& SEEN UNSEEN
Ihaven’t seen it. I haven’t seen the exhibition Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which had not yet opened when this article was written.the show, while devoted to the work of pioneering American landscape painterthomas Cole (1801-1848), represents something of a break with the traditional monographic survey, which generally includes vast numbers of the artist’s work. Usually arranged in a chronological order, such extensive celebratory expositions can require greater visual memory than most museumgoers bring to the experience.the Cole show is different.while an effective survey, it is driven by the desire to show that Cole, like many other American artists, did not exist in isolation. As an Englishborn painter, Cole was especially sensitive to ideas and innovations from abroad.
But why would I want to write about it without having seen it? One reason is that there is a counterpoint to it recently on view at the Worcester Art Museum, Coming Away:winslow Homer and England. That show focuses on a brief episode in Homer’s artistic journey and the impact of a foreign trip in 1881-82 on the subject matter and style of his art. In their planning and execution, the shows offer instructive points of comparison and since I prefer to call these columns commentary rather than reviews, the task is feasible.
It would seem a risky endeavor, nonetheless, to discuss an exhibition I haven’t seen. I was reminded of a passage in the minutes of the Sketch Club, an informal gathering of American artists and writers in the second quarter of the 19th century.the small group that consisted, more or less, of the entirety of the artistic and literary establishment resident in New York during the period would meet at each other’s homes for conversation on the perils and promise of their professions as well as indulging in some creative endeavors. Modest food and an ample supply of alcohol enhanced the regular convening of the club (“Not much drawing tonight except corks” reads one entry in the minutes).the spirited nature of these sessions is evident in a description from the minutes of 1829 shortly after the club’s founding.“thanks, of the Club are returned to Mr. Bryant for having given an excellent criticism on a Columbia College oration, which he had not heard, and an admirable account of a
Winslow Homer (1839-1910), Hark! The Lark, 1882. Oil on canvas. Layton Art Collection Inc., Gift of Frederick Layton at the Milwaukee Art Museum, L99. Photo by John R. Glembin. Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum. On view in Coming Away: Winslow Homer and England, co-curated by Worcester
Art Museum and Milwaukee Art Museum, which will exhibit the show March 1 to May 20.