‘American Visions’: Luscious landscapes and more, at Montclair Art Museum

Gifford Beal's "Garden Beach" is part of the "American Visions" collection that is at the Montclair Art Museum through June 19.

Gifford Beal’s “Garden Beach” (c. 1925) is part of the “American Visions” collection that is at the Montclair Art Museum through June 19.

“American Visions: 1870–1940, Works From the Bank of America Collection,” an exhibition that is at the Montclair Art Museum through June 19, is a big project in just about every way.

It includes more than 80 works, spanning 70 years, that explore how artists, in the words of curator Gail Stavitsky, “interpreted the country’s rural, maritime, and urban spaces in a variety of styles.”

Many of the works are landscapes, a genre that obviously lends itself to the grand and the majestic. Even the exhibition’s name, “American Visions” … it’s hard to think of a two-word title that would carve out a bigger piece of artistic territory.

So, in other words, it’s an exhibition that you need to spend a fair amount of time with to really appreciate, as each painting is really a little world of its own. Like the dominant figure in Gifford Beal’s “Garden Beach” (above), who has her back to the viewer but is presumably gazing at the glorious beach and coastline in front of her, you’ve just got to stand back, relax, and take it all in.

George Inness' "Meadowland in June" (1880)

George Inness’ “Meadowland in June” (1880).

Many of the works in “American Visions” were done in the artists’ colonies that sprang up around the United States in the decades that the exhibition covers. Colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and California are represented; a map on one wall of the museum’s gallery shows where they are all. New Jersey is represented by George Inness and George Inness Jr., of Montclair. (The museum has a large collection of Inness paintings, and displays them year-round in its George Inness Gallery.) In Inness’ peaceful “Meadowland in June” (1880), a lone figure in the bottom left corner of the scene is dwarfed by the vast expanse in front of him.

At the exhibition’s press preview, last week, Stavitsky explained how the painters were influenced by the Hudson River School of painting, as well as French impressionism, and how some of the later paintings showed elements of Modernism and Precisionism. Seventy years is a long span of time in the art world, so in an exhibition such as this one, you can really see elements of different styles coming in, being incorporated into the artists’ approaches, and yielding something new. As one viewer pointed out during the press preview, in Theresa Bernstein’s “Armistice Day, The New York Public Library” (1918), you can see two styles in the same painting, with realistic figures on one side and blurrier, more impressionistic figures on the other.

Robert Spencer's "Afternoon Bathers" (c. 1920)/

Robert Spencer’s “Afternoon Bathers” (c. 1920).

“American Visions: 1870-1940, Works From the Bank of America Collection” will be at the Montclair Art Museum through June 19.

The museum will host an American Artist Colonies Panel Discussion, moderated by art historian and author Adrienne Baxter Bell, and featuring art historian William H. Gerdts and Hudson Valley artist Jane Bloodgood-Abrams, April 14 at 7 p.m.

Activities related to “American Visions” will also be featured in the museum’s Family Day, May 22 from 1 to 4 a.m.

For information about the exhibition as well as the special events, visit montclairartmuseum.org

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