Press Release

OPENING RECEPTION: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2004, FROM 5 - 7PM

Portrait painters held a unique position in representing American culture at the turn of our 20th century. John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, and Robert Henri became the great American masters – capturing portraits of the political and industrialist elite. With images of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and novelist Henry James, artist John Singer Sargent positioned these influential figures as icons of American society. After gaining their academic training in Europe, portrait artists returned to the U.S. to employ such techniques in their own works — declaring to the international art world that American society was bridging its Old World traditions with a uniquely American experience. Portraiture was the means of presenting such an image.

Traditionally, the genre of portraiture has been supported by patronage. For hundreds of years, European nobility, aristocrats, and the wealthy bourgeois sustained the great painters of portraiture. During the Gilded Age of the1880’s, a new American “nobility” began to adopt the tradition of portraiture as a means of documenting their accomplishments and presenting an illustration of the essential American character. Artists from the Boston School were commissioned by East Coast art connoisseurs to depict figureheads of high society. Additionally, the rise in national incomes of all classes of society created by the Industrial Revolution enabled working-class families a means of commissioning portraits. Perhaps less refined than the works of Sargent or Chase – these commissions by second-tier artists gave families opportunities previously unavailable to them. Consequently, artists were empowered to represent all facets of the American experience.

Portrait and figurative painting continues to exist as an unparalleled art — a compelling and accomplished articulation of the human character. A portrait reveals a moment in time and a person’s entire character without pretense or facade. A successful portrait by a skilled artist reveals a uniquely intimate interaction between artist and sitter – one that is pure, unguarded, and candid.

At the commencement of our new century, Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery explores the heritage of portraiture and the artists and patrons who honor the tradition. Along with a selection of vintage portraits by Colin Campbell Cooper, Don Freeman, and John Singer Sargent,we have organized a number of newly commissioned portraits by a notable selection of contemporary American painters. Prominent collectors and patrons have commissioned pieces by Jack R. Smith, Hank Pitcher, and John Nava. - Alissa Anderson

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