Opens at Mystic Seaport Museum October 15, 2022
With more than 115 works from over 40 institutions and private collections, the exhibition is one of the Museum’s most ambitious to date
Mystic, Conn. (July 7, 2022) – The exhibition Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano is the first comprehensive examination of American artmaking, tourism, and art collecting in Venice, bringing to life the Venetian glass revival of the late 19th century as well as the artistic experimentation the city inspired for visiting artists. On view at the Mystic Seaport Museum from October 15, 2022 through February 27, 2023, the exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where it was originally on view. Christina Connett Brophy, Senior Vice President of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Director of Museum Galleries at Mystic Seaport Museum, has expanded and tailored the exhibition for its Mystic iteration. This presentation considers the work through the lens of another vibrant port city which saw a heyday during the period covered by the collection: Mystic, Connecticut and greater New England. In Mystic, the exhibition adds new objects, displays, and pedagogical tools and experiences drawing from the Museum’s own collection and expertise.
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano brings together more than 115 artworks, including rare etchings by James McNeill Whistler and major oil paintings by John Singer Sargent. More than a quarter of the objects on display are from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, joining loans from more than 40 institutions—such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago—as well as 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 Seguso and Barovier families. Several artworks were conserved by the Smithsonian specifically for inclusion in the exhibition, including an ornate Byzantine revival gold and glass mosaic necklace.
“Venice has long captivated American artists and collectors who have been inspired by the creative talents of Venetians in glassmaking and other disciplines,” said Peter Armstrong, president of Mystic Seaport Museum. “Presenting the exhibition, Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano, gives us the opportunity to draw on Mystic Seaport Museum’s unique insight into this same period of time, and expand the understanding of the show’s original thesis.”
Between 1860 and 1915, the renowned glassmaking industry on the Venetian island of Murano experienced intense growth. Cross-cultural connections were paved between Italy and the United States via ocean pathways and easier travel. This Venetian glass revival coincided with a surge in Venice’s popularity as a destination for Americans, many of whom visited the glass furnaces and eagerly collected ornate hand-blown goblets decorated with floral and animal motifs. Collector interest led to frequent depictions of Italian glassmakers and glass objects by prominent American artists of that era, including not only Sargent and Whistler, but the likes of Robert Frederick Blum, Frank Duveneck, Ellen Day Hale, Bertha Evelyn Jaques, Thomas Moran, and Walter Launt Palmer. During the same time, Venice’s other decorative arts industries–most notably mosaics, lace, and jewelry–saw a renaissance, in part through American patronage. The collection presents Venetian works in conversation with paintings, watercolors, and prints by American artists who found inspiration in Venice.
At Mystic Seaport Museum, object, pedagogical, and experiential additions to the exhibition draw on the port city of Mystic’s own heritage in parallel to that of Venice. New to the Mystic exhibition, visitors will see contemporary glass and lace work that shows the continued impact of Venetian-imported craft today and the associated tools for making such work. Additionally, photographs printed from glass plate negatives taken in Venice at the time, and a gondola on loan from La Gondola Providence, Inc. will be on display.
Drawing further on Mystic Seaport Museum’s curatorial and community knowledge, the show will also explore related anthropological questions, such as the relationship between these transatlantic cultural exchanges and local, exploitative trade with American indigenous populations. Mystic, similarly to Venice, exists as a port city battling sea level rises, creating challenges to historic buildings and artifacts.
“Bringing The Magic of Murano to Mystic Seaport Museum not only leverages our unique ability to add the rich viewpoint gained by adding physical objects in our collection and craft expertise to the exhibition,” says Brophy, “but it also gives us an important opportunity to directly add a broader range of voices to our understanding of the exchange that is explored in the Smithsonian’s incredible exhibition.”
The 335-page, fully-illustrated catalog provides the first survey of the American grand tour to Venice combining fine and decorative arts. The book features five new essays from experts in the history of American art and Venetian glass including Sheldon Barr, independent scholar of Venetian revival glass; Melody Barnett Deusner, associate professor of art history at Indiana University Bloomington; Diana Jocelyn Greenwold, Lunder Curator of American Art at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art; Stephanie Mayer Heydt, the Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; and Alex Mann, former Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Brittany Emens Strupp, curatorial assistant and doctoral candidate in art history at Temple University contributed to the artist biographies. Co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press, is available for purchase ($65).
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C., Chris G. Harris, the Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz Endowment, Janet and William Ellery James, William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund, Maureen and Gene Kim, the Lunder Foundation—Peter and Paula Lunder Family, Lucy S. Rhame, Holly and Nick Ruffin, the Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Awards, Rick and Lucille Spagnuolo, and Myra and Harold Weiss.
The accompanying catalog is supported in part by Jane Joel Knox.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
In-kind support has been provided by Christie’s.
Upgrades to the exhibition at the Mystic Seaport Museum are supported by DEAI/Mellon and other partners.
Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano will be accompanied by a robust program of events and public programming to be announced this Summer.
About Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic Seaport Museum is the nation’s leading maritime Museum. Founded in 1929 to gather and preserve the rapidly disappearing artifacts of America’s seafaring past, the Museum has grown to become a national center for research and education with the mission to “inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.” The Museum’s grounds cover 19 acres on the Mystic River and include a recreated New England coastal village, a working shipyard, formal exhibit halls, and state-of-the-art artifact storage facilities. The Museum is home to more than 500 historic watercraft, including four National Historic Landmark vessels, most notably the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan. For more information, please visit mysticseaport.org and follow the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
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