Making an impression

American Impressionism and In the Garden at DAI

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Arthur Prince Spear (American, 1879 – 1959), Pot of Gold, 1921,oil on canvas, Reading Public Museum

Finally! The frost is thawing, the birds are chirping, and although Ohio may still have more winter weather up its sleeve, Dayton Art Institute (DAI) is fully embracing the spring. Its latest special exhibit, American Impressionism: The Lure of the Artists’ Colony and its companion gallery In the Garden: Works on Paper from the Permanent Collection, celebrate the natural beauty and color of our world.

American Impressionism kicks off a “year of American art” at DAI, three special exhibits in a row featuring American artists exclusively.

“We are extremely excited to launch our year of American art with this major exhibition of American impressionist works,” Michael R. Roediger, DAI director and CEO says. “Impressionism continues to be one of the most popular art movements among museum visitors, and the recent 2010 exhibition of California impressionist works was very well received.”

This latest exhibit is organized by the Reading Public Museum in Pennsylvania and features more than 100 works by American impressionists from the 1880s through the 1940s. Renowned artists include John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Leonard Ochtman, Robert Reid and Childe Hassam. There are oil paintings, watercolors, etchings and pastels. Kettering Exhibition Coordinator and Curatorial Associate Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth notes that while the 2010 exhibit and some of DAI’s permanent collection highlights Western impressionism, this latest exhibit focuses more on the Eastern colonies.

No, not the 13 colonies that formed our country. This is referring to colonies of artists that emerged at the end of the 19th century.

“Artists assembled to escape the rigors of their city studios, share and exchange ideas, take on students, exhibit and attract new clientele,” explains Eric Brockman, DAI’s marketing and communications manager. “This exhibition sheds light on the influences of these rich artistic communities and helps tell the multifaceted story of impressionism in the United States.”

Although the style of impressionism began in Paris, another DAI curator notes that the Americans did not copy the French style – but they were certainly stimulated by it.

“American impressionists did not seek to replicate their French predecessors, but rather to combine some of the French impressionists’ techniques and approaches to form and figure with their own academic background, creating a distinctly American style all their own,” Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, chief curator and curator of European art, says.

The American Impressionism exhibit arranges the art according to the specific communities. Colonies featured are from Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut; Cape Cod, Cape Anne and Rockport in Massachusetts; New Hope and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania; Taos, New Mexico; and throughout California. It’s interesting to see how where these artists lived customarily influenced the subjects of their works.

“Often located in scenic locations within striking distance of major cities, artists’ colonies served up steady doses of natural beauty and provided ample subject matter for the practitioners,” Brockman says.

Take a walk down a country lane; sit on the edge of a harbor; canoe down a river or enjoy the expanse of a meadow. These turn of the century impressionists sought to capture the breathtaking and often peaceful quality of nature in a single snapshot. There are several portraits and still-lifes mixed in the collection as well.

After visitors have explored these views, they can take a stroll “in the garden” through a portion of works from DAI’s permanent collection.

“I was thinking about how the American impressionists were thinking and how much of their painting was ‘plein air’,” Siegwarth says. “It was cultivated outside.”

She did a database search through DAI’s 26,000 objects (fun fact: no more than five percent of the museum’s collection is on view at any given time!) for those connected with words like garden, picnic and fields. Siegwarth pulled 40 objects and “played” with them to see which ones worked best together.

The resulting 20 images are displayed in the lower court galleries of DAI. They are all works on paper, and include wood cuts, photographs, lithographs and inks on paper.

The details

American Impressionism is made possible by the support of Patron Sponsors Macy’s and Premier Health, and Supporting Sponsors Abbott Nutrition, DP&L Foundation, Freund, Freeze & Arnold, Miller-Valentine Group, and Synchrony Financial, with additional support from Bruce and Debbie Feldman, Frank and Kathy Hollingsworth, Karen and Dale Medford, the University of Dayton and Toni and Bill Winger.

Events correlating with the special exhibit include a family day program “Impressionist Landscapes” on Saturday, April 11 and two illustrated lectures. On Thursday, April 16, Scott Schweigert, curator of art and civilization at the Reading Public Museum (who organized the exhibit) will speak about “American Impressionism: The View from the Artists Colonies.” On Thursday, May 21, DAI curator of education Susan Martis will speak about “Transatlantic Impressions: Where Americans Met the French Impressionists.”

Both exhibits run through May 31. The cost for In the Garden is included in the museum’s suggested general admission. American Impressionism admission is free for museum members; $14 adults; $11 seniors (60+), students (18+ w/ID), active military and groups (10 or more); and $6 youth (ages 7-17). Children six and under are free. Tickets for the exhibition and related programs may be purchased at the Museum’s Guest Services Desk, by phone at 937.223.4ART (4278), or online at

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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