The final exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum's 200 year anniversary is up now and open to the public. From Boston Collections brings together artwork from private area collections selected by David Dearinger, the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum. Visitors are greeted by an Allan Rohan Crite painting Harriet and Leon (1941) (not part of the exhibition, but no doubt a tribute to the late Boston artist whose work is an important part of the Athenaeum's own collection) which shows two well dressed Bostonians strolling through the South End and who appear to be heading into the Calderwood Gallery to view the exhibition.
Since the overarching theme is simply 19th and 20th century American art from Boston area collectors, Curator David Dearinger had wide latitude in choosing and hanging the show. Dearinger has sought out interesting juxtapositions often relying on tonality rather than subject matter or chronology. Other contrasts are literal: one can imagine Edward Henry Potthast's seaside scene Beach at Ogunquit (1900-1927) being painted simultaneously with Maurice Prendergast's Charles Street, Boston (ca. 1895) the high summer sun illuminating both. As a historical footnote, be sure to see the traffic coming the opposite direction past the Common and Public Garden.
While there is no particular "Boston school" of collecting, it is hard not to think that some of the works have been in families for decades and were bought because of geographical associations: William Haseltine's A View from Mt. Desert (1861) brings us to Maine as does Beach at Ogunquit, while Martin Johnson Heade's Sunny Day on the Marsh (Newburyport Meadows) (c. 1871-1875), along with works by Boston artists like Polly Thayer represent the Bay State. Since these paintings are from private collections, it helped to think of them in domestic contexts rather than as museum pieces--most are quite small--and the intimacy of the Norma Jean Calderwood gallery helps set a proper mood for viewing.
I enjoyed seeing Wayne Thiebaud's Pies (Pie Table) (1962) up close, which gives the viewer a new appreciation of Thiebaud's technique, with the thick single strokes of white paint simulating whipped cream, meringue, and frosting giving it an almost sculptural quality. Learning that Maurice Prendergast worked as a commercial artist before moving to France in the early 1890s helps explain his Lady with a Red Sash (c. 1900) where a dancing woman wearing a white dress set against what appear to be Back Bay row houses is accented with a red sash that could have come straight from Tolouse-Lautrec's Ambassadeurs poster. One unexpected treat was the inclusion of Claes Oldenburg's R. Caruso, Umbrella (1977) a watercolor study for a sculpture which sits outside of the Civic Center in my hometown and mimics the Traveler's Insurance umbrella, a neon fixture in Des Moines' skyline.
All in all, the exhibition should provide something to delight, entertain, or provoke any visitor. As an added bonus, the art on the first floor of the Athenaeum has been rehung as well and a self-guided tour is available by request). Works on display include Polly Thayer’s self-portrait (in the Long Room) and portrait of the man who became her husband, Donald Starr and four other works by Allan Rohan Crite (in the hall opposite the lavatories) so think of it as getting two exhibitions for the price of none. The exhibition runs through 10 December 2007 and is free and open to the public.
Monday: 9:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The Boston Athenaeum is located at 10 1/2 Beacon Street, steps from the State House and Park Street Station.