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Thomas Moran, A View of Venice, 1891, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, 1968.120.1

On view through September 11, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano, an exhibition surrounding the artform of glassblowing that spans from Italy to America. Providing more than a quarter of the exhibition pieces, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art put together the 140-work show as a way to examine the cultural exchange between American artists and Venetian artisans during the late 19th century.     

     Between 1860 and 1915, glassmaking on the Venetian island of Murano experienced intense growth. As a result, it grew in popularity as a destination for American tourists, many of whom visited the glass furnaces and eagerly collected ornate handblown goblets decorated with floral and animal motifs to take home. Rather than a tourist souvenir, Murano glass began to be viewed by its collectors as fine art acquisitions. Naturally, this westward movement began to inform American art, including that of John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, the exhibition’s namesakes. American patronage also reinvigorated other Venetian art forms such as mosaics, lace, and jewelry. In terms of art, Venice and America were in conversation.     

     “I can’t wait for our Texas communities to see the sparkling splendor of glass goblets and the twinkling of marvelous mosaics and to know that American artistic icons like Sargent and Whistler were blown away by the creativity of Venice,” said Maggie Adler, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper as well as the curator of the Carter’s presentation. “This exhibition will take us back in time to understand the impact of Italian glass on American art, literature, and design, as well as ideas at the time about gender, labor, and class relations.” 

     Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass features, in addition to rare etchings by Whistler and major oil paintings by Sargent, work by Robert Frederick Blum, William Merritt Chase, Charles Caryl Coleman, Louise Cox, Frank Duveneck, Ellen Day Hale, Thomas Moran, Maxfield Parrish, Maurice Prendergast, and Julius LeBlanc Stewart.     

     Over the course of the summer, Texas-based artist Justin Ginsburg will be progressing the American legacy of glassblowing in real time by working on site every weekend on the museum’s lawn. Onlookers are invited to watch Ginsburg at work at his kiln, pulling delicate glass threads up to 30' in length to add to his installation located in the Carter’s lobby. The complementary work in progress cascades down from the museum’s ceiling, and the tall column looks like a waterfall or rain that’s frozen mid-downpour, a refreshing idea amidst the August heat.     

     “Justin Ginsberg’s work brings the art of working with glass into this century,” stated Adler. “He manipulates the tricky material until it is as thin as hair. The installation that will accumulate over time will refract the light, shimmer with the movement of air, and give everyone a stunning effect of having come upon a building rainstorm. I can’t wait to see it evolve!”     

     Admission is always free. To learn more about the Carter, visit cartermuseum.org.

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Società Anonima per Azioni Salviati & C., manufacturer, Fenicio Goblet with Swans and Initial “S” Stem, ca. 1870, blown and applied glass hot-worked glass, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Gellatly, 1929.8.469.6

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John Singer Sargent, A Venetian Woman, 1882, oil on canvas, Cincinnati Art Museum, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, 1972.37

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Above: Irving Ramsay Wiles, John Gellatly, 1930—32, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1932.6.1

Left: Maurice Brazil Prendergast, Fiesta Grand Canal, Venice, ca. 1899, glass and ceramic mosaic tiles in plaster, Williams College Museum of Art, Bequest of Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 95.4.79