of life that would be almost completely transformed within the coming decades, as tribes were removed from their homelands and suffered attrition from disease and other forces.
The main reason I sought out the Joslyn Museum was because it is home to the largest collection of watercolors, drawings and prints of Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. He was hired in 1832 by the German explorer and naturalist Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied to document his expedition to the American West. Setting out from St. Louis in April of 1833, Bodmer and Maximilian began a 2,500-mile journey by steam- and keelboat up the Missouri River, traveling as far as Fort McKenzie in present day Montana. Wintering at Fort Clark near the Mandan villages, they continued downriver the following spring, having spent a year on the Upper Missouri. Bodmer captured the challenging and dramatic landscape and his portraits were the first accurate portrayals of western Indians in their homelands. Bodmer’s work today remains one of the most compelling visual accounts of the American interior.
Sadly, the museum had embarked on a multi-year project to conserve its collection of watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer , so I was only able to see some prints made after Bodmer’s originals.
Little did I know that I would encounter Karl Bodmer multiple times on my “Road Trip to Nowhere.”
A few short years after Karl Bodmer and Prince Maximilian’s voyage, another artist was making his way across the West with his European patron, Scottish nobleman William Drummond Stewart. Alfred Jacob Miller was born in Baltimore in 1810 and trained in Paris before returning home to establish a studio in New Orleans.
Miller and Stewart left St. Louis in April of 1837, arriving at the annual fur traders’ rendezvous in the Green River valley in present-day Wyoming. The rendezvous was a commercial and social gathering of trappers, traders, mountain men and Indians. Miller was the only artist to have witnessed this event first hand. Their party traveled north to the Wind River mountains before returning to St. Louis in the autumn. Miller wasn’t much interested in natural history or ethnography, so he offered a more romantic narrative than did Bodmer.
While Catlin, Bodmer and Miller worked in the field sketching, hundreds of Plains Indians had already visited formal portrait studios in Washington, D.C. Charles Bird King and others were commissioned to paint portraits of visiting dignitaries.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) came from one of the oldest colonial families in America; his family left their homeland and became expatriates in Europe. The artist made his first trip to the United States in May, 1876, but he returned to Europe to visit Spain, Holland and Venice. He won praise for portraits and genre pictures, but portraits increasingly defined his reputation. Though he settled permanently in England in 1886, he flourished as a portrait painter for businessmen and their families, artists and performers of the English aristocracy and American high society.
The evening gown in the above portrait belonged to Margaret Randolph Rotch (1867-1941), a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. In 1893, she married Abbott Lawrence Rotch, the son of a patrician Boston family and a distinguished meteorologist who founded the Blue Hill Observatory. Mrs. Rotch posed for John Singer Sargent, like many women of New England society.
The dress was made by Callot Soeurs, one of the great couture houses of the Belle Époque.
The exhibits at the Joslyn were diverse. Another was “Virgins and Saints: Conversion through Images.” As part of Spain’s conquest and rule of Latin America from the late 15th through the 19th centuries, the Catholic Church came to dictate artistic development in the Spanish settlements. Visual imagery was a vital form of communication between the Spanish and the indigenous population, so religious icons became a fundamental means of conversion. Paintings of Virgins and Saints were popular in the Americas due to their innate human quality.
The American Indian Art gallery highlighted historical objects alongside works by contemporary Indian artists. Their work celebrates their heritage while also addressing the challenges that face Native communities today and their relationship with Euro-American society.
The Arts of Asia are objects drawn from a broad area including China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia.
The Art of James E. Ransome was displayed in a gallery about Everyday People. The artist has illustrated over 60 children’s picture books, covering a wide range of subjects. This exhibition depicts celebrations of the simplest and most joyful moments of our lives.
Living in the segregated South of the 1920s, Uncle Jed had to travel all over the country to cut his customers’ hair. He lived for the day when he could open his own barbershop, but he encountered many setbacks along the way.
I found the art shown below in one of the many Joslyn galleries, but I don’t remember which one it was.
After I finished exploring the Joslyn Art Museum, I headed for the Old Market, where I would wind up my last day in Omaha.
Information about the artwork is taken from plaques at the Joslyn Art Museum.
*Wednesday, September 4, 2019*
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