Thursday, November 9, 2017
6 pm | Cocktails
7 pm | Dinner
8 pm | Lecture
Purchase tickets here
TRUTH AND BEAUTY: AMERICAN ART IN 1862
Lee Glazer, Curator of American Art
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
All art was modern once, and to underscore the point, this talk begins with the unexpected juxtaposition of two paintings from 1862: Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church and Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl by James McNeill Whistler. Despite its South American subject, Cotopaxi was impossible to divorce from current events in the United States. Its first viewers saw its blood-red sky and seething volcano as references to the carnage of the Civil War and the atrocities of slavery. Yet its imagery, “throbbing with fire and tremulous with life,” as the New York Times put it, was also read as a “picture poem” expressing universal ideals of truth and beauty. The White Girl, meanwhile, seemed neither beautiful nor truthful to its early audiences.
In fact, it seemed barely legible. Conceived as a realist picture whose subject– a model who has dropped her pose– is hiding in plain sight, the painting was retroactively re-titled Symphony in White, No. 1, making it the ground zero of Whistler’s later aestheticist idea that art should speak for itself, as self-referential as a piece of pure music. In short, Cotopaxi and The White Girl would seem to have nothing in common but their date of 1862. Yet their chronological coincidence allows us to consider how each of these works ultimately achieved iconic status: Cotopaxi as an exemplar of American exceptionalism, The White Girl as a problematic prelude to modernist purity.
Lee Glazer is the curator of American art at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and is a specialist in Gilded Age painting and the arts of the Aesthetic movement. She has curated numerous exhibitions, including, most recently, Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre, which received the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Award in 2016. Dr. Glazer is the author of Charles Lang Freer: A Cosmopolitan Life and A Perfect Harmony: The American Collection in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and co-editor of East West Interchanges in American Art: A Long and Tumultuous Relationship and Palaces of Art: Whistler and the Art Worlds of Aestheticism. Her current research focuses on James McNeill Whistler’s watercolors, to be featured in an exhibition at the Freer in 2019.