The Paine Art Center and Gardens invites you to experience masterful artworks by painters such as Winslow Homer and William-Adolphe Bouguereau as one might have in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Paine’s current exhibition, Masterpieces of the Valley, is on view through May 27. It includes more than 50 exceptional European and American paintings dating from the mid-nineteenth through early twentieth centuries.
The exhibition has a unique connection to the venue, as the time period in which the paintings were created is also that which Nathan and Jessie Paine focused their collecting efforts to prepare the mansion’s role as an art museum. The Paines collected artwork created about 20 to 40 years prior to the mansion’s construction, said Aaron Sherer, executive director of the Paine. That connection, he said, makes Masterpieces of the Valley a perfect exhibition for the Paine.
Many of the paintings in the exhibition were created by Barbizon School painters, who in the mid-1800s fled Paris for the small French village of Barbizon on the outskirts of the Forest of Fontainebleau. There, they discovered a wealth of natural scenery and rural subjects to explore and interpret, said Laura Fiser, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Paine.
As precursors to the Impressionists, Barbizon artists like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot focused on landscape painting as an art form in its own right, and advocated sketching and painting directly from nature. L’Abreuvoir (The Watering Place) embodies Corot’s poetic approach to nature with its feathery brushwork, silvery light and serene, atmospheric quality. Corot’s devotion to landscape subjects and freshness of execution anticipate the open-air, spontaneous style of the Impressionists.
However, the artworks are not simply beautiful pictures, Sherer said; they reflect the ideas of the time period. Artists are philosophers and critics of society — in the mid-1800s many were reacting to urbanization and industrialization. Barbizon artists, as well as many of the American landscape painters they inspired, had a desire to return to nature and a quiet, simple way of life.
Highlights of Masterpieces of the Valley include artworks by Jules Breton, Léon Augustin Lhermitte, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, George Inness, and Winslow Homer.
One of the most significant loans to the exhibition is Bouguereau’s extraordinary portrait Two Sisters from the collection of the Wriston Art Center Galleries at Lawrence University. An academic painter who upheld the conservative, classical tradition in art, Bouguereau was among the most celebrated artists in Paris during his lifetime. Fiser said Two Sisters is an outstanding example of the artist’s technical mastery and meticulous style, and provides a distinct contrast to the exhibition’s more avant-garde paintings by Bouguereau’s contemporaries, such as Camille Pissarro, George Inness, and Ralph Albert Blakelock.
Masterpieces of the Valley offers a rare opportunity to see such pieces from collections throughout the Fox Valley that may not normally be on view to the public. The exhibition is drawn from the collections of the Paine, the Oshkosh Public Museum, the Oshkosh Public Library, Lawrence University, The Trout Museum of Art, Ripon College and private collections.
Visitors to the Paine will experience what it might have been like to view the artworks as people did 100 years ago. The paintings are presented in a “Salon-style” installation, in which they are hung closely together and above and below each other. It creates a dramatic presentation scaling the walls, with the golden frames of the paintings contrasting the rich, red backdrop of the Paine’s Main Gallery.
Masterpieces of the Valley is on view through May 27, 2018. The Paine is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with admission $5 for youth (ages 5-17), $9 for adults and free for Paine members. Learn more about visiting the Paine at www.thepaine.org.
The Lead Sponsor of Masterpieces of the Valley is Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company.