A Century of American Watercolors

September 2009

A Century of American Watercolor


Many of the greatest achievements in the history of American art have been realized through the medium of watercolor. Surprisingly, this wonderfully evanescent and mercurial medium did not begin to achieve major critical attention in America until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The establishment of the American Watercolor Society in the late 1860s and arguably its most innovative and masterful early member, Winslow Homer, were critical in the reappraisal of the medium.   Beyond Homer several other major American artists produced masterworks in watercolor, including John Singer Sargent, Oscar Bluemner, Maurice Prendergast, George Luks, Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Charles Demuth and Andrew Wyeth. Others such as Alice Schille, Claude Hirst, Joseph Raffael and Carolyn Brady built their reputation primarily on their watercolors.

Over the last several decades the Canton Museum of Art has built one of the finest collections of watercolors in the Midwest. The bulk of this exhibition has been culled from the permanent collection. A handful of other works from private collections have been added to complement the group. A wide range of styles is represented from the earlier decades – beginning with the meticulous trompe l’oeil table top still lifes of Claude Hirst and continuing with the elegant Impressionist vignettes of John Singer Sargent, the boldly expressive Post-Impressionist watercolors of Maurice Prendergast, George Luks and Oscar Bluemner; the pantheastic visions of Charles Burchfield and finally the solitary landscapes of Edward Hopper. The collection is also rich in the work of more contemporary practitioners. Joseph Raphael has explored the fluidity of the medium with a richly colored, opalescent depiction of a lush water lily pond and likewise Romare Bearden has embraced the wetness of watercolor to create a pulsing urban night in New York. Alternately, Carolyn Brady has captured our attention with a disarmingly realistic celebration of everyday life through a still life that, despite its everyday subject, is magically alive with dancing reflections. A microcosm of American art of a century is reflected in this exhibition.

- James M. Keny, guest curator