Embracing Elegance, 1885–1920: American Art from the Huber Family Collection

Posted on March 01, 2011 by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, spring/summer 2011
Barbara J. MacAdam,  Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

During the past twenty-five years, Jack Huber, Dartmouth Class of 1963, and his wife, Russell, have built a distinguished collection of American art from the turn of the twentieth century, an era characterized by dramatic social, cultural, and artistic change. Dating from roughly 1885 to 1920, the works in this exhibition represent a diversity of subjects, styles, and media. As a whole, the featured artists gravitated toward intimate, informal subjects, which they captured in a personally expressive manner influenced variously by the Aesthetic movement, impressionism, urban realism, and postimpressionism. This exhibition features over thirty works from the collection of the Huber family of Atlanta, Georgia, including pastels, drawings, watercolors, and paintings by such leading artists of the period as Cecilia Beaux, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, Robert Henri, Lilla Cabot Perry, John Singer Sargent, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Edmund Tarbell, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir.

A few of the images address societal change explicitly, such as the vigorously painted city scenes that depict a mix of classes and races by so-called Ashcan artists, including John Sloan and Everett Shinn (see his All-Night Café, which he described as "a Bowery restaurant, hunger inside and out").(1) Most of the works, however, reflect the more prevalent tendency to retreat from gritty, anxiety-provoking social issues. They celebrate instead beauty as found in timeless pastoral landscapes, poetic still lifes, and, especially, intimate images of beautiful women at ease. The latter trend can be seen in J. Alden Weir's emotive pastel of his wife, The Window Seat, 1889, and Thomas Wilmer Dewing's elegant White and Gold, about 1894–95. Introspective in mood and refined in taste, such works mirror more subtle shifts in cultural values, including a growing fascination with the life of the mind and an appreciation of art for art's sake, rather than for moralizing, didactic, or political purposes.

Despite their varied artistic predilections, most of the artists in the Huber family collection gave careful consideration to how they presented their works. The turn of the twentieth century was one of the most innovative in terms of frame design. Whereas only a few of the works featured in the exhibition still retain their original, artist-approved frames, over the past decade the Hubers have replaced many reproduction frames on other works with elegant period examples. These carefully selected frames enhance the visual impact of the works they surround and reflect the sophisticated frame aesthetics of the period.

Reinforcing this important aspect of this collection, the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition features an essay on selected frames in the Huber family collection by independent art historian Susan G. Larkin. The publication also features a reflection on collecting by Jack and Russell Huber, an introductory essay by Barbara J. MacAdam, and individual catalogue entries by MacAdam and Stephanie Mayer Heydt, the Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia. The exhibition and catalogue were co-organized by the Hood Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art. After its presentation at the Hood this summer, the exhibition travels to the High, where it will be on view from September 24 through November 27, 2011.

Co-organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and presented at the Hood through the generous support of the Leon C. 1927, Charles L. 1955, and Andrew J. 1984 Greenebaum Fund, the Philip Fowler 1927 Memorial Fund, and the William Chase Grant 1919 Memorial Fund.

1. Everett Shinn, quoted in Aline B. Louchheim, "Last of 'The Eight' Looks Back," New York Times, Nov. 2, 1952, X9.

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Written March 01, 2011 by Kristin Swan