“Landmark Exhibition” Examines Cultural Exchange Between American Artists and Venetian Glassmakers During the Late 19th Century

Frank Duveneck, Water Carriers, Venice, 1884, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Reverend F. Ward Denys, 1943.11.1

Being “nine years in the making,” the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s (SAAM) exhibition entitled, “Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano,” was not conceived with a global pandemic in mind. However, this exhibition, which is “the first comprehensive look at American tourism, art making and collecting in this Italian metropolis,” metaphorically brings this once independent commune of Venice a little closer to US shores, at a time when global travel is still difficult and complicated for many.

A press release from SAAM describes the exhibition as bringing together:

… more than 140 artworks, and features, in addition to rare etchings by Whistler and major oil paintings by Sargent, work by Robert Fredrick Blum, William Merritt Chase, Charles Caryl Coleman, Louise Cox, Frank Duveneck, Ellen Day Hale, Thomas Miran, Maxfield Parrish, Maurice Prendergast and Julius LeBlanc Stewart. More than a quarter of the objects in the groundbreaking exhibition are from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, joining loans from more than 45 prestigious museums—such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago—and from private collections. Paintings and prints intermingle among rarely seen Venetian glass mosaic portraits and glass cups, vases and urns by the leading glassmakers of Murano, including members of the legendary Seguso and Barovier families. Several artworks were conserved specifically for inclusion in the exhibition, including a stunning Byzantine revival gold and glass mosaic necklace. 

The exhibition also:

… gives fresh attention to women artists who were often sidelined in the history of the period, such as Mabel Pugh… [and] includes two linoleum block prints by Pugh that were recently acquired by the museum. As both makers and collectors, women were at the forefront of reviving and sustaining Venice’s glass, bead and lace industries. American patrons like Isabella Stewart Gardner and Jane Stanford brought back to the United States art and luxury souvenirs from Italy, and their admiration for Venice and Murano glass is evident in the respective museums they founded.  

Taking place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., the exhibition begins on 8 October, 2021 and will run through until 8 May, 2022. After closing at SAAM, “Sargent, Whistler and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano” will travel to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. 


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